For those of you who haven't given Elmoryn a shot yet, here's a cross post of chapter one.
The Wrath of the Orphans
A Wretched Affair
“We’re almost out of time. We need to move faster!” The young man said, panic ripe in his voice. He carried a small woman in his thin arms. Her head hung limp, and the arm not pinned against the man’s chest swung to and fro lifelessly. She was dead.
Ahead of him ran his younger sister. They’d just entered the fringe of the small village their farm was on the outside of. New Picknell. Quiet and safe New Picknell. As the son carried the dead body of his mother at a jog, the smaller sister searched out for the single home that would contain their salvation. The home of New Picknell’s lone Apostle resident.
“Catherine!” The daughter yelled, her voice cracking from the emotion she’d been expending since her mother’s death. “Catherine we need you!” They would have to cross the entire town to get to the small farm Catherine’s family lived in. Theirs was a good sized home still inside the town’s edge, still protected from solitude and the wilds of Elmoryn.
A woman stood up from her seat at a washboard, letting the wet laundry slide down into the metal basin. She saw the siblings running as fast as they could manage, and her face went pale. She reached down beside the washbasin and produced a mallet. Her lungs inflated to holler a warning, “Dead body in the city! Dead body in the city!” After screaming her warning she clutched the mallet to her chest. Her anxiety decreasing, she retreated to the safety of her home, where she shut the door, and barred it.
As the frightened pair ran through the small village the doors of homes either slammed shut, or swung open with an adult standing in the frame. Everyone was armed, and stared at the body in the boy’s arms. They feared it. They feared what it could become. They feared what it would become if their journey took too long.
“Catherine! Catherine!” The daughter screamed again, losing what was left of her already bruised voice. Other voices joined her, sharing the tremendous urgency. The screams of "Catherine!" were nearly deafening by the time they reached the dirt street that ended at the wooden fence that marked the edge of the family farm they had been seeking.
“Catherine please, come quick!” The son yelled, his arms failing. He had been carrying his dead mother for almost an hour at nearly a sprint, and his young body was well past its limit.
His voice pierced the home and a black haired woman opened the door. Her face was calm, reserved, and full of a timeless poise that instantly spread relief to all those in a panic outside her home’s fence. As she stepped outside her door and walked down the finely laid stone path to the sturdy gate she moved with purpose, and confidence. Her trip ended just as the daughter and son reached the gate. The Apostle flipped the latch on the gate and pulled it open, motioning for the son to bring the dead body to a stone bench that was curiously placed just off the stone walkway. Its purpose was not for sitting.
“How long has she been gone Nickolas?” Catherine asked calmly, gathering the fabric of her long cream colored dress to her hip. The garment flowed in the warm, late summer breeze. The stink of the dead body hadn’t yet come, and inside the yard the only scent was that of freshly cut grass.
The young man, Nickolas, panted as he put his mother’s body down on the polished granite slab. She looked very small and almost stately as he arranged her arms at her side. “I don’t know. She was hit by a rotting timber in our barn. It fell on her from the hayloft and struck her dead. We found her and came running as fast as we could. The trip here alone was an hour. She could’ve been dead for a few hours more.”
“Where is your father?” Catherine asked in a slow and steady cadence, inspecting the dead body with tender care. She had done this many times, and this was her way.
This time, the daughter replied, her voice almost entirely gone now, “He left early yesterday to bring a small harvest to the rails. He won’t be back until tomorrow at the earliest.” She coughed a dry cough and shed a thick tear down her cheek.
Catherine winced, “That’s a shame. He will be heartbroken, as I’m sure you both are.” She put a reassuring hand on the shoulders of the siblings. From the other side of the fence the town’s residents that were brave enough to watch had formed a line against the thick wood separating Catherine’s property from the town proper. Pitchforks, shovels, hammers, and even a few swords and axes were in their hands. They stared intently at the body on the granite surface just a few feet away.
From the front door of her home a brother and sister duo not unlike the ones that had just delivered their dead mother’s body walked out into the yard. The twins were tall, thin, and had hair black like their mother. They both shared clear eyes of a striking blue. They looked on from the step of the home with calm concern.
