Ha! The second arc is done. This one is set after Shay'Gul and before It Will Be Alright (and Garza Zol, which is after IWBA). It's only a first draft, but now that it's done I can continue working on arc 4. Comments! Critiques! Step right up!
Exile of the RoseThe tavern was dark and crowded. The city of Norway was a large one, and the Dead Heroes never had a lack of business. All kinds of people could be found within. If you need something done, you can always find someone willing to do it here.
All of the tables were full, and many were gambling as they drank their hard-earned coppers away. The sheer amount of voices meant that the noise in the tavern was deafening. A fire was lit in the hearth to keep the customers warm. Norway was located on the northern reaches of the continent, and was cold year-round.
The coat hanger by the door seemed to jump as the door slammed open. The noise in the tavern died down as people turned to the newcomer. For a moment, he was a dark shadow against the night filling the doorway. Then he stepped into the light of the tavern. Many a man gasped as they saw the sheer size of the stranger. He filled the entire doorway, and it was obvious that the man was made of muscle, not fat. His height was otherworldly, and his arms were covered in crisscrossing scars. His dark hair was long and uncombed, it looked greasy. A scar ran down his cheek, and although he looked young, it was obvious that he was a soldier.
All eyes were on the young man as he walked slowly over to the bar. Oddly, he did not sit down when he ordered a drink of ale. Even odder was the sigil on his breast, a bloody rose beneath a blue sky. Oddest of all, he did not wear a coat. He had come into the tavern wearing only a short-sleeve brown shirt, and a pair of rough-looking pants. He looked travel-weary. It could have been a trick of the light, but it looked like he was sweating.
“Can you turn down the heat?” his deep voice was like thunder, and although he spoke no louder than a whisper, his voice resonated around the room. When he gazed at the barkeep the old man trembled and refused to meet his eyes. The barkeep nodded to the floor and began working on the hearth. The temperature soon dropped, and some patrons muttered as they grabbed their coats. But none spoke up in protest.
After that, the man merely stood at the bar and drank his ale. Eventually the rest of the tavern lost interest, and the noise began to increase as everyone began speaking over one another.
I really should stop drinking this stuff. Erin thought, and as if in answer he took another long draught of ale. He was already on his third cup, but it would take a lot more alcohol than that to affect him.
His mace hung at his side, a constant reminder of his weakness. Reminding him of his failure, and the reason he was here, so far from home. Another long draught of ale, and Erin ordered another refill. After the barkeep had refilled his cup, a cloaked man pulled up a chair next to him. Upon realizing that Erin already towered over him, the stranger decided to stand.
“I’ll pay for this one, Rand.” he said to the barkeeper, who nodded and accepted the coppers. His face was hooded, and the torches did not allow sufficient light to see his features. He turned to Erin, who continued to stare a hole into the wall.
“I do not speak with those who would hide their faces.” Erin’s deep voice could have been directed at the wall, considering what little notice he gave to the stranger. The mysterious man pulled back his hood, revealing a none too handsome face. It was covered in so many scars that it was impossible to see his eyes clearly. Finally Erin turned his head to the man, giving him his undivided attention.
“It’s not often you see a Hodge around here. It’s a hard weeks worth of travel from the Fortress of Ice, is it not?” although the man tried to sound bored, he failed miserably. Erin stared at the man, but he did not flinch. He must have had very strong willpower.
“I am not from the Fortress of Ice.” Erin stated simply, giving away nothing, not even his obvious heritage. The man nodded and pulled out a silver coin from his cloak. He showed it to Erin. On it was the symbol of ying and yang, with half of the coin being darker than the other.
“I am in the employ of the Armenian king. His Majesty is always looking for those seeking employment. You will be paid handsomely, and you may be able to fight with some Zin.” he spun the coin between his thumb and index finger before putting it back into his cloak. Erin could not tell what the man was thinking. To offer such employment to any other Hodge would have been his death sentence. The dishonor of being a mercenary…
“The Great Wall needs more defenders? I thought the meat grinder had enough men to keep the Zin out of Armenia.” the man nodded. I have already lost my honor, Erin thought.
“I do not offer you the Wall, I offer employ into His Majesty’s royal guard. If you can pass the requirements, of course.” the man turned slowly, and took a step toward the door.
“What are the requirements?” Erin asked quickly, not letting such an opportunity to slip through his fingers. The mysterious figure slowly turned his head to get another look at Erin. The light hit his face just right, and Erin saw his eyes clearly for the first time. They were like the coin, both ying and yang, and Erin could not see any recognizable pupils.
