Chapter One: Deathly Cold
Author's note: This chapter is more of a Prologue than a first chapter. It is pretty fast paced and depressing, (which I didn't really enjoy) but, I have to tell the story. It will all make sense later…please read and review!
Roth peeked from the warmth of his bed covers, awakened. He was scared. There were noises coming from outside of the wood hut he was in, angry, loud, masculine voices. Curiosity overcame his fearful state, and he quietly sneaked to the front opening, to listen to the heated argument. He really did not know what they were saying, but he recognized one of the voices as his father, and the other as a friend of the family.
"We have to go now. They could get here at any minute!"
"How do you know for sure? Where would you want us to go? There isn't much room here in this city to begin with! You can't just rush everyone out in the middle of the night in a panic and leave. Do you ever think about the consequences of what you are saying Draiik? "
Roth's father was silent for a moment, hesitating as if he was unsure of what to answer.
"See, there is no sure way. Even you do not have a plan."
Draiik let out a heavy sigh.
"I guess your right," he said, with a hint of sadness, "but I wish there was something we could do-just to make sure everyone would be safe."
Both men turned toward the sound of an innocent sneeze, and their hardened, serious faces softened to smiles has they found little Roth shivering near the door.
"Hi D-Daddy and M-Mr. Josc!" the little boy said, trying to control his shaking body.
Draiik laughed. "Boy, what are you doing out here in the freezing cold? Poor kid probably can't sleep with us being so loud…"
With that, he picked up his son and brought him back to bed.
"Now, you stay in bed-you hear? I don't want you to catch your death from the bitter weather out there. Okay?" Draiik paused and looked into Roth's big, green eyes that were alert and adorable beyond belief. "Besides," he continued, "you know you have a big day tomorrow. You hafta get your sleep. Can you tell me what tomorrow is?"
Roth sat up in bed excitedly and clapped his hands together. "My buthday!" he stuttered happily.
Draiik laughed as he tucked his soon to be three year old son deep into his fleece blankets. "That's right," he said, "and I'm going to have the biggest party for you! Just wait till morning!"
Roth nodded and yawned. "I can't wait Daddy! I'm gonna be a big boy!"
"Yes you are. Goodnight Ro."
Draiik kissed his son on the forehead, and started to make for the exit, when he heard a beloved voice sleepily call out to him.
"I love you Daddy."
"I love you too boy."
When Draiik stepped back outside, Josc was still there, waiting for him to return. They walked from the hut towards a lit dock, where they could finish their conversation, far away from the village center. It was all dark, except for the lanterns that dimly lighted the isolated part of the island that blew and swayed in the gentle ocean breeze.
"That's why I want to rush- to get out of here," Draiik started. "If anything happened to my little boy, I wouldn't know what I would do. I just feel so helpless about this whole situation. I just have a feeling you know, like we're in danger. You know that there have been many attacks on lots of places lately, by the Bikanelz. Who knows? They could come and burn and kill everything we have here in Archadya. They are hateful murders, and I will not have them rove about and slaughter who they please."
"But you don't know that for sure. Our island is so remote from all other mainland and islands in Eyataris that I don't think they would waste their time to get their point across by trying to overthrow our life."
"What exactly is their point? Tell me that!"
"Word is spread that they want a certain government, and will force anyone under their rule. I think they want to have one main authority, almost like a monarch, in charge of everything, to make decisions for their people. They had separated from Eyataris's system of government which involves Standings, slowly over many years, and now it is said that they have a very powerful army of followers. They feel that it isn't fair that different Standings govern each town or estate, and how each group of Standings has different techniques and rules about how they should live."
"But that form has been used for centuries, it is tradition. Why would they get upset now?"
