Tiyhak had to admit that Reuben knew a thing or two about politics. Why wouldn’t he, being so invested in such endeavours? There was a reason why Klychawk had suggested that they give the Duke of Dete Plych a more permanent position with the troops. While integrated heavily in the governing of Glanderxe Coessarde, he was a wonderful informant, but he proved to be even more useful at Castle North. Tiyhak could hardly suffer through the ranting and ravings of blood-thirsty allmarach, and had little patience for such things. Reuben seemed to calm even the strongest aversions in Klychawk’s crew of warriors with such grace that it seemed almost easy and natural.
There was still much that Reuben had to learn, but his strengths were evident. It had been his idea to send Mert into Kho Arian in the first place in order to acquire information about the place. If Klychawk had any hope of defeating the Pharosh, or even fighting them, they needed to know more about what lay beyond the Void… and now they did. Tiyhak had explored the entirety of the new internal army base that Cargh and Kyra had so graciously helped them set up… not that they knew that. Mert, the pawn in this game, had been the least useful, but the most painful. Tiyhak could still feel the death of his first spirit-slave as if it happened yesterday. He didn’t see it happen, being too focused on his battle with Cargh, but he almost fell over when that first spirit left him. The pain curled in his stomach, reaching for release up the shaft of his throat to explode on whatever unlucky sod might be in range of the vile fluid. In this case, it would have been Cargh had he not been able to choke back down the vomit.
There was nothing more that Tiyhak could do now. The place was set, ready for Klychawk’s spirit-army of allmarach to be built. Asdeah would keep watch of the ash-laden mountain, giving him a spirit marker to return to. He saw her fluttering like a torch light, licking at a never ending supply of oil. Her spirit shimmered with power, Tiyhak’s power, and he smiled at this new, unlikely friend. His first slave, the allmarach, had never been as precious as Asdeah, and the pain of losing him was almost satiated by her presence. He didn’t really have many options, being tied directly to his will, but friendship was different. She seemed to enjoy following his command… but what is real in the plane of the dead?
Klychawk had fallen when his wife died. He spent so much time in death with his wife that he forgot what living really was. He had captured her spirit upon her death, his very first spirit slave. He didn’t really know what he was doing, but as she lay in his arms, dying, Klychawk saw the strands. His intense grief and anger toward the attackers fuelled his escape to the realm of death where such emotions are encouraged. He saw the strands and reached for them, pulling her in forever… but did she really love him then? Had he just fooled himself into thinking it was love? After all, his wife was now his spirit-slave and had no choice but to do what he said. Does Asdeah have any choice? Perhaps she loved Tiyhak just because he wanted her to, her spiritual bonds to him playing tricks with emotion.
Tiyhak shook the thoughts from his mind and searched for another spirit. Thinking of such things would only cause him pain and drive him further into the undead plane surrounding him. Tiyhak still held onto his sanity, still knew why he lived, still felt the real more than the unreal. He found the spirit he was searching for, his destination. Hundreds of allmarach spirits floated about in Castle North, and Tiyhak couldn’t tell one from the other. They were all thugs, brutes, brainless military power. Reuben, however, was different. He had led many a battle as a Glanderxe knight, then guard captain, then Duke, and the training showed. Tiyhak smiled as he launched himself along that strand toward the red-haired battle master.
Stone walls spoke to him through the blackness, appearing like shadows in the dark. The world materialized around him as the particles rained down like showering pixels from heaven. Rocks fell into place, torches blew life into the room, and there in the centre of it all stood Reuben with… his first spirit slave! He surely was learning quickly.
“Welcome.” Reuben spoke with that sly yet calming tone that always seemed to spill from his mouth.
“Did he put up a fight?” Tiyhak could still see the fresh blood dripping from the murder weapon which Reuben held in his hand. It gather in a crusty pool of death beneath his new allmarach slave.
“Is that not the way of it? If there was no fight, mmm… would we kill them still?”
“A fine question, but it’s irrelevance is plain. An army is an army, regardless whether the victims deserve it.”
“Hmm, but such knowledge aids the conscience.”
“Certainly.” Soon Reuben would learn to draw on the remorse of his victims and claim it as strength in the realm of death, but for now his conscience was satiated by idle logic. The workings of death can only be explained so far. They must be experienced. “Where is the prisoner? I wish to hold conference with the man.”
“Conference, hmm? The only conference he will hold now is with Klychawk.” Reuben spoke the words as calmly as one would pour tea.
“What?” If he was saying what Tiyhak thought he was…
“That knight of ours was found, mmm… escaping. I believe that Cargh was aiding the endeavour, but I sorted that out in my own way.”
That grin on his face was cruel and calming. What did this man do?
“Come,” was all he said as he led Tiyhak from the room. They wound through a few passageways before coming out into a small room at the back of the castle. Weapons of varying shape and size hung on the walls like a store room. In reality, the allmarach were not nearly organized enough to have a storeroom for weapons, but someone must keep up appearances. The castle had gone through a number of changes since Reuben’s arrival, and this was no doubt one of them. This room in particular, however, went through a clear and recent change. Old rusty chains hung from the ceiling, having once held a light source of some kind. It was apparent by the pool of dried blood on the floor that a chandelier was not the most recent thing that hung there.
