POTP/TQOT/TSOH/THOBS&P

ChiarOscuro

XIV – KOA/POTP/TQOT/TSOH/THOBS&P

(5,552 Words)

MANNY

Manny woke up to the roaring of winds, opening and closing his eyes as he felt grains of sand fly into them. He felt his eyes sting and winced before covered them with his hand and opened them again. He went to get up and banged his head, groaning as he cursed loudly at his memory as he then rolling out from underneath the carriage where he had spent the night.

He got up to his feet and saw the winds blowing strongly around them so he could only see a couple dozen metres in front oh him. The sky was clouded and the quite world of last night was a distant memory as the howls grew louder, the carriage rattling and he hoped it wouldn’t fly away.

He saw the camp-fire had died out, with two people sleeping by it wrapped inside sleeping bags and as he walked around the carriage, he saw Wulf deep in slumber, snoring loudly and Isa sleeping beside a wheel of the carriage. He spotted a mound of sand in the form of a human body up ahead and went to it, pushing the sand off to reveal Dakar.

“Oh, it’s just him” he thought moving back and he spotted the smaller camp-fire up ahead with Hekriam sleeping beside it but Daygon was nowhere to be seen. He made his way to the mound of rocks which the desert and went behind one to relieve himself.

He closed his eyes, wondering why he had gotten himself into this situation. All he had dreamt about were strange twisted Demons such as the ones back at the Sanctuary and he had woken up many times in the night, his head still bruising for that pain was real unlike the ones in his dreams.

‘Why didn’t I leave that house alone?’ he thought to himself for that had been the moment everything had gone terribly wrong, from battling Demons to Decabia invading to being abducted by some Nephlin agent.

‘Maybe this is my punishment, maybe this is the way the Gods have decided to make me pay being the boy light on his feet’ he thought to himself.

“Hey.”

“What the..” he said, his eyes springing open and he fumbled as he looked back to see Daygon behind him and he quickly pulled his pants up.

“What do you think you’re doing, sneaking up on someone like that? There’s plenty of other rocks to pick” he said as he turned round “

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t go to sleep and I saw you woke up before everyone else” he said.

“Forget about it” said Manny as he walked up to Daygon “Hey, thanks by the way, you know, for saving us and, I’m sorry, you know, the whole Baruto thing.”

“It’s okay” said Daygon as he resting his back on one of the rocks, folding his arms and Manny did the same beside him, though Manny never knew what to do with his arms and hands and constantly fidgeted

“Master Baruto…he was my teacher, my mentor, but, he was also my friend and more than that, he was like the father I never had” said Daygon.

“You never knew your parents?” asked Manny. It was ten years ago since he last saw his own yet the time he had with both of them he could never forget.

Daygon shook his head “I think they died a long time ago, for I don’t remember ever having someone to call mum and dad and I was never told who they were, though Baruto said I was the luckiest orphan. All I’ve ever known was being in the Nephlin family. Maybe they were Nephlin, maybe they died, whatever the case, I’m sure Baruto was looking out for me.

“Although” said Daygon “That’s not true. Sometimes I hear a woman’s voice, one I’ve never heard as far as I can remember but I must have heard before, it sounds so familiar and this” he said looking down and tapping his blue sword which hung around his waist “Whenever I hold it, I don’t know, I feel like I’m close to home…it’s stupid isn’t it?”

“Nah” said Manny “At least you have something that reminds you of home, all I’ve just got this” he tapped his noggin’ “to remember my home and family.”

“I’d trade my sword any day for a memory of my family and home” said Daygon.

“You don’t know where you come from?” said Manny.

“No” said Daygon with a weak smile, hanging his head low and Manny shuffled uncomfortably on the spot. He wondered how it felt to not know where you came from and who brought you into this world. Daygon was like him in a way, lost in this world though Daygon had had a few people looking out for him. Unlike him, it had been Manny for himself for ten years.

“Can I ask you something, the real reason I wanted to talk to you?” said Daygon.

“Uh, yeah sure, fire away” he replied.

“Do all of you hate me?” said Daygon and Manny was about to reply but he continued “I saw how you all looked at me and Master Hekriam and I heard most of the other’s, what they said.”

