The Flight Of The Dirithi #4 — Derek Barton 2021

Jueneva woke, covered in thick orange and red animal furs, a glowing fire warming her new room. She could not even remember coming to the chamber, or climbing inside the bed, but here she was. Sighing loudly, she let the last few days events roll across her mind, weighing her down. It was so hard to let go.

In a sense she was relieved to finally understand why she was different, why her family always ran, why the world always seemed to teeter on a finite edge. Her true family were murdered when she was but an infant. Now her adopted family were also murdered. Those responsible she only knew by a broad name:  the Kreszecs. Other than that she had no real information on who they were or what reasons they had for wanting her and for destroying her family’s rule here in Akkei Maliss.

A soft rap at the door cut into her thoughts. “It is Executor Buore, miss. May I enter?” His muffled voice came through the door.

“Yes, please.”

She rose and stretched, pretending to not be emotional and tussling with her feelings. Her body ached and the desire for more sleep made it even harder to pull out from under the furs, yet she had other more pressing concerns.

The specter floated in and crossed the barely lit chamber. Only a small, mirrored vanity occupied one corner of her new quarters opposite the fireplace. In the other corner stood a tall dress cabinet. There were no real decorations like thick rugs or elaborate tapestries on the walls. Yet she was alright with the modest accommodations and often lived like this with few personal possessions.

“Good morn, Boure.” Today she found she could look him in the face and not feel the reflexive fear of the dead. He was good-natured and surely had been a great asset to her late family. He would be needed further in the future of Coueryere Castle.

“It is sure to be, your majesty.”

She jumped. The word majesty jolted her as if he splashed cold water suddenly in her face. Majesty? Hmmm. I guess he is right. And I suppose it would be better to start acting in that fashion.

“Executor, I have a few requests of you today.”

“I would be honored to fulfill those for you.”

“First, can you find me a weapon?  I will be leaving the castle for a short spell. A bow would be my choice if you can make that happen.”

He frowned but nodded and bowed.

“I sense your disapproval. You often show your emotions openly.”

“It is only that I do not see the need to risk your safety. The ruins are dangerous inside and outside, but in here I can give you some protection.”

She found comfort in his overprotective sense of responsibility for her. He was like a long-lost uncle trying to step up and make up for lost time.

“The meat in the pantry I am afraid is too far gone for me. I want to hunt and restock the meat pantry. My father showed me how to track and hunt at an early age. Even said I had a unique talent for it. Perhaps that is another aspect of my Dirithi heritage?” She chuckled to herself and tried to not dwell on her pang of grief for him.

“You had other requests, miss?”

“Yes.” She sighed aloud and was unsure how to proceed. “When I came her two nights ago, I… I encountered… Well, you were not the first spirit I found here in the ruins. What or who is that Flaming Skeleton?”

Again, his face crinkled as he disapproved of the content of the conversation. “That Flaming Skeleton is not to be taken lightly, miss. He is not one of ours and not from this realm. He was one of the Krezsec Generals that invaded. Few of their invading army were stopped, he was among those few. Now, General Loas Toc haunts these hallways at certain nights and always he relieves his final hours. You saw the hanging men?”

She nodded, her face paled at the memory of the bloodied uniforms, spotted with flaming hand prints from the general’s touch.

“This is my family’s seat of power. He will not be tolerated much longer. I am going to have to find a way to expell his presence.”

The Executor only lowered his head to stare at the floor. He had no answers for her.

“Tonight, when I return I want you to take me to the Throne Room.”

Boure straightened and a smile cracked his face, he beamed with pride. “Indeed, your majesty. I will see to its preparations for your audience myself.”

That statement brought a strange thought to her mind. “There are others? Other court members or staff?”

He nodded. “Not as many as before – remember only the restless spirits remain here. Some have made peace and moved on.”

Before she could ask more, he bowed again and backed out of the room through the closed door.

Jueneva dressed and prepped herself as best as she could. There were several dresses hanging inside the cabinet but were not warm enough or proper for the cold elements outside. She found only one riding pantsuit. It would have to do. She could not be weighed down or wear anything restrictive if she was to hunt and chase prey. At the back on a hook, she did discover a thick deer skin coat with buttons and laces down the front. It was exactly what she needed for the wintery elements outside.