“These allmarach did most of the mmm… work. I finished the job, and must brag its beautiful brutality.”
“Certainly you didn’t have to flay the man.” Tiyhak didn’t mind a little torture, especially of one he hated so much, but his goods must be protected. Imagine a spirit-slave that looked like death. Someone might think it a ghost and be afeared. “Nonetheless, your entertainment has been had. Where is our skinless friend now?” Tiyhak almost cringed when the answer came.
“Oh, he did not die in this room, but the Wastes most assuredly did the rest.”
Tiyhak prided himself in maintaining his cool with most situations. He could laugh off insults like brushing flies from a horses back… but this. “You had no right to deal with him so!” Tiyhak’s anger begun to flare. He felt the warmth rising to his clean-shaven cheeks. Soon the red of rage would show through the pale of his skin.
Reuben was stunned, taken aback by this sudden burst of emotion. “My lord, his mmm… usefulness had run its course. We learned all we could about the lizard-folk and their secret entrance. What more could he offer us?” His words were not as measured as before.
“He was my prisoner, and not yours to release!” Tiyhak’s hands were still at his sides, but he felt them begin to tingle with power.
“Pardon the correction, lord, but the prisoner was as much mine as yours. You were mmm… detained when I found him… or perhaps he found me.”
“HIS LIFE WAS MINE!” Tiyhak screamed, power coursing down his arms and through those ten digits of extension. He was to be my next. The strands began to form between his fingers and he played with the idea of enslaving the useless fool who stood before him. Would the man fight back?
“Klychawk has him now. No harm was done.” His words shot out quicker than lightning. Apparently his usual calm lilt was not going to sooth Tiyhak now. In desperation he searched for some way to explain things to his comrade.
“He had no spirit, perkoh! He is as dead as the Pharosh will be after we are done with them.” What could Tiyhak do now? True, Mert’s usefulness to Klychawk was complete, but Tiyhak still had other plans. His personal vendetta would forever remain empty and hollow, just like that place inside him left by the death of his first… by the hand of Mert.
With his anger, the strands rose into the largest sparking mass he had ever created. Sheer strength and will could not hold it in place, but it fed off of the emotions within him like a leech, sucking life from a dying man. Tiyhak released the power. Reuben flinched against the attack, but it never came. Tiyhak faded from view with a snap as lightning coursed through his own body. The rage continued to feed, driving him into the realm of death where he took solace in the emotion. He slashed at the trees in the garden with his hands, cutting branches, leafs, and skin. His would-be form was bloodied, in pain, enraged.
He released his anger in a mighty scream. Again and again his roaring shook the garden like a mighty quake of pain. His roars turned wet with a fourth utterance, and tears streaming from his would-be eyes. Tiyhak received the garden’s sorrow which dripped from crying trees, seemingly sharing in his pain. The garden was a sanctuary for the dead, a place of rest for the broken-hearted and a soothing wave for the angered. There was no place in life that he belongs, but this place of death was a perfect compliment to the emotions swirling around within him.
“My son…” Klychawk’s tear soaked words deepened Tiyhak’s sorrow. The pain of father and son joined together as one, and Klychawk surrounded him in a would-be embrace, their spirit’s twitching and flashing against each other. No words had to be said, nor could they be. The pain of loss was the central theme of the garden, and Tiyhak wore the emotion with pride, with sorrow, with bitterness. He felt like ending Sir Reuben where he stood… but his father wouldn’t approve.
“He is too useful still. He must still remain… for a time. Mistakes are to be expected, but the calm is greater after a storm.”
Tiyhak knew his words to be true. He had been spiritually stronger ever since the claiming of his first spirit-slave… and the subsequent death thereof. He knew what it meant to gain, he knew what it was to lose. He now knew what he fought for in a real and tangible way. Death was no longer just a concept, but it was part of his life.
“What is done is done. We cannot change the past, but the future still remains to be determined.”
“Certainly, I know this.” Tiyhak knew that his personal struggle could not delay Klychawk’s plans. The time would come for vengeance, but faithfulness to Klychawk was owed. This was just the loss of his first, but what would Tiyhak do after the loss of his hundredth? Surely their army would face some casualties, every fallen spirit being a strike to his own.
“I promise your vengeance will be satiated, my son.”
Tiyhak basked in the emotions of his father and the garden of death. He would build Kylchawk’s army, and Reuben would help… but what is one less spirit-slave? Tiyhak had lost his first, and if it was a good enough initiation for him, it would be a good enough initiation for another. It was not perfect, but Tiyhak’s vengeance would be satisfied… for a time.
When Farah awoke, the sky proclaimed what the day would hold. Where normally an expanse of crystal blue hung above Coere Ghante, the black fingers of death dipped into a darkened pool of grey. Brief flashes of yellowing white fought against the gloom, but did not remain for more than an instant before those fingers grabbed at and choked the life from them. The wind whistled a sad lament through the fields and the trees whispered grief to each other.
