IV – Ghost
Dasha looked down from atop the walls of Lemekia as the Tuelian soldiers marched through the main city gate. A white flag with a blue vertical line running through it blew in the wind beside the full green flag of Aludin, though she didn’t recognise the flag, not due to bad memory but it was her quite act of defiance. She had only been five when Aludin had been forced to change their flag yet she still identified with the seals of the ancient Seven that had once spiralled round inside the flag.
That was before Decabia had forced, as part of their ‘peace treaty’ ten years ago, for the seals to be removed as well as for the ancient order of the Nephlin to be immediately disbanded following the whole incident which had caused the entire conflict, which had meant the official end for the oldest and arguably most powerful order of the world of the last five thousand years.
They were still allowed to worship the Seven but anything to do with the Nephlin, even talking about them these days was quite forbidden. That didn’t stop the whispers.
And now the Decabians were once again stirring up further trouble, after ten years of uneasy peace and for the past week, it had been the same scene every morning with more and more soldiers entering through the red gate of Limekia and more and more people of the city leaving. Today, the few that still remained, including herself, were to depart the city for good, leaving behind only the soldiers who would stay vigilant as only a small desert separated Lemekia, a city right in the border of Tueley with the land that had once been called Omion. Now, it was simply called Decabia.
‘Akello’ she thought to herself as she pulled away from the wall and ran across, weaving between a couple of guards towards the wooden ladder, quickly climbing down it and leaping off onto the stone paved road below and started heading towards the Red Dome.
She avoided taking the main road, full of soldiers with strange faces and scared faces and filled with the last of the carriages about to leave the city and the last of the population, hurrying back and forth as they tried to gather as many as their belongings as possible. She weaved in and out the narrower back-streets of Lemekia. The city scared her, everything about it didn’t feel right: the emptiness, the silence as she heard her footsteps echo about her and the sound of her pouch tied at her hip bouncing against her.
Just over a month ago, before the first rumours and sightings of an army mobilizing at the border, men, women and children of all ages flooded these streets and travellers from all corners of Aludin would pass by here, merchants would sell the strangest live animals some in cages you could hold in your hand, others as tall as two floors held in huge cages. There were also the over priced trinkets and shiniest gems, jewels and emeralds though she had usually spent many hours looking through the expertly crafted clothes and dresses, for it was to the west were all the best clothes came from.
And the horses, the camels, the llamas, the zebras and the small woolly rhino’s, their strong scents would fill these streets amidst the exotic smells of the strangest looking herbs and spices, sold next to the juiciest fruits and vegetables. She had always complained about the stench of the streets yet now she would give anything to bring back even a whiff of it back here. The city smelt of heat and sand. And fear.
As she ran through the streets she would spot every so often a figure through the few open windows of the city, most had been boarded up as people had departed west, also to keep out the sandstorms which blew sometimes for days, from filling up the houses while they were gone. They looked down at her with curiosity before retuning to continue preparing for their voyage, many didn’t speak it out loud but she had heard many talk of how it was certainly going to be a one way one.
‘No’ she thought to herself, picking up her pace as she broke out of the western side of the city and reached the centre, running into a street which turned circular she reached the centre and she headed down south for a few seconds, running in a circle until she reached a smaller gate made entirely out of dark blue stone that shone as she passed under it to find herself in Lemekia’s centre.
The centre was a large circle, the row of houses which made the centre were the tallest and most extravagant with white stone and red stone tiled roofs. Open temples held by majestic pillars ran parallel alongside her, before she reached a deep moat of clear water filled with all sorts of coloured fish with the most unique of patterns, that circled round the Red Dome, the centre of it all and it could be seen wherever you stood in Lemekia. This early afternoon, the dome reflected the rays of the rising sun so brightly, Dasha had to shield her green eyes from the glow.
She had started to cross over the small wooden bridge over the moat, reaching the main entrance of the Dome when the large set of doors were slowly opened from the inside and out streamed a large group of people.
The ones at the front of the group were strangers in her eyes. Five elderly men wearing white robes, their hair was dark with streaks of purple, green and blue dye, looking down at her as if she was the most unpleasant sight they’d ever seen. She stood as still as the statues that stood around the Dome as they walked past her, escorted by ten tall giants of men draped in white armour, carrying five lances and straight swords amongst them.
Once they had passed she turned round to the group of people who were discussing amongst themselves around the entrance and slid in between them, none of them giving her attention as she caught a few words from a few conversations, though her attention was focused on finding Akello.