Catherine reached out and took the hands of the siblings that were now half orphaned. “Everyone gathered here please give the spirit of the recently departed Julianne a few moments of silence while I free her soul from the bonds of flesh that bind her.”
Everyone went silent, and Catherine began the service, her hands still clutching to the brother and sister.
Head lowered, her silken voice reached out beyond the veil of death, “All life is fragile. Today we learn that lesson yet again. The life of Julianne has reached its end, and despite the injustice of her being taken away from the world of the living, her legacy does not end today.”
Catherine looked up at the body, ensuring it was still on the slab before continuing, “Julianne’s immortal spirit is still within her, and in this moment we shall set her soul free from the body she had in life. She will roam these plains, and these hills forever, lending support to her friends and families and their descendents for all time. She shall hear the praise and adoration of the living as if she were still here. She shall lend Apostles a bit of her very essence, allowing us to perform The Way, and give mystical boons to those we can. In life she gave love and security, but in death she gives so much more, and she will do this forever.”
Catherine let go of the sibling’s hands as they slowly wept. They’d seen the Blessing of Soul’s rest done before, and to complete the ritual, Catherine needed both of her hands. The mother of three reached into a small pocket on the front of her dress and produced a handmade cloth bag. She retrieved a tiny vial of scented oil, and sprinkled a minute amount of herbs down the length of Julianne’s dead body. The herbs and the oil were essential components to the blessing Catherine was performing. They physically and tangibly bound her will to the act, and enabled her to use the Apostle’s version of The Way, or Elmoryn’s magic. Catherine’s magic was fueled by her latent talent to access the hundreds of thousands of ancestor spirits roaming the land. In a few moments, Julianne would join them.
When the proper number of oil drops had been applied, and the right amount of herbs placed on the right points of the body, Catherine placed her hands on Julianne’s body. The intimate connection of Apostle and body signaled the final moments of the blessing. Catherine reached out of her own body and soul, and into the body of the deceased woman. It was not unlike opening a metaphysical cage, and setting free a bird kept within. Her hands never moved, but behind her closed eyes she felt Julianne’s body shudder briefly as her spirit was set free. Her soul would not rot and fester in her body. She would not become the undead everyone gathered feared.
She took her warm fingers from the now cooling body and reached her full height. The young girl still wept, but when Catherine embraced her, she calmed quickly, feeling the relief the blessing had given them. The crowd gathered gave a quiet round of clapping as the tension faded from the afternoon. They filtered out quickly, letting the family grieve in privacy.
“Thank you,” Nickolas said.
Catherine smiled warmly, “You are very welcome. We can store the body until your father arrives, give you time to gather wood for her pyre.” Cremated bodies couldn’t be animated by rogue Necromancers, no matter how unlikely the chance of that happening was. Tradition was tradition after all, and since The Great Plague almost eradicated all human life from the face of Elmoryn three hundred years ago, all bodies were cremated.
“You’re welcome. I’ll have Malwynn and Umaryn help with your mother’s body. In the meantime, head over to Jalen and Naomi’s over there, and let them know what’s happened. They’ll take care of you until your father returns.”
“Thank you Catherine. My mother would thank you as well,” Nick said softly, taking his little sister under his arm.
“With any luck I’ll cross paths with her spirit, and she can thank me herself. I’m glad you made it here in time.”
Nickolas could only nod. The thought of not making it to the Apostle in time was too much to contemplate.
A gentle gust of wind blew across the crest of the rolling hill just a few miles north of the village of New Picknell. The slender blades of bright green grass waved to and fro, tossed whimsically in the sweet air of the Elmoryn summer. Summer here in northern Varrland came late, and lasted only a precious couple months. The tiny shoots of grass grew quickly and robustly, living their simply lives to the fullest until the cold and snow came for the long winter that would surely bury them, cutting them off from the life giving sun they grew tall to touch.
The next day Catherine’s eldest children walked side by side. The brother and sister strode slowly beside each other under the late season’s sun. The brother stood only an inch taller than his sister, and both walked proudly with raven black hair. Slung over his wiry shoulder was a bow that had seen ample use over the past decade. A simple bow, one made to learn and hunt easy prey with, the bow was present more for comfort than for purpose. The quiver at his hip held only a handful of arrows. The sister, lean and strong walked with no weapons. Her bright blue eyes, the same as her sibling’s searched the expansive green fields in every direction, looking for something interesting to break the monotony of a quiet day that youth never seemed to find the ability to appreciate fully. The prior day’s excitement had already been forgotten.
