Drained

Something is wrong in Pyros. Not that its inhabitants realise it, of course. For most, it is the same as it has always been – a peaceful country ruled over by an illustrious, immortal king. But others have their suspicions. Talented youths with propensities for magic are disappearing from the outlying villages, gone without so much as a trace. After Jaron almost suffers the same fate, he and his brother, Eduan, soon find themselves hunted as fugitives, and desperately trying to put to rights the dark web of lies and illusions that has ensnared their people.

(Amazing cover by @Infinite_Exho)

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3. A Conspiracy of Magical Proportions

 

Jaron really, really wished he had just stayed home.

Eduan and Orynn’s faces wore identical horrified expressions as he sat down heavily at the table, absent-mindedly wiping blood from his cheek and rubbing it on his shirt. Or at least, he assumed they were horrified expressions. Both could have been made of stone for all he knew. It was one of the many habits both Jaron and Eduan had picked up from Orynn over the years.

Jaron, however, could not quite muster the same control in that moment – not after what had happened at the tavern. He was used to brawls breaking out. In fact, he was often the one manipulating two fools into having at it. But this… This was something else. He had not forgotten Orynn’s demand to know what had happened, and, knowing nothing else could be done until he explained, Jaron transported himself back to that afternoon.

 

It was rowdy. Not that it wasn’t always rowdy, this was the only tavern in the village after all, but it was particularly so today. There was a tension in the air, almost as palpable as the afternoon heat that was the only remnant of the Summer. Money was getting tighter, as they all well knew, and they had been talk from several families of selling their farms – something that hadn’t been necessary in living memory. It was enough to have people sort-tempered, that was for sure.

“There’s something else, though” Jaron thought to himself as he turned his attention to the multitude of adolescents around him that leaned close to whisper to each other, contrary to the bellows that had echoed in the small space just seconds before.

“You’re sure that’s what he said?”

“I’m not a bloody idiot, Tyme, I was right there.”

“And that’s the second one gone missing from that village?” Ah, so they were talking about those missing kids.

“You’re bloody right it is. They were magic, too!” Jaron wasn’t the only one who snorted at that last bit, but it seemed like he was the only one that mattered as Kane, who had been telling the story, and Tyme and all the rest turned to face him.

“You still buying into all that magic garbage, Kane?” If the disdain in his voice wasn’t obvious enough, the eye roll certainly was.

Kane turned as red as a beetroot, though from embarrassment or anger, Jaron couldn’t tell, “You tryin’ to tell me it doesn’t exist, Jaron? With all those people from all round the place saying it does?”

“Yeah sure, they’re saying their kid’s got magic after they disappear. Why never before, huh? If they all got the fantastic magic thing, why aren’t they showing it off? I’ll tell you why, it’s because they don’t, and these parents are just tryin’ to get attention so someone’ll find their kid.”

Kane went, impossibly, redder, and Jaron fought down a smile. “Well what about the King? You can’t tell me that fucking immortality is natural!”

Still keeping his neutral exterior despite cackling on the inside, he patiently explained, “The kings is hundreds, thousands, of years old, Kane. He’s from a different time. Yeah, magic used to exist, but so did dragons and fairies. Times are different now, that’s just how it is.”

Kane continued to blush and stutter, and Jaron figured it was time to wrap this up and put him out of his misery. “Unless, of course, you still believe in fairies and such. Who knows, maybe that’s who kidnapped those kids. Maybe they stole them from their beds in the middle of the night, and dragged them back to the Shemryn. Maybe they’re feasting on those kid’s flesh right. now. Maybe you’ll be next, Kane,” At that, Jaron finally let loose the laugh that had been building within him, and, following his lead, the others laughed too.

Kane, however, did not. In fact, he looked positively murderous, “Maybe the Shemryn did take them, and you know what, Jaron? I hope it takes you, too.”With that, he stood up from where they had pushed several tables together and stormed out of the rickety wooden doors at the front of the tavern. 

