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Where the Light Fades

Posted on Wed Sep 6th, 2017 @ 8:59pm by Varidan of Coldshade Heights
Edited on on Mon Sep 25th, 2017 @ 9:07pm

Chapter: [FB] He Disappeared in the Dead of Winter
Location: The King's Capital of Aquitaine, Seeker Hold
Timeline: November 3550

The cell was one of the many under the Seeker Hold of the Capitol, or he guessed it would be. Virdaín was not sure where they had dragged him this time - his sense of orientation, even his sense of simply being were dulled to almost nonexistence. Then there was the pain, not the pain from the mistreatment that happened frequently prior to the sentence being passed, he now could hardly remember that those attentions had really hurt, the pain was different, it went right into the core of his being, to his very bones. The Breaking was an incorrect term for a process that meant nothing else but for something, for an essential part of him, being yanked from his soul, from his body, like there was a layer of skin on his bones, that had been ripped out of his body, leaving the rest of him torn and shredded.

He staggered when he was pushed forward into the cell. “Leave him alone for the night, he needs to be alive by tomorrow.” One of the guards observed, before the iron door fell into lock, leaving him in the dim light of the cell. The lightshaft falling from the ceiling was vague, barely a grey beam against the darkness. For a moment Virdaín remained unmoving on the hard floor of the cell, wondering if he could simply will himself to die. If there was anything that could still anchor him here, or if all that had meant life for him had already passed on.

He knew well what awaited him come morning - if the sentence to Breaking was passed it always went with Banishment - otherwise execution would have sufficed. Public banishment - it was a sentence he had always disliked, opposed it more than once, he refused to give the crowd their pound of meat. While the law dictated that the banished man had to reach the end of the path into banishment alive, no one cared if he died a few steps from that end of injuries sustained getting that far. It was a bad way to die… but then, there were no real good ways to go as far as he knew. Slowly Virdáin pulled himself to his knees, a few pieces of straw sticking from the simple grey tunic he had been given to wear as a prisoner.

My pain belongs to the Light, like the storms it comes, and like the winds it leaves. I let it go and release this burden from my soul.” The prayer of pain was a well known friend, but now he could not feel the warm touch inside, the Presence that he had become used to in so many years. Only emptiness inside him like swallowing hole that wanted to devour him whole.

My pain belongs to the Light, like the storms it comes, and like the winds it leaves. I let it go and release this burden from my soul.”

Virdaín repeated the words in his mind, like he had done as a Novice. Just because his Blessing had been broken, the words did not become less true and the Light did not cease to exist, just because a single man was cast into the darkness. It helped, a little, but it did enough for him to get up and sit down in one of the corners of the cell. He needed to rest… to think, to come up with a strategy for the Road into Banishment.

They’d use the capital’s main road for that, and it would be lined with the populace. Even those who might still hold sympathies for a fallen Templar would have to be careful to show their loyalty tomorrow. With a new King and the harsh way he had cleared his path to the Throne, most people would be careful to not show any sympathy for someone condemned, especially an enemy to said King.

Virdáin tried to shift his position just enough to take the strain off his back, the wall was not just rough and cold, it was uneven as well. When something poked his back again, he turned around, wincing with every movement, to look at the wall. The dim light that fell into the cell was not enough to see properly, so he used his hands to trace along the rough stone wall of the cell. He could feel the uncouth stone, full of small cracks and lines that went here and there, like the pattern of an age of strife, written into the stone.

Something metallic brushed by his fingers, it felt cold and had some sharp edges. As he traced his fingers along the shape in the wall, he realized that it must be an old mounting of a chain, not most of it was gone, half broken out of the wall. There even was an indentation beside the place where the steel ring had once been cast into the stone. Whatever had pulled it free, it had been strong. Curiously he used his fingers to search the cracks along the indentation - the stone must have splittered and given way as the chain was ripped out. He did not want to imagine what might possess the strength to do this.

As his fingers brushed deeper into that hole, he felt something soft under his fingers. Frowning Virdaín reached deeper, feeling something like cloth between his fingers. Who knew what had been stuffed in there? The hole was too small to house rats or mice, so no need to block it. Was there? He was not sure, still he drew the cloth piece out. It fell on his leg, along with something heavy. A metallic cylinder the length of his smallest finger and about as thick. Like a capsule for something, and the cloth… Virdaín recognized the type of cloth - he wore clothes of the same material and color. Only this was older, more bleached and stained. Long dark stains ran here and there, like forming lines on the cloth.

