The Book of the Fallen (sequel to Lord of Night) | Chapter Twenty-Four
Posted April 7th, 2018 by maxi
in Erissa, Erilea, Westeros, The New York Institute, Roshar, Scadrial, New Chicago, Eye of the World, Metallica and Questeria
A/N: I'm really enjoying Zali's journey. She's becoming more important to the storyline and I really hope it shows during book four.
The ship rocked to and fro against the blustering, chilly winds. The sky, touched by a coming storm, roiled with churning clouds—from which came veils of raindrops, shuddering down upon Zali and the hulking brute of a warrior that was Nikias. As the rain pelted down on their shrivelled bodies, Zali wrapped a frail blanket around herself as Nikias steered the small yacht into the general direction of the Darklands.
Throughout the duration of the two days they’d been sailing, they’d found a handful of supplies: rope, a pouch of dried fruit, a hunk of white cheese and the frail blanket. But, as Zali had come to notice, this didn’t bother Nikias one bit.
She jokingly wondered whether his full-blooded, male characteristics hinted towards not needing to eat. It always came as a mystery to her why he didn’t consume any of the food the commoners had left behind in the yacht.
And yet, she didn’t voice her opinion—if only because she was worried for his response.
In the past two days they hadn’t talked once. Not even to satisfy her needs to ask him for some food. Not even to talk about their journey. Nikias had only given her a particularly vulgar hand gesture and then turned back to what he did best: not talk.
She turned her back and then, once he wasn’t facing her, glared at him.
Before too long, she had cuddled herself deep into the blanket for long enough that she had forgotten where they were, what they were doing and if she was of any significance to her own life’s journey.
Rumour claimed fate had its grip on everyone—and would lead them down a path of supreme wellbeing.
Zali had stopped believing in fate years ago.
The storm had not awoken Zali from her slumber, and so, neither would Nikias.
He looked down at her, her eyes fluttering: the tell-tale signs of a nightmare.
He’d never gotten used to the nightmares, not as long as his warrior’s heart kept beating. All those long nights of darkness, of mercilessness and savagery had kept him up into the starry black. Had kept him wishing for a miracle, a wish that would never be answered.
And it still hadn’t. Even as he kept searching for his immortal band of warriors, even as he sought out the people who had kept faith instilled into his heart… Nothing would stop the oncoming tide of war, nor the nightmares that kept pounding into the catacombs of his memory.
The rain had stilled and reduced into a light trickling of droplets. They plummeted from the Above in a sky-fall, tumbling head over heels as they landed atop Nikias’s head. He had hoped for the waves to stop lapping against each other, but the consistent beat of the oceanic waters didn’t fall flat. They only continued.
He watched the girl before him. So little had been given to him—so little information had been gleaned from the gods. He’d known nothing of her, and yet, had stalked into his life like coincidence or fate or the working force behind the gods had guided him.
Guided him by the heels of his feet.
He flexed his muscles, the prized possession of many ladies and men who had come before his last. Although he had many lovers, love had been replaced by death these days.
And death had been his best friend for too long.
No longer would he count the unmarked graves that had been planted by his hand, by his work. He’d been the one to cut them down like stalks of wheat in a field, but he wasn’t the one to bargain with for the resurrection of such innocents.
A warrior he was, but a hero he was not.
And perhaps the Stand could be thanked for that, or congratulated, or tortured… But he would never step back into the battlefield—not without a hand on his heart.
He breathed out into the rain-edged winds, the stormy winds that knocked the vessel around like an axe smashing against a skull.
His breath swirled out in front of him, a chilly, wintry thing. He’d heard of the coming winter, but Nikias had never felt this cold before. This cold, out in the oceans, was something wicked and otherworldly. It seeped into his bones, gnawing through his muscles and skin.
He’d been on the battlefield too many times and never had he ever been up against something so deceitful. The cold was an enemy.
The cold and Death—these had been his faithful companions as of late, a blessing and a damning.
Nikias leaned into the storm, shifting the wedge of wood right. In response, the boat jostled to the left—a counterpart to the wood. The winds roared around him like an untamed beast as the vessel leaped out of one wave and crashed into the next.
