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The Name of Death

 

 

The Name of Death

 

 

 

 

 

Thrice Nine Legends

 

Joshua Robertson

 

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Joshua Robertson

Published by Crimson Edge Press, LLC

www.crimsonedgepress.com[++
++]

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

 

Printed in the United States of America

First Printing, 2017

 

Cover art by Winter Bayne.

 

 

 

There once was a time when the gods were gods without question. When men were men without example. When heroes were only the frivolous dreams of lurid mortality. It was a time when truths and untruths were indistinguishable, hatred and love were equally excusable, and life and death regaled all of humanity in the same breath. Myths of old were realized and legends were born from the very dust man was formed of, to be told and retold until the grace of time altered them beyond knowing or forgot them completely. Still, some tales were preserved deep within the hearts of mankind, for reasons that could not be fathomed. Perhaps bearing the fruit of some profound truth or kept alive merely by the strength of the men who lived them. Some tales would never be forgotten.

Table of Contents

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

About the Author

 

Thrice Nine Legends Saga

 

*ANAERFELL

 

The Kaelandur Series

*MELKORKA

*DYNDAER

MAHARIA

 

Short Stories

*STRONG ARMED

WHEN BLOOD FALLS*

THE NAME OF DEATH*

 

Additional Works

 

*The Hawkhurst Saga

*Grimsdalr

The Prince’s Parish*

*Jack Spratt

Blood and Bile

Hiraeth

 

*Published by Crimson Edge

Forthcoming by Crimson Edge

 

The Name of Death

 

 

 

 

 

Thrice Nine Legends

 

Joshua Robertson

Month of Ripening

Fifth of Warmth

1351 CE

Chapter 1

Drada Koehn’s armor-clad knees sank into the soft mud on the eastern bank of the forked river. Undried by summer’s heat, a hundred miles from the war and hundreds of miles more from home, the mud was cool in the far-reaching shade. Drada relaxed, balancing on her knees and toes, while carefully reattaching the veil to the bottom of her helm, hiding the lower half of her face.

The thick, tannish cloth heated her cheeks and anchored her breath while she kneeled under the canopy of the concentrated treetops. Never had she seen trees as wide and high as those in the Dyndaer Forest. The trees from her homeland, beyond the mountains in Haemus Mons, were admittedly sticks in comparison to these tall woods.

Wrylyc, the skittish Kras, had claimed the Dyndaer was unfit for travel with beasts and barbaric men to boot. His forewarning had not scared Drada, and even now, with Eryet dying, she had little concern. Kras were known to be a jittery race—afraid of their own shadow as much as they were anything else—and besides, Uvil did not fear death. In addition, no one had asked Wrylyc for his advice, let alone for him to come on this quest.

She drew in a breath, redirecting her attention, and touched the arm of her war-brother, Eryet Petrie, son of Ergred. His short, squat figure lay near the water’s edge, bleeding heavily from his split gut. The stained bandages, covered with pus and remnants of healing herbs, had been unraveled to quicken his inevitable passing. Drada had uncoupled his veil from his silvery helm minutes ago, laying it to rest against his dislodged shoulder guard. His lips were swollen and bloodied beneath his wide nose. The last two days had been less than pleasant for him. She impassively stared at his beardless, blue-hued face, a shade lighter than her own. If not for his faint breaths, Drada would already think he was dead.

Birds fluttered from somewhere in the forest. She mentally noted the abrupt change in the environment, but physically ignored the sound. Wrylyc likely was returning to camp. He had gone to scout ahead an hour ago, while she stayed to watch her war-brother and fulfill her duty. She would contend with a threat if and when it emerged from the hedge.

Her training had taught her not to worry over intangible thoughts until they had fully materialized. An imminent battle did not threaten death; though, an axe lodged between her breasts might.

Eryet suddenly wheezed, straining for breath. He squeezed his eyes shut, and parted his lips. “Drada…” he faintly whispered.

She leaned further over him and waited for him to find the strength to continue.

“You…cannot be afraid.”

Drada’s response was full of air. “I am not afraid.”

“When I pass through the veil,” Eryet went on, “I will go to our people and tell them how far we have come. But you must keep going.”

She shook her head. “I hadn’t planned on doing otherwise. Do not worry about my path, Eryet. Listen for the whispers of our ancestors. Listen for the name of death.”

“I…” He stammered and groaned. He turned his head away from her, having no strength to hold himself upright.

She waited.

“It…is time.” Eryet finally choked out. His insipid, blue skin was etched with black veins. Drada remained stone-faced. The poison lacing the cleaver that had split Eryet open had finally reached the full purpose of its crafting.

Surprised by her own resolve, Drada grumbled in her throat with understanding.

“My quoin…”

Drada wasted no time, grabbing the leather cord with the iron token with the inverted V from around Eryet’s neck in her gauntlet. With a jerk, the cord snapped with ease. She slid the ornament from the cord into her hand. His quoin.

Following the sacred tradition of the Uvil, she pushed the token into Eryet’s gaping mouth and into the back of his throat. Forcibly, she covered his mouth to help him swallow the round coin whole. Without consuming it, Eryet would be transformed into the hideous, undead preta, to roam the world without honor.

Eryet sputtered and convulsed against Drada’s hand as the token clogged his throat. He harshly swallowed, over and over again, his tongue brushing against her hand, and in short time the token was downed. By the time she lifted her hand, he was dead.

Drada scowled under the cloth covering her face. His last breath escaped his lungs and no words with it.

“Did he tell you?” Wrylyc moved so quietly, she had not heard him approach, but his high-pitched, excitable squeak was unmistakable.

“No. Our journey continues.” Drada exhaled. Scooping up her hooked sword, she stood to face the red-skinned creature. Wrylyc hunched against a thick tree under his wool cloak. The black coals of his eyes were barely visible in the dark slits on either side of his angular nose. The Kras was likely the ugliest creature she had ever seen. Changing the topic, she asked, “What lies ahead?”

“Trees. Lots of trees,” Wrylyc said offhandedly, tilting his head away from the unbending bark of the tall wood. His face scrunched up with confusion. “Are you not going to bury him? Burn him, maybe?”

Drada cleared her throat. “Why? He has consumed his quoin. He is dead.”

“But he fought bravely against the Anshedar.”

“Fighting humans doesn’t require bravery. They are weak,” Drada replied, picking up her shield to examine it. A depression near the center caught her eye. The shield had been damaged a month ago during the siege at Raybin; she had meant to have it mended or replaced. Though, the Uvil recently had been in short supply of extra armaments. Some of the humans had acquired the weapons and armor of the Uvil, either from battle or while raiding supply camps, and not surprisingly, their possession of Uvil steel had balanced the odds of the war.

Humans were cunning, she admitted, but still weak. She tossed the shield to the ground, and went to fetch Eryet’s undented guard for herself.

