“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou
Taken (Veiled in Lies)
Waves crashed upon the shore and fog swept across the surface. The moon was amiss from the black expanse and the specks of light hid behind the dark curtains of clouds. Reuben’s footprints faded as the snow fell. He crouched as he made his way parallel to the banks. His target was not far off.
Mist shrouded him as he made his way up the beach towards the walls of the keep. The fires of the torches above lit the dark figures of sentries above. At the wall, Rueben took a coil of rope with a hook on the end and swung it upwards. He heard the metal scrape and then the rope went taught as he pulled down on it.
The wall was slippery with ice and several times he lost his footing. Half way up he paused as a sentry walked passed. He continued his ascent and then ducked to the ground. Reuben scanned the area and spotted two more soldiers on the parapet with him. He pulled a hood over his head and pulled out two daggers. He slowly approached one the braziers and smothered it. Then, he poured some gray powder among the coal. Approaching the first sentry, he grabbed flipped the dagger and struck the man with the butt of handle.
Rueben dragged the man to the side and searched for the stairs. Once he reached the stairs, he glanced back at the brazier. The second sentry had stopped and was brining a torch to light it. There was a flash of light and a roar of flames and sparks. Orange light illuminated the steps as he dashed down them and into the outer court. Shouts filled the air and dark figures ran converged towards the explosion as Rueben removed his cloak.
Rueben smoothed out his shirt and spotted the door to the inner keep when two men pointed in his direction.
“You there, servant! What happened, lad?” The larger of the two asked.
“There was an explosion on the west side.” Rueben replied. He looked down and then bowed. He felt the two brush past him and he glanced around before slipping inside.
Servants and maids jumped aside as Rueben hurried through the halls. He stopped and turned in a circle, gaze searching and then stopping on an obscured door way. Rueben ducked his head under the arch and climbed the stone spiral staircase.
At the top, Rueben checked the hall. He counted five doors and stopped by each one. At the third, he heard cooing. He opened the door a crack and peered inside. A fire crackled to his left and a young woman knelt by a crib. Rueben froze, and then stared at the crib.
He heard her hum and a gurgle escaped the crib. Rueben clutched the handle and checked the hall. It was clear. Here was his chance. But this wasn’t what I’d expected, he winced. Slowly, as though two sides were waging wars inside, he slipped into the large room and handled his dagger. He took a step, and then paused again. Could he really do this? He shoved the though aside and took another step. The woman got to her feet and lifted out the baby.
Rueben clenched his teeth and covered his face. He flipped the hilt as to knock out the woman and approached her. She rocked the infant and Rueben lifted the dagger. Then he brought it down, but not before the baby met his gaze. The woman turned and Rueben’s strike missed. She screamed and shoved him back, tearing the mask away from his face. In panic, he struck her down. She’d seen his face.
The woman collapsed to the ground gasping, a crimson pool began to form beneath her. She cradled the now wailing infant and Rueben reached for the child.
“Please, no.” She shook her head as she saw his gaze center on the child. Rueben cursed under his breath, hesitating again. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
The thud of footsteps behind pushed him from his moment of hesitation, and he pulled the infant from her arms. Both the child’s screams and the mother’s cries hammered into his head as he pushed open two terrace doors. Just as he started over the railing, he heard the door crashing to the ground.
“There!” A man shouted, and Rueben let go.
He heard several gasps as he prepared for impact. Icy spears pierced his skin as he splashed into the water. Rueben pushed upwards, towards the orange glow of torches; the roar of the current filling his ears.
Rueben gulped in air as he broke the surface and swam for the shore with the infant in one arm. Multiple shouts rang above a man pointed in his direction. Get to the horse, cross the river, and deliver the package, Rueben replayed his plan and coughed as a wave slapped his face. Once he reached shore, he checked the infant and then sprinted through the forest. Rueben ducked under tree branches and listened to the crunch of snow beneath his boots; the woman’s face seemed etched in his memory and the scene played through his memory.
“I had too,” he whispered. It was little comfort.
Several yards ahead, he spotted a dark form. His horse lifted his head at his approach, but then nickered when Rueben grabbed the reins and said his name.
The infant whimpered as he set it in a pack he slipped over his shoulders. Rueben slapped the reigns and rode west, towards the border.
. . .
“Where is it?” Reuben halted his mount; he searched the white horizon, praying he’d see a dark expanse among the perpetual snow-covered fields. The white continued on and the wind hurled angry shards of ice at him. Rueben’s gaze swept around and then locked on an group of dark clouds. A blizzard, he grimaced.
