EmberVale - The Rising of an Empire - Chapter One 'Ivory Passage'
Written by KyAuna Alonzo
Frigid winds bit like angry razors on the faces of the soldiers, turning them crimson with cold. The faint sounds of icy armor clunking were muffled by the multi-pitched winds that rushed through the passage. Four men road ahead of the mild army, icicles formed in the manes and tales of the steeds. “This damn cold is likely to kill the men before they get to see battle,” the horseman to the far left stated. He rubbed the ice crystals, that had landed and taken hold, from his short wiry beard. His face both void of color and vibrant with red, he blinked his deep green eyes repeatedly as the harsh glacial breath forced them to water.
“Captain Waesphine, we’ll reach the other end of the passage before nightfall,” the rider to the right of him stated flatly. He was easily twice the age of the young captain. Sterling eyes squinted ahead at the distant destination; crow’s feet collecting at the corners of his eyes, “We will camp once we’ve reached the other mouth.” A long pointed beard reached from his paled face to the middle of his chest, colored with salt and pepper. He let his eyes drift from the day’s goal to rest above. He turned his head, “Captain Ravamyar, what do you make of those clouds?”
The rider on the far right adjusted his helmet and focused his olive green eyes on the sky. A pause lingered a moment as he scrunched his naked face into a calculating expression. “It would be wise to break for camp soon. There is something ominous about their swollen faces,” he pulled his eyes away to look at the silent rider to his left, “Your Majesty, we don’t want to be caught unprepared in a storm.”
Piercing indigo eyes turned to the man with the salt and pepper beard, “General Reywenys, what do you recommend?”
“At this pace,” the general began, “we could make it to the mouth in another five hours, six at the most.”
“Perhaps,” Captain Ravamyar nodded, “but the clouds could birth a storm in as soon as three.”
Captain Waesphine made a face, “None of our men, including ourselves, are conditioned for more hostile weather than this. Five hours be damned, we should make camp and prepare ourselves to wait out whatever storm barrages us.”
The prince looked ahead, “We’ll continue on for another hour or two. Once out of the mouth we have less than a day’s travel before we lay down our long term camp. Any closer we get today, is less ground traveled tomorrow.”
They continued forward, “The Serpant’s Spine feels like purgatory,” Captain Waesphine complained to himself. The Ivory Spine was the mountain ridge that snaked through the land from one shore to the other with broad bases and jagged peaks; there wasn’t a surface not smothered by heavy snow and ice.
Captain Ravamyar halted his horse and threw his fist in the air, his eyes scanning for movement to his right. The men behind all paused in their steps to follow his gaze. “What is it?” General Reywenys asked quietly, steering his horse closer to the Captain’s and trying to see what he saw. The sun had long since been suffocated from sight and the wind blew tiny beads of ice into his eyes and he could hear nothing by the unrelenting howls of the disapproving winds.
The pause lingered a moment and then Captain Ravamyar shook his head and lowered his arm, “I must be seeing things. There is too much white here, it’s like staring into darkness…stare hard enough and you’ll see monsters.” They started forward once more, the General calling out the order to pick up the pace. His horse tossing its head in annoyance at the command before quickening its stride.
A faint cry sounded from somewhere in the in the middle-front of the ranks, then another. Captain Waesphine looked over his shoulder in time to see a gigantic white bear barrel out of the snow and tackle three of their men. “Holy shit,” he yelled. The other three horsemen turned as two more bears thundered out of the landscape and dove into the tightly confined soldiers.
The bears were easily another half the size of the largest bear from their homeland. They ripped into the men with their teeth and slashed whole pieces of armor from their bodies with their claws and powerful arms. Screams of men being torn apart crudely rose above the wind with the sounds of the ravenous bears. The four horsemen unsheathed their swords and rode toward the bears. Men stabbed at the bears, desperate to spare their fallen brethren beneath the beasts, but the bears would turn and increase their carnage. In the midst of panic archers released arrows at the terrors that tore at the flesh of their friends only to hit a fellow soldier as often as a bear.
Crimson washed the Ivory Passage clean of its endless white, sprayed with broken bodies, limbs torn from their places and bones that have been splintered between great teeth. Arrows stuck in limp frames that littered the passage, some with eyes fixed wide on the carnage as they died. General Reywenys leapt from his horse and raced toward one of the snarling beasts, more red than white. Snow melted under hot blood had pooled, Reywenys’s boots splashed into the blood of his men and could feel it hot and cold sprinkle up him. He gripped the sword firm with both hands and swung down with all the force he could muster. The blade ran deep into the shoulder of the angry bear. It turned, bloodied teeth bared, it tested its injured leg and stumbled. It roared at him, spitting flesh from its teeth. The bear swiped at him with its injured leg, but the muscles were too damaged, it bounced slightly and swiped at him with its other arm, missing. General Reywenys hurried toward the bear again, his blade biting deep into the side of its neck. The bear’s scream was haunting. It staggered before it rose up on its hind legs, doubling its size. Coppery rust filled his nostrils as the scent of blood flooded in. Fresh blood poured down the bear’s chest and back. Captain Ravamyar appeared at his side, eyes wide with adrenaline and his mouth crudely carved into a snarl of its own. The Captain attacked, slicing and stabbing at the bear’s chest and stomach. The bear swiped down making contact with the Captain’s head, knocking him to the side with ease. The bear came down, careful not to bare weight on its injured leg. General Reywenys rushed forward before the bear could react and with three heavy, desperate, swings he watched the animal’s head roll from its shoulders and its body slump lifelessly to the ground.