"It was after the Land's War when the High Standings came together at the capital of Beligine to discuss each problem in each state, and even abolished certain rules to please this one majority that hated the system. But the Bikanelz still rebelled, and that was against all states' laws. So they were kicked out of all towns, banished, and their name and race were determined as dark and inferior. They lived on a small island called Tonlus. No one knew about their uprising beliefs until about a year ago when First High Standing noticed that the population had greatly lessened over the years-they had joined the other side. Now they want revenge I guess. One little dispute about the way we are governed, and it just turned into a bloody mess. They hate us, for ignoring them, for banishing them - for everything. And now they are going from city to city killing. By doing this they feel that the First High Standing will finally agree to their terms, to join their side and live under their rule. Many people see the dead as a warning, and that is exactly what Bikanelz are trying to do."
Josc's voice faded, and he took a deep breath.
Draiik was overwhelmed. "Is this news recent? Why wasn't I informed of these matters?"
"Well, you aren't really in a Standing. You are just a much respected general-a good fighter and friend. You know what war is like. Standings are trying to prevent this from happening. As you know, Eyataris has just come out of a bloody war, and a costly one. We are just repairing now the damage done everywhere. But it doesn't look like we are going to be at peace. You just can't hide anymore-I know you don't want to fight, but it has to be so. They will find everyone, since they have grown so much and become united as one country."
"I don't wish to fight." Draiik's voice was sad. "Ever since she died…"
"I know, I know. I'm so sorry. But you are the best thing the military has. Without you, our side has nothing."
Draiik turned his worried gaze to the black sea, and ran his hand through his dark brown hair. "Well, what should we do?"
"I think its best to stay here for now, until we get word from a higher authority, since our High Standing was killed in the last battles. Beligine is going to send a new manager soon. He should be arriving here shortly, and then we can discuss together the circumstances. Since there is no one here to govern right now, everyone looks up to you. You know?"
"Yea…I guess. Alright, we'll stay here until the Standing comes."
"Good, now get some rest. You'll need it for Roth's extra-energized day. He'll be jumping around all day."
Draiik laughed. "I guess you're right. Well, goodnight Josc…"
With that, the two men were about to go their separate ways. As Draiik neared closer his house, about 10 minutes later, he heard a spine-chilling scream. His heart jumped. What if it was Roth?
"Josc!" he called into the windy, black, cold atmosphere, hoping that his friend was still close enough. "Did you hear that?"
When he found no reply, he started running faster towards the heart of the island. He smelled smoke. "NO, they couldn't have…"
What he got there, he was welcomed with a great furnace of red hot flames, the burning houses and the sickening smell of human flesh as they burned in their sleep. The man was petrified in horror and fear. "Those dirty bastards!" he cried out loud, in a furious rage.
They were there, the disgusting Bikanelz, tearing and slashing everything in sight, yelling and screaming like animals, in the place where his son slept, his home. Some of the Archadyans had taken up arms and swords and has started fighting back. But it was too late. The attack was unexpected and many people had been unmercifully murdered in their dreams. Anger blazed in his heart, and he quickly went in search of his son. One of the Bikanelz noticed him and pointed to the distraught man.
"There he is! Draiik Tolson! Seize him!"
Before he knew it, five men were upon Draiik, holding him down. He wondered why they did not kill him. A tall, superior looking tyrant stepped out from some of the flames that circled around them. "Ah, Mr. Draiik, we meet again. As you can see, I am always fighting against you. You just don't seem to die, even in this oncoming war. Now I am a Bikanel. I know what kind of fighter you are. You are very strong, smart, and powerful. We need you to make a choice."
"What?" cried Draiik, infuriated with hate. "What do you want Terident?"
"Either you accept my terms or your son will die."
Someone harshly pulled a little figure from behind them and pointed a blade at his tiny neck. Draiik saw his son dangling helplessly in the large man's grasp, crying and looking up at his father in confusion. Draiik was in shock.
"Oh yes, Draiik, just like before, with your wife. How could she have died if she was immortal? Wasn't it that weak spot in the right shoulder that ended her? Do you remember? You just don't know when to stop. Remember?"
"No! Stop! Let him go! What do you want me to do?"
The man stepped closer to the desperate father, so he could hear him amidst all the crackling of the flames, the screams of victims and nauseating laughter of the enemy. "You must join with us, fight with us."