“Oh you did did you?” said Manny feeling even more uncomfortable now than before “But Hate? Nah, of course not. My granddad once told me that ‘hate is a stronger emotion than love because’… I never really paid any attention to him or his quotes, wish I had now. Though I don’t love you man, no offence but you get what I’m saying?”

“Not really” said Daygon.

“Hey, you might want to talk to me but I never said I was good at conversating” said Manny “These kind of serious discussions, they aren’t me.”

“So what can I do? To get the others to feel safe and accept me and Hekriam?” asked Daygon.

“What you can do? Nothing” said Manny “Look, they’re just scared, they have families probably worried sick about them, wondering where they are. Some of their family are probably fighting the Decabians right now. Plus, the only home they’ve ever known is probably gone for good and Hekriam really forced them into a situation they knew nothing about.”

“Oh, and Demons” said Manny “Just give them some time and they’ll start to face reality, that’s when they’ll be more ready.”

“And you don’t need any time?” said Daygon.

Manny shrugged his shoulders.

“I’ve never had a home, not really. Nowhere to be and no one waiting on me, so it doesn’t bother me where I end up going, though I would like a say next time” said Manny “I’ll tell you what though, those Demons, they didn’t scare me as much as the Decabians did when they attacked my village, in Omion. Don’t get me wrong, they still terrified me but the Decabians…well, they’re Decabians, let’s leave it at that.”

They heard a squawk behind them and they both glanced up to see a crow perched atop one of the rocks, looking down at them with yellow eyes, it’s black and blue feathers shaking due to the winds, when it gave another squawk and flew, disappearing into the sandstorm they were in the middle of.

“I’m sorry, to hear that. I remember Master Baruto telling me about Omion, how they tricked Aludin and they forced the Nephlin to end” said Daygon.

“Well, to be fair, they did catch their spies waltzing about the King’s palace in Decabia” said Manny suddenly getting angry though he didn’t know why “They are to blame, if they hadn’t gotten cocky and thought they ruled Aludin themselves, Omion would still be here and none of this would have happened.”

“No” said Daygon loudly pushing himself off the rocks and facing Manny “You’re wrong.”

“I’m wrong? Everyone knows what the Nephlin were up to but if you know so much more than me, then please, enlighten me” said Manny as he pushed himself off the rock, flexing his arms.

“Daygon” said a voice and he looked over Daygon’s shoulder to see Hekriam walk up to the pair of them, scratching his hair as sand got caught in it “I told you, no leaving the camp unless you tell me and also you….uh” he said looking down at Manny.

“Manny” he answered, backing off from Daygon and relaxing himself.

“I feel like I’ve seen you before?” wondered Hekriam out loud.

“Uh, well, they say I look like a younger Hero” he said, scratching the back of his head and putting on a wide grin but he saw Hekriam remained unconvinced.

“Either way, it’s time to wake up the others, we’re leaving” said Hekriam as he headed back with Daygon close behind and Manny looked up as he saw a flock of birds fly overhead. The winds had started to die down and for the first time since he had woken up, he could see the sun. He shook his head, sand flying everywhere and returned to the camp.

*

They spent the rest of the day cooped up inside the carriage. The sandstorm throughout the day came and went, the winds blowing into the carriage, filling it with sand and dust and the heat made this situation unbearable to each one of the group.

Dasha, Isa, Dakar and Wex, were either slumped against the carriage or laying down in the bench, a cloth spread over their head which became damp in minutes and they all kept to themselves, as Hekriam and Daygon rode up front and hours seemed days.

Manny was at the furthest end, his leg swinging as he stayed as close to the wind which blew through the gaps above. He was not used to this, he needed to be free, not held up like some bird inside a cage.

He sometimes glanced outside and saw just how fast they were speeding through the desert and the sound of the now empty water jug rolling up and down the carriage was like the swinging of a scale.

Bang.

Bang.

He wondered where they were heading, north to the mountains, east to towards the plains or maybe south towards the sea. As long as they put distance between themselves and the Decabians to the east, he didn’t care. The first chance he got, he would slip away from the group and find a new city to live in. He had always to live by the sea, which he’d never seen for himself and he still had difficulty believing of a water that supposedly never ended.