Weak humans killed him,” Wrylyc argued with a crooked grin. “One actually.”

Drada frowned. “The wanderer slew Eryet with a venom-coated cleaver. Where is the honor in poison?”

Wrylyc scooted forward, holding his smile. “Honor does not win wars.”

“We were not at war with the wanderer. He was a frightened coward,” Drada said, leveling him with her eyes.

Wrylyc stopped. After thinking for a moment, he shrugged, and grinned the wider.

“You are at war with the Anshedar, which the wanderer clearly was,” he said, advancing. The spindly Kras was a head shorter than her, and with the lacking muscle, was about as intimidating as a flea on a donkey’s ass. Yet when Wrylyc talked at her as though he held authority—an attribute he only aired when speaking about history, or humans, or Maharia—he appeared greater in size. Drada turned away and tried to ignore him, placing Eryet’s shield on her back.

Wrylyc persisted, “How did you expect the man to act when two Uvil came parading through the forest? I mean, the Ariadneans are right south, and those from Ariadne pride themselves as being hero-warriors. Not only do they fight directly on the battlefield, but every living thing in Aenar knows the Uvil and Anshedar are at war.”

“You disagree with our incursion?” Drada asked, trying to make sense of his little speech.

Wrylyc laughed out loud. “I do not have any opinion on you invading Maharia. If I had, you may have heard about it during the last many months, but opinions on armies and politics are not my peoples’ way. I simply watch.”

“I don’t believe you can have no opinion.”

Wrylyc tilted his head at the simple accusation. “The humans took Maharia from the Svet. I can only imagine the Svet took it from some other race before the humans crossed from Kalamaar. Surely, someone was destined to eventually take it from the humans,” Wrylyc said. “The world must change or we wouldn’t have history.”

“That is what interests you? History?” Drada asked with a shake of her head, trying to understand the strange creature. “What use is history if you never apply what you’ve learned?”

The Kras crumpled up his hooked nose, expanding his nostrils most unattractively. “What makes you think we Kras don’t?”

“Don’t the Kras stay in mountains and caves, and claim nothing?” Drada reasoned. “They have nothing.”

“Nothing?” Wrylyc smacked his lips with delight. “The Kras do not suffer from futility, as those who seek riches, or land, or power,” said Wrylyc, wriggling his eyebrows. “We all die no matter what we possess.”

With a sigh, Drada latched her sword to her belt. “Why are you here, Wrylyc? I did not invite you along, and Mariek gave you no order.”

“Someone should record what happens here,” Wrylyc talked with his hands, moving them wide from his hips in slow motion. “General Mariek had agreed,” he pointed a finger at her, “which is why he allowed me to stay at your camp.” The odd Kras spun on a toe. “And like I said, the Uvil are interesting. You have traveled hundreds of miles because one of your people—”

“The Speaker—”

“Yes, yes.” Wrylyc went on, still spinning. His wool cloak circled around his knobby knees. “He claimed your dead ancestors said the Uvil would defeat the Anshedar. He said a new world would be born.”

Drada crossed her arms and dipped her head with acknowledgement. “He did.”

“Do you not find that fascinating,” Wrylyc squealed, suddenly coming to a stop.

“No,” she muttered.

His dark eyes flashed with mischief. “How does this Speaker talk to dead people?”

Drada huffed through her veil, ignoring the question. “I am not the only one who left the camp at Raybin.”

“No…” Wrylyc agreed, wrinkles forming around his eyes with confusion. “You were not.”

“So, why are you here with me? Why didn’t you go with another pairing?”

Wrylyc shrugged his little shoulders. His eyes shifted to the dead body behind her before answering. “The Kras called the Dyndaer home for a long time. And I thought you might need a guide. The others went further into the desert or toward the Shade Fells. I know little about those places.”

“Then stop with all your twirling and bouncing, and guide,” Drada said. “I need to find the name of death.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Wrylyc said.

“Prophecy is not meant to be known until it has already happened,” Drada said, “but if we can find death, we can unearth its name. Somewhere in the Dyndaer, death must linger.”

Wrylyc’s mouth opened wide, revealing the rows of his crooked teeth. “Shayol Domier. I will take you to Shayol Domier. We will find plenty of death there!”

Drada let the words linger for a moment, and then nodded. “On with it.”

Waving the Kras onward, Drada followed Wrylyc into the deeps of the darkened Dyndaer, never looking back at her fallen comrade. Somewhere within this ancient forest, dusky as the grave, she must find death’s name. She had her duty. She had her honor. She was Uvil.

The midday sunlight barely penetrated the intertwined, dense branches of the tall woods. The foliage at their feet was abundant, slowing their progress tenfold than what they may have traversed at the southern end of the continent. Even the tropical Masura Jungle, south of Dauthaz, did not match the breadth of the Dyndaer.

Drada squinted into the murky world among the trees. A hazy fog swirled around her feet, overlaying the moss and muck. The rotten air seeped through the veil covering her face. Clearly, the mountains and desert were a distant memory.

“The forest smells like death.” Drada sniffed, stumbling awkwardly behind the light-footed Kras. Wrylyc effortlessly danced over the tousled roots and strewn brushwood. “How are you moving so freely in this light?”

“I do not see the darkness like you,” Wrylyc said.

“You have eyes like the Lilitu then,” Drada said. “You can see always as though it is daylight.”

Wrylyc nodded. “The Kras lived underground for centuries, digging for precious stones, before we were yoked by the Anshedar. The darkness is as familiar to us as breath.”

The weight of her foot snapped a branch in half. The crunching sound ricocheted between the trees, countered by a heavy snort and the clacking of teeth.

Wrylyc jerked back with wide eyes. “A simargl.” As quick as the words were uttered, the Kras’s body evaporated into thin air. By some inexplicable magic, Wrylyc had disappeared from sight entirely.

“Wrylyc!” She hissed, spinning around in the smoky forest.

“Hide.” She heard the weakling answer from an unseen place among the trees.

“Uvil do not hide,” Drada replied, retrieving the shield and hooked sword. She squinted into the dark, hearing the beast rustling toward her.

Drada stood motionless as the wolf-like creature, a head taller than she, with webbed wings, black as pitch, growled and moved between the thick tall woods. The animal was massive in comparison to her stout body. Her eyes captured the protracted claws extending from a lifted-and-falling paw—as long as her forearm—and then the pinpointed teeth, twice that length, protruding from the grimy, ruddy chops.

She remained motionless. The beast was a shadow among the shadows.

The simargl narrowed its gaze on her and growled.

“Come on,” she hissed through bared teeth. She crouched and balanced on her toes as the bundle of muscle and fur barreled toward her, the wings tucking against its body. Her breath remained steady behind her veil; her heart evenly beat in her chest. Without a clearing, Drada was certain she held the advantage over the oversized beast, even in the murky light.

