The latest from my online epic, Lore of the Underlings.
Chapter 2 continues:
As the boys let fall the reins, the vell seemed to sink a little and sigh. They moved to its side and used their hands to smooth its coat and comfort it. But the man spun sharply in place and cast a cold eye over the figures of the field, now dimly lit by the dying glow of ashen logs and burnt oil. The jawbone under his thin, red beard looked to lock up tight.
In the meantime, the Guard about him posed poised for force, as if waiting to seize a word or a sign. Each held his battle pike high, at the ready. Overhead, a thick bank of clouds, gray ghosts from the east, had rolled in unnoticed. They blinded the heavens and stole the gold of the moon gone mournful and dull.
John Cap watched as the bearded man pulled a tired firestalk from the ground and headed in his direction. He approached with a certain swagger wearing a long, brown journey coat and minder’s cap well-worn of heavy boven hide, yet the closer he came, the smaller of stature he seemed. He rose perhaps to the shoulder of the strong young stranger, perhaps less. His eyes though, dark and sharp, bore a stare the match of any man. They locked on John Cap.
John Cap did not look away. He returned the gaze unblinking and began to raise an arm, his right, as he had raised it before in battle with the ogs. This time though, he stopped and held it halfway, holding for things to unfold. His hand hung awkwardly in the air.
“We are infected, Fyryx!” The words burst from Bylo’s mouth in a shower of bitter spittle. “So good of you to find your way back for it.”
The man, Fyryx the Red, the brother Treasuror, paused for an instant but kept his back to the Finder behind him. He now stood just a torch’s length from John Cap, near enough to raise the failing flames he held to the young man’s face. He squinted hard at the stranger, studying him.
John Cap squeezed his hand into a fist, but held still, steady as stone.
From nearby came a voice. “No.” The voice was female, firm but calm. “I am the first.”
Fyryx turned his torch to the sound and found another tall stranger, this one the narrow young woman with hair of wheaten gold and eyes the green of pom wine. He raised a red brow, the one on his right, then sidestepped left for a better look.
From toe to top he measured her make, lingering longest on the unfamiliar beauty of her face. Her clothes, like those of her two companions, were nothing uncommon. In keeping with the ways of old, they wore garments of limberwood peeled from young trunks in soft supple sheets, dyed in browns and greens, and sewn. She herself was dressed plainly in a maid’s cheesing frock, which appeared not to fit quite right, and a pair of weathered leg leathers that wrapped her feet as footings. But something in her face, her skin…
Fyryx watched a lone drop of rain fall upon her high, smooth cheek, which glowed pale gray in the low light of the ironfire. The drop rolled down toward her perfect purple lips, then vanished before it reached them.
She opened her mouth, parting those lips to speak. But Bylo had a different plan.
“Beware her trickling tongue!” he howled. “I warn you — dear, dear brother Treasuror — already did this one try to sow a weedy row.” In disgust, he stopped to cough up a thick ball of phlegm from his raspy throat, but it hung bloody black on his lip. So Bylo scooped the phlegm in the crook of his fetid finger and flung it flush at the young maid’s head, though it somehow misappeared behind her in the empty space the trio made. “Look how pretty they pose there. Foreign fakes. Even now they hide another, a toadstool that fouls the soil they shield…”
“It is true,” avowed the elderwoman, crowing high as a warnbird to be heard across the grassy gap. “Even my old eyes see it. Lie upon lie. There is some game afoot — a dark trick they play on us in league with a devil of their doing, a beast of flesh that flies, and one of the unwanted. The dirty waif of a leaver, you know the girl. She acts possessed by it. One masks, the other mocks. These are the strangers we’ve long learned to fear. They honor neither the bile of the Finder nor the blood of your own family embodied by your brother’s sons, who alone stood bravely today. These are the strangers whom the Semperors said would come.”
Fyryx raised his hand to silence them both. “And so, treasured ones…” he said coldly, with a hollow pause the rains now fell to fill, “Why do they still live?”
The elderwoman’s shoulders sank. Her face deflated to a jowlful of folds. She knew — how well she knew. Bylo too. Eyes down, he found the ground as engrossing as ever. And folk further back looked nervously about, pointing fingers at their neighbors.
“Shame on you!”
“You make me ill.”
“You could have axed them, Ixit.”
“Bloody Boxbo. Who’d you kill?”
As his question hung on the air unanswered, Fyryx turned to walk away. With a flick of the wrist he summoned the nearest and most menacing of the Guard — a warrior clad in full of armor black and thick who watched closely from astride a great, brutish bull chevox.
“Syar-ull! See to it.”
More to come. To read this chapter from the start, click here.