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The Will of Fire: Island of the Old Kings: Chapter 7 (Novel) (1 Viewer)

Mreichardt

Senior Member
Another chapter down. This one has a lot of traveling going on in it. I'm particularly interested in thoughts on my pacing and descriptions of things. Thanks and (hopefully) enjoy! :bigsmurf:

Chapter Seven: The Forgotten Dead

The sun had fully risen by the time their march resumed, though it wasn’t easy to tell; Thick rainclouds prevented all but the occasional glimmer of light from getting through. They returned to their course along the road, Eamon, Nora and Roh at the front of them, Roh now carrying Frake’s bedroll, which Eamon had insisted he take, along with the old cook’s knife. As they walked, the truth of Roh’s dream was confirmed to him by the sight of familiar trees and the gentle curving of the river as they made their way slowly onward. Eamon stopped their march early on to ask if they were still on course.

“We just follow the road for now, until we reach the forest” Roh replied to the big man, and the journey resumed. Still, he kept to the front of the group as he had been asked. Small as he was, it was no easy task, requiring him to half-run at times to keep stride with the adults.

The woodlands they had become accustomed to went through a slow but steady transformation as they walked, the trees growing sparser, the grass thicker and darker in color. Flowers gave way to weeds and nasty plants that gave off an awful smell when trampled underfoot. Soon the river fell out of sight, blocked by high grasses and the many ponds formed by countless overflowings. By late afternoon the transition was complete, and they found that traveling off road was no longer an option, the once solid ground replaced by long stretches of slippery mud and flooding pools that were waist-deep in places and full of pondweeds and the odor of rot. Reluctantly, Eamon gave the order for them to move to the road, which had remained blessedly empty all day. Doing so did little to raise their spirits however, for by then they were filthy from the grime of the marsh, and soaked to the bone by the rain, which had turned icy cold.

“How much longer is this damned rain going to fall?” demanded one of their group, a red haired man by the name of Galt who had spent much of the afternoon complaining to no one in particular.

“As long as it chooses, and we’ll keep walking all the same.” Replied Eamon without turning around or breaking stride.

“At least it was dry back in Dolemn!”

“You’re welcome to go back at any time, though I hope you realize that you’ll still have to put up with the weather the whole way back!” at this, Galt went silent, reducing his complaints to occasional grumblings.

They stopped twice for meals that day, Eamon and Nora handing out unpeeled carrots and the remainder of the bread, which the rain had made soggy. Eventually the rare sight of a clustering of trees came into view off the road ahead of them, some with leaves that reached for the rainwater, others with branches that drooped down mournfully into the mud below. With the pittance of sunlight they had growing too dim to make out the horizon, they came to the decision to stop for the night, stepping off the road and slushing through the mud toward shelter, moving single file on the small patch of ground between two large puddles, being careful not to slip.

Before long they had managed to squeeze themselves under and between the trees, finding the branches to provide protection from at least a portion of the rain. They could do little about the cold however, causing many of them to huddle together for warmth.

“We’ll camp here for the night!” called Eamon to all of them over the sound of the rain’s onslaught. “We aren’t likely to find anywhere drier before sunset.” They laid out bedrolls and piled up the rations, doing their best to keep them out of the rain and mud, though there was little hope of avoiding either. Most went to sleep as soon as possible, lying down on their stomachs to avoid getting rain in their faces. Unrolling his bedroll in the driest patch of ground he could find, he wearily lowered himself to the ground and slipped into it, finding it to be surprisingly warm and comfortable despite the weather it had endured. Finding the sound of raindrops oddly soothing, he drifted to an easy sleep.

Roh awoke what seemed moments later in total blackness to the sound of hushed voices and dark shapes scrambling all around him. Grabbing for his knife, he stood up slowly and approached the edge of the trees, where those that were talking had gathered.

They were looking down the road. Roh looked for himself, and caught sight of two small beads of light coming from far down the road on the misty horizon. He continued to watch as the lights grew closer slowly, realizing as he did that the rain had finally stopped. Meanwhile, those around him broke into fearful whispering.

“It’s the marsh lights! Spirits of the dead!”

“Don’t be stupid. There’s no such thing.”

“Torches! See how they flicker? They’re going to pass right by us!”

