Varic's Tale

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
A man is sent to investigate the disappearances in a foreign kingdom.

Submitted: April 07, 2014

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Submitted: April 07, 2014



Dead trees quivered in the night wind. The moonlight fell upon the Dark Valley, amplifying the dull gray of the ash that blanketed the quiet land. Ash twirled in the wind and then settled again, as if ghosts were playing in dead snow. The sound of no bird or any other animal graced the valley, only the whistling of the wind passing through the trees. Between the wind and ash twirling through the air walked a figure, draped in a cloak as pale as the moonlight, a great sword slung across his back. The hood over his head concealed his grim face, but his eyes glowed like the pale light draping over the valley. The man’s gait was steady and balanced, even though he was trudging through a series of undulating hills blanketed with ash that may have been three feet deep in some places. To Varic of Lohr’ea, this was the landscape of demons and myths. He believed in no such things.

The mountain that loomed over the valley had erupted three hundred years ago, the locals had told him. It was the last fiery howl of a demon -nay, an old god- beneath the ground, spewing hateful fire and ash across the valley, wrath and death and darkness. Damnation. The locals said it was the Punishment. As Varic marched he couldn’t help but feel awed by this place. There was something hard beneath his boot as he stepped,

Another rock.

and then a familiar, sickening crunch. He paused, withdrew his foot, and thrust his gloved hand into the soft gray. The thing resisted him at first, but his strength was not to be matched. He withdrew a skull. Apart from where his boot had crushed part of it in, there was no other damage to the bone that he could find.

Buried during the eruption, he thought.

His pale eyes admired the bone.

Amazing this is what we are underneath.

He dropped the skull. It fell into the ash and was partially buried, its eye sockets looking up at him.  He carried on in the quiet night as the dead mountain loomed some thirty miles to the northwest. The locals explained that every so often the old god would release a weak gasp and spew more ash into the valley, but that the time between each gasp was becoming longer and longer, and that there was never any fire, that eventually the old god would gasp his final breath.

Varic found it funny how they did not fear their old god but feared going into the Valley, which they said was his domain. The locals lived in a walled town called Ghor Ma’Tai, which Varic roughly understood to mean the low city. It did not make much sense to Varic, given that the city was high in the mountains, but then he supposed it was low compared to the overall height of the mountains. Ghor Ma’Tai was not a member-state of the Realm, but maintained friendly ties with King Beric and his subject-kingdoms. The rulers of Ghor Ma’Tai’s neighboring kingdoms describe the low city as reclusive with a surly king, dwelling within the mountains. The eruption three hundred years ago only strained ties between Ghor Ma’Tai and the neighboring kingdoms. Word from the mountains had reached King Beric’s Realm, saying that Andor’Ro was swallowed by ash and all of its inhabitants killed, while Ghor Ma’Tai was on the edge of the volcano’s reach and nearly swallowed up itself. No one outside of the Vale wanted to travel so close to the destruction. Communication between Ghor Ma’Tai and the Realm became rare and infrequent until recently, when the Du’Goro, roughly translated to the Protector of the City, of Ghor Ma’Tai requested help from the Realm to deal with a “series of abductions headed by the Ash King in the Valley,” which the Realm believed to be utter nonsense. Ghor Ma’Tai, strange as they were, was the only kingdom in the Eastern Mountains since the eruption. However, something as serious as abductions could not be taken lightly, so King Beric charged the Jagryn to investigate this matter.  

Varic paused atop a hill and gazed down into the Dark Valley. Ghor Ma’Tai was some twelve miles behind him, a day’s worth of travel that had taken almost three due to the deep ash and unforgiving landscape. Down in the Valley somewhere were the ruins of Ando’Ro, where the Du’Goro had claimed the abductors were from.


Once Varic was ordered to investigate the abductions of Ghor Ma’Tai, it took him three weeks on horseback to travel from Castle Vren to the outer gates of Ghor Ma’Tai. The walls of the city were old and weathered, made of large bricks stacked, supported with timbers, and glossed over with clay plaster. The walls had seen better days, the aging clay plaster was cracked and worn away in many spots, revealing the old bricks and decaying wood underneath. Some of the most impoverished places Varic had ever visited were in a similar state. Two men, who immediately stood out as guards, were posted beneath the gate, their dirty faces solemn and gaunt. Varic guessed they were both in their late twenties, but their posture suggested to Varic that they were men who had their youth stomped out of them long ago. As Varic approached, one addressed him.

“You there, rider. What is your business here in Ghor Ma’Tai?”

The guard eyed Varic and his gear with cautious eyes.

Varic urged his horse to approach the gate.

“I am Varic of Lohr’ea. Jagryn for King Beric. I was chosen to answer the summons of Du’Goro Reck.” Varic made sure to learn the proper pronunciation of both title and name. He learned long ago that such courtesies, if not done properly, could result in punishment, whether that be imprisonment, slavery, banishment, or beheading.

The guard that addressed him answered.

