Ereterus was hot and tired when he came to a large pair of ruins jutting out from a hill in the Plains of Van Durgle. Cracked, aged, and worn, the decrepit structure was the remnant of an old fort, and by the looks of the stag insignia above the partly open rusted portcullis, it had been in use by the Horfifin dynasty, who had long wiped out the vassal states, the smaller kingdoms that paid homage to the Austentoff dynasty. Ereterus knew history well. The Horfifin dynasty had overthrown and taken many of the smaller kingdoms from the Austentoff, claiming them as their own. The Austentoff dynasty had never forgiven them for it, and the unbridle malice that had time to stew and boil under the flames of hundreds and hundreds of years in resentment within the cauldron of time would be the Horfifin dynasty’s undoing, to a certain extent. Not that it mattered. In the long run King Horfifin’s XXXXVI wouldn’t have been able to withstand the even greater onslaught that ravaged the land a couple years later. It’s why hardly anyone lived on the ground anymore.
The tower, ancient and weathered, still exuded a feeling of strength, as if the spirit of the builders from ages past had put all their blood and ingenuity into it. In a sense, the spirits of the old builders still lived within these walls. Ereterus could feel it.
Ereterus took a look at the plain around him. From north to west, to east to south, the Plains of Van Durgle stretched like an undulating ocean, the grass bowing to the light breeze. The ruins wouldn’t be the safest place to camp (very little places at ground level were), but it would certainly be better than his prior nights of camping out in the open. It was only midday, but Ereterus didn’t care. He had been walking long hours for the past couple of months. He had been walking long hours for most of his life. Only rarely did he come across shelter that he could take refuge in. Normally he walked until 1 AM, only to get up at 7 AM. When he occasionally found a structure, which was rare, he would take advantage of his good fortune.
How he would have loved to have rested more. But time didn’t afford him the luxury. He had seen the vision from the oracle back in in Ipais. It wasn’t a vision set in stone, but a couple of visions that broke into two roads, one pleasant, one sinister, of what could be. There were two outcomes, a dead world, or reborn world of light and knowledge.
This knowledge that he carried was a burden. Ereterus knew that if he told anyone what he knew that they would kill him. The Ipains didn’t look kindly on what they considered blasphemy. If he dared share what the oracle had showed him, they would call him and the oracle a liar, giving them a prolonged death. Silence wasn’t always golden. It was more than that. It was the breath of life. Still, the knowledge he carried weighed heavier than the pack on his back, and he longed for the day that he wouldn’t have to keep it secret. Until then, there was nothing he could do. Eventually the time would come, he hoped, that all would be made known unto civilization.
He walked through the old portcullis and under the keep. Swords, spears, axes, and all other manner of weaponry were still nicely placed in the rack, despite the last ground war. In fact, there was little devastation inside the keep. The throne was still there, although the plush seating was spotted with mildew and the bronze frame had grown dull. Above the throne, the Horfifin coat of arms had been removed, obviously by the nobles who had still claimed allegiance to Austentoff. But the large round table for war meetings still stood in the middle and the tapestries, though a bit worn and moth eaten, still hung on the walls. Enough light was coming in from the slits for windows that Ereterus could see that there were a few blood stains on the table from the last scuffle as well as tears in the tapestries from swords. But overall it appeared that the dukes who had rebelled wanted this fortification to remain in the best condition possible so that they could make use of it. Remembering his history, Ereterus knew that the nobles weren’t that gracious with everything that Horfifin XXXVI owned. They and the rival Austentoff dynasty had laid utter waste to the magnificent marble brick and gold tiled Horfifin palace without mercy.
Ereterus shook his head. They needn’t had bothered. The upcoming dragon, dire wolf, or ogre attacks would have done all that hard work in a fraction of the time for the dukes and the kingdom of Austentoff. But what was done was done, and it wasn’t like Ereterus had anything to do with it; the events having transpired long before he was born.
Resuming his exploration of the structure, he walked up the stone steps that wound up to the top floor. At the top was a large oaken door, almost eaten away by termites. Ereterus gently pushed the door open, only to have it break into a pile of kindling, with the rusty door hinges just barely hanging onto the door frame.
He stepped into the chamber to find an old bed, the mattress and bedding partly eaten away by moths. Aside from the bed and a few tapestries on the wall, there wasn’t much left in the chamber, except for a small writing desk under an arrow slit, which, Ereterus found out, was strangely in better condition than the door had been.
