Destiny in a Mask - Excerpt

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By chanthar
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Part 1 - Welcome

Chapter 1 – Running through the Dark

He ducked under an overhang to peer around the tunnel. From what he could see in the dim light, his pursuers were far behind. With a hesitant sigh of relief, the young man rose from his hiding place. He turned his eyes to look around once more, then focused on the direction he was heading.

All around him were walls that curved to make a maze. The highest point was six feet. The length of the tunnels was immeasurable; only glowing mushrooms provided luminescence to indicate where there was a turn or sudden stop.

He glanced behind him while he listened for his pursuers. For now all he could hear outside of himself was the sound of air moving through the tunnel. His tense shoulders relaxed as he calmed his breathing. Once his breath had returned to a normal pace he resumed traveling. Carefully, cautiously, he stepped over the pounded down dirt at the bend towards another tunnel. He turned to look.

There seemed to be nothing there. Only another set of tunnels revealed itself to lead in an unknown path. The sound of wind leading to and from the openings whispered faintly.

The young man glanced around then crept around the corner. There was nowhere to go except forwards, so he wandered down the tunnel. Keeping alert for the sound of his pursuers, he continued onwards in an attempt to discover an exit. The path however, just seemed to continue on in the same way.

Finally he spotted a bend in the tunnels that was lighter than the rest. He perked up, but soon his expression fell. Did I go in circles? He glanced around then pressed his body against the nearest wall. The fabric of his pants made a slight rustling noise while he slid cautiously to the lightest part.

The source of the light was a tight cluster of mushrooms surrounding a door. The frame was built of stone with metal rods sunk deeply in them. The rods attached to a metal door which had only two slots in it, one on the floor and the other at four and a half feet.

He ducked down the foot needed to peer into the slot. What he saw there shocked him. He could see a young woman locked in chains that attached her securely to a chair. It all seemed so black and white right now, a pale figure clad in black with gray dripping from cuts. As he stared he found himself reaching to the bar that kept the door closed. He had to move carefully so the sounds wouldn’t echo enough to be heard.

Once the door was open he crept over the floor to the chair. He glanced over the female to make sure she was alive. The blood was dry and her chest was moving so he assumed she was. His eyes turned to look over the chains next. He saw places for keys, but there were none around to undo the locks. There were, however, torture needles on a shelf fastened to one of the walls. He wandered over to pick up two of them then returned.

As he examined the locks the young man glanced up at the young woman. She looked just like the ones who captured him. The beaten condition told him that she was not on favorable terms with them. Odd, how could that be?

He shook off his ponderings while he placed the needles into the lock. He twisted them around as he picked at the mechanism to free her wrists. The way the chains were turned he could pull on them after to untangle her.

As he did the young woman lifted her head slightly. Black eyes barely distinguishable from her black hair stared down at him. Her pale lips shifted while she tried to speak.

Before she could make a sound the young man smiled up at her. “Don’t move. I’ll get you out of here in a moment.” He spoke softly while he pulled the chains gently then set them on the floor.

She waited until he was done then shifted her body as if to rise. Pain from the motions showed in her muscle spasms. A weak moan escaped her lips, followed by panting. “Who are you?”  

He shook his head slightly while he stood upright again. The tattered pants with no other clothing showed he was of a low station. The accessory of a leather collar fastened to his neck with a metal tag on it marked his position as a new slave. “It doesn’t matter. Once we’re out then I’ll tell you.”

“Fair enough,” she replied. A faint smile turned her lips while she tried again to stand. She glanced up at him with an annoyed look. “I don’t suppose you could lend a hand?”

“Have you been here long?” He asked with a small smirk. His hands shifted to curl under her arms as he helped her to stand.

“They come three times a day. I noticed that then stopped counting after the thirtieth set.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault,” she said. “How about you?”

“I’d figure about the same amount of time.”

“I see.” She nodded then sighed while she stood upright. Wobbling slightly she turned her eyes to glance around. “I have an idea how to get both of us out. I just need a cloak to help disguise myself.”

“Okay, what are you planning?” He replied while he let her arms go. He glanced around then wandered over to the shelf again. There was a length of discarded cloth long enough to cover her. He picked it up and brought it over to drape over her shoulders.

“I can’t explain it all, but just pretend to be an obedient slave.” She replied with a soft nod. Her hands shifted up to pull the dark cloth around her to cover the ragged clothing she had.