“How’s the forge been?” Malwynn asked his sister. It was the first thing either of the two had said since leaving their small town. Comfortable silence was their way.
“Hot. It’s quite the job. I am very excited for when Luther teaches me more advanced techniques soon. I think I’m just as excited for when the colder weather sets in. It’ll make the forge considerably more comfortable,” the sister replied.
Malwynn looked to his sister Umaryn and smiled proudly. Much like their mother, she was blessed with a rare ability, and had taken a different route than most of the woman in his village, as well as the majority of women across their country of Varrland. Umaryn was spirit touched.
The world of Elmoryn was bursting at the seams with life and energy. Some gifted individuals were blessed with the gift of being able to hear and reach out to the spirits of the dead, gaining insight and power, channeling the very souls of the ancestors into mystical power. Others touched by the spirits were able to connect their own essence to the things that men and women had created. Across Elmoryn all crafted items, especially those of particular quality contained a smidge of spiritual energy, and Umaryn could speak to those spirits, and channel the energy inside into her own mystical talents.
People more experienced with these mystical energies called them The Way. It was said those with the gift to manipulate the many different energies of Elmoryn were said to know The Way. Umaryn was developing her skills with the spirits of the things made by man working in the forge, and eschewing the traditional roles a girl of their age took. She’d make no bread for the man that captured her heart, but she might fashion him a blade of tempered steel that would sing a song that could show him her love.
Malwynn had developed no such talent in The Way. He had managed to become a decent shot with the simple bow hanging on his shoulder, and had earned his father’s respect by working hard in the family fields. Malwynn and Umaryn’s family was small and tightly knit together. Their mother and father had traveled widely across Varrland and neighboring Duulan for many years, and their experiences had left them yearning for a quiet, safe place to raise their family. New Picknell had sufficed.
Ellioth, the patriarch of the family was a retired scholar, and veteran adventurer. Ellioth had notable skill in wielding a blade and wearing armor, and coupled with his passionate love for discovery he’d made a good living searching out treasures lost in the various wildernesses across Elmoryn. Ellioth was one of the few still living souls that had traveled deep into the Eastern Wilds far to the south. That savage, wild region was known the world over as a one way adventure, filled with death, failure, and sorrow. Ellioth had escaped the monsters and natural threats of the Eastern Wilds with tales that would turn the halest man pale white.
Catherine, mother of Malwynn and Umaryn had met Ellioth at the Cathedral in Daris where she had worked and lived. The central home of the Church of Souls in Varrland, the Cathedral of Kincaid was a massive nexus of religious energy and population. Catherine was an Apostle, a reasonably skilled user of The Way, and servant of the spirits of the ancestors that roamed Elmoryn. After meeting Ellioth, falling deeply in love, and becoming pregnant with the twins, the couple moved to New Picknell where Catherine took over as the most senior Apostle at the modest church in town. Catherine attended to the births, deaths, healing the sick and wounded, and most importantly, consecrating the bodies of the dead.
The most sacred of all duties an Apostle can perform is the consecration of the dead. It is so important to the Church of Souls, and the very survival of humanity on Elmoryn that it is the first spell taught to Apostles once their gift and devotion is revealed. Everyone on Elmoryn knew what happened to a body left unconsecrated too long… Malwynn’s mind drifted back to how close they had been to tragedy yesterday with Julianne’s death. A few minutes more, and the entire village might’ve been in danger.
“Are the fields ready for harvest?” Umaryn asked idly. In truth she wasn’t interested, but she and her twin brother had been sharing these long walks since the two could walk, and this was their way.
“Almost. Another month and a half. You know you could ask me the real question you want to. I don’t mind.” Malwynn said with a wry smile, reading his sister’s mind.
Umaryn’s eyes lit up with restrained excitement. “I didn’t want to pry. How are you and Marissa doing? Are we ready for the thought of marriage? Will I be Aunt Umaryn soon?”
