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  • Writer's picturePatrick Deveney

4. Cursed: Pieces of the Past

Updated: Nov 25, 2021

I


The darkness almost swallowed them whole, their only solace was the flickering flames of their fire but it too struggled against the piercing cold wind that sailed through the trees. It had been mere days since Rurik had persuaded Orla to travel with him to Atana and as they drew nearer to the city the trees began to thin, leaving very little protection from the harsh, notorious winds of Azlaria. Neither could sleep, not even Beau or Snowdrop seemed to cope with the harsh temperatures and escalating winds so the four found themselves huddled together next to the fire for some kind of warmth. They had wrapped themselves in all they could, Ruriks leather armour and undershirt did very little to fight the cold but he had wrapped himself and Orla in his giant grey and fraying over cloak. Orla was far more used to the cold than he was and appeared to be coping quite well, relatively speaking. Rurik, although thus far he had failed, lay with his eyes shut tight, trying to catch anything that resembled sleep while Orla seemed to have given up entirely and lay wide awake.

“Could you tell me a story? I can't sleep.” Orla said suddenly, her voice sounding small and frozen, muffled by the sound of the powerful winds.

“Hmm?” Rurik grunted in reply, half asleep.

“Could you tell me a story?” Orla repeated, which was met with a slow sigh as Rurik pushed himself off of the ground to a more upright position.

“Orla it's freezing and I'm tired. We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow, it's best we try and get some sleep. I can't wait to get out this damn snow. Are you not a little old for 'bedtime stories' anyway?”

“Excuse me? You're the one who seems to love telling them. 'Oh Orla, listen to this other incredible thing I did'.” Orla gave her best impression of Rurik, imitating his low growl before she became hysterical as she began giggling.

“Fine,” Rurik let out a deep sigh. “What kind of story?” Rurik finally said after a time.

“Hmm, I'm not sure. Oh! Do you have any with dragons?” Orla asked after thinking for a moment, she sounded excited.

“There's no such thing.” Rurik replied quickly, sounding dismissive, he knew that was a lie.

“You don't sound convinced.” Orla said teasingly, silently hopeful that this would lead to Rurik telling her a story.

“Fine, but after this one no more stories, agreed?”

“Agreed, make sure it has some flair, that last one you told about the kelpie was boring.” Orla said as she settled herself, nestling under Rurik's cloak.

“Flair?” Rurik said, sounding slightly offended as he repositioned himself to a more comfortable sitting position, it seemed he too was now completely giving up on trying to sleep as he let out a deep sigh. Although he had already agreed to tell it something gnawed at the back of his mind warning him against telling this particular story. It wasn't exceptionally graphic or frightening in itself and it wasn't even his story to tell, it was rooted in history and yet it was a history that most would like to forget but he continued nonetheless. “It all began five-hundred years ago when a dark power known as Rokorre ruled the continent…” Rurik began, trying to sound as dramatic as he could but he was interrupted.

“Aha, was he the dragon?” Orla said enthusiastically.

“Yes, Orla,” Rurik sighed impatiently. “His scales were burnt and blackened and stronger than any metal known. He was shrouded in a deep black smoke which obscured the colossal beast and it was said he was so large he could blot out the sun as he flew overhead, leaving a trail of darkness in his wake. He was a creature of pure darkness and cunning and for many years he enslaved all of mankind and ruled from his seat far in the north-west of the continent where he ruled without mercy. Until, one man rose up, bringing all those who were enslaved together to fight for their freedom and bring an end to Rokorre. A great war was fought led by the man named Delsaren who led his people as they marched against the armies of Rokorre. They fought terrible creatures of malice and shadow. These creatures were the embodiment of their nightmares, as black as night they stood tall and slender, towering over Delsaren and his men, they were armed only with their long sharp claws that could kill in an instant.” Rurik continued as he clutched the scar on his neck, reminded of a painful memory.

“What happened?” Orla asked, sounding frightened but filled with curiosity.

“After years of fighting, Delsaren finally beat back Rokorre and defeated him but as the story goes there are those who believe he wasn't truly defeated and is biding his time to take revenge and reclaim his power and control over the continent.”

