1475 - Into Ardae
1475 England, UpperLands (sixty-seven years later)
Deragan’s troupe had lived scattered over England for the last several decades, but Radix slowly used his nonis, rat like minions sufficing as all-seeing eyes. They’ve crowded us to the north shore. Hiding in filthy docks.
So, tonight, in an effort to unwind, Deragan had arranged for them to attend a nearby ball.
As they arrived, their hostess met them. “Welcome My Lords. I’m delighted so many prosperous gentlemen deigned visit my daughter’s come-out ball!”
Over the last sixty-some years, they’d accrued titles and fortunes. Easy to do, with so much time on our hands. Deragan thought dryly.
The hostess gestured for them to enter the Main Room.
The Captain looked around. We’re all giants compared to the men already down in that Ballroom. Men from another time…He mused. Proud to stand among the towering figures.
All eyes turned to them and the silence descended like a cloud. Even the minstrels paused.
The pack of men cloistered around Deragan blinking patiently.
Waiting for my permission. Deragan waved a hand and they scattered to the Dancefloor.
They crowded close around Sebastian as they descended to the lower room.
They’re trying to keep him hidden from view. He was amused. Clever. I wonder whose plan that was. He glimpsed Lucien waving his hands to keep them tight around Sebastian.
Ever the tactician.
Once the majority of the knights had dance partners, Sebastian quite full of being pinned in, pushed through them.
The other knights looked nervously at the women then back at Sebastian, disappointed so many feminine gazes had landed on the man. Their voices rising in excitement at the sight of him.
Deragan chuckled. Once they’ve seen him, they always turn to silk in his hands.
It was a good idea to bring them here. Deragan credited himself for their brief happiness. Enjoying their smiles. Proud of these men he called brethren. Men I spent hours hand training for battle. All with the expectation we’d die in the next few years.
They’d long since found they were not so easily killed as they used to be. But not indestructible either.
Deciding to step out for some fresh air, he traveled to the open side door.
A black-haired man fell into step next to him. “What are you thinking, Captain?”
“I’m thinking it’s nice watching them laugh, and drink and dance, Chavias.”
“You still blame yourself for what we are?” Chavias eyed him shrewdly as they rounded the vined arc into the abandoned garden.
“You know I do.”
“I know you should not.”
There was a shrill caw and Chavias absentmindedly held out his arm for a heavy crow to land on.
The creatures are drawn to him now. Unsurprising since they were as black as he, with pitch hair and a cropped beard. Contrasting darkly in the dim light with Chavias’ gray-flecked blue eyes.
Eerie on a man so dark. Deragan observed.
“We chose to follow you.” Chavias ran a finger along the bird’s back. “We’re not children you led to a slaughter but grown men that chose to follow you into battle.” He was pensive before adding. “And that we still follow you, should be of note.”
“Many of these men will now outlive their families…Their children, if they have them.” Deragan murmured uncharacteristically morosely, chin hitching as he sighed.
“Few do.” Chavias tossed his arm, sending the bird into the air. Rounding to go back indoors.
Deragan walked with him.
“And they’ll long be able to watch over their descendants.” Chavias murmured as they reentered the Ballroom. Assessing the floor in their customary way.
The wisdom in that forced Deragan to ponder its depths.
“Where is Mardichi?” Chavias’ boots creaked as he shifted to view the entirety of the room.
“Damn him!” Deragan frowned. Shoulders slumping as he scanned the otherside of the massive dancefloor.
“He hasn’t had time for drink already?” Chavias asked incredulously.
They both groaned.
Chavias went out front and found Mardichi propped against the wall. Determinedly pouring a decanter of dark liquid down his throat. Chavias whooped twice to tell Deragan he’d found their brother. “What are you doing out here?”
Mardichi lifted a finger to shush Chavias as he chugged from a decanter pressed to his lips.
Oh, really? Chavias’ brow furrowed.