“…attacks they say, if so why have none of our lands been attacked?”
“making us look like fools….”
“what will their next request be? Can you wipe my…”
“Akello” she called out as she spotted him, standing before and talking to three soldiers nodding their heads and he turned round with surprise on his face as she approached.
“Dasha” he said, a bit stunned and she smiled. It wasn’t often he was lost for words and he quickly turned back to the three soldiers.
“You got that clear? Tell them by sunset and no later.”
“Yes Boss” they said in unison and with a slight bow from each they departed out towards the bridge and his attention turned to her and he walked towards her, tossing her black hair about as he always did so and she groaned for her hair was hard to manage and it had taken a lot of time and effort to get it just right, but he knew that. That’s why he let his grow wild and untamed though it suited him and his boyish looks, despite the fact he was twenty six.
“Sis” he said as he took his hand of her head “Why aren’t you getting everything you need for Bael? The day will pas by quickly and the carriage can’t turn back if you forget one of your dresses or books.”
“But do I have to go?” she said.
“Dasha, we’ve talked about this before” he said
“I can help, I can fight” she said defensively, clenching her fists and putting on a fighting stance “I’ve been training with Isa how to wield a sword and…”
“A wooden sword” said Akello.
“Does it matter? I can help, I’m not running away like some coward…”
“No Dasha” said Akello and he raised up a firm hand and his expression turned stern “I won’t hear it again. You have to leave with the final caravans to Bael and that’s final. There’s a whole lot of difference between being able to wield a sword and using that sword in battle, you can only learn that through experience and that is not an experience I will allow you to go through.”
She knew she had failed in her last chance to convince him to stay and she wished she had though of the right words to use that would have convinced him to let her stay when he put a warm hand on her shoulder.
“Walk with me sis” he said and they started walking around the Dome, under the gaze of the statues that stood along it, from a bearded man with thunderous eyes wielding a trident, to a mermaid with her arms outstretched to a man with an owls mask and many other statues with heads of animals, bodies of animals and some with stranger body parts of animals.
“What’s going to happen?” said Dasha, finally breaking the silence.
Akello took a long deep sigh and she saw the boyish looks fade as lines appeared under his eyes “The Decabians say they’ve been under attack by the Agoras and Piscers in recent weeks. That’s their reasoning for amassing these large numbers along their border” he said as they kept walking slowly along the Dome “Unfortunately we’re only separated by the Sea Of Sand between them and we’re the closest city to their western border. Even though it’s been ten years of being tense, the situation now is different.”
“I remember when I was your around your age Dasha” he said with a sad tone, one Dasha was not used to hearing her cheerful brother speak with “It seems like a different life those eleven years ago. People seemed…happier. You could walk down the street, know everyone’s name, talk to people easier and it didn’t matter where you came from, we were all the same, brothers and sisters hand in hand trying to survive this crazy thing we call life”
“Now though” he continued and he shook his head “I don’t know, it seems like everyone’s not sure who they can trust , many love this land but hate the fact that Aludin bent the knee to the Decabians. That was unforgivable in most eyes as well as the removal of the Seven from the flag, after the further insult. Others blame the Nephlin for getting too cocky with their status because of some wild legends thousands of years old and believing themselves invincible and see it as a harsh, but deserving lesson.”
“And what do you think?” said Dasha looking up at him “Do you think they’re telling the truth?”
“I don’t know” he said shaking his head again before he knelt down on the ground to her own eye level, for her brother stood taller than most men. She still was nowhere close his height and every day for the last year, she had woken up measuring herself against a mark on the wall. She had only grown a half dozen centimetres, at this rate, she’d never reach him.
“What I know, is that I have to keep you safe” he said looking at her with those odd eyes, one green, one almost red, it seemed as if it was continuously bloodshot “The last thing mum and dad ever told me was ‘to keep your sister safe’ and that’s a promise I intend to keep, more than any other I’ve made.”
“But then who’ll keep you safe?” she said.
He laughed at that.
“No more of this Dasha” he said “You’ll depart with the rest this evening, I’ve got my men and women who’ve got my back and I’m sure the situation will die down soon, once the Decabians stop flexing their muscles, everything will be back to normal. We’re just making the people feel safe, trying to downplay the whole situation.”
“You really think so?” she said.
“I hope so” he replied.
There was a silence between them when Akello broke it.
“There could be something you could do to help us out” he said, with a small smile at the side of his lips.
“What’s that?” she asked her spirits rising again.