He sighed. Let in a deep breath and, once he exhaled, out came his other companion: magic.
A protective field, invisible only to those outside, engulfed the boat, Nikias and Zali. He could feel the magic tingling across his skin, clinging onto him like a lover. Colour and image flashed together before the magic was hidden with a veil of sightlessness, some other kind of magic that he hadn’t fully comprehended yet.
Once Zali awoke, she would feel the magic around her. But, for now, the magic protected her from the cold. Anytime she or he moved, the magic would move with them—but would never let in the water holding the boat aloft.
The coming wave didn’t crash into the boat, nor spill in a tonne of water. The water parted for them, slicing down the middle and spilling out onto opposite ends of the protective field Nikias had put up in its wake.
Satisfied with the direction of the boat and the safety of both him and Zali, he sat on the only unoccupied bench in the vessel and went into heavy thought.
He wasn’t the only one in his band of warriors with magic. Even though nobody in Questeria—anybody he knew, at least—hadn’t a clue what or who their magic had originated from, they did know where it had come from.
From what Nikias had gathered, magic—the simplest form of it, like he had, or that of Infusion or Decay—came from some act in one’s life that spurred instant, dominating rage. That rage flooded into the pool of magic (depending on if it was inside you) and exploded, exposing your powers.
The actual origins of it… Nikias hadn’t a clue. It could be from the gods, it could be from All. If the warrior was truthful, he couldn’t give a damn. Magic had done more evil to him than it had done good. It had brought corruption into his soul, festering his heart.
It had done horrific sins to his life.
And this was why he thanked it.
As if the sources of his sins had awakened the girl, Zali woke from her slumber, her eyes fluttering as she did so.
There was something different about the girl. It wasn’t that she was clever or magic-instilled or quick with a weapon.
Or, perhaps, she was all those things but there was something that shone out the most, like a hoard of treasure.
He just couldn’t put his finger on it.
Zali’s eyes widened as soon as the feel of the magic ensconced her entire form, her being. The question in her eyes was underlined by the determination hidden beneath the question. Like some foreign hero, it lurked there. She just didn’t know what she was capable of.
She came to once he glanced at her, his mouth agape, and then slammed his lips back together as if talking would make things worse. However, she needed an explanation for the magic. Either she didn’t agree with the gods’ gifts or she had it, too… And was worried what Althulor would do once His Dark Majesty came running for her.
“You’re awake,” he grumbled, damning himself for even opening his mouth. Surprise gnawed him alive—that he had spoken, that she even responded to him.
“What did you do?” she asked. The question had been coming, no doubt, but there was no aggression wrapped around it. He could only hint out the fascination and the interest that lingered there, only as if she were searching for answers.
“I don’t think you really want to know. What you should know is that you won’t be cold anymore. I’ve saved you from it.”
“How?” she asked, her voice like an echo. A stone plunked into the ocean. “That’s not possible. It couldn’t be… Unless…” But there was no surprise in her face, none at all, as he said the words. As if she already knew what was coming.
“I have magic,” he confessed. “I—I’m sorry if I woke you, Zali, but someone’s got to do the work around here. Since you were asleep, I just thought it would be good if I… If I used my…”
She merely shook her head and waved her hand out in front of her. “In the Stormlands, my… Jard… used to teach me about the history of Questeria. Magic has been lurking around the world for ages, aeons. It’s only come back now after a hundred years. After looking deep into royal chronicles, volumes, genealogies and family trees, a hundred years isn’t that far from now than you think.”
She was right… And she was wrong. He had been alive longer than a hundred years. He remembered all those days when he was out hunting with his companions. And yet, not a single moment of happiness yielded itself to his memory.
It had been too long since he’d seen his friends, his family. His people. Too long and those memories had morphed, shifted as time went on.
But his heart, his yearning for a future back with them, would never be altered no matter what destiny brought him.
“What else were you taught?” He was careful not to use Jard’s name. Even though she’d said it outright, a stranger speaking a loved one’s name was sure to curse them in the long run. He’d known enough of this himself. Every time someone mentioned his family, his heart shattered.
