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The Lost Blade: Book One-Fantasy Horror-opening chapter-A.D Greenwyn

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After a week of festivities, the people of Kald should have been sleeping off the twice-cooked pork, the sticky yam dumplings, and the sweet salt wines of Mawa, but instead, they were screaming—fleeing their squat white houses in the wee hours of morning as the spoken fire overtook them. The fire danced across the wide streets and the sweltering heat caused the white paint on the houses to bubble and blister.

Sickly green flames at first but as they burned hotter green gave way to bright yellows and searing oranges. It surged, washing over the townhomes, stacked on top of each other like building blocks. When the town had first been founded almost a century ago, the design was clever, it had saved them space before, only now as the buildings collapsed in on themselves, swallowing the unlucky townsfolk still inside, holding its occupants captive under smoldering rubble—now it seemed a trap built by the death gods, a quick trip to the blind mother's hallowed halls. Those fleeing the fire could see the charred silhouettes already protruding out of the rubble their burnt bodies like the blackened limbs of fallen trees, their twisted forms clawing out, pleading for help.

Thick tendrils of noxious black smoke billowed from the round pane-less windows; watching on Lord Darrow couldn’t help but think of the withered one, reaching into the windows with her blackened hands to save her people, he laughed at the notion, there would be no savior for these people. The withered one would not come.

The crackle of the hungry flames was almost louder than the screaming, almost. The fire skipped through the streets of Kald, plucking townsfolk up like sacrifices to a ravenous god. They could feel the heat of the fire on their faces as if they were standing in the heart of the Ureaplos star, they could feel the hot pin-prick kisses of the heat blistering their faces, licking their tears away, leaving behind trails of burning salt on their dark cheeks.

Above them the three moons were staring down at the town, their ghostly eyes watching in silent horror as the silver-haired citizens of Kald cried out for their gods—it was a shame none seemed to be in a listening mood.

Lord Darrow continued to watch, looking on at the chaos he had brought to the town from atop his horse. He closed his eyes and listened: listened to the sounds of women begging for the lives of their children, to the sound of steel against flesh, to the sob of fresh orphans sobbing in the streets. If anyone asked him, he would have told them, he didn’t take pleasure in his work, that it was nothing more than a necessary evil, but there in the dark, at the very edge of town among his men, he could be honest—Lord Darrow enjoyed his work, he was serving Aertis’ himself, and who could not be happy doing the bidding of a god?

His men captured children and women and some men, the qitareeni people were fierce everywhere they met them, but the sons of Aertis were more so.

Behind him were the pleading moans and cries of captives caged behind iron bars, like most of the children of the other gods the iron burned them; Lord Darrow could hear the sizzle of their flesh behind him as they grabbed at the bars, desperate for his attention.

He gave them none.

Women ran with their crying children, doing their best to put on brave faces as they hurried to the temple, a big windowless building made of clay, clutching the trembling hands of their children who struggled to keep up what with their oversized cloaks and ragged dolls hugged close to their tiny chests. Some of the townsfolk carried woven baskets atop their heads, filled with what belongings they could carry: clothes, food, things they deemed important in one way or another as they, with their soot-covered faces hurried to the opened hallowed doors of the temple.

Lord Darrow’s men, dressed in white armor decorated with blue and oraqish gold; they carried with them long swords at their hips, though some of them carried pikes the size of a full-grown elve. They took turns, beating the villagers, intercepting them before they made it into the temple. Darrow’s men, with their white steel gloves, grabbed children by the hair and dragged them, kicking and screaming from the burning town and into the deep dark of the woods, where the cage lay waiting for them.

The men of Kald tried to help, they pushed themselves between the women and the children, and invaders, chests puffed, armed with small dirks and clay bricks.

They were met with laughter and steel.

The air became tinny and thick, like breathing into a damp hot rag, the smell of blood along with the scent of burning flesh and beneath it all the faint aroma of burning bread.

Hidden in the dark, Lord Darrow watched, smiling as he played with one of the fingers around his neck, he wore a wreath of blackened hands around his neck like a necklace, and he rotated one of the fingers on it thoughtfully between his own fingers—unlike his men, he didn’t wear gloves, or armor, he made no distance between himself and the cruelty he oversaw. He sucked in a deep breath, letting the char and death settle in his lungs, invigorating him in a way.

A few of his men returned to him, most on horseback, most towing women and children behind them, some of whom weren’t moving; they had dragged them from town to camp by the hair or by the legs kicking and screaming. Lord Darrow glanced over his shoulder, as his men continued filling the cage behind him with their “prizes”, he would have rathered them killed, but the curator always needed more hands it seemed.

Somewhere in the village, he heard a rallying voice cry out, “Quickly get to the temple! Quickly now!” and the smile on his thin lips faded.

Beneath him, his horse shifted, the growing flames were making it uneasy, but he ignored it as he rose his hand.

“Archers!” he called out to the bowmen at either side of him. He didn’t need to say more, not a moment later a flurry of arrows whistled through the air, landing with heavy thwunks into their targets. He could hear it clear as day from where he stood and he drank it all in, like a fine Mawan wine. “Into the temple, before we lose them!” with a single cry, the remainder of his men rallied, hurrying into the town, slaughtering anyone who got in their way.

