Beginning dark fantasy, content reviews only, it needs editing i know, no grammar nazis.
Dirge fought to remain in the saddle hands tightly clenching the thick leather reigns of his Doomsteed. Icy air cut through his cloak biting his skin as they galloped through the mostly bare autumn trees of the ancient forest. The magical beasts were more akin to deserts and tropical lands and they distained the cold. In turn the mount was eager to return home. It easily dug its claws into the hillside finding footholds where other steeds would have surely fallen, as it raced towards the town ahead.
The supernatural brute moved unlike any other animal possibly could, its low center of gravity and overpowered legs allowed it to travel up and down impossible inclines with ease. On more than a few occasions this feat had saved Dirge’s life, in turn he forgave the often stubborn monster for its obstinacy.
Dirge glanced behind noticing the steed had left its cloak of dissipating darkness in its wake. He didn’t know the exact reason they would sometimes emit a black fog like wall, but most people agreed that when they ran in packs it served to confuse any potential predators to their numbers. Not that he had ever even heard of something that actually preyed on the savage brutes. The shading seemed to emanate from its dark velvet skin, though from no particular place of origin. To an onlooker when the animal ran past it looked like a giant reptile with a black comets tail engulfing it. Only its head discernible whereas the rest of its body became obscured by the dark flowing veil. Even after the creature was long gone, the magical gloom could remain for several minutes.
The beast zigzagged between tall evergreens up the apex of a craggy hill, then a nearly vertical rock face, with a tug of the reigns it came to a standstill at the top. The pair stood motionless for a long moment; suddenly the Doomsteed tilted its head. A yellow reptilian eye blinked, narrowing slightly as it focused upon Dirge. Its thin red forked tongue darted from a mouth of razors. The animal cast a quizzical gaze upon its rider, and grunted slightly.
“Take it easy Glade, not long now.” Dirge promised patting his monsters neck with a gloved hand. The animal stared at him with one glimmering yellow eye.
Dirge exhaled, a white cloud briefly manifested in the cold air before him. He surveyed the area from the hillside, taking in the land. It had been a hard week in the wilds surviving on rations and camping out under the stars, his aging bones ached for his soft warm bed. The Doomsteed wasn’t the only one glad to be returning home.
From the high vantage point he had a panoramic view of the countryside; north of him he could see the valley where Brackish the town he currently resided sat, the sleepy little place of retreat where he felt at home. To the South where he had come from lay an ominous grey mountain range where Orcish tribes controlled the twisting foothills that few dared to travel.
To either the East or West the great forest rolled on like an unkempt blanket of deep green as far as the eye could see. Amongst the heavy forest were wisps of fluffy white fog which filled the gaps and blurred the trees into an indistinct mass. He focused on the distant North beyond Brackish on the edge of the horizon toward the great city of Sunder. It was the largest city in the land and a major port of trade. Although it was more than a days ride, the sprawling metropolis was still visible in clear weather, spires of smoke wafted heavenward from its great many factories. It was gigantic, industrial and a unlike Brackish it was a place where someone like him could much easier blend, a place he could disappear into its many guilds and dark underbelly. But that would be defeat, wouldn’t it? He wondered if perhaps as he got older, was he just tiring of the life or was he allowing himself to grow weak, perhaps a mixture of both.
Dirge exhaled deeply into the chilly air then redirected his focus onto the much closer town below him. The denizens were delightfully ignorant, their naivety would certainly get them killed where he was from but here they lived their sheltered lives unaffected by the evils that lurked far away. “for now…” His inner voice added despite himself.
He had grown fond of the small enclave of humanity, the simple townspeople, mostly farmers, miners and a few that scavenged the forest for items or food they could later trade. It was so simple an existence that the novelty of it all had not worn off. This was one place he could almost relax, that in itself was a great feat.
Too much of his life had been spent doing evil often it was doing bad things to bad men, but that really didn’t make it any less wrong did it? He had still seen too much, too much blood spilled no matter how it was justified; too many children were parentless because of him. In Brackish he was a world away, it was as close to ever forgetting the sins of his past as he could be, and maybe changing his future.
Dirge knew he could never truly be at peace with his past, but here it was nearly possible to forget the death and destruction that once followed him. That only made things worse; his heart sank as thoughts of the future crossed his mind. He knew what was coming. He knew that without a doubt despite all the precautions he had taken there were things that would never change…his past would indeed catch up to him. There is a saying that ‘there are no facts in the future’, but it was wrong. Dark days lay ahead.
But that wasn’t today that was some other nameless day in the future. Here and now it was the Harvest festival; the people had worked hard all summer and into fall, to prepare for the bitter winter, it was time to celebrate. The townsfolk were caught up in their market and the celebration that was taking place. The streets bustled with people, mostly busy window shopping, or bartering with the local vendors; who had temporarily moved to curbside stands outside their main stores.
The mix of laughter, music and sounds of the festival games did well to brighten the aging warrior’s mood. There was just something about this place.
“The Duke of Sunder has lifted the trade ban with Cresthelm, read all about it in the Brackish times.” A green capped crier shouted as he waded through the crowd holding a leaflet above his head.
