Saturday Art – Dark Soul, Chapter Twenty-One
Happy Saturday and welcome to the twenty first chapter of Dark Soul. If you are wondering what the heck this is, it is the serialization of my novel Dark Soul. I have been posting here in the hopes of getting some feed back from folks. Even if you have never read a chapter, I’d be interested in your opinion of this one. Good, bad or indifferent I promise to consider you thoughts in my continued rewriting of it.
If you would like to catch up on past chapters you can find them all at the links below.
Dark Soul, Chapter One
Dark Soul, Chapter Two
Dark Soul, Chapter Three
Dark Soul, Chapter Four
Dark Soul, Chapter Five
Dark Soul, Chapter Six
Dark Soul, Chapter Seven
Dark Soul, Chapter Eight
Dark Soul, Chapter Nine
Dark Soul, Chapter Ten
Dark Soul, Chapter Eleven
Dark Soul, Chapter Twelve
Dark Soul, Chapter Thirteen
Dark Soul, Chapter Fourteen
Dark Soul, Chapter Fifteen
Dark Soul, Chapter Sixteen
Dark Soul, Chapter Seventeen
Dark Soul, Chapter Eighteen
Dark Soul, Chapter Nineteen
Dark Soul – Chapter Twenty
Now on to the Chapter!
Chapter Twenty One
Five dawns after obtaining the level of Doci amongst the Celesti, Tyrone had still managed to hold from the Shadow the secret of achieving that status. In his mind Tyrone was rating this a rather important victory, but he had no illusions that the Shadow would simply let it lie out of good will, as if good will and the Shadow were comfortable mates in the same thought, let alone in the world!
Still there was also a slight amount of respect from his dark friend now that it had become clear Tyrone had won his long pursuit of Krenchi. Though to be sure there was always some new comment when she joined the men at the end of the day. It was not in the Shadow to let any situation go untested by the sharpness of his spelon tongue.
These were the thoughts that orbited Tyrone’s need to find the Shadow this mid-day. There were things the two men needed to talk about, things both had thought long settled on the night they were so ingloriously cast into the valley of the Celesti by a flood.
Tyrone knew the City just well enough to find his way to the district where the Vernita sept had many of their forges and workshops. Unlike the Shadow, Tyrone was not at all embarrassed to throw himself on the good nature of the local craftsmen. Soon enough he found himself standing in the open wall of a workshop watching the Shadow being instructed in the method of thinning and sharpening an axe head. After a moment or two Saltori Trasbello look up from watching one of his master crafters instruct the Shadow and noticed Tyrone. Leaving the men to their work the big smith walked over to Tyrone.
“Hail, Bethainal Tyrone, I think if you have come to steal the deep secrets of the Vernita, you would have to stand much closer!” he said with what might have been a welcoming smile under his prodigious beard.
“Hail, Saltori Trasbello! It was long ago in my childhood when I learned that those who work with metal had a talent that Lady Costello’s little boy sore lacked. Even if I knew what you did, I would never be able to do it my self.”
“Are you set on Tyrone for your Doci name, it seems to me the Questoria unlocked something in you when she called you Sly Tongue.”
“Which is why I honor my new people and clan by keeping it as a second name. When one finds a name that fits so well, it is hard to give it up, no? But I did not come here to try to match wits with one of the Council. I would distract yon Night Eyes for a while if I may. There is something we need to discuss, and it can not wait.” This statement swept all the laughter out of Trasbello’s eyes and he was instantly the powerful leader of one of the Clans of the Celesta.
“Does this something affect the City?” he asked in his bass voice.
“It may very well Saltori, it has to do with what happened to us before we came to the pass. If it is as bad as it could be, there is a real chance of danger, to Night Eyes and all the clans.”
“Then you shall have him, and the Saltori of the Chositha as well hear your news. Turning back to the forge and the men working there he called, “Night Eyes! That is well enough for now. Come your friend has news he would share with you and I.”
The Shadow nodded his head then turned back to set the axe head down and return the tool he was using to the rack. Excusing himself from the master who had been instructing him he took off his leather apron, and hung it on a near by peg.
“Hail, Tyrone Sly Tongue, the teacher who keeps secrets from the young!” said the Shadow, including a mocking bow.