He’s drinking desperately.
“Whoa Brother.” Chavias reached for the vessel, only to have his hand swatted by the red-haired barbarian. Making him growl in his throat. “Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”
Mardichi finally lowered it, tilting it dramatically to the side and studying it. His blue eyes skid to Chavias. “I came out ’ere with a lass.”
“Obviously not. She broke me bottle.” He grumbled.
Certainly, that makes her less a lady. Chavias thought dryly. Eyes slitting on his friend.
“Why?” Chavias asked reluctantly.
“I found me bottle-”
“That’s a decanter.” Chavias pointed out.
“Bottle. Glass.” Mardichi clinked a knuckle against it to make the tinking sound. “Bottle.” He lifted it pointedly.
Chavias rolled his eyes and took a staying breath.
“I had the bottle.” He reiterated obstinately. “Then the lass came over. Took me hand and yanked on me like pullin’ a kitten on a string.”
“Did you just compare yourself to a kitten?” Chavias choked a little.
Mardichi lowered the bottle and glared venomously at the black-haired man. “Do ye intend to lemme finish?”
Depends on where this is going…
“Go ahead, Kitty.”
Mardichi’s jaw ticked. “Were I not attempting to explain this bottle.” He pointed to it. “I’d wrap me hands round yer wee neck.”
Try it. It’ll amuse me.
“And I’d cut them off.” Chavias moved his overcoat to reveal his curved dagger riding his hip. “And feed them to Teverius’ dogs.”
Mardichi glared at him undeterred.
“Do continue.” Chavias gave a mocking bow.
Let’s get this grand story over with.
“Methanks.” Mardichi said with equal derision. “She jabbered somethin’ ’bout it being her ball and ‘er of age to wed. An’ somethin’ ’bout having set ’er sights on me.”
“Poor soul. And?”
“I decided I need more drink for this interchange.” Mardichi ignored the jab.
“The twit swatted it out me hand!” He pointed to the tilted bottle. “And cracked it.”
Chavias squinted and glimpsed the hairline fracture Mardichi perceived as a cardinal sin. “Where’s the girl?”
Mardichi shrugged. “I dunno. I worried fer me wasted bottle.”
Of course, you did.
“Bottle.” Mardichi tipped it up again. Dismissing Chavias.
It’s a bloody decanter! Chavias peered around the house and saw the streetlights on the cobbled road.
And took in a horrifying sight that stopped him in his tracks. “Mardichi!”
The barbarian startled, registering the urgency in Chavias’ tone enough to drop his bottle.
They rounded the corner together.
Chavias put a staying hand on Mardichi’s chest to stop him going further. No stay back. This is a trap!
A woman dangled limply from a tree.
A bone-thin, bearded figure tugged the end of the rope over a branch. Hoisting her up.
Why is he here?
How’d he know we’d be here?
“Radix Malorum.” Chavias hissed. “He’ll kill you. You have to stop.”
“He killed that lass!”
And if you charge over there he’ll kill you too.
“Is that the one you came out with?”
“Aye!” Mardichi shouted. Guilt written over his face.
“This isn’t your fault!” Chavias urged. Catching the chain at his neck with his free hand. Feeling the familiar points of his pendant. Pendants specially made for us. Constructed with magic to allow them to summon the others.
Chavias closed his eyes and sent energy through his chain. Out here. Now!
The withered demon stiffened. Feeling the outpour of magic in his vicinity, he slowly turned. Holding the rope by one hand, revealed he was much stronger than he currently appeared. His eyes lit on the two men huddled in the shadow of the house. Gaze flashing red under the street lantern. Lips peeling to reveal pointed yellow teeth. He opened his mouth slowly. Jaw dropping inhumanly to hang near his collar. He shrieked in an impossibly high voice. A woman’s voice.
From indoors, Deragan’s pendant lit light blue shining through his overcoat and heating his chest. He heard Chavias’ call ringing in his mind. Looking up he saw every knight in the room separating from their dance partners as their pendants began to luminesce.