The simargl stopped inches in front of her and snapped at her head. Calculating her movement, Drada stooped low and circled behind the closest tree, the creature clamping its jaws around nothing in the space where her head had hung. Staying on her toes, Drada skirted around the thick trunk and jutted her sword into the broad side of the animal. The blade dug into the pelt, secreting a half-whimper, half-bark from the animal’s gullet.

The blow was anything but a death wound. The simargl twisted fast, ripping the sword from her hand and leaving it buried in its flesh. Drada withheld her cry, snatching the shield from her back in time to connect with the beast’s second attack.

The strength of the simargl was immeasurable, striking the shield with its snout and knocking Drada across the dampened brush. She rolled over and over, her metal armor clanging against the rutted roots.

“Run!” Wrylyc screamed, still hidden somewhere among the tall woods.

Drada was back on her toes in time to see the simargl amble toward her, whipping its head back and forth, and ignoring her sword still budding from its gut. Blood oozed from the wound, coloring the black fur. Yet the cut was not deep enough to lay loose its insides.

Keeping her shield steady, Drada stepped back, digging in her toes. She had been raised in the barren lands of the desert and the under-earth of the mountains. Her balance felt off in the grassy terrain, but the animal was injured. Even without her sword, she had the upper-hand.

Out of nowhere, a bolt whistled through the trees and was buried into the simargl’s shoulder. The animal bellowed in pain.

Before Drada could react, a cavernous bellow rung unintelligible words from behind her. She barely twisted her head before a creature—half-man, half-horse—stomped next to her with heavy hooves. Drada, in shock, stumbled as the centaur, called a Svet by the northerners, raised the crossbow to fire another bolt.

The simargl droned with a muffled rumble, the projectile catching the beast in the neck.

Already, the Svet was re-arming the weapon. Behind him his companion—an Anshedar—wearing a leather tunic and carrying a sovnya, a five-foot wooden pole with a curved blade erected from the end, emerged from the tall wood.

The human ignored Drada, hurrying to face the simargl, eagerly jutting his blade into its throat. The simargl gurgled and fell.

As the human stepped back, Drada eyed her hooked sword still sticking from the animal’s side.

The human tore the sovnya free, and spoke to Drada. “I am Seigfeld Brecher, son of Stelghar, from Hleduk,” the human said, raising a blonde eyebrow with scrutiny after cleaning his blade on the carcass. He nodded toward the Svet. “This is Farthr of Brannan. Now, why is an Uvil so far from the war, here, in the Dyndaer?”

Drada peered up at Farthr with sharpened teeth nearly as threatening as that of the wolf demon. His fawn ears on either side of his long black mane twitched. He snorted air through his enlarged nostrils, as though he was picking up her scent.

“You aren’t going to kill me?” Drada asked.

The man’s face creased as though he were holding back a smile. “I suppose that depends on your answer. Do you plan on killing us?”

“No. I have no orders to fight you.” She returned her shield to her back. She replied honestly, “I am Drada Koehn, daughter of Vrayda. I am going to Shayol Domier to discover death’s name. Peacefully, if I can.”

“Death’s name? Alone?” Seigfeld asked. The human warrior remained strangely unruffled by her response, which sounded strange even to her. If she had not known any better, she would have thought he had expected the answer.

Drada replied, “My war-brother died on the road. And unless the Kras has disappeared for good—”

“Of course not,” Wrylyc said, suddenly materializing from thin air at Drada’s side. “Wrylyc Titchen, son of Gard, son of Potap.” He crossed his arms with a sudden sense of entitlement, wiggling his eyebrows.

“I thought I smelled something odd,” Farthr said.

“Hush, Farthr,” Siegfeld ordered. He then spoke to the Kras. “And you are also looking to find death’s name?” Seems a bit far-reaching for a Kras.”

Wrylyc raised his shoulders and sheepishly smiled. Drada suspected he would turn red if he were not already colored crimson. “I am here to record the plight of the Uvil.”

“I suppose you will be interested to know our story as well then,” Seigfeld said, a crooked smile forming on his lips. He brushed a blonde strand of hair from his eye without hurry.

The Kras’s offset eyes lit up, widening on either side of his hooked nose. He bobbed his head, no bigger than a child’s, and said, “I might.”

Seigfeld gave a knowing look. “Tales of dark spirits inhabiting ruins, including Shayol Domier, have reached the folds of the Crimson Sun in Tamarri. I have been tasked to investigate the rumors and shed some light on their truth or falseness.”

“You are also heading to Shayol Domier?” Drada asked.

Siegfeld nodded. “I am.”

“So, you will not kill me, although my people are at war with your own?”

Seigfeld took a step closer, his soft boot nearly soundless against the soil. “Like you, I too have no order to fight in this war. I have heard of the honor of your people, Drada, and if you had been commanded to slay the Anshedar, I suspect you would have already attempted to kill me.”

“I would have,” she confirmed.

Seigfeld dipped his head with respect. “I propose we travel together to Shayol Domier and see what we can see. It stands to reason that your quest for death’s name and my enquiry of demons have an eerie likeness.”

[] Chapter 2

Bound by honor, Drada walked along the Anshedarian enemy, Siegfeld, and his silent cohort, Farthr. Wrylyc bounced along in front of them, leading the way to Shayol Domier. The Kras made little sound as he hopped over fallen branches and through scattered brush in the dark forest, seeing the darkened path ahead.

The tree birds provided an ambience somewhere in the depths of the tall woods, fluttering and squawking, amongst the distant howls of unknown beasts.

“The forest is alive,” Drada said, making the effort to step as lightly as she could behind Wrylyc. Farthr seemed less concerned, crunching the brush beneath his hooves. She kept her eyes off the towering Svet. “What other terrors lay within its fold?”

Siegfeld’s hand gripped the handle of his weapon, as it had for the past hour, while he steadied his walk with his free arm. “Any dark tale of the Dyndaer holds more truth than most would readily admit. Naturally, many kinds of monsters flock to this darkness.”

“How do you know these demons you seek at the ruins are not only more monsters?” Drada asked.

“I do not,” Siegfeld said, “but I am told that it bears necessity. You may know demons are regular on the northern island of Kalamaar, and were once said to have marched on Shayol Domier over a thousand years ago.”

Wrylyc piped up. “Quite true. My grandfather was among the many saved when Branimir Baran freed the Kras from the clutches of the Kadari. Of course, they were known by another name during that age. The songs are magnificent, telling the stories of how Branimir and the Highborn fought against the Bukavac of the Netherworld, guarding the Ash Tree from being destroyed.”

“The Ash Tree? You mean the Tree of Life?” Drada’s mouth suddenly dried with disbelief.

“The same.” Wrylyc twisted his neck to flash her a crooked smile.

