For hours the stallions powered along the road, whooshing past wagons and ponies that also took the track. The wind was rushing past them, and Karraj's scarlet hair fluttered out behind her like a shimmering veil. It must have been nigh upon noon before they guided their steeds over to the river for refreshing. Karraj slipped off the dark back of Azarax and drank beside her steed, taking cupfuls of liquid in her hands and bringing them to her mouth. The others too carefully and clumsily clambered off their horses, and plopped themselves down on the soft grass by the water.
“Well that was the most uncomfortable few hours of my life.” moaned Vincent as he lay down upon the grass.
“I am assuming you are not used to horses?” asked Karraj standing up from the river and waltzing over to Vincent.
“I used to be actually. When I was younger, a lot younger, before I fled to the skies. Now I'm afraid I just can't handle it!” Vincent smirked, rubbing at his lower half in attempt to restore feeling and banish the pain.
“I see. I could never give up riding. I simply adore horses.” Reaching round, she patted Azarax on the rump.
After a small meal, the group were once again on the road, a cloud of dust behind them. Under the warm waves of the sun, the horses slowed to a steady trot. Within a few hours, they had came to the section of road where the river began to turn away to the north. Taking the opportunity for a final helping of fresh water, the group settled down for a late lunch.
“So, why do you lot have instructions from the King? You don't strike me as soldiers.” asked Karraj as she took a bite into an apple.
“Oh no! We're pirates!” Roan exclaimed cheerfully, before receiving a firm knock in the ribs from Zayden, “Ow! What? We are.”
“Some people don't like our kind Roan.” hissed Zayden.
“Pirates, eh?” She glared at them through suspicious eyes, before sighing, “My, my, my. Whoever will the old man set me up with next? As long as you don't try to mug me or kill me.”
“Don't worry, we could never harm someone as pretty as you.” voiced in Vincent.
“It's not my own safety I'm concerned about.” Karraj answered slyly.
Vincent smirked, as did Karraj, and he laughed quietly.
“So where do you come from then?” chirped Roan, changing the subject away from pirate talk.
“Originally, I am from a small, desolate town on one of the surrounding islands of Incendia. However, the islands water source began to deplete rapidly, and the citizens were evacuated and taken to other towns and cities over the continent. However, on that day I took the chance to change my life. I pleaded with the ship captain to take me away from Incendia, and drop me wherever he please, and, once all the others had left, he did so. He dropped me right at the top of Silicis, in the Calx Mountains. For a short time, I lived with a family of dwarves,” a smile played on her lips as she thought back, “My, what a strange family they were. They taught me to mine, well the basics at least, and even a little smelting. And when I finally decided it was time to depart, the wife of the family gave me this necklace.” Karraj pulled up a golden amulet out from underneath her breastplate. It shone like the sun, and resting in the middle sat a shimmering garnet.
“Anyway,” she continued as she tucked the jewellery away, “after that I went wherever I seen fit, picking up new skills and new friends on the way. You could call me a wanderer, a vagabond, living where the wind takes me.”
“Sounds like you'd make a pretty good pirate.” smiled Skylar.
Karraj returned the smile, “Haha, perhaps. However I am not too keen on boats.”
“They make me terribly ill. I would much rather walk, or ride. I will only take a boat only if it is a must, and I will hate every second of it!”
By the time they had finished talking, the sun was already beginning its gradual decent.
“My, it must have been later than we thought! We may just of had dinner rather than lunch! We will ride for a few more hours, then we shall set up camp and rest for tonight. Tomorrow we will once again set out at dawn.”
When the black sheet of night fell upon them, and the stars illuminated the sky, the horses were guided one by one into the shadows of the trees. They found a cramp, yet comfortable spot with an opening in the leafy canopy above; the rays from the moon bathing their skin. Soon enough a fire had been built, and they all encircled it, resting on a blanket with another over them. The horses had already drifted off some feet away, and once look-out duties had been quickly arranged, the humans done the same.
Pulling the blade out from the mans chest and stumbling backwards, Skylar watched as the man coughed and clutched to his bleeding shirt. The dagger fell from his shaking hands and made a soft clanging noise as it hit the stone ground. He took a few more steps back, now standing under the full light of the only flickering lamppost in the area. Frozen to the spot, Skylar could only watch as the man took slow steps towards him coughing, chocking, and spluttering. Eventually, he too was under the lamplight and Skylar’s suspicions on the man were now confirmed. His black hair, that distinguishing jaw line and that small scar down the left side of his cheek. He sobbed, a face drenched with wet tears, more still flowing with his hands and upper torso covered in red. Skylar’s breath got quicker and shaky as the man reached up a heavy, blood drenched hand and placed it on Skylars shoulder before it weakly slipped off again, causing him to stumble and fall. Skylar continued to edge further back until his body was against the metal lamppost itself. He let himself slide down it as tears began to well up in his eyes. Vigorously, he began wiping his hands furiously on his shirt, as if some terrible substance was upon them. He pulled his knees up to his head and hid his face. He cried and screamed and shook for what seemed like forever, whimpering like a small animal hiding in a corner. When the fear had slightly subsided, he raised his tear-covered face to look at the still body under the lamp light. Walking on trembling feet, he made his way towards the bloody mass.