“Jagryn, we have been expecting you for nearly a moon’s cycle now. If only you could have arrived sooner. Since we dispatched our call for help three more of our people have gone missing.”

“I pray you can find them, Jagryn,” the other guard said.

“Enter the city, the Du’Goro will send a man to greet you.”

The first guard nodded to the second guard, who ran off into the city, presumably to alert the Du’Goro of Varic’s arrival.

As Varic passed through the gate, instead of cobbled roads he saw mud and dirt crudely blanketed with straw, refuse, and shit. Some traces of ash were visible immediately, collected where the wind was most likely to deposit it: beneath the thatched tiles of roofing, caked in the corners of windows facing the mountain, and caught in almost every other crevice imaginable. The woods surrounding Ghor Ma’Tai were not nearly as lush and lively as in some of the more beautiful places in the Realm, obviously due to the eruption, but were green and healthy as far as Varic could tell. To the north, Varic could see the green and brown turn to gray as the landscape climbed down towards the Valley, it was like an artist had forgotten to finish painting.

In the square around Varic were the poor and sick, the beggars and users. A large well was in the center, a bucket constructed of bloated and cracked wood was tied to a post beside the well. Most of the buildings around him appeared to be dwellings, but Varic saw a stable and tavern, but all were constructed by the same method as the outer wall and looked as such. Children were playing with a stray dog. A few men and woman sat around a campfire, cooking some animal. Their clothing was tattered and dirty. He glanced up the hill and spotted a larger building that could only be the citadel. It was made of white stone and towered over the rest of Ghor Ma’Tai. As Varic was about to dismount a man appeared in the crowd up the street. He was dressed in a black robe. A crest, in the form of an owl in flight was stitched across his chest in white silk. Behind the man walked a young lad dressed in a similar black robe, which Varic presumed to be a servant. When the pair reached Varic, the man in the robe spoke.

“I am Vizek, Du’Goro Reck’s Master of House, and have been sent to greet you. We have been waiting for you, Jagryn. Was your journey tiring?”

Vizek was a short man, not exactly portly but he was balding. The servant behind him was a head taller and probably a third his age too.

 “It was three weeks from Castle Vren in the Reedlands,” Varic replied, “Indeed I am tired but my duties always come first. When would the Du’Goro like to see me?”

“The Du’Goro will not be expecting you until the evening’s dinner. I was instructed to give you this.”  Vizek withdrew a leather strap tied to a silver medallion from his pocket and placed it in Varic’s hand. It was a thick medallion, stamped on the one side with the ornate flying owl sigil and on the reverse side had what Varic could only presume to be Du’Goro Reck’s profile. Varic put the leather strap around his neck and carefully put the medallion beneath his cloak.

“Present that sigil to any inn or tavern in Ghor Ma’Tai and you will be able to reside there free of charge. It is a courtesy extended to you from Du’Goro, as a token of friendship towards King Beric and his subjects,” Vizek said.

Du’Goro Reck has my sincerest gratitude, Varic replied, bowing his head.

Vizek continued, “My servant here, Jeb, will accompany you and your horse to the tavern of your choosing. He will meet you outside the tavern an hour before the evening’s meal is to be served and accompany you to the citadel.”

Varic nodded.

“Now, any questions you have you may address to Jeb, I have other duties at the citadel which require me immediate attention.” Vizek bowed and turned swiftly on his heel, nearly slipping in the mud, and headed back up the hill towards the white stone citadel.

Varic looked at the servant, Jeb, and said, “Tell me the three worst places to stay in this town.”

“Sir?” the youth stuttered. The boy was probably expecting to name the three best places to stay at; no doubt they would be up the hill towards the citadel.

“The three worst, and give reasons,” Varic repeated.

“Oh, well, there’s the Hog’s Den, which is right over there. I hear all sorts of mind altering herbs and potions pass through there on a nightly basis.”

Varic nodded and grunted in approval, which seemed to ease Jeb’s nerves a bit.

“There’s the Feather Nest, which is a bit up the hill on the west side. There’s all manner of men that frequent there, some looking to fight, some looking to gamble, some looking to –uh, have relations with the women of the establishment-“

“It's a brothel?” Varic said.
“Yes, sir. But not officially, it's a tavern, but those who frequent it are all looking to drink-”

 “Sounds like my kind of place. Take me there then,” Varic said.

The idea of stepping foot in such a place appalled him, but the servant did as he was bid. Jeb walked beside Varic and his steed, resting a hand on the leather harness and the horse’s muzzle. Jeb led him up the hill until they turned down a left side street. They passed by various homes, all looking in need of some kind of repair. When they came upon another main street, Jeb took him right, up the hill towards a blind alley, at the end of which, was a large wooden sign depicting a lovely carving of a nest made of feathers.

Outside of the tavern, Jeb tethered Varic’s horse to the post and asked him, “Sir, why here? Ghor Ma’Tai is not as lowly as the neighboring kingdoms may say, we have many other taverns here that have a more, uh, civil atmosphere.” There was a hint of anger, or maybe embarrassment in the youth’s voice.

