Accadri, City of the Dead. Few places have ever lived up to their titles so aptly.
Several centuries after the Screaming Death had withered from the world, and still no one had returned. The last boats fleeing the continent of Amnrath had departed hundreds of years before even that. They say that the Screaming Death still lingers in the continent's darkest corners, and that, when the darkness of night envelopes the land, the screams of those who fell to the disease, or died in the purging fires, can be heard echoing through the deep ravines that had split it.
The last reclamation and scout parties, despite having found nought, dared not enter the city beyond the outer wall, only having surveyed the ruins from it's top. Once they had left, they had declared the city a ruin, and beyond redemption.
As anyone might imagine, many stories about Accadri-some born of truth, others spun from fancy like an intricate Arachne web-had spread. A favourite in the Valen capital, Hope, would be the tale known to many as 'The Cult and the Ardaht'. The story told the tale of two of the churches most revered Ardaht, and their encounter with the terrible Cult of the Void, who had been trying to resurrect a long dead god of creation by forcing captives to feed from 'Font of the Void'. The Font was said to collect the dead god's blood, and could imbue a chosen person with their power.
Having heard the tales, the church had sent their two best Ardaht: a man of dark hair, and radiant soul named Moonlight. And a light haired woman of unbreakable will, and inspiring courage known as Liviam, 'Life Bringer' in old Accadrian. It is said that the two Ardaht found the cult at the peek of Accadri's ruined palace. And, after a prolonged battle, had defeated the cult, the surviving captives freed. However, the Font still remained, sat atop an ancient stone altar that overlooked the city. Moonlight, having realised that the threat to humanity would never truly die, not until the Font was destroyed, used an ancient magic that prevented Liviam, and the survivors from re-entering the palace. Without sparing a glance to his lifelong friend, he strode to the altar, unsheathed his sword, and struck the Font. Upon impact, the Font exploded into ninety nine pieces, the following blast of energy scattering them around the world, destroying the palace, and killing Moonlight as it fell into the deep ravine over which it looked.
Depending on which version of the tale a person hears, the story ends with either Liviam leading the survivors back to Valen, where they spread the tale. Or that Liviam descended into the dark ravine-the deepest of the city-to recover her friend's remains, and was never seen again. There are over a hundred versions of the story, though they all agree upon one fact: that The Umbra rose from the rubble of that day, from the energy released by the Font's shattering to haunt the world.
Ere didn't care much for old tales. Especially ones that had been embellished to a level where the truth barely mattered anymore, and those involving him.
One hand grasping the peek of the stone spire that pointed skywards at the edge of Accadri's central cathedral, the closest of his feet perched on the lip of the roof, his other dangling free of the edge. The sun was setting to the west, casting long, ominous shadows across the skeletal remains of Accadri. To the east, along the western rise of the King's Mountain, sat the ruin that had once been a palace.
Ere scanned the dead city with his pale amber eyes, the gentle wind occasionally picking up, and tossing his near-shoulder-length black hair across his face. His long black coat's trails played in the same wind, blowing flat against the cathedral's walls, then dancing out into the open. His dark trousers, and boots almost made him look one with the stone, darkened by the elements. From a distance, he'd likely look like some ancient gargoyle, standing vigil over the city. Only his light shirt, and pale skin gave him away.
He glanced downwards, catching a glimpse of blonde hair in the damp alley between the cathedral's walls, and those of the neighbouring buildings.
Taking one last look across the ancient city-scarred with ravines that had split the ground, and torn buildings asunder-he took a deep breath, pushed away from the building, and let go. There was nothing between him and the street below, barring almost a hundred feet of open air.
He fell for an indeterminate amount of time, but the hard ground eventually caught him. The soles of his boots collided with the hard ground, the shock of it all running through him. As he'd hit the ground, he stumbled, fell to one knee, and barely avoided rolling onto his side by bringing his hand down the ground him beside him.
Glancing back up to where he'd been perched, he sighed.
"Maybe one day," Aillia chuckled from behind him.
"Maybe one day," Ere mirrored, turning to face his companion. She was dressed similarly to him, only her coat only came down to just above her knees, where his came down to his mid-calves. She was as pale as he was, which was only accentuated by her light blonde hair, and icy grey eyes-her irises ringed with pale red at the centre. She grinned at him, a fleck of blood on the corner of her lower lip. Ere took a few steps towards her, then wiped at the blood with his thumb. It was fresh. Brining his thumb up to his lower lip, he tested it with his tongue. Pig's blood. He relaxed a little.
Ailia sighed, rolling her eyes in the exaggerated way she did, "Don't worry, it's not a persons; it's from my flask." She patted at the satchel she had slung across her body. "Anyway, I don't think I'd be able to attack a person that I found here, they'd probably be diseased-or smell bad at least." She wrinkled her nose at that.
Ere had known her since birth, and in the centuries that he'd been stuck with her, she'd changed a lot, but had also remained the same. If that made sense. The bouts of cruelty, and borderline sadism that she'd developed were something of an inherent problem with being as they were; a final gift from the Font of the Void. What the old tales omitted was that all who survived exposure to the Font, and the 'Blood of the Dead God' had been twisted in one way or another. Not instantly for a lot of them, it had taken years to manifest for all but him.
All survivors had developed urges to intake more blood, but in the absence of the Font, they had turned to the closest alternative. There had been two super-strains of the affliction, the one that drove men to consume others. These had become the first of the shifters-a colloquial term coined by the common spinner of tales-men who became beasts. The second strain had worked more subtly. The afflicted only consuming the blood of others. Though the more sadistic ones still revelled in the violence of brutally murdering their prey. There had been a time where Ere, and Ailia could be counted among the ranks of the latter; Ere had a list of sins that stretched far beyond most. But that was a tale that Ere despised most of all. He hated stories about himself, but carried them with him as a reminder. As a warning.
Surprisingly, Ailia had come with him, leaving it all behind. Well, maybe not all of it. The years of vile desire had twisted her in a way that made them both uncomfortable. Maybe them returning to Accadri, to the place that the story had begun-where their lives had ended-would bring back a part of who they had been.
"You're sure that you want to go back there?" He asked.
Ailia looked at him, her expression unreadable, "Well, we've come this far, it'd be a shame to turn around now..." Her gaze trailed off behind him, seemingly seeing through the walls of the surrounding buildings to where the palace had once stood. "...no, we need to," her voice quiet, almost a whisper.
The sun set behind the mountains to the west, and darkness enveloped Accadri, City of the Dead.