In the Absence of Light

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Chapter 8: The Brigands Camp

I turned back toward the man, tucking a stray piece of hair behind my ears again. It was time for the interrogation to begin, and I just hoped the man gave me the answers straight away. I was grimy, and I just wanted to wash off. I really didn’t care to use torture methods to find out what I wanted to know.

I glared up at him, realizing he was about a head taller than me as I approached. I hated it when people were obviously taller than me. I wasn’t short, and I could normally be considered quite tall compared to other girls, but I still hated it when people were taller than me, and red head was definitely and annoyingly taller than me. “Who is the girl my partner is trying to save?” Start simple, build up the trust, make them relax the guard, and then something they didn’t want to say might slip.

“That’s Zireana, Belain’s girl.” He waved his hand over toward one of the dead men Darin had killed. His eyes were glazed over in slight shock from the sheer scale of his friends being dead. He looked as if his mind wasn’t excepting it.

“And what about the other woman?” I pointed at the woman I’d given the mercy stroke to.

His face lost its composure as he looked at her, and then back at the men I killed, “That is…” his voice choked on his words, “That was my… My friend Gielan’s wife Sarhea.” His cracking voice and bright eyes were the only warning to his sudden break down. His voice barely hitched before he was bawling.

I turned away, unable to feel anything for his pain. Tyva came over, and gave me a questioning look toward the man. I nodded, understanding what she wanted.

I listened and heard the girl walk over toward the man, and felt with my senses as she gently patted him on the head. I continued to pretend to give him privacy by turning the other direction, but I opened my mind up to the picture behind me.

The pale big read headed man looked down at the young light brown skinned girl. She starred up at him, her brown eyes staring into his blue eyes, kindness, and horror at the carnage around them shone in her eyes. The man hiccupped once or twice, and wiped at his eyes, trying to pull himself together for the girl. “Can’t believe they are exposing one as young as you to this,” the man whispered to the girl, his eyes showing compassion.

“I used to wanna be a fighter like my momma, but I saw the death in the city. I saw the cruelty of people, and though I wanna avenge my mother, but I also wanna heal the wounds.” Her shaky voice became stronger. “Dyrana there will help me. She knows she owes me a debt, and she’s fair if cold hearted. She’ll help me get my revenge, and her partner, Kyra will teach me to heal the wounds left. Chrisin tells me that I can heal the wounds of people’s souls. Says the twins favor me ‘special cause of the conflict in my soul,” I hadn’t seen anything like this girl before, I hadn’t thought about her being anything except a fighter.

I saw a light blue thread of light gently move up her arm, slowly into the man’s arm where her hand touched. I watched in shock as the young girl smiled gently and the man watched with shock as the blue entered him and fixed something unseen that was torn.

Darin dismounted his horse, and came toward me. I opened my eyes to him, standing quietly in front of me, “Chrisin says he thinks the twins intervened at her birth and brought her forth as one of the children of the twins. Healing, love, war, and hate are perfectly balanced in her.”

“She heals their very souls,” I could hear the shock of such a power seeping through my voice. I had never heard of anything like this.

“Chrisin found records of a similar child that was male, and it is considered a gift of the twins in times of need. It often coincides with one of the gods or goddesses sending their mortal half to become incarnate,” he gave me a strange look as he said this, “the child is said to keep the balance. The last child’s gift was a medium green color. Tyva’s is blue. The twins have the medium value of all colors, just as you are no color at all, and Kyra is the combination of all colors.”

“So the twins used the child as a host and left her with a blue power to heal souls and to bring balance in fighting?” I wondered if she had a destructive power similar to her healing power.

“Not much is known about how the twins gift their power just that these children are a powerful force, and each child has their own color. The scroll we found the information in said that after the twins used all the colors in their value they would never be able to interfere directly in human lives,” Darin turned, looking toward the girl, and I listened to her again.