“Get back, all of you!” Eamon appeared at the back of the group, his voice a low, angry growl. The big man pushed his way through the crowd and took a long look at the approaching lights, his tired face stern as could be. “Get back, I said! You’ll be seen!” At last they shuffled back into cover behind the branches.

They watched in silence as the lights continued to grow closer and larger over several minutes, until at last it became clear that they were in fact torches, held high by two figures leading a horse-drawn carriage.

The torch bearers and the carriage they led continued down the road slowly. They would indeed pass by their hiding place beneath the trees, though it was a fair enough distance from the road that they might not see them.

Unless one of them is a Mage. Roh’s thoughts went back to the previous night’s chaos and his encounter with Galynvar. There were so many of them, so close together. It would be easy to find them with a Mage’s sight. He shut his eyes, reaching out to the approaching strangers with his mind.

He saw two lights in the distant darkness, purest white in color, flickering and flowing like the fire of the torches they carried. Between the two was a larger light, one that flickered slower than the other two. This was the horse, he guessed. Focusing further, he identified a fourth light, seeming to come from a person within the carriage. This light was the same shade of white, but it seemed to barely be moving at all.

“Roh” asked Eamon “what do you see?”

“There’s the two at the front, and another in the carriage. Asleep I think. I can’t be sure.” Eamon nodded at him in the darkness.

“Do they see us?” he asked. If he was nervous, his voice hid it well.

“I don’t think so. Not yet. But if one of them is a Mage, and he’s expecting to find someone, we’ll be easy to spot.” Eamon nodded once more, then retreated slightly into the shadows of the trees, facing the onlookers.
“Knives at the ready folks. Might be a fight coming. Keep low, and keep quiet!” Roh heard fast, muted movement behind him as the fighters searched for their weapons. Another tense minute passed, and then another, the carriage continuing to draw nearer. Soon the strangers were a mere hundred or so paces away, and could be seen at last in detail.

Unsurprisingly, they were Syl, a man and a woman, bodyguards or mercenaries form the look of them, each in dark brown leather garments with a chain shirt worn over top. On their heads they wore matching leather skullcaps. They glanced around them from time to time as they made their way down the road. They reached their hiding place, and continued past it without so much as glancing at the trees. The group continued to watch as they moved down the road, relaxing at last as the sound of hooves died down and the carriage shrank back into the mists.

“We got lucky” said Eamon at last, breaking the long silence. “Back to bed now, all of you.” As if a weight had suddenly been lifted from their collective shoulders, those around the trees stood up in unison, returning to their mud-stained beds. Roh followed, laying back down against a different tree. Sleep came to him again after a time, though far less peacefully.

They woke the next morning to find the marshes in a merciful mood. The rain showed no sign of returning, though clouds still obscured much of the sky. There was a general mood of cheer and a new eagerness to get going as they packed up their dirt-caked belongings and ate the morning meal.

That day’s march went similarly to the previous one, though thankfully drier. They risked the road, none of them keen to get any wetter or dirtier than they already were. They began to catch sights of wildlife for the first time since entering the marshes, children pointing and laughing at frogs hopping from lilypad to lilypad in a pond by the roadside. They were especially pleased at the sight of birds, which seemed so rare around Dolemn.
For many hours the walking went uninterrupted, except for a brief stop while the midday meal was handed out. The bags were beginning to run out, a fact that Nora seemed well aware of, looking worriedly at the four that remained. Water too was in short supply. A few brave souls risked drinking from the ponds, finding their waters to be foul and full of the slime of rotting plants.

“Wonder if there’s any fish in them?” Roh heard a man ask his friend as they stared into the murky water.

“I don’t think you’d want to eat anything that came from those, Ned” replied the other.

The sun set, but Eamon did not allow them to stop, insisting that they find a spot that provided more cover.

“It was a near thing last night. We can’t just collapse in the grass and hope to be safe. We’ll need to keep watch at night from now on.” There were complaints from some of tired feet, but none failed to see the wisdom in Eamon’s words. The moon rose high in the sky and still they pressed on.

“What’s that out there?” The front of the group stopped in their tracks, looking out off the road at what they had spotted in the distance. Barely in view off the road to the left of them was what appeared to be stone walls.
“That’s not Riversmeet, is it?” asked Yosef, who had snuck into the front. Eamon shook his head.

“Riversmeet is named for its location, where two rivers meet. We’d know if saw it.”

“I don’t see any roads” Nora added. “They don’t build cities without roads.”

