Chapter 1.1: A Murder By The Sea:Daxfoss
I walked in the middle of the black road, lit only by torches and the sunlight that the ash clouds let through when they parted. I navigated the darkness they brought when the fire sand cloud came together. I clung to my small pouch filled with gold that I swiped from unsuspecting pockets. I only had enough to get me to Esior and keep me fed for a week, I hoped that I could find a job, maybe even a place to stay by then, I doubted that dream but I hoped nonetheless. I look up at the black sky, I see the upper levels of the city and it's black and red walkways. I look at the entrances to the winding stairs that lead there as I walk. I see the sunlight hit the ground only in the way that it would hit the borders. I saw my freedom and a smile spread across my face, I was going to the prosperous, green and bountiful land of Esior, where I am not hunted for something I never chose to have, as hope swells in my gut, my smile quickly disappears when I see guards taking people into alleyways, I knew they were looking for me.
The guards wore helmets with their faces exposed, they wore no cloaks and they carried a sword in their arms and daggers on their waist. I hear the complaints of the people as they have to wait for a guard to take into an alleyway, make them strip and search them for The Mark, my mark. "for fuck sake, how haven't they found that evil little cunt already?" the man in front of me asked the rhetorical question, if looks could kill then his scowl would make birds fall out of the sky, well that was if they weren't already doing that. "like honestly, they didn't make these soldiers like they used to it took them a week to the one with the Mark of The Fire God when Summer came, it's August now", the man had blue eyes,I think, probably pale and blonde, like most of the native populace. "If they're so shit at their jobs maybe you could contribute instead of bitching" the man next to him retorted, the man with the annoyed look and blue eyes stayed silent.
I considered leaving, I didn't want to, I didn't want to give up on my dream, being in the sun, working in the fields, a wife, and a family free from persecution. I didn't want to leave that. I start to turn, my sight grew foggy with tears, as all I could see was darkness with orange blemishes. I walked away from my one chance at happiness, I didn’t know, when an opportunity like that will come again, I might actually die here. I wanted to scream, I bite the inside of my mouth until I felt the flesh tear and blood pool in the mouth. I clench my fists and as I feel the pain of my long uncut fingernails press into my palm, I clench harder. I walk back into the darkness which is pierced by gaps in the clouds and glowing orange fire. I start sobbing, I try to hide the noises. I consider letting the guards take me to end all of this but something in me didn't want to die.
"Hey! Boy, come here" someone shouts, I keep walking "hey!! Boy" I turn and see the guard is looking at me, I start running, my despair turning into fear. I keep running, the guard is chasing me, the guard is gaining on me "running from a Blood Warrior is punishable by whipping!" he threatened, I paid him no mind. I still kept running, the guard was getting closer. I turn and run down the alleyway. I see the winding staircase. I turn around and kick the man down the steps, he gets up and keeps chasing me but he's a few steps back thankfully. I get to the first stage of Upper Skotash, the skyward corridors, winding and twisting around, pillar housing, I run past carriages and beggars. Flames lit up the paths, the clouds didn't part for me anymore. I start to feel tired my legs are weak, without intending to I start to slow down, I keep making attempts to push on. I see another stairway I go up the stairs and the paths become narrow I keep running taking any twist and turn that I notice making an effort to avoid going in circles. People start to hear the commotion that the guard is causing by shouting at me, people give me either confused or damning looks. I saw a number of buildings grow sparse except for one it was level with me. I see the guard gaining on me fast. I didn't have time to think, so I jumped. I look back to be pushed to the ground. The guard intended on incapacitating me, I was not dying today. I manage to wriggle out from under him after he scratched me, he charges for another attack, I panic and kick him, he falls off the roof screaming, I couldn't see much, but I could still hear. I heard one crack and then another faint one. I start running, I jump off the pillared building, I collapse onto my knees, when I land my hand dances over the edge I recoil instantly regaining balance before I share the same fate as the Blood Warrior. I get up and walk down the stairs, I walk the twists and turns of the walkways, so when I get to the ground, I end up as far away as possible. I walk away, through the broken darkness to my home. The Black Forest, the rumoured home of the monsters, from what I’ve known it was only a rumour. There weren't many torches deep in the forest and the clouds left few gaps. I stole one and started walking, I walked the brown, worn, familiar paths which were speckled with dead grass and ash. I ran my hand along the trees as I walked, letting the black dust stain my fingers. I continued walking until I found a pile of sticks the ones I left and luckily there were a few freshly dead birds as well, the poor things flew into the dark from Esior only to collapse and die and be used as food, for a cursed thing. I put the torch to the bundle of sticks as I look for more. After grabbing some extra sticks I throw them into the fire. I lay down next to it hits me, I just killed someone, I didn't even think about it, I just kicked a man who could've had kids to go home to. Tears stream down my face, make no effort to wipe them away, I killed someone, I killed someone. I'm the monster everybody thinks I am. Maybe I should send myself to them. Save the world and all. No, no goddess who loves her people would let an innocent child be marked forcing him to leave his family, his sister, forcing him to hurt someone to survive.
