The Song He Forgot
Orsi wasn’t much of a town. A mining settlement on the south east end of the Crucible desert it had only been in operation for little over fifty years. With a small export of copper and iron, its population had soon swelled to around fifteen-hundred. At last check the town was owned by Jonathan Beckett, head of a higher society family from the city of Vera who volunteered for the position. It was a quiet night as Darrian Karlin and Christian Alexander rode into town atop their kalaries. The beasts were a staple in Dylaera after replacing the long extinct horses that were told to inhabit the world before the Ethereal Shift. Light brown in colour they looked much like their ancestors except the addition of scales and spikes which covered most of their body, great horned heads making them intimidating despite their docile nature.
The street was nearly deserted when they rode through the outer limits. Small houses shrinking into the growing shadows of the temperate evening. No one bothered to give the new comers any attention, preferring only to get from wherever they were to wherever they wanted to end up. Christian reached back into one of his saddle bags for a map while Darrian went off of memory. The town hadn’t changed much since he was last here twelve years ago though he did note a bit of expansion in some areas and neglect in others. He steered then down one road and then another until finally they had found the main road. A long strip of cobble with an assortment of higher end shops and the train station. The last engine of the day lay warm on the tracks, train being readied to depart during the choice hours. The street lights were being lit by a handful of children most likely from the town’s orphanage, pulling back the growing darkness ahead as Darrian and Christian made their way onwards. Darrian watched the children from under his old brimmed leather hat to which Christian followed his gaze and sighed, “You know the matrons take good care of them all.”
Darrian looked forward once again, “I’m well aware of that.”
Christian maneuvered his kalarie closer to the other man and smacked him on the back. “Good, then don’t get any of those ideas in your head to just take them all away, I’m sure there would be a strongly worded response awaiting you back in Haven.”
The two had finally found themselves outside Orsi’s only tavern, a three story building, red paint now faded to a rusty brown. Warm light emanated from the windows with laughter following in its wake. Darrian slid down from his kalarie, “this is a good place to start” he said looking up at the building. At almost two meters tall Darrian Karlin was the byproduct of a life lived within the sands of Jericho. Rust red hair hung lose from beneath his treasured hat shading emerald green eyes from a setting sun. A jawline beard grew from an otherwise roughly shaven face along with an old scar curved like flame below his left eye and coloured a dusky orange. He kept little on his person save the long dark duster, white shirt, and pants. On his belt two gladius swords hung in their sheaths, and a large revolver lay firmly secured in its holster.
“So the usual then? Go find a spot, sit in that spot, wait for you to run into complication, shoot to injure, then we ride off into the moonlight?” asked Christian still atop his kalarie.
Darrian looked down at his boots. “No need to predict it with such detail.”
“I didn’t add a lot of detail this time, but if you’d like then I could. It wouldn’t be too hard knowing you. It all depends on if there even is a complication. so you know just don’t go starting any more brawls with drunks you don’t like and we’ll be out of here as if we were never in Orsi to begin with.”
“Your reassurance is disarming” Darrian said rolling his eyes. “So off with you then.”
“Yes sir” Christian smirked before riding off down the street. He stopped his kalarie a moment and called back over his shoulder, “remember we’re not on some usual gallivant. She doesn’t even know we exist, let alone that we’re about to show up out of the blue. So if you have some problem with anyone in this town; swallow it.”
Darrian Looked back up at the tavern before starting up the steps, “wait here” he commanded his kalarie who only bowed its head in silent response.
As he approached the doors the voices got more defined, he could only make out a total of five as well as one who seemed to be doing all the talking. With a gentle push one of the doors swung open on well oiled hinges, and so he proceeded inside to an atmosphere he didn’t wholly expect. The tavern was almost packed, there were men from the mines and businesses in town. Everyone seemed to have claimed almost all the tables, but not one was part of the merriment he heard from outside. Some patrons glanced up at him but quickly went back to nursing their drinks. The only people who seemed to be at all in any comfort was a group of men stationed near the back of the room. They didn’t even look up at Darrian, too focused were they at the well dressed businessman seated at the head of the table. A quick assessment pinned him in his early twenties, everything from the white suit with its gold buttons to the green satin scarf we wore around his neck spoke of a rich family. To Darrian though he was not worth paying attention to beyond a standard guarded stance.