“Ach! Trasbello, can you please tell Night Eyes it is not my choice to keep the test used on Noy from him? He feels a Bethainal should not hide things from the Noy even though it be the law of the City of Rushing Water to do so.”
“Night Eyes, spelon though you are, you should not put the needle to your friend. He is right, it is not his secret to tell, it is your challenge to find it for yourself. Fretting it from him would hardly be the honorable course. But then I do not need to tell you this do I? Leave it be, and soon enough you will know, just like every other Doci in the City”
“As you say, Saltori, but rest assured I will put my thoughts into finding it, whether it comes from Tyrone or elsewhere!”
“Spoken like a true Noy on the verge of the change. But come, enough banter, the Bethainal here has news of a dangerous nature and I would hear it.” Trasbello said then led the two men into the open courtyard of the smithy.
“What is the problem?” asked the Shadow.
“You know that I have been assigned to watch what Carlinus is teaching the Celesti, aye?” When both the Shadow and Trasbello nodded he continued, “Well I was up at the main hall of the Sczenchi listening to the lesson today. One of the women there asked if Carlinus’ god truly manifest in the world the way the Celesti’ god did.
That is when Carli told the story of how he got Orobasson out of the pass. He puffed it up, as he is likely to do, but it boils down to this, he prayed at your horse and backed him up!
Now I know we had most of the blood washed off of us by the storm, but I was wondering if the giant wolf might be able to find us by the smell of good combating evil, would it be more potent than mine and Carlinus’ smell?”
The Shadow had been getting more and more still and the color was fading from his skin as he listened to Tyrone. One could almost see his thoughts speeding, going from a trickle, to a stream to a raging flood in the space of a few moments.
“I…, perhaps…” he started and then stopped. Finally taking himself in hand he shook his head in the way a bear does when he is plagued with bees. “We must find out. To have Xenocox find the City because of us and Carlinus in particular is not acceptable.”
Turning to Trasbello he said “Saltori, Tyrone and I must return to the pass as soon as we can. We will ride there and see what danger lurks.”
“Wait, Night Eyes, I do not understand what the problem is, and until then I can not let you leave the City. You agreed to stay for a year, letting you ride away has too much chance of you leaving. No slight to your honor meant, either of you, but the will of the Council must be kept. If I am to explain it, I must understand this need.”
Nodding Tyrone stepped forward to explain, “We were chased by a huge demon wolf and his pack. They are evil through and through, completely spelon, Saltori. We could not lose them no matter how we tried. The woods on the far side of the path have a become spelon in themselves. Those who fight against the god Night Eyes is pledged to fight can smell the difference between those who are spelon and those who are not. With the forest being poisoned too, Brother Carlinus and I stood out like a beacon to these wolves.
Night Eyes used his blood and the blood his mount to mask our scent. But when the pass flooded, it fell to Brother Carlinus to get the horses out of the pass. He prayed to his god and this drove Night Eyes horse back as he is spelon to a very high degree.
I fear the clash of olitao and spelon would leave some kind of mark the demon wolves might find. Their leader was not something we three could stand against, we could barely hold our own against his minions.”
“Hmm, there have been wolves in the valley before,” said Trasbello
“With respect Saltori,” said the Shadow, “Not like these. We could be there and back in less than ten dawns, is it not better to know one way or the other?”
“You must ride these beasts of yours if you are to make a trip so fast, no?”
Both men nodded. Trasbello turned away from them with a storm on his brow and stroked his beard.
“Perhaps the pass is snowed in?” said Tyrone in a low voice as they waited for Trasbello.
“You always see the best in something, don’t you? Can you imagine the damage Xenocox could do in here? We might kill him and his wolves but the cost would be, not make a point of things, hellish.”
“Aye, this is why I wanted to talk to you! Damn Carli for being all smug about how he moved Orobasson.”
Trasbello returned to them. His look did not bode well for their leaving. “Night Eyes what if I say to you that only Tyrone Sly Tongue could go to the pass?”’
“Saltori, it is important that I be there, if there is some smell or marker which has to be eliminated. Does my word that I will not leave the valley have enough weight? Have been less than honorable these last moons?”
“No, you have been the very model of a Celesti, but you do see how it is one thing in the City far from the temptation of the pass and another when you are there, with your horse and supplies? I do not know….”
“Tyrone, you have been teaching some of the Celesti to ride, right?” said the Shadow. “Is Astiabo one of them?”
