The crescent softens the stars creating an eerie glow that veils the exterior cave wall with a tinge of blue. Martul's footsteps become much more apparent as the last of the miners descended into their burrows carrying rusty picks and crying children. Our young learn early, things happen quickly. Things like death and famine, theft and injustice run rampant throughout the outpost now. It has been three years since the founding of Windel, a quaint cliff-side settlement very south of the capital. We were far enough away to declare independence.
Someone cleared their throat nearby. "It is not safe to wander the grounds at night little Edul." I heard Martul grumble as if I needed to be reminded again. Being careful not to anger the night-watch, I descended the wooden ladder behind a butcher who smelled of wet soil and yak. The air smelled of ale and animals alike. I share a room with my eldest siblings Bim and Sarvesh who both followed the first caravan as far as the Isis Sea before leaving me and father to travel the rest of the way to Windel. Tales of ambush and creatures of the night were morbid throughout the journey. I felt better knowing that my brother and sister were safe in the village of Singing Seas, a days hike northwest of here if things went sour.
Our quarters were meager, consisting of a single table, two chairs and three beds that we shared accordingly. Bim became a voluntary recruit last month, he is not in the room when I get there. Instead my sister Sarvesh and her suitor are both at the table preparing dinner. Her suitor is a stout man who people refer to as-
"Cheeks!" Sarvesh screams at him.
"Oh come now, you skewer fish much too slowly!" he yells back.
I shut the mahogany door behind me and remove my rough cougar hide cloak. They grow silent and begin to giggle, such a silly sight to see the two of them flush pink at the sight of each other.
"Hello Edul!" My sister rises to her feet to embrace me. She is much taller than me and most other people here in Windel aside from guard captain Raul. Cheeks acknowledges me raising one side of his braided mustache in my direction. Any fool would think that we were all just a peasant family of three dressed in our daily rags before a meal. I easily withdraw my fathers silver dagger and place it beside the pine wooden bed I will be sleeping in tonight. Candle light set the walls ablaze with shadows dancing like newborn pups at dawn. Like everything else in Windel, they too would be hardened someday in the name of blood and iron. The two together are the driving force behind Windel and what the king is hoping to accomplish. He wants to claim the southern wilds, as if even the creatures that inhabit these lands ever bothered with such a selfish goal at all.
There is a commotion outside in the corridor heading in the direction of the main staircase. Cheeks, the hammerer, kisses my sister quickly. He ruffles my red greasy hair and steps out into a sea of bodies heading in the direction of the staircase. "Edul don't you go out there!" My sister calls out to me after I step outside of our dwelling to get a better look at the situation. I follow the stream of bodies toward the shrieks of other civilians. I find myself topside again in the granite tunnel where polished statues of heroes and beasts decorate the meeting area. I work my way through the crowd to see what everyone was looking at and there he was, the watchmen Martul lay pale and lifeless. His body completely drained of blood.
Raul charges through the growing crowd and signals a recruit to release war dogs. He glances at me through his steel helmet before shouting "Alright you meat! I want two melee squads of three with me and four rangers standing watch outside the gates." He turns on his heels and walks hastily toward the interior bunkers, his crimson cloak proudly bearing the dragons seal of Windel. Someone taps me on the shoulder, Bim.
His face is a deep red, Bim was usually unshakable but tonight his eyes reveal that he has seen something beyond words. He forcefully pushes me toward one of the chutes leading into the brewery stockpile. "Take this." Bim handed me a key before picking me up by my underarms and shoving me down the smooth stone shaft. On the way down I barely managed to hold in the almond bread I had just before sundown. The landing was rough but the now scattered plants and herbs at the bottom softened what would have otherwise been a very painful landing.
The aroma in the brewery was the result of barrels worth of sweet red wine and brown ale. The pine door was to be kept locked at all times. There has been a shortage of alcohol lately due to an increase of casualties on the outside, it is becoming too dangerous to gather plants. I picked up a hand full of berries and indulged on their bittersweet taste. The grinding of the main gate could be felt even here, four levels below the earth. The door began shaking violently and I began looking for a place to hide. There was an empty wooden barrel toward the corner of the room so I jumped inside and waited for the intruder to enter.
The door could be heard shattering, spraying splinters throughout the room. I heard heavy breathing, whoever it is has begun shouting orders at someone else outside perhaps. "Seal the chute" the man said in a raspy voice. "Burn this poison, it makes their blood much less enjoyable. Have the prisoners gorge on citrus for sustenance." Not a moment after, a hand reached into the barrel pulling me out by the hair. And then I saw him, a man who appeared to be young but his eyes harbored great wisdom.
"You will not die here boy. For I am death, and I know this."
He smiled and I could see his teeth. They were almost crystalline, almost transparent. He had long red braids down to his lower back where his slade breastplate ended, giving way to brilliant steel greaves. The man released me and stared into my eyes. I felt lost in a gray ocean and then there was nothing. Until I awoke to the sounds of chaos, my muscles ached and my head was too clouded to make sense of anything past the smell of charred bodies. Windel is under siege.