The fire was warm and bright. Had Tiyhak been able to sleep, the fire would be his greatest enemy, yet it gave him a warm welcome in the ink of sleepless night. The low cry of a distant wolf and squawking and hooting of birds above enlivened the air with the sounds of sunless familiarity. Kyra slept across from him, her golden skin glowing with the orange of firelight. Such an unlikely companion she was. Just days ago she had been with Mert Whatley on the bridge, fighting by his side against… against… One slow tear broke free and smoothed his cheek as it fell. What little comfort it provided was not enough. It still hurt to think about his first… as it would for some time.
Tiyhak played with the strands in the air, holding tight in a hand’s embrace before releasing them to the god of death once again. They floated in wisps of smoke all around, and he worked at them like a master artist, letting the shapes take form amidst the smoke as he herded them in like a caring shepherd. He was so young then, that day in this smoke depiction. Klychawk hadn’t even greyed… nor had he died.
“Try again.” His father’s words were cushion by the smoke, soft and caring.
Young Tiyhak reached for the realm of death, finding nothing but blackness, nothing but darkness, nothing but death. Closed eyes, open eyes, it didn’t seem to matter. He saw Klychawk drawing in the strands and forming a ball of sparkling glory in hand, but couldn’t find where they came from. The ball of lightning, ball of power, seemingly materialized in the air before his father launched it a deer grazing close by. It glowed bright with the force, but did not move. Father brought him close to the thing, and knelt beside it, almost touching the shimmering beast.
“Focus on the strands.” He said, motioning toward the animal. Tiyhak glared at the beast in disarrayed confusion. The shimmering glow came to life with the strands of death, hanging above the body like fog on a lake. The lake shone crystal, its slow methodical waves shot through the fog like a host of purple worms, dripping down the live carcass. As he focused, the fog around them faded into blackness, darkness, death. The purple, smoky tendrils gathered together, forming around the deer, and for the first time, Tiyhak could see. “Good.” Klychawk shared his approval. “Now, catch them.” Suddenly the strands launched themselves from the carcass like lost children, scattering in all direction, searching the expanse for a host. Tiyhak concentrated on each one, drawing them in with his will. Some responded quickly, and he embraced them in his hands at their arrival. The other’s took more time, but soon enough they responded to his call and he held them close, caressing his new-found treasures.
Trees began to fade in through the blackness, their shadowy limbs blowing in the cool morning breeze. The sky turned from pitch to azure, working its way through navy and cobalt. The scene around him was unchanged… mostly. Fresh blood coloured the grass at his feet, the same red mess that dripped from a knife hanging in Klychawk’s hand. The deer was motionless, as before, but it would never rise again. Released from the realm of life, it entered the darkness of death. Tiyhak stood above the body with its remains sparking between his hands. Stray flashes shot outward as he fought to contain them. “Steady,” Klychawk urged, but such a concept was foreign to the mess between Tihak’s fingers. The outward force was too great, and he released the lightning into the air. It exploded in a shock wave of sound and light, knocking both men from their feet. The grass, wet with morning dew, slapped Tiyhak in the face, making him feel even more ashamed of this failure. When he rose from between the taunting, wet blades, Klychawk stood, drawing in the remainder of the strands once again. He launched them with controlled force at the animal carcass, raising the blood from the ground beneath it. It dripped down from the lightning cloud, coating the body in a thick grotesque film. Blood dripped down, like rain sliding from a glass pane. Once the final drop had fallen, the deer rose from the ground, but not the same as before. It stood and grazed in the grass again, the body of purple, translucent smoke.
“Your time with come, my son.” Klychawk placed a hand on his shoulder, admiring the spirit deer before him.
“What happens now?” Young Tiyhak queried after a long pause.
The smoky strands of the scene began to fade, appearing like whisps of hair atop Klychawk’s head. Before his response came, the strands had all but disappeared. “Now we rest… then try again.” Blackness fell around him as the scene dispersed, but not the blackness of death. This was the blackness of sleep.
