There were shadows that gathered upon the rough shores of that land when I came to it. Those shadows were shaped like men and women, yet they weren’t such things. To call them human would be a disservice to their savagery; to call them human would be to taint those of us who still call ourselves civilized, with their same darkness.
These shapes I saw as I looked up through the misty rocks and into the star-lit sky above, were those of the Rudavangians. They gathered there upon those rocks, staring hatred and malice down upon myself and my men. They remained there like silent spectres, watching us as we watched them. Dogs, the lot of them. Brutal warriors with no sense of justice. Spawn of the darkness that lies inside every human heart, and that those of us with custom, with knowledge, and with the light of truth dare not give in to.
They were waiting for us as they had somehow divined which shore we would arrive upon. Mangy dogs they were, but clever dogs, nonetheless. Smart like a starving animal, and keen like a desperate rogue. The mists seemed to fall back to the waters, exposing more and more of their number with every moment of silence. It was in those haunting moments that I heard a single sound, a dull and metallic thing as a sword was drawn from their number. My eyes traced the length of their horde, seeing the movement above and to my right. A rough and scarred-looking thing wearing red armors. No doubt their chosen champion.
With that creature’s blade drawn above their number a single call came out of the darkness. A whooping-like cry followed by the beating of fists upon chests. The dogs had decided we were weaker than them. They decided they would draw our blood at last. As one they ran down those rocks to meet their blades with ours. Blood stained the shore that darkened eve and many men died, being seized in the depraved hands of their savagery.
– From the journals of Heserod Jhallum, published posthumously as ‘The Red Dogs of Vangal’
It had been several hours since Canmore had fished the almost life-less and entirely exhausted body of Brachillio out of the shipwreck and corpse-filled waters of the Apia. Several of Anker’s men had tended to his wounds. They had done so roughly, and although their dressings and painfully tight bandages served well, each exhausted movement Brachillio took wrenched him back and forth with pain.
The awful thumping and hammering in Brachillio’s head made him dizzy with every step. He was slowly gathering his energy back, but every push or movement forward seemed to jar him into a haze. He pinched at the bridge of his nose for a moment, batting his eye lids and then looking around him.
Ahead, he could see the tousled hair and scar-covered, revealed back of Canmore as he struggled up a narrow sandy pathway between inclined rocks. The young man was lean and wiry, yet clutched at the bags he carried with a determination that made Brachillio fond of him for a moment. He hadn’t shirked his duties since he had replaced Kawir as his bagman.
In the distance, the waves of the Apia battered the sandy beaches near Corrundum. The sounds of shouts rang out at random intervals as well as the groaning of wood from the ships moored along its banks. Planks could be heard hitting the rocks of the shore as debris gathered. Farther off, the sounds of cawing crows could be heard, no doubt summoned by all the carnage and bloodshed of war.
‘Just over this fucking ridge.’ The voice of Anker broke through the haze from behind Brachillio. ‘Then a few hundred more strides and we should be at the encampment.’
Brachillio gave an uncertain nod, hoping that Anker could see him from behind. He could see Canmore falter ahead so he gave the boy a push to his back haunches. The strain and effort tore through his mind, sending him reeling with pain once again. He clutched at some nearby rocks to steady himself and groaned a few curses under his breath.
‘The Thunderer is beating quite the dance in your noggin, there.’ Anker’s voice had a twinge of concern to it. ‘Well, suck it up and keep moving. We’re almost there. This is your lot after all, being the Wielder. Great power, great responsibility, and apparently the whining of a damsel along with it.” The older man gave a long and groaning chuckle.
Brachillio used the anger at his friend’s words to push himself up the incline with greater focus. The haze seemed to abate for the moment, but the damned thumping in his head wouldn’t cease. He gave one more push to the inside of Canmore’s leg to get the weighted-down boy over the crest of the rocks.
Once over the mount and onto the scraggly grass beyond, Brachillio took a few steps off to the side to catch his breath. He rolled his arms and felt the sharp pain still needling away at his shoulder and the dull, yet still jarring ache of his broken ribs. He felt his arms and the tenderness of his hand. His wounds were healing with a preternatural efficiency, yet not as quickly as he would be satisfied with. The fight with the Red Champion had really done a number on him.