“Pay no attention to the Kras,” Siegfeld laughed. “The creatures are full of fancy stories to stir the heart. Sadly, they are only stories. Shayol Domier was a ruin long before any human stepped across the ocean.”

“No,” Farthr rumbled. “The red beast speaks truth. The Svet know.”

“Quiet, Farthr.” Siegfeld’s voice grew terse.

“If humans did not build Shayol Domier, or these Highborn,” Drada cocked her head, “then who did?”

Siegfeld took a moment, and then finally shrugged his shoulders, showing his lack of interest. “Maybe the Uvil. I hear they had built Garain’l in the age before.”

Drada disagreed, knowing the Uvil had not ventured as far as Shayol Domier, but held her tongue. Arguing with the human over something so trivial was pointless. She retracted the conversation. “So, why do you think demons haunt the ruins?”

The crooked smile returned to Seigfeld’s lips. His blonde hair shadowed his cheeks. “The world has seen more blood as of late, notably with the Uvil arising from the sands of the South—”

“And you suspect demons bid our coming?” Drada concluded, peering at the swaggering human.

“I suspect demons sway those who are good in equal measure to those who are evil, planting ambitious seeds, without revealing their true nature,” Seigfeld replied.

Drada squinted at Seigfeld, unsure if the human was attempting to compliment her or otherwise. Opposite of her, she saw Farthr twitch his ears and give Seigfeld an equal look of confusion. Likely, Siegfeld spoke for the sake of speaking, and was not saying anything really important at all.

She moved her attention to the Kras. “Wrylyc, how much further to Shayol Domier?”

“If we make camp soon,” Wrylyc tapped his finger on the edge of his crooked nose, “…midday tomorrow.”

Taking the suggestion, Siegfeld stopped where they stood. “Farthr, fetch some wood for a fire and hope it keeps any passing simargl at bay.”

Within the hour, the four of them sat nestled around the crackling embers of the fire. Drada readjusted her veil to keep her face hidden, watching the others with careful consideration. With the dangers of the forest, they would take turns keeping watch for simargl or any other beasts that might approach the camp. Yet she was uncertain she could trust the human and his centaur. She had never known humans to hold the same honor as an Uvil. They may still cut her throat while she slept.

Wrylyc scooted closer to her, wrapping a blanket over his shoulders. The odd creature looked at her with his uneven black eyes, shining like gems in the firelight.

She asked the question as it came to her mind. “How is it that you have no purpose, Wrylyc?”

“What would I do with purpose?” He laughed.

“You would live your life.”

“I am living now.”

“But you are not living with any meaning,” Drada muttered. She tried again, “Wrylyc, there must be something that you aim to accomplish, something you wish to prevail over…”

“Why?”

Drada faced the fire, unable to comprehend the Kras’s belief. “You tarried around our camp at Raybin for months, doing nothing but watching us go to battle and return. Such a life…without ambition is…”

“Peaceful,” he finished.

“I have known their kind for a long time,” Seigfeld offered from across the fire. “The Kras fear to love anything too much lest they might feel something real. Surprising any have lived without masters to lead them.”

“We feel,” Wrylyc said softly. He scrunched up his nose, wiping his sleeve across his face. “Kras are as much a part of this world as any other living thing.”

Siegfeld scoffed. “And you give nothing.”

“Nothing?” Wrylyc’s tone changed considerably to a familiar one of authority. “The Kras have died for others for thousands upon thousands of years. We have been hardened to think every life is worth more than ours, and thus we give ours freely as we do the knowledge we gain.”

Drada remained stoned-face, but the Kras’s speech touched her heart. “It sounds as though the Kras give everything and take nothing.”

Siegfeld’s jaw dropped, speechless.

Farthr snorted with amusement from somewhere in the trees. For the first time since meeting the two, Siegfeld did not silence the Svet.

“True.” Wrylyc raised a thin finger, and added, “Mind you, no one dies for a Kras.”

“Is that your purpose then?” Drada asked. “To give your life away for another to use as they see fit?”

Wrylyc grinned, displaying his row of crooked teeth. “I suppose. And for now, my purpose is to help you complete your purpose.”

Drada folded her hands. She kept an eye on Seigfeld and asked Wrylyc her question. “What will you do once I discover the name of death?”

The human, again, hardly flinched at mention of her quest. The thought of discovering death’s name was peculiar enough to her, she would expect any to inquire as to her purpose. Yet Siegfeld stayed quiet.

Wrylyc shrugged, speaking at a whisper. “If I survive to see the day, I will tell you. Until then, I could not know. I do not know the future.”

In the distance, the rumble of bestial growls resounded from the forest. Drada turned her ear, gazing into the pitch and then upward to the equally dark canopy of feathered limbs, blocking all view of the moon and stars.

“Worry not,” Farthr said. “The beasts are far removed from our location. If they come closer, I would let you know.”

Wrylyc twisted his hands, staring at the centaur. Drada noticed his eyes widened with a thought that had likely been looming on his mind for the course of the day. Suddenly, without easing into the conversation, he blurted, “Are you a slave, Farthr?”

The Svet, taken by surprise, snorted through his enlarged nostrils, and barred his sharp teeth at the Kras.

Seigfeld answered swiftly, lifting a hand to ease the beast. “No. Farthr is not enslaved like many of his poor brethren. Though he may pretend from time to time when we pass through uncivilized civilizations, he is a free mercenary among the Crimson Sun.”

Wrylyc rocked back on his buttocks, unaware of the dangerous glare Drada noticed in Farthr’s eye. “Amazing. I have never met a free Svet. How did you come to meet?”

Farthr growled in his throat.

“Easy, Farthr. Check the area and I will tell the story, and calm yourself, old friend,” Siegfeld said. Farthr snorted and disappeared into the darkness. Seigfeld smiled at Drada and Wrylyc. “He is not fond of this story.”

“I got the hint,” Drada muttered. “You do not have to tell it.”

Wrylyc shook his head in disagreement. “I am most interested. If I am going to tell the tale of this adventure, I must know all the details.”

Seigfeld chuckled, rubbing his knees. “Best not tell Farthr you plan to spread this specific story. He’d have you roasting over the fire before morning came.”

The threat gave the Kras pause, and he then nodded his little head with understanding.

The wood popped and sizzled as Seigfeld leveled his gaze over the fire, and began, “Four years ago, my sister, Anneinda, had gone missing from my home in Eris. My father called me back home to pick up her trail, claiming demons had pulled her from her covers in the night. I found tracks and followed the trail to a cavern at the edge of the Shade Fells. The cave was without light, smelled of decay, but most peculiar was the stoned walls decked with some slick lichen that burned to the touch.”

“The lichen burned you?” Drada winced. She had lived her entire life in the mountains and had never found cave moss that posed a hazard to the skin.

