The Mask of Night

Ismail. Farrow. Laila. Kaelan. Four people. Four tales. Before we are done, their stories will be irrevocably twisted together. Ismail is a secretive mage, hailing from the far reaches of the North. Though a formidable fighter, when the bodies pile up and the only enemy left is himself, the truth must emerge. Farrow, a talented demon hunter trying to piece together the fragments of his past, finds himself the centre of a manhunt. Laila, the thirteen year old firstborn heir to the Emperor's throne, must flee from a deadly conspiracy. And Kaelan. A ranger of some skill, he grows tired of his life among the forest. When the Forest Druids decide to help the Northern rebels, Kaelan joins them, and events rapidly spiral out of his control...


9. Blood on the Ice

Laila awoke to darkness. As her eyes adjusted, she saw that she lay in a cave, with snow blocking the entrance. She saw Ismail by the entrance, and wandered over to him.

“What happened?” asked Laila, “I don’t remember a cave.”

“You were completely out of it. After Tamar started carrying you, we kept walking for another two hours, by my count. We started going uphill, but we were stopped.”

“What by?” Laila was curious, Ismail seemed to be stiff.

“An avalanche. Tamar led us to this cave, I’m not entirely sure how he knows about it.”

“Why shouldn’t he? He seems to walk these mountains a lot.”

“Because, eighty thousand years ago, this was an entrance to a city.”

“Eighty thousand! How do you know?”

“I was here.”

“But then - oh right, the sorcery.”


Ismail was a sorcerer, capable of wielding immense magics. As a shadowmancer, he could control shadows in their varying forms, as well as a host of other useful spells. He was also subject to sorcery’s greatest boon, and it’s greatest curse – immortality. Ismail had always said that it wasn’t complete immortality, just incredibly long life. He could also still be killed in battle, so he wasn’t immortal in that sense either. However, this revelation that he had been alive for eighty thousand years had made her pretty sure it was immortality.


They were both quiet for a while, allowing the icy silence to seep into them. Then, breaking the silence, Laila asked:

“Who are you?”

Ismail smiled wryly. “I’m me Laila. I’m Ismail.”

“No,” protested Laila, “Who are you really? You’ve told me practically nothing. Where did you grow up? Who are your parents?”

Ismail sighed. “Those are difficult and delicate questions,” he pronounced, choosing his words carefully. “And maybe one day I’ll tell you the answers. For now, can’t I sate your curiosity with simpler things? What is the meaning of the universe and suchlike?”

“Fine. What are the Ancients? And I want a proper answer. Not an easy one.”

Ismail thought. “The Ancients are immortal. Not immortal like sorcerers and druids, but completely immortal. Such human, such finite concepts do not apply to them. Death, feelings, right and wrong – these are all human words, to describe human things. Ancients cannot die, because they are before life. They do not feel, to a certain extent, because they were created before there was anything to feel. Morals are a set of rules, invented to tell people what they can and cannot do. Ancients are above laws, above the rules of the universe, their very existence disproves everything humans believe in and live by.”


“How were they created?”Ismail smiled. “You certainly don’t bother with the little questions. No one knows how the first Ancient was created, except perhaps two Ancients – and there is no

way they’d tell you. Aviel, the father of Ancients, was created before all else, and

grew his children from his blood. The three he grew were Set, The Red Lord,

Prince of Chaos. Of all the Ancients, he is quite possibly the most powerful, as he

controls almost everything outside the Nine Planes.”

“What are the-”

“I’ll get to that,” Ismail smiled. “Set is the youngest of the three – before him are Anael, and Aida, the eldest. It was Anael and Aida who created all the other Ancients, before going back to their unending tasks.” 

"What tasks? Why are they unending?”

“Shortly after the Battle of Chaos, and the restoration of the White City, Anael was called upon by his father. His father sent him to the Great Gates, and he has remained there, as far as anyone knows, since then. He is theGuardian of Oblivion, Keeper of the Great Gates, Warden of the UnknownBeyond. Aida remains in the White City, watching all the strands of time. Sincetime never has and never will end, she’ll be there for all eternity. She removes herself once every millennia or so to partake in debation or revelment, and she is welcome, but staring into the interweaving, ever changing strands of time and driven her partially insane. Set is the only one who’s presence is felt, though he simply sits in his palace plotting revenge.”


“What are the names of-”

“The Ancients?” Ismail sighed. “Lets see. There’s Kiltain and Kallor, Lords of Stonework and Smithing respectively, and then there’s…” Ismail went on to list almost two dozen names before Laila stopped him.

“You grew up with the Druids? What was it like? Describe it to me.”

“Beautiful. The island itself was roughly circular, with one natural harbour on the east side. It was large, and would take nigh on two months to walk from one side to the other. It has mountains, and forests. Lakes too, shining, glimmering pools of respite. In the Autumn, the corn fields are golden squares of plenty, symbols of a winter of feasting to come.” Laila blinked, her eyes heavy. “Sleep, little one. I will watch over you.” Ismail began to hum, a soft sweet song, and he sang its words in a lilting, flowing tongue. Laila drifted from the land of the waking, and sank into the deep abyss of sleep.