Draiik felt sick. But he knew that his son's life was far more important than the loyalty to his country. "Fine, you may take me. But you must swear never to lay a finger on him again."
"Then it is done. We have a deal then."
Draiik felt the pressure of the hands gripping him lessen, and he was being led to a horse that would take him to the island of Tonlus. There the Bikanelz tied his hands and feet with thick, rough rope.
"Either you come without problems, or we will force you, under painful circumstances." Terident said rather menacingly.
Draiik looked at Roth. "How about my son?" he muttered angrily. "Let him go. Let me at least say goodbye."
Terident grinned slightly. "I don't think so. You see, he is more of a threat than a help to us. If we let him live, he'll be unstoppable. He is the son of one of the last remaining Castolyites, which would be you, and of the immortal Raidias, your dead wife. With those two heritages mixed, he is a weapon that can be used against us when he is older. And we really don't feel like chasing a two year old and teaching him Bikanel ways, so he must be reckoned with."
Draiik was in an outrage. "If you touch my son, I will cut your damned throat! We made a deal!"
"Yes, yes we did. You said that I must swear not to touch your son. And I won't. But the blade of my sword will…"
"No! No! Don't! You filthy, devious bastard! I will kill you!"
"No, I don't think you will."
Draiik struggled in a mad wrath to get out of his bonds and to reach his son, but the Bikanelz held him fast.
Roth screamed and cried out for Draiik, who could do nothing to comfort him, as Terident stepped towards the lad and was about to slit his throat.
Just then, a bloodied Josc came charging Terident with amazing speed, from behind, his weapon unsheathed and reflecting the heat of the fire off his blade. He had the sword aimed for the center of the enemy's back, but one of the surrounding Bikanel tried to stop him and the blade was knocked off course and pierced into the left shoulder of Terident. Terident cried out in pain, and dropped his sword, which landed in front of flustered Draiik. Thinking fast, Draiik bent down to cut the rope that bound him, since the guards who held him hostage were busy trying to keep Josc from taking the child. With his hands and feet freed, Draiik had no limits to his temper. He grabbed Terident's sword and helped poor Josc, who was already weak trying to protect his home and its people from the intruders.
Roth, now released, ran as fast as he could into the shadows that were outside the burning of the city.
Draiik slashed and stabbed into bodies unmercifully, for they had shown no mercy. In less than three minutes, the small cluster of the Bikanelz were staining the ground red with their dirty blood. All that was left was pathetic Terident, who had happened to grab a fallen sword from the hands of one of his allies. But as Draiik turned to look for his son, he felt a sharp point thrust into his side.
He was vulnerable to any attack now, and more of the Bikanelz were coming to fight at the scene. Draiik felt the heat of his own blood escape from his body, lacerating his shirt and marking his bruised skin. Feeling hopeless, he shut his eyes and fell to his knees, knowing that this could be the end, finally. He actually was distracted and was mortally wounded. Josc tried to get his companion up, but Draiik felt dizzy and the wound in his side throbbed.
"Get up," he cried, noticing the other Bikanelz advancing towards them, "Look at what they did! Think of your son!"
Draiik felt a sense of awakening and strength as he heard those words. Yes, they had to be brought to justice. With all remaining energy, he stood up, and faced Terident, who thought he had terminated the greatest fighter alive. But his rival did not give up that easy, and he gripped the sword he had in his hands with a new vigor. But he had not the time to kill Terident, who escaped when the others finally got to their location. With the help of Josc, they killed every Bikanel that hurled themselves near them. Blood covered everything, and when their task was done, they ran off to the outskirts of the collapsing city to find Roth.
The night was slowly turning into morning, and the two exhausted men still had not found the little boy. Draiik was overwhelmed with grief and anxiety. Even from far away, he could smell the rising smoke and see the flames roll towards the sky, reaching their blazing hands into the heavens. He saw no one alive, and wondered if the Bikanelz had destroyed everyone, and if they would search the outer town for survivors.