As if summoned by his thoughts, Brachillio heard an immense crash on the rocky shores below the incline. At first it sounded like a siege weapon had gone off, and in his shocked state he crouched low to the scrag on the cliff. It only took a moment for his eyes to train on the source of the noise. His eyes took in a large chunk of hull from the ship he had previously been on rising from the waters to hit upon the rocks below. Scorched wood and bloody debris seemed to explode from it as it impacted once and again. A reminder of what he had endured just a few scant hours earlier.
‘Admiring your handiwork?’ The hushed voice of Canmore came from over Brachillio’s shoulder.
Brachillio gave a sarcastic snort. ‘I suppose you could say so.’ He turned his head away from the event and back to the rough-shod face of the boy.
‘If a former slave of Holam can pull off the things you can, this gives me hope.’ Canmore gave a crooked smile and waited for Brachillio to furrow his brow. ‘Maybe you can teach me some of those tricks, so I can put the boots to the damned bastards and monsters of this world, as well.’
Canmore grabbed up the bags and ran off as quickly as the words lodged themselves into Brachillio’s ears. Brachillio stumbled on his breath for a moment and began to retort with a ‘…But, it doesn’t work that way.’ He gave a shake of his head and started a slow walk after the boy.
Brachillio made a few dozen steps and then needed to clutch a nearby rock, half the size of a man, to catch his breath. His cracked ribs sent seering pain throughout his body with each jostle or deep breath. He was a walking collection of sores and aches, feeling half-alive and half-dead. He had narrowly gotten out of that reckless situation on the barge. He had remarkable abilities as Wielder, yet he was still relatively mortal, all things considered.
He leaned with a spot of his abdomen that didn’t feel like it was ripped open and torn to shreds on the cool stone of the rock. He took a moment to survey his surroundings in full, just in case he needed to know this area in a further battle or skirmish. Behind him was the shore he had crawled his way up, to his left were a gathered amount of ruined stone walls that must have served as some sort of lookout or warehouse for the nearby city of Corrundum. Further left, in a haze of fire, smoke, and debris he could see the first walls of the city. Ahead of him, he could see the men that Anker brought with him finding their way through the scrag-grass and uneven, rocky land that separated them from a series of tents far off near a tree-line.
Brachillio turned slightly with a groan to survey the rest of the area, to see down the shores of the Apia the way he had come with Canmore. That is when he saw him, peeking out from a larger rock. A tall figure stood there, dumbfounded and oblivious with a cup of tea in his right hand and a saucer balanced below it in his left.
That man was Kawir, that pretty-faced bastard.
‘What the-‘ Brachillio’s words trailed off.
Kawir made eye contact, then tried to step behind the large rock beside him. He spilled some of his hot tea down the front of his coat. His mouth moved as if he cursed to himself silently as he did so.
‘You aren’t supposed to be here, yet! You daft bastard!’ Brachillio moved forward past the rock and began shaking his arms out at Kawir.
‘No! No! This won’t do. Cut! Cut!’ A raspy, stressed, and oddly accented male voice came from behind Brachillio.
He turned on his feet to look back at the source of the interloping voice. It was a gray-haired and bearded man wearing spectacles on his head with multiple lenses attached. The man emerged from behind a large back box, and a small wooden enclosure barely perched on the edge of the cliff that ringed the shore-line.
‘Kawir, you dolt! You’re supposed to be at the encampment dressed as an extra.’ The man pulled some crumpled papers out of his robes and gave a flick through them in his hand. ‘Soldier #43! This isn’t your god-damn break! Go see Dherran to get in costume.’
‘The casting director said I could…’ Kawir gave a sheepish reply from behind the rock.
Brachillio slumped onto the rock and then straightened up, cracking his back and being heedless of his previous wounds. He gave a long yawn and rolled his eyes at the scene now being completely ruined. Today was going to be a very long day.
‘Thunderer damn the lot of you!’ The gray-haired man walked back to his enclosure and hammered one of his fists on his little black box. He yelled at three very small people hiding behind equipment and a glowing tome. ‘Fine! We’ll get the scene rewritten! Go fetch Mister Wanderer and fire this new guy. What’s his name? Something-of-ashes?’