“See, it’s not that bad. Dyrana is fairest person you’ll ever meet, though she has a heart of ice. She’s just the Dark Lady’s mortal self…” I let the child’s voice fade from my mind. Me, the Dark Lady’s mortal self on Earth? I almost wanted to laugh at the absurd thought. I was just the host that could combine with her.

I focused back on the girl, “…and her voice. She simply walks and talks with the goddess’s voice and movement. Power radiates from her even when she is not in combination with her full self.”

The man seemed to be having a conversation with her as he spoke up, “Why would the city throw out one such as her.”

“The Lord of the city is an idiot. He angered the Dark Lady, and then had the gall to exile her. She will help me bring revenge for my mother’s death. By the way, what’s your name,” Her cute smile and honesty won the man over.

He smiled at the child gently, “Name’s Ollarin. What about you sweetheart,” he gently rubbed her head, and she ducked to avoid his kind gesture.

“I’m Tyva, and them’s all my protectors,” she spoke proudly of us, as if we were worth more than gold.

“You are a lucky girl to have the likes of them looking after you,” His body shifted slightly, and he looked on the bodies around with an old sadness, not the raw pain of fresh death.

Tyva winked at me while keeping her cute young innocent smile on her face, “Do you have anyone looking out for you?”

Now his eyes seemed to be lost in a different scene, “I have a good wife, Lyana, and a daughter on the way.” His eyes darted over toward the woman I had killed, and he shifted uncomfortably. “Guess I am a protector of Sarhea’s son, Gonar, now also.” He turned his gaze back toward the girl holding his arm, “He’s probably about your age.”

“Could I meet him and the other people back at your camp?” Tyva’s questions were innocent, but they were exactly what I wanted to know. Were there other brigands at the camp? Was it just Ollarin’s wife and the dead woman’s child?

“Sure sweetheart. There are four back at the camp, my sweet Lyana, Gonar, Zireana’s young son Nyltar, and a healer gir-woman…” his eyes flashed over toward me where I waited looking away from them, “…from your city. Think she was sweet on young Falarin.” His eyes flickered over toward another of the dead men.

All the names were confusing, and I could hardly keep track of them. What I recognized though was that there was no one left that could harm us except for the two prisoners. I opened my eyes, and cast my eyes toward Darin, and I could see his shock that someone considered an enemy could be good, and that they could have a family. Was the man dense? Brigands could have a sarg family if they wanted.

I walked over to where he had moved off to, and I gently laid my right hand on his shoulder, “Would you rather die? It was the choice them, or us. They might have families, they might be poor, but was it right for them to prey on passing travelers? How many people have they stolen from? How many people couldn’t protect themselves? And remember, no matter what you see or hear of this band, not all bands have families. Some people are good, some are bad, and some are indifferent. It is the human nature. Remember that when you fight, and though you can regret the necessity of their death, if you have killed for the protection of others, never question that necessity. “

His eyes contained the regret that he had killed still, but the frown that formed across his forehead showed his thoughts. Slowly, he raised his own right hand and clasped my shoulder in kinship, “Sometimes you surprise me, my Lady,” he whispered, his eyes slightly downcast now.

“I am not the Lady except for when she becomes one with me. We are not one right now,” he looked up slightly as I spoke, and then as if on cue, we both dropped our hands.

“Would the young Lady’s protectors like to come with us to the camp?” It was Ollarin calling out to us, inviting us to come with him to the camp.

Suddenly, I felt the soft whisper movement of a bow and then the twang of the string. Without thought I froze the time around me. An arrow hung silently in the air, right where it would soon fly past Darin’s head, maybe nick him slightly. I walked toward the source, and found myself looking at the young bowman I thought I had killed. He was lying there, badly injured, but alive. He had crawled to his bow, and tried to fire.

“Do you really want to die?” I asked, looking down on the brown haired man. He looked to be a couple years younger than me, maybe somewhere between fourteen and sixteen years old.

“I… You killed them… You killed them all,” he was stuttering, and gasping for breath. He was dealing with grief and with the pain of dying.