“This isn't a true story is it? He couldn't really come back could he?” Orla asked as concern grew in her voice, Rurik knew he would immediately regret telling the story for he knew all too well the answer, so he lied.

“All stories have some truth to them but no, I don't think Rokorre was real but Delsaren was real.”

“So what happened to him?”

“He built Atana and founded the Kingdom of Azlaria.”


II


They had set off early that morning, very early. It had just passed the first light of dawn which slowly crept over the treetops, shining upon the hillock on which they had taken refuge. Rurik, who had not slept a wink, awoke a very ungrateful Orla with a bowl of boiled gruel of ground oats and rye which they begrudgingly wolfed down before setting off shortly after.

A deep sense of foreboding and dread filled Rurik concerning his goal, although he still remained hopeful that the four men he sought were miraculously unaffected by what he could only describe as a curse but he had to be sure. Fearing what he might say or do, Rurik had decided not to include the king in his search for the four men in Atana but there was one who's help he could enlist however, a man named Isaac who had also aided the king in claiming his throne. They had met many months prior under strange circumstances to say the least but it was in their joint efforts to assist the king or at that time the prince where they became fast allies, which was an entirely adventurous affair on its own. Isaac was of a particular branch of criminality, although all was forgiven and pardoned when the new king donned his crown but in any case he was still the type who had connections just about anywhere but a problem yet remained, he had no way of finding Isaac and so he needed the king's assistance on that front at the very least.

They were both exhausted and yet neither had decided to admit to it but their pace had taken a significant hit as they slowly trudged through the dense snow and thinning trees but thankfully the wind had died down significantly. Regardless, they soon found themselves emerging from the trees onto wide open fields of undisturbed snow that stretched for miles and at the centre of it all, stood the city of Atana. The sun was high in the sky and the bright light reflected beautifully off of the snow making the ground sparkle, the land in front of them looked alive.

For a brief moment Rurik's anxiety cleared as he let out a sigh of relief the moment he looked upon the grand city, glad to have reached their destination. It's expansive exterior walls stood tall at over sixty-feet with watchtowers dotted along the entire circumference of the city. Tall pointed structures and spires could be seen sprouting from behind the walls and at the far side of the city, upon a large hill stood the palace of Atana, where a fatal drop lay behind it that led to a small lake and river that ran north. For five-hundred years the palace had stood tall on Delsaren's Hill, named after the founder of the city and the Kingdom of Azlaria. It overlooked the entire city and it was said it could be seen from anywhere within the walls and Rurik was inclined to believe this, although on his last visit to Atana he was far too preoccupied with the raging battle to sight see. The palace itself was beautiful, built with a pure white sandstone intricately carved and surrounded by large curtain walls and tall drum-towers, a single set of stairs with several barbicans and portcullises led up the hill to the palace.

As they drew nearer, Rurik's anxiousness slowly crept back growing to overwhelm him. Flashes of the battle he had fought here came flooding back to him as they traversed the open fields surrounding the city. It was here that Rurik stood beside the prince who would become a king and it was here that Rurik faced the nightmares that had stuck with him these last few months. Images of the tall, thin creatures that were more akin to shadows were seared into his mind as he clutched the scars on his neck, which were a gift from their formidable claws. The sounds of battle were ringing in his ears as he recalled the screams and cries of the fallen, Rurik could feel his heart begin to race.

“Are you okay Rurik?” Orla interrupted his thoughts.

“Hmm? It's nothing, we're nearly there.” Rurik retorted, sounding dismissive as he spurred on Beau, picking up the pace.

“Wow it's so noisy I can hear the city from here, it feels so... alive!” Orla said, there was a sparkle in her clouded eyes as they neared the front gates.

“It's a welcome change.” Rurik grunted to himself.