Another soft rap announced Boure’s return. He entered with no invitation this time. In his hands he carried a silver and ivory bone longbow and a matching white quiver filled with over a dozen arrows. Symbols were etched all along the exquisitely crafted weapon. She took it in awe and hefted it in her hands.

“This is wondrous. It feels like I am barely lifting anything!”

“Indeed. This came from within the Vault. I believed it was forged with guiding magics, but I cannot remember for sure. Either way, I am certain it will be of great use and affect in your hunting.”

As she lifted the quiver’s strap over her head and down onto her shoulder, he said, “I really do not like this idea. I feel I may be inadequate as your Court Advisor, but, your majesty, as there are no other formal Courtesans left, you will have to settle for me. You see, as I stated before, in the castle domain I can protect you, but I cannot leave the compound to help you outside. You will be all on your own. This is not a wise excursion. We will find another way to find you proper meals.”

Jueneva shook her head. “No. I will not be stuck inside nor will I hide here. The Restoration cannot happen to my family’s rule if I do not take risks or fight back. What happened here must be avenged. I appreciate your words, I do. And I do not step out lightly and without caution.”

Boure dropped his gaze again to the floor.

“Executor, please escort me now to the best entrance to begin my Hunt.”

 

The Flight Of The Dirithi #3 — Derek Barton 2021

“YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE!”

The intense words floated in Jueneva’s mind as she drifted between nightmare and awareness. The flaming skull growing and looming over her in her dream, casting her in its fiery red glow. Its heated breath roasting her skin.

“You do not belong here.” The spoken statement, less intense, was repeated in more of a concern or inquiring tone. And it was not said by the leering skull.

She felt a hand upon her shoulder, shaking her. “I say, this is no place anymore for the living.”

Her eyes popped open wide, startled from the touch. An older man, heavily wrinkled around the eyes and mouth, stood near her table bed, floating a few inches above the floor. He had a similar gray and blue uniform as the hung men she had seen earlier. His long white hair was pulled back in a single braid. Other than being semi-transparent and having a faint luminescence, she would not have immediately realized he was a spirit of some type.

The room around them remained pitch dark except for the faint outlines presented by her darkvision. His arms were folded across his chest as he patiently waited for her to respond.

His black eyes perplexed and frightened her. There was a depth and a high intelligence in them. This was not a simple aberration or manifestation.

She scrambled down from the table and crab-walked back into the farthest corner from him. Her arms wrapped reflexively around her knees and pulled her body into a tight ball.

The spirit rubbed at the side of his face and paused with his mouth slightly open in mid-statement.

“I see. Well, perhaps if you have some answers you will feel more at ease, no?” He bowed low, dropping his elbow before his face in an odd gesture or salute. He rose and tapped his boot heels together. “I am Court Executor Boure of the Coueryere Castle, once the ruling regime and residents here. And you are?”

He waited again for her to participate in the conversation. Jueneva was not in the frame of mind of conversing with a ghost. The multitude of stories told to her as a child flooded her brain with superstitions and fears. She could only hope the spirit would leave her alone soon.

“Alright. Well, this simply will not do, young lady. We cannot have you unattended in the labyrinth of the castle. There are… There are things that would not be pleasant for you to see or encounter. No more of such chatter on that. For now, I do observe that you are not properly dressed to be here, nor do you have any provisions or food it does appear. If you allow me to escort you, I can lead you to a proper bedding.”

Jueneva looked up slowly from her huddled knees but did not answer him.

He took it as a sign. “And while our Rule ended abruptly here many eons before, there are sealed food jars in our kitchen and the guard noshery. This endless winter is certain to keep most of it from rotting. Would you like to explore it, young lady?”

His polite form of speech and attention to decorum eased her tension some and the idea of eating broke down her guarded walls. She nodded as she rose to her feet.

“Then please follow me.”

It did not take long for them to reach the large kitchen area, which had four stone tables lined with black oak benches and shelving crowded with wax-sealed pottery jars. She kept quiet behind Boure, but took in the sights of the decorations. Most of it remained untouched, only dusted in fine gray and black powders.

He stood in the hall leading to the kitchen, barely inside the double-door entrance. Again, he crossed his arms over his chest as he kept his vigilance.