Chapter 1.2: A Murder By The Sea: Samai
I pull my Clericatoire and flip through the pages, the pages of notes that I've written since my mother saw the mark on my palm and I was sent and left here to become an exalted servant of the Blood Goddess, I was sent here to study to become a Blood Cleric, learn all there is about their faith, the world and The Goddess, to become the most important part of the The Goddess’ army. I lay near the fireplace that barely lit up my room. I keep flipping as I feel the heat from the fire warm my silver hair. I keep flipping until of I find the page I was looking for. ‘The Bleeding Eye’-Spell for metaphysical sight. Perfect. I read through it, trying to make sure not to miss a thing. This was important, I needed to find him especially now, with the end of Summer fast approaching and the air getting warmer, people are their most vigilant and afraid. I grab my dagger, it had a large crossguard and pommel, with a thin grip and a thin blade, which gradually thinned even more to a needle-like point at the tip. I pressed the point into my Blood Mark and then dragging it along from one end to the other. "visula anim" I tilt my head back raise my palm above my eye and squeeze letting it drip into my eye, it instinctively starts to move rapidly, I did the same to the other. I focused on the memory of my brother, I waited for an image of him to become clear in my mind but all there was a red blur. I focused thinking of him. Nothing. I ran a hand along my wound, it started to heal with the blood in my eyes flowing back into my hand. What was the point? If it didn't work for the Archaima, then why would it work for me? I had to keep trying I couldn't give up.
I look at the clock to see that it's time for prayer. I leave my room, I move through the hallways at a brisk pace, the sound of stomping of my shoes bouncing against the walls while the movements of the other Blood Clerics were silent, their hoods were up and their heads were bowed. They kept to themselves, Blood Clerics only study and practice magic and try to grow closer to The Goddess, they all failed in their endeavours, The Goddess demands blood and only then you'll get her power, she ignores her children and lets them panic as Summer's end grows nearer, let's children be marked as the possession of the God of Ashes and Death. I go to up the stairs I'm sure that I would see a pretty view if it wasn't for the black clouds blocking out most of the light, although the land looked pretty when small streams of light appeared and then shrunk away and appeared elsewhere, still it wasn't what it should be, I had to pull myself out my thoughts and continued climbing the stairs.
"As the End of Summer approaches we must unite against the forces of death and darkness that start to rise, we must be on the hunt for The Ashen One, before that creature burns us all" The Archaima, our leader said, even in the low light, I could see that he was dying, our sight had to evolve to see through the dark. He spoke of honouring the Goddess, while I stared at the scars that ran down his forearms, from his Culling, which happened decades before I was born. Something does catch my attention though, “yesterday a Blood Warrior was killed after falling to his death, at the hands of that dark thing” I heard his voice rasp as he said that. It used to hurt when people spoke ill of my brother, my only friend. We had our prayer, we sliced at our mark to pay tithes and we left to our chambers to be alone. It dawned on me, my way back to Daxfoss may have been on the corpse of that soldier.
