It was sometime past midnight when Isidore saw the dim reflection of the moon on the ground. Dropping the reins of his mare, he knelt, letting his pants soak in water from the soil. His eyes, accustomed to the dark foliage, managed to make out what seemed to be a handle. He frowned gently, letting his hands wrap around it before pulling.
The soft shriek of steel against sheath sounded loud in the silent forest. It was only in the light of the moon that he saw what had caused the shine in the first place. Runes created of a very special material lined the hilt, making it glow softly as he raised the blade. Painted along the steel, he could make out more runes, some that he recognized, others that he did not. It was when the sword started glowing the same color as the full moon that he realized what he was holding. It was the Blade of Sorrows; the ancient blade of ruined times whose power had been unleashed to destroy a creature of myth.
A soft whimper snapped the Loner out of his thoughts, his eyes swinging to stare at where the sheath of the famed blade remained. A cautious hand brushed aside the undergrowth, jerking the branches to the side the moment he saw pale skin. Jamming the sword into the ground, he gently dragged the unconscious form out. Flipping it over, he could make out the features of a young boy, his face covered with what seemed to be dirt and blood.
The tattered shirt showed the gashes that lined the boy’s chest and torso. One of his wrists was bent at an awkward angle, leading the Loner to believe it was broken. His pants were torn in various places. It seemed that some were from getting caught on the branches, while others seemed too clean to be from stray ends pulled by the trees. The boy’s breathing was shallow, occasionally ending in a gasp or a whimper that told the Loner there were either cracked or broken ribs.
Isidore cringed as he finished his assessment, gently brushing the bangs back along the boy’s forehead. His hand felt the warm skin underneath and he knew instantly that the boy was suffering a fever. “Phira.” His mare trotted over, letting the Loner loosen the saddle. “We’re staying here for tonight.” A soft neigh answered his words and Phira lowered herself, letting her stomach press against the cool ground.
He patted her sides, pulling out his bags before setting to work on the unconscious form. He stripped the teen of his shirt, washing the dirt and blood off as much as he could. Fingers prodded the chest, wincing as he found the broken ribs. He gently wrapped the thin frame with clean bandages, efficiently setting and binding the wrist before removing the boy’s weapons and equipment. Setting the belongings down next to the bed roll, Isidore gently carried the teen, placing him inside its folds, pulling the blanket to his chin. He soaked a spare cloth with his remaining water, placing it on the boy’s forehead. “Guard Phira.” He heard an answering neigh and he made his way into the forest.
His mind wandered as he collected branches that were dry enough to start a fire. His water flask hung at his waist, waiting to be refilled at the river nearby. Yet, even as he went about setting up camp and checking his unconscious companion, he couldn’t help the questions that roared in his mind.
Who is he? Why does he have the Blade of Sorrows? What’s his connection to the destruction of the village? Was this what Ewald was talking about? The end of silence for the clan?
Isidore sighed, running a hand through his hair as he tried to puzzle out what he knew and what he didn’t. What really made his head hurt, was that the teen held most of the answers to his questions and unfortunately, he had a feeling that tonight was going to be the calm before the storm.
The embers had died out some time ago, though some still clung to life as the Protectors rode through the destroyed village. The eldest of the team frowned, cringing as bodies were gathered while some of the green members emptied out what remained in their stomachs. “Sir Roland, the whole village was slaughtered. Children were caught in flames with mothers and it seems every warrior that was here was left dead in the streets.”
Roland nodded, his eyes closing as he began a moment of silence for the dead. He figured as much when they had first rode in. There were no signs of life that he could tell and that meant the lives of his two apprentices had ended as well. Swinging off his horse, he strode through the village, pausing to watch his men move the rubble to gather the corpses. He paused in front of one in particular when the killing wound caught his eye.
The techniques that had caused these wounds were extremely similar to his own style. Swallowing his disbelief and terror, he quickly glanced at the waist, terrified to see the damage that had killed one of their own. The wound had stabbed clear through to the other side and was pulled, creating a new exit from the body while slashing through one of the kidneys. It was a technique that he had taught the twins, and with a sinking feeling, he realized that one and only one of them had taken to it well.
He found himself in front of a burned home, a corpse laying just to the side of the entrance. A quick glance confirmed his fears. It was the younger of his two apprentices. Emerald eyes stared blankly at the full moon that covered the remains of the village in a soft silvery light. A wound, directly through the heart, was the killing blow. And Roland knew his eldest apprentice well; there would be no other wound.
Roland ran a hand over his face, cursing fate, cursing what he had to do and most of all, cursing off Itel, his most gifted student who had turned his back on everything that had been taught. He signaled for one of the guards, his voice echoing in the solemn silence that had overtaken his company’s cheerful and playful banter.
“Alert the Elders that one of our clan has deserted. Smother the flames and pay respect to the dead.” The guard nodded in understanding, his eyes leaving the form of his captain to scan the destroyed village. “My unit and I will deal with the traitor personally. Itel will face take the full consequences of betrayal.”