Every. Damn. Time.
“I was taught that stories come and go, but they never leave memories.” Lie. “I was taught that magic was a burden and a curse and a joy.” Truth. “I was taught that there is more to war than waiting to kill your enemies. There is hope for a future. But that’s not what people received in the dawn of time.” Truth.
The question wasn’t precisely answered the way he’d intended, but Nikias was thankful for the response nonetheless. He’d wanted to know about the history that predated Questeria itself. What had been here before man had invaded? What foul creatures had prowled upon dark earths? He’d wanted to know this—and more.
But he supposed the now, the present, was better than knowing the mistakes of people unrelated to him. War gave him no pleasure at all, but the satisfaction was still there—in hitting the target, in slaughtering those who had wronged you.
The rain thundered upon the unbeatable field around them. Unbeatable compared to the rain, yes, but he wasn’t completely sure about enemies hammering weapons down on the field.
“Who are you?”
He hadn’t expected the question to come from her mouth. However, now that he thought of it, she was bound to ask at some point in their journey. The stormy weather around them did nothing to pull their conversation to a close.
She watched him, eyes wavering under the look of his own, as he said, “I’m Nikias. I’m a warrior and I’m in search for my people. I’ve been doing this for… For ten years now and I’m not sure how long it’ll be before their souls are forever melted away into the Darkness.”
He could’ve sworn darkness flashed in her eyes. “I’m… I’m sorry about that. I don’t know if it’ll help or anything, but I have no family left. My father has been corrupted by the power of Decay”—she winced as she said it, a blow right to her human heart—“and my mother has abandoned me, although I haven’t a clue why. My best friend, Ilma, got lost in the storm of the battle against the Dark Gods. And Jard… I haven’t seen him. Anywhere.”
Everyone had a sob story. Everyone had some horrors clinging onto their lives, everyone had something to worry about. He just hadn’t heard of anybody’s losses in so long. It drained him to remember that others had their problems too.
He’d found that the only reason he didn’t like talking to others was for that reason… That other people got lost in a labyrinth of emotions and, soon enough, he began to feel sympathy for them.
No tears rolled down his cheek, but his face—his cheeks—felt hot with the rage that had been burning through him ever since learning Althulor’s true intentions: to destroy Questeria and all realms far beyond. All worlds, too.
Distinguishing such life by attaining possession of the darkest armies was the worst thought he’d ever had. And yet, that was Althulor’s disturbed thought process. All the darkness swept in like a shadowy hand had cast itself upon his heart.
He looked down at Zali from his massive height and grimaced.
“I think you’ll find that even in the darkest of realms, there is a sliver of light,” Nikias said, a shadow passing over his face. “So you find that hope, hold onto it tight, and never let go.”
“Whenever that hope comes, I’m praying it doesn’t leave me.”
There was such sadness in this girl. This poor, dark girl who had given everything to the world, or what he’d gathered, and had received nothing from it. Perhaps she didn’t believe in karma, but he did.
He believed that, if you gave, you received—and in the same manner.
This radiating, pounding, undulating sadness that poured out of Zali came from the memories that had been implanted in her brain since the battle with the Dark Gods. She had not been a part of it, at least not in the militaristic defences, but she had gotten a taste of misery.
And, despite what she thought of karma, it had gotten a taste of her in return.
Perhaps she had given to that ferocious darkness that was the battle, perhaps it instilled hope into the battle.
Maybe, just maybe, there was still hope in this woman.
“Why are we going to the Darklands? You said that we were going there to find Ilma, but we aren’t in the direction of the Darklands. I’ve travelled there before on a trade route with my cousin and this… This isn’t the way.”
Shit. He’d hoped she wouldn’t notice the direction their vessel was headed and, alas, she had confounded his plan. In some distant future, he hoped she would find the girl once again and thank her for being so intelligent yet not spiteful towards him.
If he were in her position, there’d be no stopping him from ripping into whoever lied to his face.
“I lied,” he admitted, letting out a sigh.