They stopped for the night as the sun began to set they all ate in silence as they had done for most of the day by the camp-fire, nibbling away at their meals and drinking from the pouches. Manny tried to think up of conversation starters but held back each time as he didn’t want to cause any situation which might lead to an argument yet again.

He was now worried about the food and water supplies for the sack Hekriam had been carrying when he had distributed their meals had seemed rather small. Not that he was used to eating as well as the others he figured but he still needed to feel satisfied after a meal, which he wasn’t.

Manny was the last sitting by the fire. He knew what they were going through and he knew what to expect the end result would be. He doubted Lemekia would stand, though there was a chance, his home village hadn’t had walls and soldiers to protect it. He still remembered seeing it from atop that hill, looking at the fires leap to the sky as they had started putting it all to the torch and the sounds of…

He shuddered for they seemed still so real to him and tried to think of something else but he was in too deep.

He remembered when the Aludin soldiers had found him after the event and the kind faced woman had taken him to be fed, washed and given new clothes. Never had a set of clothes, food and a wash ever felt as good.

He hadn’t spoken a word when he had been lost, wandering about aimlessly in shock about the world in the world and for the first month he spent with her and her company in a small village which he couldn’t remember the name of, he hadn’t said a word. That’s when she had told him that he needed to get out the Pit, there were five steps and he needed to take the last one to escape it. And she asked to do it for her, for she was worried and cared about him.

That’s when he had burst into tears and had finally broken his vow of silence, coming to accept what had happened.

He would never forget her kind face, her red hair and her green eyes and how she had almost been like a mother for the next year as they travelled about Tueley, taking care of others who had found themselves refugees after Decabia had invaded Omion and all was well.

Until they had reached Lemekia.

He still remembered her standing at the doorway of the small room in the Red Dome, sitting on his bed and her telling him that’d she’d only be away for a few days but she’d be back for him and not to worry for everything would be fine from now on.

He chucked a stone into the fire, embers burst forth and he got up away from the fire, laying himself underneath the carriage as he curled up into a ball.

That night, unable to sleep, he spotted Hekriam late at night, furtively leaving the camp, disappearing into the darkness and a full hour passed before he had returned.

This nocturnal activity happened for a further two days of their travels, with Hekriam leaving for a full two hours and the second day of his surveillance, Manny had been unable to stay awake as the heat of the desert dragged him into sleep.

A further two days passed, by then they were rationing the remaining food, with hardly any water left, if there was something to drink, it was warm and even Wulf was on his last legs, the carriage now rolled slowly across the desert and tempers started flaring.

Wex had accidentally budged into Dakar, who had started screaming at him to not do that again and how clumsy he was and always would be. That only made Isa angry as she told Dakar to shut up for she could never stand his voice and it didn’t help that now that’s all she could hear. Dasha told them all to be be quite and Isa had told her to stop being bossy for once in her life. Manny had seriously considered jumping out the carriage at that moment and trying his luck with the desert as they screamed and shouted at one another.

That day, a couple of hours before sunset, the carriage came to a halt and they all hopped outside to see Wulf stretched out on the floor, his body heaving and wheezing as he his tongue hung out his mouth.

“He’s exhausted” said Daygon turning to Hekriam “We have to stop, he can’t go on, we can’t go on” he said looking at the others “I’m hungry and thirsty Hekriam, can’t we take a break from travelling and find somewhere to get some food and water? We’ve passed every place in sight, please.”

“We can’t stop Daygon” said Hekriam turning to the young boy “we’ll have to keep moving. I’m sorry, we can’t stop, not now. We’ll have to leave Wulf behind, I’m sorry Daygon.”

“Aaaahhhh” yelled Dakar running up behind Hekriam and he went to swing the jug round his head but the seasoned warrior was too fast, grabbing Dakar’s arm, pushing him to the ground and Dakar wailed as they all looked down at them stunned, unsure what to do.

“He’s going to kill us all” he cried out “I’m starving and have had a headache for three days now, I can’t take it, damn you, damn you, damn you.”

“Let go of him” said Dasha and the others went to step forward when Hekriam stood up, releasing Dakar as he scrambled up to his feet and joined the group, eyes never looking away from Hekriam.