The entrance to the city was flooded with thousands of people coming and going, there were merchants, scholars, tradesmen and just those wanting to enter the city. The gates themselves were huge, several wrought iron portcullises and grand carved wooden doors of spruce lay wide open, which was a significant change from the last time Rurik was here. The impressive stables which seemed to stretch for miles around the wall were positioned just outside the city gates but Rurik pressed on, thinking they would have a much easier time fighting through the immense crowd on horseback. The snow turned to slush and ice beneath them as they emerged from the gates and onto the cobbled streets. They passed rows of uniform houses made of timber and stone as they walked the paved cobblestone streets littered with countless flowers, bushes and trees. The city was a densely packed maze of buildings and houses stacked on top of one another as tall towers and spires pierced the sky but it was beautiful, the architecture of the Azlarians was so precise and intricate that it begged to be admired.

The entrance stairs that led up to the palace were located in the military district which was a walled off section on the northern side of the city. The district was protected by a large gate and portcullis but as they approached the entrance Rurik felt uneasy and could not shake the feeling, it was as if they were being watched. Rurik scoured his surroundings, it was relatively quieter this deep into the city, the general public had no real reason to venture this close to the military district or the palace, unless it was to marvel at the sights or on the rare occasion that they had business there. Nothing seemed out of sorts as Rurik peered at the environment around him, until he looked up. Standing atop the wall that encircled the military district stood a tall dark figure, shrouded in a black smoke, the figure was too far for Rurik to discern any traits or characteristics and so Rurik began to rub his eyes as an attempt to try and get a better look but as he opened them, the figure had disappeared.

“Is something wrong Rurik? You seem… weird.” Orla asked as they carried on through the gates.

“The last time I was here there was a battle, I guess it's just strange being back here and everything being so… normal,” Rurik lied but what he said was rooted in the truth. “Listen Orla, when we get there I think it's best to leave all the talking to me, it's been a while since I've spoken with the king.” Rurik added, which was met with a sigh of anger.

They climbed the many steps leading up to the palace, leaving their horses at the foot of the stairs. They had no trouble passing the many gates and barbicans, much to Rurik's dismay his face was a rather recognisable one and he had fought alongside many of the guards they had passed. They soon reached the top and standing before the grand wooden doors that led into the main hall and throne room was a lone figure. Her bright shining steel plated armour shone brightly in the midday sun which contrasted her tied back jet black hair. She had a stern face yet she had an elegant grace and an air of youth to her but what was more Rurik immediately recognised her.

“Lydia?” Rurik exclaimed.

“Rurik? What are you doing here?” Lydia replied, sounding surprised yet there was something unwelcoming in her tone.

“It's a… it's a long story,” Rurik paused for a moment, leaving an awkward silence. “Listen Lydia…” Rurik sighed as he stopped himself. “Is he here?” Rurik said as he peered towards the grand doors.

“He is but… he's changed Rurik. After what happened he shut himself off, he barely sees anyone, the only times anyone does is when he's attending meetings or training which has almost become an obsession for him and his mood changes wildly, hopefully we catch him in a good one.” Lydia said as her eyes turned to Orla who had up until now been hiding behind Rurik.

“Sorry, this is Orla. I've been looking after her, she's been travelling with me. I know I'm asking a lot but I was hoping she could stay here, just when I'm not around?” Rurik asked, sounding unsure, he regretted coming forward so soon with his request.

“Rurik…”

“I don't want to put anyone in an uncomfortable situation, she's not to be a ward or replacement, that's not why…”

“What did you just say? I suggest you be very careful, Rurik.” Lydia retorted, trying to sound calm through her threatening words.

“No, I'm sorry I didn't mean… I didn't get any sleep last night and the journey has been exhausting. I'm sorry.”

“It's not me you need to apologise to. Follow me.” Lydia sighed as she spun around before making her way towards the large entrance doors and pushing them both open.

The light poured through the opened doors to fill the cavernous room before them. The colours of Azlaria, red and black were thrown methodically all over the room across its black and white marble walls and floor, a massive carpet of red and woven gold and black which was guarded by elaborate statues of warriors and beautiful women which sat between black marble pillars led from the entrance to the throne. The throne stood on a raised dais with light seeping in through thin windows positioned in a dome above the throne. The throne itself was a blend of carved stone and spruce inlaid with jewels of ruby and sapphire, but the throne sat empty.

