The Soul Keeper and the Guardian, Chapter 16

The New World

Click here for Chapter 1

 

Thangar was a small town when its scale was compared to the towns in the kingdom of Aversol. Still, it was considered a pretty decent place in Silvervale, where all the territories outside the four great cities were abandoned by the country’s leadership. Due to this political collapse, most towns and villages had to take initiative, become self sufficient and indulge in networking with other such places in the kingdom, so that they could survive without the help of the king.

Territories that were not as important, like these towns and villages were initially governed by the lords of the kingdom, who served the king. Each lord was allotted a sizeable region to govern where they would collect taxes, manage trade and implement security. But after the Waynecastle massacre the lords of Silvervale were denounced by the king and their wealth and estates were ransacked by the royal family to acquire funding to fortify the four great cities. With this, the remaining territories were semi-officially abandoned.

However, common folk were not as adept as the lords at diplomacy or commerce. They didn’t have the formal education or the financial backing to execute these tasks properly and one could say that there was plenty of mismanagement. Self-sufficiency was not easy as it would require a place to change its entire occupational makeup. That would require a lot of investment which nobody could afford. The gaps could be made up with trade but that was an arduous task in itself. Security was the biggest concern of them all. Most people would turn to crime and join bandit factions which would raid the small towns and villages. Simple villagers and townsfolk aren’t armed or skilled enough to deal with large bandit factions and they usually fall under their dominion. This way, most of Silvervale had collapsed.

Thangar fared much better than most of these places not only because of their larger populous but also because of their strong leadership. The most influential people in the town had banded together and formed a strong committee to micromanage the activities of the town and sustain it. They made good use of the Celrock they mined from the caves and practised smart and even trade with various other places to cover the needs of the people in the town. They had also managed to farm several unique crops which were more expensive by themselves and only purchased mainstream produce like wheat and corn which were much cheaper to acquire in trade.

They didn’t have to worry much about security because the towns closer to the great cities had a much lesser chance of being pillaged or invaded. However, that didn’t stop them from not fortifying themselves. They had acquired arms for every single citizen and provided all of them with basic weapons training in case they faced a dire situation and luckily, they hadn’t come under fire yet. One could say that things were working out just fine for the folks in Thangar. The same would apply to most of the towns close to the great cities. They were all larger in size and were occupied by educated and skilled people in diverse fields. It was difficult to say that they were well-off, judging by the standards of other countries but they were surviving unlike their kin and could go to sleep in peace and full bellies which was more than what they could ask for.


 

The trip had been extended thanks to the gruesome attack they faced on their way to Thangar, the town they were currently residing in. The original plan was to stop here for a night before starting off again for the next town but Ravenna had been injured too much during that battle because of which they had to extend their stay here. Ravenna had insisted on moving on but all of them knew that they could only depend on her for their safety and they needed her to be in top condition. She didn’t push it too much either because she knew that her body needed the rest.

Neither her nor Tyler or Mirriam would say that they were glad to kick back and relax in this place because they were all concerned about the ticking clock. Nobody could be considered happy except Edward. In fact, he was quite pleased with this vacation. This was the first time he had stayed at a place for more than a day ever since he left Vereen and he had all the time in the world to explore every corner of Thangar.

First off, he was really impressed with the name of the town. He told his mother that it sounded quite regal for such a small town and wished his own hometown had a better name. He still believed that this town was trash compared to his own but he was fascinated with several things here.

One of them was the nighttime illumination. Because celrock was a local product, they had a large supply of it. This town had almost thrice the amount of lamps compared to the last one they stopped at. The place was so brightly lit that it was hard to tell day and night apart. This also made the air thicker because of the subliming celrock in the atmosphere. It made him uncomfortable in the first two days but he had gotten used to it by now. He had wondered if this would make people fall ill as Tyler had said but the town had a few healers who had helped curing any sickness related to this.

This was the second most fascinating aspect. Vereen didn’t have any healers. Instead, they had an alchemist who prescribed alchemical potions for any conditions. Healers used spirit medicines for treating wounds and curing diseases. When he asked around, he found out that alchemy was very expensive and thus, was not practical. This had come up as an alternative for alchemy but was not nearly as effective but this was all that people had. The use of spirits was said to age the body so it was recommended to not depend on it too heavily. There were also several side effects in the long run. He had spoken to the healer who had healed Ravenna and he spoke about soul-healing which had existed in the previous generations but was almost a dead practice in today’s age. He explained it as being something like healing magic which had enthralled Edward.

Then there were the morning drills in the town. Every man and woman would assemble in the town centre with their spear and sword and they would practice drills under the command of a retired soldier. He had even spoken to him when he came to drink in the inn where Edward was staying. He was the captain of a patrolling band in the capital. After the king abandoned the outside territories, he came back here to his hometown and decided to train and protect its people. He proudly spoke of how every person in the town was as able as a city guard in terms of training and he also told how he secretly wished a band of bandits attacked the town so that his people would get some combat experience and gain more confidence in their skills. He was very assured of victory in case something like that happened. After their hearty conversation in the inn, Edward had convinced the man to give him some basic training with his dagger.

 

“Why does a kid like you want to learn how to fight?” The man asked.

“It’s just that I don’t want to be dead weight in case we get attacked. I want to be more useful to my friends. I’ve created quite a few problems for the people around me and I want to be strong enough to handle the repercussions myself. I have to take responsibility after all.” Ed responded as he looked down at his feet. He remembered the past few incidents and wondered how things would have played out if he knew how to fight.

“Stop talking like a grown up. It doesn’t suit a child your age. Well, instead of training I would suggest you to not create trouble in the first place. I don’t think it will amount to much but if you’re that determined, wake up before the sun rises and meet me at my backyard. I’ll train you till the morning drills for the townsfolk begin.”

“Thank you Mr. Shane!” exclaimed Edward happily. He had then undergone a full week of training under the man after he woke up early in the morning. He made the most out of his time with him and spent the rest of the day practising what he had learnt. He received several praises from Shane like ‘you’re quite athletic for a kid your age’ and ‘your fundamentals need work but your tactics are very sharp’ after a spar. He told Edward that he would make a fine fighter as long as he kept fighting different people.

“You are the type that learns with experience. I don’t think you’re going to grow much with intense practice. But gathering experience isn’t easy either. You will have to gamble your life after all” he had said.

Edward had learned a great deal under his guidance. He had learnt various stances, lunges, pivots, dodging methods and strikes. His instructor repeatedly told him to keep his feet busy but Edward would keep his hands busy instead which disappointed his trainer. He couldn’t get around to improving his footwork no matter how much he tried.

I won’t give up that easily. Even Ravenna told me that footwork is more important than swinging your weapon. I’ll just keep working on it till I get it.

He had a lot of fun every time they sparred with dummy weapons even though he always ended up getting beaten up by the end of it. He found it quite exhilarating and the praises in the end of each session always made up for the pain. He could literally feel himself grow after each sparring session but he could still not even fathom barely beating his instructor. He had only managed to graze him once till now and judging by that standard, Edward had been stabbed, sliced and decapitated hundreds of times in comparison.

 

The past few days had been very good for Edward. He had seen and learnt so much in such a short span of time. He had spoken to many people and he thought that they were nicer than the people in his own town who usually ignored or slightly despised him for being a ‘jungle boy’. He didn’t receive any scornful looks or judgement from the people here. He had mentioned this to Tyler who then told him that people living in harsher conditions are generally nicer to their fellow men.

However, only one thing troubled Edward. He had no idea why he was here. Not Thangar in particular but outside Vereen in general. He had not approached his mother about this topic again and she hadn’t taken any initiative yet which was frustrating because she had promised him answers soon. Everyone but himself kept to themselves for most of the day and didn’t speak to each other except when they were dining together. Even these conversations were too plain and formal and Edward always wished he were dining with someone else. Even Ravenna was in a very docile mood ever since they got here as if she was sour about getting wrecked so badly in the last battle. He thought that she was putting herself down too much given that she had already done more than most people could. Shane had told him that even 10 of him couldn’t slay 30 zombies at once and that he didn’t know anyone who could perform such a feat except a member of the Astral Knights or the Reaper of the Vale.

Ravenna had told him about the Astral Knights. They were the legendary knights under the command of the Rilancian Emperor and even one of them wielded power equivalent of entire armies. He had never heard of the Reaper of the Vale but for some reason he didn’t want to ask his instructor about it after he had mentioned the name in a very factual manner. He thought that he would be laughed at for not knowing something so ‘obvious’ and decided to ask Ravenna later on. Still, his respect had shot through the ceiling for the woman as he wondered the magnitude of her strength. Even his instructor, who seemed like an insurmountable foe only paled in comparison to her.

I need to ask her to train me too. Once we leave this place, I’ll ask her to do it. If I do it now, it will probably hurt Mr. Shane’s ego. I need to learn as much as possible from her before she drops us back in Vereen. A small-town boy like me will never get another chance to learn from such a fine warrior.

As Edward looked forward to his combat training, he wished that his journey would last as long as possible. If it was possible, he would choose not to go back to Vereen and explore the places outside. He couldn’t remember when it started but lately, he had this urge of leaving home as if something outside was calling for him. However, he was bound by the laws of Vereen and also his dependency on his mother. Still, he felt that even if Randall hadn’t shown up that day, he would have left eventually. He wondered what his life would have been like if a weak kid like him travelled alone in the dreary world while he stared at the ceiling as he lay on his bed beside Tyler. He had gotten used to living with him by now whereas his mother still hadn’t. Tomorrow would be their last day here as Ravenna had finished recovering. He wanted to ask everyone to extend their stay here but he could clearly see that none of them wanted to. They all seemed to be in a hurry for something important which he knew nothing about. He immediately gave up on the idea because he didn’t want to face blatant rejection as long as he could avoid it.


 

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Edward lay panting on a table at the diner. He used to eat breakfast right after his training which was much earlier than when the other three would. Ravenna would wake up an hour after him and resume her training despite the healer asking her not to. Tyler would wake up and just spend the whole day in his room except when he ate and Mirriam was the same as him. She would occasionally chat with either of them for a few minutes in the span of a day but there was not much activity apart from that.

There weren’t too many people apart from Edward in the diner as it was still to early in the day. This was his everyday timing for breakfast wherein he would relax and eat after an intense training session with Shane. Usually, the staff would be lax at this hour because of low demand but when Edward dined here, they would all be fired up and there was a very definite reason behind this.

Mirriam had given Edward a lot of money after he had lost his pouch to that group of thugs in Kirkpod. He himself didn’t consider it a considerable sum but according to the standards of others, 10 gold was a sizeable amount. Edward put this capital to good use by ordering the most exquisite meals for breakfast. He was unable to order the good stuff when Ravenna and Tyler were around because they frowned upon casual spending. Therefore he would spare no expense during this meal when nobody was around to stop him from doing so. Even though he never spent over 5 silvers a day on food, he was able to get the best they had to offer. Moreover, he was a generous tipper. He used to tip a silver to anyone who served him and also to the chef and such a large amount was unheard of for tips. Thus, everybody put in their best work while serving him not just because he was an extravagant spender but also because he was a well mannered, polite and lovable lad. He used to greet everyone energetically and talk to everyone politely and respectfully despite the difference in their wealth. He used to ask them about their day and their lives in general which not even their peers did. Thus, he was more popular in the town than he himself knew.

Edward was oblivious to most of it because he just asked people everything he could so that he could learn more about people outside Vereen and he found it quite intriguing. His only major takeaway was that he used to get special treatment if he tipped. As he ate the delicious blueberry meat pie, he pondered his final training session with Shane. Instead of practising movements, his instructor had given him a long lecture about the things he needs to keep in mind and also told him what was important to learn in the near future.

 

“Remember kid, it’s not about one’s skill with a weapon but one’s ability to stay sharp and be ready for anything when they’re on the move. Always stay alert when you’re on the road. Also, if you start to feel weird about a situation, slowly assume your fighting stance and reach for your dagger. It’s best to be inconspicuous when you’re in a face-off.”

“Always fight from a position which is advantageous to you. People generally ignore this aspect of fighting. You have to measure you surroundings and fight from the best spot that gives you an edge over your opponent and helps you focus on combat without worrying about other things. As long as you’re aware of your opponent, your surroundings and your footing, you should be good to go”

When he asked what he should learn further, Shane told him to learn how to dodge attacks. When he inquired further on how to train that skill, he simply told him to “get beaten up by sparring with a pro.” As Edward ran these pieces of advice through his head while chewing up his pie, someone joined him on his table and sat across to him.

Unaware of common mannerisms, Edward didn’t immediately mind it and instead imagined that such a practice was commonplace. Thus, he was also willing to engage in conversation with this stranger.

 

“I certainly love that pie. Nobody makes meat pies like that hag” he began.

“You’ve tried this too? Nobody else buys it” Edward responded. He concluded that the man was a resident in the town given that he knew who the chef was.

“Yes, that’s the only thing I eat when I dine here. It makes you feel a little bloated after the meal though. That is why I try not to eat it too often even though I love it.”

“Here, you can have a tiny bite if you want” Edward offered a quarter of the pie as he sliced it off.

“Ah, what a kind young man. Forgive me but I have to refuse. I’m working right now so I can’t treat myself during my shift. However, now that you’ve tempted me, I’ll definetely be eating some after I’m done with my work.”

“So you’re not here to eat? Oh well, you can join us for lunch. By the way what do you do? It must be tough if your work starts this early in the day.”

“I don’t have the most ideal job. In fact, I should say I’m overworked as I almost work all day. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I do love my job to a certain extent. Being able to do something that most people cannot makes you feel quite special” he said with a grin.

“Are you an artist?”

“Hmm, that might not be the worst approximation. Yes, I think I am an artist in some ways”

“You’re being so vague mister. Please, tell me what you do. I’m really curious now.”

“Well, you made it clear enough yourselves. You can call me…. an artist of death.”

 

 

 


Author’s Notes

This was one of my favourite chapters to write. I still feel that the experience of lore crafting was better in chapter 10 and the experience of writing full-fledged action in chapter 14 was thrilling in its own way, but this is something else. If you’ve noticed, the writing style is a bit different from the rest. This is more of a narrative description of events rather than elaborative and conversational. This helps compress the story appropriately and improves the pacing, which has been my biggest concern so far.

I plan on continuing this style of writing wherever possible because the story is insanely long. If I build the world and the story with conversation, I’ll probably break my keyboard in the process because it would take tonnes of dialogue.

I loved exploring Edward’s psyche in this chapter. I feel like it has developed his character so much more than the previous 10 chapters have done combined. Yes, it has been 10 chapters since we’ve seen Edward’s perspective in the story. Given how he was so held back and isolated in Vereen, he has had no growth as a person. He’s spent most of his time in the forests so he’s still like an overgrown baby at heart. Only ever since he started roaming around has he begun learning about places, people and practices. I would love to explore his growth moving forward. But beware, he is not a predictable character even if he seems so. No matter what your image of him in the future is, I shall shatter it. Thus, I can confidently say that he is no ‘plain’ protagonist.

I am taking out the immersion levels by talking about this stuff in advance but I still like doing it. Well, we have a new weirdo troubling our little boy. However, something feels different about him than the previous folks. Let’s see what awaits for us in the future.

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The Soul Keeper and the Guardian, Chapter 15

Forbidden Fruit

Click here for chapter 1

 

The four of them had managed to get through the first battle victoriously. Even when there were around thirty zombies tirelessly investing all their heart into ending their lives, they managed to prevail in the end. But now, they had twice the amount of opposition facing them who were in a much more cautious state.

The other band of necromancers who were placed in the tunnel for an ambush had come out after hearing all the ruckus coming from down below. They had expected some noise in case a battle broke out and there was a good chance that the battle would have been hard fought if the water mage was among them. But they had already planned to not interfere in case their opponents too decided to branch out into two directions. They had to hold their own spots for a while.

But the battle was going on for too long. Taking out 4-5 people shouldn’t be too hard for a squad of 50. The person in charge of the squad inside the tunnel motioned to indicate that they were going to check things out. As the twenty riders moved forward, a similar sized group of thirty zombies followed after them on foot. They stopped at the entrance of the tunnel from where they could see what was going on. Their guess was right. The entire group that they were planning to catch was down below. The leader frantically looked around for the mage who was their most dangerous opponent but could not spot him which made him even more anxious because he could see that their fellow party’s entire zombie force had been annihilated even without the mage. It didn’t seem like that there were any other mages in the party. Only one woman in the squad was armed. “Did she alone do all that? I never heard about that man being among them either” he muttered to himself. Then he spotted movement from his peers down below as they drew their daggers in unison. Without hesitation, he too drew his own and could hear everyone in his squad doing the same. Necromancers of this level were only armed with a dagger. They weren’t very athletic or skilled in fighting which is why they depended on assassination or let the zombies do the dirty work for them. He decided to not move till any confrontation began down below and hoped it didn’t come to that.