‘You couldn’t have taken your break in the make-up trailer? Seems fitting for someone as pompous and good on the eyes as you, Kawir. Thanks for ruining my scene.’ Brachillio gave a shout at the figure squirming behind the nearby rock.
The voice replied, ‘I couldn’t. Narsheel kicked me out. I just wanted to see how your scene was going. It totally wasn’t fair about how you abandoned me back in that Holam scene.’ There was a long slurp of tea and the sounds of jittering porcelain. ‘You replaced me with an ugly slave boy. I was supposed to be second billing!’
Brachillio gave a hard snort. ‘This part of the story is about me. I don’t need you hogging all the scenes with your face and posh accent. Canmore keeps the reader’s eyes on me, and besides, the boy is better at carrying my bags.’
‘Enough banter!’ The gray-haired man stomped along the scrag-grass and got right into Brachillio’s personal space. He began to beat a sheaf of papers on the nearby rock in an impotent fury. ‘I’m going to need a few minutes to get this scene back up and on track. Since I have the two of you here, you might as well head over to the encampment and get some work done. You and Kawir have been dodging your interviews for Karavanir Entertainment. Go get those done. I’ll call you back when I need you for the rewritten scene.’
‘Me, too? I get to be in the next scene?’ Kawir stuck his head from around the rock. He was still holding his small cup of tea in between his thumb and pinky.
‘No you shit-head! Just Brachillio! Next time I see you, you better be non-descript as a damned soldier! Otherwise, I’ll pay some other slob to do it and cut your wages!’
It had only been a few minutes walk behind the false tents of the encampment and further behind that into the trailers and storage spaces beyond. In that time, Brachillio and Kawir walked silently. Brachillio had managed to pull off most of his bandages as they were cutting into his skin. He’d gladly just wait an hour or two over in special effects to get that done up, again. Kawir was in a snit and yelled at some poor, wide-eyed intern to take his empty tea cup and saucer.
The place set up for the interview already had two fold out chairs and a wooden stool set out. Several black boxes were set up around the area to capture multiple scriptoria-oculum views of the space. The place was well within the shade with a few partitions up to keep the river breezes from messing with anything. Some catering had been placed on some tables nearby, which was constantly buzzing with extras or grips grabbing their fill. The interviewer wasn’t there yet.
‘Do you think they have Pharanese pastries?’ Kawir leaned into Brachillio, moving his brow up and down, then pointing at the catering table with his sharp chin. ‘I’d kill for a pastry.’
Brachillio lifted his wrist towards his old bagman’s face. Kawir remained perplexed for a moment, watching the younger man’s hand. With a light flick, he lifted his hand up and backhanded Kawir in the face.
‘Does it look like I give a fuck? I just want to get this interview over with and get back to my scene. We’re losing day-light.’
‘Fine, if I find any pastries, you’re not getting any.’
Kawir shuffled off to the catering table and began to fill up a small plate with piles of food. Brachillio took up the folded chair nearest the stool and crossed his arms in a huff. He always hated these kinds of PR gigs. Some idiot who barely knew anything about the story would soon show up and begin to ask a mess of stupid questions with a bunch of peppered in personal questions that he’d have to keep dodging.
The tall figure and pretty face of Kawir returned from the table and sat down across from Brachillio on the wooden stool. He wanted to remind the blue-blooded toad that he was sitting in the wrong seat, but he soon decided not to mention it. He’d let the pompous jack-ass make a fool of himself when the interviewer finally arrived after making them wait.
‘No Pharanese pastries left. I think Anker took them all. Bastard.’ Kawir scrunched up his pretty looks and much to Brachillio’s chagrin, it didn’t do much to mar his features at all. ‘I grabbed some Rudavangian blood pie though, and some Corrundish sugar cakes. You should try one.’ Kawir proffered the teetering plate out to the young man.
‘Ah! So here we are, the stars of the show, I take it?’ The voice belonged to a man with a painfully rehearsed accent. He sounded like one of those fainting nobles from some far off kingdom. ‘Brachillio and Kawir? Where is the young one, Canmore? He couldn’t make it?’
