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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2. Sunsets can mean a beginning

 

Eduan

 

Jaron was late. Again.

Eduan couldn’t blame him, really. If he was Jaron, he probably wouldn’t have come home yet – his multitude of admirers would have rioted in the streets, for sure. Besides, Eduan had always been the responsible one. No point ruining a great system, he thought sourly.

Stretching to work out the stiffness in his back, he looked miserably at the huge stack of logs that still had to be split and brought to the storage shed, then at his abandoned axe lying and looking dejected on the dry, crackled grass; the drought had not been kind this year, and almost all vegetation was browned and dying.

 He had no doubt that he would not be anywhere near finished by dark, just as he had no doubt Jaron would not be back until the work was almost done. He always seemed to have a sixth sense for that kind of thing. It didn’t matter, Eduan convinced himself, then picked up the rusty axe and went back at it, groaning and wishing he was stronger.

He had always been small for his age, and that had always been obvious to the robust people of their village. It was a farming community, and Eduan lacked the fair colouring and stocky build that was common in these parts. Eduan instead had the dark hair and eyes of the capital, with ivory skin and a slender build to match. It had always set him apart more than one would think. Well, that and his habitual silence.

None of this, of course, applied to Jaron. It was true that he had the dark colouring that proved their shared blood, but his hair was just that few shades lighter, his skin that few shades tanner, that he could almost pass as a local. It was more than that, though, it was the way he acted. Jaron had this way of moving, of speaking, that made people want to accept him and follow him. There was a confidence to him Eduan could neither understand or imitate.

Which is of course why he was spending the sunset hours at the local tavern with his small group of his and his large group of hangers-on, and why Eduan was here, haunting their small property as per normal. It was here that Eduan felt most comfortable, alone and walking amongst the dry scratchy grasses. Left to think ad observe the world as he saw fit.

Returning to his mindless task of steadying wood on the block before smashing it in two, he assessed what he still had to do and saw, yet again, that there was no possible way of finishing his task. Ignoring the sinking feeling in his gut he decided to cut his losses and get the finished wood into the shed before it became full night and along with it the increased chance of tripping.

It took him four trips back and forth to move all the firewood, during which time the sun became merely an orange glow on the western horizon. He looked to the East and saw a dark hue reaching up to meet the still pale sky. Jaron had better get home soon or there could be trouble.

The village had no official curfew, but anyone still outside after dark was certainly treated with suspicion. Eduan supposed it stemmed a farmer’s natural inclination to go to bed early in order to wake up at the crack of dawn the next day. They didn’t account for the jubilant youth, particularly those lead by Jaron. Finally, Eduan stumbled inside, and gave his first smile of the day. Orynn, his face lined and wrinkled, turned from where he had been preparing dinner, and smiled back.

If one wanted to find where the boy’s coastal heritage came, they needed only to look at their Uncle Orynn. Although his hair had faded to white, and his skin to a near indiscernible hue, his blood became apparent his delicate features, his soft hands, his graceful way of moving. This was a man who had spent his life in Sarys, Pyron’s capital.

“You look tired, Eduan.”

“As do you, Uncle,” It was true. The village obtained all profit from the trade of crops with its larger coastal neighbours, where the soil was to infertile to grow food. With the drought that plagued them, that revenue was gone, and most had turned to mere subsistence farming.

Since Eduan’s Great Uncle had moved here sixteen years ago with his two nephews, he had always dealt in the weaving of cloth, ignoring the rural norm when it came to occupation. But now that no one had any actual money to buy their wares, Orynn too had turned to growing their own food in order to live. It was hard though, as they only owned a small amount of land, and there was no one to work it but Jaron Eduan and their elderly uncle. That burden was clearly weighing on him.

Still, he chuckled at what was apparent, “Don’t go worrying about me, child. Did you get the work done?”

Eduan blushed and mumbled, “No uncle. There was too much to do by myself in one afternoon,” Then, in a further need to defend himself, “Jaron had promised to help me with the firewood.”

“You mean the wood Jaron already travelled north to the Shemryn in order to obtain?” Eduan did not need to look at him to know that he was raising an eyebrow.

“I mean the wood Jaron got at your behest, after weeks after pleading with him to go.”

“It is a large undertaking.”

“It’s not as if he was travelling to Lhysandy!”

“That’s enough, Eduan,” It was quite interesting to see how quickly his voice could turn stern, “Now please help me with this.”

Eduan swallowed further protests, and moved to his uncle’s side. He picked up a knife and proceeded to slice up the pickled vegetables they had stored back in Summer. They hadn’t had anything fresh since Autumn set in, but you couldn’t really tell the difference in a stew.

They worked in silence – how both of them felt most comfortable – pausing only to light a lantern once darkness overtook them. Eduan was just starting to worry that Jaron would never return home when a loud clatter alerted them to his arrival.

The door burst open with a loud thud, which was in itself unexpected when it came to Jaron. What was unexpected was the look on his face. Instead of the usual cocky smirk the graced his lips, there was a tightness to his entire jaw, and it seemed that all the colour had drained out of his face – for once he was almost as pale as Eduan. Most alarming of all, however, was the trail of blood that started at his hairline and dripped down his face.

It was Orynn who came out of their shocked stupor first. The demand was obvious in his tone when, in a surprisingly calm voice, he asked, “What happened?”

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