 

Edward had just sighed in relief and suddenly it seemed like a waste in the face of the new development. After defeating the mammoth horde of zombies, they were now facing enemies from two sides. Their remaining opposition was over twice the size they had just fought and most of them were armed cavalry who had functioning brains in their heads. He broke a sweat as he looked over to Ravenna, the person who had done most of the zombie slaying. She pulled the sword out that was cleaved into her arm and blood spurted out as if it was a torn water pouch. There was no way that she would be able to use that arm any time soon. Luckily, that injury was on the arm that she had already lost when she took a hit on the shoulder so going by that logic, she still had one functioning arm. But that was pointless reasoning because she had taken multiple injuries in the battle and was completely exhausted. It would be silly to consider that she could even stand on her own two feet anymore. Knowing that the only capable fighter in the group was out of action, he looked over to Tyler. Edward still hadn’t processed what he had seen him do before so he didn’t have too much faith in him and he knew that neither he nor his mother could even get one strike on the enemy.

 

The necromancers in the front slowly approached the group. Edward, Tyler and Mirriam were shielding Ravenna who was on her knees, panting hard and trying her best not to squeal in pain. The only good news so far was that the group near the tunnel hadn’t descended yet even though they looked fully ready to launch an offensive. “Seriously, what a waste. Do you know how difficult it is to get new zombies? It’s too troublesome, especially for us rookies.”

 

“Rookies!?” Edward asked. It probably meant that they were new recruits in the clan name they mentioned whose name he had already forgotten.

“Yes, we’re only rookies, boy. Did you think that you were important enough for the upper echelons of the Clan of Eternal Dawn to care about? Hah. Sure, you did some damage back then but it was the applicants you attacked. You can call them the trainees or the novices.” Edward surmised that the person speaking now was the leader of this squadron when we pointed over to a few men in the back. “It’s our duty to step in when somebody troubles our juniors.”

Hmm, seems like the guys we faced that day weren’t even members yet. So they reported the incident to their direct seniors who’re called ‘rookies’ in the organisation and they’ve collectively launched an attack on us. They are probably the foot soldiers if we we take the structure of a militaristic organisation as an example. It seems like they have an even bigger hierarchy. I wonder what those guys are like given that the rookies themselves are so difficult to deal with.

“Now, it’s time to collect. We lost dozens of zombies that day and another thirty today to add to the mix. You guys have been quite troublesome. I want to torment you lot to death before turning you into our pet undead but I don’t have any more time to waste on this.”

“How were some of your zombies using weapons?” It was Ravenna who spoke. Edward could see the leader scowl because of this interruption but he looked eager to respond. The question had managed to stop their advance momentarily.

“Ho. It seems that you don’t actually know much about zombies or that you have probably faced some weak ones before. Well, let me tell you this. They lose their ability to think, but some of them retain some aspects that have been drilled into their bodies during their lifetimes. Some of our farmer undead start hacking away at crops for no reason when we’re not looking. I’ve even heard of a smith zombie in our clan who can work the grindstone and sharpen weapons. But the best retention is seen in motor abilities like running or fighting. If we turn a trained soldier, he can most probably retain certain aspects of his swordsmanship which he had repeatedly practised when he was alive. Zombies also begin to learn things once they are turned as if they were an infant. You can call it a rebirth in an undying body. That’s why, an older zombie is usually more efficient than a fresh one. Some can even comprehend speech and I’ve heard of a few that can even talk.” Edward found it difficult to be engrossed in this interesting trivia because he knew that his death would follow this long monologue.

“The greater the skill, the greater the retention. When we turn people with no experience in swordsmanship, they can’t even swing a sword but a moderately trained person can handle a task like that. If we turn veteran warriors, they can do much more than just stupidly swing their weapon . You on the other hand are something else. Warriors of your level are not something someone comes across everyday. You’ll make a fine zombie and probably be worth more than the thirty we wasted on you. A warrior zombie that can fight like you without getting tired or hampered by injury is every necromancer’s dream come true. Enough chit-chat now, come and die for us.” With that, the squadron advanced and the the three of them moved closer to guard Ravenna instinctively.

“You’ll never turn me into a walking piece of meat” Ravenna rose from the ground. She tightly held a sword in one hand while the other hung like an inanimate prosthetic. She stepped up in front of the three and raised her sword. Edward noticed that her horse had returned and was circling the area frantically. Even their own horses were starting to get uneasy and were neighing abruptly while moving around nervously.

This last second resistance from Ravenna had struck terror in the hearts of the approaching necromancers. Even with their larger numbers and advantageous position, they were nervous about attacking her after seeing how she had slain their zombies. They were blessed in academics, not athleticism and they didn’t feel comfortable about putting their chips on their strategic advantage. Even if they pressed together, there was a chance that a few of them could perish in the process. Their leader then signalled to the other squad with a few hand gestures and a few seconds later, their zombies started running downhill to the group. Most of them stumbled and fell as they rolled down to the end of the slope. After recovering from their fall, they charged again. Edward looked up at the sky after noticing several moving shadows and disturbing sounds. There were hundreds of vultures circling over them now. After hearing their cries, he couldn’t tell if they were excited or distressed.

“Good, keep em coming. I’ll slaughter another bunch for you” said Ravenna and ran after them. It didn’t look like she was completely conscious when she said that. Tyler ran after her to stop her advance as the three of them knew that she was no longer in any condition to fight. As Edward watched the scene unfold, the mounted necromancers charged towards him and his mother. He immediately grabbed her hand but they had already caught up. Three of them were slightly bending downwards with their daggers out to get a strike on him and Mirriam. As he closed his eyes, he felt a static shock in the hand which held his mother’s. Her entire arm was covered with goosebumps and he could literally feel the fast pulse on her wrist. He opened his eyes and saw her eyes which were open wide and pointed to his back from where he could hear several screams. Immediately, he turned back to see the cause of this disturbance.

 

Rain? In a sense, it was raining but it was not an ordinary drizzle. Raining down were the hundreds of black vultures that were hovering over them till this moment. Amidst the rain of black, he heard screams of men who had been thrown off of their horses. It seemed like the mares hadn’t done so out of fear but rage. After throwing their riders off their backs, they charged to tackle anyone standing or were stomping ones on the ground. Some of the horses still remained sane and in control but their riders didn’t have much luck outside of it as the vultures kept pressing in on them. The strangest thing that Edward noticed was that all the zombies had stopped moving. Their uninterested eyes were in a state of daze as they stood in their spots, motionless. They weren’t being directly attacked unlike the necromancers but they were still caught up in the chaos and were being trampled in the process. The animals unleashed their fury on every single human except Edward and Mirriam as if they were separated by a dome of immunity. As he realised this, his gaze quickly turned to his two companions who cowered on the ground. Tyler was shielding the injured Ravenna as best as he could but they both were getting slashed by vultures that flew at them at high speeds. Without wasting a second on thought, he grabbed his mother’s hand and ran to his friends to help them out.

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He narrowed his eyes, expecting to get caught in the violent rush of vultures but he had luckily whizzed through without taking a single hit. He had hoped that his mother had the same luck too whom he couldn’t see right now as she was slightly behind as they ran, hand in hand. As soon as he reached them he got down and inquired.

“Are you alright? What’s going on here?”

“Tell me what’s going on. I can’t see shit ever since this bastard put me down and climbed on top of me. I can hear the screams but there’s blood up all on my face. Fill me up” said Ravenna as Tyler got off her back.

“I don’t know. The vultures and the horses started going crazy all of a sudden. They’re attacking those necromancers and the zombies have stopped moving too. They don’t seem to be getting attacked though. It’s weird. Also, we need to move. For some reason, we’re not getting caught up in this attack either but I won’t count on it for too long. Tyler was just taking hits for you.”

“Oh, zombies stop whatever they’re doing when the mental connection with their master is weakened. The link will always exist but their response system will collapse for a while. This happens when their respective master is forced into a state of mental pressure or shock. I think the zombies are not getting attacked because the animals are selectively going after the living. But why they’re doing so escapes me. And Oi! You don’t have to cover for me. I can take a decent amount of damage as you might have noticed from my earlier demonstration” said Ravenna haughtily as she sat on her knees. Her face was covered in the blood of zombies and her own which was further dirtied with a layer of dirt. It looked quite gross and it seemed like she had made attempts to wipe it off with her hands but it hadn’t come off at all.

Edward was waiting to hear a reply from Tyler as he stared at Ravenna’s dirty face but there was none. He turned and saw that he was looking at Mirriam who was in turn looking back at him. They seemed to be communicating something with their eyes alone. Edward felt a little angry about being left out again. He put Ravenna’s uninjured arm over his shoulder to not hurt her and picked her up slowly. She insisted on walking herself but that would be considered limping at best so he didn’t let go. The four of them made to the edge of the commotion where they felt a little safer than before. Their own horses, who were also locked in combat till this point had come back to them now while the rest of the mayhem kept going.

It was a gruesome sight. Most of their opponents were dead by this point. Fewer than ten had managed to escape with severe injuries and the rest of them lay dead beside the dazed zombies. They were going to kill him and his friends but Edward didn’t wish death upon them and that too in such a horrid manner. The vultures slowly ascended to the sky leaving the dead bodies untouched and resumed circling the sky above. The horses that had gone berserk were now riderless. They shuffled around the area for a while before scattering in different directions leaving only the dead necromancers and their zombies in sight. It was obvious that most of the dead necromancers had previously had some influence on some of the remaining zombies and even after their death, the zombies hadn’t collapsed yet. Some of them had started moving around independently and Edward deduced that these belonged to the necromancers who had died in the scuttle. This meant that their connection had severed with their masters and  this accounted for most of the remaining zombies.

 

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“Edward, come with me, we need to finish them off” said Tyler. “Letting them roam around is not a good idea. Get your dagger. I’ll kick them down and you just have to stab them hard in the temple, forehead or their nape.” As Edward showed a slight hint of hesitation in his expression, Tyler asked him not to worry as independent zombies will not act out, even in self defence.

“Then why do we need to kill them? They won’t hurt anybody right?” Asked Edward.

“Well, that’s true but it’s quite risky too. It might send people into a state of panic if they encounter it or a person with even a small amount of skill in necromancy can take control of an independent zombie very easily. We can’t simply arm these people for free.”

With that, they proceeded to eliminate the remaining zombies. They started with the independent ones which were moving around slowly. Tyler would kick their knees to make them fall and Edward would stab them in the vital spots like Tyler had instructed. The task of stabbing through bones was much easier than Edward expected thanks to the high quality dagger he possessed. He had more admiration for his father’s dagger after butting it into good use.

At first, the task seemed disgusting. The first time he dug the dagger into a body was during the battle but that was an instinctive strike. Now however, he was voluntarily butchering them. However, the sick feeling slowly resided after every other hit. This exercise had also made him more numb to stabbing a person. He slowly accepted it as something normal and even went so far as to stabbing different parts of the body before going for the vital ones to ‘get a feel for it’ as he put it. Tyler didn’t scorn at this morbid experimentation and in fact encouraged it so that the boy could prepare for when the time comes.

The abandoned zombies were the last targets. They remained unmoved after being left behind by their masters so they were easier to kill. Tyler was slightly worried about Edward as he was getting more hits per zombie before finishing them off as he kept moving to the every next one. At one point, Tyler didn’t even have to bother kicking them down for him to finish them off. After the cleansing had finished, Edward was soaked in zombie blood that had come splashing at him. He stopped minding it halfway through but his mother didn’t given how she had put on a shocked and furious expression as he approached her. Ravenna was already mounted and Mirriam had sealed her wounds off with clean bandage from the supplies. She was still in no condition to do anything so they had to rest as soon as possible.

 

“You might be planning to camp right now but we should move.”

“You’re in no condition to ride Ravenna” said Mirriam.

“The next town is only two hours away if we move at a moderate pace. The night will fall soon and we shouldn’t risk staying here anymore. Those bastards that got away might come back or there might be something else lurking around. We should get to a comfortable place where we can rest in peace.”

 

And with that, they began moving again leaving the heap of bodies behind. By this time, the vultures had descended again but were acting more normally as they picked on the flesh of the corpses.

“I’m surprised I’m not throwing up. There were almost a hundred dead bodies back there” said Edward.

“If you see them long enough, it numbs your mind” said Tyler with blank eyes.

“Those rats got what they deserved. They’ve been chasing after us to get to that damn battle mage. We don’t even know what he looks like. Still, what the hell was that all about? The animals going crazy and all” Ravenna asked as she wildly waved around her one functional arm.

“I don’t know what that was but I’m glad it happened. I thought we were all going to die” said Mirriam which didn’t bring any response from the rest of them. They all looked downcast, but for different reasons.

They picked up a faster pace than they had expected and reached the next town in just an hour. This place was slightly larger than the last place they stopped at and Edward thought that the quality of life here was much more bearable here than he had ever seen outside Vereen but it still paled in comparison to his hometown. Ravenna told him that this place was very close to many celrock mines and most of the populous was well-employed as a mining community. They booked two quarters in a decent inn where one room was allotted to the boys and the other to the two women. Mirriam had insisted on taking three so that she could stay with her son but Ravenna turned her down and reprimanded her for being too carefree with money to which even Tyler approved.

 

“Alright, I’m going to see a healer and get these wounds fixed. Come with me Ed, I’ll show you around too” Ravenna told Edward as they got off the dinner table. After loading up their lodgings, they decided to eat first because they hadn’t eaten anything since noon. They were still shaken after the incident so they didn’t eat anything lavish. As for Edward, she had hit the nail on the head. He had always wanted to look around the places they had been but they never got enough time for sight seeing as they spent most of the time on the road. Moreover, there wasn’t much to see in the impoverished places he had visited till now.

The two of them had eaten more savagely than the “grown-ups” and rushed out of the diner in the inn, to the city block leaving Mirriam and Tyler behind. They slowly sipped on their ale before Tyler spoke.

“So, do you want to talk about it?”

“I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t even know how this works. But I could definetely tell that it was definitely him. He didn’t get attacked even once and neither those who were close to him.”

“Yes. I noticed it too when you two jogged over to me. I’ve heard about this before. Prospects are usually protected by beasts till they come of age. I don’t know the extent of this protection but it looked like the more trained horses didn’t jump in for his defence and instead stuck to rational thought to obey their commanders. It seems like the effect varies with how ‘wild’ the animals in question are.”

“So he didn’t actively do it?”

“I don’t think so. Did you notice the trigger? If we take the ambush into consideration, it was the zombies who rushed at us first. We all felt threatened but it was Ravenna who took the attack as we watched from behind. But it was different for the second wave when even the necromancers stepped in. It was only when they came after Edward, did the effect activate. I think it depends on hostile intent from a living creature. As soon as they tried to attack him, the untrained horses and the vultures went berserk and defended him. The attack was not limited to the immediate offender but every living creature in the vicinity except him and the ones close to him. I think that’s why even you didn’t come under fire and the immunity was passed on to us when you moved to us.”

“Thank heavens he didn’t intentionally trigger it. I wonder how he would take it if he found out that he was directly responsible for the death of over 40 people. It won’t be healthy for his mind even if he acted out of self defence. He has seen a lot of things since we left town that a child his age should never see.”

Tyler nodded as he agreed with her. “A man’s fate is forged by his years of youth. But I don’t know if your boy has the luxury of avoiding things like this. He is cursed with a terrible fate.”

Mirriam shuddered as Tyler termed it as something terrible. She agreed with him about it being a fateful curse but Tyler’s statement contrasted to how Randall saw Edward. He saw her boy as a blessing to the world. She wondered what the best thing was for her son’s own goodwill. As she pondered the matter, Tyler pressed another.

“When are you going to tell him? I know you have a good reason for holding out so far but you shouldn’t keep things from him for too long. The sooner you tell him, the better things will play out for us. There won’t be too many ‘accidents’ like this one further down the line.”

“Shouldn’t we be glad about this accident? It helped us get out of there alive. I don’t think we would have survived without it.”

“That’s true but things won’t play out the same every time. Maybe next time, it will be us that fall victim to him. Don’t you think it’s best if he is more aware of himself?”

“I need to know more Tyler. I don’t think I know enough myself about about the things that I would have to tell him. We’ve left everything behind and left our home without even knowing what to do. I think if we have a clear plan of what comes next, I can tell him what’s to come. I don’t want to worry him by not arming him with enough information. He more he knows, the more comfortable he will be. It would make the both of us less anxious about what the future has in store for us.”

“Hmm, you’re right about that. Don’t worry. We’ll learn enough once we get to Johancoop. That man can definetely help us”

 

Click here for the next chapter


Authors’s Notes

Self defence technique: Murder everything in the vicinity using mind control.

That’s a crude way to put it but that’s almost how it works. Remember the first chapter when Randall grabbed his shoulder? He was a seasoned fighter and a stranger to Edward when he had done it and he felt a similar pressure. He was not attacked because he didn’t project any hostile intent on Edward. Speaking of Randall, he got a small mention in this chapter so that people don’t forget him. He was the one who started it all, after-all.

Also, the self defence system is not perfect or omni-potent. It has its limitations. One of them mentioned in the chapter was that a trained beast is less likely to defend a prospect. You’ll see many more limitations pop up later otherwise this will be a very convenient solution for most problems.