“Aye, he is doing fairly well too. Why?”
“Saltori, send Astiabo with us. He can keep up and if, as you fear, I am too weak to keep my word, then he and Tyrone will do what it takes to make sure I do.”
“Tyrone, would you do this, even to killing Night Eyes to prevent him from breaking his pledge? Will you as a Garshon swear it?”
“Saltori, I will. But I must tell you that you are looking in the wrong direction for problems. I will take that oath, only because I know Night Eyes will come back if he says he will come back, through fire, through water or demon wolves. It saddens me Saltori, that you have not learned this.”
“I look to what is best for the City and the Celesti at all times Tyrone. It is not a pretty thing, but it is what I am tasked with as Saltori. Perhaps I wrong Night Eyes, if so I will make it even, but you come and ask for something the Council has never considered and expect me to grant it all of once. Here is what I say, as Saltori of the Chositha; Night Eyes, Astiabo and you will find the pass and see what there is to see. You Night Eyes, will bring the story of this pass back to me and the Council, in less than fifteen dawns, if you fail to return by then you will be branded honorless and pay the price in blood. Will you take this task, in your Clans name and with these conditions?”
“You are not asking me to promise to stay in the valley, are you?” said the Shadow in a low voice.
“Nay, I have your word on that already. As the Bethainal has reminded me, I have no reason to think you will not keep that word, but I will need to have a time limit to give the Council, as we thought you would spend your year here, in the City of Rushing Water, not just in the valley the City is in.”
“Then I will take this quest and its conditions in the name of the Chositha, so say I”
At this Trasbello nodded once and then said “Will you leave today?”
“Aye,” said Tyrone, “Just as soon as we gather food and Astiabo, we will be off.”
“Then there is no more to say. Be true to your Clans, carry our honor with you as a sword and shield, return as soon as you can.” said Trasbello. He then turned away and went back the smithy to follow the craft he loved so well.
Finding Astiabo was, of course, easier to say than do. It was late afternoon as the three men thundered away from the City of Rushing Water, Tyrone and the Shadow on their accustomed mounts and Astiabo gamely hanging on as Elys followed the two war horses on their mission. There had been a minute or two of frustration for Tyrone before he had finally gotten Astiabo to admit there was indeed a faster rout than the one they had originally taken to the City. It had come down to Tyrone flatly telling Astiabo he did not believe a Methodenon of the Travlevet sept would not take a longer rout to be sure of what he was bringing to the City.
Astiabo actually blushed at being found out, but Tyrone and the Shadow told him they would have done exactly the same in his place and the hunter was finally mollified knowing there was no debt of honor between them for his deception.
When the men had originally traveled to the City the forest of the valley had been in the late lazy days of summer, now it was well advanced into fall. The trees were either in full color or mostly without leaves now and there was a restless wind that rocked the branches above them as the twilight fell around them.
Finally it became too dark for even Astiabo, who had hunted these woods his entire life as a Doci, to know exactly where they were and the three men stopped for the night. Around the campfire they eat and discussed what they might find, never knowing it would be far, far worse than even the worst they could imagine.
“This wolf-demon you talk of, Xenocox? Would he not at least talk with you Night Eyes?” asked Astiabo.
“Aye, he would talk, as Thanoptra talked, just long enough for him to find a way to be sure to kill me with the first blow,” said the Shadow sourly. “It is not as though we did not kill many of his wolves in our flight from him. It is not a trait of the Fallen to forgive having their servants slain, no matter how good the cause is to those who do the slaying.”
“You did not see this creature, Astiabo,” said Tyrone shaking his head, “Think of a wolf, ten and five hands high at the shoulder, and as long as Elys. The best we could hope for it to get away, and we very nearly did not.”
Astiabo laughed and said, “And you want to go and see if this creature is going to come knocking at the door of the City?”
“Not want to, have too” said the Shadow. “Between Carlinus and Orobasson we may have brought serous trouble on the City and the Celesti. If that is the case we will all have to work very hard to defeat these beasts.”
“Many is the wolf I have slain, Night Eyes, and between you, Tyrone and the rest of my sept, I have confidence we will be able to slay these too, if that is what needs doing”
With that statement of confidence, Astiabo took to his blankets to sleep. Seeing the wisdom of a man who knew not to run out to meet trouble, Tyrone and the Shadow did the same.