The sleet had been bad enough, but a blizzard in November? This was going to be one for the records. For the second time since the beginning of his mission, Rueben felt a sickening-feeling invade his heart. He traveled west, but the racing blizzard, along with its winds blinded him. He was certain that he was no long traveling west.
The infant cried from the pack and Rueben winced. Not only disoriented, but he had to get the child to shelter. The infant needed the care of a woman, and how long could it last in these harsh conditions?
The river, that’s what he needed to focus on. He couldn’t stay in enemy territory, but if he crossed, temporary respite would be possible.
Rueben made his best guess and urged his mount on. Dark silhouettes leapt out on both side and gnarled fingers grasped at him. The forest grew darker ahead and Rueben veered left. If he was heading in the right direction, then the river would be close.
Suddenly, the trees dropped behind him and all was open and dark. He saw a giant dark expanse winding like a serpent ahead. As he neared, a billow of snow hit him head on with a force like a hurricane. His horse cried out, and he knew the animal was almost spent. Rueben heard the river’s violent waves roll in the darkness and splash against the snowy banks as he looked for a crossing. He looked to where the bridge should’ve been, but what he saw was the ruins of the bridge.
Desperation and exhaustion grabbed at him and he looked desperately for another way. Just then, he heard distant shouts, and he knew that they would be upon him soon.
He dashed away from the ruined bridge and headed left towards the banks where he saw frozen patches of ice a ways from the shore. Could he risk the crossing? He turned as the sound of men grew closer. Small orbs of light advanced towards him. He backed away from the banks. Giving up wasn’t an option.
He heard another shout, “There he is!” When he was far enough away, he steeled himself and patted the horse.
“C’mon Black Star, we can do this.” Then, with a kick, he bolted towards the river. “He’s mad!” A man shouted from behind. Rueben and his mount leapt over the dark waters and met solid ice. The jump nearly jarred him from the saddle, but they were alive.
“We’re not finished yet,” Rueben said and slowly crossed the ice.
“He’s actually doing it!” One of the men behind shouted. Miraculously, they were making steady progress and the others hesitated to follow.
A rumble came from below. Rueben’s eyes widened as the ice gave way and he and the horse crashed through the ice. Reuben just had a second to throw the child away from the broken ice as he disappeared below. The men on the other side looked out, stunned. Small pieces of ice bobbed in the dark river.
“I’m getting her back.” The lead man declared and started towards the banks.
“Sir, it’s too dangerous.” One of his guards warned. Just then, Rueben emerged from the water.
He gasped and coughed. He slowly pulled himself up and crawled from the broken ice, towards the child. “He’s still alive.” The lead man mounted and rode towards the ice.
“I will not lose someone again!” Meanwhile, Reuben grabbed the baby and started towards the other side.
His limbs shook and he stumbled as he walked, and his wet clothes clung to his skin. “You! Bring her back now, or I’ll shoot.” Their leader had successfully made the jump and had his crossbow aimed at Reuben.
He ignored him and was almost clear of the ice. There was a click, followed by a whistle. The arrow slammed into Rueben’s shoulder. He jerked forward and bit back a scream. The arrow was embedded in his shoulder. Pain flared there and he switched the child to his other arm.
He glanced back to see the man navigating around the broken ice, on foot. He was gaining on him and Rueben gasped as he grabbed his dagger. His pursuer was now only ten paces away. Reuben lifted his dagger and plunged it into the ice. The ice split and a growing rumble spread out. The man froze and stared at the cracks branching out. He fell back as dark water started to grow between him and Rueben.
“No!” The man cried, “I’ll find you! I will find you!” He shouted and the guards had to keep him from attempting to cross. Rueben collapsed onto the other bank and breathed heavily. Blood trickled onto the snow from his wound and he pressed on towards his destination.
The leader watched the Rueben disappear into the shadows. “You can’t cross sir; you have to remember that is Vanashtan territory.” His captain reminded him and growing rage swelled in his bosom. “This isn’t the end.”
More forest opened up ahead of Rueben and he slowly trudged towards through the heavy snow drifts. The arrow was still in his shoulder, but he had not time to pull it out. He looked up and saw the dark silhouette of a manor ahead. The light of the lamps glowed warningly and were beacons of light to guide him. Towering gates barred him entrance and he stopped there. He knelt in the snow, he couldn’t move any longer. His breath shuttered and his vision was becoming blurred. Slowly the world seemed to shift and darken. Dark crimson stained the snow and he lay still.
Behind the gates, the doors of the manor creaked open and a man appeared with a small candle. He looked out into the blizzard and then spotted a dark shape outside the gates. He squinted and his eyes widened. “Andrew! Come here!” The man ran out and opened the gates. He knelt by Reuben and spotted the stain of crimson.
