Awakening Evarun (Part I of VI)
Part I of VI
This book is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents depicted herein are either products of the authors imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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This book is the first part of a six part serial novel.
Talus pillaged the remnants of his cloak for what hed stolen. Hard and brittle crust yielded beneath his touch, the meat of the bread was still fresh. Rot hadnt claimed it yet. It was small, the length and width of his hand, but it would be enough.
He buried it beneath the shredded cloth and diminished into the long shadows of the narrow close. It was filled with the stench of blood and the dead, a warren of filth and decay where all hope of the living was lost, where the Imperial City of Galadash threw its remains. He settled down beside a corpse of a man that had only seen the passing of a night.
The jangling thump of wizard drums broke across the fallen stone walls around him. Talus pulled his knees close and drew the veil of the dying over him. The dead mans eyes stared back at him, or at whatever the mans last dream had been. The mans face hung with little more than skin upon his skull, his flesh already wasted before his death. The wizards had used up so many. The cenotaphs around the city had been filled beyond reckoning.
Thumping rhythms marked the wizards passing. People still living had joined them, those that were left. They danced in spasms behind the procession, naked flesh already succumbed to the squalor of their new faith. Soon they would join the stacks of the dead, and stare at whatever last dream the wizards had promised them.
But not him. Not yet.
Talus put his hand over the bread in his cloak. The sinuous black marks of the Dragons Sleep glistened beneath his skin.
At least not today.
The procession called into the alleyway as it passed. The dead singing to the dead.
Talus clenched his eyes until they burned. He couldnt look at their faces. They all looked the same, just like the ones he had thought he would always know, until even their memory had become little more than ghosts. Talus shut his eyes until the pain of opening them subsided.
The wizards drumbeat passed.
Dark eyes stared back.
But they were not the eyes of the dead man, or even those of one soon to join him.
A little boy stared back at him with living eyes. Dark, deep, and soul filled eyes, eyes that hadnt begun to carry the scars of the loss of everything around them, eyes that didnt hide behind a veil, behind a promise made to be broken. His eyes were familiar. The boys eyes werent afraid. They were hungry.
Talus threw himself backwards, fumbling with his cloak. He thrust the small blade of his trembling knife towards the boy. The new light of day settled upon it like blood.
The boy scrambled away, but his dark eyes held like ice. He raised his hand to a growing red scar just let upon his cheek. A supplicants smile stretched his lips. He placed the back of his hand against his face.
Go away, boy, Talus chastened. The tremor of his voice quickened through the narrow close.
The boy inched closer, but remained beyond knifepoint. The blood from his wound pressed between his fingers.
Drumbeats shook the stones around them. The head of the dead man fell forward. His jaw slackened. A thin stream of maggots and black bile drained out like oil.
The howls of the dancing dead filled the air.
The wizards have found you, the boy said. His voice tinkled like cymbals. The last of the morning sunlight held about him like a crown. Theyve seen you through the eyes of the dead. Come with me. Ill take you where the dead cannot find you.
The last of the morning sky descended into the long night of day, as the sun rose above the boiling clouds draped over the city like a shroud.
The boy ran as if his feet never touched the ground. The boy ran like a ghost.
Talus followed him. The wizards and their servants pursued them, pouring over the mountains of ruin and decay like oil upon a wick. He knew what they would do. What he didnt know, was why he followed the boy.
Through close and crevasse the boy dived and turned. Whether there was passage or not he went on, and the way, some impossible way, always appeared. Even for one who survived by not being found, Talus had to scramble in awe just to follow the boy beneath the layers and veils of cobble and stone, the likes of which he had never known amongst the dying ruin of Galadash.
With every descent and turn, the drumbeats and cries of the horde which followed them lessened. Reason enough to follow the boy, but not for one who had survived this long by being alone.
Their pace quickened down through a gap in the stones at their feet until the damnable twilight of the day extinguished. Only the faintest trace of it remained, washing down against the pillars of black stone around them. The chime of stones cascaded beneath them as they slid deeper.
The resonance of the drumbeats remained, like a resigning heartbeat in the void around them. Even the boys footfalls remained silent. Only his gentle constant breathing bespoke any sign of life other than Talus own.
That was why Talus followed him.
The boy was alive, a light in the darkness, like he had been lit by angel fire. Talus had seen it in the boys eyes when he first stared into them. For the first time since the wizards and their dragons had come, Talus saw life in anothers eyes. For the first time since he had last heard the songs of the Giver sung, he had felt hope. And he needed to know why.
The suffering light of the sky appeared, and Talus sagged at the sight before him.
The burning mountains of the Karagas Mun trembled to the north and bits of red ash rained down like blood. Across the Plain of Hellos, the cenotaphs of the dead spread out in circles, continuing southward beyond the horizon. Between them, even the cracks of the broken land were filled with the dead. The wind carried their voices.