One more town in the middle and our folks will be in Johancoop next. It is one of the four big cities in Silvervale and we’ll get to see some exciting things when we get there. By that time, we’ll have a lot more answers to the questions plaguing our minds so stick around.

The Soul Keeper and the Guardian, Chapter 14

Unpleasant reunion

Click here for Chapter 1

 

In recent years, the travelling culture had changed a lot. Many unspoken rules, techniques and traditions were considered outdated now and a whole new system had taken its place. This was a result of the changing environment. People had understood that if they didn’t change their ways, mother nature would devour them whole. Political tensions had risen too which is why nobody would roam around freely anymore.

One of the effects of this change was that travellers would set out on their journey at sharp dawn. In the past, this would have been considered quite extreme and unnecessary but the fury of the sun was much stronger these days. Travelling in the night was even riskier not only because of the lack of visibility but there always loomed the risk of encountering bandits or monstrous wild beasts. The scorching sun was much more reasonable in the face of such risks which is why people still chose to ride at daytime. They would rush in the early hours till the sun was overhead and then they’d rest in the middle or slow down. The noon was the most excruciating period. People and their horses would be too tired at this point which is why many people choose to camp at noon. This system was very time consuming but ensured their safety and longevity. As a result, many people had changed their lifestyles to suit these needs.

 

Edward and the party didn’t sleep much after they were spooked last night. They decided to leave an hour before dawn to get a head-start in case those hooded men decided to follow them. The four of them walked down to the reception to check out. Innkeepers and their staff were some of those people who had to adapt to these new travelling culture. Their peak timings were at dawn these days so everyone would be at work. They couldn’t slack off around this time because this was the time when most people would check out or need wake-up calls. Ravenna walked to the bored innkeeper at the desk and enquired about those mysterious men.

“Eh? Them? Yeah, they came here yesterday, just a few hours before you. They didn’t stay for long either. They left soon after dinner saying that something had come up” said the innkeeper. “Well, I don’t mind anyway. They paid for three rooms and hardly used it.”

“What!?” Ravenna squealed which seemed to startle the innkeeper. She walked back to the group with a look of fury and fear.

“Shit. I have no doubt now. It’s definitely them and they’ve recognised us” she said with her palm on her face. Ravenna was fully decked in her battle gear like she had done when they left Kirkpod, the town where they originally met her. She wore a tight leather armour under an iron chain-mail and a set of steel greaves, bracers and shoulder pads. She was wrapped up with several belts with utility hooks but most of them were unused. Edward felt they served aesthetics more than utility for now. However, she had covered herself up with a wide cape. She said that ‘it’s always better to let the enemy underestimate you’ when Edward asked her about her choice to hide her gear. He personally felt that showing off one’s gear would be intimidating and keep people at bay but he reconsidered, telling himself that she knew these things better than him. In case the band of necromancers faced off against them, one fancy looking warrior wouldn’t be scary enough anyway. ‘

Maybe the element of surprise if more efficient’ Edward thought as he was undoing the Jekkel knots that he made yesterday under Tyler’s guidance. He needed help because this was his first time undoing these knots but this was much simpler than the process of actually doing it so he learned it in his second go.

All of them mounted their horses and began riding hard. From the last couple of trips, Edward and Mirriam had learned that the start was the most crucial part of the journey. One would have to ride at top speed without wasting time on conversation as there would be enough time for that later on. As usual, Ravenna took the lead and the two of them followed behind her while Tyler rode in the back. Ravenna had prescribed this formation for today’s ride.

“We’re going to take the main road to the next place. It might sound like a stupid decision but the alternative paths are very dangerous and perfectly suited for ambushes. Staying in town is even more crazy. They might have left the inn but not the town. We just have to be watchful and lucky. Very lucky.” With that, they had concluded all discussion for the time being. Ravenna was not in favour of this plan but she had no better alternative solutions either. Her idea of going back to Braumchester was shot down immediately as Ravenna told her that there’s a good chance a few necromancers from Pompadoon would meet them halfway as it was the same route.

Tyler and Ravenna were riding at top speed but Edward and Mirriam were only holding back. Their horses Diddy and Dixit were much larger and faster but maintaining the formation was more important. The one good thing about this trip was the road. For the first time since Edward left Vereen had he seen a road between towns. It was not so much a well-laid road but a mere beaten path but this was much better than the endless sea of desert and the rocky plains he had ridden on. He could literally feel the relief in his horse Diddy’s stride.

After riding for over five hours, the sun was starting to cook them up. They took a small break to recover and change into proper gear. All of them tied up a thick mask around their heads. Ravenna who had her two swords clipped on her waist  had now placed them on her back. The identical steel short-swords  were both tilted to her left. One could see two hilts over her left shoulder. The slot on the waist was now given to two broad daggers instead. Edward was impressed with how many weapons she was carrying. He had never even imagined that a person could use two weapons at once.

 

“What happened to the stealth plan? I thought you wanted to conceal your gear?” He asked her. She turned to him and sighed.

“I’ll just blame it on instinct. This is my natural state. My draw time is faster when the blades are placed on my back instead of my waist.” As she said that, she drew both her blades and slashed them down towards Edward’s face and stopped short an inch away. Ravenna smiled as his pupils dilated. He didn’t even have time to understand what had happened. The slash was so fast that he didn’t even realise that there was one till a second had passed. This sudden movement had surprised both Mirriam and Tyler too. Mirriam wore a scowl indicating that she didn’t find it fascinating or funny.

“Cheh” Tyler clicked his tongue and got back to his business. Only now had Edward come to his senses.

“Whoa!”

“Haha. See? If the swords were around my waist, I’d take thrice the amount of time for a draw” she bragged to Edward. “I’d rather have a faster strike than an element of surprise. It would have worked if we had one opponent but useless against a group.”

“How did you learn to draw so quickly?”

“Practice. Plain and simple. I do this several times everyday. But I’ve reached my speed limit. I don’t think it has gotten any faster since the last three years even though I have stepped up my practice.

“Then why do you still keep doing it?”

“I don’t want to lose my touch or my speed. I have to keep practising if I want to retain my draw time. It’s not wasteful either. My risk of errors during draws comes down and lately I run simulations on how I’d draw in various situations. This way it never gets boring either.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Edward. It was really interesting to hear things about swordsmanship from an expert herself. He had only watched her fight once but being with her had inspired him to become an adventurer like her one day. He kept taking mental notes every time she told him something.

“Actual battles can be really bizarre. Things will never go the way you expect. Thus, you have to practice while you keep this in mind. Visualise the unexpected and determine what you will do when something like that happens. Then, keep practising that movement till you get a good grasp. This way you will be prepared for most things and not be caught off-guard when things start going crazy.”

“So my practice is only as good as my imagination”

“Yes” she said with her thumb up.

 

“Hey, I had to ask you something.” Edward told Ravenna. She nodded to indicate him to keep going.

“I’ve noticed that you’ve been unreasonably rude to Tyler ever since we met him. I would have understood if you were rude to him after he called you a fraud but that’s not the case. Have you met him before?”

Ravenna glared at Tyler as Edward finished his question. He didn’t notice. A second later, she answered.

“I have huh? I didn’t even notice. I think it’s getting to me.” She said with her eyes closed.

“Huh?” Edward didn’t understand. She didn’t notice that she was being rude? She suddenly opened her eyes and answered clearly.

“Ha, no. Never seen him before, never heard his name either. It’s just that ever since I met him, I’ve been feeling really uncomfortable. It’s like my body and mind is stressed to the limit. Just being around him makes me anxious. I feel like I can’t think straight anymore. I think that’s why I’m being defensive and harsh when speaking to him, as if it’s subconscious.”

Edward was even more confused now. Why would she feel that way about a man she had just met. She barely knows him. Also, he seemed like a good person, so her statement didn’t seem to make any sense.

“You must think I’m crazy. Ah, I don’t blame you. I probably am. Or maybe you’ll understand what I’m saying if you live a life like mine. Your mind starts numbing down and you keep relying on your instincts more. They’re to blame. My instincts are screaming at me to run away from you all to maximise the distance between that man and myself. It pisses me off. If this keeps up I’ll probably attack him one day.”

Edwards eyes went wide as he heard this. Surely, he couldn’t understand a warrior’s instincts but he could slightly relate because he himself had many times relied on his instincts when in the wild. But the thought of Ravenna going crazy scared him. He could see the fatigue and frustration on her face as she opened up. ‘What if she actually attacked him..’ he thought.

“Don’t worry, I don’t think it’ll come to that. Something tells me that even if I were to try something like that, it wouldn’t end well for me.”

One would consider that as consequences of murder but Edward could catch her implication.

 

They both silently sat out the next few minutes re-thinking the entire conversation. Once everyone felt like they had rested enough, they got back on the road and rode at a moderate pace. If they rushed anymore, their horses would give in and it would lead to bigger problems than just being late.

Most of the road ahead was quite safe which put the group at ease. The scenery was bland but quite expansive and open which averted the risk of ambush. Yet, a heavy feeling grew inside Edward. This was the result of growing unease in the hearts of Ravenna and Tyler as they saw a hill growing in the distance. Their radiating nervousness had rattled Edward himself. It would seem like their luck would not last forever.

A tunnel bore through the wide hill. Unfortunately, the road they were on would go through the tunnel. Their insides churned as the most obvious place for an ambush popped up in front of them.

“We should turn back” Tyler said very calmly.

“Not a good idea” replied Ravenna. “It’s almost dusk now. Even if we turn back we won’t get back till noon tomorrow considering that we’d have to camp. The problem is that this area will be infested by bandits once the sun goes down. It’s too big a risk.”

“So you’re willing to go through that tunnel, knowing that there’s a high chance we’ll encounter necromancers who want our heads? I wonder what’s the bigger risk here.”

“I’m more afraid of what I don’t know. At least in this case, we know what we’re up against.”

“Are you comparing necromancers to bandits?”

“They’re tough foes but at least they are straightforward. We know nothing about how many bandits live here or where we may be attacked. There’s lesser uncertainty here.”

“What difference does it make? Do you think you can fight them off in that place? You’re just one person.”

“I never said anything about fighting anyone.” She pointed to the left of the tunnel. The road the four of them were on was on the side of a hill itself. There was an elevation to their right and a slope down to their left. Straight ahead, was the tunnel.

“The slope is not too steep. We’ll just ride around this hill and get back on the road later on.” The fact was that the road was not much higher than the regular ground level. It was a really plausible plan. Grassy plains below the hill ran parallel to the road, indicating that there was a good chance that they could get back on it later on.

 

Tyler didn’t respond for a few seconds. He looked ahead at the tunnel and the shifted his gaze below to the alternative route. “What if they have already accounted for that and are waiting for us down there?” he asked.

Edward, who was temporarily relieved by the existence of a detour lost his calm as Tyler said that. “That’s a big ‘if’. You are stretching it.” said Ravenna. Edward had to agree. Who would set up such an elaborate ambush? Moreover, it wasn’t clear yet if the necromancers knew that Edward and his party had caught wind of them. So, taking such extreme precautions would be unnecessary.

“I don’t like it. It’s too risky”. Tyler disapproved as they neared the tunnel entrance and turned sideways towards the slope.

“Hey, I’m the one who has to deal with our problems. So we do things my way. If you’re willing to take up the fight for me, then do as you wish.”

Tyler didn’t respond. Thus, consensus was reached and everyone began their descent. Edward noticed an annoyed look of Tyler’s face. He was still not pleased with their choice. The more surprising thing  was that Ravenna had a similar expression herself which made his newfound confidence plummet. It seemed like Tyler’s doubt had already crossed her mind and yet, she had chosen to move forward because there were no better options.

The slope was almost 80 feet long. It was too steep for humans to use but slant enough for horses. With some effort, the four of them slowly descended down the slope. After their descent, they would have to turn and face the initial direction they were on to move along with the road from below the hill and as soon as they did, they spotted  a large group of riders waiting. The only reason they couldn’t see them till now was because they were hidden from their line of sight behind the cover of the slope.

 

“About time” said one of the hooded men from the group. Edward counted around twenty of them, all hooded and wearing the same robes that he saw yesterday. It was clear now that he could see them up close. These were definitely the necromancers from back then.

Everyone in the group flinched as they came across the necromancers. Ravenna who was in the lead, turned her horse immediately but she noticed that they were already flanked by an even larger horde of zombies. The only open path of retreat was back up the slope but it was too steep for a quick escape. She faced the necromancers again and glared at them.

 

“Ooh, how scary. However, I suggest that you refrain from doing anything foolish. As you can see, you are overwhelmingly outnumbered.

“Cheh. We should have taken the tunnel.” Edward was surprised because it was Ravenna, not Tyler who said this.

“I’m afraid that would have been fruitless too. We have men stationed there too. Couldn’t risk you guys getting away.”

Tyler was right all along. We should have turned back that instance. As Edward pondered that, another one of the men spoke. “We had measures even if you turned back after seeing the tunnel. We were prepared for any decision you could make ever since we spotted you in that inn. So don’t bother with any regrets now because your fate was marked ever since.” This was truly shocking. Why did they go to such lengths to catch them?

“What do you want from us?” Ravenna asked.

“Where’s that old man?” shouted one of the men angrily.

“Who?” asked Ravenna sincerely.

“Don’t play smart with me. You know who I’m talking about. That battle mage who was with you. The water mage.” Now it dawned on them.

“He wasn’t one of us” said Edward boldly. All the attention now shifted to him, from both the necromancers and his own companions.

“Heh, who’re you trying to fool kid? We saw how he intervened when we went after you. You’re telling me that a battle mage just started fighting other mages out of the kindness of his heart for a pitiful stranger? Then why didn’t he intervene when we were slaughtering the rest of the vagrants?”

“I don’t know why he stepped in to save me but he did. After that, we left the place and never saw him again. You’re wasting your time on us.”

“I don’t think it’s much of a waste, kid. After all, you dared to interfere with us back then and for some reason that bastard stepped in to make things worse. He caught us by surprise which was why we took a lot of damage. If he were here now, when we are fully prepared, we could have killed him without taking any further losses. Considering how he’s not here, you are going to have to pay for it.”

Edward gulped, but he didn’t want to give in yet. “What good will come by attacking us now? Shouldn’t you spend this time on searching for that mage? He should still be there.” Edward felt a little guilty about selling off the man who saved him but this was the best thing to do now.

“That guy will get what’s coming to him. But that doesn’t mean that we have to let you go. Anyone that gets in the way of the Clan of Eternal Dawn deserves to die. We’ll turn you lot into our pets and make sure that geezer is killed by your own hands. That ought to be a sight worth watching.”

Clan of Eternal Darkness? What kind of a silly name is that? But this is bad. I don’t think we can talk our way out of this.

“My apologies!” Edward bowed his head abruptly. “Forgive me. I didn’t know that you were the from the Eternal Clan of Darkness. Please, overlook my childish mistake. If I had known, I would have never interfered in your business.”

“What’s done is done kid. Sorry, but we have to make an example out of you. Oh look, vultures have gathered.” Everyone looked up to see dozens of vultures circling the sky overhead.

“Are you sure it’s not here for your zombies?” Edward asked.

“Fool, they are called undead for a reason. A shadow of life looms within those bodies. Vultures will not feed on a corpse that is not rotting. They’re here for you. Sadly, you’ll be our pets before you can be their food. We’ve been putting them out of business for years now” chuckled a female voice as she spoke. Apparently, not all of them were men. It was hard to tell because all of them were hooded and not much was visible but their mouths.

The tension grew. Ravenna understood that there was nothing else to be done now. Edward watched her slowly leave her reins to prepare for her draw.

What good is that going to do?’, he thought but what else could they do.

At this point in time, there was no escape from here so their only option was to fight. Edward scanned around again. Apart from the twenty or so necromancers, there were around thirty zombies. What was strange this time was the fact that some of them were holding swords or spears. Although they were in the minority, this put the group at a greater disadvantage. Even if they barely swung the weapon around, they would be much more problematic to deal with.

 

Edward felt a different sensation from before. Instead of freezing up from fear, he slowly reached for his own dagger on his belt. He didn’t know whether this was because he had expected an ambush all along or if he had gotten used to violent confrontations but whatever it was, it seemed to give him more control over himself and he was glad about it. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to accomplish much and be of any help to Ravenna if he contributed to the fight but it was better than being dead weight. Even if he could help eliminate one foe, it would make a big difference. With that in mind, he clutched the hilt of his dagger the way that Randall taught him to. With the other hand, he stroked Diddy’s back, telling him to prepare for a battle.

The atmosphere grew tense and there seemed to be more vultures overhead than there were before. “Alright, let’s get this over with” said Ravenna as she got down from her horse and kicked it. Her horse ran away as it squealed.

‘What are you doing!?’ That was what Edward wanted to say but he just kept his mouth hanging open. Facing mounted riders on foot was extremely foolish. What is she thinking. She even sent her horse off. Has she gone mad?

She flexed her arms and challenged the necromancers. “Alright losers, send your undead at me. Let’s see what these sacks of meat are made of.” Her arrogant taunt had ticked them off.

