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Authors: Tim Mathias

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BOOK: What Was Forgotten
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This was not right. He had banished all the spirits! He knew he had…

The shadow walked to the chest, yet somehow Osmun could tell it was disinterested.

There was a low rumble, steady and jarring, with an unnatural rhythm. It was speaking… There were many tones, but only one voice, impossible to discern, yet somehow Osmun knew the spirit had intention… intelligence… something which should not be possible. He felt his heart pounding in his chest. He could feel his body trying to run, yet it was held perfectly in place.

At once, he was looking up at the ceiling, gasping for air.

“Are you alright?” Egus asked. Osmun coughed and tried to sit up. There was pain, or perhaps only the memory of pain, running through his body.

“You did well,” Andrican said, slowly standing to his feet. “However, I did not realize it would take so much out of you.”

Osmun looked at them, confused by their nonchalance. Had they not seen what he had? Had they not heard it or felt it?

“Did you hear a voice?” he asked.

Egus laughed. “There are always voices, Osmun.”

“There was one voice that remained after the rift was closed. It spoke to me.”

The two clerics exchanged glances. Andrican extended his hand to help Osmun off the floor. “You seem to have pushed yourself quite hard,” he said dismissively.

“Did you not see it? It walked around us…” Osmun pointed and traced the path he had seen it take. “It circled us, and then it spoke.”

“What did it say?” Egus asked.

“Why are you asking?” Andrican said to the other cleric, glancing quickly at Osmun. “There was nothing. We would have heard something.”

“What did it say?” Egus repeated, ignoring Andrican’s objections.

“I don’t know,” Osmun said as he began to pace. “I couldn’t understand.”

“Then how could you be certain you heard anything?” Andrican asked.

“I am certain. It looked at me and spoke!”

“It had eyes?” Andrican folded his arms.

“It…no, I could tell. It didn’t, but…” Osmun could feel his words failing him as he protested.

The clerics looked at each other but said nothing. They did not need to speak for Osmun to hear their doubt in the silence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

 

 

 

A great cheer went up from dozens of soldiers who watched as the great golden monolith was finally maneuvered into place onto the carriage that had been built especially for it out of necessity. Three days ago it had been placed on a standard supply wagon, and it was only a few minutes before it splintered and broke under the monolith’s incredible weight. The men had laughed, and when the wind blew away part of the gray canvas that covered it, they went silent immediately as the early morning sun glinted off of the gold. Even Zayd had been awestruck, and noticed in the flash of a moment when the canvas rippled away, a silver disc in the center which had been bare when he had last seen it. It was breathtaking enough underground in the darkness, but even partially bare and gleaming in the sun was enough to draw every eye.

It was clear, then, what effect the monolith had on those who saw it; after the initial stupor at the undeniable beauty, it was greed that gripped every man. Who could help but imagine the life they would have if they could claim only a fraction of the substance? It was unavoidable. All men yearn for such impossibilities. Zayd could not even deny that he had felt it, though Areagus’ voice shouting orders, stirring him from his thoughts reminded him of his duty: to the Empire, mind and body.

Together, the Eighth and Ninth Regiments amounted to two hundred men; seventy-five infantry and twenty-five cavalry per regiment. At General Vaetus’ command, Zayd had enlisted two of his Tauthri lieutenants, Daruthin Cossorin and Tascell Wick, who each selected an additional five Tauthri to join the convoy on the journey back to Lycernum. Along with the supply hands, the group numbered about two hundred and fifty; large enough to dissuade any potential attackers, but small enough to likely go unnoticed by a larger marauding force. They would be traveling back through territory they had conquered in recent months, so Zayd thought it unlikely they would be assailed on their journey; however, he knew as well as anyone how war can foster instability and vicious opportunism. The only real marauding force that was a threat, at least that they knew of, was Roh Dun’s Shields, the now near-infamous Dramandi Regiment that seemed able to assail the Ryferian army in brutal, lightning-fast attacks before vanishing back into the wilderness.