"It's really cold. What are we going to do? My son is somewhere out here all alone in the freezing weather! And if that isn't the case, then one of those murderous pigs could have taken him by now. I swear, I will kill every last one of them…" But Draiik's voice dulled to a wheeze, and he coughed as he pulled his arms tighter across his chest to keep warm. They kept walking, and made it to the opposite side of the island, where no one had inhabited. Josc didn't notice that his distressed friend had fallen behind, and was surprised when he found him a few steps back on the ground, clutching his bloodied side with force.
"I don't think I can get up…It's so cold….and I'm so tired…" Draiik's face was as pale as the snow that covered the part of the island they were in, and it was scrunched up in hurt. His vision was blurry, and was loosing blood fast.
"Don't fall asleep. It will kill you in this weather." Josc responded as he knelt down beside him. He was startled when the man lying in front of him chuckled slightly.
"Look at me. I have never felt so weak before. I think I have finally lost my touch. It's the end for real this time. No one is here to help, and I have been a bit rusty since the war…."
"Don't say that…you are not going to die. You're the famous Draiik Tolson, Weapon of Eyataris, respected by all who have been in peril. You're one of those legendary heroes people read in fairy tales. You know? "
"Maybe I'm sick of being a weapon. Maybe I have finally broken and let everyone down. Besides, with the crazy new inventions of those machine weaponry and expensive electricity nonsense, I really have no place as an old fashioned soldier…"
Draiik coughed and shivered. "You have been a really great friend, warrior and ally throughout my life. Please search for my son, promise me that you will look hard, and if you find him, watch over him as if you were his father. Promise me you will do that."
Josc took his dying companion's hand and grasped it firmly in agreement, thus confirming the oath. With tears streaming down his icy cheeks, he said:
"I will. I swear to you I will protect your son from anything! By my life or death I will do anything to get him back!"
Draiik smiled gratefully. "Thank you…"
And with those final words, Draiik Tolson drew his last breath, leaving Josc in a state of loss and mourning. Having nothing to wrap the body in, Josc hid it where none of the Bikanelz could reach it. "Be at peace," he whispered as he took a last look at his friend. And then he turned to fulfill his vow that he so solemnly swore to keep. Josc searched for many hours, and by that time the sun was rising, and a thick, pasty fog was seen creeping throughout Archadya. The poor man had not gotten any sleep, and had not seen a trace of anyone living. The cold was slashing at his body, trying to tear him apart, to stop him from continuing. He fought to keep his consciousness as he looked for Roth, but the will of his body set in and his guilt showered his heart. "I'm so sorry Draiik…Forgive me..." he said as he toppled to the welcoming ground. After an hour had passed, a group of Bikanelz found his body lying in the snow. Some recognized him as the partner of Draiik, and decided not to kill him, but rather take him hostage back to Terident, their expectant leader.
Roth was scared. What had happened with his father? Would he be going back to see him? He sat among an assembly of people who had managed to escape unnoticed by the Bikanelz, inside a secret underground clubhouse some of the older children of the island used. Looking around, he saw that there were many children just like him sitting in a group, many without their families, but he was by far the youngest. An old, gangly woman was walking around asking each one of them their names and what they knew about what was going on. Finally she came to Roth, who looked up at her with big, teary eyes, and a round red nose that was runny. She sat beside him and placed him on her lap.
"My poor dear," she said, feeling pity for the child she held, "Can you tell me your name?"
Roth wiped a hand across his nose and sniffled.
"Roth," he said in a tiny voice, "I'm Roth…"
"Do you know your last name Roth?"
He shook his head.
"How about your mommy or daddy's names? Do you remember those?"
"I want Daddy back! Where is Daddy? I don't wanna stay heya anymoe…"
Roth broke down, and started crying, while the woman put him down and called for another lady.
"Edna," she said turning to a tall young woman, "Do you know who he is? Where'd you find him?"
