The wagon jostled over the rocky dirt roads; Maddie’s head bounced on the wooden frame in the back. She had not woke from her injuries, but she looked better than before. Besides our creaky wagon, the night was silent. That should have been comforting, but it wasn’t. It was so unusual for our land to have no sounds, no wind, nothing. The silence made our peril seem all that much more desperate. The centaur didn’t speak since my father fixed his dagger under his chin. I held the leather straps in my hand as he pulled the wagon. I thought about how good it would feel to jerk my wrist and end this monster’s life, but keeping him alive to work for us, to feel humiliated, somehow kept my hatred at bay. Everyone is gone. I glance over at my father in the night expecting to see my mom again, but she is gone. Every time it feels like I’m being punched in my gut.
“Dad, what were the plague wars that you mentioned?” It was the first words spoken between us since leaving the village. I didn’t expect him to answer; his demeanor had melted away into a dark depression.
“It was a long time ago. A phantom named Shiro returned to the world of Tyria and poisoned the land in Cantha.”
“And you fought in those wars?”
“Yes, it was two hundred years ago.”
“Two hundred years ago? How is that possible dad? That’s two or three lifetimes.”
“Magic, like the amulet on Maddie’s neck. It allows us to extend our lives a little longer.” Lurx’s father pulled his shirt collar down to expose a black opal with golden wrapped metal designs holding it to the metallic blue chain.
Lurx’s father, Fekk began to speak again as he stared off into the trees like his mind was somewhere else. “Shiro perverted nature by causing ‘The Affliction.’ All the races were affected, all animals. They were mutated into grotesque abominations. This is why our tribe of Asurans left our religion, the Eternal Alchemy, the manipulation of nature through technology.”
“Where did Shiro come from? And why didn’t more Asurans feel the same? Our village is small compared to the great cities.”
“One thing at a time Lurx. Shiro was the emperor of Cantha’s most trusted body guard. During the Harvest Festival, as the emperor knelt in the annual ritual, Shiro pulled out his blade and struck him down. His blood never washed away from the stone. Before he himself was cut down, he stole the emperor’s soul and with a mighty wail of dark magic, he conjured the Jade Wind that swept the land turning thousands into stone.”
“What happened next? Is that when The Affliction happened?” I glanced back at the centaur and noticed his head slightly tilted — He was also listening..
My father continued, “No, it was Shiro’s spirit much later. I joined a band of adventurers. I was an assassin; as was my father. In fact, our entire family has been blessed with skills of shadow stepping.”
“Shadow stepping? Is that how you kept disappearing and reappearing when you fought the Centaurs?”
“Yes Lurx. I planned to teach you soon, but I didn’t feel a need to rush it. Now I regret that.”
“So why did the other Asuran’s stay with the Eternal Alchemy?”
Fekk let out a sigh and thought about the words for a moment, “We Asuran’s are focused on understanding the world and nature. An unanswered question is something that tortures the Asuran psyche.”
Suddenly we stopped in our tracks. The forest have changed; the plants and animals looked different from my Asuran hills. We were no longer in a tropical forest, it was wooded and more open. I could see miles away across fields. Far off in the distance, I could see a battle raging at a small farm across a river, maybe ten feet wide. I couldn’t see great detail, but it looked like they were all humans battling one another.
“Dad, where are we?”
“This is Queensdale, the land of the humans.”
With that, the centaur, Xeviar, head snapped back, “Queensdale? We’re here?”
“What do you mean, Centuar?” Fekk asked taking the reins from my hands.
“Nothing, Asuran, nothing at all.” His voice dropped to a deep growl.
“Why are we here?”
“To see a necromancer from the Black Wolf Clan. My clan. . . Our clan. We’ve all passed down our skills and stories to our generations in case the clan had to be reformed.”
“Clan? The party who fought against Shiro I assume?”
“Black Wolf, I know, the clan was named by a Norn; everything has something to do with animals with them. It’s also why we call it a clan. The clan aren’t necessarily blood. Well, they didn’t start out that way I guess it’s more like a clan untied by blood. Because the secrecy of the clan has been passed down through generations, in some sense, we are all connected by blood.”
As we traveled along the road, we began to hear a thunder far off in the wood line behind us. It wasn’t a storm, the sky was still blue. It was something else. The rumbling didn’t stop like a thunder crack usually does. It kept going and going, then it began to grow. I looked at my father who became as motionless as a statue. His knuckles turned white around the hilt of his other dagger.
“Lurx, we have got to get out of here.” His head nodded at the centaur tethered to our cart. He was trying to signal to me that it’s more of them. Maybe they were coming our way, I didn’t know for sure and he couldn’t tell me. I assumed that he didn’t want our prisoner to know either. . . If he already didn’t know.
“Ok dad, let’s get down this road a bit further. We rounded the corner and found ourselves in a small village. A human village. Suddenly, we had dozens of eyes on us. As we stood there, the flashes of sunlight shot out from sunbeams reflecting of the rising gun barrels.