Lydia led Rurik and Orla through the impressive throne room and through several long corridors which sprouted from the great hall, Rurik gripped tightly onto Orla's hand as he kept her close. They soon found themselves entering a small rectangular courtyard but they heard the sounds of clashing wood and the grunts of pain first. There were six in total, with one standing at the centre of the courtyard surrounded by the other five. The one in the centre was tall and slender with long dark brown hair tied back and a short beard to match. He wore a thin set of padded leather armour with a small rounded shield positioned on his left forearm and a wooden khopesh in the other. Rurik recognised the type of weapon immediately as very few used it, it was a form of sickle sword with a shallow curve and one edge, it was the weapon of choice for the king. As they drew nearer Rurik noticed something else, he was wearing a blindfold.

“Is he wearing a blindfold?” Rurik asked with amazement.

“Wait! What? What's going on?” Orla added immediately showing her curiosity.

“Well we have to make it fair for the other five, as well as give him a challenge.” Lydia replied with a small laugh.

Their attention was immediately brought to the six fighters when one screamed as he lunged forward with a downward strike, the king swiftly moved to the side with a half turn as he swung hard at the attackers head, knocking him out cold. The remaining four sprang forward just as the king dove out of the way, slipping in behind the tallest of them before giving a swift strike across the back of his head, leaving only three. A brief moment of peace passed as the trio stood still facing down their opponent with a quiet rage that ruled them. Without warning they pounced as they rushed towards the king. The king himself lunged forward kicking the nearest attacker squarely in the chest knocking him back as the others swung their wooden swords towards him. The king raised his shield just in time to catch the sword of the attacker to his left as a colossal clatter rang throughout the courtyard before knocking him back with his shield, meanwhile he swung his own sword to deflect the attacker to his right sending his sword flailing wildly, the king capitalised on this as he followed up by quickly swinging again to take down the one on the right. The king raised his shield again as he swiped hard, knocking his left opponent's sword out of his hand only for his opponent to yield immediately. Seeing this, the last remaining opponent who had just recovered from getting kicked in the chest also yielded and it was over almost as soon as it had started.

“What just happened, tell me everything! Rurik? Did the man with the blindfold win?” Orla exclaimed, trying hard to contain her excitement as she swung Rurik's hand wildly.

“Yeah, Orla, yeah he did.” Rurik said, also trying to hide his surprise.

“Does that… could I do that.” Orla whispered to herself.

“Your grace, you have some visitors.” Lydia announced, her voice carried across the courtyard.

“Lydia, I thought I said… Rurik?” the king said as he slowly turned to face his new guests although he did not sound too surprised as he took off his blindfold to reveal his dark brown eyes and youthful appearance, he was relatively young for his position being twenty-five years of age.

“Your grace,” Rurik stepped forward giving a slight but respectful bow as he turned his eyes to Orla who stood beside him, standing straight. “Bow.” he whispered and she complied with an added confused expression.

“It's been some time, I thought you made it quite clear when you left that you wouldn't return.”

“You know I had my reasons…”

“Knowing you had reasons and knowing those reasons are two different things Rurik, I needed you.”

“I don't regret what I did, I'm sorry I left but you didn't need me, look at this place. Atana is thriving and I have been travelling Azlaria since I left, the whole kingdom is better off and that's all you.” Rurik said, which was followed by a few moments of silence.

“I'm Orla, y...your grace, how did you learn to fight blindfolded because I'm…”

“Orla, not now, please.” Rurik interrupted.

“It's alright Rurik. Let her speak.” Pandros sounded short.

“I'm sorry, I was just wondering how you learned to fight blindfolded. Would I be able to do that?” Orla asked nervously but with politeness.

“Well Orla, you see it takes plenty of practice but you must also have the ambition and motivation to follow through, armed with those things I believe anyone could do it.”

“Anyone? Even me? But I'm blind” Orla asked, her voice full of hope.

“I don't see that as a reason why you couldn't, if anything that's the sole reason why you could. You know you remind me an awful lot of my son.” the king said, almost sounding wistful.

“Thank you, your grace!” Orla said, sounding overjoyed.

“Please call me Pandros.” Pandros said with a warming smile which quickly dropped when he returned his attention back to Rurik.