Lost (Dark Empire)
Alkalie hugged her arms around her brother and rocked back and forth in her mother’s creaking rocking chair. Her eyes burned and her cheeks were moist. Anthony lay against her chest, his head under her chin. She listened to the soft murmur of voices in the other room. Her surroundings were silent, save for the ticking of the grandfather clock on the far side of the wall. The gentle glow of street lamps cast dim light into the room and she looked out into the wet streets of Saunderlay.
Rain pelted against the windows and thunder rumbled in the distance. Alkalie sighed, like a wind departing through a window. The conversation stopped and she stared at the dim light that escaped through the cracks of the door. She felt gnawing dread within her. The floorboards creaked drowsily and she stroked her brother’s dark umber hair.
The hinges of the door squealed and Alkalie squeezed her eyes shut. She focused on Anthony’s steady breathing and felt her stomach clench. Light spilled into the room and she forced an eye open, and then the other. Alkalie blinked at the new light and watched as a woman entered. Her mother’s face was cast in shadow and Alkalie bet the darkness hid her tears. A strong and broad silhouette filled the doorway behind her mother. Alkalie didn’t move, as if it could stop what was going to happen. Her mother didn’t take another step, but gazed at the two,
“Leila,” A gruff voice sounded from the broad figure. Her mother’s shoulders sagged and the she approached her with arms open.
“C’mon dear, I’ll take him.” Leila’s voice was low and Alkalie detected the slightest tremble in her voice. Alkalie held Anthony all the tighter and wanted to bolt. She forced herself not to resist as gentle arms took hold of her brother and then Alkalie’s arms were empty. She left the rocking chair and inhaled a cold breath. Leila waited as Alkalie strode out the door and into the foyer.
Her father placed his hand on her shoulder and she straightened just a little. She took one more sweeping glance of their little home, with its fainted paint and crooked picture frames. Alkalie grabbed the pack laying against the wall and attached a saber to her waist. It felt heavy, like the weight of shackles. She went up to her father and he embraced her with his giant-like arms. He hugged her close. She then went to her mother. Leila’s eyes glistened and she gazed at Alkalie with pride.
“I know you’ll do us proud.” Alkalie swallowed hard as her mother leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. Her gaze dropped to her brother and Alkalie brushed some hair away from his closed eyes. Her throat tightened and she started for the door. Her hand closed around the door knob and the familiar creak filled her ears. Alkalie hesitated for a moment, she felt as if she was tied by a taut string. She could either relieve the tension or break it.
“Alkalie?” A small voice questioned. She glanced over her shoulder as her little brother rubbed his eyes and blinked at her. The string snapped and Alkalie’s lip began to tremble. “Goodbye, Anthony.” She whispered and closed the door behind her as if she were shutting out all the pain.
Alkalie covered her ears as a bomb dropped and created a crater in an already scarred land. Men and women shouted around her and the whizz of bullets was ceaseless. Smoke clogged her throat and she chocked. Soldiers screamed all around her and she grasped her pistol tightly in one hand and dropped an enemy soldier with her saber. Blood spattered her face and clothes, but she hardly noticed.
She met blades with another and shot a second. Alkalie’s ears rang with the sound of metal clashing. She jerked back as she was kicked in the stomach. A bloodied and grime covered man rushed her and she stumbled to her feet. Alkalie’s blade smashed into his and she rammed into him. The two fell and struggled. Dodging a punch, she maneuvered and landed on top of him. A bullet made him go still.
Alkalie quickly go to her feet but then dove to the ground as the ground shook with another explosion of debris and smoke. Shards of metal pierced her skin. Pushing through the pain, she winced and got to her feet. Several bodies lay were strewn around her and the sky was a haze of red and grey.
Ducking instinctively at another explosion, Alkalie dashed several yards and threw herself behind a stone wall. Next to her, a soldier rose from the wall, pistols drawn. The shot echoed and he dropped. Alkalie trembled and snatched the pistols from the soldier’s limp hands. Every moment she wondered if this was going to be it. But each time the bullets took another. Alkalie shot up and squeezed off two rounds. One missed while the other dropped an enemy soldier.
“Alkalie, we got to take that ridge!” A soot covered solider edged her way towards Alkalie and motioned in front of them. “We’re stuck if we don’t take it.”
“But there’s too many of them, Willow.” Alkalie shook her head. It was suicide to try to take it. Willow locked eyes with her for one moment and then sprang into motion. She was going for it.
Several soldiers followed Willow as she leapt over the wall and ran towards the ridge. Alkalie cursed and jumped over the wall. Even if it was risky, she couldn’t just wait and watch them get cut down. As their group neared the ridge, one of them took a hit and two fell away as Alkalie caught up with Willow and charged the enemy forces.