Normally Farah would get up early to tend the animals and many other asundery tasks that Coere Ghante would require. The sweet smell of the morning dew that she so enjoyed smelt musty and old today. The cool ground against her bare feet would normally put a spring in her step, and the soft “good mornings” of the wind would cause her to smile. Not this day. The chilly earth felt cold and dead, and the wind did not help as it spoke through clenched teeth, not knowing how to greet her grief. “I’m sorry for your loss.” That was all it could say, and those words would be echoed a thousand times over before the day was out. It caused her to smile a little knowing that the wind was the first to think of her, but that was not enough to bring her heart from that murky pit of despair.
The stabled horses whinnied in the distance, but they would not speak to her today. Grish Wheater had offered to take over her duties: a noble offer, but not necessary. It was expected that Farah Bailey and her mother would be abed with grief later than usual. Mother, perhaps, would be so. She hadn’t risen too early ever since father… but now she surely wouldn’t rise with the sun.
Farah found her solace in the morning and still found the streets, but without duties to attend to she just walked around aimlessly. Her mind was a blank slate, and her heart an even emptier grey to mimic the sky above. The sun finally managed to steal a space between the clouds, and even the grey looked more blue than before, but this life was not mirrored in Farah’s heart. She remained a slate grey, a dead hole waiting to be filled with… something… someone.
Soon that same grey was mixed with black and all the other colours of grief. The whole town dressed in appropriate attire for the occasion. Farah was almost the last to arrive at that place in the field where an empty hole opened in the earth, waiting to be filled. Mr. Bailey would be lain beside the body of his son, beneath the darkened earth, inside a darkened box. There was nothing special about the house that Farah had picked out for her father. It did the job, and that was all. There was nothing beautiful about death, so why dress it so?
Amidst the spots of blacks and greys, the white of the priest’s collar stood out, stark and unwelcome. The only other colour like it was found in the hands of nearly every woman in town, handkerchiefs lifted in remembrance of the loss. Farah pulled a similar cloth from a pocket in her dirty, wrinkled, ashen dress. The man who had gifted it to her stood at her side, barely noticed in the sea of faces. He wore the customary funeral colours, though the money in his clothing was plain. There was a time when Farah would have been disgusted by such extravagance in the wraps of cloth one chose to adorn themselves with, but Sir Yoyde didn’t seem to hold his office with pride. Should a man be judged more fully by his clothing or his heart?
Farah tried to be strong for her mother. Even pulling her from bed that morning had been difficult. Farah faced the day in all its dreariness. Father had been slipping into the realm of death one day at a time, and as she sat by his side through it all, Farah sometimes wondered which realm he inhabited more. Mother had refused to see her dying husband, the pain too great for her to bear. Farah had accepted the grey of sky and cloth, but mother wouldn’t rise. The pain had gone to her head and she kept saying she was waiting for Brion to come home. Brion Bailey wasn’t coming home. He now lay in a box, frail beyond recognition, and the only home he would find now was in the sky or in the ground.
Farah still wasn’t sure about the state of her mother’s mind, but she had finally accepted father’s death enough to at least come to the funeral. Waterfalls poured from her face, and the great moaning sob was almost too much for the occasion. The priest was having trouble making his words heard, not that anyone really cared… at least Farah didn’t care. Nothing anyone could say could bring her father back. That man with the white around his neck was here simply for appearances.
Some say that laughter is contagious. The voice of one will mingle with another, passing through the crowd like a virus. Tears, unfortunately, have a similar effect. There was no staying strong any longer. The time had come to say goodbye, and Farah’s heart answered the call. The emptiness inside spilled out in a single stream down her face before she turned away. The rest of Coere Ghante could say their goodbye’s together, but Farah just wanted to be alone. Her daughterly duty was complete, and she hoped that mother would appreciate her efforts enough to remain… but these thoughts barely entered her mind as she left.
The red earth grew damp with the soft pitter-patter of bare feet and tears. They left a speckled trail to the place a distance away where she finally broke down. Mighty torrents erupted from her every orifice. Mouth, eyes, nose, all created a mass of tears, snot, and saliva which mixed together before dripping from chin. They created a pool in the red dirt below as her hands came to her face. Soon those hands were replaced with a silky cloth of white, and when she pulled it away a finely chiselled face stood before her. No words came from his mouth, but those two lips spoke more than simple words could manage as they came to rest on her cheek. The kisses plastered her face in a soft caress as they worked down beneath her eyes, soaking up the wet which remained.
Sir Yoyde kissed the pain away, two lips at a time. Farah hardly noticed when his hands reached for the sides of her face and his lips found their place atop hers. Before she knew it, she was kissing him back, and the the pleasure which coursed through her body at this unlikely time was mesmerizing. Only this man could turn such a time of pain into one of joy. Tears began to fall again as he pulled away from her, their lips sticking for a brief but lasting moment. His crystal blues mocked the grey of the sky as they peered down at her. Pity mixed with love was all she say before her hand reached for his stubbled cheek.
Her voice caught in her throat amidst to confusing swirl of emotions and tears while she mouthed the words, “Thank you.”
His reply came from tear-sweetened lips, but it was not a reply of words… and she did not pull away from his embrace.