“Why have you come back?” Pandros asked as he glanced back towards Orla but Rurik could not decipher the meaning behind his face.

“I know this isn't the best time but could Orla stay here for a while? I have important business in the city and...” Rurik trailed off.

“And?” Pandros insisted.

“Do you know where I can find Isaac?” Rurik sighed, he sounded unsure of what he was asking.

“I will tell you on one condition.” Pandros quickly replied.

“What's that?” Rurik asked curiously. Pandros said nothing, he only grabbed ahold of his khopesh and turned to face the training area. “You're not still pissed I beat you all those months ago, are you?” Rurik asked with a slight but intentional laugh.

“I will tell you where to find Isaac... after I beat you.” Pandros said as he walked back towards the training area of the courtyard.


III


Pandros and Rurik stood in silence as they glared at each from across the courtyard, there was an intense silence as neither wanted to be the first to move. Rurik still wore his leather armour which was becoming worse for wear and the wooden sword he had picked up was far lighter than what he was used to. After giving a few practice swings Rurik succumbed and made the first move. He slowly began to make his way towards Pandros who had followed suit and soon the pair were locked as they circled around one another, each sizing up their opponent.

“So why have you come back Rurik? What business do you have with Isaac, I wonder.” Pandros questioned without breaking eye contact before he lunged forward taking a few swings at Rurik who parried effortlessly.

“I see you've improved your footwork, you have been busy.” Rurik avoided the question as he came on the offensive, Pandros had no problem deflecting Rurik's predictable but experienced attacks.

“Avoiding the question? Fine, I see it's none of my business so I'll ask a new one. Why did you leave?” Pandros replied, there was a hint of anger in his voice which seeped into his attacks.

“Pandros, you didn't need me, I left because it was the right time to leave, we had done what we set out to do.” Rurik lied, in truth Rurik did not know how to say that he left because he was frightened, frightened of whatever the sorcerer Zharis had done to him and he was unsure how Pandros would take the news that he and four others had been afflicted by some curse.

“Stop lying to me Rurik.” Pandros retorted as he charged at Rurik.

Pandros was swift and methodical but there was something different in the way he held himself, his movements seemed to be fuelled by a rage that burned with an intense passion and anger that Rurik was unfamiliar with, the Pandros he knew had always been so reserved and calm. His rage however did not make him sloppy or vulnerable, in fact if anything it only seemed to make him more of a threat. Even with the benefits of Rurik's affliction such as his new found energy and youthfulness, he struggled to keep up with the sheer swiftness and agility of Pandros. Rurik knew that because of the nature of the weapon Pandros used he was limited to swipes or slashes as the khopesh only had one sharpened edge, Rurik also knew that because of the weapons curve and lack of point it wasn't really an option for Pandros to stab either and so limiting Pandros' possible attacks even further but even in knowing all of this, Rurik found himself struggling.

Pandros was relentless, Rurik had been on the defensive as Pandros' continuous onslaught had not only surprised him but there was something in his demeanor that terrified him. A moment of calm and respite was welcomed by Rurik when he managed to step far to the side as Pandros came crashing down with a hard strike. This moment of calm however was short-lived, before Rurik even had time to breathe Pandros was on him again. Rurik's sword leapt through the air as Pandros' rose to meet it as a colossal clatter of wood on wood echoed throughout the courtyard as the two swords locked. Pandros twisted his sword, managing to use it like a hook to somehow wrap his around Rurik's as the two swords became entangled before Pandros pulled as hard as he could, catching Rurik off guard as his sword flew across the courtyard as it crashed against the hard cobblestone ground. Pandros quickly raised his khopesh to Rurik's neck as Rurik held his hands up in surrender.

“Okay, enough. That's us even now.” Rurik pleaded as he tried to catch his breath.

Pandros said nothing but he took a few seconds to calm himself and soon the rage disappeared and an expression of apathy washed over him. He walked over to the edge of the courtyard where a table made of spruce and stone was propped against a wall. He grabbed a small wooden chest which gave out a muffled clinking sound when lifted, as if several pieces of glass or bottles were hitting against one another.

“This came just a few days ago.” Pandros stated in a cold voice.

“What is it?”

