It’s been a little over thirty years since darkness came to the Eastern Front Barracks.
There’s still no King on the throne of the Empire, but the Empire remains strong in the hands of the Round Table. Annoiting someone is right at the top of their priorities, but they’ve found a few ingenious ways of avoiding it.
All threats from the east hit the Barracks stones and are repelled. Sir Aeron continues to do a marvelous job in that respect – so marvelous that no one needs to know what’s going on inside his walls. With no royalty to keep balance, faith has soaked up all the power it can, so there’s no difficulty in sending heretics to their doom. The story, of course, is that they’re sent to fight for their country, to pay for their crimes, but rarely do they last more than a few hours once inside the gates.
A dank, depressing society trudges on within the City Barracks. The Fourth Company still rule – the world outside believes that their ranks must have changed a little. They were deathly ill when last seen, but no. Their ranks are the same, to a person.
Hope can still be found in the children though. They tell each other stories of escaping one day, out of the never ending gloom.
One such girl is Krishna Youssef. She’s certain that it’s the Fourth Company who are making their lives hell. She’s filled with horror stories from her parents about them, and knows to stay away. Her bravery gets the better of her sometimes though, and she follows them around at a distance.
She watches them more than anyone else dares to. She’s spotted the darkness that seems to leech out of them.
The darkness that hangs over the city is obvious from afar now. For those that know what they’re looking at, it stands out like a beacon.
The man that called himself only Welles entered the City of his own volition. His footprints leave behind oily patches of darkness that the meagre sunlight takes hours to wash away. He holds his cloak close around his face, hiding the mutilated flesh below. A wound that Sir Aeron notices, and immediately feels a familiar pull towards.
He pulls behind him a trunk. Heavy, stained oak with heavier looking padlocks and iron rivets. He drags it along the floor by a dark red rope which threatens to – but never will – snap at any moment.
He opens it for a moment whilst talking to Aeron, the process of unlatching locks taking a few minutes. He chucked in what he came for and then slammed it closed. The glimpse Aeron caught was unimpressive; a roll of twine, maybe, sitting a top a clay jug.
The armor would be returned to Sir Aeron two days after Welles had left, found tossed quite near the edge of the City’s outer walls. It was dusty and missing four of the gems that were previously inlaid in the silver and gold.
In exchange for the armor – or at least the gems, it seemed – Welles shared how he came across his own wound. Creatures of shadow stalked him whilst he travelled and camped. He knew now that they didn’t immediate kill him because he was chewing raican grass. They pounced the moment he spot out his last blade of it. He couldn’t stand the taste of it now. “Neither will you,” he said.
The shadow pack that got him were straight from the other side, he said. “The Alius See,” he said. “They’d probably never seen a human before me. Feral things, the native ones.”
He took a pinch of a chalky, fine substance from a pouch, and dabbed it on his tongue. Immediately the man seemed larger, his shadow darker, his eyes clearer. He was so mesmorising that Aeron forgot to flinch when he smushed a small amount of the stuff on Aeron’s lips.
The world sang around him. Each time the torchs’ flames lasped it sang louder. He was instantly aware of his brothers and sisters of the Fourth. Knew their hungry hearts. Their strength. Their loyalty.
Somewhere off, much further away, there was a wild cry of thirty or forty beasts screaming in … joy?
“That will last a few minutes. It’s hard to come by.”