Virdaín’s thoughts came to a halt, when he realized that this was not a pattern. He rose to move towards the vague light falling from the shaft, for the moment the pain was almost forgotten, as he turned the grey cloth into the vague light. It was hardly better but he could recognize writing on the piece of cloth - someone must have used his own blood to write this message. Virdaín squinted, as he tried to decipher the chicken scratches on the stained cloth. The message was written in Saesneg, though some of the letters looked odd to him.

By dawn I shall die. The Anemoi give that this is found by someone who is not one of my murderers. They must not find it, though I think they want it. It is all here… and they must never have it. Three to One to Five,

The rest Virdáin could not decipher, try as he might. Though the word Annemoi made him frown. That was an Cymry term, some kind of four-incarnate goddess, he was not fully sure about it, but he thought he had heard it spoken off only recently. Should an Cymry have died here, hiding what exactly?

Again he studied the cylinder, his fingers “seeing” more than his eyes. It was made in three sections, that seemed to be able to move. A kind of lock? Dwarves made such things, secret locks that no one could open. Or… or had the very message held a final hint? The way to open the cylinder? If so, he could not risk doing it, it needed be done later…

Later… that was a grim word. Later. If he made it. He sat down again. They would use the main road out of the city. Which meant he would have to try and reach the city gates alive. His best chance would to move fast, to not fall… if he went down, he’d probably only get up when the guards forced the crowd back and he’d have taken too much damage by then. So avoid that. No reactions to anyone, not to those he would inevitably know and no being goaded into anything but moving. How… how to hide what he had found. His eyes went again to the piece of cloth with the message on it.

Use what you have, no one is helped by bemoaning what he does not have. It seemed strange that his father’s advice would come to back him. The old man had been full of such practical thoughts, that fit most situations somehow. Pulling his own stained tunic off his bruised body, Virdaín ripped both arms off, before slipping it on again. He folded one of the arms neatly, placing the message and the cylinder on it, and then wrapped it tightly around his wrist. Like he was trying to give himself a better chance to block a few hits, that would come. He repeated the same thing with the other arm, for his left wrist. The cylinder firmly pressed against his ankle, unseen and if he managed to life, he may manage to carry it out of here. To wherever that would lead.

***

Waking again felt like slowly diving up a long cold well shaft, like struggling through sluggish water with only a vague spot of light to guide him, the light ever receding from his reach, while the cold tried to drag him under. When Virdaín finally managed to open his eyes, he saw only darkness around himself. With waking the pain returned, not only the pain inside him, where his soul was still raw from the Breaking but also the physical pain of bruises and torn muscles. It almost seemed a relief, that he could realize the pain was there, or maybe somewhere deep down he still had enough life left to recognize pain as being alive.

He blinked into the darkness, trying to use one hand to push himself up. His fingers found soft wooden planks under them, and his movement caused a soft rocking movement in the ground he was lying on. Virdaín frowned… the last he remembered was collapsing, only a few steps away from the city gates, these last steps had eaten up all the strength he had left after being sent down the road into banishment.

“Careful, Laddie, those bastards did quite the work with you,” a deep voice observed as a small, stocky figure came in sight. The dwarrow walked on the planks with care, long dark hair framed a face that was partially visible in the light of the torch he carried. He squatted down beside Virdaín and pushed the Torch into a cone by the side of the planks. “You best stay down for a while,” the dwarf grumbled. “no worries about anyone finding you - this barge is already several miles downriver from the city.”

A barge, one of the river barges used by the traders. “Helping a banished man carries the penalty of death,” Virdaín said, a banished man was not just an outcast, doing as much as giving a banished man a cup of water could be punished with death, and often was.

“Luckily I am not a citizen of Aquitaine then, Laddie.” The dwarf replied and handed Virdaín a waterskin. “There, get some water down, I doubt they allowed you much in the dungeons.”

Virdaín took some gulps from the waterskin, without taking his eyes off the dwarf… he looked familiar, but it took him a moment to connect the face with a memory. “Kár?” he asked eventually.