The infantry of the two regiments bracketed the carriage, with the Eighth in the lead and the Ninth following. The cavalry was similarly dispersed; the mounted knights of the Eighth marched at the head of the group. Areagus favoured the Eighth Regiment more highly than the Ninth since he had formerly been a member of the Eighth before being promoted to his present rank. Willar Praene, leading the knights of the Ninth, had been in a foul mood for days after he had found out that he would be with the rearguard – a place of low esteem, in his mind. Many had heard the heated words that Praene levelled at Areagus, but when the Commander suggested the Ninth could stay in Yasri to burn the Dramandi dead, Praene grudgingly relented.

Zayd’s own contingent of Tauthri was to march between the Eighth’s infantry and cavalry. They had a carriage of their own for men to sleep in shifts during the day, for their active duty only came at night.

The sound of armoured footsteps took Zayd’s focus from the laden carriage. Coming through a large breach in the city walls strode another group of knights. Zayd raised his hand to salute until he saw the crest of the Silver Sun on the shoulder of the lead knight, who walked straight towards him. Though the knight carried his helm under his arm, it still took Zayd a moment to recognize Barrett Stern. He had not seen him for several merciful weeks, and now a thick black beard covered him from his jaw to his cheekbones. Barrett strode toward Zayd as if he intended to walk through him, but stopped less than an arm’s length away. The knight glared at Zayd’s partially raised hand.

“Is that a proper salute?” Barrett shouted, even though he was only inches away from Zayd.

“No, Exalt Stern,” Zayd replied. He saluted and expected Barrett to walk on, but he stood firm and simply stared at him. Zayd held the salute for what felt like a long while. The soldiers around the carriage had hushed as they took notice of the confrontation. The other Silver Sun knights behind Barrett, Alain Tullus and Savas Cole, stood silently with unreadable expressions.

Stern’s scowl changed briefly into a grin, but quickly gave way as if the scowl was his natural state. “We’re going to be sharing this journey,
Tauthri
.” He spat the last word. Zayd did not flinch, which annoyed the knight. “If I feel your black eyes on me during this march, I’m going to pull them from your head.” Stern shoved Zayd out of his way, and the other knights followed close behind him. Barrett’s Third Company of Silver Sun knights had taken severe casualties during the heaviest fighting of the campaign. Zayd had heard that only a handful of that unit had survived the final push leading up to the end of the siege. It seemed that those who had survived were being sent back to Lycernum early as a reprieve of sorts, though tranquility ill-suited Barrett. Zayd had seen him in the midst of battle. Reprieve was not for that kind of man.

“Did you scare him off, captain?”

Zayd turned to see Tascell Wick and his younger brother, Gavras, who was smiling at his irreverent question.

“Don’t joke, little brother,” Tascell said. “At least not when the barbarian is so close he might hear you. He may cut you down for your belligerence, and he’d probably get another commendation for it.” Tascell gave the slightest hint of a grin. Of all the Tauthri, he was the fiercest. He was tall for their kind, too, as tall as the average Trueborn. He kept his head bare as a rank and file soldier might, only because he refused to cover his clan’s sigil that was tattooed on the back of his head. His height and muscular frame was enough to distinguish him from the rest of the Tauthri.

“Do you think the Commander will allow me to have my isaithea?” Gavras asked, as his fingers tapped restlessly against his legs. It was rare that the Tauthri were allowed to indulge in their own culture, which meant the playing of their traditional war songs was typically forbidden. Zayd was uncertain how many of the Tauthri in Vaetus’ army were musicians, but he knew that Vaetus kept Gavras’ isaithea locked away somewhere. The instrument had five strings stretched over a narrow board that the player laid across his lap. A circular hollow of thin wood was attached under the centre of the board so the sound could resonate. Gavras, who was among the youngest of the Tauthri, was a particularly talented player and was almost always tapping his fingers on something, playing a tune in his mind.