He nodded as he watched her. “I suppose I can go with that for a little while longer.” He offered an arm while he stepped towards the exit. “You wouldn’t know the way to the surface, would you?”

“I think I remember,” she replied. After that they were silent while she led the way through the tunnels. When they passed soldiers the woman stood tall while the man ducked his head. All went well until they reached the end of the tunnels.

At the exit to the outside world there were more sets of guards to prevent both entering and leaving the compound. They stared at each passing group suspiciously. However, they were only on the look-out for two. Another group was passing by just then. When the two joined the three they appeared to be a larger group. The soldiers did not stop them, so they were able to escape.

The young woman stepped out into the open air. Her eyes narrowed in the sudden light that bleached the mountains around them. She turned to the young man beside her and put her fingers to her lips. With the motion to be quiet she continued on to walk away from the entrance down the mountainside to a new mountain that provided cover from the other.

As the sunlight brought multicolored shine to the landscape, the young man noticed the black and white look didn’t change for his companion. He blinked a few times then looked at his hands to see if the time inside had done the same to him. The pale creamy skin he had was still the same. A sigh of relief passed his lips then he lifted his eyes again.

Stretching around them was a diverse landscape. Just around one of the mountains was a river to the west with a forest on the other side. The water flowed south-east along
the land with a waterfall at the end of the mountain range. Where the mountains ended, a forest began. It stretched out over much of the land around them. A small strip of trees followed the side of the river, even past the second set of mountains that appeared. Beyond those to the east were meadows. After that there was the seashore as well as a river that fed into it.

When he felt they were out of range, he whispered to his companion. “What shall we do now?”

“We’ll find a cave with a spring to hide in. Hopefully the hiding place I have was not discovered. They caught me in the mountains further north from here. There is clothing and food there. Once we wash and dress we can rest then continue. I’ll be going south.”

He blinked then nodded faintly. Following after her he stepped over the rocky cliffs that made a barely discernable path. The way they went continued down closer to the river. In the grand scheme of things, the river cut the continent almost completely in half.

The young woman clutched the cloth around her body while she moved. Her black eyes glanced around the landscape to look for the markers she knew. She guided the young man with her down a fissure in the rocks to a hidden cave. Tiny fungus lit her way while she stepped down the edge of it into the open space. Blinking at the sudden change in light, she waited for her eyes to adjust to the dim before they looked around the interior.

As the young man stumbled to follow her inside, he watched her movements over the floor. His footsteps tried to mimic where she had stepped. His green eyes flicked to look at the smooth floor that stretched deep into the cave. Most of the stalactites had been moved from the furthest inside to keep the water from dripping on the floor. A small stream broke from the right side of the cave then fell into an opening on the floor beside it. There was an impression about a yard in diameter where the water gathered to form a small pool.

“Hey you,” the woman called.

He turned to look at her while blinking. “Yes?”

“So, what’s your name?”

He began to wander over to her, but paused as he noticed her drop the cloth from around her body. Sitting down near the entrance with his back to her, he replied, “My name is Arien.”

“My name is Yrunia,” she replied. “The name I go by to attract less attention is Rune.”

“May I call you Rune then?”

“If you call me my full name I will have to smite you.”

On instinct, the young man flinched. His shoulders dropped down while his arms went before him. “I’m sorry. I’ll call you Rune then. It’s a- um, a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

“Thank you.” She replied. Rune pulled off the tatters of her clothing and slipped into the pool. From a shelf nearby she took down a stone box. When it was opened the contents of soap and a washrag was revealed. She picked them up and began to wash carefully.

Arien sat quietly for a few minutes. His ears twitched while he listened to the noises. To distract his mind he spoke, “So I noticed you look the same as the captors. Why did they have you tied up?”

“I was sent to do something that they don’t want me to do,” she replied. Rune glanced over at him then turned back to stare at the wounds over and around her tattoos. “I’m on a mission. The direct approach didn’t work so well. I’ll have to try another way to find him.”

“Find who?”

“The man I have to kill.”

Arien blinked then swallowed slowly. His throat tightened as it suddenly went dry. Licking his lips for a moment he paused before the words spilled forth again. “Who is the unfortunate one?”

“His name is Zamaskar, or more commonly now, Mask.”

“If it’s not too much, may I ask why you want to kill him?”

“I think right now it would be too much, but I can tell you one thing. He is already dead.”

That phrase turned his head around to look over his shoulder at her. Confusion was on his face but it soon turned to embarrassment as he saw her bare back. Quickly he turned back, but the image of her scarred back was burned into his vision. His voice stumbled out, “I-I see then.”