The dwarf grinned at him. “The Maker be praised you do remember. With those hits you took to the head, I feared your mind would be gone by the time you made it to the gate.”

“You were there?” Virdaín knew rationally that the guard would have told strangers to come and watch, though they were exempt from having to do anything beyond looking.

“Aye, how do you think we got to you that fast? If this new King… Romar has his henchmen look for the place where you collapsed they will find nothing… except a few severely drunken dwarves. Do not even try to imagine what they will tell the guards what they did with you.”

Virdaín understood what went unsaid, that King Romar could not afford to break the Kingdom’s compacts with the Tynar-Darzûr and the worst he would do was imprison the drunken dwarrow and return them under guard to their homeland. Still, it was a risk for those dwarves to take. “Why?” he asked, wondering why of all people a few dwarves took this risk for him.

Kár sat down beside him, tilting his head slightly. “I once met this novice.. stubborn youngster carrying water to an old Ardan-Jangir monastery to help the sick there. He seemed like a decent lad. The same lad climbed down into a broken underground bastion to help a stubborn dwarrow out of troubles he had found all alone…” He shrugged. “and then I come to this city again and some overzealous guard invites me to watch while that same youngster gets cast out of his homeland. I knew you’d live though.”

“Then you knew more than me.” Virdáin managed to sit up fully, his body felt battered but he could not afford to get stiff from the injuries.

“Truly?” Kár barked a harsh laugh. “I saw when they led you out to the road this morning… and I saw that glance you had for the new King. And I said to myself - that lad is going to live, he’s a long way from a corpse yet. And I was right.”

“Thank you, Kár… I owe you a debt.” Virdaín sometimes wondered what small encounters in life could later shape other events.

“Na, you don’t, Laddie.” Kár reached over and helped Virdaín to sit up fully. “We’re on our way down to the sea,” he said. “once we reach the shores we will be in Aquilone and safe for now. If it was about any other man but you I’d say you stick with me, we go the long way round to Tynar-Dazûr and you pick up a few young sell-swords… there’s always work for a swift blade and you’ve led warriors for decades. But…”

“I doubt it would be prudent to do that, your homeland has treaties with Aquitaine and my presence there…”

“Would change nothing.” Kár raised his hand. “We’ve taken on other heretics before you, only… King Dargain does not like you. He was really unhappy when you won that Duel under the Light ten years ago. He had liked old Calcuran and he thought Tamerlaine was reasonably predictable.” Kár chuckled. “Old Dargain never met a true believer before… he wouldn’t know what to think of one of your kind if someone explained it to him.”

Virdaín had begun to unwrap the gory pieces of cloth at his wrists, finding the small metal capsule still safely ensconced there. He rubbed his wrists to alleviate the pain of the bruises a little. “My path may lead me elsewhere, Kár, though I appreciate your warning… and your suggestion.”

Kár snorted. “You did not strike me like a man who will waste the next ten years on mercenary campaigns, though you could be good at it.” he replied. “And I have no doubt you already have other thoughts… I told you, I knew you had reason to live. Tell me, where would you look for Basilisk feathers?”

“They are erroneously named,” Virdaín said, almost by reflex. “and they belong to a feathered snake that lives in the marshes of the Eastern Inland Sea, they are often believed to be arcane because of their way of hiding in the swamp gases.”

“All that witch hunting filled your brain with a lot of useful knowledge.” Kár was not yet finished with his strange conversation. “Witchlight tears… do they mean anything to you?”

“They are the crystallized sappings of the Witchlight Willow,” Virdaín replied “and are often attributed strange powers by would-be-alchemists and other assorted folk. They can be found anywhere where the willows stand on saline grounds so the sap and the salt form the crystals. What are you getting at, Kár?”

“Both Witchlight tears and Basilisk feathers are materials used by the dreamweavers at home,” Kár replied. “and they are only two of many other things that our crafters need for their best works. So… wherever that strange fate of yours leads you, should you happen to come along the marshes of the inland seas and find some feathers... see that you make it back to the main trade roads and there is not one dwarven trader who won’t take them off your hands.”