“No all are dead, and I did what was necessary. I could have let the arrow fly, and then finished you off,” I stood there, stiff and unsure. Should I kill him out of mercy, grab the arrow, and pretend like nothing happened, or should I let Kyra try to heal him?

“Why… What… What did,” cough, “what did you… you do?” He clutched at the bloody arrow in his body. His body twitched in pain at the racking coughs that moved the arrow. I had no clue how to heal, and if I wanted him to live, I needed to hurry and get him to Kyra…

“I snatched us out of time. The Dark Lady is feeding me the power to stay out of time,” for some reason that I had no clue of. She hadn’t joined with me, and I hadn’t even recognized this fact until now, but my power was feeding on the immortal energy of the dark lady.

“Kill me,” he coughed again, “Kill me now,” another spasm of coughs, “please.” It was then I made up my mind. He was still there, still able to live. The other woman I had given mercy to was beyond asking for help. I gently picked up the young man in my arms, careful not to jostle the arrow.

“Wha…a?” He was growing groggy, and I had to hurry. I moved over, and grabbed the arrow still sitting in the air. I brought him to Kyra, laid him down, and brought us back into time.

Kyra turned to me, “You found another one alive?”

“Dyrana, Dyrana, where did you go?” It was Darin’s voice, back from where I had been standing but a moment before.

I turned slightly toward him, “I’m here… I’m here.” The plaintive sound came forward from my lips, whispering the sad truth of my words.

Darin turned, and saw me, “Dyrana!” He ran to me, and suddenly stopped, looking at the young man lying on the ground, the man that even at this moment Kyra was trying to save.

“What? How? What happened? Are…” he stumbled off in his words, unsure of what was happening.

Kyra spoke for me, “The Dark Lady fed her the power to stop time. Sometimes even the Dark Lady’s icy heart decides to save people.”

I bowed my head, “I… I had to. It was required of me.” It was required of me to make right for the wrongs I committed and would commit. That was why I had saved him. I had saved him because something told me it was necessary. It was required.

Tyva came over leading Ollarin who gasped at the sight of the injured man, “It’s… it’s Falrin. He… he survived?”

I turned my casual, calm gaze onto his hopeful excited gaze, “barely. He was lucky that to get the shot I needed through the trees that I couldn’t hit him dead on.”

I starred at the arrow in my hands. He had a strong bow arm. He would be a good addition to any troop’s archers.

“Darin, if you will stay here and watch over the two healers, I will go and watch over Ollarin and Tyva,” we needed to be moving on, and I planned on taking in the camp of brigands. I didn’t have the supplies for them, so I hoped they had their own supplies. I would take them and set them up in a town near where the mercenary troop based itself out of. I wasn’t sure why I was doing this; I just knew it had to be done this way.

“Come on, let’s get going,” I called out to Ollaring, knowing he was planning on taking Tyva to his camp. I was coming whether he liked it or not. I needed to make sure his camp wasn’t a potential threat.

Tyva smiled up at me. Ollarin frowned slightly, “I didn’t invite you, and you couldn’t have heard me invite her to the camp.”

“She hears everything she wants to, she sees everything she wants to, and she kills anyone she wants to. With the power of the Absence of Light, she can do anything she wants. She is what she is, and I think we should gladly invite the Ice Queen along to protect our poor innocent souls,” Tyva turned toward me, and I could see the mocking sparkle in her eyes. The child like stance mixed with the adult sense of sparring with words. She was baiting me, waiting for me to rise up and yell at her for calling me the ice queen, or for me to protest her and Ollarin having innocent souls, but the truth was that she was right.

I nodded, feeling calm, feeling nothing, “I am what I am Tyva, and at this moment I am your protector. Soon I will help you move the camp up there,” I waved my hand toward the higher part of one of the hills to the side of the trail. “I have decided the brigands left are coming with us,” I looked toward Ollarin, “You can either accept going to the mercenary troop known as the Bears, or you can perish in these hills. If you come to the camp, you can either set yourself up in a nearby town or join the troop. Since your life is in my hands, be glad I have given you this choice.”

