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Postby Cailin » April 12th, 2011, 7:58 pm

This is rapidly turning into a short story. I'm going to give it its very own thread. Feel free to comment or not. :)

Part 1

Usually night and day held little difference for K’Fir Masozi; regardless of whether it was the sun or moon rising on the overland, Ikemmu lurked in the same grey dull haze it always did. Because of this fact sleep came more as an unwelcome guest rather than a pursued past-time for the Shadar-Kai, and K’Fir was no different in that regard. When the hour grew late it was typical for him to have company on the high terraces of the dark spires overlooking the city. In fact it was all but expected for the young men of Ikemmu to meet there and crow until chased from their perches by the chorus of shouting Elders.

On this evening, however, K’Fir found himself very much alone. It seemed that every single Shadar-Kai was either participating in Uchehi-Kai or watching the festivities. The young man snorted tersely at the thought. From his vantage point he could clearly see the cluster of lanterns and torches on the far side of Ikemmu, his sensitive ears picking up the screeching and cheering carried in the windless air. He sighed, stretching long-muscled arms over his head as he leaned back against the ramparts. He was glad to be alone; free of the crowing and posturing if only for one night.

When he had told Enu he was neither participating nor attending, K’Fir received a quizzical look, as if his younger sibling had no way to comprehend such absurdity. K’Fir had simply shaken his head with arms crossed - a gesture so very like his father that he would have been furious to have it pointed out. Enu shrugged in response and plummeted into the shadows in pursuit of the gathering parade of men women and children on their way to the stadium.

And finally K’Fir had no one to impress; no shadow smothering him, no father to disappoint. Briefly he wondered if his father would continue his now legendary winning streak, but the thought was violently swallowed up in bitterness so thick it nearly choked him. K’Fir was no Zahar. He was barely even Shadar-Kai by some standards. And even if the beloved hero of Ikemmu died this night, there would be no avoiding the glorious story that would be told for years to come, just as there would be no avoiding the expectations he would inherit as the eldest living son of the late great Zahar Masozi.

He kicked a stone off the ledge with a snarl. He should have been enjoying his brief moment of freedom, but here he was once more trapped under Zahar’s indomitable shadow - brooding. Apparently solitude was yet another thing ruined by the circumstances of his birth.

The sudden roar of the crowd turned K’Fir’s attention once more to the arena. Trumpets, drums and bells clamored for dominance as the chant carried itself to his curious ears.

Xarageth! Xarageth! Xarageth!

K’Fir closed his eyes. The outsiders had pulled it off after all. Good. Maybe losing Uchehi to overlanders would teach the Shadar-Kai some humility. He barked out a laugh at the thought. As if such a thing were possible.

Enu came scrambling up the spire moments later, eager to tell his older brother all about the spectacular show he had just witnessed - and of course that father was alright, but that was a trivial matter.

K’Fir was not surprised to learn that Zahar had managed to survive the ordeal, but what truly set his mind reeling was Enu’s insistance that their father intended to follow on Xarageth’s heels to the surface. Instantly K’Fir’s good mood soured. Of course. Of course he would chase after that damned weapon. He swore loudly in Netherese, and his curse echoed tauntingly off the towers around him. He was a fool to dream of freedom.

Enu sighed at the outburst, leaning over the ledge with his strong toes gripping the stone.

“You should just go, if you hate this place so much.”

K’Fir leaned forward against his legs, sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest. “I can’t. Not with him there.”

Enu smirked. “You afraid?”

“No!” K’Fir shouted a little too quickly. Then realizing his mistake, softened his tone. “No... I- I just can’t.”

The truth of it was that K’Fir was indeed afraid. But not of his father. K’Fir Masozi, son of the great Zahar Masozi, was afraid of dying in those dark tunnels. It was the deepest shame any Shadar-Kai could know; to be afraid of death. And worse, that fear was practically a death sentence in the Shadowdark, a place where all the color and life syphoned out of your very soul if you didn’t take drastic measures to retain it.