What have you done? Talus whispered.
The boy stood against the pallid cliff face through which they had just passed. Above him dark bands struck through it along with those of a lesser gray, repeating again and again until they reached the walls and watching eyes of the ruins high above.
Talus drew back against the cliff.
Come boy, Talus pleaded. For the love of Rua it isnt safe here!
It is only because it isnt safe, the boy said. That it is.
Tell me what you see.
Are you mad? Talus asked. This is folly! You have led us to our deaths.
There are many different kinds of death. It is the smallest of these that matter the most.
No, Talus exclaimed.
Tell me what you see.
I see our death!
The boy smiled. His dark eyes sparkled, familiar again, but this time for something more distant. An azure glow claimed the pallor of the boys skin. But no more a death than you saw when you first came here.
Talus receded against the stone at his back. What?
When you crossed the gray plain before you, you came here for something other than yourself. You came here, because the dragons and their wizards that dwell here, you had seen them take the ones you love before.
Talus slumped against the base of the cliff. He felt like frail parchment. He could only watch as the edges began to burn. His throat thickened from the acrid smoke that came from it. He listened helpless to the distant cries of memory from beyond.
What are you? Talus moaned.
Talus, First Prince of the House of Harloth, you could only watch as the Veil of the Dragon descended upon your throne. Your cry was but a whimper as the dragons and their wizards consumed your House and those you loved within it. But not you, and you have always wondered why. Its why you came here, with nothing left to you but what you could steal, to find some way to make an end of their suffering. But instead you could only watch as your suffering happened to others again.
Talus rolled to his knees. Tears drained across his face. The smoke from his memories filled his chest.
The boys smile broadened. The glow transcended through his skin like angel fire. His linen wrapped feet ascended from the ground.
So why dont you end it! Talus cried.
The boy cupped Talus face within his hands.
Talus trembled as he leaned into the warmth.
No, the boy said, removing his hands, a cold brace replacing them. Because there is grace to be had within this moment. Because there is another moment still to come when you will give of yourself with nothing asked in return.
Beyond the warm glow of the boys transfiguration, two wizards and a third, circled around them riding on the backs of dragons.
The dragons crawled over the cenotaphs with their heads hung low, weaving about like serpents, grinding bestial teeth. The chasms of their eyes burned with cold flame. Their glistening skin blurred into shadow as their wings spread behind them. Black bile drained from their mouths like oil.
The dancing horde poured around them, crying and gnashing their teeth as well, coiled and hunched upon the edges of the tombs, waiting for a signal from their masters.
The two wizards led their dragons to either side of Talus and the glowing ember of the boy before him.
Bands of blackened steel covered the first wizards face, with space enough between them for the pallor of his skin and horror of his teeth, chiseled and dyed, to reveal themselves as he smiled.
Where is the boy? the wizard asked.
Tell us, the second wizard said from behind a black silken veil. And we will leave to you the choice of your passing.
The boy, or whatever he was, stood between them, a fiery halo all of his own, somehow unseen by the wizards, the dragons, or the rest of the host of evil around him.
Shaking, Talus stood. The touch of the boys hands lingered upon his face, and his memory as well.
What boy? Talus asked.
The first wizards smile broadened. The skin around his mouth split and bled. Dont think we dont know you, princeling. Dont think we havent watched you hide and grovel amidst these ruins. Dont think our memory doesnt linger upon your suffering.
The second wizard rolled his head to the splinter of bone beneath his flesh. Dont think that anyone but us withholds your succor.
The dragons heads slithered low with hungered breath. The babbling of the dancing horde quickened. The gnashing of their teeth gained in rhythm.
So show him to us! the first wizard said.
And we will offer you your rest, the second wizard said.
The substance of the boy diminished beneath his aura. Only spirit stuff remained.
The pawn of prophecy is made to be broken, the first wizard said.
And your time is already overdue, said the second wizard.
Talus lowered his head. A death for a death would once have been an easy trade. At least some solace would have been gained from his suffering. But the boy wasnt a boy, and Talus knew that once would never happen again. Whatever prophecy the wizards spoke of, he didnt care. Beyond the smoke that veiled his memory, the nameless face of the boy stared back at him and smiled.
I cant show you what you cannot see, Talus said.
Talus knife fell into his hand.
The two wizards turned as one to the third behind them.
Let him suffer.
Let him know the many different kinds of death.
The third dropped from his dragons back. A ruddy steel mask of a dragons face hid the mans own, a skirt of mail hung beneath it, his name whispered in fear by any who still lived in Galadash. The Dragons Scourge strode towards Talus, the teeth of his flail trailing behind him. The bits of broken steel cried out as they dragged across the flagstones.
