Warm greetings to all who wish to hear my tale!
Before you begin embarking on this metaphorical journey with me and Fedikin, I'd like you to first be aware of something. Because I am writing this novel on a separate Microsoft word document, I am forced to separate the chapters of my original manuscript into twos on . So, please bear in mind that the chapters are meant to be read in pairs (with the only exception being chapter 13). This would explain why my chapters sometimes end so abruptly or begin equally abruptly. The explanation for this decision is just to make it convenient for my internet readers who would probably not have time to read huge chunks of writing at a time. So, the splitting of chapters would hopefully make it seem more bite-sized.
That's the only thing I'd like to tell you. Now, please enjoy what I have to offer. If it turns out that I have disappointed you, please give me constructive criticisms so I can improve it to put it up to your standards. If it turns out that you enjoyed my writing, I'll be bouncing through the rest of the day with that knowledge. So, I'll keep you no longer. Welcome to my world!
It was as if the entirety of heavens was split asunder.
Dark clouds swirled in turmoil, obscuring the night sky. Lightning flickered across the raging clouds, shedding momentary light onto the landscape below. Mighty gales struck and howled, churning the fury of the storm. Rain fell in barrages, whipping the ground into a deluge of mud, steered by the arm of the fierce wind to pound against anything that stood in its path. The sky bellowed its fury through ear-splitting thunder as lightning struck the ground.
And all the celestial retribution was unleashed upon a lone figure in the middle of the wilderness.
Tenecus knelt as if enduring the punishment. Rain battered upon his crouched form. The arms that had been supporting his body shook under the weight of the onslaught. Wind buffeted him with powerful blasts. His hands grasped and his knees sank into the yielding ground. Lightning smote a tree in front of him, setting it alight with quickly doused flames. Momentarily deafened and blinded, he dared not release his grip on the ground, lest he be blown away.
Grim and determined, he rose against the elements. His feet dug into the swirling soil as he pushed himself upwards, against the shattering rain and the battering wind. His slick footing slid away beneath him, sending him falling with a splash. Defiantly, he attempted to rise again, thrusting his his legs against the earth to bare himself against the storm. He stood, mud-splattered frame slim and tall. He tossed his head backwards, long hair flinging from his face. As rain lashed with stinging blows, he looked skywards as lighting cracked across the clouds.
His once-brilliant blue eyes were dim and soulless, all trace of hope engulfed by unspeakable anguish. His once-fair hair was saturated with rainwater, plastering it across his forehead in golden streaks. His mouth was agape in despair. His smooth cheeks were drenched with water, mud and his own tears.
With a sobbing cry of anguish, Tenecus fell back onto his knees and slammed his two fists upon the ground. The might of the blow resulted in an explosion of soaked soil flying in all directions, spattering his face with gouts of mud. The noise echoed in a pounding resonation, rivalling with the roars of the raging sky. The force left two small craters which immediately began to fill up with water and mud.
With a last tear of bitterness, Tenecus slumped forward and stilled.
The heavens, nevertheless, continued their torment.
Fedikin's boot stepped into a puddle on the crowded street.
Cursing inwardly, Fedikin stopped in his path. He wiped his leather boot against the trousers at his calf. He had been too busy sidestepping the crowd of people to watch his footing. Storms should not have been raging this time of the year, but the night before, Fedikin had witnessed the most fearsome storm he had ever seen. It was a miracle his hut had not collapsed under its fury.
Someone collided with him from behind, almost sending him stumbling forward. Luckily, his feet did not yield. He knew that stopping in the busy streets of Elirith was something only an idiot would do. The streets were often too crowded for the people to have the leisure of stopping. Both he and the person muttered an apology and Fedikin continued walking, hoisting his crude bow and quiver of arrows more securely across his shoulder as he went.
Fedikin walked alongside the great white wall surrounding the blessed city of Elirith. He looked up at the looming fortification and felt immediately assured. Despite his whole life living in the city, he had never ceased to marvel at its magnificence. Known as the Diamond of the holy Human Kingdom, Elirith had once been the most beautiful city that ever graced the land of Serini. With stones of white and woods of oak, the grand city was built in homage to the Celestial, the religion of angelic beings.
As befitted a diamond, Elirith was also an impenetrable fortress. Its towering white walls encircled the huge girth of the metropolis with such perfect cohesion that not even the smallest of gaps remained. There were seven massive stone gates, big enough to easily allow twenty men to walk abreast, were constructed of white granite. The emblem of the Human Kingdom and the Celestial, a raised sword pointing at the heavens with angelic wings folded over its length, shined in gold at the centre of these gates. The Elirithean citizens were promised protection.