“You take the one at the guns, I’ll take them.” Willow shouted and the two diverged. She had not time to argue as an enemy soldier aimed at her. Alkalie squeezed off a couple rounds and the man dropped. . A yell from her left told her that Willow had engaged the enemy as well.
Another soldier shot at her and Alkalie ducked. The sound of heavy waves from the river to her right nearly drowned out the shots. Alkalie waited till there was a pause and then pulled herself up. Suddenly, her pistol was knocked away and the barrel of another pistol raised towards her. Alkalie rushed the solider and the woman grunted. A fist smashed into Alkalie’s face and pain exploded in her jaw. She grabbed for the pistol and the two struggled. A shot shattered the air and the woman gasped, falling away.
“Alkalie!” Alkalie snapped her head towards her friend and her blood ran cold. Willow gasped and Alkalie didn’t even have time to flinch when the bomb hit the ground.
Change (Shadow Politics)
Laughter echoed through the room and the hum of conversation dispersed like gentle waves on sand. Glimmering chandeliers sparkled like fayrie dust and cast golden light above the guests. Gay music urged men to take up partners and dance the night away. Gowns of rich silk and tunics of the finest comlan swirled and swished through the dance. A smile lit every man and woman’s face as they drank and celebrated. One maiden, in swan white, twirled in the center. Her skirts folded and then fluttered out. She held the hand of a young man who never seemed took his eyes off her. They swayed and moved together as one.
Jae watched the couple turn around and then bow. The guests broke out into smiles and clapped as the music faded. Hazeline has surely picked the perfect husband. Saamel was not only a respected merchant, but he’d already procured a home for him and his new wife. Despite the merriment of the occasion, Jae didn’t smile or clap. He just watched by the staircase. Jae sighed and started to leave when someone tugged on his sleeve.
“Jae? Why are you leaving?” A sweet voice inquired. Jae turned around and offered a small smile to his sister. Hazeline frowned, “I know I’m leaving tonight. But it’s no reason to sulk. You can still visit.” She said.
“Phalandam is miles away from Tierivast. I’ll be lucky if I get to see you twice a year.” Jae said. He felt bad for complaining, but he didn’t want to see his sister go. The port in Tierivast was good, but Saamel’s business thrived further north.
“Come, this is our last night together.” She beckoned. In spite of himself, Jae followed her towards the crowd. Everyone parted for the newlywed and Jae was ready to shrink away. Fortunately, a large plump woman appeared, “Oh, you beautiful little thing.” She smiled at Hazeline and Jae slipped his hand out of his sister’s. He let himself be absorbed by the crowd and then maneuvered out of the hall and then onto the terrace. He leaned against the rail and his fingers drummed a beat to the music flowing out into the evening air. Tierivast was covered in a blanket of darkness and a willowy wind fluttered through the occasional branches of an Alcloyai tree. A sigh worked its way from his lips but was suddenly followed by apprehension.
“When will it end?” Jae whispered. For all the gaiety of his sister’s marriage, he felt a pulling anxiety. He felt it even now. For how could he be at peace when he knew that the discovery of his family’s secret could shatter their world.
“Hiarch Amir!” Constantine, Hiarch of the Vasric Party called to him. Amir inwardly stiffened, and the slightest frown shown on his expression. Amir turned to Constantine. “Hiarch Constantine?” He tilted his head.
“I wanted to congratulate you on getting that new order passed.” The Hiarch held out his hand. Amir took it and nodded. “Thank you, it was indeed a triumph for the Magis Party.” Constantine opened his mouth to speak when a member from his party intervened. Constantine shot him an apologetic look and then followed his member away. Amir shrugged and started out of the Preemphis Building. The sun blazed in the sun and the sandy streets emanated the heat of the day. A dry wind swirled through the air and picked up sand, sending it dispersing into the air like snow.
Amir sighed and headed towards a waiting coach, a welcome shelter from the roasting heat. He stepped in and closed the door. The shade was welcomed and Amir rested his head against the cushioned seat. The coach began to move and he looked out as members of Empairiver streamed in and out of the towering building.
The coach stopped right outside of the Ghalry Quarter and Amir shut the coach door. He started down the long street and turned towards a gated home. Fresh alabaster pillars stood like sentries, in front of the entrance. Lushious green plants were arranged in the front and a gardens keeper tended some bushes. Amir stepped up the stairway to the entrance and a servant opened the door.