This set the pattern of their fast trip to the pass, they would gallop as far as they could, then rest the horses by walking them, then gallop again. Travel began as soon as it was light enough to see, and ended when it was dark enough to risk low hanging branches sweeping one or another of the riders from the saddle.
As they gained altitude the fact of the on rushing winter become clearer and clearer. The trees where bare and while the sun shone it was warm enough, but when it went behind a cloud all the men put on heavy cloaks to keep warm enough. The nightly campfire changed from a cheery convenience to a requirement as the temperatures plummeted in the lengthening darkness of late fall.
The fourth day found them high in up the side of the valley, with a cold, steady rain adding to the misery of their travels.
“What should we be looking for, Night Eyes? More wolves than usual?” asked Astiabo. “If so we should slow our pace, it is hard to see wolf tracks, even with softened ground.”
“I think that is probably wise,” replied the Shadow, signaling Orobasson to slow to a walk. “I am hoping we don’t have any thing to find here, truth be told. Still it would not do us any good to rush headlong into the pack of Xenocox.”
The afternoon was failing, the gray day becoming darker and darker they found the stream the three travelers had followed into the valley. Again Astiabo’s good sense severed the men well, even though they were preparing for the wrong type of trouble. The Celesti hunter suggested they dismount and come at the pass on foot, the better to be hidden from any marauding wolves. Allowing Astiabo to take the lead and leaving Orobasson in charge of the other horses, they slipped through the woods as quietly and invisibly as they could.
After an hour of creeping forward, Astiabo froze, his trailing hand flat out signaling the others to stop. After a moment or two Astiabo began to extremely slowly creep backwards, placing every foot where it had fallen when he had been moving forward. Tyrone and the Shadow tried to do the same, with less success, but nearly silently in any case.
When the men had backtracked twenty yards or so Astiabo crouched down and gestured for them to do the same. When all three where had their faces bare inches away from each other, Astiabo said in a fait whisper, “There is some creature I have never seen before standing between the trees over there”
“A wolf?” asked Tyrone in a breathy whisper.
“No. I know wolves, this stood on two legs like a man, but it is no man.”
The Shadow’s face become deadly serious, “I need to see it. Can we creep up on it?”
“That would not be a good idea, it has tall ears, I fear it would hear you no matter what.”
“These are your woods, Astiabo,” said the Shadow, “What do you suggest?”
Astiabo took a moment to scan the ground, the trees and it seemed he looked at the very clouds in the sky. Finally he said “We can go through the tree tops. But hear me, this is still dangerous, you will do what I do, you will step where I step, or we will all find out the nature of this creature on its terms, not ours. Agreed?”
After getting nods from both men, he stood and began to work his way further away from whatever was higher toward the pass. Soon he found a tree with low hanging branches and without comment reached up and swung himself into up. After climbing about twenty feet further into the trees he stopped to wait.
Tyrone raised an eyebrow at the Shadow, who made a “you first” gesture. Trying to do exactly as Astiabo had Tyrone climbed into the tree. He came to rest next the Celesti who favored him with a mild smile, then turned back to watch the Shadow. When all three were at the same level of the tree, he whispered again. “Not bad for those without the Travlevet deep knowledge. We will be able to do this. Do not speak, breath as quietly as you can, and move slowly with thought first and action second. Come,”
Climbing higher into the medium sized tree the three found a branch, a foot in diameter which reached across to another trees branch, slightly smaller. The two branches ran side by side one thickening as the other thinned. Astiabo boosted himself to stand with both feet on the first branch and then, arms slightly extended strolled slowly across. When he reached a place where the branches were the same thickness, he paused, then stepped from one to the other. Once both feet were on the new branch he walked forward until he was at the main trunk of the second tree.
Tyrone and the Shadow shared another look, this time both men raising both eyebrows. Tyrone being fair made the you first gesture to the Shadow. After a moment the Shadow rolled his eyes, and then boosted himself up. He did as Astiabo had, but taking much more time. Finally Tyrone followed, heeding Astiabo’s advice to think before he moved and move only when he was sure.
At the end of a nerve wracking hour they had covered the distance which had taken them only moments on the ground. They were above the place where Astiabo had originally stopped and were looking thirty feet or more down to the forest floor. Tyrone could understand why Astiabo had been so thrown by what he had seen. The thing below was nothing like Tyrone had ever seen or heard of either.