Yet, twice before in its grand history, it had been besieged. Its beauty had been despoiled by the infernal Tra'Kilae, a demonic horde spawned from hell itself. They had come with fire and darkness, destruction and despair, intent upon crushing the sacred city of Human Kingdom. Both times, the valiant defenders repelled the fiends with righteousness and determination, faith and zeal.
But not without a grim price. Many cracks and charred stains marred the wall's white purity. The indomitable gates had been broken and replaced. The indestructible diamond had been tarnished. But the direst cost of all was the thousands who had died for the next generations to live.
Fedikin was grateful for their sacrifices. All these events had occurred before his lifetime. Only just, though. He was born a year after the Second Siege of Elirith and his father had been one of the soldiers who fought against the Tra'Kilae.
As he reached the massive Whitegate, he saw the crowd and he took in a deep breath. The main entrance of the metropolis was crowded beyond belief. Citizens, merchants, wagons, horses and soldiers were constantly entering or leaving Elirith, adding to the chaotic cluster of shoving bodies.
Rich highborns dressed in doublets of gold and purple sat on their proud horses, arrogantly looking down their noses at the commotion of those on foot. Knights in resplendent armour rode on their chargers with straightened backs and stern faces, followed by humble squires carrying banners of the Knights' houses. Poor peasants and slum-dwellers trudged with lowered heads and slouched shoulders, their sack shirts and patched trousers filthy and stained. Even though Fedikin belonged to the last, he kept his back straight and his face levelled. His father always taught that poverty did not bring shame.
As Fedikin prepared to plunge into the squirming throng, a gravelly yet familiar voice; so reminiscent of grinding rocks, called from somewhere above. "Ho, Fedikin lad! Laddie! Oi, I'm up here!"
The young man tilted his head to the wall above and caught sight of a friend of his. "Hail, Targrim!" Fedikin shouted in reply. "I've been looking for you!"
"Come up here a moment, laddie!"
He deftly parted himself from the tide of people and ran to the stairs leading to the wall. He jogged up the steps, eager to meet a friend he had not seen for days. He reached the last step and saw Targrim grinning, dressed in a suit of chain mail with plate armour covering the vital parts. A golden cape was clasped to his shoulder plates and an insignia of the captain of the wall guard was imprinted upon his breastplate. A large halberd was in his gauntleted hand.
Targrim was Fedikin's neighbour and also a grizzled veteran of the past two sieges. Before his time as an Elirithean soldier, he had been a mercenary. His ravaged features only served as proof of his immense experience in the world of warfare. An eye patch covered his empty left socket, partially concealing the ugly scar that stretched from his left brow to his upper lip. His nose was bent at an awkward angle, having been broken many times before. Many holes gaped in his smile from the dozen teeth that had been knocked out, either through combat or tavern brawls. His beard was only as ragged as his nature.
Despite this rough face, his smile was warm and his remaining eye was kind.
"Haven't seen you for some time," Targrim slapped Fedikin's back. "How you doin'?"
"I'm doing fine," Fedikin said with a relieved smile. "Where have you been in the past few days? I didn't see you around and I was getting worried. I looked into your house, asked around but there was no sign of you anywhere. I thought something bad had happened."
"I ain't gonna die that easy," Targrim laughed, taking the matter of death as a jest. "I wasn't around 'cause I've volunteered to take the shift of a wall guard. That means that I'm stayin' in the wall's barracks for a month before I can go home again."
"Why do you want to do that?" Fedikin asked, bewildered. He could not think why anyone would want to be kept on the wall.
"Firstly, I wanted to get some good food and clean beds," Targrim said with a chuckle. But the smile disappeared from his face. "Secondly, just look around."
Fedikin did so, seeing that the majority of the wall guards had young and inexperienced faces. Many seemed about the same age as Fedikin and very few bore the scarred and hardened faces of veterans.
"There are just too many bloody recruits around here. I wanted to do the shift 'cause they need someone who's gonna tell them when to turn left or right."
Suddenly, a troubled look crossed Targrim's rough face. He leant towards Fedikin and dropped his voice to a whisper. "There's another thing. For some reason, I feel that somethin' ain't right these days." He looked around, almost suspiciously. "I've this feeling in me gut, the same feelin' I get before goin' to a fight that's gonna be a disaster. It's weird, I know, but it feels as if Elirith ain't gonna be safe..."
Though the grave tone unnerved Fedikin, his mind rejected the possibility of another catastrophe befalling Elirith; it just could not be true. With a forced laugh, he replied, "You're probably getting too old, Targrim! The Tra'Kilae hasn't attacked us for longer than I was alive! I'll bet they've given up on us already."