‘He had better things to do.’ Brachillio broke in flatly.
The interviewer looked the part of a fainting nobleman or courtier. Long skirts and coats, a brightly dyed silk scarf with gold embroidery in some obtuse and eye-piercing colors. He even had a faint, waxed, smudge of a mustache and the lop-sided suede hat of a troubadour that tried to hard to be seen as one. He gave a hard glare over his hawkish nose down to Kawir who let his jaw slackly open for a moment. A piece of some sort of cake fell from pretty-man’s lips as he quickly got up, pointed to the stool in amazement, and then moved over to the folding chair next to Brachillio.
‘I won’t take up too much of your time. Just a few questions about the story and your characters. I heard that your director, Stantzl Kubroki is having a bad day. I overheard near the refreshment kegs that he might have to hire a new writer?’ The man-tart took a seat on the stool and began to flip through some pages clipped to a board. His question seemed more like a polite attempt at rhetorical interest than anything he expected anyone to answer.
‘Stantzl…’ Kawir shoved another cake into his face. ‘…Can be a bit…’ He dabbed at his face with a section of his loosened shirt-tail to get rid of some jam across his perfectly chiseled cheek. ‘…Demanding.’
Brachillio spent a few moments wiping some grit out of his eye.
‘Okay, well, let’s get started, then.’ The interviewer snapped his fingers and activated three of the nearby black scriptoria-oculum boxes. ‘My name is Jhanni-jul and I’m from Karavanir Entertainment. Here I am on the set of the epic fantasy tale, The Open Road, with two of the stars.’ Jhanni gave a dramatic pause and lifted one of his arms out to point at Kawir. ‘We have one of the support characters, here, Kawir.’
Kawir quickly looked up with his eyes wide. He dropped the plate of remaining food down to the floor by his side. He quickly began to groom himself and fluff his hair. After a single moment of preening, he gave a sparkling smile and somehow managed to look gentlemanly despite his earlier dishevelment.
‘And we have the protagonist of our tale. The last Wielder,
Brachillio gave a slight nod and rolled his eyes.
‘So, tell me Brachillio, what is it like to be the star of this story?’
Brachillio narrowed his eyes for a moment and seemed to size up Jhanni for his apparently broad and stupid question. ‘Well, it’s work. It’s hard, honestly. I’m the last Wielder, I have voices in my head. I had to kill the Autarch. There’s a lot going on.’
Jhanni kept nodding, yet his eyes were blank. He waited a moment far too long after Brachillio finished talking.
‘Um, so… Yeah. I have a lot to do, but that doesn’t really stop me from getting some personal stuff done in the story as well-‘
‘Like murdering Holam of Solvay?’ Jhanni cut in.
‘Yeah, like that. I’d been waiting a long time to do that bastard in. He had it coming to him.’
‘Will there be any more murders and roguish intrigue, do you think? It all adds a lot of tortured hero elements to the story. I know the audience will eat that up.’ Jhanni gave a chuckle that seemed more at home from a maiden than a man with a mustache.
‘I certainly hope so. I have a lot of sins to atone for, after all. I lived a pretty hard life.’
‘But you’re so young…’ Jhanni let his right hand stroke the leg of Brachillio for a moment. The gesture was met with Brachillio looking down to the other man’s hand and half snarling. ‘Surely you don’t have that much to atone for. You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.’ That same laugh came out of the interviewer making Brachillio cringe and squint with discomfort.
‘I guess it’s all relative. I’ve had a hard life. I grew up as slave. I had to make my way, where others…’ Brachillio used his left thumb to point at Kawir who remained staring off into space and smiling like a dolt. ‘…Had it pretty easy.’
‘Oh yes! Kawir, how was it during that scene with Holam and the slave children?’
‘Heh. Well, it was a great start to the story, after all.’ Kawir seemed to beam under the lights of the black boxes. He almost seemed to grit his words through his perfect smile. ‘I really enjoyed my introduction at the start of the story. Although, Brachillio didn’t need to be so rough with me.’
‘I had personal business to attend to. You were screwing everything up.’ Brachillio let the words fall out.