“As surely as this fire,” Seigfeld said. “I thought I had found the path to the Netherworld, and soon the chilled air billowing from the darkness only confirmed my suspicions. I tell you I had never been more afraid than I was in that terrible place.”

“As is the frailty of humans,” Drada huffed under her veil with surety.

Seigfeld gave his usual crooked smile and replied with a calm voice. “As is the frailty of mortals. You, too, would have been afraid Drada Koehn, daughter of Vrayda.”

She folded her hands to keep them from her sword. She had told herself she would not kill the man; she would keep her honor.

“By and by,” Seigfeld went on, “I came upon what the Ispolini call a Witiko. Dastardly demons with a hunger for flesh, who they themselves have more bone than flesh to cover their grisly bodies. The bluish bulbs of its eyes were lit in the darkness like torchlight, its fangs were—”

“We know what a Witiko is, Seigfeld,” Drada said with a click of her tongue.

Seigfeld cleared his throat. “I suspect you would.”

“By the Nine Lands, I do not,” Wrylyc gulped. His little hands clung to his knees to hold them steady, leaning forward with his attention fully on the human and his story. Drada held herself rigid to keep herself from shaking her head at Wrylyc. The Kras added, “I hope never to see such a beast.”

Seigfeld smiled. “I would pray you never do, Kras. The beast would rip limb from torso, all the while you were alive and screaming.” When Wrylyc shuddered in response, Seigfeld pressed on with his story. “I asked the Witiko about Anneinda, but the demon said nothing intelligible. The battle between us was swift. Soon, my blade found its black belly and its guts were left to stain the cave floor.”

“But what of Farthr?” Wrylyc asked.

“I heard Farthr soon after killing the Witiko, fervently rustling from further down the path. He had heard the battle and sought his freedom.”

“Freedom?” Drada lifted her eyebrow, beginning to understand the odd relationship between the Svet and Seigfeld.

Seigfeld dipped his head. “I found Farthr chained in a hollow in that cave, captured and meant to be eaten by the Witiko scum. He had watched handfuls of his own—and humans—slaughtered at the hands of the demons.”

Drada felt her heart twist, the smoke of the fire burning her nostrils. “Your sister?”

Seigfeld turned his eyes from her. “Forever lost. Farthr agreed to help find her, unsure if he had witnessed her death among the many humans. We searched for a while, but the tunnels beneath the mountain ran long and deep in more directions than the two of us could have ever traveled in a single lifetime.”

Wrylyc looked over his shoulder, scrunching his hooked nose. “I don’t understand how Farthr disapproves of this story.”

“He is shamed to have been captured,” Drada said matter-of-factly, “and you stole from him an honorable death. He would have died with his brethren in that cave had you not come along.”

“He would have been eaten alive,” Seigfeld protested.

“Ah,” Wrylyc grinned, “but the Svet have eaten the living, even their own battle-fallen, since their creation.”

Drada recoiled, catching bile in her throat. She filled the space with words. “So, he is bound to you now because you saved him from an unsavory death?”

Seigfeld dipped his head in acknowledgement.

“Absurd,” she replied. “A life of servitude is far worse than a glorified death. He should have sought more Witiko in the caves to kill.”

“Oh, we killed many more in the search of my sister—”

“I hear little mourning for her in your breath,” Drada challenged, folding her arms.

Seigfeld continued, “…but many paths were so thick with the demons, we were forced to retreat.”

“Retreat?” Drada scoffed. “I know few who would be so eager to tell a story of defeat.”

Seigfeld’s gaze darkened from across the fire. “You do not know the horrors—”

“No. I do not. Because Uvil do not know fear.”

The clipping of Farthr’s hooves against the ground drew their attention. Towering over them, crossbow in hand, he stared at Drada with a haunting gaze, the darkness looming behind his massive breadth. His words fell on her like a curse. “You will.”

[] Chapter 3

Drada had to trust Wrylyc when he woke her to say morning had come. She had not slept well, finding herself waking regularly to keep a watchful eye on her new companions. Siegfeld and Farthr, however, had taken the chance to sleep when they could apart from when they had taken the night watch.

For the course of the morning, mists in the Dyndaer swirled through the tall woods, speaking of impending misfortune. The three of them had little choice but to rely on Wrylyc in guiding them to Shayol Domier.

“Not that way!” Wrylyc squealed, grabbing Drada’s right leg and pulling her back. “That will lead you straight into the bog. Only death that way.”

Drada ogled at the moss and grime swirling inches from her feet and stretching into the darkness. The swamp held as many concentrated trees as the solid ground. “Wrylyc,” Drada slurred in the thick air, pushing him away. “If this is where death resides, then here I must go. I am looking for death, remember?”

Wrylyc shook his head, “Not this death. You would sink to the depths without a chance to swallow your coin.” The Kras tugged at her hand, his usual smile faded. “Come. We are almost to the ruins. Only a bit further.”

Drada studied the half-sized man, who took the hint and let go of her fingers. Spinning away, he milled onward through the vines that clouded the forest ahead. He weaved in and out of the close-knit brush like they had been carved for his passing. Seigfeld trailed immediately behind, hacking at the plants with his sword.

Drada watched the human with distrust. Seigfeld had been exceptionally quiet this morning, barely looking in her direction—at least, when he knew she was aware of him. As of now, she could not help but notice the human’s blue eyes widening with awe of the Kras.

Yet he still said nothing.

Farthr sidestepped from his place in line and waylaid her. His large eyes rested on the bog that gurgled behind her. “I will follow you,” the centaur said.

Drada nodded. She had come to realize last night she trusted the centaur more than the human, and had no concern having the beast guard her back. She moved onto the makeshift path behind Seigfeld.

After only a few steps, she heard a gelatinous slosh and splash from the swamp.

She spun on her heel to see a beast the size of Wrylyc abruptly draped over the Svet’s back as though it meant to ride the centaur. Time stopped for a moment as the thing stirred awkwardly on the Farthr’s posterior.

The creature’s body was yellowish and molded with wide pinkish eyes. Its ears were floppy and leathery on either side of its bald head, hanging just below its cheeks. Unexpectedly, screeching and hissing, the monstrosity raised two hands full of clawed fingernails, sharper than knives, and jammed them through the hide of the Svet.

As the nails pierced into Farthr’s flesh, he roared, swinging back with his crossbow and striking the beast across its gruesome face. The creature gurgled but hung on tightly in the eddying mane of the centaur’s dark locks. Farthr stomped around in circles reaching for the small beast, finding no way to loosen it from his back.

“Farthr,” Drada cried, unfastening her hooked blade from her belt. Moving within distance, she swung her blade, cutting open the creature’s back. Blood seeped, but the blade seemed to have no effect on its grip on Farthr. She swung again to slice open its arm, and again, the monster did not loosen its grip.