The fires cast horrible shadows across their bodies that made them look like wraiths on ghostly horses.

The doors of the temple were closed and peppered with arrows. Lord Darrow and his men arrived just in time to hear the door being barred with a loud ker-chunk. Lord Darrow snorted, half-amused and very quietly, almost calmly as if he were asking someone to pass the salt over dinner, said, “Break it down.”

His men threw themselves at the door, making battering rams of their bodies. The door groaned under the weight of the men and the walls of the temple shuddered; still, they kept at it.

Lord Darrow watched them, his gaze focused on the door as if he were staring through it. “They’re getting away,” Lord Darrow said through clenched teeth.

“We’re on it, the door is almost…” the man trailed off as he threw himself against the door a final time.

A splintering crack echoed into the night and Lord Darrow slid off his horse.

The door was still standing as he took slow careful strides over to the door; with a touch, the door fell to the ground with a loud resounding thunk

The temple was a long colorful room and he looked around at the blasphemous tapestries of green and gold that hung from mosaicked walls depicting stories of a war between the gods. A barricade of wooden pews stood between him and where the last of the people of Kald. His men moved quickly to demolish the barricade, flinging wood benches across the wide space. Lord Darrow stood in the middle of the temple, his eyes narrowed, the people of Kald were disappearing, fleeing into their secret tunnels.

There was a loud thuwnk sort of sound, like a heavy door closing, and a man stood up, he was silver-haired and defiant.

He was too late, Lord Darrow realized, and he walked forward, taking hurried steps towards the barricade. He didn’t care if it was cleared or not; he clicked his teeth, annoyed, as he climbed over the pews like walking up a rocky hill and as he did so the last man of Kald sat down.

The last qitareeni man was a priest, one of the qitareeni black hands. He was kneeling on top of what Lord Darrow knew was a door, a round stone door that looked like a medallion of sorts, the image of a snake eating itself was meticulously carved and painted into the stone along with the eerie words “Mae Voktis Mic,” Lord Darrow found those words in every heathen temple he and his men visited. When he stood before the man, the man didn’t seem to notice or if he did, he didn’t react. “Open the door,” it was a polite command.

“No,” said the black hand priest raising his head to look up at Lord Darrow, he seemed at peace in a way, calm when he should have been scared. Lord Darrow frowned and touched one of the fingers of the wreath of black hands around his neck, it was a threat, and a promise, though the priest hardly seemed afraid of either.

“No?” Scoffed Lord Darrow. “You will open the door— the priest cut him off short.

“Or what? You’ll take my hand? You would take my hand even if I did open the door. The door will remain closed. So, you’ll just have to kill me,” the priest rose to his feet as he spoke, he and Lord Darrow were the same height. Lord Darrow at first snorted, it was nearly a laugh but not quite and his mouth twitched into a sour smile.

“Kill you?” repeated Lord Darrow. “No. No, I learned a long time ago there’s no point in killing your kind. You besani worship death. Killing you is exactly what you want. You won’t open the door? No matter, in one way or another I’ll rid Aertis’ green earth from your ilk soon enough.”

Lord Darrow’s words left a sour taste in the priest’s mouth, he could tell by the priest’s twisted expression; he was disgusted and defiant, but never fearful.

Lord Darrow made a gesture, and his men swarmed the man, and beat him: they broke his ribs, and blackened his eyes, they kicked the teeth out of his mouth, but the defiant look in his swollen eyes remained.

When his men had finally stopped beating him, the priest spit out a glob of red onto Darrow’s boots and spoke, “You can torture me if you want, but it won’t do you any good. I know men like you. You think you can do whatever you want, that the atrocities you sew will never fruit, but they will. They are. I’ve seen it. It’s already happening you don’t even realize it. My suffering will be temporary…I may endure now but soon; she will rise and you and yours will have to speak for what you’ve done.”

Lord Darrow glared at the man, his rage made evident by his shaking hands.

He listened as the priest sucked in a shuddering breath, let the ashes fill his lungs and the tin taste of blood coat his tongue. Behind him, he could hear his men speaking to him, asking him something that he couldn’t for the life of him make out. Lord Darrow rested his trembling hand on the hilt of his sword. With every breath the besani priest took Lord Darrow could feel the withered one around him, she was like a noose slowly wrapping around his neck—like smog in the air. She would not rise, he told himself, not if he had anything to say about the matter. She would stay forever dead and dreaming. “I’ve listened to enough besani drivel for one night. If he won’t open the tunnel, have him branded and thrown in with the others, the curator could always use more hands.” Said Lord Darrow, watching steely-eyed as his men dragged the black hand priest away.

Besides him, the sound of fluttering wings caught his attention; Lord Darrow turned his head to see a man standing beside him, tall and pale-faced, wearing all black save for the red cravat at his throat. “My my, Lord Darrow one would think that you were enjoying yourself.”

“Vizier,” Lord Darrow bowed his head. “Who said one couldn’t mix business with pleasure.”

“As long as that pleasure is getting you closer to one of the fragments,” said the vizier, Lord Darrow didn’t answer and perhaps he didn’t need to. Vizier’s sharp mouth twisted into a smirk and with that, he was gone. 

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