Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Fantasy  ➡  General  ➡  Dark

Ghosts of Kiranon

Edward K. Ryan

GHOSTS OF KIRANON

EDWARD K. RYAN

Ghost of Kiranon

Copyright © 2015 Edward K. Ryan

www.edwardkryan.com

Cover design © 2014 Slate Run Publishing, LLC.

Cover Art : Matthew Gisbon

Published by Slate Run Publishing LLC.

www.slaterunpub.com

All rights reserved. Nothing herein may be reproduced in any way without written permission from the author. All events and characters in this work are purely fictional. Any resemblance to actual people and events is coincidental and unintentional.

GHOSTS OF KIRANON

“Old fool.”

Devoc would have taken offense at such a statement once. But he was no young man now. He had not been for decades. And foolishness? What else could be call trudging up a mountainside in this heat? Alone. Without enough water. And blind.

No, there was no point in taking offense. It was only two words and two true ones at that.

And he had spoken them at any rate.

He lifted his milky eyes east, feeling the beat of the morning sun on his weathered cheeks. The wind was sweet with smells of summer, and the wildflowers were so tall they kissed the tips of his fingers as he walked. Fifty years? Had it been so long since he had last seen the sun, a flower or even the ground beneath his feet? It had he supposed, but what was the use of counting the years when you were so old that time no longer mattered? It only served to waste what little remained.

And Devoc had precious little.

He was not about to fall over dead – not today at least, though at his age he could never be sure. His urgency related to something of a different sort. Unwitting victims of the herbs and powder the old man slipped into their food, the six men who served as his escort, six warriors of his tribe, the Wydant, slept beside the fire of their camp. They might sleep an entire day, he mused. Even that might not be enough. They would stop him if given the chance. His safety was their primary duty and, though they served him, they would keep him safe from himself if needed.

“I probably do,” the old man muttered into the wind.

A reckless, stupid thing this was. He would have warned a young man against it, and that man would at least have had his sight. However, something called Devoc. He was one of the Suledane, the priests of his people. The call of the spirits that permeated the world was nothing new to him. He felt their presence everywhere, sensed their joy and anger. At times, they spoke to him.

Those conversations were as of old friends sharing the events of the day, calm and easy. But not of late. For weeks, the spirits had not simply spoken to him. They were haunting him. It began in his dreams. Now he was having those dreams while he was awake. All the visions, all the urgings that he felt brought him back to this place.

He turned his sightless eyes to the huge mountain that loomed over the valley to the north. Blind as he was, he knew with certainty where he was and what surrounded him. The mountain, Kiranon, was the most sacred place to his people. It was where the spirits of the world, of his ancestors, were born and where they went to die. In his youth, he climbed the mountain to be with those spirits. When he could see, he had stood at the summit and looked down on all the lands of the Avarun people, the mountains and valleys that the many tribes called home.

Most importantly to the moment at hand, Devoc had climbed that mountain a few months past for what he thought would be the last time.

Lowlanders, men from the world south of the Tijian Mountains fouled Kiranon and disturbed the spirits over a year ago. A second group came after them, in the spring, and brought with them a girl sent by the spirits to reclaim the mountain. Through spectacular, glorious power, she had. The evil forces of the lowlanders and the magic they had used to disturb the spirits was destroyed and sacred Kiranon restored to a place of peace.

Or so he once thought.

The spirits were restless still. They cried out to him, summoned him back. Why he did not know. It made no sense. Even if there was something one of the Suledane could do to aid them, it was not he who should be called. He was old and blind, weak and ill-suited to the task of climbing the mountain. But that was what they demanded. He was to come right to the top. And he was to come alone.

At first, fear kept him away. A mistake, he told himself, was all it was. There was a problem, perhaps, and a member of the Suledane might be needed to solve it, but not he. Not a blind old man. Days passed and the fear passed with them. With the fear gone, he began to feel something else. The spirits still haunted him. But now they fortified him as well, strengthened him in ways another might not notice from without. He had more energy and strength. His memory sharpened, especially his memories of Kiranon and his many visits to it. He knew without question why this was happening. He was not only being summoned, but the spirits were preparing him for the journey. They made him strong that he might complete this task for them.

And so, he climbed.

It was not the shuffling, stuttering step of a blind old fool that carried him along the rock-strewn paths and through the narrow cuts. He teetered on the edge of none of the many gorges that flanked the old trails. When the sharp slopes turned to loose stone and fine earth, his footing was steady and sure. The gnarled old hands that gripped the rocky surface of the mountainside held tight as he pulled with arms as strong as a man one-third his age.