“Please, I know it’s been hard but we have to keep going, we can’t stop” said Hekriam “Maybe you all underestimate the threat of both Decabia and the Demons.”

“The only threat here is you” said Manny “You’re keeping something from us, you disappear for hours during the night when the rest of us sleep” and though it was barely noticeable he saw he had stunned Hekriam “So what’s the deal?”

Hekriam held his hands in his head “You’re just going to have to trust me, I’m doing this all for your own good.”

“We don’t believe you” said Isoka and the others were about to jump in when Dasha called for silence.

“Listen” said Dasha and she raised her hand. Manny tried to listen when he heard the chanting in the distance.

“People” said Wex turning round to look towards large dunes to his right and they could hear the deep chants in the distance.

“It doesn’t matter, we have to keep going, no stops” said Hekriam “We’ll find water, ancient underground rivers flow here and we can find fresh fruits and vegetables and even some meat if we’re lucky.”

“Quick guys, let’s escape this maniac” said Dakar as he started running towards the dune.

“No” said Hekriam leaping behind him and dragged him by his collar, as Dakar swung punches left, right and centre, roaring with anger and frustration as he did so “We cannot be seen.”

“Why not?” said Dasha “We have nothing to hide, we’ve done nothing wrong unless you lied to us and we really are your captives.”

“No” said Hekriam turning round to face all of them growing frustrated and even Daygon was keeping silent, no longer defending him “You just have to trust me.”

“Well I don’t, I can’t” said Dasha and Hekriam was fumbling with his words, trying to convince them.

“You there” roared a voice behind them and everyone of them jumped in fright, spinning round to see a small group approaching them, two atop mounts and the other two on foot racing up towards them. Hekriam swore under his breath at their presence and quickly looked about him, as if searching for a means to escape but bit his tongue before turning to the group.

“Leave the talking to me” he whispered as walked out from the group to meet the new arrivals.

The small group was before them and Hekriam looked at each one of them in turn.

“And who might you lot be? Why are you not on the Paths? It’s dangerous times we’re living in and it’s common sense to not travel out in the desert like this” asked one of the two standing who spoke with an authoritative and posh voice.

“I could ask you the same question” replied Hekriam looking at each of the group in turn “I do not recognise your emblem or your strange suits, who are you?”

The four of them were wearing heavy looking suits of armour, that seemed a bit daft to do out here in the desert. Made from steel, they wore long streams of cloth, wrapped around their heads and exposed arms and legs. And their back of their suits of armour looked like tortoise shells, sticking far back behind them with two large belts wrapped along their waists.

Around their wrists were threads of beads and around their neck was a large stone disk, divided into four quarters, one held an image of a single drop of water, another a silhouette with a plate of meat, vegetables and fruits, another with two twisting serpents around a red pole and the fourth two hands united at the wrist, one holding a sword, the other a heart.

“We are the Knights Of Alluanda” spoke the narrow faced blonde lady sat atop one of the camels “Protectors Of The Poor, The Quenchers Of Thirst, The Saters Of Hunger and The Healers Of Body, Spiritual & Physical.”

The last part was said in chorus by all four of them and Manny wondered whether they had rehearsed that.

“Never heard of you” replied Hekriam.

“We are a new, proud, order” replied a mountain of a woman sitting alongside her sister in arms “To better put it, we have been resurrected and reborn from an ancient and extinct order. Seeing as Aludin keeps failing to protect their people from the enemies to the east, the south and the west and the people within Aludin, who are slowly corrupting our lands, we have taken it on ourselves to protect the people. Unlike those fat asses in Urok. So, now that we’ve complied, please, answer the question.”

“Alluanda” he said “Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time. As for who we are, we are from Lemekia, as for what we are doing far away from home and not on the Paths, I’m sure you’ve all heard about Decabia. We were fleeing as fast as we could, trying to put distance between us and them, as is everyone else is doing, I’m sure.”

“I heard Lemekia was sending it’s people east, not north” said the man who had first spoken out loud, stroking his beard.

‘So that’s where we’re heading, North’ he thought to himself.

