Friday Fiction: The Ruon Chronicles, Prologue: Book 1, Final Part
In which the shapeshifters also make an appearance!
Hello again Dear Reader,
Today I’m posting the final part of The Ruon Chronicles’ prologue.
Prologue, The Final Part
Tarion was surprised to see Harhas’ chest move as the Khalver inhaled. His eyes were still closed and his face almost the same grey-white colour of the ash that stained his chest.
“It was one way to get him to be still,” Jarné said from where she knelt next to Harhas. “Though I’d rather use my healing cloths on someone who deserves it,” she added as she changed one spent healing cloth for another.
“Keep your strength for inside, Jarné,” Karad said. His voice was stern though he smiled at her. “Let me finish here. You get the boat.”
Jarné handed him some more of the healing cloths, though Tarion could not make out what their entwined charms meant. He helped Ranor to his feet after replacing the unspent arrow in his quiver, ignoring the man’s gruff voice.
The Airus saw that Ranor’s hand seemed burned almost to the point of blistering where it had touched Harhas. Ranor took a bandage from his bag and started winding it about his hand muttering that healing needed to wait for later. He followed Ranor to where Harhas lay.
Karad quickly bundled the spent cloths and pushed them into his own work bag, seemingly heedless of the blood that stained some of them. The kneeling Ruon placed his fingers on Harhas’ neck.
“His heart beat is slowing,” Karad said, shaking his head. “That Airus have ruined our chances of finding out how bloodstones are made.”
“He was going to kill Ranor!”
“What? Did you see the Veil open up, Airus?” Karad mocked.
It glimmered enough for me to see it, Tarion thought, but left it unsaid. Karad may be younger than him in years, but had been a Keeper much longer.
Ranor put his uninjured hand on Tarion’s shoulder.
“Don’t mind Karad, Tarion. He thinks the whole world owes him something because he found how to make a new charm from two old ones.”
Tarion glanced at the Ruon healer’s bag on the ground. One of the bloodied cloths that still peeked out from the bag was finely embroidered all over with charms that he did not recognise. The white thread on the white cloth seemed out of place between the rest of the charms, which were all worked in the traditional colours of red, blue, and green.
When Karad saw Tarion was looking at the cloths, he pushed them further in, closing the bag and standing with a harrumph.
“Airus, come help me carry him.”
Tarion bit back his words. He’d met some like Karad at Ameragh and Ringwood as well. His words and breath would only be wasted.
“He is still alive,” Tarion said. “Maybe if we take him to Holt —”
“Don’t be an idiot. We are not taking this Khalver to the sanctuary. He can die here rather. We’ll find someone else that can make the stones and question them.”
“Calm down,” Néa said and helped them lay Harhas in the boat.
Tarion joined them in the boat as they rowed to the island while the other Keepers remained behind to keep watch. He kept his eyes on the Khalver as they went. Something seemed … wrong. He spotted the corner of an embroidered Ruon charm cloth peeking out from beneath the collar of Harhas’ white shirt, and frowned. It, too, was embroidered in white. He pushed the worry from his mind. Perhaps it was something that the Ruon at the Nortkhall Sanctuary did. After all, it wasn’t the colour that held the Nith-talent that the Ruon used.
For a moment, the air in front of him glimmered like bright sun on ripples of water. The gold and purple at the edges of the ripples was washed out, but still just as real as the boat beneath him. It was the Veil Agrai had put in place after the first murder when the mortal and immortal world were divided.
Tarion whipped his head around while the blurred lines filled his vision.
“What is it?” Jarné asked.
Coming from an Airus, the two words were enough. The Airus could see the Veil at times and so, too, they could see the Khalne that came to the mortal world to take the souls of the dead beyond the Veil.
The Veil glimmered a moment longer and then disappeared. There had been no Khalne. Tarion blinked rapidly to clear the lingering light shadows from his vision and looked back at Harhas. Karad was pressing another tri-coloured healing cloth to the man’s chest. As Tarion watched, the embroidered pattern turned to fine grey ash as the Nith flowed from the cloth to Harhas. The white-on-white cloth he had seen was gone.
“How long will it keep him alive still?” Tarion asked Karad.
“Alive?” Karad’s wry laugh twisted his features. “This Khalver has breathed his last. It’s off to judgement for him.”
“But I didn’t see —”
“What? You think you can see beyond the Veil?” Karad asked. “Think you’re Khalne now, or something?”
