Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Last Light - Whispers of the Dead

Ever since the disconcerting revelation by Nompidi, Vash had not once slept soundly. As he led his ragged band of sneering escapees, he could almost feel the animosity radiating towards him like merciless rays of a desert sun. Every time he spoke with Nompidi he gritted his teeth and made sure to respond as civilly as he possibly could.

Nompidi seemed to have retreated back to his usual meek self after his threat on the blustery morning. Vash remembered it all too well. Vash had nothing but disdain for the slightly-built deputy, but Nompidi could be perfectly murderous if he wished, to his subordinates. Only the long-bred habit of subservience to his betters (a looked-up to custom in Jadeon) had kept him fom displaying his more bestial half to Vash himself, though, as Vash could see, Nompidi was fast reaching his breaking point. Vash himself could only thank the Three that his authority had held; rebellious intent was limited to surly grumbling even as Vash led them to their inexorable destination, Knoros, of the Domain of Ilushida.

So overjoyed the people were at the sight of civilization that they forgot all their inhibitions in daily Mikone, the Absolution. Thallae himself, striking a perfectly ridiculous pose with the squalling infant in his arms, led the Mikone, and beseeched forgiveness for their actions, one of which (he intoned himself) was doubting Vash's ability and trustworthiness. Vash almost felt his usual dislike for the blacksmith fade away, somewhat.

As the night settled, the Hadon Procession, as they called themselves now, set up camp again, within sight of the city. As blue deepened to magenta and then to brown, many eyes were on the city, bone white in the dying light against the foot of the mountains. Vash, too, was gazing at it intently while smoking a pipe. The beginnings of doubt began to rise in his mind, even as the world darkened around him. Briks, a spearleader, offered him some food on a skewer. Vash vouchsafed no reply, his eyes on the city the whole time.

It was clear that Vash was surprised, even shocked by something, as Briks watched his commander worriedly. For as night settled, the familiar blinking lights of city torches...did not light. Knoros was completely dark. Dark, and, Vash thought with a sinking feling in the pit of his stomach, lifeless.

Vash stood hastily and trod to Nompidi's tent, one of the few that had emerged out of the mad rush at Hadon. Crouched low, he entered. Nompidi was chewing on dried meat. "Ah, welcome, Lord Eleindant. I am afraid I have not the capacity to greet you in proper hospitality, I usually leave the hunting proceeds to my men..."

So, Vash thought, Nompidi could be nice, too, for a change. Grunting noncomittally, Vash settled down on the rough mat. He leaned close.

"Nompidi, listen. There is something deadly wrong. Knoros is unlit, and it is dark. It almost seems...lifeless, and no procession has arrived to meet us, even though we are strong in number and not far from their gates."
Nompidi's eyes widened; he looked fearful. "You do not say...Knoros has been...taken?" The last word had sunk to the volume of a whisper.

"I do not know." Vash began to put on a grimace, which was a sign of extreme anxiety coming from him. "what we must do, quell the rumours, undermine the panic. And Nompidi, ready a band of scouts. We shall investigate on the morrow. In daylight."

They both understood the unspoken quantity. Dark Ones disliked the sunlight. The attack on Hadon, like all others, had occured in twilight.

Hurriedly Vash stepped out of the tent, only to be confronted by a milling, confused mass of people who upon seeing him had bombarded him with questions that he found impossible to answer.

"What is happening-"
"Why is the city unlit-"
"What is this place, this city, why-
"Why have you led us to this accursed-"

"QUIET!" the clamour of voices stopped abruptly at the command. Vash looked around, a wild light in his eyes. It was Thallae who had spoken. He strode up to the still figure of Vash. "There is no point in worrying. I will admit that this occurence is strange in itself, but there are many reasons why we should stay calm. Chaos will tax everyone, make less your chances. And we do not presume to know much about the customs of the inhabitants of the city. If they held hostile intent, we would not be here looking at each other now."

"Where in the Underworld are we gonna do, eh?" shouted a middle-aged scruffneck. "I reckon no one know what the 'hell we is goner do save that Yel-" he cut off, staring surlily. Thallae turned to Vash, who studiously ignored him. Vash growled, "You are in no position to know. Stay calm, or the Horde Spirits claim you all. We have everything under control. You need not worry if you follow the commands of my troop, is that clear?" His last words were drowned out by a rising buzz of angry voices.

"Who is you t'think-"
"I'm sick of you Yellowguts and yer sh-"
"We have a right to know-"

"FINE!" he finally roared. "You want an answer from me? WE DO NOT KNOW. WE KNOW AS MUCH AS YOU DO. DO WE PANIC? DO WE CURSE, ROUND ON EACH OTHER? No," and his voice was dangerously soft, "we Yellowguts do more than you do, think more than you think. The only thing we do less than you is eat, sleep, rest. We are trying to make plans, and if you horde of plamkrats would only nail your mouths closed we would have mch progress made." Vash stormed off at that point.

They slept fitfully, the deathly quiet darkness of the city a poison against their peace-of-mind. When sunrise finally came it was muted by the dark roiling of stormclouds in the far east. Vash was disheartened by the lack of light, but he had little choice. Wishing the scouts a gruff good luck he set them off.

Morning turned to afternoon, and the eastern clouds still roiled turbulent. The pale light was enough to get Vash into a shouting fit with disgruntled members of the procession twice, while anxiously waiting for the return of the scouts. Thunder sounded even as the sky was still icily clear. Afternoon turned to the fearful dusk, and still there was no sign of the scouts. They had disappeared without a trace.

Vash became insane with worry, and his anxiety began to reflect the mood of the crowd, fearful, resentful, even terrified. The hours ticked by, till the sky began darkening. And as the hue of the sky turned dark the city began to shine with an ominous purple light, as if emanating from the stone itself.

A horror-struck scream sounded. Vash's head snapped around, and his eyes widened.

Knoros was burning with a wild violet light. Vash felt nauseous, and a seed of fear erupted in him as he had never felt before. Men and women around him began to vomit noisily onto the ground. The evil lights continued to dance, casting lurid shadows on the mountains. Vash's knees went to water as he sank to the clammy soil.

Then, on top of the sheerest pinnacle of the tallest tower of Knoros, something vile and serpent-like, emanating darkness, protruded out of the stone, sending chunks of it crashing onto the surrounding buildings. The earth seemed to shake. Then, sudden as the coming of ravens, a deathly silence reigned.

Then, like petals opening in a dying flower, the terrible protrusion opened. And the low, deadly, sonorous wail of the mournful howls of a thousand dying men sounded with terrible finality, drowning out even the piercing shrieks of the men and women of the Procession.

The Horn of the Dark had just sounded, thought Vash wildly, and this thought gave him a strength that, impossibly, overcame the paralysis of his legs and sent him tumbling to the front, roaring orders like he had never done in his life.

Too slowly, the procession ran, an echo of the escape of Hadon. They ran, leaving everyhing but their food behind, leaving those who had collapsed from aplopectic insanity, running for their lives, even as Vash led them, shouting orders, even as the soldiers they scorned escorted them, panting, even as the eastern horizon around them erupted into a writhing mass of unearthly colour and the lightning of the Dark Ones smothered the earth.

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