“We were the among the last to leave” he replied “Just as the Decabians marched onto the city walls, we lost sight of the other carriages in the chaos. And we didn’t care where we were going, as long as we were far away from the Decabians, that was good for us.”

“Please, uh, sir” said Dasha interrupting their conversation, stepping forward from the group, hands held above her chest.

“No need to call me sir little lady, I’m just like you, we’re all equal under the sun” said the man “Call me Jubarin. The quite one beside me is Nickal and the beautiful ladies behind me are Zera and Yazmine.”

“Well, we’ve been lost in the desert since we left Lemekia with no news, please tell me, do you know what..what has happened?” she asked.

He looked to his companions and turned back around, his expression unreadable.

“We got a few crows and last we heard, earlier this morning mind you, was that eastern Tueley was crumbling and although the host has stopped for now, I’m certain from what I’ve gathered they don’t plan on stopping.”

“Places such as Sailon, The Hills Of Kolondike and even Jibrii have all fallen” he continued “Lemekia though, is one of the only cities to still hold on. Although the reports that we last got informed us, they’re just barely holding on.”

“I’m sorry little lady” he said putting a hand on her shoulder “But I think the Decabians caught us scratching our asses. We weren’t ready to properly defend ourselves, we could have been but when Urok plays off such obvious warning signs and doesn’t help the people of Aludin, how can we fight on our own?”

“But they must be doing something now, surely?” said Dakar as he pushed up beside Dasha “I mean, they’re invading our home.”

“They’ve not even acknowledged that an invasion has begun” said Jubarin “None of their troops are heading east, as far as we know. Almost makes me think that Urok has sold all of us out to Decabia.”

“Why would they do that?” exclaimed Dakar.

“Gods know why they do anything” said Jubarin when he looked over the group “Come now, we will provide water, food and rest, it seems you all need it.”

“What is that thing?” said Nickal, as he pointed behind them and Daygon laughed loudly.

“Oh him, that’s Wulf” he replied.

“I’ve heard about these creature’s before. I only thought they were a legend that they were still alive up north. What is one doing all the way down here?” said Zera, holding her reins, slightly tense “Is it safe?”

“Of course” said Daygon, patting the beast who sighed as it still lay on its side.

“Very well, come follow us” said Jubarin as he nodded to the two behind him and they went towards the carriage, Yazmine dealing with having the camels pull the carriage and Daygon gave the reins to Zera, who looked anxiously at Wulf who stood on his feet and his large head was an inch from hers before he licked her, soaking her face, making her gasp and Yazmine too go into hysterics.

They left them behind and started following Jubarin and Nickal towards the sounds of people, which grew louder by the second as they started to climb up the sloping dune and once they reached down, they looked down to see a large village, made of small sandstone houses all close to one another with tight streets.

“What is this place?” wondered Wex out loud.

“This place doesn’t have a name” said Jubarin as they started to descend the slope “This is one of the many Mu’s across this desert, small resting spots that have been here since the time river’s flowed through these lands and you see that?” he said pointing to the edge of the village where a large stone trail snaked out the city and slithered across the landscape, disappearing into the distance and another opposite it went off into the distance.

“Those used to be the river’s, once they dried up, they were filled and now they’re the Paths, if you keep following the one that heads north west, you’ll eventually arrive at the Saganuey Temple and after that ,it heads south west to the plains of Celia” said Jubarin.

“Saganuey, that’s the largest of the Temples isn’t it? Also the largest hospital and if I’m not mistaken, it holds the largest collection of books in the world” said Wex, his face lighting up at the very thought.

“Yes indeed you’re correct young man” said Jubarin “a mere day’s journey from here following the Path. That’s why there are so many people from all walks of life here, scholars, believers, bakers, soldiers, you name it, this is the busiest Mu and the one that needs the most of my people, especially now that people are fleeing towards the west.”

“Don’t get him started on books” punching Wex’s shoulder and laughing as she snapped him out of his dreams of getting lost in an ocean of books and the chance to pick the brightest and smartest brains.

“Excuse me when I say this and I mean no insult to the hospitality you are showing us” said Hekriam as they reached the bottom of the slope and found themselves at the town’s edge. Men and women were sitting under the shade of the buildings, many beehive shaped while the younger ones ran naked about, laughing as they played games with a few stopping to glance at the newcomers.