Rushing out, Deragan followed the scent of Mardichi and Chavias and took in the sight. There was a woman’s terrified scream coming from the old demon that’d already killed her.
The limpness of her body made it obvious. She’s already dead. Her head flopped as the rope swayed. He likely broke her neck.
Mardichi surged from Chavias’ grip toward Radix. Whose eyes turned molten orange with interest as he watched the enormous barbarian lurching toward him.
Chavias and Deragan jumped to hold him back. Grip biting into Mardichi’s biceps as they fought to hold his mammoth strength.
“Mardichi! Stop!” Deragan commanded.
If you make me use my strength, I’ll crush your arm. Deragan knew.
Mardichi obeyed. Subsiding, but his gaze was still set on the demon.
Set on killing him. Deragan knew that look.
The rest of the knights spilled from the house.
Close behind was the rest of the crowd. Glimpsing the three men wrestling in the clearing next to the cobbled street and the young girl dangling from the tree. The rope Radix had held, now resting limply on the road.
There was only the two men holding back the roaring giant.
“He killed her!” A man cried.
“My Susie!” The Lady of the house shrieked running past them to tug her daughter’s leg. Desperately clawing at it as she tried to lift then pull her down, unable to budge the bindings.
“Sebastian!” Deragan barked.
“Help her.” He tossed his head toward the desperate mother.
“Let me help.” Sebastian pushed through the crowd to get to the sobbing woman’s side. Smoothly hopping into the tree and reaching the rope leveraged around the branch.
“Rhyers!” Deragan roared over the din of people shouting.
The slim, black-haired man turned light green eyes to the Captain, striding from the group.
Rhyers nodded, backing until he faded into the dark, aiming for the trees. Hat flying off. And ripping off his shoes as he began to move faster. Breaking into a run.
Tracking the demon.
“I’m already that way.” Lucien called over his shoulder as he reached the hysterical mother. Stretching above her to catch her daughter as Sebastian loosened the rope. Lucien guided her into her mother’s arms and helped both women to the ground. Touching the girl’s face a moment, Lucien verified she no longer breathed. He glanced up at Chavias and Deragan still gripping Mardichi. His long look saying enough.
Mardichi went still, head falling as his eyes roved the ground.
Radix set us up to be blamed for this.
“Get him out of here.” Deragan ordered Chavias. Stepping away from them to face the crowd.
“Old Friend, come with me.” Chavias urged Mardichi in a dangerous tone. “Or I’ll sling you over my shoulder despite how damn big you are!”
Mardichi shook his head in disbelief but let Chavias lead him away.
The crowd shouted in objection.
They’re rallying. Deragan realized.
“Don’t let him get away!” The Lord of the house turned from the sight of his wife and daughter to shout.
Several of the men stepped forward.
No, you don’t.
Deragan cut them off. “It wasn’t him.” His voice cut the night air. Visceral enough to silence everyone but the girl’s father.
“Get out of the way!” The Lord shouted.
Try and make me. Deragan’s blue eyes zeroed in on the man with predatory precision.
“Stop!” Deragan commanded. Making several go still as his voice cracked like a whip. Eyes turning glowing blue, nearly white, in the darkness.
“What are you?” One man said.
You have no idea.
“They’re sorcerer’s!” Another yelled. “They need burned!”
Deragan’s head whipped to that man. Black scales seeping from under his pores to coat his arms.
Five of the men aimed for Deragan, suitably distracted from Chavias and Mardichi headed across the vast lawns.
They began punching Deragan. He blocked several of the hits with his arms.
“Ouch!” One of the men shouted. “It’s like his arms are iron! Is that armor?”
“It’s sharp!” Another held a gouge across his knuckles.
“We need help!” They yelled.
More men took tentative steps forward.
Deragan fought off the crowd, while fists hammered on him.