Ollarin nodded, his eyes glancing up toward the hills, “I guess I am the leader now, so I guess I have to make the decision… We will accept your help as far as the mercenary camp, and then we will each make our own choice.” His eyes came back down, looking down at me.

Tyva tapped her foot impatiently, “Come then, now that we have sorted this out, let’s go…”

“Wait, you want me to protect four people and a bunch of horses?” It was Darin, standing over by the horses looking uncomfortable at the thought of having to guard a bunch of people by himself.

“You’ll be fine. We’re taking some of the horses anyway,” that reminded me, I would need to borrow a horse, and so would Ollarin. “Hey Kyra and Chrisin…”

“What?” Chrisin snapped at me before I finished. Wow, sweet little light boy had a bite!

“I was going to ask if I could borrow your horses since you guys are working on the injured…” I let my voice wander off, as if I wasn’t going to ask anymore.

“Fine, just don’t expect to be riding on the next part of the journey,” his voice softened just slightly, still unhappy with me, but slightly mollified.

Maybe he was right to be mad at me, to be angry that my own horse was injured, but that was the stubborn horse’s fault, not mine. I walked over and picked up the reins of the two ground tied healer’s horse, and then I led them back toward Ollarin where I handed over the reins to Chrisin’s horse. I took Sarak for myself and immediately mounted up. Ollarin starred at the horse. “Well come on, mount up.”

He nodded almost imperceptibly, and then grabbed the saddle and hauled himself and thumped himself onto the horses back. I winced in empathy for the poor horse. It was obvious from the man’s seat that he hadn’t been on a horse very often.

“Alright, sit up straight, bring your legs back under you, push your heels down, and for the Lady’s sake, stop rolling up or you’re going to fall off at the first bounce in your horse’s step. Have you never ridden before,” I watched with a critical eye as his body unrolled, but he still looked stiff and unsure of what he was doing, though he was holding his reins correctly…

“Last time I rode the horse bucked me off and I haven’t cared to ride since then,” he was speaking through gritted teeth, and I almost laughed.

“Well relax. A healer’s horse won’t hurt you. And you should have gotten right back on. If you don’t get back on, you never overcome your fear,” It was amusing to see how uncomfortable he was. Anyone that wanted to survive had to be able to ride a horse.

Tyva rode over on her horse, and I motioned for the red headed oaf to lead on. With some clumsy kicking and pulling of reins, he finally got the horse moving the way he wanted. I decided that he really needed to learn how to properly ride so that he didn’t make a fool out of all of us. I rode Sarak up next to him, “first off, your steering is based on being able to gently squeeze your legs on the horse’s side, push the energy into your reins, and bend the horse around your leg to steer it where you want it to go.”

“What did you just say?” Ollarin was staring at me like I was crazy and sprouting three heads.

“I said that first off…”

“No! I mean I don’t understand your bat shit crazy talk about riding,” He was getting angry over nothing. I just sighed and turned my head away from the idiot. If he refused to listen, I didn’t have to help him. I rode in front and followed the general direction we were traveling in.

Behind me I could hear Tyva telling the man, “Just follow behind us. Refusing to listen is a pet peeve of hers, and she reacts worse than some people.”

Sarg right she was! If the idiot thought I was bat shit crazy he could go take his talving self elsewhere!

“Umm slight left,” it was the dork Ollarin piping in his directions. I grimaced. He might know where the camp was, but I was about to figure it out. I stopped and sent my thoughts out to listen to the people around me.

There, it was a bubble about 30 degree turn to my right and then straight for a mile. “Liar. I can sense where people are. You don’t mess with the goddess of darkness”.

I turned my horse and started to ride of before the silly man called out, “Well, umm ma’am, if your horse can scale a cliff, you go on ahead your way. “

I glared, stopped, and pointed for him to lead the way; the red head had the audacity to smile innocently at me. I just wanted to hit him upside the head.