‘Is that what you want meathead? Well then, here’s a taste for you’ said one of the men. He waved his hand and three zombies came running after her. Without drawing her swords, she ran towards them. She pulled her cape off and rolled it into a ball. As they drew closer to each other, she threw it at the zombie in the middle. The ball opened up and wrapped itself around the zombie. Now that it had lost its vision, it crashed into one of its fellow members and they both fell down, entangled by the large cape.

“Heh, so you’re as stupid as I expected”. She dodged a punch that the remaining zombie threw at her with ease and moved behind it. The zombie reflexively turned around but it was too late. What it saw in its final moments were two blades flashing through its field of vision. The two blades were now wedged between its skull. Seeing that her opponent was out of commission, she pulled her sword out of the corpse and walked up to the two zombies who had just freed themselves up and were getting back on their feet. Without wasting a second, she lodged her sword in the back of their necks after which they collapsed immediately.

 

“Oh, it seems that you know a thing or two about fighting the undead”, mused one of the necromancers.

“Yeah. I’ve killed quite a few in the past. It’s simple if you think about it. They’re bodies like themselves adhere to a few fundamental laws of how bodies work and move. If you incapacitate their brain or central nerves by the spine, you can deactivate them. They can’t think for themselves either, so I don’t consider them to be anything special” said Ravenna. Edward took note. This was useful information.

“Impressive. However, none of that matters when you have to face over two dozen of them at once. You’ve put on a good show for us and let me thank you for that” said another necromancer. He waved his hand and several others imitated. The rest of the zombies advanced slowly towards Ravenna.

“Hey Tyler, take care of those two for me. I can’t be bothered with anything while I’m dealing with this” she said as she readied her sword. He nodded as she looked to her and walked up to Edward and held this arm that was holding the dagger. It was his way of saying not to get involved.

“Am I to assume that they’re going to be your last words?” asked Tyler. “Don’t worry though. Leave these two to me. It’s a shame that you’ll never get to see those crowns you wanted.”

“Ha! Who said anything about dying? I just don’t want any distractions right now. I want to have some fun while I slaughter this bunch and it would be a shame to let anyone else ruin it”. As she said that, she drew something out of one of her belt pouches and threw it on the ground. Several mushroom clouds of thick white smoke blossomed around her and before a moment’s notice, she wasn’t visible anymore. The zombies slowed down for a second, distracted by their loss of vision. Their uniform movements as a group had now been shattered as they moved around mindlessly through the smoke. To the viewers outside, there was nothing visible except smoke. Moreover, there was no sound at all.

This silence was broken by the sound of whizzing blades. Everyone could hear sounds of swords slashing through the smoke and cutting something off. This was beautifully accompanied by subtle changes in the shape of the giant smoke cloud as a result of disturbances from within. The smoke seemed to have lasted for a minute and had started to dissipate by now. There were much fewer zombies than before, around 10 of them left. Now that they could see their foe again, they were relentlessly putting pressure on her. Ravenna, with expert footwork and exquisite parrying kept defending herself  from 10 different attackers. It seemed like she had no more place for any offence.

“If you’re trying to draw out the battle, don’t waste your time. Unlike you, the zombies will never tire. They can keep this up all day and not break a sweat. You on the other hand, are prone to fatigue. So just give up your pointless resistance and accept your fate.”

“Didn’t I make it clear that I’m going to wipe out your dead-squad?” she shrieked as she plunged her sword through the face of one of the armed zombies. It dropped its sword after thrashing it around wildly a few times and fell down like a lifeless puppet. Soon after, another zombie lunged at her. With an even faster reflex action, she slipped his reach and buried the hilt of one of her swords into its skull. But then came another zombie which leapt straight at her. She pointed a sword at it and skewered it through its belly. Guts started leaking out as she tried tear hear sword out of his body but the zombie had fulfilled its purpose. The momentum it generated while jumping at her had thrown her footing off. Moreover, she couldn’t even recover from the force because her sword was stuck at the corpse. Still undead, it tried to claw at her. She abandoned the sword stuck in the corpse, picked  up her dagger in stead and stabbed it deep through its eye, leaving one less enemy to worry about.

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But this had come at a great price. All her focus was spent on that one foe and the rest of the surviving zombies closed in. With one less sword, she found it difficult to maintain her range of defence and started to rely on risky manoeuvres like slipping and weaving through their attacks. Most of the leftover opponents were armed ones. Edward watched in awe as she swiftly moved through the barrage of attacks but it looked like the zombies had picked up on subtle clues. Learning from experience, another zombie rushed at her and tried grabbing her by the waist. She barely dodged by executing a quick pivot but then came another tackle from behind as she turned. She staggered forward, barely keeping her balance. She pushed the unarmed zombie in front of her away and turned back.

“Arrgh!” she winced as one of the zombies landed a swing on her shoulder. It had barely missed the giant steel pauldron and landed on the small gap between it and her neck. It was still padded with the leather armour but a direct hit like that was good enough to do sufficient damage.

She stumbled backwards and another zombie thrust her sword at her leg. The sharp tip tore through her armour and her hamstring under the armour. She winced in pain. One would probably lose control in a situation like this but she managed to lop its head off despite all the piercing pain that was apparent on her face. It was crystal clear that the zombies were learning as they fought and were all trying to stab her now, seeing that it was the attack that had damaged her the most so far. She limped as she dodged every strike by a hair’s breadth.

“This is bad. I don’t think she can last any longer”. Edward felt cold inside as he heard Tyler say that. Every onlooker could clearly hear Ravenna panting heavily as she moved around. Her breathing was uneven and she could barely manage to use two of her four limbs properly. The strike on the shoulder had almost incapacitated one of her arms and it was not being used optimally and the bleeding hamstring kept her from being able to even walk properly. She decided to ditch using that arm for offence anymore by grabbing the dagger by the blade. She took her time taking aim and hurled it at the largest zombie. The small broad dagger flew across as it rotated rapidly and sliced through the target’s forehead as if cutting through cake. The zombie stood still for a few seconds before falling on its back.

“Only five more huh. Come on then, bring it on! I’m not done with you yet” she issued a taunt to the remaining zombies. All five of them were armed but none of them had any ability to think consciously. That would mean that her taunt was directed to the necromancers who at the moment looked quite displeased. One single woman had wasted over two dozen zombies by herself. This was an inhuman feat, worthy to be remembered as an eternal tale. All of them were consciously furious but secretly admired the sight before them.

 

The zombies had changed their approach now. Seeing their dwindling numbers, they switched to a more careful approach over a hasty one. Their reliance on pure numbers had cost them dearly and their carelessness had come back to haunt them. They couldn’t repeat the mistake. Slowly, they surrounded her from all sides and maintained a good distance from her. A human group would see her current state and move in at once from all sides but the zombies lacked that kind of judgement. They could only see a threat in front of them. Every now and then, one of them would try to get close and land a hit but Ravenna would dodge and launch a counter-attack. They had managed to avoid taking any losses because her attacks had slowed and weakened. The back and forth kept going for one whole minute till the necromancers grew tired of this charade. A few of them squeezed their hands and all the zombies launched into her simultaneously.

“No!”

That was the catalyst that spurred Edward into action. Tyler, who had been composed every time Edward saw him had revealed that look for the second time. Edward remembered the look on his face when he read the second letter that Mirriam handed to him. Now as Edward looked forward, he was flying mid-air. It seemed as if time had slowed down just like he experienced it back in Pompadoon when a horde of zombies were rushing at him. Except this time, it was him rushing into a horde. It looked like Tyler was trying to grab his leg but he had leapt too far already and was out of his grasp. His mother had a look of shock but she was still looking at Ravenna and had not noticed him jumping off his horse yet.

That’s a relief. I didn’t want to see her face when she sees me leaping at zombies for the second time. But why am I even doing this? Wait, what’s this? Why is my dagger out in my hand? Did I imagine that I could help her out? What good can I do against all those armed zombies? I can’t even put up a fight against one of those. Well, it’s too late to back out now. Might as well jump in and stab away blindly. Maybe I’ll hit something.

I should close my eyes. I don’t want to see my death play out in front of me. Ah, how I wish that mage from before could help me out again. 

Edward’s inner monologue kept him occupied for the one second it took to cover his jump. He had failed to close his eyes which helped him hit the mark. He had held his dagger with both his hands in a reverse grip. Randall had advised him not to use this technique but it seemed to be the most apt grip for the time being. He lodged the knife into one of the zombies’ back as he landed on it. Edward didn’t let go and his body weight pulled the knife all the way down till the zombies’ back was entirely sliced open. Blood leaked out as the corpse landed face first with Edward on top of it. Everyone’s eyes were on him now, even those in battle. Ravenna was the first to recover. She took advantage of the distraction to behead another zombie but at the same time, one of them rushed towards Edward. He instinctively leapt backwards and stumbled on the ground and dropped his dagger. Both Tyler and Mirriam had disembarked their mounts and were running towards him but his pursuer was even closer.

“Sploch!” Edward heard a sound and the zombie had stopped in its tracks. It too, fell face-first on the ground, right by his feet. Ravenna’s second dagger was sticking out of the back of its head. He immediately looked to her to thank her. He was either expecting a thumbs up or a nasty frown but instead she was busy being clobbered by another zombie. Her arm strength had already run out and she wasn’t able to block the strikes properly. But Edward had another problem. The other last remaining zombie had decided to take him out as it watched its peer show dominance over the redhead warrior but before it could get to him, Tyler got in the way with his arms stretched out wide, as if to stop the zombie from going any further.

What’s he doing? I don’t think the zombie will stop if he does that. He’ll get killed if he stands like that.

“That’s enough of you” Edward heard Tyler say. As expected, the zombie didn’t stop. Instead, it swung its blade at Tyler.

“He’s going to die” Edward thought. He wanted to close his eyes but something in his body was not answering his wishes today. Instead he stared and watched Tyler get attacked. The sword had cleanly cleaved through Tyler’s torso. Edward’s jaw dropped at the sight. What amount of force would have been needed to cut through a person like that?

It looked like the zombie was waiting to watch the aftermath of a kill like that. Maybe it was waiting to see if the torso would slide off or both pieces could fall in different places. For a moment Edward’s mind was flaring with rage for a reason he had not expected. He wanted to be angry because his companion had been slain but the actual reason he was furious was because of the zombie’s pause. He flared red inside as he watched the zombie’s mocking stare. He grabbed his blade and prepared himself to get up and claim revenge for a fallen friend…

And then the body moved. What Edward thought was a lifeless corpse, waiting to hit the ground was actually unhurt. Tyler, casually walked up to the zombie which frantically waved its sword at the oncoming opponent. If it was a person, it would be unable to attack out of ghastly fear but a zombie was unaffected by such feelings. It kept hacking and hacking and every strike swam through his body as if it was ethereal. Mirriam had already come and wrapped herself around Edward under her grasp but he kept watching the sight unfold in front of him through the gap between her arms. He decided to stare harder but was further confused. Now, it seemed like Tyler was blurring. Was watching with greater concentration worsening his vision? He couldn’t make out what was going on.

Finally, Tyler had entered it’s range and grabbed its arm as it swung its sword one last time. With his other hand, he grabbed its collar. With a catapulting motion, he slammed the zombie into the ground head-first. It’s skull splattered on the ground. Edward could see its brains leak out. Then both Tyler and Edward turned their attention towards Ravenna who when they saw her last, was on the brink of defeat. She was sitting on top of a corpse, with her sword driven through its skull. There was a short-sword cleaved through her arm and was left hanging there. The cut looked extremely deep and it was a surprise that she had not passed out because of the pain even though it was very evident on her face.

“Is that the last of your undead? Or do you have any more for me to kill?” she shouted. It was supposed to be taunting but sounded quite embarrassing because she was basically howling in pain.

Edward could see the mouths of the hooded necromancers. Their barely visible expressions were indicative enough of their rage. “It turns out the vultures had gathered here for your zombies after all. Not so undead now are they? Now then, I feel bad about snatching your toys away and sending them to the underworld. Come to me, I’ll arrange a happy reunion for you.” She had managed to modulate her voice much better now.

“Have you already assumed your victory? How naive” shouted one of the necromancers bitterly. Edward looked behind him at the slope they had used to descend. Over it was the tunnel entrance from where he saw a similar sized horde of necromancers and zombies coming out. After seeing the mount of corpses, they raised their alertness. All the necromancers, both in front of him and by the tunnel drew their daggers in unison.

“No more games now. We’ll kill you ourselves.”

 

Click here for the next chapter


Author’s Notes

 

I never imagined any chapter being longer than chapter 10 but this is by far the longest. Writing action takes up a lot of space because I want the readers to be at ease and not rack their heads when reading character movements. Visual medium is always better suited for depicting action and this is the one place where writing takes a hit. In order to still make it work, one has to make sure that they write as best as possible. There’s always a better way to write action which can aid the reader clearly visualise what the writer sees and I intend to keep getting better at it.

I have also realised that first person perspective adds much needed depth for a character, especially the protagonist. Even comics, that are more script-centric and rely on visuals and dialogue also make use of inner monologue to add personality to characters. I have switched over to a third person narrative but I don’t plan on entirely dropping a first-person narrative. I’ll integrate it as I have in this chapter. The reader will be made clear with which character is in the forefront. In the case of this chapter, it was Edward. Any inner dialogue that the focus character has will be written in italics. There’s no need for authors to label such patterns to readers as they can eventually pick up on such things. I am only doing so because I have taken it up halfway.

Zombies are fun but we’ve seen them all the time in pop-culture. Different stories have unique zombies and that is why I have theorised a very unique model myself. You shall find this concept quite interesting as you keep reading further because there’s much more to come from the zombie department later on.

The Soul Keeper and the Guardian, Chapter 13

Detection

Click here for Chapter 1

 

Both Edward and Mirriam got ready to leave five minutes before Ravenna’s thirty minute deadline. Ravenna put this time to good use by practising a one-handed parry and thrust combination with her sword. But it was Tyler who was having a hard time because of their delay. The entire village had gathered near the inn to say their goodbyes.

He did inform them that he would be taking a leave of absence and leaving the town for a while for which they had thrown a large party in the local pub. He was quite popular among the locals and they were showing their love one last time before he left. The reason why he wanted to leave so early was to avoid any attention but word reached around while Edward and Mirriam were still getting ready and every single person woke up early to bid him farewell. Most of them were actually more interested in who had come to visit him.

His three new companions marched out of the inn and the crowd yelped and hummed in excitement which surprised their guests. “What’s going on?” whispered Mirriam to herself while holding on to Edward. Ravenna continued walking and Edward and Mirriam decided to not fall behind and followed her.

“So which one is it?” Asked one of the men from the crowd loudly. The entire crowd started laughing and giggling.

“I won’t be surprised if it’s both of them” The crowd ensued into mad laughter.

“Oh look, he’s got a kid too” pointed out one of the women. Their maniacal laughter couldn’t be any louder.

Unlike the locals, the guests didn’t find it as funny. While Edward and Mirriam were a bit scared and confused, Ravenna was scowling. “You people are quite energetic so early in the morning. Save it for the rest of the day.” She replied, but that didn’t stop them from laughing.

“A feisty one, that one. Was this your type”? Asked one of the younger women. Many other giggled.

“Hey now. Give us a break will you? I’m glad you all came out to visit but you should go on and sleep now. Don’t waste your precious sleep hours on me” said Tyler as he got on his horse. The townspeople waved after them as they left and some were even crying. A few kids ran behind the horses for some distance for extended goodbyes till they got tired.

 

“You’re quite popular Mr. Tyler” said Mirriam as they rode back into the desert.

“They consider me a part of their family. I’ve been there for far too long. It seems only natural I guess.” He didn’t sound too sentimental, especially how he called it ‘their family’.

“Hey, I’ve held out for so long, but what are we going to Johancoop for?” asked Ravenna. Mirriam felt nervous. She wasn’t sure how to answer.

“Me and Mirriam have some important business to tend do.” Tyler covered it for Mirriam.

“I wasn’t asking you, swine. I have nothing to do with you. What business do you have there Mirriam?” Said Ravenna quite rudely and luckily it didn’t seem like it had fazed Tyler. For some reason, she had been hostile towards him ever since they met and Edward couldn’t understand why.

“We need some information from a particular person. And please don’t talk to him like that Ravenna, he’s one of us now. Your manner of speech is quite unreasonable.” Said Mirriam

“That’s right. Know your place meathead. You are a mere sell-sword. Do not concern yourself with your client’s business.” Said Tyler. It looked like Ravenna’s remarks did get to him. The heat was picking up.

“It happens to be my business because my ‘client’ has changed her terms and I deserve to know why.” Ravenna had finally spoken out about what Mirriam was nervous about.

“I believe a fraud like you should be more flexible to terms” Tyler’s words stopped Ravenna in her tracks and eventually, each one of them.

“What did you call me?” grumbled Ravenna, furiously.

“Tyler. No!” cried Mirriam. Edward was darting his eyes around, perplexed about the arising situation.

“A fraud! Am I wrong Mirriam? She deceived you the day she met you. Two crowns for ten days worth of being a bodyguard? Who are you kidding?” demanded Tyler.