“Captain!” Sebastian shouted.
“Get back.” Deragan yelled from in the mass of men.
“Forgive me.” Sebastian jumped into the crowd. “We won’t leave our Captain behind.” He ripped men back and tossed them to the ground.
He’s defying me. Slight annoyance made Deragan more violent with the men attacking him then he’d initially intended. He caught one by the neck and tossed him backward so hard he hit the ground with a dull thud. Instantly unconscious.
I’m going to start hurting them. There’s too many of them not to. Deragan realized.
“Get the others out of here!” He commanded.
“I did! I came back for you. And if I don’t get you out soon, they’ll all return!”
Sebastian dug his way to the Captain, amidst shouting, flailing men.
Deragan tried not to seriously injury any as he threw them off. Blocking hits to throw his own. And tossing men back. But they scrambled to return. I can’t stop them without killing someone.
Sebastian reached Deragan’s side.
Together, the two fought their way through the mass.
A shrieking cry crossed the distance. A massive winged beast thudded to the ground, making it quake as he restlessly shifted giant clawed feet. Pale shimmering scales luminescing in the dark.
“What beast from hell?” A man ducked backward. Others stumbled and crawled to retreat from the horned creature.
“Is that a dragon? I thought they didn’t exist!”
The creature lowered, opening his mouth to spear them with biting teeth.
“No flames!” Deragan’s order made him pause consideringly.
Don’t kill anyone. It’ll just make the others join the hunt for us.
“Chavias, no!” He commanded. “Get back.”
The beast stilled. Lowering its neck to let Bast and Deragan climb up behind the sail encircling his head. Once they were astride it, the dragon crouched and shot into the air.
Below, men shouted for carriages or chariots. Pouring into the drive and leaping into their vehicles or atop horses to pursue. Following the glimmering beast cutting the black sky.
“We have to get out of here. Radix is closing in.” Deragan murmured. “Find us somewhere.” He told Sebastian.
Somewhere we can retreat. Somewhere safe.
Sebastian gathered energy behind Deragan wrapping it into the crystal bubbles he sifted through.
Hurry! He willed Sebastian.
Chavias flew to the docks where the rest of the Forever Knights waited. Milling edgily as they awaited him.
Deragan captured his pendant and focused his energy. Knowing his call would summon Rhyers back from his tracking mission as well as any other loiterers.
They clustered on the docks. A crowd of lumbering giants. All moving restlessly.
Teverius with his six large black dogs at his legs.
Chavias landed as close as he could.
By then Bast had a floating bubble carefully balanced above his scooped fingers as he dismounted. “I found a place. A lower land.”
A lower land?
“What?” Deragan asked.
“A different plane. Below I think.” Sebastian pointed to the ground. His gaze riveted on green hills and dense trees contained in the bubble. “It’s really quite beautiful.”
I didn’t know there was any such thing. Can we even get to it?
“Raese.” Deragan called, shaking his head bemusedly.
The green eyed wizard pushed from the group.
“Staff?” Deragan asked him.
Raese reached out an empty hand and spun his wrist. A long wooden staff topped with a green globe folded around the back of his hand to land in his fist. He thunked its base to the ground and the green orb lit in blinding emerald light.
He’s powerful. But enough to do this?
“Can you get us there?”
“We’ll find out.” Raese waved them over.
He believes there’s a chance.
We have no other choice. Deragan moved to stand behind Raese. The knights parting for him to walk through. Lowering their heads in deference as he walked between them.
Sebastian approached. Carefully balancing the vision in his orb. Reaching Raese, he raised the bubble and sunk it over the green orb, letting it seep like clear oil into the staff’s globe. The images of trees, hills and mountains sliding into it.
Rhyers emerged from the dirt trail to join them.
There you are. Deragan gave him a look and he shook his head. Radix traveled too far to track. Deragan gritted his teeth in frustration.