“It might be abandoned. If that’s the case, it might be a safe place to camp. Jory, Galt, go give it a look.” The chosen scouts nodded at Eamon, then hurried through the grasses toward the far off wall while the rest watched them shrink into the distance. They waited patiently for several minutes, until at last Rob and Galt returned.

“Ruins” said Rob. “Used to be a city I’d guess. Not a Syl city though, from the look of it.”

“We’ll spend the night there then. Let’s get going.” They set off toward the ruin. Before they had taken twenty steps off the road, several of them in the back yelled and jumped at the sound of flapping wings and the sight of something black as it shot out of a patch of grass. The black shape lifted quickly into the air and was lost in the night as quickly as it had appeared. Assuming it to be a bird or bat, they continued on with little delay, though Roh couldn’t help but wonder what either animal would be doing hiding in the grass.

The wall drew slowly nearer, and its age became apparent. Built of gray stone, it was covered in vines and other marsh plants which had grown over and into it. Great chunks were missing from it, as if torn off by giant hands. In the some places the damage was so great that the wall was split into halves. Standing higher than three tall men, it curved off out of sight to surround the city within. There had been a gate once, but it too had been struck by whatever befell the wall. A rusted frame and a bit of rotted wood were all that remained to even hint that a gate had ever been there.

As they approached the ruin, Roh was struck by the feeling that something odd was happening, and as they stood before the old gate, he realized what it was. In the long hours since sunset he had grown accustomed to the buzzing and chirping of insects in their hiding places in the grass. But as they neared the old city, the sound had been growing quieter and quieter. Now it was gone entirely, leaving what he thought was silence in its truest meaning. Indeed, there was no sound at all other than what they brought with them, as if the city had gone quiet at the sound of their approach.

Looking at those around him, he realized that he was far from the only one unnerved by the silence. None were eager to be the first through those fallen doors. At last Eamon stepped forward, passing through the gates and into the ruined city within. The rest followed hesitantly behind him.

They passed through streets strewn with rubble and numerous skeletons, the bones of men, women and children, their resting places undisturbed by all save time. Some lay out in the street, arms clutching at their chests or throats, while others were slumped against the walls of devastated stone houses. Some seemed to stare at them through empty sockets, the dark adding to their sinister appearance. Not all the bones were human; the remains of horses, rats, and a myriad of other beasts were scattered amongst the rest.

Gods... what happened here?” breathed a man from behind Roh.

“The Syl happened” replied Eamon. He bent down for a moment, picked something off the ground, then rose, turning to Roh. “Give us a light, lad.” He tossed the thing he had picked up at Roh, who barely managed to catch it in the dark. It was a long, dry stick. With a moment’s concentration, he ignited the tip of it, bathing the area in torchlight.

As if in response to the new light, a sudden fierce wind blew through the city. The children shrieked in surprise, the sound of the wind bringing thoughts of some nightmarish creature. Bitterer than any they had endured in the previous night’s storm, it blew past them in one tremendous gust, before ceasing as quickly as it began. Those that had knives took a sudden interest in making sure they could be easily reached.

“We… We shouldn’t be here.” Muttered Galt. There was no response. Taking a deep breath, Eamon continued down the street, holding the torch, which was miraculously still lit, ahead of him.

A sick feeling took hold of Roh as they continued through the ruined city. It had started with the wind, growing stronger by the minute as they drew closer to the center. An odor that reminded him of spoiled milk hung in the air, growing neither weaker nor stronger as they moved, as if it permeated from the city as a whole. He wondered how he had not smelled it until now, and why nobody else seemed bothered by it. With the smell came a deep feeling of dread, as well as an intense desire that he could not explain; a desire to run back the way they had come, to leave the city as quick as he could. Fearing that he might vomit if he opened his mouth, he remained silent, though he stopped to look around every corner before crossing it.

What appeared to be a white marble fountain came into view as they approached a wide open area that they guessed was the city square. The path they took was one of four that led into it. Its boundaries were comprised of numerous houses and shops built into a circular shape around the fountain. Cautiously, they proceeded into the square, and were surprised to find not a single trace of death within.

“We’ll rest here for the night” declared Eamon, looking down each of the exit paths in turn. “Plenty of room for everyone. In the morning, we’ll search some of these houses.”