“Don’t die.” the man said simply, and he nodded to a group of men at a table in the corner of the tavern. When they stood up, all commotion in the room stopped. After an awkward second, a stampede of customers sprinted out the door. The man pulled out two gold coins from his cloak and tossed them to the barkeeper.
“This should pay for the damages.” he said, and walked out the door. With his exit, there were only seven people remaining in the room; Erin, Rand, and the five cruel-looking men in the corner.
The men walked in different directions, surrounding Erin. Rand dropped below the counter and covered his face with his hands. Things were going to get messy.
Before any of the men could react, Erin ran forward and swung an elbow at the man closest to him. The man he struck was short and stocky, and wore a brown leather hat. Erin’s elbow struck the man in the nose, and the man nearly flipped over backwards from the impact. He hit the floor and did not get up again.
Another man fell over some chairs trying to get to Erin, but the tallest of the five was able to get behind him and Erin heard a blade being drawn from a short sheathe. He probably had a knife.
Erin spun around with his right arm extended. His large hand chopped the tall man’s throat, and the man dropped his knife. He made a choking noise, and blood began to dribble from his mouth. He fell to his knees, and Erin ignored him as he gasped for air that refused to come.
The man who fell finally managed to get to his feet, and he rejoined the other two who were still standing. After seeing what had happened to the first two combatants, they were going to stick together.
Erin faced the group and settled into a stance none of the men had seen before. His knees were slightly bent and he held out one hand with his palm open and fingers pointed upward. His left leg was placed farther back than his right, and his other hand was held at his side.
This new stance made the men nervous, but they were professionals. They would not allow such a little thing as a stance make them forget about their job. They each pulled knives from their belts, and slowly moved toward Erin. But he stood perfectly still, as if he did not know they were there.
The men charged forward and swung their blades. None connected. Erin caught a man’s wrist and promptly broke it in one hand, and struck another man open-palmed with his other. He connected with the man’s sternum with enough force to stop his heart. He began to fall to the floor, dead, but before his corpse hit the ground Erin had dodged the sole remaining man’s swing and threw another open-palmed punch into his stomach. The man stumbled back screaming. After a moment, blood began to seep from the man’s eyes and ears. Erin finished off the man with the broken wrist with a swift kick to the head, and walked over to the screaming one. He calmly crushed the man’s throat with one hand.
He picked up what little remained of his ale and promptly drained it in one gulp. Upon catching sight of the barkeep hiding under the counter, Erin motioned for him to get up.
“One more for the road?”
Erin walked out the door a few moments later. His mace was still at his side, unused. The mysterious man was waiting, sitting on a bench. The streets were covered in snow, which meant there was no one on the road. The houses were dark, though the torches located every dozen yards along the street kept the ever present darkness back. Erin walked over to him.
“What took you so long?” the man asked. He did not look up as Erin approached.
“I needed another drink.” Erin answered. The man nodded, and got up. He turned to Erin and stuck out his hand in greeting.
“My name is David Legion. What’s yours?”
They arrived in Armenia a week later. Erin was amazed by the size of the city, covered in towering cathedrals and other huge structures. The city had no equal in the Hodge territories, which was made up of farmland and a few short buildings, made for war. But this city had buildings that seemed to reach for the dark sky, which had no obvious function. It seemed like they were made just so they could exist.
David led him through the packed streets, where merchants and others sold their wares. The crowd seemed to surge forward, with peasants yelling and haggling for food. Others, the richer and more powerful, were surrounded by bodyguards as they went into merchant tents. Erin had never seen such a large amount of normal people in one place. But David led him through the crowd without incident, finding open lanes in the mass of humanity almost before they appeared.
After walking for about an hour, they finally stood before a large fortress, which David had called the Sun’s Palace. After talking to a guard, he led Erin through a large gate, into the palace itself. They were not searched.
“You’re about to meet His Majesty.” David whispered to Erin as they walked down a confusing labyrinth of corridors. To Erin, it seemed like they were walking in circles, but somehow they were getting deeper into the palace.
“What is he like?” Erin asked, and David sighed. He looked away, and motioned for Erin to stop walking. He looked down the corridor, and satisfied that they were alone, began to speak.
“He is old. Very old. His mind is not what it once was. He does not have long to live, and when he dies, there will be many changes around here.” David spoke with fire in his voice, and Erin could see the determination on his scarred face.