‘I think I proved myself rather important to the plot when we confronted that scurvy-dog in the ruins. If it wasn’t for me distracting the gangers, Brachi here couldn’t free the slave-children. It was all thanks to this sword-arm, here.’ Kawir flexed his right arm out for the oculums.
‘My, my, my, such dashing heroics.’ Jhanni mused and began to tug at one side of his mustache.
‘You didn’t do a damned thing. Your sword got stuck. That’s what happens with you bring a large sword to a small hallway.’ Brachillio raised one of his hands to stroke his forehead.
‘Sadly, I became wounded in the heat of battle. Old war wounds and such. You know how it is. Yet I sacrificed myself for the betterment of the story. I told Brachillio to go on without me, to get to Corrundum and save the city from the Rudavangian dogs! I offered to stay behind and take care of the slave-children.’ Kawir put both of his hands on his hips and seemed to well up all the available light to beam out of his ass.
‘Oh my, my, my. So valiant.’ Jhanni continued to tweak at that his scant hairs until they were like a twisted needle on his face.
‘I replaced him with Canmore. He’s the one who should be here with me. Not this dingleberry.’ Brachillio cocked his head to the side and gave Kawir a scathing sideways glance. Kawir continued to beam and returned the same glare through his eyes.
‘Okay… Okay…’ Jhanni began to shuffle his pages on his lap. ‘Well, young Brachillio, what are your thoughts about your travels down the Apia river? For one as mighty as yourself, you don’t seem to be able to handle the waves to well.’
Of course he would have to bring that up. ‘I get sea-sick. It happens to the best of us.’
Kawir blurted in, ‘I don’t get sea-sick. I come from a long line of naval fighting men. Why, back home the used to all us the Cresting Wolves-‘
‘The question was for me. You weren’t there. You were too busy nursing your bruised ankle.’
‘It’s a war wound. I earned that on the fields of battle, fighting alongside great generals-‘
‘No, I’m pretty sure you twisted one one of your men’s corpses as you ran away.’
‘I say! I won’t stand for you discrediting my honor like that!’
‘Whoa! Whoa, you two. Heh. It seems like there’s a lot of strong chemistry between you two, on the set and off.’ Jhanni started rapping his knuckles against the back of his clipboard nervously. ‘Sea-sickness or not, your courage rallied forth when the captain of your vessel took you right into the thick of the battle, right?’
‘Yes. I guess you could say that. As soon as I heard the arrows, I protected young Canmore.’
‘More than that, you jumped headlong into the waves to perform a stealthy assault on the Rudavangian barge. How recklessly wonderful!’
‘Something had to be done. I didn’t expect them to be so, uh…’ Brachillio tapped a single finger on his head. ‘Thick. I was able to get the drop on them pretty easily.’
‘But then things went sour, did they not?’
‘They always do. I think I’m cursed like that. Between the voice in my head and everyone’s stupidity around me, it’s a wonder I end up surviving at all.’ Brachillio glared back to Kawir one more time.
‘I taught him how to handle his blade.’ Kawir shot in.
‘No you did not, you liar!’ Brachillio shouted back.
‘Whoa! Whoa, there you two. So, Brachillio, how was it fighting the infamous Red Champion of the Rudavangians?’
‘Meh, I blew her up. No sweat.’
‘Your wounds were pretty grievous. It’s a wonder you didn’t die.’ Jhanni accentuated the faux-shocked look on his face. He as trying for empathy but he utterly failed at it.
‘I got a bit drunk on my powers. It happens when I call upon them. I kind of lose control a little bit. I still had enough energy for that fire enchant. That did the trick.’
‘…And boy did it! You blew that barge right into kindling!’ Jhanni slapped both of his hands on his knees and almost lost his clipboard on the floor. ‘Do you think the Red Champion survived the blast? Perhaps she’s going to make another appearance, seeking vengeance?’
‘She better not. Fire enchants don’t come easily. The Rudavangian hordes are hard enough to deal with. I almost died.’
‘I could have saved you, if I was there.’ Kawir got up from his chair to take a bow.
‘No, Canmore was there, he got me out of the water.’ Brachillio turned fully away from the pretty-faced fool.