“I was hoping you'd tell me, it has your name on it.” Pandros said as he held out the chest.

“Wait, so did you know I was coming?”

“More or less, I just didn't know when you were going to arrive, or in what state. There's a letter in the chest, it says it's from an Elara? It's none of my business but Isaac is and a deal is a deal. You'll find Isaac somewhere in the south-eastern side of the city, in one of the more, shall I say deprived areas. Rurik, a word of warning, the battle was not easy on Isaac, I'm not sure what you'll find there. He'll be held up in one of the houses where the addicts frequent.”

“He's not using again is he?” Rurik questioned, there was a pain in his voice.

“That's all I know Rurik.”

“But hold on, deprived areas? I thought all of Atana was wealthy?”

“It was under my father because he only allowed the rich and powerful here, you open the gates for everyone and you get everyone and their problems. Now if you'll excuse me I have business elsewhere, I trust you can find your own way out,” Pandros said as he began to make his way towards one of the many doorways that led into the courtyard, before he stopped. “Oh and yes Orla can stay here. Lydia, find her a room and keep her company while Rurik is away, perhaps give her a sword, she'll have to start sometime.” Pandros commanded as he exited the courtyard.


IV


“Rurik, I hope this letter finds you well. I have continued my research using your blood and I may have found a way to reduce or delay the effects or rather future effects of this 'curse'. Granted it isn't a cure but it may allow us the time we need to find one before any negative effects appear. In the chest are vials, the contents of which will hopefully delay any further consequences for now, take two drops in the morning and two in the evening. I will send more supply in a few weeks. Also you'll be glad to know we exiled Lambert for that business with the kelpie, I thought you might like to know. Elara.”

The scents of various flowers, herbs and spices wafted from the piece of parchment as Rurik wandered blindly through the streets of the south-eastern side of the city. He had been searching for an hour or so and had tried a few unsavoury buildings that were known to house addicts or just those down on their luck, to no avail. Rurik continued down a dark path, the streets were empty and there was a strange sense of calm. Rurik neared the end of an alley where a lone house lay in wait, shrouded in darkness. Much like the rest of the architecture of Atana it was beautiful but there was something that didn't sit right with Rurik, the building looked tainted. The windows had been boarded over while grime and moss seemed to have started growing, covering most of the sides. The wooden door appeared to be shut tight but under closer inspection there were signs that the door had been busted open and haphazardly thrown back in place, several times. Rurik gave a firm push on the weakened door as it fell into the house with a loud thud.

A painfully bright light shone through the now opened doorway into a thin corridor. Dust danced through the air accompanied by a cold silence. The odd cough emanated from the house as Rurik stepped in through the doorway but none stirred or seemed to be concerned with his apparent break in. A foul dank smell persisted through the house as Rurik passed several borderline unresponsive characters with vacant expressions.

Rurik continued through the house, entering what he would have assumed was the living room but there was little to no furniture and an unlit fireplace while boxes and their unknown contents were strewn around the room. Rurik studied his surroundings, having some difficulty as the room was shrouded in darkness, a single beam of light seeped through the cracks of the boarded up windows but he stopped as he looked to the far corner. He immediately recognised the unkempt curly auburn hair and mischievous goatee of Isaac, he did not look well. His once fresh-faced and handsome appearance was now gaunt and haggard, his olive complexion was now dirtied and pale. Rurik apprehensively approached Isaac, who seemed to be sleeping or even unconscious as he bent down to kneel beside him, listening to his rasping breath while he lay there twitching as if suffering from a bad dream. Rurik stretched out a hand, slowly placing it on his shoulder, Isaac immediately jumped awake with a start.

“No, wait!” Isaac screamed as he woke, he sounded as though he was pleading with his life. Isaac abruptly sat up panting for breath. His throat croaked and rasped before breaking into a fit of coughs. Rurik quickly grabbed a hold of him and held him steady to calm him down as he panted for breath.

“Isaac, it's me, Rurik.” Rurik growled as he continued to hold Isaac.

“Wha…? Where am…? Gramps? Oof, I must have taken something strong, it's been a while since I've imagined you.” Isaac mumbled, his voice sounded tired and slightly slurred as he began rubbing his head.