Eager to sleep, however dreary the place, they laid out the bedrolls, every last sound they made echoing unnatural through the hollow heart of the city. The remaining ration bags they tossed in the empty fountain, which some who had finished setting up for the night were admiring.

At the center of the fountain towered a statue of a man, a human man, a new, strange sight for all who beheld it. He was tall, with short, neat hair and a handsome, youthful visage. He gazed intensely at those below, a sword in one hand while the other beat against his breast. The man was a hero from the look of his armor, and the obvious care and detail that had gone into its carving.

“Who d’you think he was?” Yosef asked Roh, emerging from the crowd to stand beside him. “A king or somethin’?”

“Who knows?” he managed to reply weakly, still gripped by his sudden illness.

“You alright? Ya look sick.”

“Tired… just tired…” Yosef nodded and walked away.

Roh had been about to head for bed himself when he was approached again, this time by Eamon.

“I’ll be keeping first watch. I was wondering if you might join me. Only for an hour or so.” Roh thought for a moment, then nodded weakly. He doubted he could sleep in his current state anyway. While the rest laid down in their bedrolls, he and Eamon took positions on either end of the fountain, each watching two paths. Soon all was quiet, Roh and Eamon the only ones left awake in the square.

“You’ve been acting odd” began Eamon after some time. Roh turned his head to look back at him from across the fountain. “Something you haven’t been telling us?”

“Something about this place feels… wrong. The air smells strange.” Roh heard Eamon take a deep breath.

“I can’t smell anything” he insisted. “Maybe the marsh has gotten to you. We spent a day in the rain after all.” Roh laughed weakly at this.

“I hope that’s all it is.”

They sat there in silence for a time, until a sudden sigh from Eamon caused Roh to look back at him once more.

“Torch is going out. You don’t see any wood lying around, do you?” Eamon slid off the fountain and began to search the ground. Roh turned back around, and was about to do the same, when he saw it.

From down the path they had come from, a light could be seen. Pure white, it was headed toward them, growing slowly larger. Roh was immediately reminded of the torch bearers from the other night, though somehow he knew this was something else entirely.

“Eamon” he began, only to be cut short by another wave of nausea that forced him to cover his mouth. Eamon had heard him however, and had hurried to his side, looking down the path.
“You see that… don’t you?” asked Roh. Eamon nodded gravely.

“Get up everybody! Nora! Get up!” Eamon ran over to the sleepers, repeating himself until they started to wake.

“S’goin’ on?” droned Yosef sleepily from his bedroll.

“Get up boy! Something’s coming!”

Three new lights had joined the first, and more were coming, gliding in through alleys, windows and doors, bathing the street in an eerie white glow as they went.

“Eamon! There are more of them!” called Roh nervously, feeling for his knife. When he did not receive an answer, he turned to look where he had last heard the big man. He spotted him nearby amongst the waking, starring down a different path. Roh feared he knew what he saw down it.

“Yes, I’m aware of that…” muttered Eamon in disbelief, confirming Roh’s fears. He spun around, looking at each of the four paths in turn. Sure enough, the white lights were gathering down each, speeding toward the city square in unison. They were trapped.

“Marsh lights! The stories are true! We’re done for!” cried Galt.

“Shut up and prepare yourself, fool! You’ve got a knife, haven’t you?” roared Eamon. “Nora, hand me that! Form a circle round the rest! Side to side!” reluctantly handing Eamon her knife, Nora called to the rest of them, ordering them to get close together, so that they stood back to back against an edge of the fountain. Roh, Eamon and the rest of the knife wielders surrounded them in a half circle, blades drawn and held before them.

They had barely enough time to organize themselves before the lights arrived, pouring into the square in numbers that rivaled their own, surrounding them. As they entered, they morphed, stretching to touch the ground. Arms, legs and heads took shape, giving the lights human-like form. They stood before the group in all different shapes and sizes, starring at them motionlessly. Roh’s arm shook violently as he held his knife forward, as if he might drop it at any moment.

Suddenly the lights underwent another change, clothes, hair and facial features fading into existence. Most wore simple linen garments, a rare few in silk. Some seemed to be soldiers, clad in armor of chain and plate, helms on their heads and swords worn at their sides. The ghostly crowd gazed at them curiously with eyes that lacked pupils, some tilting their heads like confused dogs. They scanned the panicked crowd, looking at each in turn with searching gazes. One by one, their searches came to an end as they fixed their eyes on one in particular, on Roh.