It was more than an unearthly infusion of strength, speed and stamina that guided him. The spirits gave him something more. They gave him sight. He did not understand it at first, for it was not the sight he remembered – the ordinary kind any man possesses when he opens his eyes. This was something created by the spirits. It was an affinity with the world around him, a bond of sorts. He felt the pulsing power of the spirits in the earth, heard their musical whisper on the wind. He could taste the sharp anger on the dust in the air. The scent of their urgency filled his nostrils. The entire elemental world around him invaded his remaining senses, providing direction and distance and warning of obstacles. He was not sure how he knew what each variation in taste, touch sound and smell meant, but he opened himself to the guidance of the spirits and gave himself over to their care.

Time slipped by unnoticed and with it went the treacherous path up the sacred mountain. Of the many trails that led from the valley to the summit, his connection with the spirits took him up one of the steepest and most dangerous. They must have sensed his limited lead on the warriors who would come looking for him, because he made the climb faster than even a strong young man might. When the bulk of the climb was through, he stood on an old mining road, huge, jagged rock formations rising up around him. He was high enough now that even summer was left behind. The air bit at him with icy fangs, the wind cutting through his clothes to numb his skin. He barely felt the discomfort. He had the vigor and fire of a young man now and his blood pumped strong and hot. He was not even winded from the climb. Weeks ago when the lowlanders came, his men carried him most of the way up, and that was enough to exhaust him.

But today, he told himself with a swell of pride, I am stronger than any other.

He allowed himself only a moment to reflect before he was moving again. He followed the old path west where it began to climb once more, weaving through the rocks that littered the trail. A few minutes of walking brought him to the old bridge that they hastily repaired in the spring to cross the gorge here. The ropes still held fast and he made his way to the other side without hesitation or fear of falling. The spirits of the mountain – his gods – protected him now. For what purpose he did not yet understand, but he knew it without question. He would not fall – could not. The eyes that guided him were those of beings beyond this world.

A short distance along a narrow trail brought him to the worn, sloping path that led into the remnants of the old settlement the lowlanders called Sentry. Here, decades past, the lowlanders had come and dug great holes, defiling the sacred home of the spirits and disturbing their rest. When the Avarun people drove them out, Devoc assumed it would be forever. But last autumn, those with foul magic did battle here and spilled blood on the holy mountain. When they were gone, the group of men in the spring spilled even more in their fight to drive out the evil magic that befouled it. The dead rose to fight the living and the spirits were further enraged, but in the end, Kiranon was purified.

At least, it should have been.

Devoc turned toward the town and took a single step. At once, his gifts began to fail him. The unnatural strength he had felt drained away. The odd enhancements to his senses that compensated for his blindness vanished, leaving him disoriented. He paused, took several steadying breaths and then shuffled forward another step. The weakness only increased. He stumbled and nearly fell.

I am not meant to go here, he realized. The spirits are warning me away.

He retreated several steps and his strength and senses returned at once. His purpose was elsewhere. Ignoring the entrance to Sentry, he continued down the main path. He focused now, listening and feeling his way. He touched no rock nor heard any sound of nature, however. It was the call of the spirits that filled his ears and their hands that touched his and led him on. All across the top of the mountain, he was guided until reaching the other side. The path ceased to exist and he found himself climbing over rough ridgelines and crawling under low overhangs. He no longer wondered at his ability to do so. The feeling was exhilarating and he relished it without questioning it now.

“I am a young man again,” he called into the valleys and mountains that around him, his voice echoing in the silence.

He drew a deep breath of the cold air and smiled. No, I am more than that. I am alive again!

His joy was not to last long. He pressed on, descending the north face of the mountain for several hundred yards until the stench of evil stopped him. It was something he had never sensed before, at least not in this way. Without the gifts of the spirits, he might not have been aware at all of the presence. Now, there was no mistaking it. He had found what he was sent for. Here, at the bottom of a deep, narrow chasm, something dark and dirty – an abomination – waited.

He crept forward, closer to where he sensed the presence, his walking stick held like a cudgel, no longer needed to aid his movement. He reached to his belt, felt the cold steel of the hilt of his knife to reassure himself. Just beyond the misshapen boulder ahead…

“I know you,” he breathed into the shadows beyond the scattered rocks.

He felt the thing in the darkness stir. “And I you,” came the strained, rough voice.

Devoc closed on the presence, confident but cautious, armored by the strength of the spirits, but aware of what he faced. “How? How can this be? It has been weeks, months….”

“Ninety-four days,” the thing told him. “I have counted every sunrise. I have suffered hunger and thirst through every one, screamed without answer into every sunset. I have endured the birds and beasts and crawling things that have feasted on my flesh and cursed the mountain rain and wind that have soaked me and frozen me to the bone. I have prayed to gods I long ago denounced as false and impotent for mercy. I pray to them now that you are here to grant it.”

