THE FADING NIGHT – ONE
~ Prologue ~
The shrill and penetrating song shattered his thoughts—that, and the bantering that followed.
"They say it is
the most beautiful thing
the easing of death
under red-tipped swing!
“All told them it was
a most saddened—"
"Stop your wailing."
“Aey now, you don’t recognize talent? Ease off ‘en go wreck someone else’s party."
They were nearing from behind.
"Party you say? There is not a 'party' in sight, my friend, let me assure you."
"No, no…let me assure you, my friend, we nailed it—dead-on!"
"No, no, I agree, it was well-worth the long wait. I'll even go so far as to say a little…exhilarating. But please don't sing any—"
"Heh, dead on...get it? I love it when I say something funny."
"Just the fight I's a-lickin' for!"
"Ha! That was no ‘fight’ my friend, and it's quite unfortunate you're all hyped up really about nothing; I’ve seen real battles...true gems."
"Like hell you have. What, on the Front perhaps? Against the Others? No matter; that was incredible."
"Sure. I'll give you that much."
"About time we had one, too, eh Captain?"
Time for home, he thought.
Time for home.
"You feeling well, captain?"
"Yes, lieutenant," he had replied. Bring me peace. "I was just thinking: it's time we returned home, that is all."
"Home...?" they had asked.
"Yes home, where else?" He noted how increasingly excited they had become, all, he deduced, because of one exhilarating battle. "As I made it as clear as anyone could ever hope to make it earlier, ours was a job well done, so yes, congrats. Now, all I ask is that I be left in my own quiet peace so I can think. Perhaps you two should do the same."
Gus Warmeal had no time for their nonsense because his mind was adrift in thoughts concerning that same exhilarating battle, one of many recent successes. It had forced back memories of what his mentor and long-time companion, General Gidian Oblecian, had once told him.
"Warmeal!" Oblecian would always yell important things directly at him, quite literally in his face, as if the close proximity somehow aided his brain's registry of the ensuing words' profundity. Gus recalled the abnormal steel grayness in the depths of his eyes, holding you under his merciless spell while he fed you his decades of gritty wisdom. "Warmeal! In every battle you have just one choice to make: don't let it kill you."
At the time, Gus did not know what to make of it; for all he knew the general was quite simply the most unusual military figure he had ever known. But several years passed and they grew a special warrior's respect for one another. He admired the general's raw, unabashed pursuit—and attainment—of victory, and the general simply admired what he believed to be Gus' rather unusual love for his wife, as over the course of Gus' seven years of marriage to a single spouse Gidian had slept with various women and beyond recollection.
So it was that Gus's mind wandered onto the two most influential people in his life. At the thought of his wife, however, any additional thoughts of Gidian vanquished instantly.
But those words, spoken so long ago, lingered on, and had haunted him the remainder of the long journey home.
Exhausted, Gus now dismounted from his horse, Burdegas, an older, but loyal, warhorse from the northern coasts. Dark brown, quick and proud, and exactly what Gus had always wanted in a horse. After soothing the steed's travel-worn spirit, he produced a short little tune of a whistle, signaling dinnertime for horse and master.
Striding up the long and winding stone-laid path that ended at his estate's large wooden double door, his mind wandered yet again. As Premier Sentinel of the Orchard City Exterior, his experiences tracking illegal crossings had always been intense, but this day's bloodshed was unlike any he had ever seen in all his seventeen years of service. It was not an unordinary battle, and yet, somehow, he felt...cheated. Shaking his head in another attempt to clear his thoughts, he arrived at his estate entrance, then paused.
I hope she understands, he thought, a warm smile growing across his face. She's always looking for the bright side of things, anyway. With a sigh, he entered.
"Wae, honey, I'm home." Gus knew there were many things in life that he should never take for granted, and despite what he knew to be true, honestly, that his own hard work had granted him the life that he now lived, he would never take for granted coming home to such a stunningly beautiful woman as Farowae Warmeal, his wife.
"Come on out, honey, I'm in no mood for games this evening." He entered the dining room and, swiftly removing his body armor and setting it on the floor, he removed his embroidered scabbard and set it on the table and headed for the lavatory.
When he had finished his business a minute later, he checked their bedroom for any sign of his playful wife, but she was not there.
"Honey, please..." he called aloud as he made his way back to the dining area. "Listen, I have some news for—" He froze.
In the rear of their home where normally at this hour he could view the setting sun's beautiful hues caressing the valleys below, there was a great black cloud thickly expanding out and beyond, down into the valleys below. But it was no cloud: it was ink black, and he knew that could only mean...
His heart began to race.