“I’m blending in,” Varic said coldly. “If the people abducting your citizens are within the city, what will they think if they see a new arrival, armed such as I and wearing gear such as I, being greeted by you and your master, stay in one of your civil taverns? I go to a place like this,” he motioned a thumb towards the sign above his head, “to blend in. I’ll appear as any wandering sell-sword won’t I? To the common observer your master would have instructed you to send me to one of the common taverns.”

Jeb nodded and said, “I see sir. My apologies.”

Varic nodded and said, “Stop calling me sir. You may leave me.”

Jeb nodded and quickly said, “I shall return an hour before the evening’s dinner.”

As he quickly turned to elave, Varic grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him close, “Be concealed in a cloak, something dirty, maybe a used cloth from your kitchens. You leading me to this tavern, is you leading a wandering thug. You waiting outside and escorting me to the citadel is something else entirely. Understand?”

Jeb nodded, growing red in the face. Varic released him and watched as the youth stormed down the street.

I imagine that boy’s cursing me and his master.

Varic looked up and the alley and saw no one. Most of the common folk would be working or toiling away, either in the few fields or in the forests, hunting or chopping wood. He didn’t know much about Ghor Ma’Tai but knew he had to learn fast. A chilling thought occurred to him. The streets feel empty because they are empty. He through to the gray forest he had seen north of the city, and the Dark Valley that was supposedly home to those behind the abductions. Varic pet his horse across the shoulder and said, “I think we’re in for some dangerous hunting.”



The valley was below him, and he pondered how deep the ash could truly be. Along the path and through the hills from Ghor Ma’Tai, the ash was thick and almost to knee height. Could it be waist deep in the valley? Or even higher?

You’ll soon find out.

He motioned to take his first step downward when he heard a new sound behind him. His reflexes were quick, spinning around and having his hand on the hilt of his sword as he heard the sound again. An almost smacking sound. There was another figure in the ash, crouching down where he had found the skull. The figure rose and he realized it was a skeleton, that the sound he had heard was it trying to reposition its skull atop its vertebrae. The skeleton raised its skull above its head and jammed it down hard, again filling the Jagryn’s ears with that smacking sound. This time the skeleton got it right. Bony fingers moved along its jaw. All of this happened while Varic stood motionless, half crouched, hand on his sword, cloak over his head. The skeleton clicked its jaw three times and then moved its head towards Varic, the empty, blackened sockets directed at him. The skeleton then stood upright, arms outstretched, and what Varic saw next frightened him. Wind began to blow around the skeleton, ash twirling around, accumulating on the bones to form a layer of muscle, and then skin, and then armor.

Varic had never seen such magic before, and this was magic, true magic, not the kind that traveling self-proclaimed magicians and tricksters would sport; their phony magic was nothing but an illusion to fool the weak-minded. This was real. The skeleton, now an ashen soldier by the look of his armor, stood twenty feet from Varic, its arms still outstretched. It slowly moved its new body, the arms first, then its head, and then it took a slow step. It was strangely amusing, like a child learning to walk. The ashen soldier then looked at Varic again. The Jagryn noticed that the figure before him had a wound, where he had crushed part of the skull with his boot. This ashen soldier before him only had one eye; the left side of its face was sunken in and slowly spilling ash. The figure knelt in the ash. It reached a hand beneath the surface and stood upright again, drawing forth a blackened sword of some stone that Varic guessed was volcanic rock.

In an instant the ashen soldier was upon him, sword to the side and behind, drawn back to strike. Varic drew his own weapon, his training working with him, for the moment, and was able to block the soldier’s attack. The soldier opened his mouth in a silent scream and drew back, preparing for another swing. Varic positioned his sword to block the attack and with his right hand punched the soldier in its empty eye. Ash exploded from the figure and Varic felt his fist connect with bone again. The soldier staggered back, raising a hand to its face, as if in shock. Varic did not want to waste any more time dealing with this monster. He swung his sword down, building momentum, and then raised it over his head. By the time the skeleton realized a blow was coming, Varic was smashing his great sword down through the skeleton’s skull. His blow shattered the already fractured skull and split the spine nearly in two down to the bottom of the ribcage. The ashen soldier collapsed to his knees. As Varic pulled his sword, the ashen skin and muscle fell away, and only a kneeling skeleton was left. Varic kicked it hard and let the bones scatter.

Panting, he examined his sword. No blood. Only fragments of old bone and a few flecks of ash. He wiped them off and sheathed his sword upon his back.

Old god, he thought. His pale eyes turned towards the dead mountain in the distance.

What evil is at work here?

He sat down in the ash and felt the adrenaline thinning in his system. In the fourteen years he had been a Jagryn, he had never encountered anything like this. Whatever was abducting the people of Ghor Ma’Tai, wherever they were being taken to, Varic feared for them.

© Copyright 2018 Teddy Paulson. All rights reserved.

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