- The Outlanders
- Author: Braden E. Reigen
- Chapter One: The Reapers
The sun was descending on the land of Altyrion, the sky tinted with oranges and pinks around the rim of the great globe of the world that encircled the young boy watching it from the stables of a humble estate. He did not live near one of the big cities, but in the wilderness. His home was an inn, the Speckled Weasel Inn, which was two stories and on Timber Wolf Way, a long stretch of road that ran from the seaside city of Adleran to the ruins of a city once known as Kaschler. It was halfway between the two, closer to Kaschler. Another inn ran on the road, the Bristle Fisk Inn. It wasn't as nice as the Speckled Weasel, but it owned more land. Still, it was not as nice, nor did it have the view that the Speckled Weasel offered at sunset. The Speckled Weasel had a great view all day round anyways, as it was on high, rising ground. From where he stood, the boy could make out some trees, and he had a clear view of the ocean from here.
The boy was sixteen years old, with thick brown hair and blue eyes described by his grandfather as being "as sharp and fierce as wolf's". Across one eye, the one on the left, ran a lightning-bolt shaped scar that had been inflicted on him by a highwayman he had run into when he was young. The highwayman had been stopped, of course, a horseback guard from the Imperial City, the center of Altyrion, had taken the man down, but the damage had been done. The scar had been inflicted by an enchanted knife, so the scar forever remained with the boy, even though it had been shallow, and the damage it had done to his eye had been repaired.
As the brilliance of the horizon began to fade and darken, the door of the Speckled Weasel opened, and out came a younger boy, aged fourteen, with brown hair and blue-green eyes, close in height to the first, who was small for his age.
"Braeden, father says it's your turn to feed the horses." the boy called, joining the older.
"Is that all you came to tell me, Josh?" Braeden asked, smiling slyly, purposefully tousling his hair with his free hand. Braeden was beginning to really feel the bite of manhood now, constantly on the lookout for pretty girls.
"I'm coming to help. The new additions are going to dine with us, and I need a bit of fresh air and some space for them, else I'll flip the table at supper." Josh replied as the two boys walked over to the inn's adjoining stables. Braeden pushed the old wooden gate open, then closed it behind he and Josh by instinct. Wolves could be found in the area, and the fence that encircled the stable was tough and could keep out any beast. Braeden then moved to his pure white steed, a handsome male he had sagely named "Cross". He had been Braeden's coming-of-age present from his parents and uncle, and was very grateful for the young male horse, who was strong and swift. Horses could cost up to four-hundred gilda, more money than Braeden had ever seen in his life, especially for a pedigree one like Cross, and it was his most brilliant present, right next to the blade he had been given at fourteen, a sword he had called "Wolfsong" that had a howling wolf head etched onto the hilt; a most glorious gift from his Uncle Rilgun. Rilgun had it made for Braeden, the blade created by an artful smith he knew.
Braeden had never actually seen the local wolves, only heard of them from his father, who often told Braeden and his two brothers that they were lucky to have never seen one in their lifetime. Joshua thought just the opposite, and Braeden privately agreed. He was fascinated with wolves and had seen them at a distance when hunting with Rilgun, who had watched the wolves howl. Braeden had named his sword for that, the beautiful song-like howling he had heard from them, as well as for the howling wolf hilt. It all fit together.
Josh complained about the new additions to the inn as they fed the horses and Braeden cleaned Cross. The new additions were Alpert Bichendale and his twelve year old son, Jaden. Just yesterday they had arrived and booked a room at the inn, as they were passing through on a business trip of some sort. Alpert Bichendale often stayed at their inn on his trips, but he never brought his son with him, nor did he even mention he had a son, though he spoke often of his older daughter studying at the Imperial University, a place that Braeden knew he would never be influential or wealthy enough to attend. Josh and Jaden had been introduced yesterday without proper introduction, and Josh had been asked to take Jaden out and spar with him using the wooden swords. Somehow, Jaden had come back crying, and Josh looked annoyed, and that was the beginning of a rivalry between the Reaper boys and Jaden Bichendale.