"Farowae!" he yelled, racing over their marble patio at the rear of the house. He sprinted through their small garden and jumped through the crack in the stone wall behind, emerging from the wall onto the stone-cobbled street below.
To his horror the entire neighborhood here was covered in the same thick, gusting smoke, and the smell stung his nose and throat.
Frantic now, Gus began yelling in every direction: "Farowae! Farowae!"
Abruptly, he realized that the normally bustling street was now abandoned and utterly silent, silent except for the foreboding ink black smoke coursing across the street, in and out city blocks further down the road.
"What's going on..." I have to find Farowae!
He had not gone more than forty paces up the street when his mouth dropped: it was Farowae. Her body, draped in her white evening gown, lay still and unmoving where the street corner met the nearest walkway.
He rushed to her side. There was no reason for this to be happening, not in his mind, not ever.
“Come on, Farowae!” His mind raced as he scoured his memory for something—anything—that could assist the situation, only to find nothing. His mind was reeling from the shock of finding his wife in such horrific condition. And why here?! he wanted to know; the questions were mounting fast.
She tried to speak, but every muscle in her body had been ravaged by an excruciating and foreign pain.
"Help me out!" he cried again, his voice raspy from the thickening black smoke. Her eyes were wide open, but still as stone. I don't understand! "Tell me what's wrong!" Her pupils, once wild and blue, were now blank, the remaining hues fading alarmingly quick with her every passing breath.
Gus began searching her limp body, spread out in an awkward position near the street's dirty gutter; murky runoff streamed past, mixed in blood from a distant unknown source. But he didn't care about that blood; his wife was hurting, maybe even dying.
He found no signs of broken bones, trauma, or poison. Without that set of ailments, he was almost certain he knew what cruel malady had befallen her, but somehow this felt much different than the rest.
Again, he tried to get a response. "Farowae, baby, help me out," he pleaded. "What is it, what's wrong?" There was nothing.
But she had heard him, his lovely voice echoing through the numbness to her fading senses. Through the remaining life of her eyes she fought hard to let him know she was still there, fought hard to express a wife's undying love.
She was determined to tell him that behind her lifeless eyes she was still clinging to as much of her life as she could. "I'm here, honey, I'm here!" Another failure, and more agonizing even than the pain bombarding her every muscle, knowing that her husband could not hear his wife's desperate cries, could not sense her vain attempts to reach out from the rising abyss.
Gus cupped her pale, cold face in his weathered hands. Come back to me, Farowae, he pleaded silently, gazing deep into her blank eyes, envisioning their fullness and vitality only hours earlier. What the hell is going on! A surge of emotion rushed over Gus, and he cried out to anyone with ears: "Somebody help me, please!"
Farowae could not endure witnessing her husband's distress. Don't let it! she pleaded. It—it can't end this way!
It was then that a man emerged from the gusting blackness, the familiar crescent emblem across his gray tunic telling Gus everything he needed to know, shrouding his immediate suspicions.
"You!" he yelled, frantically waving his arms above his head. "You! Over here!"
The man rushed to Gus' side, kneeling over Farowae's cold, limp body. "Be at ease, my son." His words were soft and calm.
"Do something, anything,” he cried, “just help her, please!" He cared less for soothing words; he knew there was not a moment to spare.
Gently, the man placed his palms on Farowae's stiffened shoulders.
"Be at ease," he repeated again, only softer now, meeting Farowae's eyes with his own.
Suddenly her back arched violently, and she released a loud, hollow gasp, quickly followed by several eerie, raspy breaths. The reaction chilled Gus' heart.
His worries were eased a second later, however, when color began streaming back into his wife's no longer dimming eyes.
Gus...can you hear me? Tears began to well in her eyes.
"It's okay Wae, I'm here!" He could see her pain in her eyes, but the tears meant that she was breathing, that she was alive, and a sign that she would survive the madness, after all.
"Gus..." Her body still in shock, Farowae struggled to speak, for she wanted to tell her husband everything, that she loved him, but he would not have her struggle any longer, and so, cupping her face in his gentle hand, he warmly hushed her and then consumed her body in the greatest embrace she had ever known.
Seeing that his work was done, the stranger rose and said, "Be at ease..." He paused, and then: "May you be blessed."
Glancing around, he turned his head skyward, into the darkness, and then, seeming to catch a sign of something he alone could read, he turned away, hurrying down the street. He was glad to be of help in such a trying time, and eager to impart his powers on the others, for there were many, and the number would grow. He knew there would be no resting tonight.
Plunging back into the darkness, he could not contain the small grin that now spread across his young and eager face.