Fathr suddenly lurched toward the bog.

“What is it?” she screamed.

“You mustn’t go forward,” Wrylyc squawked from behind Seigfeld, rocking his head back and forth to catch sight of the scene, “The myling aims to drown you in the swamp!”

Seigfeld pushed pass Drada, jerking his sovnya free. “Step aside.” Using the weapon as a polearm, he stabbed the curved blade into the meaty tissue of the myling. Seigfeld groaned as he tried to pry the monster off his friend.

The myling screeched, wrestling against the strength of the human. Farthr had stopped spinning, strained by the myling’s grip, its claws deep within his muscles. His hindquarters stumbled into the soggy, blackened waters of the bog. Drada knew if Farthr lost his balance they would lose him to the yellowish beast.

The Svet desperately swung at the monster, hitting it in the head. The myling rocked sideways with the impact, but held firm.

In haste, Drada took the opportunity sliding across the muck to attack again. She hacked her blade through the spindly arm of the beast in a single blow, cleaving the limb just above the elbow. The myling’s screech echoed through the tall woods, finally releasing its grasp and falling to the murky flooring.

Siegfeld jerked the monster from Farthr’s back with his long weapon, gripping the wooden shaft. His muscles quaked under the surprising, but evident, weight. Unable to keep the beast suspended in the air, he slammed the myling to the ground and pushed the blade the rest of the way through its molded bulk.

The myling twisted against the sovnya, blood flowing over its skin. Yellow chunks of flesh drooped from the myling’s body beneath the crimson flow.

“Kill it!” Wrylyc bounced, watching the myling twitch in the muck.

Drada smashed the myling’s head with her sword, ending the struggle.

“Lucky to have found company on your journey, Drada,” Seigfeld frowned, jerking his weapon free from the carcass. “I suspect you would already be dead without the Kras’s guidance, my blade, or Farthr’s ass.”

“Excuse me?” Drada’s jaw fell from behind her veil. The confrontation came unaware to her. Though she suspected the human bid to insult her for her weighted words last night. “You underestimate me.”

“I think not.” Seigfeld twitched his nose like he was ridding it of a foul smell. “In a single day, you have lost your war-brother, have been saved from the simargl’s bite, and now, a myling’s embrace. I can see why you were sent to find the name of death.”

Drada tensed, her eyes locking on the blood dripping from the edge of her sword. The drops fell to the pool of blood flooding from the myling’s body, mixing with the grime and mud of the forest flooring.

Seigfeld wiped his blade clean. “You appear to have an unsettled pact with death.”

Farthr grated his teeth. “Leave her alone, Seigfeld. We have our duty and she has hers.”

“Hold your tongue, Farthr,” Seigfeld barked through thin lips. “You have been mangled, and the blame can only fall to this ungainly woman. You will not find glory dying for the cursed.”

“I will live,” Farthr said. The blood oozing from his punctured flesh slowed from the gaping holes.

Drada spoke over him, determined to keep her honor and not cut the human down where he stood. “I am not cursed.”

“Bah! Yet you search for the name of death.” The human clutched his sovnya, and hung over Drada with a fierce gaze. “We will find out soon enough. I trust if the gloom hanging over Shayol Domier is true, we will know your nature soon enough.”

“What do you mean?” Drada paused, looking at Seigfeld and then Farthr. “I thought you sought demons. What exactly do you expect to find at the ruins?”

“More than demons really. We also seek death,” Farthr answered.

“Farthr,” Seigfeld warned, casting a wary eye on his companion.

The Svet did not heed the warning. “Ivarr Gauthus, the master of the Crimson Sun, acts on the order of Patrician Falmagon Sej of the Kadari, and we do as we are bid.” Farthr winced, his ears twitching beneath his mane. “We suspect the old-dark is seeping into the world of the living.”

Drada hooked her sword on her belt. “I don’t know what the old-dark means.”

Wrylyc’s hands were shaking while he offered his wisdom. “Old gods before time was recorded. The ancient gods supposedly know us better than we know ourselves, and were said to be death themselves. Some stories have referred to the eight of them as the Likhyi. Their names cannot be pronounced in any modern tongue, but when translated they mirror the eight elements of this world: stone, sky, fire, sea, void, primal, profane, and sacred.”

Drada’s heart thudded in her chest. “Is this the name of death? The Likhyi?” The answer to her question had been sitting in the minds of her companions all this time, and yet they had said nothing.

Seigfeld snorted. “One way to find out.”

Wrylyc waggled his head, and suddenly grinned. “I agree. If the two of you aren’t going to kill each other, we should make haste. Shayol Domier is near.”

[] Chapter 4

The timber gates of Shayol Domier were remnants of what they had once been, withered away between the two teetering towers of flat stones. The rotted wood had become discolored and fragmented over time with one door dislodged from the wall, overrun by the forest foliage, and the other hanging ajar. Drada squinted into the heavy vapour coiling through the dilapidated buildings and scattered trees that had grown overtime, running her fingertips along the inner arch.

The sticky mold was moist and smelled…sick.

“Be wary of anything lurking about,” Farthr said, checking the bolt on his crossbow. “Far too many places to hide in a place like this.”

“I will make us a torch for better light,” Seigfeld said. He grabbed a thick branch, and pulled flint and steel from his pocket.

Drada turned from the human, eyeing the towers on either side of the gate. One had partially caved in on itself with dark green climbers spiralling up and over the top. The walls were six times higher than Drada, and the towers taller yet. “What happened here?”

“Not far from here, twelve hundred years ago, the Ash Tree was protected by the Kadari from hordes of demonic Bukavac and an Eretik,” Wrylyc said, rocking on the end of his toes. “Shayol Domier was the Kadari’s main stronghold in Maharia.”

Eretik?” Drada echoed with wonder.

“A meddler in dark magic,” Wrylyc explained. “My grandfather had said she had come back from the dead, terrorizing the living with her evil from Kalamaar to Maharia.”

A wind too cold for summer brushed by them, sending a chill up Drada’s spine. She shivered, holding the veil across her helm so that it would not falter.

“The battle with demons did take place here, but the rest is hogwash,” Siegfeld said with a snort, seemingly unaware of the breeze. He stood upright with the fiery branch in his hand. In his free hand, he held several more sticks to transfer the light when needed. “As I said, humans had not come to Maharia when this structure was built. Maybe the Uvil or the Stuhia, but not humans. Our kind had not yet ventured as far as the Dyndaer.”

“You are mistaken,” Wrylyc said, pointing at a pile of collapsed stones across the courtyard. “That building once led to the Kras chambers underground where the slaves were held—where my grandfather was held. And—”

“You are not convincing anyone with your stories, Kras,” Seigfeld said.

Farthr grimaced with pain. “You are too closed minded, Seigfeld. The Kras know their history better than any human.”