Jaden Bichendale was blond-haired and weedy, with pale green eyes and a slack mouth often frozen in a neutral expression that made him look like a solemn hand puppet. His blond hair was short and limp and had the texture of old straw. From what they had seen, he was greedy and selfish, some rich Westerner brat who knew nothing of work and ethics, only of getting his way all the time. Alpert wasn't spoiling the boy or babying him as much as Braeden thought, which led to him thinking it was the mother's indulgence in this rotten child that made him who he was.
Braeden was involved in the rivalry, as he didn't really like Jaden either. Jaden had been hamming up about his injury, claiming how Josh had set out to hurt him on purpose, and Braeden had grown tired of the whining.
"More like Bitchendale." Josh had muttered under his breath, when they were properly introduced, and Braeden had been unable to repress a grin at this.
"It's pronounced, Bee-shaun-dale, Joshua." their father had said, reproachfully. Their father had been initially under the impression that because Josh and Jaden were close in age, that perhaps they could become friends. But Jaden Bichendale was too immature, too whiny, too spoiled to possibly be friends with Josh. Jaden had never worked a day in his life, and got everything he wanted, even his own horse, a paint horse which balked easily that had been a right pain in the ass for Braeden to coax into the stables. Josh had worked almost every day since he had been six, just like Braeden had, and he still had never owned his own horse. Braeden had privately taught Josh how to ride with Cross though, and let him out on rides on the horse, and even smiled when he saw the reproachful looks that Cross would give Josh that reminded him so much of their father.
The Reapers weren't rich, quite the opposite in many ways, actually. Braeden, as the oldest, never had a problem regarding clothes. His clothes were either purchased secondhand or made by Mrs. Brown, who lived not too far from their home. Mrs. Brown was generous, perhaps because she made lots of money designing the stiff-collared Smethwick Academy uniforms that wealthy enough boys in the Imperial City wore.
Joshua and Dedrich, on the other hand, were wearing Braeden's old clothes. Dedrich was even smaller at age eight than Josh or Braeden had ever been, with white-blond hair and bright, baby-blue eyes. The only new things that Josh and Dedrich ever got were shoes on occasion, as the boys seemed to have differing sizes. As Braeden followed Joshua inside for supper, he realized that aside from the shoes, which were black, dusty, and a bit scuffed-up, Josh was wearing his old clothes. The white collared shirt that Josh wore had once been Braeden's, as were the brown pants he wore, which ended a little above the ankle, revealing Braeden's old dark grey socks. Josh wore a sweater too, a light brown and heavily patterned one that Braeden had received for Christmas a few years ago. Josh's brown hair was shorter and kept neater than Braeden's hair. Joshua also had blue eyes, which held an intelligent and curious look to them.
Braeden was sent to fetch Dedrich so they could have dinner. He discovered the small and skinny eight year old hiding in the barn, which was in another fenced enclosure, slightly smaller than the stables. There, the boy sat, near to one of their cows, holding a small wooden flute that their father had whittled for him.
"What are you doing in here, Ded?" Braeden asked. "Mother's got a whole banquet prepared. Come sup."
"Papa's not going to make me be friends with that boy, is he?" Dedrich asked, baby-blue eyes betraying him, openly displaying the young boy's concern and fear. Braeden allowed himself to smirk a bit.
"No, no way." Braeden replied, and the boy immediately became cheery and smiled. "Now are you coming to sup, or am I going to have to tie your ankle to Cross and have him drag you in there?"
The two emerged, laughing from the barn, Braeden carrying his younger brother on his strong - and now broad - shoulders. Braeden wasn't quite sure how he had gone from a boy to a man, and the process of his body going from a small and wiry boy's frame to a small but powerful man's build had gone unnoticed by him. He had once been small, perhaps not as small and wiry as Dedrich was, but somewhere close. The Reaper boys had always been small, slight, and wiry. They were always lean, always thin, for they didn't have a lot of money with which to get food, and the Reaper boys were usually graced with two meals a day growing up. Business had picked up in the Speckled Weasel Inn though, and they had begun to adopt a tradition of eating a third meal; Lunch.