Tarion glared at Karad, but before he could say anything, they bumped against the sloping shore of the island. The tall grass and weeds here had been trampled a few days earlier when some of the Keepers came to prepare the tower, though no one had seen the Khalne who wrote charms on the wall in their old tongue.
This time the three Ruon carried Harhas inside, leaving Tarion outside to tie the boat to an old tree stump.
Tarion pulled the knot as tight as he could, putting all his irritation at Karad into the motion. As he stepped back, slipped on a half-hidden stone. He moved the grass aside with the toe of his boot.
It was worked stone, most likely a piece that had crumbled from the tower. The sigil on it was old and moss-covered. He tried making it out for a moment and then shrugged. He was looking for signs of Lewjan everywhere today. He gave the stone a kick for good measure before walking away.
The stone shifted and a shadow so dark that it seemed to be the very absence of light flickered from the sigil. The moss on the stone shriveled as if touched by fire.
The tower within was only lit by sun slanting through the tall, thin widows. The light pooled on the dust-covered floor. Here and there ivy and other climbing plants had crept through the windows and crawled onto the floor to form a patched green carpet.
Tarion’s eyes drifted up to the high ceiling that still showed the remnants of old paintings of men and horses. Whatever else had been left to rot in the tower was mouldy and covered in the same thick layer of dust as the ochre-coloured floor tiles. Here and there tattered remains of tapestries hung, their designs long worn away by the weather.
A cry from one of the Tellerassar sounded from above the tower, the mournful ai-la-la call echoing through the empty halls above them. Tarion felt the tension leave his shoulders. If the Tellerassar — the shapeshifters — were here no one would be able to attack without them spotting it from the air and warning them.
By now the three Ruon had carried Harhas to the room they had prepared for him and Tarion quickened his pace to catch up with them.
Inside the room - what must have been a guard room once - bars had been placed across the window in a tight mesh and a gate stood opened in the doorway. The room was furnished with only a bed and a chair, both roughly made, and Harhas was now lying on the bed with Jarné hovering over him. She listened for a heartbeat, felt for a pulse, and - to Tarion’s complete surprise - smacked the Khalver through the face. Harhas didn’t stir or make a noise.
Jarné rubbed her hand. “That was for my husband, you piece of filth,” she spat. “Shame he can’t feel it where he is now.”
Néa hugged her friend and they stood in each others’ arms for a moment. Néa whispered something to her, and Jarné nodded. They turned back to Harhas.
“What do we do now?” Tarion asked.
“We bury him,” Néa said and shrugged.
“We burn him,” Jarné said at almost the same time. “Leave no trace of him behind to pollute the world.”
“With what wood?” Néa asked matter-of-factly. “You can start cutting down trees then.”
At this Jarné burst out laughing. “Thank you, Néa.”
Tarion came to stand next to them, said nothing. He’d heard what a dark sense of humour trauma could give survivors and he knew Néa and Jarné had been through a lot although they never spoke of it.
“We leave him here.”
Everyone looked at Karad, who folded Harhas’ hands on his chest.
“As good a grave as any. Leave him to the ravens and worms.”
“More than he deserves,” Jarné said. “Second best to burning him, I guess.”
Néa looked as uncertain as Tarion. “What if other Khalver come for him?”
“Then they’ll also be trapped in here if they disregard the charms on the walls,” Jarné said.
“Use him as bait?” Tarion asked. Humans were strange, he had to admit that.
“Ranor said you’re too young for the world, Airus,” Karad said, slipping something into his pocket. “Let’s go. We’ve spent enough time here already.”
“Give me a moment,” Tarion said as the others left. They only gave him a strange look.
“Lock the gate then,” Karad said, tossing him a key. “And don’t stay long. We need to be home by dark.”
Tarion waited for them to leave before kneeling next to the man’s bed. He started softly singing a dirge he had learned from his grandfather. His grandfather who had sung the Songs of the Veil even for his fallen enemies after the battle at Skahág Canyon.
When he’d finished, he studied the face of the Khalver once more. He didn’t look evil, Tarion thought. He looked like any other nondescript clerk he’d ever met. And it chilled him to the bone.
He turned on his heel and left, locking the door behind him and taking a few running steps to get out of the tower faster. He, too, wanted to be home before dark.
On the simple bed, Harhas’ hands clenched around the bloodstone Karad had put there. A deep breath filled the Khalver’s lungs and, though he didn’t open his eyes, he smiled.