They continued walking until they came upon an ornate doorway. It was lined
with gold, and the ying-yang symbol was split across both sides of the door. Light on one side, and dark on the other, the symbol was only complete when the doors were closed. David pushed the doors open to reveal a majestic courtroom. Golden torches lined the walls, and the room was alive with unwavering light.
A gold throne sat at the far wall, and in it sat an ancient figure. His long white hair and beard fell to the floor, and his eyes stared at nothing. His mouth hung open slightly, and glistened as if some drool had escaped. When Erin and David approached however, His Majesty became more alert. Erin noticed he had the same eyes as David.
“Kneel to His Majesty, Defender of the Legion, He Who Truly Sees!” an honor guard demanded. David only glanced in the man’s direction, and he fell back a step. David turned to Erin.
“You do not need to kneel. I know about your problem.” David whispered, and Erin was taken back. His problem? What did David mean?
David knelt before his sovereign. He kept his eyes on his king however, as if waiting for something. After a moment, energy seemed to revitalize the old man, and he sat up before speaking.
“Have you brought the Guardian? The One Who Will Guide?” the King asked with a sharp voice, and after hesitating, added “The Lover?” David looked to Erin, who had a look of utmost confusion on his normally stone face.
“Yes, my liege. The one you asked for is here.” he gave Erin a pleading look, as if he was sorry. They had grown much closer than they had originally thought.
“Good. The timelines are converging, and many are ready to split. An important event is coming, more important than Shay’Gul itself.” the King said with conviction, and Erin was aghast. What could be more important than Shay’Gul, which may have already occurred? The darkening of the sky, the reshaping of the earth, and the lives of thousands lost was not as important as this perceived event?
“I can see you are skeptical, Erin, but you must listen. I have also seen this, and you must trust me. He may seem a little off, but he speaks the truth.” David assured him. His face betrayed nothing. After a moment, Erin nodded.
“What so few see, I know. Shay’Gul is only the lull before the storm. Death is coming, from lands unknown. Doom is approaching in many forms, and few are willing to confront it. The people are too weary, too afraid of such minor threats as the Zin. You shall become a beacon for those who wish for hope.” His Majesty’s speech was even more confusing to Erin. Very little of what he said made sense. All Erin truly understood was that hard times were coming. Perhaps harder than they already were.
“Speak now, Erin. All will make sense in time.” David whispered. But Erin had nothing to say. His mind could not comprehend everything that had been said. When David saw he had nothing to say, his faced paled a little.
“Even now, hope dwindles. Even my son, with his little experience, can see the most promising timelines are already lost. The Hodge’s chance at peace ended with the massacre in the Dark Mountains three hundred years ago. Even the most stalwart heart can lose hope when facing Demons of the highest order.” the King kept rambling on. Erin still could not understand. David wasn’t any help either.
Silently, Erin reflected on what he knew of the Dark Mountains massacre. In the early 500’s, an army of over a thousand men, pure blooded Hodges all, decided to take the fight to the enemy. They chose routes through the nearly impregnable Dark Mountains, where the enemy would not expect them. But instead of finding empty cliffs, the army found thousands of Zin. Undeterred, the army launched itself upon its enemies. But among the Zin were monsters, creatures of darkness, and other unimaginable horrors. The Hodge lines fought with the valor of kings, but they were overwhelmed. The few survivors that made it back to the conclaves told stories that chilled even the hardest of hearts. That was the last time anyone chose to pass through those cursed mountaintops.
“You have little time. In a few hours, a mob will be burning a young woman. You must save her, and return to the safety of this keep. All is at risk, now.” the King seemed to lose his vigor, and slumped forward. David led Erin out of the courtroom, and they paused in the hallway.
“David, what did all of that mean? Timelines, doom, and everything?” Erin asked with an almost childlike plea. David looked Erin in the eyes, and shook his head.
“You have not guessed? My father and I can see the possible futures. Nothing can be certain, because there is always chaos within the patterns. But it does allow us to have a general knowledge of what is to come. And what is coming is not good.” he looked very worried as he explained. Erin could almost feel the depression that seemed just below David’s surface.
“What must I do?” Erin asked quietly, and David coughed. He looked very tired, which was odd because he had been well rested before the meeting.
“Save the girl, anyway you can. And remember Erin, not all solutions end in force. You will not be able to kill everyone in that mob.” David warned. Erin knew this already.
“Am I supposed to just walk up the pyre and take her?” Erin asked sarcastically. David looked at the wall for a long minute, his eyes moving to and fro as if in a trance. Beads of sweat ran down his scarred face. Finally his eyes settled, and he nodded.