The old mystic crouched down over the thing. “Caleb. That is your name. I remember you. The outlander, the black giant, he slew your brother and then he tore you to pieces. You did not die.”

“I cannot. My magic protects me.”

Devoc ran his hands over the ravaged man. The head and trunk were intact, his clothing torn to tatters. His left arm ended in a stump just above the elbow, the right just below. He had no legs below the knee. His magic spared him death all those weeks ago and what was left of him was hurled into the gorge. Starvation would kill him, it was assumed. Apparently, they assumed too much.

“I am no sorcerer,” Devoc told him. “My power is in reading the signs from the spirits, of interpreting their will. If magic is needed to kill you, I do not possess it.”

‘But you came for me,” the voice was cracked and strained, pleading. “You came for a reason.”

The old man sat back on a flat rock and braced his hands on his knees. Had he? He had come because the spirits demanded it, of course. Was there now some duty he must perform? A charge to fulfill? If there were, the spirits provided no guidance beyond ensuring his presence. He was what he claimed to be and no more. He was a member of the Suledane, a reader of signs, a messenger between the Avarun people and the spirits of the mountain. He was no sorcerer and certainly no killer. If the spirits had need of either, he would fail them badly.

“I do not know why I am here,” he said finally. “I think I assumed to know when I arrived or I would be given some sign. That has not happened.”

The ravaged man looked up at him, a shadowed bulk in the shade of the rocks, a nearly shapeless mass to Devoc’s imperfect sense of sight. “So you will sit there and wait? You will just stare at me?” He laughed bitterly. “Go away, you old fool. If I must suffer this, I’ll do so without you mocking me with your impotent presence.”

Devoc shook his head. “You expect too much from me. I am but a blind old man.”

“I’ve no fucking legs!” Caleb shouted back. “No arms either. Can you not tell what I am – what I am not? Anything is better than this. What I would give to simply move! Take my eyes! Give me my legs, my hands! Anything….”

He settled back, muttering under his breath.

The old man leaned forward a bit in his seat. “You ask mercy?”

“Yes.”

“And did you ever grant it?”

“What do you mean?”

Devoc jabbed a bony finger toward him. “I know the kind of man you are – were. You were a hunter, a killer. You were a cruel man who pitied no one. Men, women, children, it never mattered to you. Am I wrong?”

“You are not wrong,” came the response, barely more than a whisper.

“I think even now, you do not regret what you did. I do not think you are capable. You rage, you grieve and you despair only for yourself, Is this so?”

“Yes.”

“You ask for mercy when you have done nothing to deserve it, then.”

Caleb said nothing in response.

Devoc sighed deeply. “But, still, the spirits call.”

Call me to do what? The question persisted and the answer remained a mystery. Certainly, he was not here to freeze to death in the wind while he listened to the mad ramblings of this wretched thing. He had been given too much strength, too much vitality and so many wonderful senses to simply sit and watch. All of his newfound life had to be for something.

To what end does one burn with life? To make things of value and permanence? To serve family and people? To contribute in some way – large or small – to what sliver of the world you find yourself in? Yes, he supposed, on all counts. And had he not done so?

His life, from childhood to present, was a life of service. His calling from the spirits made him a teacher, a guide and a father to all of his people. His late wife bore him no children, but he had raised so many not of his blood, orphans of war and disease and tragedy that he counted himself a father dozens of times over. For years, his words filled the ears of his people about the spirits and the Avarun ways. He, indeed, was their guide and teacher, their brother, father and friend. Comfort and ease were never his for long, but there was joy in what he did.

What more could he be? Was he now an executioner? No. Never in his life was he such a thing.

What then? If his life was renewed for the purpose of coming to this place at this time, why?

He threw his head back and laughed into the cold mountain wind.

Of course! What else?

“What are you laughing at you old fool?” Caleb demanded.

“An old memory,” Devoc answered, shaking his head. “I remember the day my father died.”

“And it makes you laugh?”

“He’d been sick for weeks,” the old man went on, ignoring him. “He could not leave his bed and needed to be fed, changed like a babe. He would complain of cold next to a roaring fire and sweat in the dead of night with the wind sweeping down the mountainside and in through his windows. But the day he died? He threw off his blankets, dressed himself and went to the river with two buckets to help water the garden my mother kept. He worked all day, weak and struggling when measured against another, but ten times the man he had been. He finished his work, ate his meal and went back to bed. He died before dawn.”

“What are you babbling about?” the other man called. “Mad bastard.”

