Brian S. Pratt
The mists of sorrow
The smell of corpses rotting in the summer heat reaches them long before they arrive. Over a dozen wagons trundle across the gray desert in search of treasure. Several days earlier a massive explosion had rocked their small village to the west, a tower of flame reached far into the heavens until finally returning back to earth.
Unsure what caused the explosion, they were curious but fearful. Then word came a day ago that what they witnessed had been part of a battle and the dead were lying all over the place. Knowing the worth of weapons and armor the dead may still possess, they immediately gathered their wagons and went toward where the tower of flame rose. Times are hard in the desert and the gold they can get from the sale of the items could well mean their continued survival.
A half day into the journey, they encounter the gray sand. Fear grows among the scavengers but the promise of wealth pushes them onward. The gray sand wasn’t so much sand as it was a powdery substance which worked into every crease of their bodies, making the trek miserable. But these people are no strangers to adversity, life in the desert being what it is and all. Pushing onward they continued forward.
Finally, the dead begin to appear ahead of them. Zyrn, the leader of the scavengers, licks his lips in anticipation when he sees the armored bodies lying before them. Scanning to the left and right, he searches for any others who may already be here to gather the booty. But as far his eyes can see, there’s nothing moving.
“What a haul!” exclaims Nyn, a goat herder by trade.
“Yes,” nods Zyrn in agreement.
Continuing to draw closer to the dead, Zyrn suddenly comes to a stop and an odd expression comes over him.
Stopping beside him, Nyn asks, “What’s wrong?”
Pointing to the area where the dead lie, he says, “The gray sands end where the bodies begin.”
Nyn looks ahead and sees the almost perfect circular area wherein the dead lay. “What could it mean?” he asks. Indeed, in some places where the dead must have fallen across where the gray sand begins, the parts that would have extended out onto the gray area are gone. Sections of bodies lie all the way around the perimeter, all of them show signs of scorching from great heat.
Shaking his head, Zyrn replies, “I don’t know.” What could have caused this? Scanning the area once more he glances back to Nyn. “Looks okay now,” he says with a touch of nervousness.
Others come abreast of Zyrn and Nyn as they too look upon the oddity. Mumbled fears pass between them until Zyrn raises his hand and the others fall silent. “Whatever happened here is past,” he tells them. “Let’s be about our work.”
Once again rolling forward, the wagons move to the dead where the men and women begin stripping them of their weapons, armor and other valuables. What gold and jewels they find go into a communal pot so to speak, which will be distributed evenly among them upon their return to their village. The armor, weapons and anything else of bulk goes into the wagons.
While stripping the dead, Zyrn finds not only dead northerners, which he assumes once belonged to what people are saying was a band led by none other than Black Hawk, but also soldiers of the Empire. When he comes across a slain Parvati lying in the sand, his hand hesitates a fraction of a second before removing the swords from its dead hands. He knows what a Parvati would do should he see a non Parvati in possession of such.
As they continue about their work, the mood of the scavengers lightens from that of fear. When nothing immediate happens, they press forward with more vigor and enthusiasm. Wagon after wagon begin to fill with the booty from the dead, not only weapons and armor, but clothing as well. Anything that may be of use or sold is taken.
They work throughout the afternoon until the sun begins to reach the horizon. “We’re not going to get it all before the sun goes down,” Nyn says as he comes to where Zyrn is taking a knife from the chest of an Empire soldier.
Standing up, Zyrn flips the knife into the nearby wagon and gazes around the battlefield. Still a hundred or more of the dead have yet to be stripped. The wagons are all but full and none wish to remain in this area once night has fallen. There’s just a bad feeling about the whole place.
Gazing to the sun to gauge the time, Zyrn turns to Nyn and says, “Another half hour and then we’ll leave.”
“That’s cutting it kind of close don’t you think?” he asks.
Greed and fear battle within him, but greed finally wins out. “By the time we return, someone else could have come and taken the rest,” he explains. “I’m sure we’ll be alright.”
Nyn gazes at him for a moment then nods his head. Leaving Zyrn’s side, he returns to where he had been working before coming to talk with Zyrn. He spreads the word that they will remain another half hour, most of the others are not entirely happy about it. Speeding up their efforts, they try to collect as much as they can before it’s time to go.
A half hour later, the sun has reached the horizon. Everyone is packing the last few items away as Zyrn mounts his horse and takes position at the head of the wagons. Once all is ready, he hollers for them to roll and they begin leaving the dead behind. Dozens of the dead soldiers have yet to be stripped of their armor, though the rest of their valuables have been taken. Some look back longingly to the items left behind but none wish to stay any longer in such an area. The prospect of being here when the sunlight fades makes them very nervous.
They are still in the gray area when the sun completely drops below the horizon and dark begins to envelope the world. Pushing onward through the growing dark, they roll for a couple more hours until they finally reach the edge of the gray area. At least they think they do as the only light with which to see is that of the stars.
Zynn pauses and then dismounts. Picking up a handful of dirt, he confirms the fact that they are indeed past the gray area. The sand here once again feels like it’s supposed to. “Make camp,” he says. As the wagons gather together and the horses are taken from their traces, he gazes back to where the dead lie. In a way saddened by the loss of life, yet at the same time thankful for the opportunity his village will have to survive another year or two. Sighing, he turns back to the others and helps with setting up the camp.
The night continues to deepen as the hours fall away. When the world has slipped into the deepest part of the night, a figure moves among the dead. His passing brings cold, cold to the world and cold to the soul. Behind this figure move two others, both wearing dark armor with another four in robes following them.
Winding their way around the bodies of the dead soldiers, the one who leads searches for the place he desires. All his carefully laid plans are coming to fruition. When his dark lord set him upon this task so very long ago he knew it would take centuries until he arrived at this critical moment.
First he destroyed the priests of Morcyth. His lord told him how they would send for another, one not of this world. He would know of this one’s coming when the Fire and Star walked together under the sky. Then, all that followed would culminate into what happened here.
When he sent Abula-Mazki to bring this mage to him, he wasn’t sure if this was indeed the one told of in the prophecy. But when his warrior priest was defeated and said the Fire walked with the Star, he knew. For Ozgirath, High Priest of Dmon-Li, the waiting has come to an end.
His yellow eyes pierce the dark as if it was day, but it is not with his eyes is he searching. Magic of the darkest sort flows through him as he hunts for the exact spot he requires. He hardly gives the dead, both stripped and otherwise, any consideration as he walks among them.
Then, his senses come across a slight vibration. Pausing for a moment, he searches for its source. Once the location is found, he moves again and walks to where the vibration resonates the strongest. This is the place, he tells the others mentally.
They come to a halt and wait. One comes whom he requires for what is to happen next. He sensed her approaching since he first came here. That which is driving her leads her directly to him and it isn’t long before she