I wait in my chambers I look at the time, the burial should be starting. I leave this time trying to keep my footsteps quiet, being the sister of The Ashen One put me under a microscope, so now when the hallways were empty, I kept silent. I walked through the hallway when the clouds parted the light was now dim, the night was coming. I walked down the stairs and through reached a hallway of doors. I stand and consider my decision. If I failed then I have nothing to focus my magic, I needed a direct connection, the blood we share and his skin should do the trick if my hunch was right, right? I started to fill up with doubt, I press it down, I have to try and save him. I start to feel motivated again, but I'm still frozen. I will myself to move, I walk down the hallway, slowly and silently passing each door until I'm hit with a horrid stench. This was it. I turned the knob of the door and start to push it open, I freeze as soon as I start to hear a creak, I push it just so I could just about slide through. I see a corpse lying on a wooden table with its throat slit and its torso sliced open so its inner workings could be removed for the offering. I walk up to it, I slice into my hand calling a piece of my brother towards me. I wait. Why did I think this was going to work? Of course, nothing would happen. I wait. I'm going get caught have my throat slit and be offered up to The Goddess as a traitor. I wait. This was a stupid idea nothing is going to h- To my pleasant surprise, something from under the Blood Warrior's fingernail went into my hand. I start chanting as I slice into my mark and squeeze the blood into my eyes. I see Skotash, I start flying through the dark landscape and reached a place where the light started to ended except for one orange glow that was nestled within it. I knew where I needed to go.
1.3: A Murder By The Sea: Daxfoss
I lay next to the fire, I watch it flicker and spasm, as I stare into it, I think back to the time that I was cursed with my mark, when my life turned from playing games and being happy, to hiding in a forest that people told scary stories about. I saw everything, I could see the entire world, I flew through the lush borderlands of Esior, the mud and rock of the Golden City, the land of Winter and it's Mountain Ring. The land of scorpions. The stone land and the Land of Blood and Ash. I was falling now, into the sea. Something took hold of me. An instinctual urge to escape, but I sunk nonetheless. The feeling grew, it felt like something was pressing down on me, I willed myself to move with every grain of my being. I don't know why I was scared but it I was terrified, something in me screamed that there was some incomprehensible horror waiting for me in the ashen darkness below. I had to leave. I had to wake up. It felt like something was holding me down. Wake up. Wake. Up. I awoke to the night's darkness. I felt a pain in my left wrist, it felt like a rock was being scraped against my skin. I saw it for the first time. Not knowing what happened and being only a child, I cry out for my mother, she runs in, torch in hand, my little sister I think she was five at the time, ran to me "are you okay?" she asked, I didn't know how to answer, I was silent. "Oh Shataska" she looked at the mark on my wrist, I didn't know why but my vision started fogging up, I knew whatever happened was bad. My mother left the room, my sister walked out with her. I heard the grunts of my groggy father and then arguing, I was frozen, I remember the legends of the Evil Ashen One and the mark given by The Ash God, I look at my mark I barely see it, I start panicking as my body starts to pulse with a sensation that left me slightly tingly. I was too panicked to notice that my sister wasn't in the room "Samai you need to leave" I heard my mother say through the wall, Samai ran towards me crying,
"what's wrong?" I asked her, my panic slowly subsiding as I held her
"They said they were going to send you away" the panic hit instantly once again, I knew I had to leave, my eyes were starting to fog up again, I get up and grab some stuff, I open up the window, the Skotashi chill wafting over me giving me goosebumps I move to climb through "I wanna go first" she said, her bottom lip was pushed out to make a sad face, I couldn't let her give up her life to have to hide, "I can't I need you to do an important job for me, get me my necklace, it's in the kitchen" I knew that she was too short to reach the window "I love you Samai, remember that"
"okay" she responds with a smile, I wait for her to leave and then I climb through the window, with a blanket wrapped around me, I hear her call for me, I still walk away from my home, crying, knowing I'll never see it again.