I disliked people usurping my position of power, and I especially disliked it when they were right. I turned my face away, and instead focused on the land around us for more highwaymen. I focused out his chatter with Tyva, and let my mind wonder across the rocky ground of the foothill we were climbing. Large maples and cottonwood trees became tall pine trees. I had never really been out of the city before. I knew that trees changed with elevation, and that the rocks in the soil were due to something called erosion where wind, water, and animals broke up rocks in the mountain and made smaller rocks, and the soil was carried and deposited on the mountains, and then plants grew, and rocks broke up, and decomposed matter created soil.

My mind flickered to the goddess’s memories left in me, and my mind ran through the memories, watching the Earth change and grow, small taps here and there changing things, and then the creation of people, and the movement of people and land, the realization of another half. ‘Another half of what?’ I wondered, but the Dark Lady’s memories did not supply an answer. It was as if when her mind was confined to my human form she couldn’t remember that answer.

A branch of a red maple lashed out against its neighboring silver maple; just a squirrel flying across branches high above us. Wind pierced through the branches, tugging our clothing and bringing the promise of winter’s chill. I hoped to reach a group of mercenaries before winter, and before Gegarat had her foal. Down in the valley, winter didn’t matter as much, but up in the highlands, winter was a big deal, and from the Lady’s memories, I could see people freeing to death covered in cold mountain ice and a strange powdery white substance she called snow. Now that I thought about it, I realized how unprepared any of the city dwellers were.

Oh we trained on how to stay warm, on weapons, on political situations, but we didn’t experience anything. We were thrust out into an uncaring world with everything ready to kill us. I was only prepared because of her memories. I was also much older than the girl’s sent out, and it was hard to think of the young innocent girl of thirteen that I was after my first year of training being sent out into this strange environment. One year of training was barely enough to start, and yet children came in and children left every year.

I memorized the winding trails that lead us out of the way around cliffs and large boulders. We seemed almost there when the trail started heading back down, and Ollarin turned off the worn path into the forest. “Please, don’t make a specific trail. We keep our camp hidden by never going to it on specific trail.”

I almost laughed, but kept it to myself, and instead made the comment I was thinking with a straight face, “You do realize you will never be returning to your camp?”

I watched his face, but he kept a bland expression on the hard planes of his face, “Never is a long word, my Lady. I leave all options open.”

I shrugged. He had a point. I wouldn’t want to use the same place twice, especially if I had revealed its existence to someone, but obviously he didn’t think it was me they would be hiding from.

He turned first into the trees, and then Tyva and I turned. It was the perfect opportunity for someone to hit us, but I didn’t sense anyone around except the four in the camp: a teenage girl, a woman heavy with child, and two children.

We moved on parallel paths through the forest covering the mountainside. Through the trees I could spot a clearing with clothing hung out on a line stretched between tress.

I waited at the edge of the clearing, letting Ollarin dismount from his horse and run to his pregnant wife. The woman was sitting on the ground near a fire pit and had long dark black tresses and pale skin. I had never seen a dark haired human with such pale skin before. Her face turned as she smiled up at her husband with dark green eyes, and she reached out her hand to him which he took and helped her stand up since her body was heavy with child. A pale small wispy looking teenager in a formless wool dress was there helping the woman stand. She must have been the healer Ollarin spoke of.

“Come on in,” he called to us, and then he turned back to his wife grimly, “They won’t hurt us, but they are here to take us away to make an honest living. The woman killed all of use except two.”

The dark haired woman gasped, “Sarhea? Zireana? And Keisha? And Quentin, and…”

The blonde interrupted, “What about Falarin?”

“Calm down. Quiet. Let the Lady come in, and I will answer your questions. Then we must leave,” Ollarin seemed to be calmer and rectified with the situation.

I rode out with Tyva at my side, and felt the hatred in the stares that were now focused in my direction. Tyva dismounted, ground tied her horse, and walked to Ollarin’s side.

“Lyana, this is Tyva and the Dark Lady is Dyrana.” Ollarin started the introductions, but I stayed put on my horse, waiting.

His head looked at me nervously, “And Dyrana, this is my own dear wife Lyana. And the healer is Parsa. Parsa was from your city, but her partner died and she found refuge with us.”