Malwynn almost blushed, the skin of his thin, pale white cheeks taking on a faint redness. “Ha. You’re terribly funny. I can’t speak to children in the near future, or your ability to be an Aunt to them, but I can comfortably say that by the harvest, I think I’ll go to her family and ask their permission for her hand in marriage.”
Umaryn giggled ferociously and took her brother’s arm, shaking it happily. “Oh I’m so happy for you two! Just imagine it. Malwynn the husband, Malwynn the father. Mom and Dad will just be overwhelmed with joy. Imagine little Rynne being an Aunt too. She’ll beam!”
Rynne was their little sister, just ten winters of age. She shared the same midnight black hair and blue eyes as the twins. In just a few more years, she’d be the target of every teenage boy suitor in New Picknell.
“I’m sure she’ll be just smitten with the idea of being an aunt. However… I need to find the courage you seem to have in abundance, and find the nerve to ask her parents for her hand first. I’m sure I’ll manage. Try not to tell mom and dad though. I’m still waiting a bit longer.”
Umaryn beamed, “Not a problem. I’m happy you’ve trusted me with this little secret. It makes me feel very special.” The last bit was delivered with thick sarcasm.
“Mmhm. I’m sure you feel like the most important person in the worl-“ Malwynn stopped mid word, looking over the crest of a hill a half minute’s jog ahead. “Did you hear that?” The tall, young man’s eyed narrowed as he scanned the hill ahead.
Umaryn pointed her eyes at the same spot her brother was investigating, listening intently, trying to sense what he’d sensed. She saw and heard nothing. “I hear nothing. Too much time with the wheat? Not enough time with Marissa has you hearing things eh?”
“I’m telling you, something is happening over that hill. I swear to the ancestors I heard metal on metal. Swords clashing. You’re telling me the artificer in the family can’t sense two forged items making noise nearby? Come. I want to see what’s ahead.”
Umaryn’s eyes narrowed at Malwynn’s stinging insult, but she followed him as he took off running towards his goal. Sometimes he was infuriating.
But brothers can be that way.
Umaryn, always the faster and stronger of the siblings pulled ahead as they ran, cresting the hill and seeing the other side many seconds before her thinner, weaker brother. As she slowed her gait and took in the spectacle before her, the fresh summer air in her lungs turned stale. The coppery stench of raw spilled blood turned her belly sour.
Malwynn reached the peak of the grassy green slope and immediately put his hands on his knees, oblivious to the smell of blood and clamor below. A rapid trio of heavy puffs refilled his empty lungs, and he stood fully, immediately matching his sister’s awestruck expression.
War had come to New Picknell.
Evidence showed the battle had only just begun; there were but a few slain bodies on the ground. One man was freshly murdered. His was clad in sturdy leather armor and wore a white and red tunic over it. He had been attacked at the face and neck, and his armor had failed him. His lifeblood was spilled across a swath of the grass in long jets. His arteries had ejected his blood forcefully. His death had been savage, but quick. Two other bodies wore the unmistakable purple collars of the Amaranth Empire to the far north. The dark purple indicated that the defeated were undead in the control of one of the Queen’s Necromancers. If there were two destroyed undead nearby…
The necromancer was adorned in a rich purple robe that told of his importance in his home nation. In Amaranth the color purple could only be worn by those in service to the Queen, to wear it without her consent was a death sentence. Under the dark folds of rich cloth he was covered from head to toe in what appeared to be plates of thick carved bone. He wore it like a massive petrified insect might wear their shell. He wielded a wicked looking mace in his left hand, heavy and threatening in its blunt power. His true weapon was his bare right hand. The touch of a necromancer often carried the brutal necrotic power of their dark magic. The necromancer himself was mounted on a Gvorn. Gvorn were rare here in the rural areas of New Picknell. They were natural to the far north, and were massive war and pack beasts. Each Gvorn stood as tall as a war horse, but had a powerful set of horns that mimicked a ram. They had thick wool as well that protected them from the snow, ice, and frigid winds. The Gvorn the purple robed necromancer rode was grey like the winter sky, and had a thick coat of wool. This mount had brought him here from deep in the Amaranth Empire. Possibly from as far as the capital necropolis of Graben.
