Continuing from last week, this is Gregar’s story. Note: first draft, subject to change and heavy revision later before I compile the complete short story.
With Kae’Shaman’s instruction, I parted the mark’s dream as easily as a tent flap and stepped within. I had no need of the man’s name or Camp to know he was my target, because Vulkar’s Call pounded fiercely in my head, thundering hooves to split my skull wide open.
Kae’Shaman had assured me that a mark eliminated in his own dream would also die in the waking world unless he was an extremely strong dreamer, but I had to be certain of the blow. I had no guilt to weigh my heart, but I did have my pride and my kae’valda, the honor I wore in my hair and colors I wore about my hips. I was the best Death Rider and I would kill appropriately, cleanly, while awarding the most blood sacrifice to Vulkar.
Wrapped in Shadow to hide myself, I crouched in a corner of the man’s dream and paused to gain my bearings.
Despite being Sha’Kae al’Dan, the man dreamed of an outlander place, not the tents of our Plains. Cold stone pressed against my back and the rank odor of fear, blood, and urine burned in my nostrils. Distant screams and wails echoed eerily so I could not tell the source. This was no pleasant dream I had stepped into.
My mark dreamed of the Endless Night, confirming the necessity of his death.
I tasted something foul in my mouth as though I had been sick. My stomach churned. Inside my own gift of Shadow, my skin felt cold and clammy. No one could see me. No mortal eyes would pierce my invisibility.
But if I had stepped into a shadowed nightmare, a place ruled by the Endless Night…
Vulkar, let me strike quickly and leave this dream unnoticed.
Straightening, I glided silently after my mark. Creeping down a tunnel, he hunted someone, unaware that Death was already on his trail. Shadows cloaked the narrow way, thick and suffocating. They felt hungry, alive, and all-too knowing. My dark gift from Vulkar shivered on my skin, slinking and winding about me like snakes.
Shadows flock to me. As though they recognize me.
Furious, I sliced my left palm with the rahke. Pain cleared away the terror worming into my brain. I gave every drop of my blood to the Great Wind Stallion and His fire burns away the Endless Night!
Immediately, the tainted shadows flinched away from me. My mark was not so lucky. Shadows encircled his throat and winded about his limbs, pinning him against the wall. His eyes bulged and he opened his mouth to scream. A wrist-thick vine of shadow eagerly slithered around his throat, tightening like a noose.
I moved forward to put an end to the man’s suffering, but a voice echoed in the tunnel.
“COME, RIDER OF DEATH, AND SEE THE MARK I HAVE SELECTED FOR YOUR RAHKE.”
I scanned the tunnel, but no one was there, just the voice that made my teeth and bones ache. The man I’d come to kill struggled against the shadows binding him. “Never! I kill for Vulkar, not for you!”
Another Death Rider? Startled, I searched the mark’s hair, but in the darkness of the tunnel, I couldn’t tell if he wore red beads. However, his rahke shone in the darkness, pure bone against the black.
Exactly like my ivory rahke.
Chilled with foreboding, I drew my gift tighter about me, making myself as small and invisible as possible. If this mark was a Death Rider, lured specifically for some dire purpose, then I had to know the Endless Night’s schemes, not just to protect myself but all Death Riders who roamed the Plains in Vulkar’s name.
“HER DREAM AWAITS. STEP INSIDE AND MEET YOUR DESTINY. I GIVE HER TO YOU.”
Released from the shadow bonds, the man staggered backwards and instinctively brought his rahke up. “Death Riders never kill women.”
“SHE YEARNS FOR THE EMBRACE OF SHADOW, EVEN WHILE SHE RAILS AGAINST MY MIGHT.”
The voice crooned, still vile but sleek and soft and slick with oiled promises. The opposite wall swirled with shadows, opening to reveal a woman, asleep in a high bed. Her black hair gleamed against the sheets like a raven’s wing, and her skin was as luminous as though she’d swallowed the moon.
“ALREADY, SHE DREAMS OF YOU.”