Raese closed his eyes and drew a slow breath. Lifting the stick high before slamming it down. Making the ground rumble, then split, revealing dark water under the gaps. A mere few feet above the splintered bits, a sparkling flicker bloomed into green lights. Spiraling before vanishing only to return in a flare of light.
Chavias groaned. “I suppose we’re supposed to go in that?” He eyed Raese askance.
“Yes.” Tev called. “You should!”
Chavias shot the white-haired man a quelling look.
“I suppose when it appears?” Chavias gave Raese a nervous study.
Raese shrugged. Face impassive and eyes glowing like green fire. Shimmering gold lights moved around his head and shoulders. Circling the green orb topping his staff.
“Fantastic.” Chavias grumbled. Drawing a long breath and setting wide shoulders as he jumped through when it appeared.
“It’s good. Come on!” He called back.
“Mardichi.” Tev called.
“What?” The redheaded barbarian spun to eye the slimmer man.
“You next.” Tev suggested. His pack of dogs sitting in a line next to him.
“Get your pasty arse through lad, or I’ll throw ye through!”
Teverius glared at the huge man, but when Mardichi headed for him, he took a quick step toward the strange image. Dogs moving with him as he leapt when it appeared.
“Get through!” Mardichi ordered the rest. The men milling all over the dock rushed to obey his roaring command.
Deragan heard the rattle of carriages approaching. He turned at the far end of the dock to await them. Feet spread and head lowering as he readied for battle. I’ll slow them down.
“He’s right. Lucien get them through.”
Lucien Sabias shouted orders. Coaching them on when to move. One by one they hopped through. The whole mass traversing into the strange glowing portal. Until only Deragan, Mardichi, Lucien and Raese were left.
The carriages are nearly on us.
“Mardichi.” Lucien called.
“You go! I have to make sure they can’t follow.”
Lucien nodded and hopped through. Trusting his brethren.
“Raese!” The barbarian called to the man generating the portal.
Raese turned glowing green eyes to him impassively.
“When you go through will this close?”
“I don’t know. I’m concentrating to keep it open. I think when I relax it’ll seal.” Raese explained.
“Go through. And don’t relax!” Mardichi ordered.
Deragan’s focus was on the road concealed behind a line of trees on both sides which broke and veered toward the dark. A carriage rounded the corner. The first of many. Deragan knew.
As it reached him, the driver refused to slow. Deragan stepped between the horses as they headed for him. Kicking the shaft and crumpling it into an accordion as he simultaneously shoved the horses apart. Snapping them free of their traces. The carriage lurched upward as the shaft dropped, bringing it to an abrupt stop.
Deragan put a palm up to it and leveraged it back to the ground with such force that the roof caved. Next, he ripped the metal apart as though it were no more than parchment.
The two men inside screamed so hysterically they hit shrill notes. Huddled together in one half of the carriage they fell sideways within. Crawling out desperately.
The crumpled carriage will suffice as a warning to slow the others. Deragan was steady, blue eyes glowing as he waited for more.
Mardichi’s eyes were on the Captain’s heaving back as he stood in the wreckage. “Ye two need ta go through and I’ll ensure they canna follow.” He shouted to Raese.
Raese didn’t move.
“Ye heard me!” Mardichi bellowed. He jogged toward their leader. “Captain, will you go with Raese?” Mardichi’s tone softened in question.
Deragan ignored them.
Mardichi went to him and reached for his arm.
“If you touch me, Mardichi I will snap your arm.” Deragan warned in a steady voice. “I can rip all those carriages apart. As you well know it.”
“I do know it.” Mardichi’s tone was respectful. “But there’s no need.” His hand lowered. Voice dropping to the same calm level as his Captain’s.
Deragan’s head turned to him.
“I can make it, so they won’t follow.” Mardichi assured.
“How do you intend to do that?”
“I’m goin’ ta burn this dock ta the ground, whether me make it through or no’.”