The inn was run almost entirely by the Reaper family. John Reaper, the patriarch and father of the boys, was the owner and did most of the business work. John was once a soldier for the city, and though he had settled down after the war, his bright eyes - identical in color to Josh's - still shone with fire. Natalie Reaper, their mother, did a lot of the cooking and cleaning, and was assisted by a young woman around nineteen, named Becky Rowe, who had come from Adleran and who now lived in one of the basement rooms. There was also a manservant, a balding man around their father's age named Philip Hodge, who had acquired a basement room and free meals by choosing to live with them and serve as a manservant. He often spoke greatly of the Reaper family's kindness, to anyone who would listen, and he had helped raise the boys.
The tables had been pushed together in here so they could eat at a long, communal table for supper. Braeden chose a seat at one end of the table, and Dedrich sat beside him, with Josh seated across from Braeden, Becky beside him, and Mr. Hodge favoring a seat beside Dedrich. Bichendale and his son favored seats closer to John Reaper, who was politely discussing things with Bichendale.
"OWW!" Jaden suddenly cried, dropping his spoonful of soup and nursing the arm that Joshua had "tried to chop off" when they had sparred. Braden glared at the legs of Jaden's chair, then tried to preoccupy himself with a buttered bread roll. He could see that Josh, across the table, was not showing such restraint. Josh had one hand balled into a fist, the other hand gripping his fork in an unnecessarily vice-like manner. Braeden, sensing what was coming, aimed a kick at Josh under the table, to redirect the fourteen year old's attention. Josh forced his eyes from Jaden and began shoveling some of his baked potato in his mouth while Dedrich looked on, nibbling on his wedge of cheese.
"My dear son, is it still hurting you?" Alpert Bichendale cried, alarmed.
"Yes, yes, yes!" Jaden whined. "I think we'll have to chop it."
At this, Braeden snorted through his spoonful of soup and was unable to hide it. Eyes from down the table immediately turned his way.
"And what is it you find so comical, Braeden?" John asked, gazing at his son with a steely, disciplined look. Braeden, lost, tried thinking of an excuse.
"It's my fault, sir." Becky suddenly said. "I told him a joke.”
“Stop whining already. Be a man!” Josh then yelled. Braeden turned, not expecting his brother to choose to lash out now. Their father glared, the fire burning bright in his eyes.
“Apologize, Joshua.” he said.
“No. I won’t.” Josh said, glaring back. Braeden had an idea where this was going, and he held Dedrich’s hand under the table.
“Then go to your room.” their father boomed.
“I will then!” Josh yelled back, and he stormed upstairs. Braeden immediately stood up.
"I've lost my appetite." Braeden announced quickly, heading off behind his brother as the table gasped, and he dashed after his brother.
The older mage rode forward on his black steed, the steady pounding of the mustang's hooves as they hit the gravelly road. The man pulled a canteen out and sipped frugally from it, careful not to run out of his water reserve in the off chance that he may not encounter a clean pool from which to restore his water supply. He was down to his last canteen, and still had no luck finding what he was searching for.
Master Tylus, he was called, and he was known as one of the most powerful mages. He wasn't extremely aged; only fifty-two and still fairly strong for being out of his "prime". Many people in the League of Mages wondered why he was going off on this journey, but he was doing it because it was crucial. He had been ordered to find a boy.
Not just any boy, how he would have loved to be able to pick any boy. He would head into a village and find an able-bodied miller's son, or a young teenage boy in apprenticeship of a carpenter, and then it would all be over. But no, the prophecy stated he was looking for a boy "marked by lightning", whatever that meant. He had met a few boys that had been struck by lightning, but knew that being struck by lightning, even, was too common to be the meaning of "marked by lightning". He'd examined many boys, but had yet to find one that had some kind of lightning-shaped marking, and no one seemed to know of one, either. He was heading west now, hoping this boy could be found soon.
Tylus' black horse suddenly moved to the right side of the road as they were about to pass over a bridge, and he saw an Imperial rider astride a lovely brown steed. He smiled at the armored young man, who had a stubbly chin and piercingly green eyes. This would be a great person to ask. Imperial riders have traveled both on and off the well-beaten roads.
"E-excuse me?" Tylus asked, trying to sound like the typical feeble old man. "Have you seen a boy around here with a lightning-shaped marking on him?"
"No." the Imperial rider said. "I have not. Why?"
"He's my grandson, and he was supposed to meet me along the road. I haven't seen him yet, so I was thinking I could find someone to point me in a direction. He was going to stay with me for a week." Tylus replied, trying to sound as feeble and helpless as possible.