At the back of the kitchen hall, she discovered an inset fireplace nearly two body lengths wide and several feet deep. A wooden door partially open showcased a meat pantry and a stack of small water barrels.

After finding a box filled with cut wood, she made a cozy fire and set about prying open some of the jars. In moments, she had a plate of tough leathery jerky, two piles of cashew nuts and two more handfuls of strange green and red berries. The spicy meat did not sit well but the berries and nuts filled her up fine.

As she wiped her sticky hands on the sides of her stained blouse, she called out with a slight tremble in her words. “Thank you, Sir Boure. I am…I truly appreciate your assistance.”

He floated across the stone floor and hovered near her bench seat. “You are most welcome. Can we discuss your situation now?”

She nodded again, keeping her eyes on the floor. To stare into his focused, lucid eyes was too overwhelming. “My name is Jueneva Emaya.”

“As there are no easy passages through the DesCantan Mountains now, am I correct to guess you came via the Glass Mirror in the Shrine?”

“I think so.”

He rubbed again at the side of his temple, lost in his contemplation. He must have had that habit during his life and carried it forward into death.

“And by your garb and lack of supplies, you were not expecting to come to the castle?”

“I do not even know where I am exactly. Except… except that I have come to Akkei Maliss.”

“Ah, indeed.”

He scratched at a spot between his bushy eyebrows, then folded his arms behind his back. “Anyone coming to Akkei Maliss and via sorcery at that, surely had to be in a dire emergency. Do you think you will be pursued?”

She hugged her arms to her body, cold shivers traversing her small form. “My family…” She choked with emotion. “Our enemies were stopped before I came here. No one witnessed my crossing.”

“Yet you really do not know what Akkei Maliss is, child,” he said matter-of-factly. “You were ill-advised to come to this haunted, cursed land. As I said earlier, this is no place for the living. You have come to one of the five Blackened Realms. Only Restless Dead reside in the Ruins of Castle Coueryere!” His voice had risen and gained volume. He shook with emotion and rage.

Jueneva stood her ground, somehow sensing his anger was not directed towards her but the cruel fate given to him.

“You cannot even fathom the dangers of the other four realms. Nothing can be saved in these lands — The Unformed, The Living Towers, the Land of the Bloodless. And even the dead cannot speak of what exists in The Swath. There is no hope to be found here. In truth, you came here to die!”

“NO! I may have come unprepared, but there was no other option but to return home.”

His jaw dropped, the words faltered before leaving his mouth.

“This castle was suddenly lost right?”

“Yes. One night as a mighty blizzard gathered outside, we were set upon by an unknown enemy who used the storm to hide within. They breached all our security, used magic to overtake all preparations. Within the night, it fell to a swift blade and all of us including the Coueryere noble family were wiped out. Our enemy stripped everything of value and left these rotting ruins. They robbed us of everything, including hope. Now the dead come here attracted by its well of misery and doomed souls.”

Jueneva stood up from the bench and crossed to the heat of the fireplace. She then knelt in front of it. The flames lit up her face and features.

“No, Boure. Not all hope. Not everyone died that night. The family of Coueryere held dominion here due to their powerful bloodlines and true heritage. My mother and father — my adoptive parents used to tell me bedtime stories. Told me of a faraway land governed by a family of mystical beings.”

He floated closer to her, trepidation in his eyes. He hoped and yet feared at the same time what he was about to witness. 

“Dirithi…” he moaned in awe as he took in the sight of her illuminated features. Her true heritage of blackened eyes and ivory, spiky skin.

He sank to the ground, collapsing upon his knees and prostrated before her with his hands clenched over his head. “So long!  So long without a light to cling to.” His words were muffled and mashed together as he said them like a chant over and over.

She put her hand upon his shoulder. Softly she spoke into his ear.

“I will, I swear before you, regain our power over this realm. Fate has bound me with this charge. I must bring about The Restoration.”

 

2021 MARCH FREEBIES! — Derek Barton

To start the year off with a thrill, I wanted to give everyone an opportunity to read one of my thrilling series if you haven’t yet made the leap yet. I am offering both starter novels for Evade and Elude FREE on FRIDAY 3/5 through SUNDAY 3/7!

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