“He might,” Zayd said. “None could dispute that it’s been earned. I’ll ask once he isn’t preoccupied with readying the regiments for the march.”

Gavras smiled and nodded eagerly, his fingers tapping faster. “Thank you, captain. Much longer without it and I’ll forget how to play.”

“Doubtful,” Tascell said.

“It shouldn’t be much longer until we leave,” Zayd said to Tascell. “Make sure the others are prepared.”

Tascell nodded. “At once.” He turned to Gavras. “Come, little brother. Let’s ready ourselves to quit this place.”

“I’ve been ready for weeks,” Gavras said.

 

 

 

They were on the march an hour after sunrise, heading northward on an old road they had managed to discern on the near-indecipherable Dramandi maps. Zayd was happy to leave Yasri behind him. In some ways, the past two weeks had been worse than the siege. It had started with the mass executions, which only the En Kazyr giants seemed to enjoy. As always, there came a point where the prisoners, horrified at the methodical slaughter, began to plead for any other sort of fate. That point came far later with the Dramandi, who remained so silent that Zayd thought that every last soul would meet their death without uttering a sound.

Yet they did relent, and even Zayd felt relief for them. General Vaetus, though, commanded the executioners to continue; the Dramandi were not just another conquered people, after all. They had started the war, and so their punishment must be appropriate. They had burned the dead, cleansing with fire the darkness from the bodies of their enemy. The smoke from the pyres had lasted for days.

They would have been spared if they relented earlier. Thousands now dead could have lived, simply by renouncing their false beliefs and pledging their mind and body to the Beacon. Many would have lived out the rest of their days as slaves, but Zayd knew it was better to be a slave for the Empire than to be a free man living in the dark.

He looked over his shoulder at the city and a surreal feeling took hold of him as he realized he might be one of the last living creatures to see the city standing. When the war ended, or perhaps sooner, the city would be razed until the ashes were carried off in the wind. The only memories would be those hidden away by the the historians, who even now were recording every conceivable fact about the Dramandi, and when they deemed their task complete, the information would be locked away in the Compendium. To the rest of the world, the Dramandi were a shadow that grew fainter by the day, and one day it would be gone.

He whispered a prayer to himself as the city slowly drifted out of sight, and the roadway began to twist through a heavy forest of tall pines. The trees seemed to absorb almost all of the sound around them save for the occasional call of one bird to another. There was only that, the wind, and the footsteps of the column. Near the front, Zayd looked over his shoulder and saw the outline of the giant. Vaetus had sent Talazz with them, and the executioner stood beside the laden carriage, holding his sword by the hilt with the flat of the blade resting on his shoulder. Walking next to Zayd, Daruthin Cossorin noticed the giant as well.

“Did you know the general would be sending him, too?” Daruthin asked.

“I don’t think anyone did until this morning.”

Daruthin took a step closer to Zayd and spoke quieter. “Why did he send him? Does he think we’re going to be attacked?”

“I’m sure the general has his reasons.” Zayd looked sidelong at his lieutenant. “And we are not in a position to doubt him, are we?”

“No, sir.” Daruthin glanced back at the giant before fixing his eyes on the road ahead. He ran his hand over the row of black hair than ran from his forehead to the base of his skull. Tauthri warriors did not have a concept of rank until the conquest. Any Tauthri of esteem distinguished themselves in some way, and as ancestral tattoos were no longer allowed, those of higher rank grew their hair longer while those of low rank kept their heads bare. Tascell ignored this Ryferian concept and kept his head shaved clean. “Do you think word of what we’re transporting has spread?” Daruthin asked.

“It’s possible.”

“Maybe the general sent Talazz to frighten off any roaming bandits. Or other Dramandi.”

“One man would not make that much of a difference, no matter his size,” Zayd said. “If there were thieves or bandits ready to test our two Regiments in order to relieve us of our charge, I doubt having one En Kazyr in our ranks would dissuade them.”

BOOK: What Was Forgotten
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