Briksan Sarkson was cursed by a goddess. Her name was Arashani.
At first he had fought the curse. But when he realized he couldn’t escape it, that it would follow him to his grave, he resigned himself to his fate. His only consolation was that he knew what he carried and the limits to his power, and he also knew he was doomed. However, there were some people who were cursed with a more terrible fate than he was scourged with and didn’t know it. They weren’t just doomed, they were dead.
Briksan sneered contemptibly when he caught sight of Sam Lupest, who lumbered around the busy pub. He carried a dreamy expression on his moist, milky face and sang about how his wife had left him for a rich man from the south; he was visibly under the influence of strong wine.
Sam was a big, muscular, pompous, good-for-nothing scoundrel. With that description, Briksan wondered little why his wife had left him for a rich man besides wealth.
Briksan knew he had no right to judge Sam because he wasn’t any better. In fact, he was worse. Still he couldn’t resist the urge to condemn Sam’s loathly act.
Sam wore a ratty cotton dress that matched the color of his skin and gave away the pale flesh beneath it. A drab brown pair of trousers clung to his lower parts, few inches below his waistline, revealing the upper parts of his buttocks. There was no belt around his waist, Briksan noticed sourly.
Briksan sneered again, only this time it was louder.
He wondered whether it was Sam’s thick legs that prevented his trousers from falling all the way to his feet, or whether it was Arashani holding up the trousers, having compassion on him.
The second thought seemed unlikely because it was the same goddess that had cursed him. Gods didn’t turn over a new leaf. They got worse. Crueler.
Anger flashed through Briksan’s heart, and the muscles in his face tightened under his skin. He hated Arashani. She had made him into what he was now—a monster. She had turned him into a cruel, beastly creature damned to roam the nights with blood thirsty eyes. His only sin? A simple mistake he had made years ago.
Briksan took another sip of the drink he had been nursing for the past hour at the corner of the pub. It calmed his nerves, causing his anger to fizzle.
Briksan turned his attention back to Sam.
Sam was his closest friend in the village—but only because they were both social outcasts and practically nobodies. Briksan sighed, silently hoping Sam’s trousers would stay up. Because there was only so much shame a man could take before he did something very foolish. Then Briksan would have to put an arrow in his throat or thrust a sword through his heart or hack his waist with an axe. Briksan could think of a number of ways of killing Sam, all of which would guarantee an excruciating death. And he would enjoy the slaughter, friend or no friend. Should Sam kill an innocent person, Briksan would haunt him down and kill him as if he were a rabid animal. It wasn’t Briksan’s fault that he was that way. It wasn’t because of some righteous calling. This was what the goddess had turned him into—a compassionless, killing animal.
All around Briksan, no one seemed to pay any attention to Sam as he trudged around the pub, making his way between round tables.
It was a normal evening in the most popular pub in Gyarunge.
The pub was steamy hot and riotous with laughter, loud conversations, and heated arguments. The eleven or so tables crammed into the small room were packed with at least five commoners per table, except his. At one corner of the faded purple walls was a bar. His view of the bartender was occluded by the jammed bodies sitting at the bar.
In spite of the somewhat serene atmosphere, there was a haunting awareness in Briksan’s heart that the night was about to get murderous for him. He had to kill tonight. He couldn’t endure a night without snuffing out life from someone—anyone. He sneered. It was the gift of the curse.
The urge to kill would start the moment the moon cleared the western horizon, and it would steadily grow stronger. If he didn’t kill early enough, the urge would become so overwhelming that it would take over. No one would survive in the entire village. He would slaughter everyone in sight until the next morning, when the urge would lose its hold over him.
The urge had taken over only once. It had been a massacre. He had murdered every soul in the village—man, woman, child and beast. None had survived.
It pained Briksan to think of that bloody night. It was the darkest night for all of Lazul since the Tus war. Shortly after, Briksan had moved to Gyarunge and had sworn never to spill innocent blood again. This was the reason why every night, Briksan hunted down criminals, and in Gyarunge, they seemed to be in endless supply.
Briksan took another swipe at his wine. He could feel the urge rising within him. He had to leave soon. If he stayed a while longer, he couldn’t trust himself not to butcher everyone in the pub.
Sirens exploded in his head. Something was wrong, he could sense it. It was also a part of the curse that he could sense danger before it came. He had an early warning system which manifested as sirens in his head.
Briksan shot to his feet, knocking over his chair.
The pub became grave silent, all eyes affixed on him.