The necromancer was engaged in mortal combat with a man mounted on a Gvorn that dwarfed his. This rugged beast was a full hand higher than the necromancer’s and had been shorn of most of its heavy coat, revealing the dark grey skin beneath. Only a Gvorn from the south would be shaved that way. The man held a rugged shield with the crest of Varrland, and wore dark white and crimson robes over a suit of chain and plate mail. He wore no helm, and his long salt and pepper hair was tied back in a ponytail. It tossed violently about as he swung a gleaming steel long sword at the death mage on the opposing Gvorn. The blade bit into the shoulder of the wizard, cutting a chunk of the bone plate away, and tossing his body nearly out of the saddle.
“Arrgh!” He spat at the knight.
“Invader scum! I’ll send you back to your bitch Queen in an urn!” The knight’s breath was strong. He was barely breaking a sweat in the battle.
At the feet of his massive mount were the rest of the two opposing forces. Things were precarious for the Varrland forces. They were clearly outmatched in numbers. Still standing and violent were a full half score of undead. Their skin was pale grey, the rotting arrested by foul Amaranth magic. They lashed out at half a dozen men similar to the man missing his throat. They slashed out with short swords and decimating fingers that terminated in ragged yellow fingernails. Fortunately the undead were mindless automatons, attacking with only the barest of skill and instinct.
The worst situation was a trio engaged in battle a few horse lengths past the necromancer and knight. Malwynn and Umaryn clutched hands nervously at the crest of the hill as they watched the fatal dance play out. Two men wearing light armor, heavy cloaks edged in a purple fringe, wielding long and wickedly curved battle axes circled a younger man separated from his group. He could be only a few years older than the twins; no more than three winters, maybe four. He had short dark hair, shaved to only the thickness of the razor that cut it. Like the knight riding the Gvorn still battling with the necromancer he wore heavier armor; chain mixed with plate. Instead of the long sword the knight clearly was expert with, the younger man used a warhammer. It was long, almost the length of a grown man’s leg, and had a wicked spike opposite a heavy, hardened steel head. Umaryn admired the weapon’s elegant simplicity as he spun it in deadly circles, hand to hand. The weapon’s balance must have been near-perfect.
Unfortunately, the martial display was just that; all for show, and not for purpose. The young warrior was simply buying time until help could arrive. The two axe wielding assailants quickly had him turned sideways and flanked as he spun his weapon. Finally, after several long, agonizing seconds, the solitary warrior made his move. He looked to one of the two purple cloaked men and suddenly brought the head of his hammer up lightning fast at the other. His eyes bought him hesitation from the man he struck in the face, but he twisted just a few inches too far, and gave his back up for just a few seconds too long. As the Amaranth soldier fell to the grass with his face broken apart by the hammer his cohort struck the Varrland warrior. The foot long smile of the axe slashed down powerfully at the simple chain right beside the red and white clad warrior’s kidneys. Despite the rings of forged steel, the incredible force of the impact ruptured the flesh beneath, sending the man to his knees.
Malwynn’s mind suddenly unfroze, and he slipped his bow from his shoulder as the Amaranth warrior raised his axe for the killing blow. Umaryn watched her brother slip an arrow free from his quiver and let it fly. Spinning like a dervish the arrow flew true, past the knight’s mount only an inch from the creature’s heavy wool coat, and directly into the shoulder of the cloaked invader. The man’s hand reflexively gave way as his downward axe stroke fell harmlessly to the side. He looked savagely towards the twins, his glance threatening them. As Malwynn drew another arrow the Amaranth warrior resorted to a weapon that was still effective: his boots. He kicked the wounded warrior in the back of the skull and flattened his body in the blood stained grass. The warrior lay still as the Amaranth soldier with the arrow lodged in his shoulder came running across the melee at the twins. They had only a few seconds before he’d be up the slope and upon them.