“D-dad?” stuttered Skylar as he knelt down towards the body.
Skylar looked upon his father, and miraculously he was still alive. His dying gaze lingered on Skylar, and with weak lips he mumbled, “I'm sorry I was never there for you.” Slowly, he reached into his jacket and brought out a small leather journal, “I hope...this will explain why...and maybe...one day in the future...you could forgive your old man.” His last words trailed off, and his dead arm flopped down into a pool of rain and blood.
Skylar say upright with a jolt; his whole body was quaking, his breathing was harsh and a thin film of sweat covered him, dampening his hair.
“You alright?” Karraj sat awake by the fire, leaning one arm upon her knee.
It took a few moments for Skylar to tune into the real world but eventually he replied with a stuttered, “Y-yeah. I'm okay.”
“What did it involve?”
“Something....something that happened a long time ago.” Skylar averted his eyes to the ground before lying down and staring to the stars.
A gentle look spread across her usual feisty face, “You can confide in me, if you wish. Or not, it is your decision.” Karraj gazed at him with warm eyes, the flames of fire flickering in her pupils.
His cold icy eyes met her warm red ones, and he felt himself melt inside, suddenly wishing to pour his heart out, yet he struggled to find the words, “It was just...a horrible, horrible accident. I...I didn't mean too. After all that time, I hated him, but not that much. I would've never...I would've never...”
A lump caught in the back of his throat and tears of sadness and self-loathing gathered in his eyes. Suddenly, he got up, and paced away from the fire, staring hard into the darkness. A few seconds later, he sat himself upon a rock, head in his trembling hands. Karraj got up silently and stood behind him. She reached out, softly placing a hand on one of his shoulders and crouched down to his level.
“Hey, hey come on now. I'm sure it wasn't that bad...” she spoke gently beside his ear, her breath softly caressing his neck.
Skylar raised his face and turned to her with crystallised eyes. He spoke, but his voice was thin and weak, “I killed my father.”
Karraj was taken aback with a complete loss of words, but before she had time to think, Skylar continued.
“I didn't mean it. It was years ago, on my first raid. I must've only been around fifteen at the time. There was a storm and it was at night and it was dark and I didn't know and, and...” taking deep breathes, Skylar managed to calm himself, “and I didn't know it was him until it was too late.”
Only the fire spoke for the next few minutes, crackling away as it ate away at the wood. Karraj didn't expect the news to be tragically horrendous and all she could do now was stare. Skylar gazed at her wide-eyed, examining her face again and again, simply waiting for her response.
“I'm sorry,” he muttered quietly, “I shouldn't of said anything.”
As he got up and walked back towards the fire Karraj called after him, “You needn't be sorry. I apologise, I simply just do not know what words to say. It is simply a horrible and grievous situation to deal with.”
He had already taken up his place on his blanket bed and had withdrawn a small leather journal from his pocket. Clutching it, Skylar laid down and curled up.
“I'm sorry. I can't talk about this anymore.”
“I understand.” whispered Karraj.
“Karraj?” he spoke quietly.
“Thanks. For listening and everything.”
“Any time.” she responded quietly, as she too sat by the fire.
The following day, the sun roused them with its soft light, and they were soon trotting down the road once again. Skylar remained at the back of the group, completely silent, his eyes shrouded by thought.
“Skylar seems sorta off today, don't you think?” Vincent had rode to the front of the line, alongside Karraj.
“I don't think he slept well.” answered Karraj.
“Ah I know what that means. He have 'that dream' again? About the raid?”
“Yeah, he told me about it last night.”
Vincent looked over his shoulder at the zombie riding upon Faxa, “Its a shame. It really messed him up, as I'm sure you can understand.” concern swam in his warm brown eyes, “He usually snaps out of this in a couple of days, just got to be there for him until then.”
“Who would've thought, the whore has a heart.” Karraj smiled at him cheekily.
“I'm not a whore,” Vincents face was in shock, that turned to a wide smile, “I just know a pretty woman when I see one.”
Her smile subsided, and she too looked back at the gloomy figure, “He mentioned he was only fifteen aswell, poor thing. Is that not terribly young to become a pirate?”
“Honestly, no. He had been a part of the crew long before that.” Vincent stared up into the sky, searching his mind for information, “ I believe he must've only of been eight or nine when the Captain first brought him on board. I myself had been aboard the ship for a year by the time Skylar arrived, and I was only eleven.”
“Really? I did not expect so many children to be upon a ship!”
“The Captain had a soft spot for kids, no one was ever sure why. But if he came across an unhappy or abandoned child, he'd bring them aboard and give them a home, and a family. Plus, it wasn't just children, there were others, of course. But the young learn quick, and we were soon just as skilled.”