The cold hands of the dancing horde seized Talus, wrestling him to the ground. Talus plunged his knife into the neck of the one closest. Black bile sprayed out. The horde tore his knife away.
Talus yelled out before the first blow of the Dragons Scourge fell, but his warding did nothing. Grueling and deep, the flails teeth bit into his back and drew its tongue across his flesh. He pulled at his undead captors, screamed at them to release him, but their eyes couldnt see him, and their grasping hands had turned to stone.
Talus swung backwards.
The Dragons Scourge raised his christened flail. His pale skin glistened between the seams of his blackened armor. The ghost like tendrils of the Dragons Sleep whispered beneath it.
Talus smiled before the next blow landed. Even the Dragons own hand would soon fail its master.
Talus stared helpless into the boiling reaches of the night.
The frozen rain of stones hung over him, as if the Gods themselves were holding them, waiting each of them to take their turn at him. But they didnt take turns. And there were no Gods. Just the men who pretended to serve them, and their howls filled the air just like the thunderclouds above.
The ground shook beside Talus as the first stone struck the ground. His heart couldnt help but leap with some strange elation at the delay of his inevitable demise. He smiled at the irony. The second one struck him across the temple. A shower of blood and pain clouded his vision.
The third, fourth and fifth came at once, the second of them, a large one, shattered his thigh. The first and last of them missed him entirely.
It was with the sixth one that he realized he was counting, a small one that struck him across the chest. The seventh and eighth found their marks as well, across his shoulder and his thigh. The pain was beginning to overpower the screams of the horde above him. The counting somehow lessened it. Nine. Ten. Whatever time was left to him, he was sure he would never walk again.
The first kiss of the morning sun crawled towards him across the broken ground.
Talus reached out to it. His hand shook against the blows that struck him. It was no use counting anymore.
The void of death warmed to an azure glow.
Three figures bathed in light shimmered over him, angels, or something else.
From each of their faces, stared the eyes of the little boy.
Talus, the centermost angel spoke with the blush of cymbals. First Prince of the House of Harloth.
Talus coughed into the dirt in which he lay. Beyond the angels, the night sky had returned. He could see it through the narrow gap in the earth above the chasm where his broken body had been thrown.
But he was alive.
The time of your death has ended, the leftmost angel spoke.
The sounds of the night above were vacant, like a tomb.
The time of your risen life has begun, the rightmost angel said.
What have you done? Talus croaked.
You are the wounded healer, the center angel said. Neither the first, nor the last, you are the one we have chosen to save, so that others may live. You, Talus, are the Giver reborn.
Talus clenched his eyes. Tears burned at their edges. He held them, waiting until the pain was too great to bear.
There is only one question I would ask of you, the voice of the boy said.
The boy sat across from him, bathed in the light of the angels. But the angels were no longer there. The boys dark familiar eyes were once again his own, glittering like raindrops. The smoke from Talus memory cleared.
Talus smiled at his son.
What question is that? Talus asked.
Who will you raise first? Michalas said.
In his small cell, the Dragons Scourge lay naked across a barren pallet. New light trickled from a small window to the fresh wounds glistening across the pale skin of his back. Pieces of his blackened armor lay scattered where hed thrown them. The teeth of his masters whip draped from his bloodied hand.
The mans eyes were hollow voids, sunken and weary, staring at phantoms only he could see. His blue lips drew back in a sneer. The flesh beneath his skin, like the dead man from the ruins, had already been consumed. Tremors took his shoulders as his death drew near.
Talus waited a few steps away from him.
The mans final breath rattled at its end.
Talus knelt down beside him. He brushed back the mans tangled hair. He embraced the mans face with his hands. The dried blood upon his hands mingled with the still sweat upon the mans brow, washing his face.
What is your name? Talus asked. Beneath his own voice, the unexpected blush of cymbals gathered.
Malius, the man rasped, his voice still an echo from beyond deaths void.
Then rise Malius. The Dragon has no hold over you. Take my hand now and be reborn.
Malius grip seized him. Talus leaned against him. Malius heaved, the black bile draining from his face.
Whats happening to me? Malius gasped.
I am Talus, the Giver reborn. I have raised you from the dead so that you may make good of your sins.
Malius moved himself to the edge of his pallet. He breathed in gasps.
Talus watched Malius stare back at him. For one who had just been raised from the dead, Malius eyes were still marked with the desperation of the dying.
Talus understood. There were many different kinds of death.
Get up, Talus said. The cenotaphs are overflowing, and we have work to do.
Cover and interior art by Tom Barczak.
Authors website is at Tombarczak.com
Copyright 2011 by Tom Barczak
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.