I stared into the fire as my mind drifted away from the past my eyes focus on the flicker of flames, the waves that reached upwards instead of sideways. I felt a scraping feeling in my wrist I looked at it, the pain started to intensify, I clutched it, the voice spoke to me "Someone is watching, someone is coming" the voice whispered over and over and over again. I looked at my mark to see it glowing an amber colour, the voice grows louder, as I get to my feet and grab the dirty blanket that I've outgrown years ago.
I kept running, but I didn't see a faint orange glow in the distance, I only saw darkness, the pain in my wrist and with relief came clarity. I was deeper in The Black Forest.
Chapter 2: A Day of Firsts: Elyeria
“I figured it out!” I shout I feel my mouth spread as a grin started to form. I narrowed my eyes waiting for her to figure it out, she stared back at me with confusion etched onto her face, “his nickname!” I said “duh”
“Shut up!” she whispered loudly
“Nobody’s here and I didn’t mention any names anyway” I explain “don’t you wanna hear it?”
“You ask me as if you’re not gonna tell me anyway” Sheera looked at me knowingly
“You’re right, I remember what you told me and what you pointed out,” I say “Greatsword!” I splay my hands in the air, as if the letters would appear “What I don’t- oh” her mouth slowly opened “you’re terrible!” she laughed, resting her hand on her belly
“and you’re way to innocent for your age, I guess we compliment at least until I corrupt you” I said, wrapping an arm around her.
A boy in slightly dirty beige clothing came up to me “your father wants to see you” he said, making eye contact with me for only split seconds and looking at the ground most of the time, he hid his true face well even in the short glimpses I got of his face. “escort my friend to her chambers or Baron DuVaulian”
“Don’t worry, he dishes anything then he’ll be killed” she keeps her breathing in check, to stave off her Frights. “don’t worry, if he doesn’t like you then he’s obviously not smart enough to be worthy of you” I give her a squeeze on her shoulder, I lean in to whisper “I’m sure The Sword isn’t too much for you, you always manage to stretch yourself when it comes to challenges” I gave her a wink, she chuckled. I gave her a hug “I’ll see you in the gardens” I wave her goodbye as I walk away. Walls that were painted red with brown diamonds that always manage to stay symmetrical except for one the was ever so slightly out of place. I was told by my mentor that to always beware of aberrations, he believed that they were a portent of danger if not understood, but an opportunity if one can use it to their advantage, although many of the lessons stuck with me, that lesson is what was stayed fresh in my mind. I walked through the halls wondering what my father wanted me for, he never called me for anything neither did my aunts and uncles, that was what was normal I was the sixth child, the child who didn’t receive the divine inheritance, I learnt to not care, I found people who cared about and allies who were of use to me, in a way I chose my family, me being ignored was normal, my father requesting an audience with only me let alone me at all was an aberration, an anomaly, something that was wrong and may not bode well for me.