I had never known Cargh to be much of a schemer… not that I really knew the man that well at all. Fioreh seemed to do most of his talking, and his lips were merely there to hold back the saliva that would surely come flying out of them if “the Rock” disapproved. How he maintained such a close connection to the Rock, or if he just bluffed his way through life, I will never know, but I learned that his lips were useful for more than just disproving excretions. From time to time the mountain men would roam past us and glance over, just to make sure that we were still there… though how it would be otherwise was a mystery. The only times I knew of people escaping from prison were when a guard was involved, or someone who had access to the keys. They, however, didn’t seem to believe in guarding their prisoners, nor did they believe in feeding them. I’m not sure exactly how many days it was that we remained in that cell, for underground the sun and moon both look the same, but eventually it was different. Cargh had somehow convinced the mountain men that he was on their side. If only I was shorter and had more hair, maybe I could have done the same. These allmarach were never known for being the smartest of creatures, thinking more with steel than brain-matter.
Things weren’t so different without Cargh around, because he never really talked that much anyway. For the amount that he now visited me without the cell, I could swear he never left. He had become a sort of guard to me, though I’m not sure he knew what role he really played. The allmarach have no jails, and thus no guards, and his actions proved a lack of knowledge about prisons. Most guards didn’t fraternize much with the prisoners, and often they stay close at hand in case anything went wrong. Cargh spent his time wandering about the underground fort and when I found him “guarding” me, he was sharing information.
Klychawk had been drawing in the mountain men with promise of conquest. The allmarach have a sort of blood-lust about them, and if they have no one to fight, they will fight each other, just for the thrill of battle. The Tallri and Pharosh, both being enemies of the Rock, had been promised to the mountain men. Though they hated them, it was only when one chose to cross the path of the allmarach that they would bother. How could they turn down a fight, especially against such an agreeable foe. Much scheming of war was about, and everyone had their own ideas about how to go about it, but the allmarach fought with heart and arm, not with their head. Klychawk had the final say in the planning, not that he seemed to say a whole lot. Most dead men have a similar limitation. A man by the name of Tiyhak was apparently the spokesperson for this dead leader of theirs, and he was currently on some sort of extended vacation, but no one knew a whole lot of details. Sir Reuben had been brought up from Dete Plych to take his place leading the mountain defectors while he was away. I’m sure that the only way to learn why Reuben was really hear was talk to him myself, though that would prove difficult. I now knew one thing… he had lied about being here by order of the Queen.
Many days passed while I sat pondering my life in that cell, maybe even a week. Cargh sometimes managed to slip me little morsels of food from the table. Though the meals were meagre at best, they kept me alive. Apparently my captors hoped to starve me to death. If this was an act of Klychawk, and he had been chasing me this whole time, it seemed like quite a waste. Why would a man, a dead one at that, chase me down just to lock me up and starve me out? None of this made any sense, and I almost wished I could talk to Klychawk myself and straighten some things out, but that was not possible. Only the dead could speak to the dead, and I didn’t want to talk to him that much. Though Tiyhak was not dead, somehow he could talk to Klychawk, he alone. The whole thing sounded a bit fishy to me, almost like Brynd directing us in his own will, claiming it to be that of the Rock. Perhaps Tiyhak, when he got back, could answer some questions, though I doubted he would.
There they sat, those three spirits, huddled together like a band of survivors trying to keep warm. It was so silly in his mind that, in an instant, he could be with her spirit across the river, arriving at their destination unharmed, but they had already been a number of days of the road. The journey to reunite body with spirit was a slow one, and Tiyhak wasn’t used to the roads. Dealing with harsh weather, scavenging for food, water, shelter: such foreign concepts to a man who can be anywhere in an instant.
The recently posted guards at the mountain pass had been simple to thwart. He told them that Klychawk had ordered him to transport the prisoner south… Kyra the prisoner. She was nothing more to him than a bag of flesh along for the ride, and the allmarach guards were little more than that. Though his story wasn’t strictly true, what was the matter? These grunts of war that Klychawk had chosen for his purposes were good for one thing… fighting. Anything else seemed too much for them to comprehend. Not so for Kyra. The woman might have even had more whit than he, but that isn’t something that one readily admits to himself.