The General looked up to see Captain Waesphine standing, panting with a bow drooping from his fingertips, beside the prince looking down at a second fallen bear. His eyes searched the blood stained ivory landscape for the third. There it fled up the side of the mountain in the shoulder deep snow. It paused briefly, its onyx eyes turning on the gore it had wrought. Blood still dripping from its saturated face, it released a thunderous rumble from its throat before it continued its hasty retreat up the mountain, before it disappeared entirely in the white.
For now, it would seem that the attack was over. General Reywenys turned his attention to the unconscious Captain that lay at his feet. He knelt down, his knee sinking into the slushy red puddle that surrounded him, and felt for a pulse on the side of Ravamyar’s neck. He was rewarded with the distinct throb of a pulse and nodded to himself. “Have we lost him?” The Prince asked, appearing over the general’s shoulder.
General Reywenys shook his head, “No, he’s been downed by he’s not dead.” He stood back up as the prince removed the helmet from his head. He ran his gloved hand through his lily white hair, leaving trails of crimson to follow the paths of his fingers. His features more distinguishable, even in their smothered light, from the angel and shape of his eyes, the height of his cheekbones and of course the most tell-tale feature of all…the point of each ear. The general stood and faced the Elven prince, “No doubt he’ll only suffer a headache when he wakes.”
Prince Ethland nodded stiffly, “Good,” his eyes shifted to the butchery around them, “We need to determine how many of our men we’ve lost and how many have been rendered useless.”
“We’ll need to try to move further on before setting up our camp,” Captain Waesphine stated dryly, “This much blood will draw in more unwelcome guests.”
There was brief silence before Ethland spoke, “Have the bodies of our dead burned. We don’t have the time to dig graves, nor would the ground be inviting to it.” He signaled to have his horse brought to him, “I’ll ride ahead with General Reywenys, take what men you need to burn the dead and transfer the wounded, the rest will follow to put up camp.” He returned the helmet to his head and mounted the horse brought to him. The two men nodded their acceptance of their new orders and the general moved over bodies as he made his way to his own steed.
The swollen clouds slowly opened themselves, releasing purity from their breath. A flake melted against the porcelain cheek of a young woman. Vibrant copper curls whipped about her face and wrapped itself like fingers around her shoulder with the influence of the growing wind. Warm honey eyes looked down at the gore below, her expression void of emotion. Safe on her ledge he watched as the army moved forward while a few remained behind. She inhaled deeply and extended her hand, catching a single snow flake upon the tip of her middle finger. A slight smile graced her roseate lips as the snow flake lingered there before tenderly she blew upon it, sending it back out among its sisters. She pulled the white hood up around her head as the wind filled with new vigor and blew harder, howling at the men below.
Padded paws sunk deep into the powdery snow as the crimson saturated bear approached from behind the woman. The massive animal grunted but the woman didn’t turn her head to the sound, her eyes remained fixed on the soldiers below. The bear sauntered to her left side, his dark onyx eyes turning to the bloodbath in the throat of the passage. The woman lifted her hand and gingerly rested it upon his massive head. The two baring witness in hopes that the storm would deliver good on the threat it promised.
“Your Majesty,” a guard knelt at the side of King Tanean Elzeiros’s dining chair. The blind old king turned toward the voice and nodded, still chewing his meal, “There were some serious reports of an army approaching through the Ivory Passage. It has been confirmed that the reports were true.” He paused for a brief moment, “Sire,” he began again, “It would appear that we will are soon to be under attack.”
The king swallowed his food and his age worn face furrowed into a frown, “And who is it that would be attacking us?”
The guard fidgeted a moment, his eyes shifting to the other people at the table and then back to the king who stared at him without seeing, “The flags bare the phoenix of EmberVale and Ethland has been seen riding at the army’s head.”
The king’s face fell grave, “What is their count?” He asked somberly.
“Sire,” the guard said carefully, “they number nearly nine thousand.”
“And at most we may gather seven of the same,” King Elzeiros stated flatly.
“Call for the commander, our generals and the council,” the woman at the King’s right ordered. The guard’s eyes met her lavender orbs that were vailed by long ivory lashes and set in the surface of flawless pearl skin, hued pink only upon her cheekbones and the pale pink of her lips.
“Valra, no one has yet been able to penetrate the walls of Darwaeton Stronghold,” the king attempted to reassure his daughter. “Though,” He continued as he turned his attention back to the guard, “It would not be unwise to send for them all the same.”
“Yes Sire,” the guard stood and hurried from the room.
King Elzeiros cleared his throat roughly, “There was a time when Elves were considered peaceful beings. Such was a time before King Azulmar.”
“He who thinks himself an Emperor,” Valra stated bitterly.
The blind king sighed, unable to strip the worry from his features, “He has conquered enough to proclaim himself so.”
“Why come here?” Valra asked, clearly distressed. “Why being war to our doorstep?”
There was a moment of stillness, “Azulmar has a sickness of the mind, his greed will not end with our defeat,” King Elzeiros said then added gingerly, “It is unlikely to come to war.”
Valra stood from the table and went to the nearest window, her eyes searching the colorless landscape. Part of her expected to see the army marching across the snow, but she saw no soldiers except for their own. Her lavender orbs moved to the skies and she felt a breath of hope swell in her breast, “A blizzard is forming.”
“Let us hope that it will afford us a day or two,” King Elzeiros said attempting to stand from his chair.
Concern crossed her features as she watched her elderly father struggle to stand. Going to him she lent him her arm, “Were fortune truly on our side it would turn them all to ice in the night.”
He offered her a smile, the most he could muster, “We mustn’t rely on favor,” he patted her hand gently, “Come, let us see what trouble mere men can muster.”