“Listen well swine. It was the boy who made the offer when they had swords to their throats.” Replied Ravenna, with an elevated level of spite.

“That’s right Tyler, she saved our lives. Don’t question her services” begged Mirriam.

“Don’t pretend like she did it out of the kindness of her heart Mirriam. Am I wrong Edward. She just did it for the money.” Tyler had read Edward’s face while he accused Ravenna. Even though he had no problem with their deal, it was true that Ravenna had abstained from helping them till he offered her a crown as payment. Edward immediately shook the thought out of his head.

“And what about the second crown? You demanded a crown to escort them for a few days. That much work is worth two gold even if one were to hire a plated mercenary. You tricked them.” Tyler had shut Ravenna up with his final statement. She was shivering with rage. After a few minutes of intense staring, she turned to Mirriam.

“Do you have any problem with our arrangement Mirriam?” she asked her straight up.

“No Ravenna, not at all. We are in fact quite grateful for all you’ve done for us.” said Mirriam.

“That’s right Ravenna. You taught me so much too. I’m very thankful” said Edward with a made up smile. He had been worried about where this might go and was afraid of trying to intervene and get them to stop. He didn’t miss this chance to say something nice to her even if it had any remote chance to suppress the tense situation.

“Well, that’s all I need. I don’t care what you accuse me of or what you call me. My arrangement is with these two. Your words are irrelevant gibberish to me” she said much more calmly and started riding again. Like before all of them followed after her.

“Ravenna” Mirriam called out. “Mr. Tyler said that he will take care of your payment once we get to Johancoop.”

“Hmm.” she replied without turning to face Mirriam. She took it as an affirmation and moved ahead, grateful that the situation had not escalated too much. Tyler sighed in response and the four of them kept riding south.

 

After several hours of continuous riding, the sun was almost overhead. The desert was much less sandier now and was mostly level ground than the curvaceous dunes that Edward saw before. The four of them stopped by a huge pile of rocks where they found some shade. They got down from their horses and re-hydrated themselves and their horses.

The tension still flowed thick among the group and none of them had spoken much on the way. Edward wasn’t liking how things were going. The problems from exterior forces were tiring enough and he didn’t want trouble inside.

“That was tiring” he said to Ravenna as if it was regular small talk.

“It was” she said, knowing exactly what he meant.

“I’m sorry for the things he said to you. I wanted you to know that I don’t share his opinion at all. In fact, I am glad that you joined us on this journey.”

“I appreciate it kid. Why are you apologising for him anyway? You haven’t even spoken to him once yet. It’s his job, not yours and I don’t think he will anyway.”

Edward looked at Tyler who was leaning against a rock, fiddling with something in his hands that he could not see. She was right. He hadn’t spoken to him yet or to his mother about who he was and why they were headed to one of the four great cities. He looked at her feeding her horse Dixit and she caught him looking. As soon as she did, she averted her eyes, as if she was trying to avoid him. Edward wondered if she was still mad about his antics yesterday or if she was nervous about the ongoing tensions between Tyler and Ravenna. He shrugged both these theories away because he knew that she was simply avoiding him because she didn’t want to be approached for questioning. She just wanted to keep him in the dark.

 

Tyler walked up to Mirriam and voiced his concerns. “I haven’t left Braumchester for over a decade and it looks like a lot has changed since then. I would have been more confident about navigating these parts if the expansive plains hadn’t turned into a desert. I know that if we keep heading south, we’ll eventually get to Johancoop, but forgive me if I can’t take you through the shortest route.”

“Don’t sweat it. That is exactly what I’m here for. To make sure you don’t get lost or die” remarked Ravenna without any kind of animosity in her tone. She was now indicating the value of her presence. Tyler didn’t respond, even with an expression.

When they were done resting, the four of them mounted their horses and prepared to take off. “We’ll be passing through three towns to get to Johancoop. This is the safest way to get there. Each of them is equidistant and we’ll be resting in the towns each night while taking off in the morning. By my estimates, we’ll be reaching our first stop in the evening. It’s best if we maintain a good pace. This way, we’ll get to our destination on the fourth day of this trip. There’s a shorter route through the mountains where we can save one day but we’ll have to camp on the road. I don’t think it is worth the risk.” She was in control of the situation and everyone agreed to her plan.

“Our first stop is Bartel, an ironworks town. We’ll get there after a few hours of riding. The towns from here on out are much safer because of their proximity to one of the great cities. They get larger and safer as you get closer, so consider the next one to be slightly better than Braumchester. I still recommend we keep a low profile. I don’t know how we’ll manage that as we’ll be reaching there when everyone’s getting back from work. Just try not to stand out and let me handle the communication once we’re there.” She intricately listed all the important information that they had to know beforehand.

 

The desert landscape had now turned into rocky plains. Edward was just about tired of seeing sand dunes as far as his eyes could see and this was a slightly less appalling scenery. The sun was just as bright and piercing as it was back in the desert but at least he didn’t have to worry about sand constantly hitting his face. They still had their masks on to avoid sunburns but the best thing about the change in terrain was their speed. They were riding almost twice as fast now. There were still plenty of slopes and climbs on the way. The changing elevation still wasn’t a hindrance because the harder terrain was good for the horses. Edward initially thought that they would reach early this way but Ravenna pointed out that she had already taken this into account before estimating the travel time so things hadn’t changed.

 

As the sun started setting down Edward could feel the fatigue rise up but he kept going knowing that the destination was almost upon them. After the light of the sun had completely vanished to reveal the darkening night sky, he noticed that the air around him smelled different. He caught up the stench of burning and identified that they had almost reached Bartel. He looked at his mother smilingly who gave him back the same expression with relief. Although these expeditions were tiring, they were starting to get used to it. The fact that they now had two reliable companions made them feel more secure.

 

As soon as they entered the town of Bartel, Edward was surprised to see something that he hadn’t seen in any town yet. Many poles throughout the streets upheld powerful lamps that brightly illuminated the entire town even in the night as though it was almost the middle of the day. He asked Ravenna what these were.

“You’ve never seen any of these? Aren’t you people super rich?” She exclaimed. Edward didn’t know how to respond and looked to his mother. Indeed, he hadn’t seen anything like this in Vereen.

“Are these Celrock lamps?” Asked Tyler

“Oh, this is your first time seeing one too?” Ravenna asked him. “Oh yes, I didn’t see a single one of these in your town. Why didn’t you people get one? They’re not too expensive.”

“Our chief didn’t want to. It’s said that these lamps pollute the air and could even lead to poisoning.”

“True, but it is treatable. The benefits outweigh the risks.”

“It’s fine for these people. I’m sure they have healers and better access to medicines. We didn’t have the same luxury. That’s why we decided to stick to using traditional lamps.”

This back and forth didn’t alleviate Edward’s curiosity. He decided to ask Ravenna but saw this as a good opportunity to start a conversation with Tyler.

“What are these lamps. How do they work?”

“Huh?” Tyler was surprised that Edward was speaking to him. Even he just realised that this would be their first proper conversation. “These are celrock lamps. The availability  of firewood and oil has been decreasing every year and the cost has been shooting up. A few years ago, tinkerers came up with a solution to counter this problem by using celrocks. They found out that when a celrock is placed in close proximity to a fire, it shines quite brightly. Thus, even a tiny oil lamp could illuminate a large area. This cuts down the consumption of oil to a tenth while producing three times the light.”

Edward was awestruck by this innovative device but Tyler could see it on his face that he didn’t know what celrocks were.

“Celrocks are crystals that were used for decoration. There’s plenty of it to be found in Silvervale, where most of it is mined. It was only recently that they were put to use for illumination. They are quite cheap and easily available. The lamps you see here are still oil lamps but a gallon can last them for over a year. A small fire is lit to activate the lamp and a chunk of celrock is suspended over the fire. Some pores are drilled on the glass of the lamp to sustain the fire and also leave a window for the sublimating crystal. It has been noted that the fire slowly sublimes the crystal over time and it emits an odourless gas that is mildly poisonous. A celrock crystal about the size of a fist will evaporate in a matter of three to four months. The poison is not fatal and is treatable but because the technology is new, nobody knows what kind of effect it has in the long run. As of now, people are investing in this convenient tool because they don’t have too many options to choose from.”

“Your town was using oil lamps just like ours. Except, ours were bigger and we had many of them.” Edward commented

“Yes, a few places still use the traditional oil lamps. However, it is pricey. We limit our usage to the best of our extent but I think you people were far more lenient with it.” Tyler still didn’t know how prosperous Edward’s hometown was. In fact, he had just realised that he didn’t even bother asking where they were from.

Extremely bad
Horrible MS Paint rendition of a celrock lamp

 

As the discussion about celrocks came to an end, they had reached what looked like the centre of the town. As Ravenna had indicated, things were slightly different from before. The houses were in better shape and people didn’t care much about these new guests in town as they were getting fewer stares in their direction. Most of the houses were still empty and it seemed as if most of the town had gathered in the pubs. Edward assumed it was the similar routine like back in Vereen. All the people would gather at the bars and pubs after sunset when they had finished working. This is where people spent most of the time socialising and indulging in some fun.

“This is the place” said Ravenna as they stopped in front of a large wooden building. Edward assumed that this would be the inn they were staying at today.

“It’s not the best in town but it does the job. It’s not the most popular either so it’s good for people like us who want to keep a low profile.”

Edward and Tyler took all the four horses to tie them up at the stable while Ravenna and Mirriam went to arrange their rooms. Tyler was done with his horse and Ravenna’s before Edward could finish even one. Tyler observed him tying up Diddy and stopped him halfway-

“That’s not how you tie a horse in a public stable.”

“Then how?” Edward now realised that his way wouldn’t apply to these places as Randall warned.

“Usually, we’d have to lock their reins with the stable rods but it looks like you didn’t bring any.” Edward noticed that Tyler’s and Ravenna’s horses were locked up with the stable rod using a chain. He neither had chains or locks to tie them up that way.

“We’ll get some tomorrow but usually, you can make do without locks. You just have to use more complicated knots. It’s better to use the less popular ones because fewer people would be able to open them. Here, I’ll show you an easy one.” Tyler undid the knot Edward made and started to make his own, while instructing Ed step by step. It looked like a complicated mess in the end but the process was much simpler than expected. In three tries, Edward managed to learn the ‘Jekkel knot’.

He tied up both Diddy and Dixit and after feeling like he had mastered a new skill in such a small time, he jogged to the inn to tell his mother. Tyler kept up with his pace. Right after the small, open doorway was a tiny room which looked like the reception. Mirriam and Ravenna were still talking to the owner.

“Didn’t get the rooms yet?” Tyler asked

“The rooms are full. It’s unusual. Apparently, a new horde of people showed up today and took over most of the rooms.”

“Then let’s go somewhere else” he said

“No, they have a huge common room available. It has several beds but Mirriam wanted to know if you’re okay with a common room.”

“I have no qualms if you don’t have any” he said to Mirriam and she nodded. They proceeded to finish the negotiation. They were charging 4 silvers for the night and Tyler felt like they were overcharging.

“I will pay my share Mirriam. I don’t intend to be a burden on you.”

“Please, it’s alright. You don’t have to pay after what we’re putting you through.”

“That is all right. I have managed to save up around seven gold over the decade. Pay it no heed.” He showcased his hefty pouch which looked like a huge bunch of silvers with some gold. This made Ravenna chuckle and Edward could see the joke too. However, it was a bit sad too. It had taken the man so many years to save mere seven gold. This gave Edward a realisation about the true value of money and he understood why Tyler had gone berserk in the morning when he learned that Ravenna was charging them two crowns for such small work.

 

Mirriam managed to talk Tyler out of not paying for his rent by telling him that he had already agreed to pay for Ravenna. Once she got the key, the four of them made their way inside the inn. A small diner was occupied with several men. Most of them looked like merchants and were busy drinking and eating. Edward noticed a group of six hooded men in a corner. For a moment, he felt like they were looking at him but he didn’t catch them doing so. He moved forward with the rest of them and climbed a flight of weak wooden stairs at the end of the diner. There was a long hallway in front of them with rooms on both sides. There was a wall behind them so they walked forward and turned with the hallway. There was another turn after which they saw a door at the end of the hallway which was supposed to be their room.

With their luggage, they moved inside. It was smaller than he expected but enough to house them for the night. Luckily, there was a small dressing room in a corner. The room had four beds. They took turns to change into more comfortable clothing and decided to go to the diner for supper.

As they reached the stairs, the hooded men which Edward saw earlier passed them and Edward felt some eyes on him again but he didn’t have the courage to look at their faces. He noticed that Ravenna was staring at them as they went inside their own room.

 

They grabbed a table and some good food in the diner. Without saying a word, they kept eating. Edward had noticed that the tension between Tyler and Ravenna had dissipated since they reached this town which he found very strange after what had happened this very morning. It was Ravenna who broke the silence.

“Is it them?” she said, to no one in particular.

“What?” said both Mirriam and Tyler in unison.

“Those hooded men. I noticed that they were all sporting an insignia.”

“What of it?” The two of them asked again

“It could be them. I didn’t get a good look but it could be the same one the necromancers wore that day.”

“Explain” said Tyler. Mirriam was as dumbfounded as Edward. His unease earlier seemed reasonable now.

 

Ravenna recited the entire scene with the necromancers that happened in Pompadoon in great detail. She also mentioned the battle mage that came to their rescue and also managed to call Edward ‘stupid’ several times in the process. Edward was cowering but more in fear than embarrassment. Tyler took it harder than they assumed. He was sweating as he heard the story unfold.

“This can be bad. I’m not sure if it’s them but we can’t take unnecessary risk and sleep easy. It’s best if we stay alert and leave early tomorrow” instructed Ravenna and everyone nodded in agreement. None of them could eat well from that point. They returned to their room and slept early.

 

Click here for the next chapter

 


Author’s notes

It’s a quiet one like the last two but there was significantly more world building. I also planted some character conflict which is also reasonable. It’s important that there is always some conflict, little or large, in a freshly formed group of people. It is only natural that a group of different kinds of people would have conflicting opinions and interests. It also elevates the drama and paves way character development.

 

I also feel like making an early revelation here that Edward has above average senses after spending so much time in the jungle and because of his heritage. You will see hints of it early in the story like how he felt like he was being watched. Even Ravenna and Tyler who specialise in environment scanning could not catch that.

The Soul Keeper and the Guardian, Chapter 12

New Plans

Click here for Chapter 1

 

Edward’s body froze in the spot as someone clutched his shoulder. It was more shock than fear. “Someone’s being a creep” said this person. It was uncertain who this was. The morphing of the voice made it difficult to ascertain who it was. He turned back to see Ravenna winking at him.

“Didn’t know you were the stalker type” she said. He was uncertain whether the fact that Ravenna being the one to catch him sneaking was relieving or even more embarrassing. He slowly put the piece of paper in his pocket as she continued. “Oh, so it’s your mom that you’re eavesdropping on. Who’s that dude? Is he the one who you guys came here looking for? Then what are you hiding for? Don’t tell me he’s her runaway boyfriend!” Edward didn’t have any answers to her questions. He just turned back to face them. Tyler was back on his feet now but still looked disgruntled. They hadn’t spoken since he read the letter.

“Hey, fill me in.” Ravenna kept pestering Edward so that she could be looped in to this situation but his gaze was solely fixed upon his mother.

“Where’s the boy?” Tyler asked, now breaking the silence and deflecting Mirriam’s confusion regarding his own strong reaction to the letter. Edward understood that he was talking about him. Mirriam hadn’t mentioned Edward till this point which meant that he was definitely mentioned in the first letter that Tyler read. The letter which had long finished its descent down the cliff and one which the curious Edward could never reach.

Mirriam lit up in excitement, as he had finally knocked off his stubborn stance on the matter. She wondered what was in the letter that had literally brought him down on his knees. Her curiosity was even mistier than Edward’s because she hadn’t read either of them and was now regretting her decision to respect Randall’s privacy. She believed she deserved some more information on the matter since it was her son who had the most to lose in this matter.

Before Mirriam could reply, the now pissed off Ravenna grabbed Edward’s collar and pulled him up with herself, revealing both of them to Mirriam and Tyler. She was clearly tired of being left out and decided to break her way in the way she knew best. “This the boy you’re looking for?”

No reaction came out of Tyler but Mirriam wailed “EDWARD!!” which he knew was a direct translation to “Outrageous” in this particular situation. With years of experience, he had honed his ability to decipher the level of punishment he was about to be served based on the pitch, volume and length of the utterance of his name in such fashion. This time, it was critical danger and his instincts were telling him to run. But he knew that breaking free of Ravenna’s clutch was scientifically impossible and he had given up without even putting up a struggle.

“What are you doing here!?” she asked him. She sounded like she was about to kill him in a few minutes. Poor Edward didn’t know how much she has tried to keep things hidden from him these last few days. Mirriam tried to rewind the whole conversation she had with Tyler to ensure that no big secrets were told out loud. She was confident for the most part about the conversation having no juicy details but there was still a tinge of fear.