“Halt, Who are you and why do you have this centaur filth with you?”
My father stepped up, his hands raised above his head. “I’m Fekk, this is our prisoner. We are traveling to Divinity’s Reach.”
Two soldiers glanced at one another. They wore heavy plated armor with ornate designs. The platinum embroidered vines and leaves extended from their collarbone to their chest. It was much more extravagant than the others. They were in charge, there was no doubt. The other soldiers and towns people slowly gather toward space behind them.
“Sit where you are, the centaur too. You are in Fort Salma.” The commander’s barrel began to lower seeing the blade tucked under the centaur’s chin. It was obvious that he was in fact, our prisoner.
“I’m commander Durden. You need to start answering some questions.”
“We heard a strange sound, like thunder. I thought it might be centaurs.” My father also said in a much more relaxed tone. He must of sensed the calming tension as well.
“It was centaurs, there is a large encampment to our east.You will have safe passage through the mountains if you stay on this road.”
“Is there someone here that could help my sister? She is hurt; she’s in the wagon.” I pointed back where Maddie still laid quietly.
He walked around to the rear of the wagon and looked down at Maddie. He turned her head side to side with a metal gauntleted hand. “What happened to her, Asurans?
“My name is Lurx. She was hurt by him,” I gestured toward the centaur. I could swear I saw a flash of a grin across his face. Maybe he did smile, maybe I wanted him too. Everyday seemed to drag on my patience more. The solider looked back up at us.
“Ok, I’ll send a detail with you. But, we want the centaur for questioning once you reach Divinity Reach.”
Xeviar’s head tilted back toward the guards. His face was twisted in disgust and a hint of fear.
“Are you humans planning to torture me? I know nothing that would be of use to you. I am too low rank to know of bigger plans and have never been stationed here. This was our destination.”
Commander Durden looked at him with a stone-etched expression. He looked back at the guards who seemed to read his mind; they snapped to and gathered their gear. “We’ll see centaur. We won’t torture you, we’re not animals like you filthy hooved devils.”
Xeviar huffed through his nostrils, “We may have hoofs, but it is you who are the monsters. It is you who invaded our northern lands. . . Human.”
* * *
We were led through the tight mountain passageway and through another small village on the other side. As we made our way down the road, I could see many farms across the open space and fishermen that looked like specks from our high point. All was peaceful until I saw what appeared to be a dust storm. There are no dry lands here, it was curious until I seen the pack mule loaded with supplies running in the front. It’s driver carried a whip that flashed back and forth as he screamed in terror to make the giant oxen move quicker. It wasn’t apparent what they were running from at first, then I seen the great flashes of fire dropping like volcanic eruptions. Behind them were spell casters and assortments of soldiers and races. Char, humans, savari and even other asurans. They were not attacking the ox and its driver, they were protecting them from a centaur raid. Our guards looked at one another not knowing if they should fulfill their first duty to protect the caravan or to protect us. Before they moved an inch I grabbed my father’s loose dagger from the leather hilt on his belt and ran into the fray. As I sprinted, the ox with the full load nearly trampled me in its fear to escape. It seemed like I couldn’t run quick enough to help, then suddenly, I was between two of the centaurs. A green mist floated nears the three of us. One centaur dropped his sword and began to choke. I turned quickly to sliced the hind leg of the other. I never felt it cut, it felt like I sliced through air. Before I turned, a black hoof stabbed pass my check. The choking centaur was kicking in all directions. Before another hoof left the ground, skeletal hands burst through the earth. I dove to the side as boney fingers dug in the centaurs hide. Blood streamed down its side. He tried to run but stumbled: he was in his death throes. I heard my father scream for me, but the combat was too thick to answer back. I pulled the white boned dagger up to make one more swipe when dozens of arrows stuck into the centaurs side. He screamed once more and fell. A guardian warrior pulled up a great sword and ran toward Xeviar. My father and the guards ran in front of the centaur screaming at them, “At ease, at ease, this is our prisoner. Commander Durden wants him alive for questioning.” His shoulders sank in disappointment and he continued to run past the cart.
The pack animal and his handler were far down the trail. The party didn’t stop to thank me; in fact, they barely noticed my existence. They all disappeared down the road as quickly as they appeared.
“Lurx, what the hell are you doing? You need to think about the mission first — your sister.” My father voice quivered with anger at me. I knew that my next few words mattered.
“Dad, that is why I attacked. I thought the battle would move near Maddie.” Wow, that answer was so good I wasn’t sure if it was true or if I just said it to diffuse my father’s anger.
“Enough talking, we need to get to Divinity’s Reach. We move double time.” It was clear the soldier was giving us a direct order. As obnoxious as it felt, for once, a human had a good point. No one said another word, maybe we couldn’t at our pace.