Or at least, he tried. Barring his way was a multitude of figures dressed entirely in black. Kane scrambled out of their way hurriedly, not that it mattered – they seemed to have no interest in him whatsoever. Jaron did, though, because as he watched Kane’s eyes rolled back in his head and he dropped like a stone.

He wasn’t though only one, either. All around Jaron, people were falling to the ground with heavy thuds, and the figures in black walked calmly between them, occasionally kneeling down beside a body. It was then that Jaron realised that he was looking at the scene in front of him sideways. At some point his legs had collapsed beneath him and he had hit the ground. Hit the ground hard, judging from the pain and liquid slowly pooling beneath his head.

He tried to get up, but it was as if there were weights attached to his legs, his arms, his entire body, dragging him down into the ground and trying to bury him alive. His head felt muzzy, and his vision was blurred and darkened around the edges, like he was looking through a veil. It was through that veil that he saw the face of one of the men in black, a metallic glint on his chest. He felt a kick aimed at his ribs and couldn’t suppress a groan. A flash of white suggested a grin as the man called out, “We’ve got a live one!”

He became a foreboding shadow over Jaron as he leaned down. Hot breath washed over his face, and the proximity allowed him to see the man’s face clearly, or more specifically down. Hot breath washed over his face, and the proximity allowed him to see the man’s face clearly, or more specifically, see his obnoxious smirk. A sudden fury washed over Jaron as he the man looked smugly down at him, and he could feel his body in turmoil as he tried everything to move even an inch, to no avail.

That was when it happened. That was when, as Jaron lay writhing yet still on the ground and wishing desperately to wipe that smile right off the man’s face, that his one wish in that moment came true. He pulled the man towards him with his mind, but the man’s body did the exact opposite. It fell backwards, bending strangely as his knees contorted out of position. He landed with a thud, lying in the dust with everyone else whom he had previously reigned victorious over.

The other men had noticed at that point, and Jaron thought they might have tried to stop him, but it didn’t matter. Didn’t matter because when the smug bastard had hit the ground, Jaron had been filled with the most glorious feeling of energy, of power, and he found himself no longer trapped to the floor of the tavern. Instead he was up, out the door, and running away into the setting sun, faster then he’d ever run before and feeling the wind blow by him in a heady rush.

The energy soon faded, however. The electricity left his limbs, and by the time he stumbled up to their door, he was exhausted. Sitting at their wooden old table he placed his head in his hands, all too aware of the pain I his head and the ache in his limbs. All he wanted to do was sleep, but Orynn seemed to have other ideas.

“How many were there? Did they say anything, anything at all?”

“Uh, I don’t know… maybe eight? Could be more, could be less. I just- I don’t know! I don’t think they said anything, apart from that one guy, but maybe I just didn’t hear it anything.” He could tell Orynn was frustrated with him, and he was pretty frustrated with himself, to be honest. He wanted to remember, nearly everything about the attack itself was a haze.

Orynn grabbed him by the sides of his head, still very sore, and forced Jaron to look at him, “This is important, Jaron, I need to know.” The urgency in the older man’s gaze scared him, so different from their usual mellow humour, “Do you have any idea, any idea at all, who these men were? Did they mention anyone’s name, bear any symbol, give any indication as to who they may work for?”

“I don’t know, Orynn!” He yelled angrily, “I just don’t…” He trailed off and his eyes widened. A symbol. He thought back to the man. To a metallic glint on his chest… A brooch, maybe? He struggled in vain to remember, to make out any shape at all through the haze. It was… It was…

“No!” Jaron jerked back in his chair and almost fell, barely regaining his balance.

“What is it!?” Orynn demanded, but all Jaron could do was shake his head mutely, struck dumb by horror. Horror, because he had finally realised what the bade on that man’s chest was.

It was an embellished set of scales. The symbol of the immortal King Librys.

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