Crimson Sky: Eternal Sunset
Libraries: Original Fiction
Published on / 3 Chapter(s) / 0 Review(s)
Follow me on Twitter! @LexingtonCierra The sun goddess Asta Zura has been swallowed by the Netherbeast. The royal family is dead. Twilight has descended upon the world and hell beasts roam. Lark, suddenly cut adrift from everything he has ever known, follows the call of a magical pearl in the hopes of finding some way to free the captured goddess and escape the maw of the Netherbeast
Listen to this tale, old as the air and new as baby's breath. Listen, child and ancient, to this story of the End of Days.
Lark Hayward is a common man, born of uncommon heritage. The achievements he would have reached in his life could have been unsurpassed, if the sun hadn't been eaten. Our blessed Asta Zura, sun goddess and bringer of Life, has been consumed by a monster of the hell realm, known as the Netherbeast. In these dark twilight hours of the end of days, I start our story.
Lark headed toward the kitchens to beg a snack from the mistress who ran things there. The smells of baking bread and succulent meat dishes wafted through the air for several hallways before he ever saw the door to the kitchen. He'd been studying hard with his mentor Airech Gangrenge, the famous scholar and mage. Decorated by the King and Queen for his services to the realm, it was an honor to be given even a few minutes of his time. Lately, Lark had gotten more of his mentor's time than ever before. The more time he spent with the old man, the more surly Master Gangrenge became. Park of Lark worried that it was related to his studies or to something he had done, but the old man would occasionally reassure him that the pressure that the Master was struggling under was from something else. Lark was starting to worry about the old man's health, and frankly about the state of his mind. Master Gangrenge was once an active man, roaming the halls full speed, or as fast as an 80-something year old human can go, and speaking with everyone he came across. A friendly man, well liked by people at every echelon of power, it frightened Lark that he'd found his Master staring out of his window almost every day recently.
He shook his head to clear his worries, his light brown hair was damp with sweat from his studies with Master Gangrenge and stuck to his high forehead. The dark locks were a stark contrast to his pale skin. He tumbled lightly down the last few stairs to the kitchen with the fluidity of a young athlete. He stepped through the side entryway and stepped off to the side so he could pause and take a deep breath. He loved the kitchens. The savory scent of the roasted boar on the spit over the fire, hunted earlier that morning by his older brother, wafted through the air mingled with the scents of fresh baked bread. Fresh baked bread was a luxury that Lark fully appreciated. In fact, he deserved a bit of that bread after working so hard that morning. He stepped out from next to the door and crossed the kitchens with long strides. The servants ducked and dodged his approach with practiced ease. It was well known that he appreciated their skills. He said so, loudly, at almost every meal.
"Mama Alma!" He called, his rich baritone floating across the kitchen. The head of the kitchens stood next to stewpot, testing its contents. The new potboy looked on nervously.
"Mama Alma!" He called again. Mama Alma, turned to look in his direction and the fire's light highlighted her surprisingly thin frame. He'd heard once to never trust a skinny cook, but he trusted Mama Alma with his life. Quite literally since she was in charge of what he ate most days. Her black hair was held back by a handkercheif and twisted into a sweaty bun at the base of her neck. She stood a head taller than the new potboy, but that barely came to Lark's chest. The only part of her body that fit the expected look of a cook was the area right around her hips. If Lark were an older man, or Mama Alma a younger woman, he'd appreciate her figure in more than one way. But alas, she would always be Mama Alma to him. Almost a second mother, watching over him as he toddled around ignored by his older brothers and sister. The youngest of his family, he didn't have the same expectations on his life as the others did.
She waved a wooden spoon in greeting then nodded at the sideboard loaded with different breads. He could feel his mouth watering at the mere thought of the crackling crust. He followed her suggestion with relish, selecting a loaf of bread about a foot long and five inches around. He held it up to just under his nose and inhaled slowly and deeply. The warm scent of the glazed crust made him drool rather unappealingly. He cracked the loaf in half and smelled the wheaty inner bread, it's scent softer but much more moist. He grinned a devilish grin and bit heartily into the half he held in his right hand.
Mama Alma chose just that moment to approach of course. "My stars Master Lark! Where have you been these last few days! All cooped up with Master Gangrenge. It's not healthy. A young man like yourself needs to take a breath and move around, not rusting sitting about reading those dusty old books."