He turned round and pointed up beyond the city walls towards the small range of mountains that the city had been built right at the base of, their peaks weren’t visible today due to the clouds and strong winds which had been blowing for the past couple of days.
“I need you to go up the Larissa’s to the old Nephlin sanctuary and bring Baruto down here” said Akello “That stubborn old man refused to leave earlier this month but he must leave now, he agreed to do so himself. He needs someone to accompany him down though, we’ve had to send Sailem up there once a week with supplies for months now due to the old man being unable to comedown himself.”
“So I’m asking you Dasha if you could please do this for me. Bring him down here.”
She smiled, mockingly bowing before her brother and said said in the best imitating voice she could “Yes Boss.”
That only gave him an excuse to mess her hair up even more “Thanks Dasha” he said before he rose up “I’ll see you later tonight and if that old man gives you any trouble, tell him I’ll personally deal with him myself…on second thought, I’m not sure you should, he may be old but Baruto never backed away from a fight, he always give it his all, I should know, my right arm still cracks from those wrestling matches all those years ago. And my body still wakes up in shivers remembering that month I spent training under him” he said rubbing his arms and laughing.
“I never knew that” said Dasha who had last seen the man many years ago, she didn’t remember anything about him though his reputation was almost legendary amongst the residents of Lemekia.
“Yeah, funny story it…” began Akello when two soldiers, one short wearing a hide cap and the second of more average height with a strong jawline and strong nose approached her brother.
“Jairus and Sailem, what is it?” he said bowing to them as they did to him.
“It’s the new arrivals” said Jairus as he then began to inform her brother on the latest updates and she lingered, staring at Sailem who turned round towards her. She gave a slight squeal and started heading off and she not dare look back.
Jairus and Sailem were her brothers right hand men and she always enjoyed it when the latter was around. He had come almost ten years ago, from the east, when the Decabian territory just past the Sea Of Sand used to be a province called Omion and had quickly rose through the ranks in Lemekia due to his abilities and resourcefulness. She should have stayed and asked him something about the old man but she found it difficult to talk, or think, or do anything when he was about.
She crossed over the bridge and ran counter-clockwise down the circular road before she started heading back west weaving through the abandoned streets once more, looking at the houses that brought back fresh memories.
Like the long house with the giant brass sign of a pig and sheep, where at the end of each day the workers were treated to a plate of hot food and a drink and you’d hear the noise from several streets down. Or the bazaar where the richest merchants of the city were settled and where usually the most expensive wares were to be found. She had done a lot of browsing but never any spending or the arena south of the city were performances, sporting events or speeches were given. Or the longest street in the city, now standing bare of banners and the travelling merchants stands and shops.
She felt like a ghost in the city, phantoms of the past came alive before her eyes everywhere she looked and she was passing the residential homes, where many of her friends had been living until even a week ago. They were all barred and locked up and she looked at each one, remembering who they belonged to when she spotted something odd.
One of the windows at ground level was just slightly open.
It was Kirrina’s home and as she got close, she noticed how the lock had been opened, a thin piece of metal was stuck inside it and she pulled it out, to find it to be easily bendable, and sharp that it slightly cut her finger..
She sucked her finger to stop the blood flow as she thought to herself what to do.
She carefully pushed open the window, it seemed to creak louder than any window she’d ever opened in her life and she quickly slid in, thankfully she was nimble she thought to herself.
She landed inside the kitchen of Kirrina. She remembered having meals here, Kirrina’s younger brother Sanda would throw pieces of food at the both of them as the smoke from the freshest fish and cattle would fill the entire house and their was always a smell of spice that hung in the air.
‘That devil’ she thought to herself as she looked at the smaller seat pushed up against the table and it made her sad that most of the kitchen, besides the cabinets was bare, gone were the strings and that hung over the table with all sorts of condiments hung over and the rack of cutlery.
She tip toed across the kitchen until she was in the dark corridor when she heard sounds coming from the end of the corridor.
Kirrina’s parent’s room.
She kept close to the wall, breathing slowly as she heard more rummaging ahead of her and the sound of metal falling to the floor. She edged ever closer, her left hand reaching inside her pouch when she found she could no longer hear anything from noise from inside the room.
‘Did they hear me?’ she thought to herself as she pushed herself against the wall, not daring to breath as silence fell inside the house.
Still no more sound or movement and she now realised how foolish she had been coming in her by herself when the door slammed wide open and she let out a scream as a figure ran right at her.
For The First Episode – Flame In The Dark – Click here.