“How long have you been listening in on us and why? And Ravenna! Why are you involved in this too?” she asked, seeing that he hadn’t given an explanation yet.

“Hey, I just got here. This chimp wasn’t telling me anything so I sold him out” she said very confidently which Edward envied. She walked up to both of them and faced Tyler. “So, this is the dude that you came all this way to meet? I’ve seen tidier swines. What do you want with this guy?” she said very bluntly but it didn’t faze Tyler at all.

“Hey, don’t talk like that!” cried Mirriam. “You’ve just met him. Judging someone like that openly without even knowing a thing about them. It’s not nice”

“After having met so many people, I can pick out all kinds of ’em. The boasters, the liars, the cowards. This one’s a worthless coward, I can tell from a glance.” Ravenna wasn’t hesitant of being inconsiderate for the second time.

Mirriam turned to Tyler and apologised to him about her behaviour. He said he didn’t mind and instead asked who she was.

“She helped us get here. This is Ravenna, an adventurer and a splendid warrior. She saved our lives when we were in Kirkpod” said Mirriam. Ravenna smiled when she was associated as a ‘splendid warrior’. She thought it was an apt description. Nobody had officially termed it that way so she was just giggling inside.

“And that must be your son” said Tyler, now looking at Edward. His sight was eerie. When their eyes met, Edward felt a kind of fear which didn’t seem to exude from his appearance. There was something about his eyes. Edward felt like there was something trapped behind his dead and hellish eyes. As if something was trying to break out. He felt really uncomfortable around him.

“Yes” she said “This is him.” Her gaze was quite relaxing even though she was still a bit angry.

“Right, let’s talk then. Come to my house. It’s only a minute from here.” Said Tyler after which he walked inside to inform his employers of his absence. Mirriam turned to both Edward and Ravenna and asked them to go back to the inn. She made it clear that the things they wanted to talk about had to be kept between them and she would eventually tell both of them what they needed to know. Edward protested with his face while Ravenna spoke up. “I hate being kept in the dark like this but if my client wants some privacy, I’m gonna give it to her. Although I’m pretty sure you have lame reasons to hide whatever it is that you are, given your history of hiding things.

Both Edward and Mirriam started walking back to the inn and Mirriam followed Tyler who had now taken off his apron and was walking up to his house. Like he said, it was only a minute away. It was a small cottage among the few hundred cottages in the place and the area was eerily quiet.

“Do all the women work in the mines too?” asked Mirriam for she didn’t see anyone around.

“Yes. Nobody can afford to sit back. Most women are into farming rather than mining. But they have to travel 20 miles to get there. We can only cultivate wheat and potatoes around these parts. Luckily, it’s enough to keep us alive.” He said as he was trying to unlock his door. Nobody else had locked their doors. Some had even left theirs unbolted.

“I don’t see any children around. Is there a school here?” In Vereen, children were home schooled as per the instructions of the lord.

“No school here. Not many children either. There’s about a hundred and fifty kids in total in this town of a thousand. The teens lend a hand in the mines while the younger ones help around in the market or just play there.” He said as he opened the door and let Mirriam in. “Where’s the boy and your bodyguard?”

“Actually, they don’t know anything yet. I too just found out a week ago when Randall came to my home. Ed only learned about the Soul Keepers this morning. I think it might be too soon to break it to him.” Mirriam was in a really tight spot indeed.

“Hmm, I see. Based on what Randall said, I think there’s a lot you people don’t know. I’ll have to assume that you’ve woken up after a 14 year slumber and are just getting used to the times.” He said to which Mirriam nodded.

“It will be difficult, to hide things from the boy. We’ll have to tell him soon. I will leave that decision to you but don’t hold out for too long. It will make things more difficult than they are.” Tyler suggested and Mirriam agreed. “The real problem is the mercenary. It’s best we keep this secret to us. No point in letting outsiders get wind of such sensitive information. If people were to find out, things can get really bad.”

“She’ll be leaving soon. She promised to take us to Braumchester and back to Vereen, my hometown and we promised her some payment in return. If we start for Vereen today, we can get there in 5 days and clear the payment” suggested Mirriam reluctantly. She had grown to enjoy Ravenna’s company these past few days.

“How old is your boy exactly?” asked Tyler

“He’s about five weeks older than fourteen now” said Mirriam immediately. After learning about the deadline, she had a very precise count on Edwards’s age.

“Hmm, it’s best if we don’t waste any time on unnecessary expeditions. We first need to acquire information. I know someone who can help us with that. We’ll have to go to Johancoop, one of the four great cities. It is on the edge of the border like Braumchester. We just have to ride south. There are better experts of course but he’s the one we can get to fastest. Time is of the essence” said Tyler as he opened the windows to let the light rush in and illuminate his dark house. It was really neat and humble while also looking too empty. It’s as if there was nothing to come home to after a long day at work except a bed and a sheet. Mirriam wondered why he went through all the trouble to lock his doors when he had nothing to lose.

“But that’s a violation of our agreement. I doubt that she’d agree. We’ll have to pay her soon.” Said Mirriam. Knowing Ravenna, she could already picture her deny this new proposition.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of her payment when we get there. How much do you owe her?”

“Two crowns” said Mirriam.

“Hmm…. WHAT!!!!” shouted Tyler, scaring Mirriam. “TWO CROWNS!? WHAT FOR?”

“We were being attacked by people. She wouldn’t help us otherwise” said Mirriam, taking a few steps back.

“And how were you planning to pay her back? Do you even have two crowns?” He was still enraged.

“Yes. Back home. I can cover it.”

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(Ignore elf ears. The reaction is spot on!)

“That scum.” cried Tyler with his palms on his face. Mirriam had no defence for Ravenna. “Alright. I’ll manage. We don’t have time to worry about money now. Our priority is to get to Johancoop as soon as possible. Stay in the inn tonight. I have to make some arrangements before we leave so let’s begin early in the morning tomorrow. I’ll be informing my peers of my departure and you talk to your son and that piece of scum that you hired.”

Mirriam agreed and they both left his house and parted ways. Mirriam went to the inn while Tyler went back to his workplace. Mirriam was really nervous about her upcoming confrontation with Ravenna.


In the meantime, Edward and Ravenna were having a quarrel of their own inside his room.

“Hey, why did you sell me out?” cried Edward

“Because you were being childish and not letting me in on the situation” she retorted

“So you sold me out because I didn’t share some gossip with you. I wonder who was the childish one.” He said in response

“Hey mister. I did the right thing. You were sneaking up on your mother remember? I was right to expose you.”

“Now don’t start talking like you did it for moral reasons”

“Bah. Stop crying about it already. It’s not like she’ll kill you”

“But she’ll lecture me about it for an hour and bring it up multiple times later and it will slowly kill me anyway” somehow Ravenna didn’t respond for a while. He thought he had won the tiny argument but then she spoke.

“Must be nice, getting lectured by your mother every once in a while” she said as she looked at the ceiling. Edward felt a little uncomfortable inside. He could read what she meant.

“Yeah” he said but he didn’t just want to leave it there. “What happened to your mother Ravenna?”

“Huh” she was caught off guard. She realised that she said something subconsciously and felt a bit ashamed. “I don’t know. She’s probably dead or ruining someone else’s life right now.”

Edward didn’t respond. “She left my father alone with us without saying a word. Not all mothers are like yours I think. Some of us just get the selfish ones.”

The atmosphere was silent as she paused for a while. “You are very lucky little boy. You have almost everything a child should have. Just be grateful and always remember it. That will serve you well.” Edward nodded and they just sat in the room without saying anything.

 

A few minutes later Mirriam barged in and pulled their attention.

“Ravenna, there’s a small change in plans” she said, while panting. It didn’t seem like a result of physical activity.

“What change? We’re not going back to your place now?”

Mirriam waited for a few seconds. She seemed to be having some difficulty trying to inform about the detour.

“He said, we’ll have to go to Johancoop for some urgent business” she said in a much squeakier voice. Edward could notice that she was slightly shivering.

Ravenna got up from the floor. Both Edward and Mirriam gulped.

“Fine. When do we leave?” she asked while tightening her belt in a very calm tone. Mirriam didn’t answer. She was staring with her eyes wide open.

“Hey! When do we leave?” she asked again, this time slightly louder.

“Tomorrow!” said Mirriam so quickly that it sounded like a single syllable.

“Ah, I’m going to sleep then. I need to make up for two nights of sleep. Ask the innkeeper to bring me some meat stew and bread in the evening” she said as she walked past Mirriam and headed to her room.

“Right” said Mirriam, even though Ravenna had already left. She and Edward looked at each other and wondered why they weren’t dead yet. Without saying another word, they ate the potato stew left at the table and went to sleep. They too hadn’t slept last night.

They joined Ravenna for supper in the evening and slept again without leaving the inn once. They then woke up when they heard a knock on their door. It was barely dawn yet. Mirriam opened the door and Tyler was standing there, dressed up to leave.

“You’re not ready yet?” He questioned

“It’s still night” said Mirriam sleepily.

“No. It’s almost dawn and this is when we’re supposed to leave when I say ‘early in the morning’.”

“You should have said that earlier” said Edward as he yawned. The now vexed Tyler was scratching his eyebrows, trying to cool himself.

“Don’t use regular reasoning with these guys. They’re new to the game.” Said Ravenna from behind him. Even she was ready to leave, wearing the same getup she had the day before. “Hurry up. You have thirty minutes”

With that, both Edward and Mirriam rushed into getting ready.

 

Click here for the next chapter


Author’s Notes

A calm chapter after the last few intense ones we’ve had. I suppose the next one will be similar but they’re not hollow at all. Between the lines, there’s definitely a fair amount of character development. Little clues about the characters for your subconscious to feed on.

I don’t know if my humour is working or not. I did read several chapters while trying to make edits and take notes and some things did make me laugh. But I wrote them myself so I can’t measure the validity of its strength that way. It’s a bit scary. Is the humour good or is it awkward and lame? It’s a question that will haunt me for a long time till I get a fair amount of genuine feedback.

These poor guys don’t get enough sleep on time. Well, that’s to be expected in adventurous life like this.

Edward being a soul keeper has a natural gift for empathy. Normally, empathy grows with human interaction but he hasn’t had enough of it. However, his growth in that aspect will be much faster than that of regular people but based on his fate and purpose, it can be a double edged sword. There are worse adversaries than evil sorcerers and kings and that is an opponent with a good cause that you can empathise with.

The Soul Keeper and the Guardian, Chapter 11

The Brick maker

Click here for Chapter 1

The journey had been quite treacherous for Edward and his mother. They had been riding the desert for one day straight without enough resting in the middle. To top it all off, they were also attacked by necromancers and zombies. Just when Edward thought that he had enough for one day, he was burdened with the history of the world around him that he never had a clue about. He was still a little salty about the fact that his mother had kept such important things from him given how they weren’t too graphic for children. Death is a fundamental part of history so that cannot be an excuse for hiding it from them. He didn’t know what her reasons were, but it still bugged him.

However, he was too tired to complain. One look at his mother and he could tell that she was in worse shape than he was. She had been riding with them throughout the night, her son was almost killed by mages who she had no idea existed till this point and she now probably thinks her son hates her for hiding such basic and vital things from him. Edward was mature enough to understand what she was going through and kept his complaints to himself. Ravenna seemed to be in better shape than these two. She had been on longer and more excruciating journeys than this as she had boasted earlier so this was mere routine to her. Not a lot of time had passed since the end of her generous history lesson and now they had entered the shabby mining town called Braumchester.

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Just when Edward was convinced that there wouldn’t be a shabbier town than the last one he’d been to, he was proven wrong. Sitting on top of an elevated plateau was this small, bleak mining town. There were several closed mines at the bottom of the plateau indicated by the barricading outside despite rails leading inside. There were also paths running around the plateau.

‘They’ve emptied these mines out. The ones they must be working right now are probably in a different corner of the plateau. They’ll soon run out of ore to mine on the mound they sit upon. I wonder what’ll happen then. The nearest mineral rich mountain is miles away” commented Ravenna, feeling pity for these poor souls.

Truly, the sight was despicable. They hiked upwards on the path leading up to the town. It was deserted at this point of day as Ravenna had earlier predicted. Most of the people were out working. They could easily spot the only brickyard in town at the edge of the town, sitting by a cliff. The smoke bellowed over the town, clouding the town in darkness in blazing daylight. Soot lay on the ground like snow on a winter morning. The horses left prints all the way up to the small and shabby inn at the centre of the barren town. The three of them stepped in and woke the plump innkeeper sleeping at her desk.

“Who’s there!?” she was startled. Her gaze clearly indicated the height of her confusion. “Umm, what do you need?”

“We need two rooms for the night” said Ravenna. “We won’t be staying for any longer right?” she asked Mirriam to which she nodded.

“We have two rooms. Just the two. Please don’t mind the quality of your stay, we don’t often get people here. The ones we do are just regular merchants. They know what they are getting so we’ve never had to improve” she was slightly intimidated by their appearance. She led them to their rooms. The wooden walls were rotting with algae and a strange scent clogged the room. Edward thought the furniture was almost a century old as he examined them.

“Looks like this will do. It’s not like we have many options but at least it’s not dusty like the rest of the place. Fetch our bags and tie up the horses” ordered Ravenna. Mirriam wasn’t pleased with the place but Ravenna had already made the call and she didn’t dare to pester her about it. Edward didn’t seem to mind. He wanted to see how life would be when you live in such poverty.

The innkeeper carried all the bags inside. Ravenna dressed down to relax. “Where’s the bath?” she asked the innkeeper.

“Right this way” she lead her to the back of the structure. “We only have cold well water right now. I’ll heat up some water if you want. It won’t take long” she was a bit embarrassed about the services of her inn.

“Who wants to bathe in warm water in the middle of the desert? I’m good. Go ask the princess. She must have never bathed in anything but warm water in a large tub” said Ravenna playfully. It stung Edward because it was also true. Vereen was strangely cool throughout the year and they had never bathed in cold water.

“Princess!?” exclaimed the innkeeper.

“Must be. I’m not sure either” said Ravenna, trying to toy with her. The innkeeper bolted past Edward and ran into the room looking really nervous. He could hear the woman repeatedly apologising for the state of the inn and in turn hear his mom trying her best to clear the misunderstanding. He wanted to go in but he wanted the innkeeper to leave first. For a moment, the conversation stopped and he was about to step in. Before he could open the door, he heard his mother ask the innkeeper “I’m looking for a man here. He goes by the name Tyler Gullet. Where can I find him?”

“You’re looking for Ty? I’m not sure if it’s strange or wonderful.” She sounded surprised.

“Why is that so?” asked Mirriam.

“Our Ty has been here for thirteen years and none of us know anything about his past. Where he comes from, who he knows or why he moved here. A locked chest ever since we’ve known him. We’ve tried to get him to open up but nothing good has come of it. But what a darling he is. Works the hardest, helps anyone out without thinking twice and never speaks ill of anyone. He doesn’t speak much in the first place. I don’t think he’s the shy type but he’s all dark and mysterious. Always brooding. Wonder what kind of life he had before he got here” she went on about him. “He a friend of yours?”

“A friend of a friend. He told us we’d find him here. I had a few questions for him.” said Mirriam. She wondered if he was the same person Randall had mentioned.

“Oh, that’s wonderful. A friendly face might cheer him up. He’s working in the brickyard. It’s the only one in the town. I’ll take you there” she was excited.

“No, that’s fine. I saw the place when we came here. I’d like to rest up a bit before I go there” said Mirriam, trying to avoid company.

“Very well, your highness” said the innkeeper with a bow as she walked out of the room, leaving Mirriam flustered. She didn’t notice Edward standing outside. He had listened to the entire conversation. After waiting for a few seconds, he walked in.

“Ah, Ed. Why don’t you change and lie down for a while. I’m going to the market to see if there’s anything we can buy. We could use some extra supplies” said Ravenna while rummaging through her bag. Edward wondered why she was lying. Clearly, she was going to meet this Tyler person. He knew that they were here to meet someone so why hide the fact.

“I’ll join you too” he said.

“NO” said Mirriam in a voice too loud which surprised them both. “No, you need to rest. I can take care of this. You also need to stay and watch our supplies. Who knows what kind of people it is that we’re dealing with here.”

It was clear to Edward that she wouldn’t let him accompany her. Instead he had something else in mind. “Alright. I’ll lie down. But don’t presume everyone to be thieves mother. It’s unfair. The innkeeper seems like a nice woman.”

“You’re right dear, but I have reasons of my own to have such presumptions. I’ve known a few eccentric thieves. You can never tell from their personality” she said with a smile. Edward was totally thrown off by that. He wondered what she meant by that. He noticed she took her coin purse but she also put something inside her cloak. It was too fast to see but it was something small. He lay down on the bed and watched as she left the room.

The weak flooring of the inn creaked as Mirriam walked out of the inn. The end of this annoying creaking was Edward’s signal to begin trailing his mother. If he wasn’t getting answers the straight way, he was willing to peep in on her secret adventures. The path to the brickyard was quite straightforward and wide open which made it really difficult for him to stealthily follow her. Luckily, there weren’t people around to notice him creeping up on a lady and the noise from the brickyard masked the voice of his footsteps.

