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Empty Places

by Slawomir Rapala

Table of Contents
Chapter 1
appeared in issue 223 Chapter 2, Chapter 3
appeared in issue 224
conclusion: Silent Voices

Dispossessed at an early age, Aezubah has wandered the world in search of vengeance. On arid mountaintops, remote glaciers and burning deserts he has conquered demons from the edge of creation, wicked sorcerers, and evil kings. As a General, he is beloved of all the warriors who follow him.

But his victories are never final; he goes forth again and again with nothing but his horse, spear and sword, in loneliness and solitude, seeking the treasure that always eludes him: peace.

Fatigue was now Drohen’s only companion as he struggled to keep the pace and continue his escape. His magic was almost useless now; he was too far removed from the Black Stone hidden deep within his ice fortress amidst the mountains of Arynos. No longer could he sustain his body without food and drink, no longer could he use the muscles of his legs with the same ease as several days before. No longer could he control his mind and thoughts, no longer could he control his body or his emotions. He was tired and his judgement clouded.

Since the day before he had been alone in his escape. He had sent the last of his acolytes against his terrible pursuer, the demon of vengeance who continued to track him since the day of the decisive battle where Drohen had lost everything. He realized that sending the monstrous slave against his enemy was useless, but he still hoped that by some small miracle or by chance, the acolyte would succeed in killing his nemesis. It was a vain hope, though, he soon learned as he watched the gruesome spectacle from afar.

The terrible redness of the blood spilled was clearly visible against the white ice fields even though several leagues separated Drohen from the place where Aezubah fought the beast. The Sorcerer clenched his fists in helpless fury as he watched the warrior destroy the giant creature with frightening ease.

The man was not human, the Sorcerer concluded as he turned to continue his futile escape through the Ice Fields of the unwelcoming Viking Kingdom. How could Aezubah have defeated six awesome slaves, all boosted by a dark magic spell, all trained, fearless, relentless, and powerful? How could a mere mortal accomplish this after being in pursuit for so many days, with no magic to support him and after a three-day battle in which he had commanded the victory and during which he himself had fought in the first ranks?

He was not human, he could not be. The persistent thought returned to the Sorcerer again. And if he was sustained by hatred alone, then how great it must be, how deep it must run!

Here he was now, the Sorcerer thought, alone and dethroned, escaping through an enemy Kingdom, powerless, weary, defeated, abandoned by allies and friends, with a mad pursuer in sight. How did it come to this?

Drohen grit his teeth as he thought back to all that he had enjoyed only a few days ago. He thought back to the lavishly decorated chambers of the castle he had carved in sheets of ice, to those great balls and parties that he threw for the friends of darkness allied to him.

He thought back to all the power he had held, to all those people that trembled under his stare; he thought back to all that of which he was king, and he was almost ready to scream with rage. It was all gone, and gone so quickly!

Just days ago he feasted on the best of the world’s dishes, he had at his disposal more gold than many had ever seen in their dreams, he lay with the most beautiful women of the world, he was favoured by the monarch of a powerful kingdom, he commanded an awesome army, and he held tremendous magical power thanks to the archaic stone passed on to him by King Biyack XIV as a sign of favor.

He had used the power of the diamond to do the impossible, to create a cancerous kingdom-island amidst the icy mountains of Arynos, amidst thousands of hate-filled Vikings, and he had kept his kingdom alive and growing for months. Slowly his plans had come together, his army was crafted under the watchful eyes of his trusted officers, his acolytes were bred, reared and trained, and slowly his kingdom of white ice and dark hate grew stronger, threatening the stability of the Viking Realm.

Biyack watched from afar, often sending couriers carrying messages of devotion and support, carrying gold and information that aided the Sorcerer in his preparations for the final strike against the weakening Kingdom of Arynos. Everything was going well, the pieces were in place, and Drohen was ready to start war, to bring Arynos slowly to its knees and to open its borders to the greedy hands of the Biyackians, and by doing so, to secure himself a comfortable future and life-long support at the court of the King of ancient Biyack. And then this... this happened!

Aezubah, a man the Sorcerer thought he had left long ago in the marshlands of Yitia, submerged in a magical and everlasting sleep, showed himself and ruined his plans once again. Just as years ago in Bandikoy when he had desecrated his temple, slaughtered his followers and banished him from the flourishing kingdom, Aezubah now came to do the like, only this time on a much grander scale and with so much more at stake.

How could one man be such a bothersome pest? Drohen shook his head in disbelief and cursed himself once more for not having him killed a few short months ago when he had him in his power. Instead, he had toyed with Aezubah, erased his memory and sent his Underworld allies to torment him in the perpetual darkness of the castle dungeons.

What good did that serve him? The Vikings rescued their bati and nurtured him back to health. And he came back with more hate and anger than ever before; he came back with an army of thousands and crushed him.

Such a fool, he was, Drohen oathed, such a fool!