Virdaín understood what Kár was saying, it was valuable advice. “You put a lot of thought into this…”

Kár suddenly looked up and sharply at him. “My grandfather was a banished man - he and his best friend Balver. Their sons, Berán and me came home after our Sires’ died in foreign lands. I know the life you are looking at, Virdaín, and who knows… one day I might track you down with some problem that needs a former Templar to look at it. A restless ancestor haunting my home for example. And I know you’ll come and help… but you can only do that, if you survive whatever mission you have set yourself. This life… it’s something our young treasure-hunters often chose, when they need to finance their sibling’s training or a sister’s dowry, so you’ll make a lot of contacts among the common dwarrow if you keep at it. It’s a rough life, but it will keep you going and it will allow you to go where you need to go… and NO, do not tell me, that you have no plan, or mission. A man without that would have died on that road down to the Gate of Banishment… you got up three times, you fought to make it. You had a reason for that.”

“I did have a reason,” Virdaín replied. “and I appreciate your help… and your advice.”

Kár rose to his feet, the boat rocked softly as he did. “There’s a bundle over there, one of your people gave it to me. Maker alone knows how he knew what I was planning. Said it was for you before vanishing into the night.”

Wordlessly Virdaín took the bundle, by the weight he recognized it held a weapon… not his Templar blade, but a simple good sword, along with the tattered remnants of a damaged book and a small pouch. Atop all this lay a scroll, which he carefully opened, it was filled with a fluid, clear handwriting.

Brother,

when you read this, then you survived the road into Banishment. No surprises there, more than a few inside the Seeker Order were worried should you have called for a Trial by Fire. I think deep down some of them really believe you could have passed that one. While I doubt something as unlikely as that, I supported the deal made, Galahed’s life and continued safety for you accepting your sentence quietly.

You will wonder by now, if I believed you, or if I do judge you as Haladin did. The truth is harder, brother, Haladin and I both do not believe for one moment that the charges held truth. In fact you are a good man and a true believer… and as such you are more dangerous than the entire Black Order together. For you truly believe in redeeming the Chimera, you truly believe that not the talent is evil but INTENT is what decides between Light and Dark. And because one good man believes it, others will think it justified. In that you were a dangerous man, brother, and in that sense you had to fall.

I know that your life is limited now, few last even a year after the Breaking, and I do not believe you to be another Jehán the Defender who survived his breaking for decades. No, no believing in legends from me, brother. But I do believe you can last long enough to fulfil one last mission that even may redeem your soul into the Light.

Many years ago, when you still were a Novice you happened to be the one who found Dawnbreaker and you successfully wielded it against a Black Templar. Haladin and others have since discouraged you from trying to call the blade to you again. And I agree with them on that. Yet… it gives you the one chance to carry Dawnbreaker away from Aquitaine and safely away from the reach of the Black Order. They hope that you might die soon and they can then claim the weapon. Thwart them in that, travel as far as you can and then hide the sword again. It will be found when the Days of the Dawn are upon us, and thus be safe from falling into the wrong hands.

There is little else left for you, if you can life long enough to fulfil this task, I pray that the Light have mercy on your soul and show you the true path. I cannot give you any sentimentality, Virdaín, we both know there is no room for such things in our calling. Your Templar Blade was broken, when you were… I managed to reclaim the jewel that was in it. May it remind you of the Light you strive to find.

May the Light have mercy on you

Your Sister Suraine


For a long moment Virdaín sat there, quietly, letting the words of sister - a Seeker of the Order - echo into himself. He knew her letter was meant as a mercy, to give him a purpose to live and maybe of carrying Dawnbreaker to safety. If he truly had such control over the mythical blade, he had not seen it since he was sixteen. “May the Light keep you whole, Suraine,” he said softly, as he held the letter against the torch at the side of the barge. It was better not leave such proof in existence. “for I fear you face the greater danger than I do.”

Carefully he took the pouch, finding the shining stone inside that had been inside the hilt of his sword, it was dangling from a rough leather band. When Virdaín put it around his neck, he felt a gentle touch, like an echo that reached the wounded parts of his mind. Closing his hand around the stone, he listened to it for a few moments, taking comfort in the gentle presence. It helped a little against the gaping hole inside him. Eventually he packed the torn book up, making a make-shift bundle out of the few things he had.

Far in the East the sun slowly woke beyond the cold clouds, snowflakes danced in the air. Dawn was waking and ahead lay uncharted waters.

 

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