There was a strained look across his face as Targrim's smiled sadly. "I hope you're right, laddie. I really do."
There was a pause. Fedikin struggled to find a reply. The veteran's eye quickly trailed to the bow slung across Fedikin's shoulder.
"Goin' hunting, eh?"
"That I am," Fedikin said, relieved from the change of topic. "Don't you find that meat is so expensive these days? It's been stretching our purse as it is to buy it in the market, but now, it's actually necessary that I got to hunt for it."
"Aye, I know what you mean. But there's nothing–"
He was interrupted by the whistle of an arrow, quickly succeeded by an abrupt thud. A soldier beside Fedikin and Targrim gargled horribly, a black shaft embedded in his unprotected neck. The body convulsed briefly before falling limply to the ground.
Targrim swore loudly. Fedikin shouted in surprise. He whipped his head towards the fields outside the city and saw a great torrent of similar dark arrows, easily reaching fifty in number. Amidst the bushes and shrubbery that dotted the field, he did not see from whence they flew. Shocked, he was unable to move.
"Get down!" Targrim yelled as he flung them onto the stone floor. They barely escaped an arrow that flew over where they had been seconds ago. From all directions, rending screams and jarring cries erupted. Limp and broken bodies fell to the ground in a cacophony of sounds, all with black shafts protruding. The soldiers who managed to gather enough wits threw themselves to the floor, safe behind the cover of the ramparts.
Shrieks of terror from the crowd below filled the air. Panic caught on like wildfire and within seconds, the throng turned in a mass of fleeing figures and trampling feet. The soldiers' few feeble attempts to restore order were entirely futile. A mob would not be stopped.
Fedikin huddled on the stone floor, not daring to move or breathe as though that would risk putting him into the firing line. Most of the stricken died immediately, but there were still some who refused to do so. He watched the latter with wide eyes. A wall guard writhed in pain as he clutched at the two arrows protruding out of his armoured chest. Another sergeant choked hideously at an arrow that had pierced into his gaping mouth.
Fedikin closed his eyes and muttered shakily, "Celestial saves! Celestial saves!" But, the jarring screams. They still howled their infernal songs.
By the time he opened his eyes again, the deadly barrage seemed to have subsided but none on the wall dared to move. Targrim was the first to recover from the shock. As the lull lengthened, the veteran crawled towards the ramparts and peered over them. When he saw no more incoming arrows, he leapt up and sprinted for the great horn, a signal for an attack against the holy capital. A few more arrows zipped past him, but the experienced Targrim was undaunted. When he reached the horn, he blew into it with all the breath in his lungs.
The mighty bellow resonated far and wide, silencing the panicked crowd with a rallying note. The low, thunderous sound reminded the soldiers on the walls of their courage. With a cheer and a praise to the Celestial, the wall guards took out their shields and the archers took out their bows.
When Targrim was finished with the horn, he drew a deep breath and shouted, "Form line! Shields fore 'n' archers back!" The armoured soldiers lined up by the ramparts, crouched and locked their large shields together. The ambusher's arrows thudded on the shields as the archers notched their arrows behind the phalanx.
"Raise," Targrim yelled and the archers stood up. "Aim," he put up his hand. They waited only to see from which shrubbery the black arrows flew. When they did, Targrim brought his hand down with a bellow. "Loose!" The air was filled with whistling sounds as more than a hundred bows let fly. Fedikin could hear shrill unearthly howls of pain coming from beyond the wall. Targrim turned towards his lieutenant and said, "Take over the command for me, laddie."
As the lieutenant shouted "Fire at will," Targrim walked over to Fedikin, passing a few priests who rushed to heal the wounded with magic blessed by the Celestial. The survivors were only a limited few, however. Most of what had been screaming soldiers were now limp corpses. Targrim offered a hand to the terrified Fedikin. "Get up, laddie. Panic's over."
Fedikin took the hand, still trembling from shock. With ease, Targrim pulled him up, giving a backward glance at the soldiers. The black arrows still flew but less thickly than before. A few still found their marks but most just hit soldiers' shields.
Fedikin looked around at the bodies that littered the ground. The staring corpses of the wall guards made him shiver. With an effort, he wrenched his eyes away from them. He tried to steel himself but he still could not stop his arms from shaking.
"You've kind of recovered now, eh? You got guts," Targrim said. As he looked at the firing archers, his eye betrayed his preoccupation. "This ain't good."
"What in the name of the Celestial was that?" Fedikin asked, breathless.
"It's the 'Kilae, it must be," the veteran replied, naming the dreaded fiends, the grave enemy of humankind.