Lark grinned through his bite, " 'buh Moma Alma, if I don't work hard, however will I be able to enjoy this delicious food without becoming fully round?" Crumbs tumbled down his shaven chin and dusted his silk doublette.
Mama Alma swatted him playfully with her wooden spoon, "Oh go on with you!" her playful expression melted away, replaced by one of deep concern. "No joking now boy, what keeps you holed up there with Master Gangrege all the time. I haven't seen his face in my kitchens or at my tables in weeks. The serving girls say he doesn't touch the food I send up for him." Her face turned sad, "I worry for him, my lad. Is he facing the dark days?"
Lark hurried to reassure her that despite his advanced age, his mentor was still strong of mind, even as he doubted it himself. "He stresses about some cosmic event, Mama Alma, but his mind is just as sharp as ever. He keeps me hard at work learning all he says I need to know." He gave a full body shiver, "By the time he's done with me, Mama, I'll know a little of just about everything. He keeps me on a topic just long enough to make sure I understand it before he's ripping that book away and replacing it with another."
The half loaf in his right hand was gone, so he started making progress on the half in his left hand. Mama Alma didn't like seeing empty hands in her kitchen and set him to stirring a soup pot nearby while she filled him a mug of a mild ale to wash down the crumbs. "He's even taken away my time with Armsmaster Tyrendel!" he whined as he gave the soup an extra strong stir. "It's not that I particularly enjoy being swatted with wooden swords all afternoon and running hither and yon, but at least it's a change from the library's stuffiness." He took a long drink from the ale she handed him. "Lately all I'm doing is reading and being quizzed to test my comprehension." he set the empty mug on the table next to him and it was whisked promptly away by one of the kitchen workers. Mama Alma insisted on cleanliness. "I've barely seen my family these last few weeks!"
Mama Alma glanced away, "Not many have, Lark."
He gave her a questioning glance.
She half shrugged and started slicing the bread, keeping her hands busy while she talked. "No one has seen hide nor hair of any of your family in days. They're all of them caught up in meetings. It's making the staff nervous. They take comfort from seeing them all the time. When they keep to themselves it makes the people wonder that maybe something is going on that should worry us." She looked at him questioningly.
He answered her glance with a shrug. "I only know that there's some rare convergence in the constellations that Master Gangrenge is spending all of his time studying. He's kept me so cooped up that this is the first I've heard of this." He dusted crumbs from his hands. "If it'll make you feel better though, I'll go see if I can track one of them down and let you know what's going on. I don't like it when you worry. When you worry, the bread burns." He cheekily nudged her with an elbow and she waved the towel she constantly kept on her shoulder at him.
"I would appreciate it if you could, Master Lark. Not for my sake, but for the girls and lads of course." She finished the last of the loaves and loaded them onto large trenchers to accompany the noon meal for the soldiers in the barracks.
Lark hugged her with one arm around her shoulders, "For you, Mama Alma, I'd do most anything." He kissed top of her head affectionately and turned to go. Two steps away from her he turned back, "You know though, they could be in meetings. It could take awhile. A young man could practically starve tracking down family members." He put on his best puppy dog eyes and begged.
She laughed as she packed a string bag with two loaves of break, a large chunk of cheese, and some smoked sausage. It was enough to last a common man for days. Lark worried it wouldn't last him long enough to make it to dinner. "Scat with you, you rascal. Growing boys always eating my cupboards bare!"
Lark took the string bag and swung it over his shoulder, blew a kiss, and strode confidently back into the depths of the stonework building in search of one of his older brothers. They always knew what was going on in the kingdom.
If he'd known that was the last time he'd see Mama Alma, he might have told her just how much she meant to him. But he didn't.
He spent the next hour and a half trying to locate even one member of his family. But every time he thought he’d located one, he was told they’d moved to a new meeting. He’d been joking when begged the bread from Mama Alma, but as he leaned on a window ledge and snacked on his bread and sausage, he mused about how useful it was. He looked down into the court yard where his friends were sweating under the critical eye of Armsmaster Tyrendal. He quirked a smile at their misfortune. As hard as it had been to labor through Master Gangrenge’s tough lessons, it was better than getting all beat up.
He watched as they paired up to practice overhand strikes, his muscles twitched unconsciously along with their movements.