It stood on its hind legs, but it looked as thought it might bend down to run on all four legs if it wanted to. It was hard to know from above but Tyrone estimated it was about two third his height. The creature was covered in gray and black fur, stripes on its legs turning to irregular blotches on its torso and arms. The pattern was almost like the one the Travlevet had woven in their clothes, so as to break up their outline.
The feet of the creature were long, and its legs were hinged backwards like a dog. At the tips of the feet were claws, in the failing light Tyrone could not be sure, but they looked to be blood red as they dug into the ground, anchoring the beast.
Powerful hunches rose to a very narrow waist. The ribs of the beast could be clearly seen as it is slowly breathed in and out. In a man it would be a sign of extreme starvation, but the impression on this creature was of narrowness for speed. It did not have the slumped shouldered look of the starving.
It’s head was the strangest of all. The beast had a flat face like a man’s but rising from the side of its head were two long ears, tufted at the ends like those of a Lynx. It was clear they were very sensitive, as just watching from the tree Tyrone could see them twitch and turn separately, while the beast stayed still as a stone. It’s a damned miracle it did not hear Astiabo, thought Tyrone as he watched.
The beasts face was covered with hair, but what really stood out, even at this distance were the eyes. They covered nearly half the things face. They were set far to each side of the nose which reminded Tyrone of a pigs snout. After looking for a long while it become clear they had a vertical slit for an iris like the eyes of a goat.
Taken as a whole there was no doubt this was not one of Xenocox’s wolves, this was a creature which was not in any way natural. The Shadow sat, next to Tyrone, stony faced watching the beast below. When he noticed Tyrone looking at him, he made gestures which indicated the Shadow knew what the creature was and that they should wait there for a while.
Night fell, dark as the inside of a sack. The men in the tree lost sight of the creature below, but still they waited in silence. The cloud cover began to break, but this only made the night that much colder. Finally there was a sliver of moon rising above the Black Tooth’s. The sight this thin light revealed made each of them sure they had made the right choice, both in staying and staying quite.
Where there had been a single strange creature below there where now ten or so. They were not all the same as the one before though there were two them as well. There were a group of five that looked like many animals had been forced together with no regard for way things fit naturally. There was something like a bull with eight legs and the teeth filled muzzle of a great wolf. There was a huge cat with the wings of some monstrous hawk and the face of a man, the mouth distended and misshapen from the long fangs curling from both the top and bottom jaw. Most chilling to the Shadow there were four decayed corpses standing with the blank stare of the animated dead.
There could be no doubt this was Tulguth’s army. It had come to the Valley of the Celesta and it would be looking for him. If he needed any more any more confirmation of this the he got it when the leader of this band slide out of the shadows. An enormous skeletal black dog strolled up to the group and between one heart beat and another took the shape of a man. Though to be true there could be no mistaking this man as anything other than a demon.
He was tall and broad, in black leather, with the dead white skin of a man drowned for a score of days. Pale hair adorned his head, lank, limp and slick with some kind of oil. His eyes were all of one color with no dark in the center, merely the yellow green of pus from a wound that could only be cured by cutting it out.
“Have you found anything?” he asked in a voice that bubbled unpleasantly, as though he were speaking through a chest filled with bile.
The man-cat answered him “No, my lord, nothing has come this way, we have swept the ground all around.”
“Good, then I will tell General Tulgath it is safe to move forward. We will find the Shadow of the Angle of the Abyss in this valley. When we do there will be fine work for all of us. Prepare to move on my signal” With those words he folded back into the shape of a dog and lopped back up towards the pass.
Astiabo and Tyrone not understanding the words of the army of Hell both turned to the Shadow with raised eyebrows. As much as he wanted to find out more, the Shadow knew they had already pressed their luck beyond anything which was prudent, so he signaled to Astiabo they should leave. The old hunter rose slowly rose to stand on his branch and began the painstaking task of leading them away from the scouts below.
Bill Egnor is a life-long Democrat from a political family as well as a Daily Editor here at The Seminal. A 2009 Democracy For America Netroots Nation Scholarship Winner and long time Daily Kos Poster under the name Something The Dog Said. He’s been a Six Sigma Black Belt (process improvement project manager) and a Freelance reporter for Govtrak.org and is open to new opportunities in writing, baking and process improvement.