The barman himself looked rather nervous and only confirmed it when he gave a start at Darrian’s question. “I said I’m looking for someone, a friend of mine was thought to travel through this town on her way to Setah. She’d be about sixteen, golden brown hair, bout chest height on me.”
The barman shook his head. “I’m sorry, I’ve not seen anyone the likes of that come through here at least.
Darrian swore under his breath, “I thank you for your time at least”. The barman only grunted as a response before returning to cleaning. If she wasn’t here that meant she was out in the town somewhere, or even more dismally; on her way to Setah already. All he and Christian could do would be to regroup and check the train departures in the morning and hope for the best. He made his way from the bar towards the door, a long perfected list being read in his head. Emily Alistair was just like many of the souls he was sent after; just another needle in the haystack. He reached a hand for the door and gave the tavern one last look over so as to not miss any detail that might aid his assignment. He had just given up on this location when a long dead ghost from the depths of his memory came screaming back to the surface, it’s first breath carried upon the winds of a soft melody.
O Memory so sweet and pure,
Save me from the solitude which I must endure.
O Salvation always gentle and fair,
Guard me from these nightmares which plague my mind.
Long this road, which we ever dwell
From Eden bathed in tranquil mists
gnawing upon frigid bones.
Join me through these deepest of nights,
illuminated by boundless starlight.
Cross through the shadow’s veil, into that morning dawn.
Strong you’ll stand when hope is faded and gone.
Seek me out where these ancient dragons dream
hands entwined, hearts as one, in that silent keep.
Walk through rows, on those cold floors of stone
To where we rest, where we all wait; never alone.
Will you follow with me, through this eternal life long?
Through harrowed days filled with an unending strife.
Will you stand tall right beside me?
Will you lend me strength, and swear to never fall?
Will we together shed those endless tears?
From heavy mourn , gasping, and clawing for breath.
To those peaceful years devoid of all pain.
What life comes I’ll gladly live.
Despite the conflicts that rage within me now.
When time’s run out and there’s no more to give,
I’ll bow my head and take my leave.
I’ll sleep, and die, and pass my soul on,
All for the memory of our special song.
Darrian’s hand was frozen above door handle and for the eternity of a moment everything stopped. A wrenching feeling in the pit of his chest as his heart skipped and his breath caught. He forced himself to look at the singer and for that single moment he imagined those emerald scales that glittered like Eden’s forests in morning. However what he saw instead were the deep violet eyes of a stranger, sharp and luminescent under strands of golden brown hair that escaped the loose restraint of her ponytail. She was staring right at him as she sang. The girl didn’t stop even as concern and eventual panic flashed across her features. It wasn’t until Darrian nervously walked up to her table that she finally choked and the spell that had kept Emily Alistair hidden all these years was for the first time broken.
She took a moment to compose herself before asking, “Can I help you?”
Darrian realised he was holding his breath and quietly exhaled before sitting down opposite her. “How do you know that song?” he asked in measured tones.
“What do you mean?” the girl replied taken aback.
“Did someone teach you perhaps?”
She looked insulted “I made it up. No body taught it to me. It was just a song I came up with when I was younger.” she paused a moment and looked away as she said under her breath, “it always calmed me down when I was scared.”
Darrian leaned back in his chair and abruptly changed the subject, “Then I’m correct in assuming you’re Emily Alastair?” A meek, nod was her only response. “Alright then” Darrian began, “then I’ll make this a s quick as I can for you ya cause you’ve got that look like you’re going to run the first chance you can find.” He reached into an inner coat pocket and produced a small envelope which he slid across the table.
She looked down at it with a puzzled stare “Sorry, but I was never taught how to read” she proclaimed in a sullen tone.
“That’s quite fine, I didn’t expect you to be. The reason I’m here is on behalf of your grandfather, who at present has either passed away or will by the time I return. In short he hired me to find you. As I’ve accomplished that, the next step is to offer you safe passage to Haven where you can collect your inheritance. After that well, that’s up for you to decide.”
She turned the envelope in her hands a few times. “What am I to collect? As you can plainly see I don’t own anything besides what I’m wearing and everything else that is in this bag” she indicated by giving the worn leather duffel a nudge with her boot.