The change was so slow at first that he didn’t notice until the people practicing paused what they were doing and looked around apprehensively. He stopped what he was doing, a sausage slice half way to his mouth, and leaned further out. People were standing around confusedly, bathed in twilight even though it was only just past the lunch hour. Suddenly people were pointing up and yelling. Some ran inside in a furious panic. At least one of his friends fell to his knees and started praying. Lark couldn’t see what they were pointing at from his current window, but a shivery feeling in his chest told him that something was very wrong. He jumped from the windowsill and ran down the hall on the fastest route outside. He burst through a side door to the practice grounds, the bag of food swinging forgotten from his hands. As soon as he was clear of the shadow of the wall, he turned to look where everyone had pointed.
His breath caught in his chest and his brain struggled to comprehend what he was seeing. The embodiment of his beloved goddess was half covered by a dark shape. He struggled with the sight because he knew, intimately after his studies, that there was no eclipse today.
The distant sound of screams pierced his focus. His first instinct was to run inside to see what caused them, but a voice that sounded a bit too much like Armsmaster Tyrendel suggested that he run inside the nearby salle. His steps echoed on the wood floors of the abandoned building. Practice weapons and gear were strewn halfhazardly around the room, seemingly dropped right where they were when the panic started. He slid to a stop near an armor stand and shrugged into some studded leather. He grabbed one of the iron swords that more advanced students used and charged back through the salle door, across the grounds, and back into the halls.
He desperately wanted to locate his family, but he’d been trying to do that all morning. There was no way he’d manage it now. He turned his feet towards the tower where Master Gangrenge’s study was. He’d been worried about the sky for days, and now the sun was being blotted out by something unnatural. If anyone knew the answer, it would be Master Gangrenge.
He skidded around a tight corned and fan full force into one of the servant girls who cleaned this hallway. He stopped, his breath burning in his chest from the run, and pulled her to her feet.
“Savannah! What’s happening!” He demanded.
She stared at him with dilated pupils. “There are men inside. Everywhere. Men with black spirals on their faces! They’re killing anyone. Everyone.” She shoved him and sprinted down the hallway calling over her shoulder “Run Master Lark!”
He ran, but in the opposite direction. It was in his blood. Whenever there was trouble, instead of fleeing it, he must run towards it.
He took the tower stairs two at a time, “Master Gangrenge!” He called out when he reached the top. “Master Gangrenge!” He braced his hands on his knees for a quick moment. His breath rasped. He reflected momentarily that he had spent too much time in the library, and not enough with the Armsmaster.
When he’d caught some of his breath, he burst through the door.
His master’s precious books were splattered with blood. The tang of it assaulted his nose. He frantically looked around. There, crumpled in the corner, was his master. Standing over him was a man. Draped in red robes, he turned to look at Lark, the black spiral on his face gave it a haunted look.
Lark felt rage built up inside of him. He screamed, the sound tearing at his throat, and he charged the man whose scimitar dripped with his master’s blood. His heart hammered in his ears, making him deaf to Master Gangrenge’s quiet pleas that he run.
The man with the spiraled face raised his scimitar in a block at the last second and the swords clashed with a spray of sparks. Rage fueled him as Lark struck the man. The stranger stepped backwards and clutched his scimitar awkwardly in both hands. It didn’t take long for Lark to realize that he faced a man with very little sword skill.
“How does it feel to face a real swordsman!?” He cried as he came in low and sliced the man’s upper thigh. Lark wasn’t some 80 year old man, he was a man in his prime and this stranger who wounded his Master was about to learn the difference intimately.
Their swords clashed again. Their heaving breaths the only sound. Master Gangrenge lay still in the corner. The man in red with the spiral face stepped in and made a slice at Lark’s ribs. Lark tried to dodge out of the way, but the blood on the wood floor betrayed him and he slid to his knee. He got his sword up at the last second and deflected the stranger’s attack. But the force of it left a notch in Lark’s sword. It was only a basic metal practice sword, meant more for giving students a feel for the weight of a real sword.
Lark allowed himself to worry for a half a second, but that was all. He scrambled to his feet and the embattled men circled each other, looking for a weakness.