The brickyard was much smaller than what he had expected. There was no fencing around the building. The temperature kept getting hotter as he got closer. There was a large doorway at the entrance. He stopped right outside, knowing that it was as far as he could go. Luckily for him, his mother didn’t venture too deep inside either. He peeked inside and the most notable feature about the place was the sweltering furnace inside the building. Most of the workers were bustling around it. Closer to the entrance, stood Mirriam, looking around for Tyler or someone to lead her to him. She walked up to a man scouring inside a large toolbox.

“Umm, excuse me. Is Tyler around?” she asked him nonchalantly.

“Hmm, you’re looking for Tyler? And who might you be miss?” asked the man, pulling his head out of the ridiculously large box.

“An old friend of his told me that I could find him here” she said nervously.

“It’s been 13 years since he started working here in this yard. Haven’t seen an outsider trying to find him. I’m not surprised it’s a pretty woman like you.” He sniggered. “HEY TYLER!! THERE’S A WOMAN HERE LOOKING FOR YOU. AN OUTSIDER NO LESS.” He shouted. It took a few seconds for a reply to reach back.

“I’ll be right there” his shout reached back through the noisy factory. Mirriam awkwardly waited with the man till a shadowy figure came walking through the hall. Edward could hardly see him even when he reached all the way up to Mirriam.

“Hey Tyler, we’ve all been waiting for the day a pretty little thing like this popped into town, looking for you” he chuckled. “Old flame of yours?”

“Didn’t Pam ask you to get her a shovel Dreyfus? Two more minutes and she’ll use you as one” said the other other man. The one who went by the name Tyler.

“Oh, yeah. Right. Ah, there it is.” He drew a shovel from the toolbox and ran inside the building. They both waited for him to be out of range to speak.

“How do you know my name? Who are you?” he asked her in a very intimidating manner

“Randall sent me here” she said immediately.

“Randall? How does he know I live here? Since when? How does he know my name?” To Edward it looked like this Tyler had more questions than he himself did. “Heh, I should know better. Of course he knows. To think that I went through all this trouble and yet he…” he stopped short. “Why are you here?” he asked Mirriam.

“Can we go outside?” asked Mirriam.

“I was about to suggest that myself. Can’t have you spoil what I’ve built all these years.” said Tyler.

Edward dashed away to the nearest corner when he saw the two figures approaching. Tyler led Mirriam out of the building as they walked to the edge of the cliff the structure was mounted upon. There stood a sad, wrinkled tree which looked almost as dead as the zombies Edward saw yesterday beneath which stood his mother with this new stranger. Edward moved in closer and to his luck, he had several mounds of bricks as cover to hide behind. Obstacle by obstacle, he stealthily made his way closer. As a boy of the forest, he had developed quite the soft feet after spending years, covertly following animals. Even on the crunchy leaf-ridden grounds of the forests, he had learnt how to move swiftly without making any noise. This plain, rocky ground was child’s play.

There was still opportunity to move in closer but he felt like he had already reached the danger zone. The hunter-like instincts he had developed over the years were now stopping him from going any further. He peered through the brick mound behind which he now found his cover and the atmosphere was silent enough for him to hear everything even though he was beside a busy brickyard.

He noticed that in the time he carefully moved in, both of them still hadn’t started talking. Mirriam was looking down at her feet, thinking of where to start. She was taken back by Tyler’s last statement. Tyler however was looking straight at her, expecting her to state her business with him. Now that it was clear and bright, Edward got a good look at his face. A tall, well-built man with beautiful blue eyes and messy black hair just like his own which ran all the way down to his shoulders. He looked as old as Mirriam and his facial features were well endowed. He had a lush unkempt beard and there was a very noticeable scar on his right ear. Even though he had such a strong physical presence, Edward felt as if the man was empty. There was something dark and wrong about this man. He looked like a cog in the machine who was just trying to get through another day without dying. That would be true for most people, but Tyler didn’t look like a person with any purpose in life.

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“What did you mean by what you said earlier?” Asked Mirriam, now breaking the silence.

“Why did Randall send you here? Why now of all times?” asked Tyler, totally deflecting her question.

“He told me to give you this without saying too much beforehand.” Edward saw Mirriam now draw the thing she hid in her cloak earlier and hand it to Tyler. It was a piece of paper, a fresh one. Tyler unfolded it and walked out of the shade of the lifeless tree to get a better look at it.

Tyler was now engrossed in the letter he held in his hands

 

Hey bud,

It’s been a while huh? I know you wanted to be left alone but you can’t expect me to sit back and watch you disappear right? Finding you was quite the chore. It took me seven years to track you down. I came here to this town to meet you but I backed off once I saw what you were doing. I figured it would be best if I gave you the space you needed. Maybe one day you would show up again. It’s been fourteen years now and you still haven’t. I guess you’ve decided to leave everything behind for real. I don’t really know what happened that day but I know that there’s more to the story than the rumours suggest. Remember that I’ll always be on your side.

I kept dropping by every year to check up on you, leaving you undisturbed but something has come up. If you’re reading this, then it means that something big came up or something happened to me. The woman who handed you this is from a place lost in time. I know that it’ll be hard to swallow, but she’s the mother of a prospect. Yes, her son is a soul keeper.

Even after finishing the page, Tyler just paused for a few seconds. He then flipped the sheet around.

I couldn’t believe it when I first stumbled across him. Don’t worry, I’m not mistaken. I put a lot of thought into this. He really is a prospect. A fourteen year old kid. I thought I could restore everything, thought I could save the world. I didn’t know how but I knew that I had to get him out of the hole they were hiding in. They’re packing their stuff as I write this. I know I’ll most likely be running into some complications which is why I’m taking this precaution now. Now that this letter has reached you, they’re just two lost souls in a cruel world. You know very well that if the prospect is not realised by the day of his sixteenth birthday, he is going to die. I wanna help him brother, I want to help them both. But now, I want you to do it. I didn’t want to disturb your exile but I have no other options now. There’s no one else I can trust this with and there’s no one else who knows how to help them. Please, do this for me, my trusted friend. Know, that I have no other cards left because I wouldn’t have chosen you otherwise. I don’t know if you’ll ever see me again. I may be rotting in a cell or a coffin. Consider this my final wish.

Your old friend

Randall

 

Tyler had an unchanging expression on his face as he read the whole letter. He calmly folded it back and threw it down the cliff, completely startling both Edward and Mirriam. “Please, leave me alone” he said as he began walking back to the brickyard.

The shocked and scared Mirriam desperately ran after and grabbed his hand. “Please. He said you’d help us. We don’t know where to go or what to do” she begged.

“He was wrong. You’re on your own. Leave this town by nightfall and go back home. I don’t want the people here to ask too many questions. I’m sorry but I can’t help you.” He shrugged off Mirriam’s grip and began walking back inside. However, Mirriam was not having it. She ran back up to him and grabbed his shirt. “He knew you’d turn us down. That’s why he asked me to give you this.” She pulled another piece of paper out of her cloak, this one much smaller than the last one and thrust it into his hand. He pushed her back in annoyance and threw the paper on the floor without reading it. Mirriam still picked it up and ran after him.

The sight made Edward go red in fury. How could that man treat his mother this way and why was she still running after him. What was the reason for this absurd desperation? Mirriam, thrust it into Tyler’s hand once again. “Just read it. That’s it. I’m not asking for too much” she said. Tyler noticed that she was inches away from breaking down. “Ah, what a pain” he said and opened the small chit.

It only took him a few seconds to read and he had the same unchanging expression on his face but Edward noticed something different. Tyler froze where he stood. He wasn’t even blinking. A hard wind blew the piece of paper out of his hands and he still stood there, unshaken with his hands reaching outwards as if he were holding onto something invisible. Both Edward and Mirriam were surprised by this abrupt reaction. Tyler fell down on his knees and was now staring at his palms, his eyes wide open as if he just saw a ghost.

Mirriam put her hands on his shoulders. “Hey, are you alright?” she asked him with a lot of concern.

“Where’s the boy?” he asked her, with the same terrified expression. Mirriam looked like she had brightened up but she still had doubts about it given how dazzled this man was. Edward wondered what was written in that piece of paper that shocked him so much. He noticed that it was a few feet away from Tyler, now laying on the ground. He wanted to pick it up but that would mean getting exposed even though Tyler wanted to see him now. He did not want to be caught sneaking. But it looked like his wish to read the letter was being granted as a gust now blew it into his direction, right up to his feet. It was strange because the gust was in the opposite direction of the wind in general. Edward picked the letter up and read the small, poorly written message.

 

So, that wasn’t convincing enough eh?  Guess, you’ve actually given up everything. Man, I hate doing this but it looks like you leave me no choice.

Trisha has been looking for you. With her daughter.

Join these people and help them. I’ve arranged it so that you’ll catch the trail if you help them. They’re marked and I’m not around to mask their tracks anymore. You need to hurry.

 

Edward couldn’t make much of it but he did get some answers. His mother needed help with something and this man was the only one who could do it. Also, he looked like he has been hiding here for a long time and someone called Trisha is looking for him. An old friend maybe? There were even more questions in his mind but now there was more clarity than before. He crumpled the sheet in his palm as he saw Tyler, still on the ground, while Mirriam was trying to check up on him. A jolt of shock shot up in Edward’s spine as he felt a hand on his own shoulder.

“Someone’s being a creep” whispered this person.

 

Click here for the next chapter


Author’s Notes

Forgive me for I have used the word ‘salty’. Ha ha, it was too tempting. In the first paragraph, no less.

Does reading this feel strange though. Isn’t it a change of pace. That’s because from this chapter onward, I am using third-person-omniscient perspective for storytelling instead of the first person perspective that I used till now. That’s because this story is a multi character based story where we will see different characters in different places. Shuffling around would become difficult if I were to use first person POV. It’ll be hard to read. So I decided to use this style. Although, it is not as personal, it is still effective.

Here’s Tyler, our last new addition to the squad in the first arc. I imagine the first arc will be 4-5 volumes long. This guy has an incredible feature that you’ll soon understand when more characters interact with him. He has a rich story too.

The Soul Keeper and the Guardian, Chapter 10

A History Lesson

Click here for Chapter 1

 

I almost looked death in the eye barely a few hours ago. The sight froze me up and  had almost rendered me paralysed. Now, I had to look into another set of heavy eyes and just the thought of it was eating me up. Shame, regret and sorrow churned inside me as I took each step towards my mother who sat there beneath the two pine trees in the middle of the desert.

“Mom, you should eat something” I said as I held out a pack of banana cakes to her which I had just offered to Ravenna. I was too afraid to talk about my blunder and apologise for it just yet. She didn’t budge. Not one bit. She just stared down at her lap, probably imagining what could have been.

“Mommy, I’m really sorry about what I did back there. I almost got you killed because of my stupidity.” She immediately pulled me in for a tight hug and broke down after holding it back for hours through the journey. “I thought that I had lost you Ed. I thought I’d never see you again. You can’t imagine what that’s like.” She held on to me for a while as I sat with her. As soon as I noticed Ravenna looking at us, she turned her gaze away. “Don’t you ever do that again Ed. You are all I have.” Her voice was getting clearer now.

 

Once she was done opening up, she ate a few slices of the delicious banana cake she herself baked last week. “I told you to eat the fruits first. These would have stayed fresh for another week. The fruits will rot soon.”

“I still have room for fruits” said Ravenna who had now walked up to us. “Come on now, let’s get moving. We’ve rested enough.” The sun had almost completely risen now and luckily, it would be behind us throughout the rest of the journey given that we were headed west. We mounted our horses and started. Ravenna was leading as usual but she was just slowly trotting head.

“Didn’t you just say we’ve had enough rest. Why are we moving so slowly?” I asked her.

“I just realised that the town is only a few minutes away. The sun has risen and the people must be waking up just about now. Braumchester is a mining and brick making town. Most of the people will be off to work in about two hours. It’s best if we move in after that. Like I’ve said again and again, I’d like to avoid unnecessary attention. Towns this far in the west don’t get visitors often so it’s best if we don’t become today’s showcase.”

“Well, if it was just a few minutes away, we shouldn’t have stopped for a break back then. We would have reached the town before dawn and nobody would have noticed.” I said.

“Like I said, I didn’t realise it back then.”

“Some guide we have” I said jokingly to which I got a really scary glare in response.

 

“Wait, if Braumchester is a produce-heavy town, then don’t they have roads connected to other places. Why are we travelling through the sandy desert?” asked my mother curiously.

“Almost every settlement in our Kingdom has mines as the Silvervale is basically high mountainous ground. The business in Braumchester is small time. They only supply to nearby settlements in short packages. Their brick making industry isn’t that big either. But I suppose the place did have roads connected to other towns and cities once but looks like the desert has eaten them up. A lot has changed since ‘that’ day” she said looking ahead. It looked like she knew a lot about places in the kingdom and maybe the entire country too. But just as she finished speaking, there was this itch troubling me from inside. This curious itch.

“Hey, I’ve been quite passive these last few days but I’ve had enough! I can’t hold my curiosity back anymore. All these questions are just piling up inside my head and it’s too much to deal with” I said, clearly expressing my annoyance. I’ve been in the dark for a week. When my mother initially asked me to hold these questions back, I thought I could do it but ever since I’ve been on this journey, nothing has made any sense. I feel like a fallen leaf caught in the wind, just idly flying by with the breeze, having no control of myself. I don’t want to be caught in another situation like last night’s and that’s why I needed to know more.

 

“Heh? What are you talking about? What questions?” asked Ravenna. She was riding to my left and looked clueless but my mother on the other side looked dejected. It looked like she knew what questions I had and yet she couldn’t answer them. Still, I wasn’t willing to give up. If I wasn’t going to get answers from her, then I would get them from Ravenna.

“What do you mean by ‘that day’? The day since a lot has changed.” I asked her.

“The Waynecastle massacre of course. The whole country fell apart ever since that day.” she said as if it was very obvious which is why I absolutely wanted to know about it.

“What’s the Waynecastle massacre?” I asked her vehemently. Ravenna looked absolutely puzzled. The shock was very apparent, just from a look at her face. My mother’s expression was unchanged. Clearly it looked like she didn’t want me to have this conversation but it was too late.

“What’s the meaning of this? Hey, Mirriam! Is this boy retarded or something? What kind of education did he get?” she asked my mother in a manner of annoyance who in turn shook her head in response.

“Our town…. well…. the children were forbidden from learning any history. Or anything about the outside world for that matter. They were only trained in language and various skills.” she said. This surprised me as much as it did Ravenna. I knew that we were never taught anything about the outside world but I never wondered why. The thought had never even occurred to me or any of my friends back home either. Also why was it forbidden in the first place?

“Why would you do that? Why keep things from these poor little gnomes. They at least deserve to know the reason behind their plight.” She had the same question but why did she assume our town was like the rest of these we’ve been to? We were quite well off. Or are there places where everyone leads even better lives? Mr. Randall did tell us that we were living like royalty but I’ve read about more lavish lifestyles in the books I’ve read. I know they’re storybooks but even fantasy comes from some truth.

“I’m sorry, I can’t tell you that. We were never even allowed to set foot out of the town” my mother’s response was very clear-cut. Ravenna could see it too. She wouldn’t get anything more out of her.

“Fine. Keep it to yourself. But this kid’s not cooped up in your town anymore so I’m going to impart some wisdom to him. He needs to know things if you want him to survive out here. I’m not going to endanger his life by encouraging ignorance like you and your townspeople have” Ravenna was quite crude about it. I was quite happy that I was finally getting some answers but it hurt to see her be so condescending to my mother. I’m sure she and uncle Mikhail had a good reason to keep things from us.

“Alright kid. I’m gonna have to assume that you don’t know jack-shit about the outside world. I’ll imagine that you’re from a locked up town from some corner in the west and have never set foot outside. Now listen well and listen carefully. I don’t want to repeat after myself.” Yes! Story time! Finally! It felt like the times when my mother was about to read me a story before going to bed. I nodded, very diligently.

“Remember that geography lesson I gave you three days ago? This is Silvervale, ruled by King Horticus. Now, ignore him because he’s not all that very important to the story. The story revolves around the Rilancian Emperors. The most influential men in the country. As you know, they rule the biggest chunk of the country from the centre. Aversol is the mainland. Silvervale is the west, there’s Europa in the south and Valencia in the east. These are the four Kingdoms of Pangenna, the country we live in.” None of this was new information, but it was a good revision nevertheless.

Countries

 

“Not even the combined might of all the three minor kingdoms can take down the Rilancian Empire but it wasn’t always like this. About 50 years ago, Dover Rilance assumed the throne after the death of his father at the young age of 16. At this time, the entire country was home to hundreds of warring kingdoms. Dover’s father lost his life defending his dying kingdom which was being ambushed by a more powerful state. Dover was a smart and kind prince, much more mature than anyone his age should be. He understood that real peace in our country could only be achieved through unification by conquest. It was paradoxical but it was his strong belief that only war with the right purpose could end all wars. Half measures will only drive the nation into further despair.” Ravenna had quite the flair for dramatic storytelling. She was waving her hands around and changing the tone at the right moments. It was quite entertaining.