“Knowledge” He almost smiled when her face went from curious to barely controlled excitement. as she mulled over the meaning of his words. “He just wants to give you a shot at the chances like he had. A proper schooling for one, opportunities to be something beyond that, and so on.”
“What is in the envelope?” she asked.
Darrian shrugged, “Hell if I know”.
“What if I decide I do not want to go?” Emily inquired further as she slipped the letter in her pocket.
“Then that would be your own choice to make and I have no intention of forcing you.”
The girl nodded, weighing the possibilities in her head. Darrian was prepared to give her all the time she needed to make the decision but the sound of laughter and boots walked across the worn wooden floor in an uneasy cadence. “Well what do we have here” a slurred voice asked, slinging an arm across Darrian’s shoulder.
Internally Darrian groaned with annoyance. It was his fault and he’d kick himself later for letting a young drunk priest of all people get the better of his guard. Emily opened her mouth to respond but Darrian quickly cut her off as quickly as he could manage, “just me and the missus.” he started, continuing to look straight ahead, “we’re just getting settled in after the evening train stopped for the night.” Darrian gestured with a short nod which Emily immediately picked up.
“Yes sir” she added in quickly. “The day has been ever so hot and tiring being aboard that cramped car. We thought we would come in for a bit of rest and lodgings.”
The priest’s mirth vanished when he looked up at Emily. The priest sauntered away from Darrian, hand trailing along the table. “My dear” he began, his tone was soft as he loomed over the girl. The slap rang out sharp and clear, cutting the noise of the tavern in an instant as Emily toppled over sideways out of her chair. “Learn your place, how dare you talk so ignorantly to me”.
Darrian dug his fingernails into the wooden table, furrowing gouges as his fingers clenched into fists. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked in a measured tone.
The priest looked down at Emily who’d begun to pick herself up off the floor, all the while holding the side of her face. “You know, the more I look at her the more I’m convinced; this couldn’t be your wife. She’s too pretty for the likes of you.” There were a few laughs, and some calls of approval before Ethan carried on, “I’ll tell you what though, seeing as I’m the priest of this town, and the mayor’s son; I’ll be merciful. Stop by my office tomorrow morning and I will invalidate your marriage and you’ll be a free man. In the meantime I think I’ll help myself.”
Whatever Ethan could’ve added further was immediately cut short. In an instant Darrian’s fist was sinking deeper into the priest’s gut, the force lifting the man off his feet momentarily before sending him backwards into a nearby table. Wood and splinters from the ruined furniture skittered across the floor as Ethan’s body collided with the wall dully. It took the span of two heartbeats when the sound of Darrian’s chair clattering to the floor knocked everyone out of their stupor.
Darrian felt a hand clamp down on his shoulder, “Ya dunnit now” a gruff voice growled .
Darrian’s head sank “Awww damnit.” he whined under his breath. It annoyed him to prove Christian right, and yet here he was again.
A chair exploded against the far wall calling everyone’s attention back to where Ethan stood.
As Darrian looked up at Ethan he took better measure of the man. Blonde hair cropped short, with a boyish clean shaven face. He wasn’t in no means tall but the quality of his clothing strived to hide any flaw in the man’s appearance. Ironed black robes over a white collared shirt, and a sash of violet satin across his waist. Although any attempt the man made in the upkeep of his appearance was now wasted as he picked himself from the wreckage of the broken table. A trickle of blood ran from his forehead, his shirt was ripped in a number of places, and he cradled his right arm which hung limply against his side. DArrian must have knocked the wind out of his cause he had to gasp his way through talking, “You’ve fucking done it now” was all he could manage.
“Wot ya wanna do wit ‘im boss?” one of the men holding Darrian asked.
“Take him the fuck outside is what we’re going to do.” Ethan screamed, and immediately broke down into a fit of coughing. “We’re going to take him outside” he wheezed, “and fucking shoot him.”