Days were spent travelling, and nights were spent planning. Getting to the spirits would be simple, and in fact it was. Tiyhak spent many nights returning again to that dark cavern populated by nothing but a shattered wooden tomb and three bodiless spirits. He knew they were in Kho Arian, but where was still a mystery. Getting the flesh bag he carried with him to enter the unknown place where the spirits lay would be the challenge.
“Tell me of their place.” Tiyhak ran over the images in his head once again, for Kyra’s amusement. Surely more description of the nothing in the room would aid her.
“A dark stone chamber with no doors or windows.” How else was there to explain it?
“Here’s what I want from you.” She turned the spit slowly, allowing the golden glow of the fire to creep around to the other side of her most recent kill. The rabbit looked less like a furry friend of the forest and more a hearty meal for hungry travellers at this point. “Next time you go, open your eyes. I’m sure it would help immensely.”
“But that wouldn’t be any fun, now would it?” A slow grin shifted on his face. “I am not some witless grunt for you to amuse yourself with. You came to me for help… or does my memory fail me as well as my eyes?”
“I’m sure you’d love to amuse yourself with me.” She peered up at him from across the flames, soft light enhancing her every feature. Suggestive intent sparkled in her eyes for a brief moment before she turned her attention back to the fire-roasting.
Tiyhak got to his feet, never losing demeanour. The dust fell from his flowing black robes as he patted at them with civility. “I will allow you to amuse yourself for a time.” His leather-strapped sandals padded softly against the damp earth as he departed, grass curling around the edges to touch his dirt-caked feet. Tiyhak walked for a time among the sentinels of the woods. Dark, low-hanging branches, reached for him, but he refused their tempting gestures. Wolves were baying in the distance and owls sat at perches on high, sharing their wisdom with the night sky, but none of them were what he sought. He was searching for something shrewder, faster, and more cunning. These criers of the night could only share wisdom with those who would listen, and Kyra had already proved to be a poor set of ears. Amidst the baying and hooting Tiyhak heard a single caw… that caw that he desired. Reaching into the spirit realm, he swam amidst the smoky threads of beast and bird alike until he found the one he sought. There it sat, on a low branch in a distant tree, obscured by the surrounding darkest. Its black exterior matched the deadness of night, a perfect candidate in the realm of the living.
As he drew closer, another caw seeped from that black hook on its face, pushing aside the purple wisps of other forest dwellers. Tiyhak raised his hands and pulled at the smoky tendrils, forming them into a swirling cloud between his palms. The cloud began to spit and fight against his power, but as it grew, he pushed harder, containing the raw power of death. Finally the smoky cloud gave way, launching shafts of electric power into the night. The violet lightning hit its mark, holding the bird in place. Tiyhak approached the tagged twilight informer and plucked it from its place atop the branch. Soon blood was dripping down his chin as his fangs sunk into the feathered sleeper. Red juice slithered down the oily carcass, encasing the body like a sticky glove. As the final touches were painted on the gooey coffin, Tiyhak reached for the escaping spirit strands. They formed a shimmering casing around the bloody mess before sinking back into that body they had once known so well. The blood fell away, but the bird did not. Its span stretched and snapped with life as it rose into the air, testing those wings new yet familiar. After circling for a time, the bird rested on his shoulder and a caw reached into the night, but the trees shrunk away from the eerie voice of their dead companion.
“Kyra the Tallri is your target. Never will you leave her side, but never will she see you, oh agent of the night. Fly swift and true. May the god of death be ever with you.” His watcher cawed out in response before taking flight. The soft crackle of spirit-life was soon lost in the surrounding blackness, but never left Tiyhak. He watched the bird swoop beneath thin lines of purple smoke and curl around others with the joy of serving its master. He followed the raven until it came to rest in a familiar location. Though it was spiritually visible, his eyes betrayed its existence as the clearing materialized before him. The sweet smell of roasted meat wafted into his nostrils as he saw Kyra take the spit off of the fire and pull out her knives for the surgery. “I see that you did something while I was gone instead of simply amusing yourself. Excellent.” He took a seat where he had been and watched the Tallri slice into the meat with practised precision. “My stomach cannot wait to be filled.”
Kyra scoffed. “If only we could wish the same thing for your head.”
Or my spirit. If you only knew, Tallri. Tiyhak split a smile in two with his thin lips, but said nothing in return.