“Murrrrdererrrr…” spoke one of the phantoms at last, an old, balding man with a goatee. Though it seemed less than a whisper, his words carried throughout the square. “Cowarrrrrd… Betrayerrrr… Why have you come here?”

“Murderer! Coward! Betrayer!” repeated the ghostly crowd in unison.

“I… Why are you looking at me? I’ve never been here! I never did anything to you!”

“Liarrrrr… We can smell yourrrrr kind… You rrrrreek of their power!” The old specter’s face twisted into a hideous scowl. “Dying… dying forever… You did this to us!”

“YOU DID THIS!” agreed the rest of them in a shared roar. The knife wielders cowered backwards several steps as the ghosts advanced toward them.

“I-It’s just the boy they want! We-“

“If you finish that sentence, you’ll have more than ghosts to worry about, Galt!” interrupted Eamon. “Most of them aren’t even armed! We cut through!” He lunged at one of them, thrusting his knife into the pale creature’s chest. His attack made no impact, instead passing harmlessly through his foe, causing him to stumble forward in surprise, barely regaining his balance in time to avoid falling over. The ghost continued toward Roh without so much as a glance at anything else. Looking around, his insides froze as he saw that the same was true for all the rest of them.

The few knife wielders who still had their wits about them took swings at the ghosts as they approached, but they had as little success as Eamon had. They drew ever closer, and though he desperately wished to flee, his body seemed unwilling to respond. Roh heard a woman scream nearby; he did not recognize the voice.

Have to… do something! The first of the ghosts had almost reached him. Its arms were outstretched; it was reaching for him. Those who had stood near him quickly stepped back out of the way. He was alone. What do-
His mind went blank as he felt icy cold hands grasped at his face, arms, his throat. Dead faces surrounded him. He wanted to struggle, to push them off, but he was utterly paralyzed. He tried desperately to visualize a spell of some sort, anything that might protect him from their touch, but terror had overwhelmed his will.

Suddenly he was somewhere else. He stood before the very same gate they had entered the city through. No longer was it destroyed and rotted, instead standing tall and mighty, barricaded by a massive wooden board that had been slid into place across its doors. The world around him seemed washed out and wavy, as if seen from underwater. The paved streets were free of bones and immaculate. Others stood among him. Looking at the faces in the crowd, he recognized them as that of the phantoms in the square. They seemed alive and well now, or as well as they could, given the terror that was obvious on each and every one of their faces. The sound of marching and the clatter of metal could be heard from beyond the wall.

Suddenly there came a flash and a mighty crackling sound, and the gate was no more, blown apart by a tremendous lightning strike. The crowd screamed, and many fled down the streets as in a matter of seconds the lightning strike repeated again and again, each time striking a different part of the gate, blasting stone and steel everywhere. In the dust kicked up by the strikes, Roh could see dark shapes entering into the city. Heavy-booted feet thudding against the stone as they went, the shapes emerged from the dust, and all went silent.

A fully armed Syl legion stood before them, clad in silver plate armor, the familiar Red Star emblazoned on their chests. Each stood with weapons drawn, a spear in one hand and a curved sword in the other. Only one among them was unarmed, the man at the front, who seemed to be their leader. He looked at the terrified townspeople coldly with eyes of a magnificent gold surpassed only by the shining golden armor he wore. His helm was in the likeness of a dragon, maw open, fangs bared. If there was such a thing as a god, Roh thought, the man in gold was like one.

The man in gold surveyed the crowd, his face unreadable. His eyes met Roh’s, and remained there. A ringing began to fill his ears, growing louder and louder by the second. As the sound reached its peak, it was joined by a new sound, the sound of screams. His already blurred vision became further obscured as the screaming grew louder, until he could see nothing but a mass of chaotic colors. The colors spread apart, slipping away until there was nothing but white. Still the screaming continued. The white gave way to black, and he knew no more.
 
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Mreichardt

Senior Member
Just thought I'd give this a quick bump, as it was about to fall off the first page. Chapter 8 is more than halfway done by the way, and I've completed the outline for the remainder of the book. It will be 17 chapters or so, plus a prologue and epilogue. Not sure if I will post the entire thing. If there is continued interest in the story I might. Thanks for all the input so far. It has been very helpful in helping me improve my writing and revise what I've already written.
 
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