Drada rested her hand on her sword, interjecting before Seigfeld silenced the Svet. “Where do we go to find death? The fog only swells in the darkness.”

Wrylyc scrunched his nose, peering ahead where the others could scarcely see. “Why don’t we go into the keep? It looks to be unbroken.”

“I sense doom here that I have not felt since the Shade Fells,” Farthr said. His ears twitched, squinting to look through the dusky haze covering the ruin.

Drada took the first step into the ruin, seeing the outline of the keep in the dim light. She unhooked her weapon from her belt, and pulled the shield from her back. “Be ready for whatever comes.” She advanced to the keep doors.

Pulling the doors open, Drada was greeted with the sound of growling and gnashing of teeth. Though, she could see little in the darkness. Seigfeld, to her right, backed away several steps, while Farthr fired a bolt into the darkness ahead of them. A screech of pain resounded and then quickened footsteps raced toward them. Farthr bellowed again and fired another bolt. A thump sounded as something connected with the ground in a heap.

“I thought you could not see in the dark,” Wrylyc said.

Farthr set another bolt. “I could hear it.”

“I cannot see anything,” Drada said. “What did you kill?”

Seigfeld edged into the keep, holding his temporary torch with an outstretched hand. The glow glimmered over the dank earth. Sprawled out with one bolt in the side and another through the eye socket, was what appeared to be—at first glance—an oversized, hairless mutt. Grey wrinkled skin drooped from a thin body to an oversized head, where two goat-like horns cropped out from the skull.

“A Dreka,” Wrylyc said. “Disgusting creatures. A single bite could take off your arm.”

Drada peered at the mouth to see rows of teeth on the top and bottom gums. “Died easily enough.”

“What is this?” Seigfeld asked, whipping the torch around to look at the entryway. A staircase led down with three pale brown columns on either side. At the top of the stairs sat a giant stone statue of a man with a long beard. Each fine hair was carved into the stone, but most impressive was the large hammer held in the sculpture’s hand. “Dahz?”

A grin split across Wrylyc’s face, and Drada heard him giggle. “Yes. The Lightbringer, who rides across the expanse in his chariot, Mioengi, holding the Hammer of Righteousness, Mulafell.”

“What is a statue of the White-Clad doing here? In the Dyndaer?” Seigfeld lit another stick to give more light, throwing the first to the ground. “This is a god of men, the Protector of Men.”

“My people would not have built this,” Drada said.

“Like I said, Shayol Domier is a stronghold built by men.” Wrylyc grinned. The Kras had difficulty keeping the look of satisfaction from his face.

Drada watched Seigfeld mull over the magnificent statue, shaking his head with confusion. “It must be true,” he finally said.

Again, a cold wind chilled Drada beneath her armor. A sense of darkness pulled at her momentarily before letting go, and in moments, the feeling was only a memory. She turned to gaze at the downward staircase. “We should go down there.”

“I don’t know what we will find,” Wrylyc said. Drada realized his face was suddenly etched with fear. Yet he took the first step near the stairs.

“Farthr,” Siegfeld ordered, “stay here and keep watch for anymore Dreka.” He glanced at the staircase from the corner of his eye. “You will not be able to squeeze down there anyhow.”

Farthr hung his crossbow over the quiver of bolts hanging from his side. “I will make a fire. We could possibly camp for the evening.”

Seigfeld frowned. “Make the fire so you may see better, but we will not stay here any longer than we must.”

Drada followed Wrylyc and Seigfeld down a flight of stairs to another set of double wooden doors, heavy and well-fitted into their frame. On either side of the entrance hung faded tapestries of what appeared to be similar images of Dahz the Lightbringer.

Seigfeld pulled open the doors and thrust his burning stick into the opening. A waft of dry air, laden with the smell of death stung Drada’s nostrils.

“Oh, it stinks,” Wrylyc groaned, covering his hooked nose with both hands. “Something terrible.”

“I don’t see anything moving,” Seigfeld said, taking a step opposite of the doors. The light flickered, barely illuminating the square room. The human hit his foot against the ground a few times, and concluded, “The ground is different in here.” He scraped his foot across the dusty flooring. “Red rock, by the looks of it. I wonder where they found red stone in the Dyndaer.”

Drada gripped her sword hesitantly, searching the room with her eyes. She could see little in the darkness.

Wrylyc said, “I see several doors.”

Seigfeld pointed at the door across the room. “Follow me. We will start there.”

A clang, like the sound of a blacksmith’s hammer on an anvil, resounded with Seigfeld’s next step, followed by a cry of pain from the human. He grabbed his leg as the small spear that cut through his thigh clinked against the wall at Drada’s left.

“Don’t move,” the Kras cried.

Drada held her breath, watching Seigfeld—already in motion—drop the torch and fall to his knee. The moment his knee struck the ground another clang sounded, and a second spear fired into his chest.

Drada dropped her shield, snatched a hold of Seigfeld’s leather tunic, and yanked him back out the doors, while Wrylyc grabbed her waist to hold her back.

“Careful,” he said.

“We are under attack,” she shouted. Drada rocked back as the darkness in the room above her rippled. A strange sensation Drada had never felt before trickled into her mind, like the slow drip of a rain drop from a leaf petal.

Terror.

She shook the thought away, refocusing on the unmoving shadows.

“No!” Wrylyc cried in response, hearing Farthr scuffling beyond the stairs. “We triggered a trap. Hurry. Get him up the stairs.”

[] Chapter 5

Night had come and the darkness in Shayol Domier was bottomless. The glow of the fire at the base of the statue illuminated only a hair’s breadth beyond the heated embers.

Drada touched Seigfeld’s forehead and recoiled her hand. His fever was blistering. The yellow seepage leaching from the wound on his leg and chest seeped more now than it had a handful of hours ago.

“He is dying,” Drada said. “The poison is in his blood.”

“Anneinda,” he murmured, eyes closed. His voice was as faint as his breath. His body convulsed.

Drada gritted her teeth. “Humans and your use of poison…”

Farthr stood over her, crossing his arms. “A warrior of the Crimson Sun killed by a simple trap. He will find no glory in the afterlife.”

“I expect not considering the feats of heroism I have heard thus far.” Drada stood up, rubbing her hands together.

Farthr glowered. “He was a noble man.”

“Maybe.” Drada lifted her head to the Svet. “Still, I do not see any reason for us to stay here.” She pointed to the dead Dreka, adding to the rotting aroma. “You found your demon, and I am not going to go beyond those doors again.”

Wrylyc emerged from the stairs behind her. “I have studied the room below, and I think I discovered the source of the spears. A line, hidden beneath the dust, has been brushed on the flooring to mark the safe pathways. He stepped off the path.”

Drada picked up her shield, fastening it to her back. Her eye rested on Seigfeld. “It does not matter, Wrylyc. We are not going to go into the room again. It is not worth the risk.”