When she awoke, snow still blocked the entrance, but light shone into the cave a little more illuminating it’s contents. She sat by Ismail, her head leaning gently on his shoulder. Tamar sat opposite them, his eyes closed, golden blond hair falling softly across his face.

“I know you’re awake. You can stop pretending.” Tamar opened his ice-blue eyes and sighed, a gentle breath of wind in the still, frosty air.

Hello, dark night.


Laila recoiled, struck by the intensity of his words. The voice was obviously his, it had the same harsh accent – but it seemed not to be coming from him, resonating inside her head. You need only think the words you mean, and you will say them.

Like this? Laila struggled to form the sentences,

Very good, little one.

Why am I dark night?

That is the meaning of your name, in my tongue.

I thought you only spoke Norsk. How can you understand me?

The mind does not bother with such trifling things as languages. The speech of thought is what matters. This is the realm of not-saying, where things are both done and undone in the blink of an eye.

What are you talking about?

This is the true speech, meant by Those Who Came Before.

Those Who Came Before? Do you mean the Ancients?

No. The Ancients are beings of considerable power, but next to Those Who Came Before, all power is meaningless. You should know.

Laila was utterly confused. How could something be more powerful than the Ancients, if they could control anything? And what did he mean she should know?

Why would I know? She asked. How would I know?


Tamar turned his head towards her, surprise in his frosty eyes, so truthful and deep she just wanted to fall in and roll for ever-

Stop it. His voice was sharp, stern and commanding. That is not you. You do not want to do that. It is the charm controlling you. Tamar rubbed his temples, and two symbols by his eyes glowed blue.

What charm?

A last defence.

Laila sensed she wasn’t going to get more out of him, so she pursued her earlier point. How should I know?

He really hasn’t told you, has he?

Who hasn’t? Laila was getting annoyed, she could feel frustration building inside of her, a steady ebb and flow of emotion.

Ask him. He nodded towards Ismail’s unconscious body. Ask your shadow friend…

What? Ismail?


But Tamar ignored her, sighing and getting up.

We have sat and done nothing for far too long, whilst my people are waiting. We are leaving, wake the others. Laila scrambled to her feet, rushing first over to Maia, and then Ismail.

“We’re leaving,” she told them breathlessly. “Come on, get up.”

“Finally,” was Maia’s response. “We’ve been stuck in this cave for far too long. Has the snow  melted?”


Tamar stood by the entrance, a bundle of swords and short spears in his hands.

Where on earth did you get those? You’re like a walking armoury.

They come from the bones of the mountain, long since rusted away. They are of no use to anyone – except perhaps us. The ice wall blocking the entrance was practically vertical and smooth as marble. Reflected upon it Laila could see their reflections, but twisted, warped somehow. Suddenly she shivered.

“That’s no ordinary wall of ice.” Ismail stood by her side. Laila remembered what Tamar had not-said, and almost mentioned it. No, she thought, save it for another time.

You cannot avoid it forever.

What, are you in my head all the time now?


Tamar smiled grimly. Dark night had spirit, he had to admit that. He took an ancient sword, the blade pitted with age, and dropped the rest on the floor. Bringing out a curved hunting knife, he flicked it the right way round and blew on the point. The tip glowed, burning red-hot with the intensity of a flame. He heard the shadow speak to the child, explaining the knife. The shadow was right, it was indeed an ensis, a legendary blade of magic. But this was no mere copy, as the shadow had assumed, it was over a hundred thousand years old, and had belonged to the Mother of all Warlocks herself.


He traced it along the flat of the rusted sword, and before his eyes the sword transformed. Rust fell away, it’s edges sharpened, and Tamar saw what beauty it had been, lifetimes ago before empires fell. Then the vision faded, and it was just a rusted blade once more. The visions often came and went like this, revealing to him little obscure bits of information.


With a sigh, he pulled away the ensis, held the blackened blade aloft, and thrust it into the ice. He spoke in a strange tongue, not Norsk, nor in the common tongue but the language of shadows, mystery, and magic. Quicker now, he drove each weapon deep into the ice, until they formed a shape. Laila gasped, staring at the maze of rusted steel and iron. Each sword crossed and overlapped, forming an intricate pentacle.


Tamar slung his weapons onto his back and grabbed an metre and a half staff, formed of some white wood. As he continued chanting, runes bled silver along the staff, and the tip glowed blue with harnessed energy. Though heavy in his hand, the staff felt familiar and comfortable. Growing in ferocity, he continued chanting, rising in volume until it reveberated around the chamber. He assumed a light stance, staff in hand and moved into action. He swung the staff up, spun it round and thrust it forward. Just as the bright blue tip hit the wall, Tamar uttered the last syllable and-


White obscured their vision, a silent explosion throwing them against the walls of the cave. There was no noise, but the white was so bright and blinding it screamed at their ears.


A thin shaft of sunlight gleamed through the newly blasted hole in the ice, falling on Ismail's face and waking him. The other three were still unconscious. He stepped up, surefooted, but watching Maia stir, he purposely stumbled. Tamar and Laila also began to rise and when he saw that they had all been injured,  he silently slipped a knife from his sheath and cut a slit down his arm. It was all very well acting, but if he didn’t hurt like a human, he would never convince them. As red dripped down onto white, it trickled slowly across, following the slight curve of the cave floor. Blood on the ice.

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