“Isaac, listen to me, I'm real. I'm really here and I eh, need your help.”

“Wait what? You're… what the...” Isaac replied, sounding flustered.

“Take it easy, you’ll be alright." Rurik paused as he slowly sat down on the tattered mattress, he gave out a long sigh. “Look, I don’t have a whole lot of time to explain Isaac and I’m sorry for coming unannounced but I need your help tracking down four men who are either in the military or used to be. It’s important I find them as soon as possible.”

“Woah, easy there Gramps, we can talk business when I've rejoined the world a bit more. Oh hey, are you not going to introduce me to your friend?” Isaac said as he stared blankly past Rurik.

“...I came here alone.” Rurik answered, confused.

“Hmm? Cards on the table, I eh...” Isaac's voice was full of despair.

“I know. What happened Isaac?” Rurik asked sincerely, a seriousness washed over Isaac for a second, Rurik even saw a hint of fear in his eyes.

“I don't want to get into that right now Rurik, besides how do I know you won't just up and leave without warning again, like you did after the battle.” Isaac retorted, sounding dazed.

“That's cold Isaac, but fair. I shouldn't have left. Things still don't seem right here, not yet anyway, I should have been here for all of you.” Rurik said while hanging his head.

“Oh so you've seen Pandros already.”

“I have. Has he been to see you?” Rurik asked curiously but there was concern in his voice.

“I haven't let him, I don't want him to see me like this.” Isaac said with regret.

“What about your father? Did you ever go see him like you always talked about?”

“Rurik, I said I don't want to get into that right now.” Isaac sounded impatient.

“Let me help you, you need to get back out there. Just need to find a new outlet and get clean, I'll be right behind you every step of the way.”

“I'll think about it Gramps, that is a kind offer but I'll be honest just now all I need is some rest.”

“I'll leave you to it then.” Rurik fought hard not to sound disappointed as he turned to leave.

“Rurik, wait. There's a building in the military district, a registry, it should hold the names and last known addresses of those in and no longer in the military. That's where you'll find what you're looking for.”

“I appreciate it, Isaac.”


V


The evening sun exploded with an orange hue that spread out across the sky, it filled Rurik with a much welcomed sense of warmth but it was fleeting, the icy and snow-covered streets seemed to swallow him whole as he neared the military district. The streets were quiet and empty and as Rurik emerged into the courtyard which housed the entrance gates of the military district his only company were the two guards posted at either side of the gate, looking cold and miserable. Rurik drifted across the snow which gave out a delicate crunch as he walked, a familiar feeling of dread crawled its way back into Rurik's mind as he slowed to a halt when a voice called out.

“Rurik!” it called, the voice was so full of rage and anger that the snow did very little to soften or dampen the voice. Rurik spun around immediately and instinctively placed his hand on the sword on his back but upon seeing the stranger who had come to confront him, he found his hand relaxing slightly but only for a second.

Striding across the snow-covered courtyard with an intense purpose was a large muscular shape of a man. He was completely bald and he had a stern face full of hatred and resentment, he wore a green tunic and very little in the way of armour but Rurik's eyes were fixed on the large sword and shield he carried with a reckless intent.

Flashes of the battle months prior flooded back to Rurik, he pictured the four men who stood beside him as they faced down the sorcerer Zharis, one immediately jumped out in his mind and he knew at once who was charging at him from across the courtyard. As his attacker drew ever nearer Rurik called out himself.

“It doesn't have to be like this, let me help you!” Rurik pleaded but this did little to slow his attacker.

“It's all your fault!” he screamed as he came down hard, only for Rurik to evade the sloppy but powerful strike. The sound of metal and the rustling of armour drew close as Rurik turned to notice the two guards who had been protecting the gate move in.

“Stand down.” one called with strong authority in his voice as they both pointed spears towards the bald man as Rurik moved in closer. He spun around and without hesitation began to charge at the two soldiers but Rurik had moved in close enough to give a hard strike to the back of the attackers head, knocking him out cold as he fell to the ground, cushioned by the snow.

“Arrest him, tell me when he wakes. I'd very much like to speak with him.”


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