She exploded, “Why. There’s plenty of reason for her to be in the Darklands and none for her to be anywhere else. Ilma had been taken away, but I doubt it would be to anywhere else than the heart of the empire—where the Shadow King rules!”
“I lied because I know where she is.” He steeled his nerve and then dove in, like a wave taking him afloat, “While I was battling the Raptured, trying to find you, I saw your friend taken away from you. I saw her screaming, taken away by… I can’t tell you. Not until we reach where we’re going. The only reason why I tried to find you—you specifically, Zali—is because your… because he told me to. He grabbed me, knowing my face and knowing what I stood for, and told me to look after you. To make sure you got somewhere safe.”
Her face looked like one of her questions had been answered—why he’d tried to find her. She let out a wheezy breath before saying, “Where are we going?”
“We’re…” His breath caught. He still wasn’t sure. Wasn’t sure if he wanted to expose her to this sort of world. Not when she had already been through so much. Not when those nightmares plagued her mind and she still hadn’t seen the rest of the world. So much exploring to do—and yet so much darkness beyond. “We’re going to the Lightlands. To the Forest of Kinchar. Your friend was taken by the creatures there and we’re going to save her before she’s taken by the Rogue, their leader.”
“You’re lying,” she murmured, her eyes meeting with his. There was some sort of warning within that gaze, but Nikias let it pass.
“I’m afraid not. I wanted to tell you earlier, but it would’ve been harder for you to deal with. And ever since coming on the boat, ever since leaving the Dreamlands… It would have cut right through you. Would have been more painful than it is now.”
As she looked at him, she seemed to go into some faraway world. Her face was solemn—pretty, but solemn. Her words had stilled and morphed into something alien and ancient as she said, “How do you know it wasn’t some other girl? That it was… her?”
“I’ve been looking for my family for a long time,” he said. It was no guesswork, but it was pure predatory gazes and wandering into lush lands. “You’d think that would help me seek one girl.”
Silence fell upon them.
The crashing of the waves, the wind whipping the waters, the stormy rains up ahead… They all became distant, prolonged as the world fell away.
Zali broke the silence with teary words, “You’re going to help me find her.” Not a request, a question—but an order. Like an army commander demanding rescue of his men. “There is no waddling around that.”
“I know.” He gulped. Never, for so long in his life, had he been afraid by someone who he’d just belittled. It had been some time ago that a woman had scared him, but this one… Fear seeped deep into his bones, gnawing through him.
“Ilma…Ilma is my friend. If you don’t help me find her, I’ll make sure your kith and kin don’t ever come back to you. All they’ll find is your body hanged up on the Shadow King’s castle walls.”
Shame, embarrassment, prodding guilt warmed his face as he nodded, curling into himself. His hair, tied up in a bun, bobbed as the boat gently waved in the ocean.
“I’ll need your assistance to do so,” he started. “But I will help you find her. Kinchar is a maelstrom of monsters and men ruling over them. I’m praying to your soft-hearted gods that they can throw you a bone. That they can aid us.”
Zali only shook her head mercilessly, feigning casualness as she leaned back against the boat. Shifted her head to get into a more comfortable position and, once she found one that benefitted her, closed her eyes into sleep’s dominance.
Nikias stared off into the distance, the thunderheads above churning their great masses. Rain continued to spill down from the maws of the clouds. Grey and black and white—that’s all the world consisted of beyond his view.
Although he yearned for sleep, for at least a moment of shut-eye, there were too many thoughts on his mind. Too many complications filling his head.
For one, he didn’t know whether they would arrive on the shores of the arid beaches of Darklands…or if their carcasses would wash up first. And another: he could’ve sworn there was a trace of magic in the air—one other than his own. This one tasted foul, fell, like some dark beast hovered up above.
But he paid it no heed. Especially since his inevitable end didn’t nerve him as much as it should’ve.
Especially since Death was close to him now—and he might as well just become it before it claimed him entirely.
Nikias cast his eyes to the squall and dark of the storm ahead, his vision tracing along every edge and nook and cranny in his line of sight.
Fortunately, there were no dangers ahead to pounce on Zali, his companion.
Unfortunately, there were no dangers ahead to disturb him.
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