He opened one of the upper drawers of the desk and found a parchment inside it, brittle but still readable. Ereterus had always loved reading old parchments and journals. They were windows back into the past, one that he could hardly understand, but one that he hoped to get a gleam some understanding, if only a little, from the written records of those who came before him. From this parchment, Ereterus learned that the commander stressed great value on horsemanship. Horsemanship! What a concept! In this age horses ran wild. Ereterus gently placed the parchment back in the drawer, closed it and opened another drawer only to find nothing.
He walked back down the stairs and out into the ward. From here he got a good look at the surrounding turrets. They had taken the most damage during the siege. Some had huge chunks blown out of their sides, others were missing their turrets. A particular large gash, wide at the top and narrowed as it slithered down, was in the north wall, opposite of the keep. This section had taken huge catapult damage.
What Ereterus really wanted to find was the dungeon. Though not the most comfortable place to sleep, it would offer him the most protection from ogres, dire wolves, and dragons. This was small comfort. Dragons and dire wolves could and did dig if they sensed a buried life form, and ogres were known to topple buildings for fun, trapping the poor, unfortunate soul who was unlucky enough to be buried under the rubble, but every little bit of protection helped.
Looking back on his month long journey across the plains, Ereterus was surprised that he hadn’t been picked off by one of these monsters. They were always on the hunt, and the plains offered little to no protection. He had encountered one ogre a couple of months ago, a lumbering beast as large as a small mountain, rock-like in nature with huge jagged plates of armor for skin, and knots of stone-like growth protruding like spikes from his back.
There had been no ruins on the open plains. No place to hide. No place except for the tall grass in the hopes that the ogre wouldn’t see him. Ereterus was lucky that ogres, unlike dragons don’t have a sense in which they can detect body heat, or the smell of a dire wolf. By nature, ogres are dumb and slow creatures, but they find simple pleasures, and there was no guarantee that the oaf wouldn’t still step on him by changing direction, or lie down and roll around in the grass.
Ereterus hadn’t remembered a time he had been so frightened in all his life. He counted it as a blessing and as proof of his divine mission when the ogre passed him by, finger up his nose as he lagged his clumsy feet behind him.
Tummy rumbling, Ereterus was reminded that he hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning. Finding a dislodged stone to sit on, he removed his cloak, took off his hat, and removed his knapsack to take out a piece of cheese and bread that he had stolen from one of those flying traders that often made their way to Ipais for trade. In this case, the trader had landed to make some minor repairs to his flying machine.
The food had looked tasty and Ereterus would have gladly paid for it if he had money to do so. He had gotten partly lucky with the trader. In this case Ereterus had offered to help him, hoping that he wouldn’t have to steal, but the trader had only scorned him as a stupid earth dweller. And so when the trader was deeply absorbed in his repairs, Ereterus stole some bread and a wheel of cheese from his table. Stolen or rightly earned, when one was starving it didn’t matter. It tasted good either way.
Ereterus drank from his flask, dislodging a piece of dry bread caught in the back of his throat. He breathed deeply, feeling the breeze lightly caress him under the warm sun. It was strange to think that small moments like this were moments of deep joy. But in living a life of constant movement, always trying to survive, in the hopes of finding an answer to the world’s problems, moments like this were a joy.
After eating, he fell into the grass. It was soft and flowers were all around him. Yellow flowers like the noonday sun, flowers as blue as the early morning, flowers as white as snow, flowers as red as velvet, wildflowers abounding in what was once a training ground. From his right ear, he heard some quiet chirping. He turned his head to his side to see a little field mouse harvesting little seeds from the flowers. The mouse scurried off to his den somewhere. Ereterus looked back up at the sky. The clouds were extra puffy today, billowing like sails unfurled as they sailed across the ocean of the firmament.
Ereterus yawned. He wanted to fall asleep in this peaceful ward, among the beautiful flowers, under the tranquil sky. But he knew that was a death wish. The sky could easily turn into a nightmare with the huge monsters roaming about. Certainly he had risked much in the past weeks, such as his encounter with the ogre, but that was because he had no shelter. When shelter was provided one took it.
Getting up he stretched before putting his cloak and hat back on, strapping his pack back to his back, and grabbing his knapsack. He walked along the walls of the fortress until he came across a set of stairs leading down. Either it lead to the cellar or the dungeon. Regardless, he had found it just in the nick of time. For a shadow fell over him. Flying high above him, wings outstretched to block out the clouds, was a dragon. Without hesitation, Ereterus ran down the stairs before the dragon could either burn him to a cinder or eat him raw.
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