Devoc stared at Caleb for a long time, saying nothing, moving not an inch, thinking on what could possibly be done. Missing limbs or no, he was the one with the magic that mattered. Nothing Devoc had brought with him could accomplish this task.

Nothing but myself, of course.

He rose from his seat on the rock and crossed the small space between them. He knelt beside the ravaged man and laid hands upon him, feeling along the misshapen stumps of arms and legs, the emaciated torso and the thin, wasted face. Caleb said nothing throughout. Inside of him, the magic that poisoned Kiranon, a darkness that disturbed the spirits and denied them rest, raged. Always that magic kept him on the brink. It sustained him on the edge of starvation, the cusp of succumbing to disease. It perpetuated life where death should have claimed him. It denied nature.

After all, the purpose of life was to end, ultimately.

“What are you doing?” he asked finally, his fetid breath in Devoc’s face.

“More than you deserve,” he answered.

“Then why? I am cruel and dark and without regret or mercy.”

Devoc’s hands gripped either side of his face. “Because I am not.”

The spirits guided him. He was doing something he had never done before, but the powers that drew him here, fortified him and filled him with the vigor of life took control and knew what was needed. He did not resist them. It was a euphoria he had experienced at no other point in his life. The honor of his selection as one of the Suledane paled. The love in his heart for his wife did not compare. The pleasures of her flesh, so much his obsession when they were young, seemed pitifully simple compared to this. He was one with his gods now, their instrument in a way he had never before been. He found himself smiling as the power of the spirits flowed through him.

Through his hands the magic flowed, down into Caleb to reach into his very soul, twisted and black as it was. Around his magic it curled, weaving like some kind of invisible net, isolating the magic that kept him alive and tearing it apart from the man who possessed it. Devoc felt the shattered body tense beneath him, his back arching, his head shaking beneath the gnarled old hands.

Pain was such a simple word for it. It was accurate Devoc supposed, but he was sure it fell short. Something told him that all of the exhilaration he felt, all of the intensity, was mirrored in Caleb as unbearable agony. The few heartbeats it took for the magic to be separated from its host and flow into the old man seemed brief, but Devoc had no doubt it was punishment enough for a lifetime of evil.

When it was done, he rose. Whatever was left of Caleb vacated his body on a strangled groan and vanished into the wind. The dismembered body made no sound nor did it so much as twitch.

Death.

Devoc turned his face toward the setting sun in the west. The first, at least.

He retraced his steps through the gorge and up the slope of the mountainside to the old mining trail. Back he went to the path that would take him to Sentry. He barely noticed the dilapidated buildings as he passed them by, all empty shells and crumbling walls. The lone tower that loomed over the place filtered the rays of the dying sun through the empty window arches above him. Devoc walked to the edge of the town, inched his toes up to the lip of the gorge from which he had just climbed and paused.

He could feel the evil magic inside of him, could feel its throbbing presence like a heartbeat. But it was not his; it did not meld with his flesh and blood. The power of the spirits still held it fast, a protective shell that isolated it from him until he was finished with this.

He closed his eyes and drew a deep breath of mountain air. Cold. Sweet. Alive.

His thoughts turned to his sister and her children and grandchildren. He would not miss them. He loved them and they him, but it had been a long and good experience they shared. Moments of time flashed through his mind, precious pictures of a life lived well.

I am blessed.

He opened his eyes. The gifts of the spirits were gone. His strength, his stamina, drained away like water down a hole. The senses of smell and taste and his acute hearing were gone as well.

But the sunset was there. Red and orange and purple against the wondrous mountains of the Tijian, against the home of his beloved spirits it spread out like a blanket of shifting colors across the lands of his people. This was no trick of his senses, no magic of the spirits. These were his eyes – eyes that had been dark some five decades or more, restored. All those years ago, his sight was his sacrifice for the gift of speaking to the spirits. Now, for an instant, a tiny moment of peace and joy, they had returned it to him.

He shouted with that joy and listened to his laughter echo off the mountainsides.

The wind whipped his long, thin hair, kissed his face and held his body in a gentle hand.

And he kept his eyes on the brilliant blanket of color until everything turned back.

Other Titles by Edward K Ryan

Thinner Than Blood (The Mark of the Dead – Book 1)

Slate Run Annual – Vol 1. (Contributor)

The Reckoning

Ugly Whores

Ed Ryan can be contacted on Facebook, Goodreads or through www.edwardkryan.com

18


Ghosts of Kiranon

  • Author: SlateRunPublishingLLC
  • Published: 2015-10-12 00:40:14
  • Words: 4129
Ghosts of Kiranon Ghosts of Kiranon