A cheer erupted all around Darrian and he looked apologetically at Emily. She had picked herself off the floor and was busy stuffing all her belongings that had fallen to the floor when Ethan grabbed a handful of the girl’s scarf and dragged her upright. Emily grasped at her gear and in a last desperate reach she managed to recover the envelope. Darrian breathed a sigh of relief before mouthing “I’m sorry”. Darrian was hauled out into the cool evening, an arm around his throat and a knife pressed into his back. I
It was a difficult situation to be in, but Darrian wanted to tough it out. Anything he did to reveal who he was would probably call some Warden down while they made the long trek back to Haven. Wardens were a risk not just for Division 6 agents, but anyone who worked under the Outcast banner. Wardens were the monsters of Divinity, angels who were given the gift of immortality as a reward for killing a dragon during the final years of the Dragon Hunts. Their strength was hard to compare and killing one would put an instant 100,000 staters on the head of all involved.
Dragging and irate Warden out into the middle of Crucible was not an option to consider so Darrian thought of what he could use. Shifting was out of the question but something internal would work he thought. So he began to transform the underlying layers of skin cells into a metallic composition, one that would make his captor none the wiser. It was a simple trick, and one that could be deployed without detection. Darrian could feel it work, an uncomfortable sensation like water flowing under your skin, bearing it with familiarity.
Ethan meanwhile walked onwards, pulling out an expensive looking revolver in the process. The silence in Orsi was nearly absolute, broken only by the crunch of gravel and the soft wicker of kalarie. “How dare you enter my town and presume to strike me.” He paused a moment as if waiting for a reply. When one didn’t come he continued on, “So as an example to any other travellers who feel like they’re above the righteous law of this town, we’re going to have ourselves an example made”.
The men’s roar of approval was all the encouragement Ethan needed to hear to continue the public display which Darrian found as tiring as he did excessive. “What is your name?” Ethan was saying although Darrian wasn’t paying attention. The grip of Ethan’s revolver cracked across Darrian’s jaw, “I said; what is your name?”
Darrian glared silently up at Ethan, blood tricking down his chin. He wasn’t going to give this priest any satisfaction of an answer. It didn’t take long for the priest’s patience to run its course, a quick nod and Darrian was forced to his knees as the man holding him walked off to join the others. Before Darrian could question anything, Ethan promptly kicked him in the ribs. There was a dull crack, followed by Ethan’s gun falling to the ground as he held his injured foot. Darrian watched him hop around for a few seconds, everyone else kept their mouth shut. ““DON’T SCREW WITH ME!” Ethan roared as recovered his revolver from where it’d fallen.
Darrian watched the barrel swing upwards, exhaling as quickly as he could manage. There was a sickening punch to the chest followed closely by the sound of the discharge. The solid impact sent him backwards, hat slipping from his head as Darrian fell onto his back to look up at the evening stars. After a few moments he managed a long drawn out, “Owwwww” with a groan of discomfort.
“Not dead yet?” Ethan asked coming back into view; cocking the revolver once more.
A sharp whistle cut through the town before one of Ethan’s men went down clutching a bleeding leg. Ethan jumped in surprise and looked over at his comrade. Darrian took his chance, reaching up he grabbed the revolver’s barrel. Ethan’s attention snapped back and in shock he squeezed the trigger missing two shots as Darrian rushed upwards till he was once again standing.
Ethan paled as Darrian towered above him, the hand which once held tightly to the revolver going limp. Darrian took the chance to rip the gun free and then proceeded to crack it open causing Ethan to flinch as bullets emptied onto the ground. Darrian threw the weapon sideways into the street. “Are you done, Mr. Beckett?” he asked.
Ethan nodded, “ye-yes sir.”
“Then I suggest you go back inside” Darrian urged. Ethan nodded, and then began to stiffly walk back towards the tavern before Darrian called to him without looking, “and take your damn men with you when you go”.
Ethan’s goons didn’t even wait for an order before they clamoured for the door, some ran, some staggered. In the end they all made it including the one who Christian shot. Darrian breathed a short sigh of relief; the complication was over and dealt with. Solving that problem Darrian turned back to Emily who stood rigidly in the street, long forgotten by everyone but the man before her. “Miss Alistair” he began.
She cringed but otherwise kept a calm composure, steadying her voice as he walked up to her. “Yes?” she questioned looking up at him.
Darrian planed his hands on her shoulders and bowed his head. “I’m so sorry”.
She stared at him blankly, “What?”