I reach the lifter and I walk in “take me up to the Aerilas Office!” I said to the people who worked to pull the lifter up, they carry me upwards to the highest floor. I walk out into another set of hallways. Sunlight streamed through the windows that gave me a view of the beaches and the forests. I hear the tweets of birds and see Folla birds, their golden feathers streaked past the window. I walked through the hallways until I reached the door to my father’s office. I don’t bother knocking, I walk in and sit down, we sit in silence for a second waiting for my father to talk. He looks from whatever papers he was looking at, probably trying to feed our citizens, once he realised food is important than parties the money was already spent. “what do you want?” I said, breaking the silence. “you know that there are duties that one must do to secure our future” he began, my blood already started to boil, I kept it behind a blank mask. I go through the little he’s said, by the way, he’s speaking trying to imply that I have to do whatever he’s about to ask of me, so I know I’m not going to like it. How did my father expect me to secure my family’s future, I didn’t have the spirit of One of The Five inside of me. Allegedly. How was I important enough for my father, uncle, and aunts to see me as able to secure their future. Unless. “you’re going to Bouvach to marry Davin Dachou” he finished. I could feel myself start to shake. I push the nail of my thumb into the skin of my index finger to not give anything away “so because you forget that you have citizens and now you can’t pay back the loan you took out from House Ristikos, you want to sell me for an army for when they attack us” I keep my speech in a calm state, my father said nothing “I refuse to clean up your mess” I get up to leave
“If Meldavorne and Bouvach aren’t united then Ristikos could win and pillage the villages, storm the castles, send the children into the Golden City, they won’t care who they’ll hurt” I knew what he was implying, what was worse was that he was right. If it was not for him, or the family I was related to then it would be for my family “I expect you by the port in an hour” he said. I walk out, I speedily walked to my room, I call one of the servants and make them pack my things and bring them to the port. I sit in my room. I was shaking now. I attempted to distract myself but to no avail, I tried anyway because I didn’t want to face having to leave my home for a cold, bleak wasteland, I didn’t want to face losing the only people who cared about me. It was mainly because every time I thought about this situation, I was filled with so much rage that I couldn’t breathe.
I found myself gripping onto the dagger at my bedside to the point my knuckles were in pain. I sat just there, I was so in my head that I barely noticed that my forefinger dug into my thumb to the point that I tore skin and drew blood. My door opened, “what’s wrong?” Sheera asked, I tried to force myself to breathe, I started crying, I started to speak “my father” I gasped for breath “he’s sending to some cold shit hole because my family can’t get their shit together” Sheera hugged me. I felt release. I tried to keep my mask on but I couldn’t, all that I’ve bottled up today came pouring out, I could breathe again, I relished every breath that I could now draw. “I knew that the rulers were struggling to pay back Ristikos but I never knew it got to this point, I’m so sorry” her hug tightened, I felt safe and cared for, although she was losing a friend, she never made it about her, which something my aunts weren’t able to do. I stopped crying, I think I was okay now, “come on” Sheera stops hugging me and puts on a smile “head up, we’re Elyeria and Sheera, we’ll always find each other” she holds out her ring finger “I promise” I lock my ring finger around hers “I’ll come back to you” I give her one hug before I grab my dagger and sheath it on my thigh strap, then Sheera and I walk to the port.
I arrive at the port to see the mentor of me and my siblings. Kaalan. Erroneous. That’s how it felt to leave my home. To leave him. The ship with our weapons and food waited for me. He was the only person that seemed to care about me, who taught how to ‘Dance’ and ‘Climb’. He knelt down slightly to so that he could be level with me, “remember what I taught you, you will survive this, remember that never give up, keep climbing, keep fighting, keep ruling, Scorpion” it was the first time he called me that, it was always Elyeria when in public or ‘Little Scorpion’ when I had to take extra lessons when I was behind. I never caught the attention of my father or any of my aunts and uncles, I was the sixth child. “May we meet again, Father” it was the first time I called him that, it was a day of firsts I guess. First time I was to leave Meldavorne. First time I was no longer The Little Scorpion. The first time I said out loud what Kaalan was to me. The first time I was to Climb on my own. The first time in years I was going to be alone. I walk over to Sheera and embraced her once more and I whisper “say hey to Greatsword for me” I give her a wink and walk towards the boat, I give my relatives to a curt nod and walk onto the ship and set sail.