“The risk?” Wrylyc cocked his head. “I thought Uvil did not retreat. Are you really afraid of going in there?”

“I am not afraid.” Drada snipped. “A fine line rests between courage and stupidity. You do not rush into a fire after watching another get burned.”

“But you have not discovered death’s name,” Wrylyc argued.

“Quiet,” Farthr growled. “Something comes.”

The earth beneath Drada’s feet quaked. Heavy stomping thudded toward the entryway of the keep. Wrylyc scooted back near Seigfeld, who exhaled to never inhale again. Farthr dropped his dark gaze to his lifeless companion before lifting them back to the wooden doors leading outside to the courtyard. The foot falls drew closer.

Suddenly, a large creature crashed into the doors, cracking them under the impact. A howling resounded, followed by several more howls, and yipping. The beast struck the doors again.

Farthr lifted his crossbow. “We might survive this, Uvil, but not without bleeding.”

Drada grabbed her arm-guard once more and raised her sword at the ready. “Whatever comes, be sure its blood flows more freely than ours, Farthr. Stand with me.”

The door cracked again, a panel falling away to uncover the moving shadows. The centaur released a bolt through the opening striking flesh. And another. And another.

The timber rattled against the massive strength of the unseen beast chipping away piece by piece until Wrylyc lastly shouted. “It’s a simargl. And many Dreka.”

No more had the Kras identified the beasts than a Dreka leapt through a smaller opening in the door. Its grey skin eclipsed the animal in the subdued light, charging at Drada with its horned head bent with intent for ramming.

She lowered her shield and battered the demon to the side, sinking her sword into its flesh without delay. Farthr dropped a second with his bolt. A third and fourth skittered across the dirt toward Drada, gnashing the rows of sharpened teeth.

Again, Drada smacked the first with the shield, and swung her sword to hit the second. Blood sprayed. She ignored the gushing stench of death pouring out from the hideous beasts. Instead, her attention was on the simargl busting through the keep doors.

“Farthr!” she cried.

The centaur wasted no time loosening the bolt from his heavy crossbow. The bladed shaft tore through the animal’s skull, felling the monster.

More bays filled the courtyard. The ground quaked once more.

Drada spun and thrusted her sword into the back of the remaining Dreka. The unearthly howl erupting from the demon’s jowls caused her to fall to her knees, and release her sword. She covered her ears, feeling the room spin under the echoing death bawl of the beast.

Farthr grabbed her by the shoulder, lifting her back to her feet. “Get your sword. We cannot hold this position.”

“We have nowhere to flee,” Drada said, shakily ripping her sword free. She breathed deep to steady herself. The image of the shadowy room below touched her mind.

“I do not,” Farthr said, nodding toward the stairs, “but you can save yourself.”

Drada took the centaur’s meaning. “The Uvil do not retreat!”

Farthr roared with fury, firing another bolt. “Go into the under-earth and find death’s name, Drada, daughter of Vrayda. Bring your people glory, and leave this filth for me. I will have my glory.”

Wrylyc appeared between them, hastily handing Farthr Seigfeld’s sovnya, and then Drada a burning torch. She took the blazing stick in her shield hand reluctantly.

“Come on,” Wrylyc said. “You must stay on the painted lines or your fate will be the same as Seigfeld.”

Drada pressed down the steps, disregarding the din of snarls and howls rumbling above. Waving the torchlight near her feet, she found the lines marking the path within the square room. Wrylyc practically pushed her on the first line.

“I will help Farthr distract the beasts,” Wrylyc said.

Drada spun around to see the doors already closing. She grabbed at the frame while trying to balance on the safe marking on the floor. “Wrylyc, no.”

Wrylyc vanished from sight. “My life has never been my own.”

“You have to tell the story.”

The doors creaked as the Kras continued to push. “You must tell the story now.”

“You cannot die!” she screamed, her hand sliding off the grimy wood.

His final words hung in the air. “I will try not to.”

The doors latched shut. Frantically, she reached for the handle, only to find none was to be found on the interior side of the door.

“Wrylyc,” she cried.

Although she had expected silence, Drada was answered with a thunderous roar within the enclosed room. The ground shook. The walls tremored.

The light of her torch flickered and faded as shadow darker than pitch, blacker than the grave, spread through the room. Screams of the dead echoed in her ears. Icy claws crept up her spine and neck and cheeks. Razor teeth etched along her legs, no matter her armor or clothing. Any scream Drada may have responded with was barred in her lungs; fear froze the heart in her chest. The darkness swarmed over her like insects on decaying flesh.

She stumbled, her foot falling from the path.

A poisoned bolt tore into her leg, and then another into her side. Drada wailed, gripping the base of the projectiles lodged into her skin.

She could feel her warm blood rushing from the wounds.

The room spun. She lifted her head up hearing battle, and death, and the clang of iron on stone. And amongst the clamor whispered a voice, more ancient than any she had ever heard, speaking in a language no longer known. She strained to hear a word amongst the undertones.

She fell to her knees. Another bolt penetrated her back, tearing through her breast. The darkness was heavy as iron, weighing against her armor, her helm, even her bones. She crumbled to the floor. Physical strength left her body.

The shade enveloped her. The voice clouded her mind with a single word.

Likhyi.

Death’s name had been spoken.

“So be it!” she whispered, her voice failing. With her remaining strength, Drada tore the cord from her neck. She traced the cold, smooth token between her fingers, sliding it from its binding. She would complete her quest from the other side of the veil.

Ripping off her helm, Drada shoved the quoin into her mouth and gulped.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joshua Robertson was born in Kingman, Kansas on May 23, 1984. A graduate of Norwich High School, Robertson attended Wichita State University where he received his Masters in Social Work with minors in Psychology and Sociology. His bestselling novel, Melkorka, the first in The Kaelandur Series, was released in 2015. Known most for his Thrice Nine Legends Saga, Robertson enjoys an ever-expanding and extremely loyal following of readers. He counts R.A. Salvatore and J.R.R. Tolkien among his literary influences.

I hope you enjoyed the story! I look forward to reading your review on Amazon. You can explore more of Aenar in the many other published works in the Thrice Nine Legends Saga.

 


The Name of Death

Drada Koehn is a fearless, formidable fighter ensnared in a presaged war against the northern humans. When the Speaker foretells their victory upon discovery of the name of death, she sets out to unravel the mysterious prophecy. Now, bound by duty and honor, Drada faces untold horrors with her companions, searching for what may never be found. In story of unexpected twists, she soon finds that her resolve to see the quest done will be the fortune or doom of her people.

  • ISBN: 9781370425921
  • Author: Crimson Edge
  • Published: 2016-12-26 14:50:13
  • Words: 10302
The Name of Death The Name of Death