“Well I guess that is sweet, in a way. So tell me Vincent, how did your Captain come across you?”
“I ran away,” stated Vincent, as casual as could be, “I lived in Plumma, in a big, old, manor. My parents were rather well off, I have to say. Yet, it was simply boring. I had to go to all these important luncheons and tiresome classes. I yearned for adventure. So one night I just packed up and left.” Vincent smaned, “to be fair, I didn't go far. I camped underneath a tree on the outskirts of a small wooded area, right outside the town. The Captain found me huddled up against the trunk as he, and some other men, ran past with jingling sacks of coins.”
“What ye doin' out 'ere, laddy?” Vincent attempted to mimic his Captain, “Ye lost?”
“I explained to him,” he continued on in his normal voice, “That I wanted to leave Plumma and explore the world. That I wanted to go on all sorts of adventures. So, he picked me up, plopped me on his shoulders, and took me to his ship. I've never looked back since.”
“By what I have now heard, you and I aren't so different. We both sought out to venture in to the world, and we both put our dreams in the hands of strangers.”
They continued talking for some time, and Karraj was finding him much more pleasant now that he was seemingly being himself. Marching the horses over to a patch of soft grass, they took up the chance to eat. Skylar slid off Faxa, and fed him his daily carrot. The horse was slowly being to find the pirate less repugnant and munched away happily at the vegetable. After that, he sat alone, picking away slowly at a piece of dried meat, little leather journal in his lap. It remained shut with a leather thong, exactly the way it had been given to him many moons ago.
“Skylar, you okay?” he hadn't even noticed Roan bounding up to him, and jumped back in shock.
“Oh! Y-yeah, I'm alright.”
Roan looked down and saw the little book, and immediately knew what was on his friends mind, “You could always just open it you know. I'm sure he wanted you to read it, or else he wouldn't of gave it to you.”
He traced the book with his fingers, “I know,” he mumbled, “I'm just a little scared to read what's inside it, you know?”
“Fair enough. I just think it may be a good idea,” Roan patted him on the pack, “Now come over and sit with the rest of us.”
Skylar averted his eyes over to the little group sitting upon the grass, and locked on to Vincent and Karraj talking with big smiles and laughing, “When did those two get so close?”
“Hmm? Uh, I guess to today. They were riding up front together.”
“I think I'll just clear my mind for now. I'll sit with you later, okay?”
“Okay.” Roan gave him a concerned smile before returning to the others.
Continuing on the journey, the steeds galloped fast under the hot sun. An hour, or perhaps two later, the road bent to the left, taking them south. They passed by stoney hills, and the high faces of mountains reared up in the east. The woodland area had vanished, and the terrain became more dirt based and rocky. On the western horizon the peaks of the Aeror Mountains rose up, surrounded by cloud. From these mountains, a strong river flowed; one arm passed directly south, filling a pond near the Ioner Mountains, where griffins were said to roam, and the other arm stretched to the south-east, providing the Broken Marshes with water, winding and continuing further until ending in a forest. Another portion forked off to the north-east, and it was a finger from this section that crept out and passed alongside the new road.
With the sky blazing, the cool water beckoned to them, and with their surroundings bare, seemed like the best place to camp for the night. Zayden, with his hidden stash of skills, had managed to spear several fish with a sharpened branch. They now lay cooking over the fire.
“So, where is it we're going again? Some tower?” Roan spoke as he munched through his fish.
“Yes. We pass through the Broken Marshes and continue south. We pass through a forest and on the other side stands the Tower of Heaven.”
“Why are we even going there? The King didn't really tell us much.”
“To be truthful, it makes little sense to me,” Karraj sighed, “I have travelled to the Tower before, and there simply seems to be no way in. It is encased in rock, as if petrified. Yet the King seems to think we will find an entrance, so I will do my part and take you there.”
With a fresh meal in their bellies, some of the group fell asleep; first with Roan, Zayden, Vincent, until only Karraj and Skylar remained awake.
“How are you feeling?” Karraj spoke over the cracking of the fire.
“Oh,” Skylar snapped out of his trance, “I guess a little better, thanks.”
“Well, that is good. I'm glad.”
“I'm trying to decide,” he paused as he withdrew the little leather book, “whither to read this or not. It was my dad's you see. He gave it to me just before he...died.”
“I think you should,” she came round to the other side of the fire, now sitting closely beside Skylar, “I think he would've given you it in hopes of you reading it.”
Skylar laughed quietly, “That's what Roan said, too.”
“Then do it,” she smiled warmly, and placed her hand upon his, and squeezed it slightly, “Nothing bad will become of it, I am sure.”
Skylar blushed, and nodded at Karraj. He unwound the leather thong binding the book and threw it aside. The front cover now gently flapped in the wind, “He abandoned us, Karraj. Me and my mum. What if he talks about how much he hated me?”
“Then you were right to stab him. Yet I feel this will not be the case. Go on, read.”