Although he was far above the town Dirge could clearly hear the crier as he shout out headlines. The scents of the town also found him the aroma of freshly baked bread and roasted meats wafted subtly through the Fall air, reminding him it had been a great while since he last ate.
His Doomsteed, Glade focused on him with an impatient growl, a quick erratic twitch of its large head. It shifted its attention below, it too could smell the meats in the air. Dirge leaned forward slightly, rubbed a gloved hand over the smooth black skin of the lizard, the animals red forked tongue once again stuck out and briefly tasted the air.
“Be patient Glade, you will eat soon enough.” Dirge whispered to the dark beast which snorted in response, puffs of steam bellowing from its nostrils.
Dirge prodded Glade gently with his heels against the ribs indicating he wanted to resume, the creature didn’t move. He prodded harder this time kicking slightly, the giant lizard quickly turned its head as far back as it could and snapped its jaw shut with a hiss. It was nowhere near biting him but it was the stubborn animal’s way of reminding him that it did as it pleased. He kicked again, harder this time after a guttural growl Glade lurched forward.
Down the rugged hillside they went Glade maneuvered over and around rocks and boulders that protruded from the soil, and finally onto the worn dirt path which led into Brackish.
Music flowed through the cool air, and the smells and sounds from before grew stronger as he passed beneath the grey stone gates. The vine covered walls were ascetic as far as Dirge could tell, being as the entrances were rarely guarded and never locked, though they looked sturdy enough. If somehow the town had enough warning perhaps the town could indeed defend itself with the handful of guards and citizen’s militia, though in truth he really doubted it.
As he passed beneath the rusty portcullis into the settlement the mood changed. The jovial feeling of relaxation and celebration quickly fell away as he neared the band that played seemed to quiet a bit. The eyes fell upon him and hushed whispers came over the denizens as they stopped their conversations and turned to stare, some with looks of fright, others awe, and one in particular seethed with distain from the end of the street.
The crowd parted like the seas for the righteous, giving Dirge and his monster more than enough room to pass down the center of the cobblestone street. He nodded beneath his black cloak towards a few of the townsfolk; a mother protectively pushed her daughter behind her as he passed.
Most of the locals would not care at all about him but as with most things, there were other forces at work. The town’s leader Duke Waynewright was openly hostile and the townsfolk not wanting problems themselves did their best to shun him publicly. Perhaps the Duke was onto something, as Dirge knew that this little bit of distrust was far better than what he deserved. He had done a great many terrible things to many people if this was his penance it was a lax one at worst. With luck his true identity would be forever unknown to the townsfolk for it was a truth which would be too much for these simple people. It would break their minds.
Dirge dismounted still holding Glades reign’s and walked slowly down the cobblestone street then stopped at a kiosk selling firenewt skewers. A handcrafted steel grill bellowed thick plumes of heavy smoke skyward. Behind the smoldering coals a grizzled man tended to small lizards which roasted upon small wooden skewers.
“Mr. Dirge, how many would you like sir?” Asked Rorick, a chef who Dirge knew well having visited his restaurant across town numerous times in the past year.
“Two my friend, real spicy.”
Rorick seasoned the skewers generously, wrapped the meat in corn husks then handed them to Dirge, who paid with a golden coin.
“Seems you gotten the Duke’s attention.” Rorick whispered nodding slightly towards the end of the street. From an elevated platform down the road the Duke seemed to be looking his way.
“Yeah I should go say hello to our beloved leader.”
Rorick opened his cash box, but Dirge stopped him with a wave of his hand,
“No change Rorick.”
“It’s far too much…”
“No change, use it to prepare for the coming winter.”
Rorick nodded humbly and muttered “Thank you.” As proud men do when they don’t want to admit they really could use the help.
Dirge was jarred abruptly by the heavy head of Glade nudging into his side as he in his extremely unsubtle manner reminded him he would really like to eat.
“Are you hungry then?” Dirge asked the beast, who grumbled as he shook his head.
“That’s a no? I guess I can just eat this if you’re not up for it.”
Glade the giant lizard spun around shaking his head, saliva dripped from his gaping maw and he grumbled impatiently.
A few onlookers in the crowd smiled despite themselves, the scene interesting to say the least. Doomsteeds were rarely if ever seen this far North, and to see this nearly horse sized brute whimper like a frustrated dog was comical.
“Okay, enough fun with you here you go” Dirge dropped the meats Glade intercepted them on the way down gulping them up in one bite eating the skewers, lizards, husk and all. He then focused again on Dirge as though he had not eaten a bite.
Dirge had considered taking out the skewer sticks and corn husks but, in the past he’d seen Glade eat rocks, bones, a piece of plate mail, half a sword, even a full grown alligator, there was not much he couldn’t stomach.
“Good day to you Rorick, enjoy the festival.”
“Aye, and to you sir.’
Dirge leapt into the saddle upon Glade again, focused on the red faced man at the end of the street, the lord of the realm Duke Mathias Wayneright. He had to try hard not to laugh at the silly looking green cap he was wearing, which resembled a sleeping hat, and hung floppily to one side the pompous mans head.