Edna hesitated for a moment. "He was hiding behind the rock wall behind the city center. He was all alone, though he seemed to come from the brawl directly in front of him. I didn't really see who was involved, but I do believe that one of his family members was in there, since he kept pointing at the fight and saying we have to help them. Poor kid, I hope he finds his parents…"
She bent down to look face to face at the weeping child and hugged him. "There, there," she comforted, "We will find your daddy. Look around at the people here and see if he is here."
She took his hand and guided Roth through the tiny little clubhouse. The lighting was dim and it was hard to tell who was who and what was what. But he didn't know any of the strange people there.
"Where's Daddy?" he repeated, confused why he was with this strange women. Edna sighed. "I am afraid he isn't here right now, we'll just have to wait," she said, leading him back to his spot in the corner. "I have to go now, to help other people; you just wait here, okay?"
Roth decided he liked the lady, she was kind, and he didn't want her to leave.
"Don't go away," he pleaded, "stay with me and I'll be good, I promise…"
Edna stopped. She just couldn't leave him there all alone. "Alright, I'll stay for a little while…"
So he took her hand and laid his tired head on her lap, and fell asleep.
A gentle shake woke him up instantly a couple hours later, when everyone seemed to be getting ready to go somewhere. Many people in the clubhouse had thought that the night was over and that they wouldn't have to run. They were wrong. They still had to get off of the island.
Edna told the little boy to stay there, so he did. "Why was everyone so upset," he thought, "what's going on?"
It was very crowded in the clubhouse, over 50 people had managed to cram inside it, and he was pushed to the wall as worried people stepped all around him, tripped over him. He heard many scared voices speak angrily at each other, strangely familiar as the conversation between his father and Josc:
"We can't stay here…"
"So you want us to get out? They are going to kill us either way!"
"How about the children?"
"We might as well try…"
"We are all going to die…"
Someone started to cry. Another was violently pushing someone. Roth witnessed fist fights and red faces, glares and tempers formed from one discussion. He saw a mother hold a child, covering his little ears and rocking him back and forth, a child scream, for he saw his father being beaten down by his own plagued and frightened friends and family. Roth didn't know what to think about all of it. It was complete chaos.
"Well, I don't care! We have to at least make a run for Trazel! The bridge is not far from here!"
"But the bridge is over a mile long! How are we all supposed to cross without being seen and hunted down like deer…"
"But we are safe here for now! Can't we just wait until they leave?"
"No we can't stupid! They took over Archadya. They live here now!"
The argument raved on for hours. Roth stayed curled in his corner, hardly able to breathe since the heat of moving bodies humidified the air. But all became quiet when the sound of a mass of feet was heard over their heads. The Bikanelz had heard them. They would find the hole under the snow, open the wooden round door, and kill them all.
"We have to act fast. Quick, is there any kid here who had been in this clubhouse before? Is there any other way out?" asked a large, robust man, who seemed to be some sort of leader.
After a pause, a boy who looked about ten stepped out. "Yes, there is one on the east side, but we haven't used it for a long time. It is all the way on the other side…"
"So we would be behind our enemy?"
"That's all we've got folks. Either you follow me out and have a better chance to survive or you wait for death here."
They all started to move. Edna found Roth, who was staring at everyone with a very blank expression written across his tired face, and picked him up. "You are so brave, Roth. I am so proud of you!"
He didn't quite understand, but it felt good for someone to hold him; he felt protected. Jostling and shoving and moans were present as the group made there way to the East exit, where the little boy was leading to.
The boy reached the hole in the top of the ceiling by a string ladder, and moved the piece of board covering it, to peek his head through. He was as quiet as ever, and surveyed the area they were in.
"We're lucky. There are trees covering our position from where the Bikanelz are at. If we are really quiet…"
The leader-man interrupted. "Perfect," he said, "Now, women and children go first. Sneak carefully behind the protection of the trees and head for the bridge."
Slowly, the first ten made their way out the door, and slipped by about half way towards the bridge. But a Bikanel heard them, and one found the first entrance to the underground house. "Run!"
