If you haven’t tried doing any of Rachael’s #BlogBattles before, I recommend that you do. They are great fun and can be a blast to read. They’re free and only your imagination restricts you. Everyone is welcome, so go and try!
A note on this story: I originally set this up as some sort of one-shot story that would turn into a father telling his son to eat his beans at dinner. That didn’t pan out. The more I wrote, the more I realized that idea—while fun—wouldn’t work. On top of that, I realized as it took shape, this story would actually exist in the world of my current work-in-progress, The Immortal Lords. It takes place several years before any of the events I’ve so far posted.
Snow, thick and heavy, clung to bare tree branches and bushes. Grey clouds filled the sky with whispers of more snow on the way. A light but incessant breeze whistled through the woods. Izarich shivered and wrapped his cloak closer around him. Nothing moved within his sight; no sign of bird or beast. Ahead lay only more trees over each rise in the land, each valley the same. Behind only the tracks he’d left behind added any variety in the landscape.
Izarich’s grey-brown hair waved in a stronger than usual gust of wind and he shoved his beaver pelt hat back on his head before starting forward. His ears stung and his lungs burned from the cold as he trudged forward through the knee deep banks that marked the windward side of the hill. Ice formed on his eye lashes and at the corner of his eyes from the water they leaked. Soon he’d not be able to see from eyes frozen shut.
Darkness falling, Izarich made his way up one rise followed by another and another, just as he’d been doing all day. His skin burned from the cold, his muscles from the continued effort of moving forward. Shivering was almost constant. Mind numb from the unchanging landscape, it was all he could do to keep moving when he wanted was to lie down. Each valley looked the same, each hill crest just like the last.
Until it didn’t.
He was losing it, his sanity going, when he topped a rise and there it was. Caer Morg Regan. Adrenaline surged and he dropped to one knee, unslinging the pack from his back. Numb fingers pawed through and around tiny drawstring bags of legumes and dried meats and cheeses to find the book he’d shoved to the bottom. It was thick, leather-bound, and carried every last scrap he’d collected on the age before They had come. Not bothering to rebind the bag, he half slid, half fell down the hill, his cloak flapping in the wind.
The ruins sprawled large, covering acres and acres. Topless towers and crumbling walls of jet black stone littered the field. Trees and bushes sprouted where lords had held court. But they were mangled and twisted, as if living in some shadow that had corrupted them. But if such a shadow had ever existed, it’d surely left by now.
It wasn’t until Izarich reached the first of the stone gates and lay his hand on the brick that he realized the wind had died and no sound other than his breathing rang in his ears. That was unsettling, but there hadn’t been any creatures around before, so why should it change now? Still, it was somehow more obvious here, standing next to the wall.
Shrugging, he focused on the wall. No cracks or chips appeared in the sections that still stood. No gaps appeared between the blocks, fitting tight without use of mortar. And the blocks themselves were unique. A finger run across a corner came away red from blood. Cold dulled the pain and Izarich inspected the block closer as he stuck his finger in his mouth. Obsidian. They built the entire structure out of obsidian. The cost of that had to have been enormous.
Absently, he wiped his finger across the wool of his cloak, the pain a dull buzz in the back of his mind. Ignoring it, he ventured forward into the ruins. He couldn’t wait to tell the academy about this. Caer Morg Regan had been long lost to legend; its authenticity debated. It didn’t help that the Lords had long ago banned the search for their ancestral home, and in doing so, supporting the ideas of the two main camps. Believers called it a heaven from whence the Lords had come. Skeptics thought it a fantastic place that had nothing to do with the real world. Only a handful of scholars believed as he did, seeing it as a real place. Now Izarich had proved its existence. He’d be remembered forever.
As night fell, his finger grew worse, but it wasn’t until he’d built a fire and settled in what had, he believed, once been the main audience chamber, that Izarich took time to really look at it. The cut was deeper than he’d originally thought. Longer too. Now the gash ran from the top of his forefinger down past his first knuckle, when before it had only been the width of his nail. But what concerned him was the blackness that seeped outward like an infection from the gash. Touching it caused a burning fire that seemed impossible.
As he watched, the blackness spread, slowly at first then gathering speed, covering one finger then another then the whole hand. As with the infection—what else could it be called?—the gash grew, shooting down his hand and arm. Izarich fell to his side before the fire. Pain lit up his senses and he could feel the snow melting from the heat in his arm. Screaming in agony, he flailed about as his body was consumed by—
Suddenly, it stopped and Izarich felt no aches, no shortness of breath, nothing to remind him of the pain he’d been in. He tried to sit up, but couldn’t. A new wave of panic flowed through his body and he twisted his head to look down at himself.
A man stood at his feet. Red eyes blazed below a head of hair that was only a shade darker than the crimson robes he wore from head to toe. The smile that crossed his lips froze the blood in Izarich’s veins and he wanted to scream again. Only no words would come out. Silently, he howled as the man came forward and placed his hand on Izarich’s forehead. Pain, deep enough to drown what came before, lit up his body as he ceased to be.