‘So what do you think is in store for the story? Some more epic battles? A return of Kawir? More sins to atone for? Perhaps Protector Anker might get killed off?’ Jhanni got more and more excited with every question he let drop from his mouth.
‘Well, you’ll just have to keep reading to find out. Our head writer, he’s pretty secretive…’ Brachillio continued but was cut short.
‘Yes, yes! Mister Wanderer, I hear.’ Jhanni beamed with knowing.
‘I thought that Sovereign-of-whatsis was doing the next-‘ Kawir blurted in. Brachillio gave him a hard elbow to the ribs to shut him up.
‘Yes, Mister Wanderer will be returning for the remaining chapters. He’s quite the writer.’ Brachillio turned back to smile at the oculums.
‘Great to hear! Great to hear! I can’t wait.’ Jhanni took a breath and Kawir tried to mumble something but was cut off abruptly as the mustachioed man continued. ‘Well, this is Jhanni-jul from Karavanir Entertainment, on the set of The Open Road. Stay tuned for more great chapters and epic tales!’
The scriptoria-oculum boxes turned off. Kawir looked around himself in a daze wondering where the attention he so craved would come from next. Brachillio got up out of his seat as fast as he could.
‘Is that it?” Kawir crossed his legs and looked over to Brachillio and then to Jhanni.
‘Yep. That’s it. Great to know you. I’m out.’ Jhanni picked up his clipboard in hand and scuffled off in a hurry. He didn’t even say good bye or offer a moment of thanks for the interview. All that could be seen was his figure stomping away and a flourish of his gaudy scarf trailing behind him.
‘Corrundish sugar cakes, you said?’ Brachillio quickly made is way toward the picked-over table of food.
Kawir looked down dejectedly to his abandoned plate of food on the floor. He gave a moment of pause and the switched back to merriment as he headed over to the table to get more. ‘Yes, and blood pie, too.’
‘There you two are!’ The voice that cut in was female and nasally. ‘I’ve been looking all over for your Kawir. You were supposed to report to Alsmir in costumes an hour ago. What the hell were you up to?’ The woman locked on to the pretty man with her green eyes. She quickly snapped over to Brachillio. ‘Brachi, you’re due on the new set. Stantzl got the old writer back and they’re getting set up there. You need to get your new lines and set your markers.’
Brachillio gave an exaggerated nod and stuffed his face full of sugar cake.
‘Kawir!’ The woman barked and stomped one of her feet. ‘Don’t you run off and start screwing up scenes, again. Stantzl almost had my ass in a sling for that. I didn’t tell you to go on break. Now move!’
Kawir finished stuffing a bunch of food into the crook of his arm and gave a nod. He slinked backward around the table, taking a few backward steps and then ran off towards the tents.
‘So, it’s going to be a completely new scene?’ Brachillio managed to free enough room in his mouth to get the words out.
‘Yes. New scene. That King-of-Dust guy is getting the sack.’ The woman adjusted the front of her blouse and then pulled some papers from her belt. ‘Hopefully Stantzl won’t let anyone but Mister Wanderer handle the story from now on.’
‘Good.’ Brachillio gave a nod and walked past the casting director. ‘Ollana, you know I need fight scenes to keep me going. That’s what I agreed to in my contract. Less exposition, more action. I’m the bloody Wielder after all.’
‘Yes, I know.’ The two of them continued over the scrag towards the new set that the grips were setting up nearby. ‘Just remember that there is a clause in that contract for romance scenes, though. Just be ready. I know Wanderer and Stantzl will probably spring that on you when you least expect it.’
Brachillio gave a nod and passed through some curtains onto the next set. He shoved a few of his remaining cakes into his pockets. He was ready to get back on track.
‘You’re here!’ Stantzl screamed through his fogged up glasses. ‘Good! Now ready… Set… On your damned marks you bastards… And… Scene!’
I hoped that you enjoyed this chapter. This chapter was done in an April Fools Day swap on webfictionguide. I hope you all enjoyed a different take on the world and characters of this story.
This chapter was written by SovereignofAshes who writes the web serial Vorrgistadt Saga. If you enjoyed this chapter and are interested in reading more by SovereignofAshes, please check out their work here or here.
The next chapter will be up next week. Please stay tuned and thanks for your support.