"I'll keep an eye out for him." the Imperial rider said.
"Thank you!" Tylus cried cheerfully as they passed. He now headed down the road, which was winding up towards the mountains, and Tylus had traveled along this road long enough to know that it led west, where he was going. But he was supposed to meet the assassin somewhere along the way.
It was at a fork in the road where he saw a dark figure, wearing even a dark cape with a red inner lining that looked to be made of something soft. The figure was black-haired, and he stood beside a great black steed. His hair was thick and just as black as the horse he stood beside, if not blacker.
“So this is the assassin the King assigned me?” Tylus asked. The young man before him was rather young, maybe only twenty years old, and he smirked back up at Tylus.
“Indeed. I am Gojira of House Liu. Ours is the domain of shadow. My father’s fathers have served under the King for centuries. I was told we are embarking on this quest to find the boy marked by lightning and return to the castle to protect the young prince.”
“That is correct. I have scoured the east with no sign of this boy. I have a feeling we will find him on the road to Adleran.” Tylus explained, facing the west. His search had been rather extensive. He would even stop peasant boys and ask them if they knew of anyone bearing a lightning-mark. But no one did.
The two men, one old and one young, rode through the forest. The dappled, fading sunlight managed to reach to them from beyond the thick curtain of trees, and their horses were treading along the dirt road with relative ease. Tylus turned his head to face Gojira. His skin was pale, and something about his eyes jarred even Tylus. He had a bloodthirsty look to him, and Tylus supposed that was why he became an assassin. So he could shed blood for a living. He had been raised a Liu, that was one of the major assassin families, rather highborn as well.
"Halt." Gojira said to his pitch-black steed, Valter. There was someone on the road, dressed in black. He was trying not to look nervous about being noticed by Gojira, and failing miserably from the look of it. Gojira glared down at his steed.
"Good morning." Tylus said, wondering why Gojira was bothered by it, and then he noticed a crest on the cloak, the sign of an assassin family, the Warrick family. Gojira was glaring daggers down at the nervous lad wearing the cloak, a teenager who stared back up at the young assassin with terror.
"What family?" Gojira asked.
"What?" the teenager in the cloak asked, then correcting himself quickly. "I'm Arkay! Arkay of...W-Warrick!"
"If you are a Warrick, then what are the words of House Warrick?" Gojira snapped back. The young male faltered, and Tylus knew that he didn't know at all.
"Um...We...we shall always have might?" Arkay stammered. Gojira's eyes were ice as he gazed down at the youth. He then brought his sheathed sword with a hard smack, right into the teenager's head. The teenager fell with a cry as Gojira dismounted Valter, glaring down at him.
"Wrong, you idiot. Those are the words of House Enrich. At least if you're going to impersonate an assassin, know the words of the assassin houses." Gojira snarled. "Now, tell me the words of House Liu."
"I...I don't know!" he cried. Gojira smirked then, and before Tylus could raise any objection, the young assassin swung his blade and beheaded the teenager smoothly. The headless body of the impostor fell, a torrent of sticky crimson leaking from the stump of neck where a head had once rested. Gojira, pleased with himself, took the impostor's head and placed it on the spear he had carried with him.
"Wrong. The words of House Liu are Ours is the domain of shadow." Gojira sneered as he drove the other end of the spear into the ground, leaving it beside the body. He bent over, using his finger to write something on the wall surrounding the inn behind the impostor in blood. As he got back on his steed and the young assassin and the old mage rode away, Tylus could make out the words Gojira had left with the corpse.
Never mimic the silent assassin.
They rode off as though Gojira had never decapitated Arkay at all. Someone at the inn would find him, and would likely not do anything. No one liked being in the crossfire of an assassin, and House Liu was known for the worst brand of assassination.
"This lightning-child is growing more tedious to find than half a needle in a field of hay." Gojira remarked, petting Valter when they stopped to fill their canteens at a stream. Tylus gave a grunt of agreement, but secretly knew he was close to finding this boy.
Soon. lightning-child, I shall find you, Tylus thought, climbing atop his grey horse. The young assassin mounted his own black horse, and the two of them set off in the night, searching for the boy who would change everything.