Parsa was young, probably about fifteen or sixteen. She stared up at me, one question in her eye, and I knew what she wanted to know somehow, “Yes, he is alive, at the moment. I spared him, but he was injured.”

The girl nodded, her wide hopeful pale gray eyes lit up with joy, “Thank you my Lady, thank you.” Suddenly she ran off ,”Come on Gonar, where’s Nyltar? We need to pack. Yes, we must pack everything. Come on boys, we are going down the hill.”

Lyana wasn’t so quick to run off, “Who was the other surviver?” Her eyes narrowed in speculation.

“Zireana,” it was Ollarin who answered. Ollarin was the one who knew these people. “The rest are dead.”

“Do you really want the children to see the dead?” Lyana asked, looking straight at me.

I shrugged, not caring either way, “It’s up to you. We can camp up trail of where the rest of my group is, or we can camp at the attack site. I don’t care either way.”

The woman looked thoughtful for a minute, her mouth a thin line, “We will camp up the trail from the attack site, but you will take Ollarin, Parsa, and me back to the site, and we will all dig graves, and you will make a memorial with their names that will stand on the side of the road.”

The whole ‘make a memorial’ thing might be hard, but the rest was doable. “Fine with me, I don’t care either way. Let’s get moving so we make it back before dark.” We have about an hour left of light, and a thirty minute ride back.

Lyana walked off, and so did Ollarin leaving Tyva with me, “Go on Tyva, you can help them too.” Tyva smiled up at me, glad to be allowed to help, before running off toward where Gonar was packing up the clothing on the line.

About fifteen to twenty minutes later two bony horses stood in front of me with bulging packs, and the three adults were also carrying bags. Gonar had a small bag, and Tyva was holding young Nyltar’s hand. A lot of stuff was still in the camp. One eyebrow raised up high on my forehead, my head tilted to the side, “Is this all you are taking?”

“No,” came the bland cold reply from Lyana.

And at the same time, “We plan to leave the dead’s stuff behind, but could we borrow the horse I rode for the rest of our stuff.” Ollarin talked a lot morethan his wife, of course he was thankful for his life and he had had Tyva’s healing. Lyana only had reason to hate and fear me which of course made me want to laugh. I didn’t care either way about her petty human feeling.

“Pack the horse and then let’s go; you have five minutes. It will already be dark by the time we get back down,” I was tired of waiting and getting anxious about leaving my charges to Darin. Kyra and Chrisin would rather die than raise a sword in self-defense. They were idiots, but necessary idiots for a fighter.

“Could we instead stay on the mountain for tonight? We have wood and a fire circle here…” Her voice was too sweet, and her face held a sneer, but she did have a point. As I pointed out earlier, I didn’t really care where they stayed the night. If they ran during the night, I would find them come morning, and they might find a swift harsh punishment for trying to evade me.

“Stay the night here if you want. Tyva will stay with you. I am going down to check on the healers and your injured friends,” I didn’t wait for an answer as I turned to ride off. I didn’t trust Darin down there by himself. I didn’t know what type of trouble he would get into, but an annoying little voice assured me that if I wasn’t there he would get into trouble, and if I was there at least I could save his sorry little hide. Maybe I had an inflated self-opinion, and maybe my self-opinion ran exactly where it should run, high.

I could hear snatches of arguing behind me as I set off down the hill.

“Falarin is down..” that sounded like Parsa

“Do you want the children…” was definitely Lyana’s whiny voice.

A faint soft tone that sounded like Tyva, “…rest here…” and later “…safe…”

I had a feeling I knew the decision without having to hear more. They would wait the night on the hill. In truth it was safer. Whoever had led the brigands chose their camp well. Once the horse stepped of the rockier steeper part of the trail I allowed Sarak to break into a gentle trot through the trees. Up ahead I could see the warm glow of a campfire, and I knew my own camp would be next to the dead tonight, but I didn’t care. I was ready for one day to be over and the next to begin.


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