“But we must depart as soon as possible, if possible shortly after sunset” said Hekriam to Jubarin who frowned.

“At the very least, you must stay for supper” said Jubarin “And I will ask for one of our members to escort you on your journey, we can’t have one single man looking after all these six boys and girls can we now?”

“No, it’s fine, I’ve got them under control. I’m a soldier of Lemekia, they’ll be safe with me” said Hekriam and Jubarin looked at Hekriam for a few moments before shaking his shoulders and wiping his brow.

“Very well, it is not my position to argue, come now, follow me to the Madrisa” he said as they walked through the Mu and Manny noticed how some of the buildings had such deep cracks in them that he was sure if he had blown on them they would have crumbed to dust.

They were fast approaching the largest building of the village, outside of which were numerous wooden tables filled with people eating and drinking, swinging tankards in their hands, women were dancing on a couple of tables as everyone around them banged on the tables in rhythm as several flute, drum and guitar players gave them all a tune to sing by.

There were no doors to this place, just an arched doorway where every moment someone was entering or leaving the place, those that left had redder faces than those pale ones about to enter and the smells of cooked meat, fish and other spices filled the air and he lifted his noise to the air, taking in the smells as a flock of crows flew over them.

“So who was this Alluanda?” said Isa.

“Why, Alluanda was a noble woman. Back in the old days when Urok had a single wall, it’s said she climbed over it, giving up her past life to lead a humbler and simpler one, it’s a classic story but a long one, I’ll tell you the short version later” said Jubarin the entrance and he saluted a busty woman sat beside a giggling midget who waved at him, them too dressed in the colours of his order though not wearing the suits of armour.

“She led a life where she helped everyone who needed helping and she never expected anything from it. If someone was able to repay the kindness, well that only made the gift that much more meaningful when you don’t expect anything” he said “Unfortunately, most of the accounts of Alluanda that dive deeper into her story were carelessly lost centuries ago.”

They entered the inn, a small elderly woman walked up to them and Jubarin asked for a table and they stood by as they waited for her return, a sea of people all cramped inside the place made Manny kept shake his shirt as sweat started to drench his back.

Finally the woman squeezed out of the crowd and told them to follow her as a table was now available. Hekriam was the first behind her, pushing the people aside as he got through with Dasha, Wex, Isa and Manny following and he kept getting bumped back and forth as he tried to follow them when he spotted a fat juicy pouch hanging off of someone’s waist and a sense he hadn’t felt in a while returned to him but he quickly shook it off.

‘Manny you fool, you can’t get away with it, not in here’ he thought to himself when he realised he had lost the others. He looked behind him and that’s when he realised Jubarin had lingered behind along with Dakar, who was talking animately to him and he saw how Jubarin called out and three of his companions came to him and they quickly started heading towards the others.

‘Oh no’ he thought to himself as he quickly tried to get to the other’s before them but found it a struggle to push through the large amount of people inside this crammed inn and when he finally caught sight of them, he knew he was too late.

He saw Jubarin and the other three approach the table and the entire inn fell silent as Jubarin fiercely announced “Hekriam, if that is even your real name, we, The Knights Of Alluanda, Protectors Of The Poor, The Quenchers Of Thirst, The Saters Of Hunger and The Healers Of Body, Spiritual & Physical, place you under arrest for the act of abduction of six youth and deserting your position in Lemekia. Surrender yourself immediately and we will treat you with respect and mercy.”

Hekriam sprung to his feet and he saw the others sat at the table look back and forth uncomfortably as all eyes in the room were on them and that’s when Manny spotted another pouch, ripe for the plucking.

“Very well” he heard Hekriam say after a long silence and he turned round to see Hekriam lower his arms before him as the midget tied his hands together with a thick length of rope and he saw Dakar step from behind the Knights and stare down Hekriam as they pulled him from out the table and he saw hurt on Hekriam’s face which sure looked genuine.

“You’re making a mistake” were the last words he said before being escorted out of the premises and the Madrisa, for the first time that night was in complete silence. Then the whispers came. Then the noise grew louder than before.

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