“I don’t think you do,” she replied. Rune glanced to look at him then returned her gaze to herself. She finished cleaning the blood and dirt from herself then stood. The wounds had long since crusted over, but with the washing they opened once more. Wearily she crawled out of the pool then made her way further into the cave. Another metal box was pulled from a shelf in the wall. She opened it and took out another cloth along with bandages and salve.

“What do I need to know to make it so?”

“Well, did you know that my people are the ones who keep watch over the graves? My clan, Thanatos, made sure that the bodies were not taken to be raised as undead.” As she spoke, Rune dabbed the salve over the wounds on her legs. Following that she wrapped her limbs in bandages.

“I had a suspicion, but I was not sure. Your people don’t take slaves as a general rule.”

“No, they didn’t.” Rune moved on to dab the salve over her wounds on her arms. Then she wrapped her limbs in bandages.

“What happened?”

“Unfortunately, that man did.”

“What do you mean?”

Rune continued to work on her arms. Then she picked up two mirrors and set them up so she could see her back. Carefully she dabbed salve on the wounds. A thicker bandage wrapped around her torso. “Well, Mask was sent from the one who raised him from the dead. He took over the clan and began to make changes to it.”

“What about the chieftain?”

“I don’t know what happened to mother and father,” she replied.

“Your-?” Arien began to speak then his voice failed. He turned to stare at her once more. “You mean...”

“Yes. But don’t go calling me princess or anything like that. My role in the clan isn’t like that of some other kingdoms.” She shook her head while she turned to stare at him.

With a hesitant glance back he soon turned to face forwards again. “I’m sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry about. You weren’t involved in this. Now, you can wash while I find some clothes.”

“Er, thank you,” he replied. While Rune wandered behind a stalagmite, Arien turned around. He scooted over to the pool and stripped off the ratty pants. Then he slipped down inside the water so he could hide himself. As his eyes glanced around he noticed the washing supplies. He picked them up and began to wash off the dirt and sweat.

Rune pulled on a black gown that had silvery ribbon over the top and around the waist. A gray cape was pulled over it for further covering. Once she was dressed then Rune went on to find a plain black top and black slacks along with another gray cape. Those she carried with her to set nearby Arien.

When she came over he ducked even further down into the water. “Thank you,” he mumbled.

She nodded then glanced over him. “When you’re done, I can get that slave’s collar off you as well.”

He nodded and watched as Rune wandered back into the cave. Quickly he moved to finish washing and climbed out of the pool. He dried himself off with another towel then pulled on the clothes. It wasn’t his style at all, but he couldn’t complain. Wandering to look for Rune, he noticed there were many small nooks and crannies carved into the walls with different sized boxes within.

Rune had packed a bag with supplies she felt she needed. When he came to find her, the corners of her lips turned up in a faint smile. “Ah good, you’re ready.” As she was three inches taller, Rune easily reached up and tore the fastenings which Arien could not see. She held the length of leather in her hand a moment then lifted an eyebrow. “Want it?”

“No thanks,” Arien replied with a quick shake of his head.

With a faint nod Rune turned and went to one of the many boxes. She opened it and tossed the leather collar inside. “Fair enough.” While she turned back to him the young woman made a motion with her hand. “If you’re not too worked up from the escape we could take a rest. Further back in the caves I’ve made a bed. Unfortunately there is only one. You can have it. There are enough blankets to soften the floor so it won’t be so bad.”

“Don’t be silly,” he replied. “You’re wounded badly. Besides, I’m used to the hard floors.”

With a nod of acknowledgement, Rune turned and walked further into the cave. As with the part near the entrance, the stalactites had been cut down to keep from dripping on the floor in the center. A raised portion had been hollowed out so a pad could be set in it. Over it was stretched a waxed canvas at a forty-five degree angle to keep any stray droplets from falling on the sleeper. When it came into view, Rune walked to it and pulled off two of the three blankets. She turned to Arien and exclaimed, “I insist you take these anyway.”

“If you insist,” he replied. Taking the two in his arms, Arien went to the lowest part of the canvas. In the slight shelter he put down one of the blankets. The other he wrapped around himself. The young man curled up there. It didn’t take long before he dozed off.

With a faint smile at the sight, Rune climbed up into the raised bed. She ducked under the blanket and fell asleep immediately. Between the two of them they slept through one full day to awaken in the next.