Everyone was in a panic as the Bikanelz struggled to unlatch the hole-covering, and screams and cries of terror were heard. Edna held Roth closer and desperately tried to make her way out, along with the other frenzy of people. Most had been able to get out, but by the time Edna had a chance, a loud shattering of the first entrance filled her ears as the enemy advanced upon them. She raced up the ladder, and crawled out of the hole, but she was not safe yet. The other Bikanelz had finally noticed the Archadyans on the other side, and had begun to chase them.
Arrows were shot and more blood was spilt as the last people of Archadya made an attempt to save their lives. Edna got up, still holding Roth, and ran as fast as her legs could carry her. The icy snow clawed at her bare feet, for she had given her shoes to a cold child back in the clubhouse, and she could feel the angry breaths of the intruders as their hate and desire to kill mounted behind her. She knew she would not survive if she made a run for the bridge now, so she took a turn from the doomed battle scene and flew deep into the woods, hiding inside a large pile of fallen snow and fallen trees. She closed her ears and shut her weary eyes; she didn't need to hear it; she didn't need to see it happen.
Roth did not speak; he didn't have to. All he had to do was listen: listen to the shrieks of the killers and of the dying, hear the appalled wails of women and their trampled children, the sick sound of defeat and disaster, of death. Soon, the sounds died, winded down to all but the most deafening: silence. It was the most horrific sound of all. There was no one left; they didn't need to check. So they sat there, as quiet as they could, huddled beside each other to wait for whatever was to come.
Edna and Roth both shivered. The cold was even stronger than before. The world was frozen; even time seemed to be effected by one of the harshest winters Eyataris had ever seen, as the hours slowly trudged on.
The sky began darkening, once again, and soon the full moon's beams bounced off the brilliant white snow that was sprinkled with lying bodies. The Bikanelz had searched for survivors, but found no one, so they made their way back to the embers of the remains of the city to rebuild and camp. They had not been found. Roth tried to fall asleep, but Edna fought to keep him awake. If he fell asleep, he would never wake up.
When she felt the time was right and the way was safe, she took Roth's shivering blue hand and walked him out of their structure. The wintry weather was biting outside of it. Seeing that he could hardly walk, she made an effort to pick him up, but found that she scarcely had the strength herself. But she made herself make an extra effort. They made their way to the land between the bridge to Trazel and the clubhouse. Edna took her hand and covered his eyes, motioning him to close them; and he did not look. There lay a great mass of poor souls who had frozen to death or had their lives instantly taken from them. She needed some kind of protection for the child and herself, if they ever wanted to make it across. Reluctantly, she bent down to one of the bodies, and pulled off a pair of shoes and socks, to put on her own swollen bright red feet. It was a wonder that they had not gotten frostbite.
Then she collected a couple pairs of heavy shirts and coats, to cover Roth and herself, but they still felt the empty feeling that the cold gave them, that would never really leave them.
So, having the proper clothing, they set off towards the city of Trazel, which could hardly be seen from so far away. Edna did not look back once she took her first step on the bridge, for there was nothing to see. This was her road now, the only one, since the other enormous, ancient bridges that had been connected to the island were supposedly destroyed or closed. This was the only way out….they had survived so far.
Hours crept by the two figures that cast long, pasty shadows in the pale sickly moonlight, and the night was far deep by the time the made it half way. Roth didn't feel anymore, not even in the shield of Edna's tiring arms. He didn't think, he couldn't remember. All he knew was that it was unmercifully bitter, and the chill skulked into his heart and mind, freezing them; and no matter how warm he would soon be, the ice would never fully be thawed.
Sun broke through the cruel, mocking darkness, and they had made it to Trazel at last. Archadya was a thing of the past. They were the only remaining survivors that they knew. Early passer-bys, getting ready for a day's work, saw the two practically half dead people wander into their side walks, and eagerly helped them. Edna collapsed in unconsciousness, and warm, rounded hands lifted poor Roth up, and he remembered no more as he was rushed inside a house and Edna to another.