The purple robed necromancer shrieked in joy as the warrior fell, taking his eyes off the knight almost as if a powerful narcotic was taking over his mind. As they watched the murderous Amaranth soldier charge their position the knight capitalized on the necromancer’s exultation. His Gvorn spun round at his command, putting his sword hand a foot closer to the foreign death mage, and he lunged forward, piercing the bone armor under the cloak in a weak location. The smooth blade penetrated the morbid bone armor with a strong thrust, and the necromancer’s high was quickly brought down to earth. He looked over from the fallen Varrlander man to the knight who urged his Gvorn forward, plunging the blade even further in. The necromancer coughed a thick wad of dark blood, and the knight yanked his sword free. His arm cocked back, and he sent a mailed fist into the jaw of the evil wizard, knocking him off the ghostly grey Gvorn. Umaryn and Malwynn watched as the necromancer’s neck twisted disturbingly to the side as he crunched into the ground. His body settled in a manner that planted his dead face into the grass. As his body shuddered the remainder of life inside it, and his throat released the final breath ever taken in, the armor that encased his body suddenly faded from reality. In death, the necromancer’s magic faded.
Their attention switched back to the man almost upon them. Malwynn had another arrow ready and was drawing the string to launch it as the man hefted his axe upwards with his good arm. Umaryn, ever the clever one, stepped instinctively to the side of the man, flanking him almost exactly as the two Amaranth warriors had flanked the Varrlander. Malwynn’s fingers opened, and the arrow bolted off into the chest of their attacker, piercing the chainmail. The arrow didn’t go far though, the chain was of good quality, and Mal had not drawn the string fully. Nonetheless the arrow staggered the rage faced man, and Umaryn struck. She had produced a small hammer from somewhere, Malwynn didn’t know from where, nor did he care. She snarled and sent the hammer at the rear of the man’s head with a backhanded stroke. The forge tool crunched into the base of his skull and Malwynn watched the man’s eyes roll to the whites instantly. He fell down at their feet and twitched several times as the life left his body.
“Finish them!” The knight hollered in his confident baritone. The remaining Varrlander foot soldiers had managed to quell the undead threat with their superior blades and dexterity. The undead were a powerful threat to the common folk, but to armed and armored soldiers, it would take many of the animated dead to be a true threat. Many, or more powerful kinds. As the last undead had its head separated from its body the knight brought his massive war beast over to the twins, clearly surprised at their presence. He had already cleaned and sheathed his blade, and with a silk cloth in his free hand he was wiping away the spatters of fresh Amaranth blood from his face. He stopped his mount a few paces from the panting, adrenaline crashing twins.
“What brought you two out to such a remote place today? If it weren’t for your participation against the Queen’s insurgents I’d suggest you were their allies. Are you locals?” He asked, his tone somewhat thankful.
Umaryn answered. She was calmer than her brother, “Yes… We are from New Picknell, several miles to the south east of here. We’d had a challenging day and wanted a quiet walk.”
The knight smiled, “Not what you expected.”
The twins shook their heads, taking in the carnage and devastation the fight had unleashed. It was as if a bloody sore had appeared out of the ether, and spewed forth dead bodies, and sadness.
“Boy, what is your name? You’ve some skill with that bow.”
Malwynn was lost in his thoughts and frayed emotions, but gathered himself, “I am Malwynn sir. And I’ve little skill with this bow. An ancestor guided my actions, no doubt. This is my twin sister Umaryn.”
“Greetings to you both Malwynn and Umaryn. Your family resemblance is quite strong. My name is Knight Captain Marcus Gray,” the knight said with a smile before continuing. “The dead only assist those worthy of helping Malwynn. Your skill is not to be left out of the equation son. I thank you for joining the fight against the Amaranthines here. You nearly saved Chael’s life. I’m sad to see an Apostle go. Do you know where there might be another Apostle? Is there one by chance in New Picknell?”
The two siblings were floored. They’d watched an Apostle die. Malwynn was the first to speak, “Our mother is an Apostle. Chael was his name? We didn’t know he was an Apostle. I’m... I’m sorry we didn’t save him. I wish I’d drawn my bow a moment earlier.”
The knight dismissed his apology with a sad shake of his head, “He was a warrior too, and when you take your faith to the front lines, you may die for it. He knew the risk and continued forth. He was a good man and died a good death. But now we must ensure that he does not become what he hated so. Can you show us to your mother? We have dead to attend to, and she seems to be our source for the Blessing of Soul’s rest.”
Umaryn and Malwynn nodded simultaneously, as they often did. Together, the Varrlanders gathered up the bodies that needed their souls set free, and they set off back to New Picknell.
Quiet, and safe New Picknell.