He by all rights should have walked the Doomsteed at his side but he knew it would irritate the lord of the land to see him riding the prized mount, if life was not to be enjoyed then what was the point? Or so he told himself.
Dirge neared the elevated wooden stage where the ‘lord’ of the land sat upon a wooden chair that had been decorated tackily with imitation jewels and red velvet. Sir Mathias stared hard his face flat and elongated with a preposterously thin chin, which only made him look sillier under that stupid hat.
Once next to the stage he leapt off Glades back, landing silently on one knee in a low exaggerated, bow. He moved quicker than was necessary and as anticipated the Lords two personal guards were startled, both snapped to defensive postures. The pair wore heavy armor plate mail fashioned with red velvet trim bearing the crest of Duke Waynewright, a cougar he thought or a poorly drawn lion, overgrown kitty maybe? Dirge wasn’t quite sure.
The pair of guard’s eyes locked upon him; the tips of their spears dangerously close. It was their eyes that betrayed them, they were not battle hardened, behind their steely helms was fear. A king’s guard would have impaled him for nearing so boisterously, these men lacked experience, they had armor and sharp pointy crafted metal but as any warrior knows you need not fear a weapon, fear the wielder.
“Please my lord, I beg you to call off your elite warriors, and spare the life of this drifter.” Dirge begged, listening to his own words he couldn’t imagine anyone believing them.
From his kneeling position, Dirge hid his face under the folds of his cloak.
The Duke waved his hand dismissively from his high seat, and the guards immediately took a neutral stance weapons now at their sides the pair also backed up closer to the stage.
“Thank you, your royal grace; it’s so very kind of you to allow us your presence.” Dirge proclaimed with an inflated sweep of one arm sending his black cloak floating momentarily behind him. It was one of his favorite pastimes chiding the arrogant ruler whenever the opportunity arose, and he never missed and opportunity.
Duke Wayneright cleared his throat, looked down the bridge of his thin hooked nose, after a long moment he finally spoke.
“The mysterious Mr. Dirge, I am surprised to see you about in the daylight hours, you’re not known for charming the locals.” Wayneright huffed his voice waft and slightly effeminate.
Dirge kept his eyes down; hiding a smile beneath the dark folds of his cloak, after a moment he glanced up though he kept kneeling.
“I do try to keep to myself, but I could not resist the lure of seeing you among the commoners like myself, it was an honor too grand to be missed, my lord.” Dirge chided delighting in his own sarcasm.
“Yes I enjoy being among the people…” Wayneright rolled his eyes. “…of course there are some exceptions to that.”
Dirge remained low ignoring the insult. Behind him the music grew louder as did the mummer of the crowd.
“Tell me Mr. Dirge for how much longer will you be gracing our little town with your presence? I believe you said you were to leave when summer came to an end, correct?”
“No my lord, I intend to stay in Brackish until at least next spring your hospitality being one of many reasons I could not think of leaving.”
The Duke harrumphed, narrowed his eyes and waved his hand as if to dismiss him, his face did little to mask his frustration.
He had disliked Dirge almost from the moment he arrived nearly a year ago. This was mostly because of Duke Waynewright’s inability to handle rejection on any level. The moment they met the Duke became infatuated with Glade the Doomsteed a rare powerful beast which was a coveted possession and to own one would certainly elevate the mousy mans status amongst his fellow royalty. This in itself was laughable, as Dirge seriously doubted anyone truly respected the Duke. He was half tempted to allow the purchase just to see the man fail miserably at taking control of the volatile steed. The beasts were dangerous to say the least and the Duke would undoubtedly find out sooner than later should he ever acquire Glade.
“Thank you for taking the time to speak to a commoner like myself your royal benevolence.”
Dirge stepped back whilst bowing repeatedly and unnecessarily as he regressed to the doomsteed. He reached back and the beast positioned itself at his side, allowing him to take the reigns. Despite the creatures misgivings, and overall irritability it rarely misbehaved around others. No those were private matters and the monster somehow knew where the lines were drawn.
With Glade at his side Dirge walked slowly down the winding cobblestone street, past the bakery, blacksmith, and a florist. The pretty woman at the floral shop was busy arranging flowers but paused allowing her eyes to linger on Dirge, her lips slightly pursed the hint of a smile growing on her face. He met her gaze pulled back his cowl to return the smile, not all the townsfolk avoided him.
The citizens were innocents, and he was an anomaly, the odd stranger who rode a mythical beast. They could not be blamed for finding him curious, or frightening, he was by any stretch of the imagination both, and many more things.
It wouldn’t be difficult to skip it all; he could have avoided the stares and hushed whispers that followed him by simply leaving, or finding another less conspicuous place to reside. He could have simply had Glade leap to a rooftop and traverse the city unseen from high above. The Doomsteed was unnaturally nimble and could move with frightening silence when needed. All in all it wouldn’t be hard to avoid it, but something wouldn’t let him. It would all be too much like before, he had come here to a place where he wouldn’t have to hide anymore. He had chosen this backwater place which history would forget specifically because it was so detached, that and the other reason of course, a chill ran down his spine; that was something that he did not want to think about.