Men such as Aezubah were dangerous and should never be treated lightly, he realized now. More vicious and unforgiving than any of the Underworld demons known to him, Aezubah was also intelligent, determined and resolved. More than anything, he was driven, driven by hatred and the need to quench a thirst for vengeance.

This was why Aezubah, a man of questionable past and of notorious temper, a man in whom good and evil mixed freely and without prejudice, this was why he became a Viking bati, although no other foreigner had ever been allowed even to join the ranks of a Viking army.

Only a man determined to carry out his vengeance could have tracked his prey through the many realms of the post-Azmattic world. Only a man like Aezubah could have had enough resolve not to turn back a thousand times when faced with impossible odds.

Drohen hated him, and not just now in this moment. He had hated him ever since that fateful day when they first met in the temple in Oyan years ago. The Sorcerer hated him even then, from the moment he laid his eyes on him, because he could see in Aezubah everything that he himself lacked.

What Drohen had presently and who he was now, he owed to dark magic, the dark arts to which he had devoted a greater portion of his life. And it was through magic that success had always come his way.

Oh, how he wished now that he had never tempted fate on that morning in Oyan when driven by madness and a need for petty vengeance he gave that terrible order. How he wished now that he had controlled a vengeful urge and left the man’s family in peace. None of this would have happened. Aezubah would have gone on with his life and he would have never thought back to their meeting. He would not even have remembered him for that matter, because in those days Drohen had no great power.

Still, he mused, he had been a wicked man even then. And now, almost a decade later, he found himself alone and abandoned by allies and friends, alone in the middle of an enemy land, in the middle of the terrible whiteness of snow and ice, alone with no one to save him from the one man he now wished he had never met. There was nothing else between them now, only the great sheets of empty ice and the slowly trickling sands of time.

And then the vengeance came, towards noon of the next day.

On the silent and empty fields of ice, in the frozen Viking Kingdom of Arynos, the vengeance, which had been born almost a decade before on a small farm outside of Oyan, came to an abrupt end. Drohen tripped and fell over and over again as he attempted to flee his terrible pursuer, screaming frantically into the empty skies, and still hoping to conjure up a spell, any spell, to shield himself.

Aezubah pressed forward with nothing but hatred in his eyes, nothing but the need for blood seated deep inside him and finally, he caught his enemy.

Once a great and powerful Sorcerer, Drohen could not even protect himself from having his head brutally yanked back by the hand of his foe. He fell back into the snow with a painful wail and lay there, weary, breathing hard, and waiting for the fateful blow.

And as it came and as it opened his head, a final thought occurred to the Sorcerer. He thought that aside from that one short conversation a decade ago, he and the man who was killing him now, he and the man who had hated him so much so as to spend his life hunting him down, they had never spoken a word to one another.

And even now, amidst the peace and the tranquility of thousands of leagues of empty ice, no words passed between them. Vengeance spoke for itself; there was nothing left to say.

Drohen cried until his life was cut short by the hot steel of Aezubah’s blade. And there was nothing else. There were no explanations or justifications. Just the pure madness of the moment and of the empty world around them. There was nothing now save the vengeance that needed to be given a terribly silent voice of its own.

There was nothing but the warmth of the blood and the silence of a dying man’s gaze. There was nothing except the hatred that had emptied itself out a long time ago, a hatred that had little meaning now because it had given way to a meaningless crusade.

With the killing of the Sorcerer, with the sight of his blood spilled across the pure ice of Arynos, there came the end. And when it came, when Aezubah brought the sword down to the exposed head of the Sorcerer, he felt nothing, not even a hint of the satisfaction he had always imagined, not even a shadow of the justice he expected from this moment. There was nothing but a hatred that had lost its purpose.

Aezubah realized that ten years of his life had been wasted chasing a ghost, chasing a moment that would not be able to heal his wounds, to turn back time, or to give him back his wife and sons. This ultimate moment was only an act of brutality, one more in a long line of many he had committed.

His vengeance would lead to nothing, and no witness beheld his justice. There was only the ice and the sun, only the warm blood seeping into the snow, only the limp body of a man that now meant nothing to him. There was only that... and a thousand leagues to the nearest homestead where he could find food and shelter.

With his determination gone and his resolve slowly fading, Aezubah rose to his feet. With a blank gaze he looked once more at the broken body of the Sorcerer and at the blood seeping into snow. Drohen was dead and so was Aezubah’s vengeance. Only his pain remained.

Aezubah slowly pulled the hood over his head to shield his eyes from the sun. Without as much as another look at the lifeless body of his enemy, he turned west towards the Kingdom of Biyack. Slowly he walked away from the place where his vengeance had died.

He walked wearily, knowing he had hundreds of leagues to travel before he could rest. His life among the Vikings was over. No longer a mighty Viking bati, no longer a vengeful nemesis, Aezubah was now only a weary warrior on his way home.

But what could he call home? The stones resting over the graves were cold and dispassionate...

Copyright © 2006 by Slawomir Rapala

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