“Dover set out on a journey to acquire more wisdom and prepare for a massive invasion. He returned five years later and was subjected to intense hate by his own people for abandoning them in the time of need. Somehow, they had survived the war without their king. He used up all the remaining treasury to call together very capable individuals he met on his journey and also prepare for the real war. This brought in much more criticism but little did they know about what was to come. With his advanced intellect and help from the competent individuals he hired, he had amassed a kingdom, larger than any across the entire world. He knighted those people and they came to be known as the legendary Astral Knights. In twenty-five years, Aversol had grown from an insignificant and dying kingdom, to the most powerful, wealthy and influential empire the world had ever known. Inspired by his heroic conquest. Two kings on both ends of the country also found quite the success while Dover was expanding his own kingdom. Our King Horticus Bradstone formed a major Kingdom in the West and Porus Valick defeated his brother to be the ruler of a unified Valencia in the East. Dover could have easily conquered the entire country but he stopped short because his goal was achieved. The world finally knew peace. At the end of their conquest, when there were no more little kingdoms to conquer, these three mighty kings came together and declared a decree of peace which has officially lasted to this day. However, Emperor Dover died mysteriously two weeks after this declaration and then his son stepped into power.” That was a really long and intense history about our country. I didn’t know what it had to do with the Waynecastle massacre but it was too interesting to ignore. The tale of a legendary conqueror.

zzzz16

“Yes, twenty years ago his son took the throne. Gideon Rilance. The world was doomed the day he assumed the throne” she said. I could feel the hate in her voice. It was stronger than the hate she portrayed for Horticus Bradstone. I looked aside at my mother. It seemed like she knew the story up until this point but this new part seemed to have grabbed her interest. Maybe she didn’t know much from this point either given that she moved to Vereen around the same time.

“Why? What did he do?” I asked her curiously.

“Heh, the pitiful world you see around you…. It’s all his doing. He’s directly responsible for the suffering of every single being in the country. What I wouldn’t give to be able to go back in time and sever his head before he could do this to us. I think everyone around wishes they could.” Her hatred was really dark. I wanted to get back to the story but this sure was building the stakes up quite well. What could he have done?

 

“That man. He was mad. He had no respect for anyone. He didn’t have any ambitions either. He just liked sitting on his large, golden throne and see how much his power could achieve. He was the ruler of the largest empire in the world so a lot could be achieved with that much power. He executed anyone who even slightly opposed or disobeyed him, he destroyed towns that he didn’t like and brought chaos because it amused him. Everyone despised him but none could stand up to him. The world was at his mercy. He was the total opposite of his father, a mirror image.” It was hard to believe that such an evil person could actually exist.

“Do you know anything about soul keepers?” Ravenna asked me. I didn’t but the question seemed to startle my mother.

“No, never heard of them.” I told her plainly.

“I expected that response but it still surprises me that you are so uneducated. It’s a shame. Very well -”

“STOP” cried my mother.

“What’s wrong?” both me and Ravenna asked her

“He doesn’t need to know. Please. Not now.” begged my mother. I couldn’t fathom why this was so important to conceal. Who are these soul keepers?

“Sure he does. The more he knows, the better and I fail to see how this information could hurt him in anyway.” Ravenna was being very reasonable

“You don’t understand. You can’t” said my mother pleading even more desperately.

“No mother! I need to know. What if I endanger my life again for not knowing enough? What if I put you both in danger again? It’ll be your responsibility then. Maybe last night was your responsibility too.” I instantly regretted saying what I just did when I saw her shocked expression. It really hurt her but it was too late to take it back. I had no words and neither did she.

“Ahem. He’s right. It’s better if he knows stuff” said Ravenna, trying to break the painful silence. I turned to her to listen to the rest of the tale.

“Let me tell you about Soul Keepers then. Damn, this is going to be difficult. It’s like teaching science. I don’t know much about this stuff but here’s the gist of it.” I nodded. “The soul is the most fundamental element of nature. Everything you see around you is a product of the fabric of the soul. The three countries on this planet: Pangenna, Cambria and Rodrion have their own set of Soul Keepers, the guardians of the fabric of the soul. There are seven soul keepers, one for every element. These soul keepers along with their soul brother protect the fabric of the soul and ensure balance is maintained.”

“Soul brother?” I asked her.

“Yes, a Soul Keeper is actually two beings. A person and a dragon. They are both soul brothers for life.”

dragon_riders_by_thompson46-d4qd8ug

“Dragons!?” I shrieked. “Dragons are real!!?”

“Yes, very real. Each soul keeper has a soul brother appointed to them from birth. Humans and dragons have the closest affinity to the fabric of the soul which is whey they make the pair as soul brothers. The lives of soul brothers are linked from the moment of realisation. If one dies, so does their significant other. Every different soul keeper and their dragon are masters of their particular element. They have great power which lets them protect and conserve life as we know it. They’ve been around since the beginning of time and they’re the most important people in the world. They are worshipped, respected and loved because without them, everything would falter. Even though they’re near omnipotent,  they’re the kindest and wisest people you would ever come across. Everything they do is for the best interest of the world which is why nobody opposes them.” From the looks of it, Ravenna really admired these people. Even I was entranced by the description of these glorious people.

“Ooh, what are the elements?” I asked her in a squeaky voice.

“Wow, someone’s really excited. You’re really taking this off course too. Still, I’ll give you a treat. Consider this payment for that lovely chlorol. Well, the soul is the primary element. Then there are seven secondary elements which are more complex versions of the soul. They’re usually classified into three archetypes. Atmos has water, earth and air. Energos has fire and thunder. Lumos has light and shadow. These are the seven secondary elements that constitute the natural world. Every material thing, that is. Life is powered by soul itself” she said, poking at my chest but then sadness overtook her face. I sensed something sinister approaching.

prime20elements20chart
Ignore ice, lol

“Gideon didn’t like that peace decree. He never did. But declaring war as soon as he took the throne would throw the world into chaos even though the overwhelming strength of the his empire would be sufficient enough to overcome it. But he had an obstacle that not even his enormous army and legendary knights could overcome. The Soul Keepers. They being who they are, have direct relationships with the most important people in the country and that included the three kings: Dover, Horticus and Porus. Even after Dover’s death, they affiliated themselves with the Rilancian empire but they hated Gideon. They could never get along with that figure of chaos. During the declaration of peace, the soul keepers convened with the kings and swore to honour and protect the decree. When they found out that Gideon was planning to dishonour the agreement, they threatened to intervene and take him down if it came down to it. According to him, all opposition needed to be chastised. But executing soul keepers is no child’s play. They had to be executed in a different manner. Execution by assassination.” Ravenna paused. Just recollecting it seemed to move her. I could see it coming too. A tragic tale.

“It was 14 years ago. Under the emperor are different lords who govern each sector given to them. One of the Rilancian lords invited the soul keepers for a feast at his home. It was Hubert Wayne, a dear old friend of these legendary seven. On that moonless night, the soul keepers had a hearty meal among friends. Good time was had and warmth was shared. Nobody saw it coming. When they retired, assassins infiltrated the castle. The best killers in the world. You can’t fight what you can’t see. At once, they slayed them all. Everyone but the keeper of shadow. A split second error on the part of the assassins had alerted her enough to escape death. Devastated at the sight of her dead friends, she fought the assassins and fled. It is rumoured that she hid in Valencia for a few days till she found out the truth. Gideon Rilance and Hubert Wayne had plotted this together. Enraged at this betrayal, she abandoned Pangenna and took refuge with our eastern neighbours in Cambria. It’s said that she died there after a few years. The legacy of the soul keepers was destroyed and the emperor made sure that they could not pass it down to the next generation by destroying all the eggs. The worship of soul keepers was abolished and their temples were desecrated. They were labelled as the enemies of the empire. That was the end of the world as we knew it. The night of the Waynecastle massacre was the doomsday and we’re basically living in a post apocalyptic world. The balance of nature had tipped and the world started crumbling. To you it might seem like I’m exaggerating. Sure things don’t seem too bad today but I’ve seen what the world looked like before they were killed. In fourteen years, so much has changed. In a few more decades, everything will end. The decay gets worse and worse with time. Dying forests, displaced beasts and birds, numerous plagues, failing crops, lack of rain, violent oceans, scorching sun and everything bad you can imagine. Your generation might be the last to live a full life, however empty it may be.” There was more, I could feel it.

“What was that bit about passing on the legacy and eggs?” I asked her

“Soul keepers don’t live on for too long. The more they use their power, the sooner they die. The thing about soul keepers is that they’re chosen from birth. When a dragon feels that their death is soon coming, they lay an egg. At the same time, a child is born. A prospect. Once the prospect comes of age, that is at the age of fifteen, he or she is to spend a year with the egg. The more time they spend with the egg, the stronger the bond is with their soul brother. The stronger the bond, more is their power and longer their lifespan. The prospect is realised when the egg hatches on their sixteenth birthday and the cycle continues. Before the massacre, three of the dragons had already laid eggs but they were destroyed at the command of the emperor, ensuring that there would never be another soul keeper ever again.” It ached my heart. How could someone exterminate something so important? Something that protects the very world you live in.

“The emperor knew what he was doing. He cleverly injected doctrine after this incident. He stated that Hubert Wayne proposed the soul keepers for their support so that the Rilancian Empire could go to war and he did so behind the emperors back. The enraged soul keepers then cursed the land and removed its connection to the soul. A fight ensued in the castle and they all died except the soul keeper of shadow, who destroyed the remaining eggs before fleeing.”

“What nonsense! Who would believe it?” I cried

“Oh boy, even I find it shocking that most people in the mainland to this day believe the doctrine. Well, they don’t have it as bad as us in the west. We are the farthest from the forest of Jottivick which is why we’ve been suffering the most. The mainland and Valencia enjoy close proximity to the forest which is why their decay is much slower than ours. It’s bad out there, but not as much as this. People still live normal lives. They still have livelihoods.” She was clearly envious.

“What’s this forest?” I asked her

“You forgot already? I told you last time right? The Sacred forest of Jottivick. It is the only place in the country which is not under the rule of any king. It is governed by The Elders, a group of remarkable hermits. They have somehow preserved the fabric of soul in their region and have prevented it from corrupting. Valencia and the capital of Aversol are very close to the forest which is why they prosper to this day.” The envy was still there.

“Well, what has happened since then. Did he start a war? You did tell me about a cold war between Rilance and Bradstone.” I asked her

“Yes an no. There hasn’t been an all out war since the massacre. The economy and climate changed the entire country. Even the mad emperor had to focus his efforts on preservation of his kingdom instead of war. If he did go to war, everything you see would vanish in a couple of years. Nobody can afford a war now. Ten years ago, Lord Garius of the southernmost district broke off from the Rilancian Empire because of his friction with the Emperor. The emperor couldn’t dare attack him and win the territory back because Lord Garius annexed the trade network. He was the primary ambassador for trade with our southern neighbours in Rodrion. Rodrion is rich with resources and we had plenty of gold and articles of value. We can’t cultivate enough for ourselves so trading with Rodrion is the only way we survived. All trade with Rodrion is only done by Lord Garius and he in turn trades with both Bradstone and Rilance. Valencia is pretty much self -sufficient. Don’t mistake caution for forgiveness though. Europa is still the enemy of Rilancian Empire. Even they are at cold war. One wrong move and everything is over.” She continued..

“Horticus chickened out first and locked himself up in his capital. The fortification of the four great cities of Silvervale began and every other town and settlement was left on their own. The Rilancian empire has ever since been gnawing at us. They pillage our towns and attack our caravans. They have indirectly gained control over Silvervale territories by placing proxies like bandits or mercenaries in charge of certain towns. At the rate they’re going, they’ll take over all of Bradstone except the four great cities in five more years. Valencia has been safe from Rilance because they are separated by the sacred forest. It is forbidden to step inside the sacred forest without the permission of the elders and they are very selective.” It seemed like she had finished. I was glad too as there was only so much that I could take in one go. So much hate and violence. I didn’t know I was part of such a dark history and that very history was going to snuff the life out of us.

After a few moments of silence, I spoke up. “Thanks Ravenna. Thank you for telling me all this. I understand that I would have been happier and less tense without knowing all this but it is important that I am aware of the world I live in.” I turned to my mother. “Don’t worry mom, it’s not all that bad. The world is still going on isn’t it. There’s still hope.” I said with a smile but she didn’t seem to think that way. It looked like the tale had weighed her down.

“It’s about time kid. You should have known all along”

“Hey, what were those necromancers?” I suddenly asked her. I almost forgot about that.

“Oh, that’s a whole another story. Good thing its relevant. Necromancers are mages. Mages that awaken the dead. Wait, let me go back a bit” she took a deep breath and continued. “Over a thousand years ago, a generation of soul keepers shared the knowledge of elemental manipulation with regular people for some reason. Those who could control said elements were called mages. Most mages can only learn to control only one element even after a lifetime dedicated to study and practice. However, a few generations ago a faction of mages learned how to awaken the dead. This was against the principles of the soul. It was through the manipulation of an element which is the primary counterpart of the soul like an opposite. The enraged soul keepers thus banned all ‘magic’ and have enforced it ever since. Clearly, the art has survived discreetly through the years and now when there were no soul keepers in the way, the mages re-emerged. Mages are a normal part of society today. You can see them around often. However most of them are quite weak and can only pull off parlour tricks like lighting a small fire or sloshing some water around. The one you saw last night was a very powerful one. He was a battle mage. Battle mages are quite intelligent, powerful and experienced. He was a water mage, more specifically an ice mage who also has some experience with the manipulation of fire. Most people won’t see such powerful mages ever in their lifetime unless they’re on the battlefield.” Somehow it sounded like Ravenna didn’t have the same sense of admiration for mages like I did.

“Necromancers are bad news. Not only do they corrupt the fabric of the soul even further, they also do raids like the one you saw last night. Uncontrolled settlements like Pompadoon are easy targets for parties of necromancers. They attack these people who no one cares about and use them as experiments for their study. They also defile graves. Nobody likes necromancers. One may not be much of a problem but a party is something you need to watch out for. They’re quite formidable on the battlefield, were there is no shortage of the dead. But then again, most necromancers can’t control more than two zombies at the same time. The most powerful one I’ve ever seen could control four of them at once. He was quite hard to slay” she said with a proud smile. “Fighting zombies isn’t easy. They move much faster than regular people and they do so in bizarre ways. Their power output is also much higher because they feel no pain and they do not have a mind of their own. Their bodies are expendable so they don’t have mental limiters like us that prevents us from using our full muscle power to conserve our body. I just hate mages. They’re too much for me to handle.” Her description was enough to make me loathe necromancers. No good man would do something like that.

“And hey, always stay away from mages. I know that old battle mage helped you out but that’s a rarity. Mages foremost encourage the study of magic. Any other mage wouldn’t have cared in that situation. Mages are bad news.” She said very instructively.

“Got it” I said. But I still had this feeling that not all mages are bad. Necromancers sure were, but maybe not the other types. “Wizards are bad news” I repeated to affirm to her command.

“Mages, not wizards. Wizards are different” she corrected me.

“Wait, what?” I asked her. “There’s another class of magic users?”

“Mages manipulate elements, while wizards alter reality”

“How do they do that?” I asked her

“I don’t know. Nobody knows. I’m not sure if there are any of them around. History speaks of a few. If anything, I think they manipulate the soul in its primary form rather than the secondary form like the mages do.”

“Yeah..” I said, thinking about the tales I read in my books. I had learnt a lot today. There was still a lot I had to process. Some of this stuff would need revision but I think I got most of it through my head. I still had questions, mostly from my mother. Why were we going to Braumchester? Who are we meeting? Who is Mr. Smith? Why did we leave our home? Why were we hiding our true identities? There were too many questions but today was not the day. I had learnt what I needed. I’ll save them for another day. I hadn’t heard a peep from her since Ravenna started telling me everything. It really bothered me but the only thing I could do was give her space and not ask her any more questions.

Before we knew it, two hours had passed and we were now looking at Braumchester from a distance. It looked like Ravenna had earlier described. A remote and unkempt slum. A very busy one though. We slowly made our way towards the place.

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Author’s Notes

Yay! The prologue has ended. This will mark the end of the first volume of the story. Based on my current estimate, the story might have a total of 15 volumes of similar length but it may change as the story progresses.

Lol, this was like a Q&A episode

This was a huge chapter, wasn’t it? But it was my favourite so far because it had so much rich and juicy content. I enjoyed telling the tale of the world and explaining the main aspects that will influence the story and yes…. you read that right…..

DRAGONS!!! Hell yeah! Who doesn’t love dragons? It’s a shame they’re all dead though (evil laughter). Anyways, keep your eye open. The story has only started. Who knows what’s to come?

We’re finally in Braumchester, the journey here was five chapters long but a lot more happened in these five than the ones before. Things will only keep getting better with time.

I’d like to talk about a lot of things from this chapter but the problem with that is that I’d never stop. Let’s leave that for the comments. Ask me anything.