“If you don’t, you’re dead. They’re closing in. They see we’re not aging in this world. They don’t trust us, and they want us dead as bad as the demons do.”
Perhaps more so.
“The demons sway them.” Mardichi agreed. “What will they do? Burn me at the stake?” He jested.
He doesn’t burn. Deragan was well-aware.
Mardichi’s voice strengthened at his leader’s unblinking stare. “Captain, go. We need ye.”
Deragan tilted his head. “I told you to get through. Are you challenging me, Mardichi?”
“Ye know me not. Ye and Acharius are me only friends. Ye’re the Captain.” Mardichi confided. “I’ve no one ta mourn me.”
He’s saying his death would be the lesser loss. Deragan’s head lifted.
“Please, Cap. I can burn this dock down.” Mardichi assured.
He probably can.
Mardichi had never fully unleashed his power which seemed to be equally as great as his mammoth presence.
Deragan lifted his chin and gave Mardichi a long look before walking past Mardichi to the portal. He stepped through the light with the same smooth grace as he did all things.
Raese moved toward the portal but at the last moment turned back. “Hurry. I’m tiring. I can’t keep it much longer.”
Mardichi lowered his head in acknowledgement. He watched Raese go through before dropping to a knee to put a palm to the dock. Flames as vibrant as his hair shot up around his hand. Touching his shoulder. But failing to sear his skin as it bloomed around him. Hot enough to instantly dry boards and begin licking them with building heat. Mardichi’s hair floated in the heatwaves. Sparking at the ends. His eyes blazed like rubies. The inferno reflected there, as he watched it climb the levels of the dock. Stretching over a mile, to burn empty booths to cinders.
Mardichi stood. The flames rising with him, to reach his elbows.
The carriages poured onto the road in view of the dock. Men shouted as they yanked their horses to a stop. Staring at the raging fire.
Mardichi turned, body so hot from generating flames, his clothes had burned off. He walked naked to the flickering portal. Timing it and stepping through. Sparking hair trailing him as he vanished beyond.
Raese waited for him. Flanked by other knights. Seeing Mardichi, his eyes dulled, and he swayed from exertion. The flashing behind them crunched and the portal caved in on itself. There was a boom and it blew itself out. Flattening the grass, it had hovered over.
Raese groaned in pain.
Chavias gripped the staff, sensing Raese was going to fall.
When he did Sebastian smoothly caught him. Lowering him for a much-needed rest.
“Getting us all through was a nearly impossible feat.” Chavias remarked.
“But he did it.” Sebastian beamed. Tucking his tunic under Raese’s head so he could go find the makings of a fire. He’d stay and watch over his friend until Raese recovered.
Deragan handed Mardichi a tunic and breeches. Which he climbed into. No one batted an eye when he’d come through naked. We all know what happens when he ignites.
“Look at this.” Rhyers called. They walked to a ledge and peered down on the greenest land Deragan had ever seen.
“Like me home.” Mardichi remarked.
“’Tis your home now.” Chavias said dryly.
Mardichi’s eyes slid to the ground next to him.
Deragan put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s not your fault, Mardichi. You did well blocking the way.” Deragan lowered his head in approval.
“I was just wondering if there’s ale in this country.”
“Of course, you were.” Tev said irritably.
Deragan watched him turn from the ridge. No, you weren’t.
I know you too well, Barbarian.
The struggle for immortality has been more constant than breathing throughout time. In human nature it is embedded within us to be such superficial creatures. The longing to live forever supersedes the desires for the blessed light, for the sun upon one’s flesh. A sensation I’ve long forsaken.
It’s hard to imagine just why one would accept such a painful sacrifice. Yet it’s something I’ve come to understand. Something I’ve a desire for mankind to know. For humanity is such beauty and fragility, I’ve come to appreciate it well. Even for my lack thereof...
~ From the journals of Lucien Sabias ~