Fedikin was stunned. He would feel no less surprised if Targrim had thrust a dagger in his gut. He would not believe it. "It can't be!"
Instead of answering, Targrim wandered to one of the corpses and yanked an arrow free from its chest. Fedikin was appalled to see that it was a shard of elongated bone fletched with black feathers. Only demons would use such grisly weapons.
Targrim returned and held the arrow out so Fedikin could get a good look. "You see, this ain't no ordinary arrow," he explained gravely. "It's a bone from a Malice's bow. Malice is a sniping demon of the 'Kilae, that is. But you know what this means? It means that the ambush gotta be from the 'Kilae and why the hell would they bother ambushing a huge, well-guarded city?"
The answer was to test and thin down the defence before they delivered the hammer blow. But Fedikin denied it. This could not be happening. They had not attacked Elirith for longer than he was alive. Targrim was wrong. Fedikin turned away from the arrow. His voice came out in a whisper. "The Tra'Kilae can't be attacking. No, you're wrong. They can't be."
Targrim took hold of Fedikin's head and forced the young man, firmly but not roughly, to face him. "Pull yourself together, laddie. You know it's true. Would do you no good denyin' it."
Fedikin stared into the veteran's eye. "Prove that it's the Tra'Kilae."
Targrim sighed and released his hand from Fedikin's head. "I've told you. Look at the arrows. You saw how accurate they were. I've been through many battles and only Malices could kill so quickly and cleanly. Just look how many they've killed with less'n fifty of 'em. Our archers ain't even finished with 'em yet." He waved his hands at them. They were still firing even though the black arrows stopped coming. "Besides, did you hear 'em scream when we hit 'em back? They ain't human cries. They're the shrill kind that makes your hackles stand."
Fedikin was about to turn away again when Targrim laid a heavy hand on his shoulder. "Trust me. I've been fightin' the 'Kilae before you were born. Since my time as a mercenary fifteen years ago, I've been fightin' 'em. Seen more people killed by 'em than you can count. Seen people ripped open before my eyes. You see this scar here," he lifted up his eyepatch to reveal how the scar ran straight through his eyelid. "It's from a demon's claw. I know what I'm talkin' about. I know that I'm right. Even my gut's tellin' me that I'm right." He paused to get a look at Fedikin's face. "You gotta take it in, laddie. If you don't, there ain't nothin' worse'n seein' it proved right in the end."
It took a while before Fedikin muttered. "I've got it."
Targrim grunted in reply and gave another glance at the soldiers. By now, the ambush was over. The archers stopped firing but they still remained in their positions, peering at the bushes across the green field.
Below, the great crowd parted in order to allow a horde of cavalry through. Alerted by the sound of the great horn, the riders were sent out to investigate and clean up what was left from the archers' volley. With a shout of command, a mounted Knight led the galloping band out into the fields of Elirith.
"Another thing, laddie," Targrim said as if reminded by the cavalry. "Don't go huntin' today. Stayin' behind the walls is the best thing you could do. You'll never know if there are any more Malices about." Fedikin was still too shaken for words. Targrim saw the soulless eyes and sadly shook his head. "Better you be off home now, laddie. You'd do well with a rest."
When Fedikin spoke, his lips felt numb and clumsy. "I'll go buy meat first." After a brief pause, he continued, "Father needs to know about this. Farewell, Targrim."
"Aye, laddie. Goodbye to you too."
Fedikin almost stumbled down the flight of stairs. His legs felt heavy and dragging. When he reached the crowded street, the atmosphere was totally different from the time he had left it. Apprehensive murmurs filled the air as the crowd discussed the possible meaning of the attack. Not all was oblivious to the upcoming danger. Some had already guessed the Tra'Kilae and those predictions spread like a contagious plague. Murmurs slowly turned into gasps, shouts and sobs.
Fedikin barely heard any of those as he set off for the Market Row.
For the first few minutes, he hardly saw which direction he was heading. His mind was filled to the overflowing with the Tra'Kilae. He had heard too many of stories of how the demons laughed when they spilled men's blood or how they roared as they went into bloodthirsty frenzies. No longer would they remain in tales he had heard. They were coming to Elirith, his home. And this time, he would be a witness to their savagery, or even a victim.
He covered his face with his hand, feeling the callused skin on his palm. What could he do?
He walked into a portly woman, startling him as much as it did her. She turned around to give him a disapproving glance before continuing on her way. He muttered a quick apology and continued walking, weaving through the people more carefully. Only then did he remember his destination: the butcher's. He latched onto this objective, focusing on looking where the Market Row would be. Anything to distract his thoughts.