Briksan’s heart raced. He considered several possibilities. Tonight was one night he didn’t want trouble. The four governors were present in Gyarunge for the governors council meeting. Over the past few months, tension had grown between the four territories of Lazul: the north, the south, the east, and the west. The governors had agreed to meet here in Gyarunge to diffuse the tension and plan on moving Lazul forward. If any of the governors died, there would be war.
Briksan caught his breath. His mental sirens blared. His eyelids widened a little—someone was running towards the pub. Briksan spun around and faced the door.
The wooden door swung open and a thin woman fell into the pub. An arrow stuck out of her left chest where blood had drenched her pale blue gown.
Men jumped to her aid. The pub owner, an elderly woman with grey frizzy hair like a bird’s nest, came around the bar barking orders to her workers behind the side door. She took charge of the situation immediately, tending to the wounded, young woman with the bowl of water and soft cloth one of her workers had provided her with.
“Help,” the woman muttered, “they took them.” She coughed and sputtered bright red blood over her caregiver.
“Quick,” the pub owner said. “Someone get the physician.”
The two men farthest from the scene ran for the door.
“And warn the guards,” the bartender called after them.
It didn’t matter; Briksan knew that the threat was long gone. He also knew that the woman would die soon. The arrow had gone right through her heart and ruptured it. Time was running out, he had to find out as much as he could before she died.
Briksan pushed through the surrounding crowd. The young lady looked like death. Her skin was pale, almost lifeless. Her breathing was shallow and labored, and her heartbeat was faint. Her dilated pupils stared at the ceiling, unfocused. Death was only seconds away.
“Who took who?” Briksan asked strongly enough to get the dying woman’s attention.
The elderly woman shot him an evil look.
Briksan frowned, his anger building.
“Kaza,” the woman muttered between raspy breaths. “He took the children. He took Rachael.”
Murmur swept through the silent pub.
Briksan staggered backwards a little. His head swirled. Shock quickly gave way to anger.
“Where?” Briksan asked, but he already knew the answer to the question. There was only one place Kaza took his victims to; there was only one thing he did with his victims when they got there.
The woman raised her shaky hands and pointed north.
It was the only place Briksan dared not venture. Panic swept through him like a flood.
“The evil mountain.” The young woman’s violent coughs drowned the whisperings of fear at the mention of the mountain. “The children shall be sacrificed to the gods at the apex of the evil mountain… Those were Kaza’s words.” The young woman’s eyes rolled inwards as she went slack with death.
The elderly woman shut the dead woman’s eyelids and sobbed, covering her mouth to stifle the sounds with her bloodied hand. Her workers, five teenage girls gathered around her and wept with her. Some men cried too, but others were quiet like Briksan. The barbarian warlord had struck again. The last time he had struck, a whole village had been wiped out by his forces. Now Gyarunge had been marked. Who could stop him?
Briksan raised his head towards the north. Though all he saw was the peeled paint of the corner wall, he knew that the Evil Mountain stood somewhere in that direction. Briksan could turn his eyes away and move on to the next village or better still go into one of the towns or cities, maybe the capital. He could walk away and not get involved, after all he wasn’t a soldier. He could meet Kaza on his own terms and deal out vengeance, but he wouldn’t. Kaza had made a mistake this time. He had taken Rachael, the only woman that knew who he was—what he was—and loved him the same.
The urge to kill poured into his body like molten iron into a metal cast. He could feel the curse of the sword get a hold of his body and his mental faculties. There were only two things to do; rescue Rachael, and destroy Kaza once and for all.
One of the two men that had run out earlier came back in with the physician, a bent old man. “The council of governors has called an emergency meeting. It is taking place now,” he said and ran back out the door.
The physician thoroughly checked the woman for vital signs before he declared her dead. He whispered to two men standing around and they broke from the crowd, carried the dead body, and followed the physician out the door.
There was no trace of blood where the woman had lain and died. No sign that she had been there or that death had transpired there. That was how life was, Briksan thought. You did all you did and then you went away without as much as a mark. Death was cruel, but time was even crueler. It didn’t matter if you were a great leader or a venerable army commander, all it took was time. Your deeds would be washed away in the ever churning, ever stormy seas of time.
Briksan left the pub, heading for the council hall where he knew the governors would meet for the emergency session. All the information he needed for his quest, he would get there. Briksan sighed once again. He hoped he wouldn’t kill anyone on the road. The only people that deserved to die this night were Kaza and his men.