After some time I arrive at Bouvach, the sky was grey and with sparse clouds, the terrain was stony and cold. Lesson 3: When in an unfamiliar setting, try to peer behind the masks, see the thing about a person that they want to keep hidden. I rode the carriage, to the Dachou castle, it stood tall and proud, surrounded by watchtowers and guards standing evenly spaced. I looked at the faces and I couldn’t discern anything. I walk through the halls, the sounds of my footsteps echoing through the castle. I was led to my chambers, or at least the ones I’ll be in until the wedding takes place. I don’t open my bags once they’re brought me because I don’t need anything now. I know that Kaalan would want me to build alliances but I couldn’t bring myself to do so. I was still recovering I guess. A servant came to me, “Davin wants to see you” she says, I push myself out of bed. I let the serving girl lead me there, I walk for a surprisingly long time until I reach my two doors slightly larger than the other ones, the girl opens it for me and I walk inside. The room had a table was oversized for what I assumed would only be for me and The Marquis, he is sitting at the end furthest from the door, I could see his green eyes and pale skin, I saw the brown stubble on his face our dinner is there waiting for us. I take my seat not knowing what to say. I tried to recall one of my mentor’s lessons but nothing is coming to mind. “So, I know that you might not be as fond of me as I would like you to be” his voice derails my ship of thought, “given the fact that you’re only here for my army” I looked up from my plate, to see him trying to repress his nervousness. “well, I’m trying to fix my family’s mistakes, why did you agree to marry me?” I ask
“well I need an heir, I am the eldest in my family, you were a woman of high enough status, still unmarried and from the family with the strongest naval force” he explains “just because we married for convenience doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get to know each other” the nervousness within him seemed to evaporate and we talk and started eating before our food got any colder.
Davin was nicer than the other citizens of the Bouvach, I don’t mean in doing your acts of politeness which are obligatory in certain situations, he was nice because he wanted to be not because society dictates it. I think I may be able to tolerate the cold. The Marquis let me pick the wedding date, a part of me wanted to get it over with, get my nation the army, another part wanted to have a back up plan before I take this next step, but I didn’t know how to do that, so in the meantime, I try to peer through the masks of the people, their posture gives off confidence, in their honour and physical prowess. Some of them had their head downcast, I heard of Bouvach’s struggles after the mercenary trade was disbanded Bouvach couldn’t afford to pay for food from Esior. They felt shame because for all of their might and for all the wars they won, you can’t fight nature. The cold made it so that all crops died and their only source of income was made illegal, they were a people in famine. Once proud, now fallen. Davin was different though he seemed happy optimistic as if he knew something that nobody else did.
I slept in my bed, I hear shouting I grab my dagger, I slowly open the door to my room, the torches were still lit. Doors were being kicked open, the invaders were searching for something. I see none of the bandits on my left so sneak off into the dark. I tried to keep my steps silent. I gripped onto my dagger. I tried to hide it from anyone that might find. “Let them underestimate you, let them think they can beat and once they realise what a true threat you are, it’ll be too late,” Kaalan’s voice said in my head. I thanked Onira, for the fact that one of his lessons managed to come to mind when I needed it most. I moved slightly and quietly, taking my time. I walk, I see an exit in the night due to the torches. I look back and realise that I didn’t get much distance between me and the bandits and they were closing it. I see the door, I froze. They were getting closer. I silently edge my way to the door. I turn the knob, I push it open and then hear a creak. My body stiffens, the bandits’ heads turn towards the door, I push it open completely and start running. I make it down the staircase and I see moving flames in the distance. Bandits. I run into one of the rooms. One of the bandits came in I was hidden in the wardrobe. I leap out and shove the knife into him. He slaps at me I wriggle the knife around to do more damage, I pull it out. I look out the window. I see the candle burning on the bedside table. I open the window and shudder at the breeze that washes over me I drop the candle out into the cold. I watched its orange fire shrink, it kept shrinking until I could barely see it. Then it was gone. I had to find another way out. I hear through the door the shouting grew louder. I heard the clash of metal clad feet against the stone floor and the colliding of swords. I heard armour falling to the ground. I opened the door, hoping to not be noticed, I keep to the edge. I get away from the battle. I get to the door I see that the bandits are winning. They do, they turn to me. I start running down the stairs. I get to the bottom floor. My escape is so close now, there are bandits in front of me, I turn around to see that the people chasing me just came out of the stairs. I run into one of the rooms and lock it. I open the window and climb out. The winds cover my skin in goosebumps. I start running looking for the guards, I see none. I get to the exit, then the night was consumed by void.