Armsmaster Tyrendel’s words echoed in his mind and he watched his enemy’s torso in order to predict his next move. So, he knew when the man made the decision to move, but he wasn’t expecting him to release his right hand from the hilt and point his palm at him. Lark had a brief second to realize he was fighting a magic user before a magic missile sailed like lightning between them and he felt a sharp stabbing pain in his left shoulder. He staggered back from the impact, his left arm hung useless at his side.
Thankfully, Armsmaster Tyrendel had drilled him for this. He pushed the pain to the back of his mind and shifted his grip on his short sword so he could wield it better. With his left arm out, he knew he would have to end this fight soon or the man with the spiraled face would win. A strange calm descended over him. He’d heard the men in the garrison talk about a ‘battle calm’ before, but he’d never experienced it.
With the eeiry calm he was able to analyze the situation. He noticed the long hardwood table behind the man and he slowly built a plan. With a breath for stability, he raised his sword and advanced. His goal wasn’t to injure the man, just to drive him backward. Slowly, he saw that it worked. Sweat streamed down his face, and the pain from his shoulder ached, but he persisted. The spiraled faced man took two steps backward, and fired another magic missile. But this time Lark was ready for it and managed to dodge. He eyed the table. He only needed to drive the stranger back one more step.
With a cry that echoed from deep in his chest, he struck again, his sword flashing in the lamplight. One, two, three times their swords met. Lark’s sword struck the fourth time, and with a flash it shattered. But he had achieved his goal. The stranger’s feet tangled in the legs of the table and he stumbled, falling to the floor. His red-robed arms flailed as he tried to regain his feet and Lark saw his opening. He lunged in and plunged his broken half of a sword into the stranger’s neck.
The man died quickly, but Lark didn’t pay him any attention. He only had eyes for Master Gangrenge. He crossed the distance between them with quick steps and fell to his knees. He pressed his hand against the wound in his master’s side. Faintly he remembered reading that pressure on a wound would slow the bleeding. But his master had already lost so much.
“Master?” He croaked, his voice raw. His heart sank at the blood all over his master’s fine clothes.
Master Gangrenge’s eyelids fluttered, and Lark’s heart leapt. He looked up at Lark with unfocused eyes. “Lark?” His voice was whispy and difficult to hear.
Lark leaned in closer, “master, hold on. I’ll get something to help.” He looked frantically around the room for anything that could help.
He felt his master’s hand on his cheek, he looked down into his stormy grey eyes.
Master Gangrenge’s voice was surprisingly strong. “Leave me, Lark. There are too many cultists for you to fight. You need to get away.”
Lark could feel tears starting in his eyes, and he shook his head silently, unable to speak through his emotions.
Master Gangrenge seemed to understand. He patted Lark’s cheek twice, then pointed towards his desk. “On my desk, there’s a gem.” He gasped and his face screwed up in pain. Lark’s tears fell unhindered now. “Take the gem, Lark. Guard it. It’ll keep you safe.” Master Gangrenge seemed to look at something over Lark’s shoulder, then his eyes refocused on his face. “Yes, it’ll keep you safe Lark. Take it and run. Don’t stop running. Asta Zura is gone.” A tear gathered at the corner of Master Gangrenge’s eye, but never fell. Master Gangrenge’s eyes closed, his tears unspilled.
Lark cried enough for th both of them as he climbed to his feet. The whole is his heart made it hard to breathe, but he knew he didn’t have any time. Where there was one cultist, there would be others. Numbly he walked to the desk and rifled through the drawers he’d never been allowed to open. Nestled on a pillow in the back of one of the drawers was the gem. It glimmered opalescent greens and blues. Roughly the side of his thumbnail, when he picked it up it weighed much more than he expected. But he didn’t have time to think about that. He pocketed it, and crossed the room to the cultist’s body. He searched the body as quickly as he could. He had regained some function in his left hand, but it rippled with pins and needles and was just about useless. He found a bottle he recognized as a potion of cure light wounds, and he quaffed it after a regretful look at his Master. Maybe if he’d given it to him in time... but he couldn’t think about that now.
He pushed the pain away and picked up the cultist’s scimitar. He would need a weapon of some kind. All he had was the armor on his body, the sword in his hand, and the gem in his pocket.
The order from the man who was closer than his father rang in his ears. Lark sheathed the scimitar and ran. Down the stairs, through a side door, and as far as he could.
The dark red light of the blocked sun lit his path while over his shoulder a blood moon rose.
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