The next new day brought Arien from his sleep after Rune. He sat up then ducked with the sudden sensation of his head and shoulder striking canvas. Scrambling out from under it he rose to his feet. Blearily he glanced around while the memories of the previous time flooded his mind. There was no sign of his companion. Worry tugged his heart as he went from the back of the cave to the front. Did they find us? No, if so I’d be gone too, unless they found her first and didn’t think me important enough to look for after.

With the noise from the back, Rune turned from her seat to gaze at Arien. A faint smile turned her lips. Before her was a basket filled with a variety of berries and edible mushrooms. She made a motion while she spoke, “I went to find breakfast while you kept sleeping.”

The rising terror edged away quickly. He blinked once then smiled faintly. “For a moment I was worried.”

“About what? Capture?” She laughed faintly and shook her head. “They shouldn’t find us yet. But we should continue on further south soon. Once at the town in the forest you should be safe enough. I can continue on by myself from there.”

“Won’t they be looking for you though?”

“Of course, but I’ve learned how to hide. I’ve been doing it these last four years since I traveled back at the age of twelve. The direct approach to their encampment, though taking me to the clan, didn’t take me to Mask. I’ll have to find a way to sneak up on him.”

Arien sat across from her. He looked into the basket then picked out a few of the berries. He nibbled on them while he spoke, “Mightn’t it be better to travel with someone? They wouldn’t look at two people about the same age traveling together as closely as a single female with your coloring.”

She glared at him a moment then the look softened. “You did rescue me, so I do owe you for that. I don’t know you well enough to live with you in such close quarters though. How old are you?”

“I’d reckon I’m about a year older than you. Either way, right now I’m seventeen.” Arien replied with a slight shrug.

“But don’t you have anyone waiting for you?”

“No,” Arien replied with a shake of his head. He picked up more berries to eat. “I’m an orphan. If I had family, perhaps I wouldn’t have been captured so easily, or kept even. Truth is, I don’t even remember my birthday.”

Rune blinked a few times then recited quietly, “October 4th.”

“What was that?”

Rune blinked again then shook her head. “Oh nothing. Now, we’re going to travel together for a bit anyway. At the town we can decide whether to travel together further or not.”

“Alright,” Arien replied. He went quiet then, eating his fill of berries. Once he was done he glanced down at his bare feet. “I suppose while in town I’ll have to try to find some other clothes. I appreciate yours, but they rather mark me as a gravedigger too.”

“Heh, well it was all I had,” she said with a faint laugh. Rune pulled her lips back down to a serious expression. She nibbled on the mushrooms then finished off the berries. “Would you be ready to go soon?”

“I’m ready when you are.”

With a faint nod Rune went to pick up a canvas bag. She slung it over her shoulder and hid a wince as it hit her sore back. “Well then, let’s go now, the sooner the better, eh?”

Arien watched her move. From what he observed, he didn’t think she’d appreciate him asking to carry the bag. With a faint nod he stood. “After you,” he said then turned to follow her.

Indeed her pride would have made her be cross with him. As it was she climbed out of the fissure between the rocks to make her way outside. When she made it out her dark eyes turned to glace around.

At first look there seemed to be no one about. It could be deceiving though as the crags of the mountainsides could hide a myriad of creatures. The sun overhead was dancing close to the highest point it could reach. Where the light touched on the river it sparkled, hidden from sight at points by the mountainsides and the trunks of the forest bordering the river.

Their gray cloaks melted into the mountainsides somewhat, but Rune wanted to keep to the paths that weren’t so well traveled. She touched Arien’s wrist to note when they changed direction. It took longer to travel, but the time was well spent to keep out of sight.

By the time the sun had tumbled from its throne to roll along the horizon, the two had made their way to the place where the mountains ended and the forest began. If they kept walking through the night they’d reach the town, but it was too much for the weary travelers to accomplish.

With a sigh passing her lips, Rune pointed at the pine trees that dotted the natural border. “There should be places to sleep once we pass there. I’m afraid I’ve not the strength to continue on until we reach the town.”
Heh, published this one.. earlier this year through Xlibris [link]
(edit, the preview image is through my republishing on Lulu [link] )

It's a bit of everything, except no robots.. -scratches head- a bunch of action, adventure, spiritual and stuff .. fun
With Arien he follows Rune in her quest to find her brother and 'save' him from his placement taken under the wing of a powerful entity...
© 2008 - 2020 chanthar
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