There was a short pause, “I’m so sorry for getting you into that mess, but I got distracted and sat down. I should have asked for something more private, or waited for you, or took in my surroundings better. I was sloppy and I’d have never forgiven myself if I got ya hurt.”
Emily raised a brow in puzzlement, “It is … uhh … ok.”
Darrian straightened, “not really but I’ll make it up to you somehow.” there was a long silence before he spoke again, “look I’d understand if you don’t want to go anymore, what just happened, would be too much for anyone.”
“No.” She shook her head and held up a hand. “No it is alright, I still want to go. I am just … recovering.”
He watched her intently, “I’d be happy to clarify anything you want to know on the way if you’d like.”
Emily relaxed, “Oh gods yes; please.” she responded with overwhelming relief that made him smile.
Darrian turned back and started heading towards where his kalarie was hitched. “It’s a long road to Haven miss Alistair and you’ll have more than enough time to ask any and all of me you want.” He looked over his shoulder, “grab your stuff, we’re burning moonlight.”
“Right” she responded with enthusiasm. Rummaging through her bag she confirmed that everything was still there and with a gentle smile added the letter among all the possessions. “I’m coming” she finally called before running up to her.
Darrian held out a hand for her bag and tied it securely to the saddle, before hauling her up in front of him. He held onto her with one arm while taking the reigns in the other. Darrian checked everything as he led the kalarie down the main road. They navigated the various streets and side roads, heading out of town a different direction from when they entered. Orsi appeared different now, the gentle sunset had given way to a peaceful night. The moon Lyllian was nearly full, while Dylaera’s second moon; Corhic was rapidly gaining pace. They would both be full by the time the party had reached Haven, in time for the celebrations.Darrian leaned forward and tapped the kalarie lightly on the side, “Saefwel” he said softly in the old Baelic tongue and the beast spurred into a steady motion. “It’ll be a long ride back home. We should make it in under ten days traversing the Crucible”
“Are we provisioned for that though?” she asked.
“Yes, not to mention we have check points set up all over the desert for just such expeditions; so long as you know where to look . Worry not, you’re in good hands miss Alistair so you might want to try and get some rest since we’ll be riding through the night. This desert is considerably more easy to ride through during the night.”
She leaned back and looked up at him, “Ummm, I never asked you your name.”
“It’s Darrian” he answered.
She nodded and sunk back against him, the soft heat that radiated from his body turned her drowsy and within no time she was fast asleep. It was an hour before Christian caught up with them, the tails of his long coat snapping in the wind. When he neared them Christian slowed his kalarie down to match their pace. “You shook them up good” he began before losing his cool and laughing. “You got shot”.
“Oh fuck off” Darrian hissed under his breath and tried to swat the younger man. “If you’re quite done, do you want out course or should I just leave you to find your own way back to Haven?”
“I’m a Shifting Sands Kesslan, we don’t get lost” he stated proudly.
“Ya want me to pick three legends from your pack that tells otherwise?” he jested with a sly grin. “Just three, I’ll even be random this time”
Christian stared at Darrian unsure of whether to call his bluff, in the end he relented. “No, it’s fine.”
“There, ya see” Darrian began smugly.
Christian cut him off “You still got shot” he chided.
Darrian glared stone faced as Christian continued to laugh. “I’d hit you if I had a spare hand”.
“But your hands are full, yeah yeah.” Christian shrugged.
“It’s marker number 143 if you’re finished.”
The two faded into smaller conversation and eventually just quietly watched the path ahead. All that was really left to do was make it through the punishing expanse that was the Crucible Desert, navigating the heat, and inhabitants of the area.
From there the journey was left to its silent progress. Darrian could feel Emily slumped against his chest, sleeping softly. He took solace in that, but the events kept tugging at his mind as that song kept playing in his head. Crucible was a vast expanse of desert, it often left a soul to their inner most thoughts more often then naught. Darrian looked up at the moons and stars, listened to the steady trod of hooves upon the sand and the gentle breathing all around him. The night drew on, and the the ghosts of Darrian’s memories came back to him. His right hand ached, the feeling of Ellaria’s fingers once more entwined within his own on the floor of that vault. He flexed his hand on the reigns and the stiffness faded away unlike the memory ever would .