“Sir,” The servant said and took Amir’s cloak and case. Amir let a sigh escape his throat as he entered into the main hall of his home. He poured himself some water and headed into his study. His desk was covered in documents and papers. Amir plopped himself down into his chair and laid out the documents from his case. He sifted through them until he found the one he was looking for. The outlook was promising, the Vanashtan people had changed after the near war with Highvarah, but the incident had surprisingly brought about good change. “This generation might just be the one to change.” Amir whispered.
Despite the welcome solitude on the terrace, Jae forced himself back inside. After all, he couldn’t miss this night. Jae opened the glass doors and stepped into the warm light and the flood of music. The group was dancing once more and the musicians played a lively waltz. Hazeline was in the middle, dancing with Sammel. She beamed and looked so happy. Jae held back outside of the ring of guests, watching once more.
“Son, you should join the festivities.” A gruff, but no harsh voice said. Lonsire Raul, or his father, laid a hand on his shoulder and smiled. Jae nodded, “Yes. I know I should.” He thought about voicing his concerns, but thought better of it. Why ruin the mood?
“Then pick a young lady and enjoy yourself tonight.” His father encouraged. Jae smirked and started towards the guests. He approached a young lady when suddenly, the doors of the great hall were thrown open. The music died and the guests hushed. Hazeline and the other dancers snapped their attention to the newcomers.
Twenty armed men in uniform filed into the chamber. A man in a long purple jacket and grey tunic stood in the center. He scanned the crowd and his hands were clasped behind his back. His dark brown eyes were piercing and his long dark hair fell over his back. Jae withdrew and felt a growing anxiety. He edged to the center, until he was close enough to touch his sister.
“I am Zamyln Kivalor, commander of the Seraderic Regime. I am searching for Lonsire Raul.” The commander made some gestures and the soldiers started for the guests. Hazeline blanched and Jae moves his sister behind him. He needed to be sure, just in case.
“I am he.” A voice returned. Jae desperately wanted to pull his father back. To fight these men. It was too late now though. The soldiers spotted his father and dragged Lonsire to Kivalor. Every muscle in Jae’s body tensed. How had this happened? What would they do? He’d only heard rumors of the Seraderic Regime. Rumors of what they were and what they did to their prisoners. Recalling the stories made him shudder.
“What is the meaning of this? ” Lonsire frowned.
“You are charged with aiding enemies of the people.” Kivalor sneered. A woman gasped, “That’s a lie!” Jae locked eyes with his mother. She gave a slight nod and pushed her way to stand beside her husband.
Jae moved back and pulled Hazeline with him. It was all falling apart. They had to escape, now. He hated the thought of leaving their parents, but it was too late. Their mother had given him the signal.
Hazeline jerked back. “What are you doing!” Her eyes were wide and she looked back to the scene. Jae didn’t have time to explain. He pulled harder and hoped the soldiers hadn’t heard Hazeline.
“Find the rest of his family, they’re all charged with the same crime.” The shout sent Jae and Hazeline dashing towards the back. “We have to go!” Jae hissed and burst through the door. He could already hear the soldier’s spreading out their search. Jae and Hazeline entered onto a veranda. The evening air chilled Jae’s skin as he looked around for danger. The light of the moon illuminated the grounds.
“What about Saamel?” Hazeline’s glistened with tears. Jae hadn’t thought of that. “He’ll be fine. He’s not a Raul. You’ll see him agai-” Jae whirled around as someone joined them. Saamel held up his hands. “It’s just me.” Hazeline slipped out of Jae’s grip and ran to Saamel who wrapped his arms around her.
“You need to get her out of here.” Jae swung over the railing.
“I have a ship waiting.” Saamel said. Jae nodded, “Get out of here.” He knew that Saamel could help his sister better than he could.
“But what will you do? What will happen to mother and father? Will I see you again?” Hazeline’s questions grew further away, and then she was gone. Jae hoped that Hazeline and Saamel would escape. They had too.
The door burst open and Jae hung from the railing. The scuff of boots sounded a few paces away. Jae held his breath and hoped they’d pass. Move, just move on. There was a long period of silence and he felt his hand grow sweaty. His grip started to slide. Jae’s left hand was going. There was a grunt and then the door slammed shut. Jae swung his left hand up and then angled himself in such a way that he now his back faced the railing. The rooftops of the buildings ahead gleamed in the silver light.
Jae pushed off the railing and landed on the edge of the roof. He grabbed to the rough tile and hauled himself up. He scanned the area and found that no one had discovered him yet. Jae crept over the roof to the back and looked below. Shadows filled the space, and that was all. He dropped to the ground and then ran. His stomach wrenched as he left behind his home and his family.
“I will come back.” Jae’s jaw clenched and he disappeared onto a dark street.