“It would be best if you simply took her and walked away. The mob will be so aghast, you’ll have enough time to run back here. You must remain calm, however.” with that, David led Erin back to the gate. It was getting late, but the torches outside held back the dark. David stayed back, and Erin walked out onto the street.
Erin did not have trouble finding out where to go. It seemed like everyone in the city was walking in the same direction. Eventually, the streets were so crowded that Erin had trouble getting through. Finally, he reached what looked like a small courtyard. In the center was a large pile of wood, and strapped to a pole was a young woman. She must have been around fifteen years old, but she looked younger. Erin felt as though he had been stabbed in the heart; he recognized her.
Erin began to shrug his way through the crowd. But the people were reluctant to move. They had gotten a good spot, and they did not want to give it up. But when they saw how large Erin was, they moved quickly.
The crowd seemed leaderless, but someone had to have organized them. As Erin finally reached the pyre, a slim man stood with his back to Erin. He held a lit torch and did not see Erin. Silently, Erin walked up behind the man. He grabbed the torch gently, and slowly pulled it from the man’s hand. His slim face turned to Erin, and his eyes opened in amazement.
“Move.” Erin said, his deep voice seemed to resonate in the air, and the people in the crowd began to whisper to one another. Was this it? Was the witch going to burn?
Erin walked by the slim man, and held the torch for all to see. He walked in front of the young woman who was bound by hand and foot to the pyre. Tears ran down her cheeks, but she did not cry out or beg for mercy. Instead, she looked up to Erin and he saw her blood-red eyes.
Erin threw the torch to the ground. The flames sputtered for a moment in the dirt, and extinguished. The crowd immediately quieted down, until it was as silent as a funeral. Without wasting time, Erin grabbed the pole the young woman was strapped to in one hand. He swung his other fist below her feet, and connected solidly with the wood. It held for a moment, but his Hodge strength won through, and it snapped cleanly in half. Erin leaned it over his shoulder and made sure the young woman would not slip off of it.
The crowd was still silent in amazement, but that would not last long. Erin walked toward the crowd, and people began to move to get out of his way. One man refused to move. When he began to speak, Erin back-handed him across the face. He stumbled and fell backwards. No one else tried to bar Erin’s way.
When he reached the back of the crowd, Erin began to run. He could hear people in the crowd trying to get others to chase after him. He was surprisingly agile however, even with a pole and young woman on his shoulders. No one was able to catch up to him as he ran through the gates of the palace. The gates swung shut in the face of his pursuers, who swung their fists in rage at the guards. For now, Erin and the young woman were safe.
David approached him almost as soon as Erin was through the gates. He held a silver knife, which he used to cut the young woman out of the ropes that held her against the pole. When she was free, she fell to the ground and sobbed. She did not know who these people were. They may have saved her only so they could execute her in a more spectacular fashion. Such was the curse of being born a Damarkand.
“We have no time Erin. We must move quickly. Even now, enemies move to strike. What you have done will change the world.” David spoke urgently, ignoring the young woman at his feet. Erin, once again, gave him a look of utmost confusion.
“But what about your offer to be in the king’s royal…” Erin’s voice trailed off as he finally realized what had been going on. Seeing the look on his face, David nodded.
“It was the best way to get you here. There are much greater things in store for you.” David explained, while the sense of urgency never left his voice. He pointed at the sobbing young woman. Nothing needed to be said.
Guards came and gave them enough provisions for at least two weeks of hard travel. Erin tried to get the young woman to talk, but she said nothing. However, when he offered to carry her, she politely refused. With bags around his shoulders and his mace at his hip, Erin followed David through a passage at the north of the palace. They reached a courtyard that stood on the edge of the city. The torches in the courtyard did not reach far into the wilderness, which seemed to be swallowed by the darkness.
“Before you go Erin, I have to give you a warning. First, do not try to be a great man. Just be a man, and let history make its own judgments. Second, for every head, there is a tail. It won’t make sense right now, but keep it in mind.” David spoke gravely. Before Erin could speak, he shook his head and almost pushed him out of the courtyard. “Fear not, Erin. Eventually, we shall meet again.”
Erin led the young woman into the darkness, which seemed almost malevolent in that his torch barely seemed hold it at bay. Before long, Erin felt like he was forgetting something. Then he realized what he needed.
“What’s your name?” he asked the young woman beside him. She looked him straight in the eyes before answering.
“My name is Alexandra Damarkand.”