He had taken to avoiding the Shadowy other-realm of Ikemmu, but eventually people were beginning to notice. And when they did... K’Fir shuddered at the thought. They’d likely exile him to prevent the spread of his fear, that dreaded weakness which could infect and kill. But then he’d be alone... and with that fear festering inside him he’d be dead before he even caught a whiff of the surface.

Xarageth had been his only chance in ten years. K’Fir smiled grimly. It figured that pride would be his fall in the end. How very Shadar-Kai of him.

It would be another ten years before the Uchei-Kai drew the weapon back. Would Xarageth even return? Would they survive? Would they take him with them if he begged? K’Fir grimaced as his nails dug into the sides of this calves. With his luck it would be Zahar who returned the weapon, if K’Fir even survived long enough to see it.

Up above the city K’Fir sat, mind swimming with all the emotions he struggled to deny. A scowl formed on his face as he watched the tiny pinpoints of light vanish up the northern corridor towards the surface tunnels. Xarageth would be leaving soon, with his father leading them to the land of sun. Tears stung his eyes and he grit his teeth, half tempted to fling himself from the spire right then an there. Only his stubborn Shadar-Kai survival instinct managed to hold him back long enough to regain his senses.

He had to focus his energy elsewhere, to push the fear back under the surface. But he couldn’t ignore the dread forever. Despite all his fears of that which lay beyond the relative safety of Ikemmu’s borders, he knew it would be the Shadowdark that claimed him in the end, if he didn’t find a way to escape it.
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Re: K'Fir

Postby Cailin » April 12th, 2011, 8:02 pm

Part 2

K’Fir made himself scarce during the weeks following the Uchehi-Kai. Zahar and Xarageth’s names were on the lips of every Shadar-Kai, driving him to near madness. He found it rather easy to avoid the chattering crowds, though his younger brother’s frequent attempts to track him down were becoming irritating. If Enu found him there would likely be an argument, perhaps even a fight.

They weren’t true brothers, in the strictest sense of the word. But then again none of his siblings shared mothers. Enu’s birth came just after Zahar’s second Uchehi-Kai, a product of “ceremonial good breeding”. In other words, Enu's conception had been intended, planned and arranged with only the highest standards in mind. Not like K’Fir, whose human mother wanted nothing to do with either K’Fir or his father, leaving soon after his birth as though he had been nothing but an anchor in her womb. He was Zahar’s problem then, and though the man was many things, Zahar was no father.

Often K’Fir wondered if having a normal human mother had doomed him from the start, infected him with weakness other Shadar-Kai seemed free from. Other times he fantasied that she hadn’t meant to leave him alone in a world that he didn’t quite fit into. Sometimes he imagined she had been captured by the drow in a raid instead of escorted to the surface by a caravan of traders as he was told. In those fantasies he played the triumphant hero, the good son saving his mother from the beastly drider menace. Then his father would praise him for his good work; thanking him for rescuing Mother.

It didn’t take long for the youthful fantasy to be crushed beneath the heel of cold reality. K’Fir was ignored in favor of Sefu, the elder brother by three years and the perfect heir of the Masozi legacy. Brave, brash, foolhearty and bold, Sefu stood to take up his father’s mantle more and more with each passing year. K’Fir gave up trying to keep pace with Sefu, who rarely paid his brother much attention - even less so when K’Fir balked at Sefu’s tracking of drow and butchering of their rothe for fun.

“If you can’t keep up, just go home K’Fir! I don’t need you slowing me down.”

Those words hissed in the dark had made K’Fir’s blood run cold. He stopped trying to convince Sefu to slow down, to turn back and avoid the upcoming drow encampment. He let go of his brother’s coat and stood still. Sefu blinked in the dark at his smaller, scrawnier brother. Then he turned, and vanished into the night.

Sefu returned later, bloodied and limping, but smiling- even laughing. He held up a pair of massive horns as he stumbled through the door of the tavern, barely 16 but already considered a man among his people. The rothe had gored him, the drow had shot arrows at him, but he survived with his prize and crowed.

K’Fir glowered at his tankard, ignoring his brother who was already loudly pondering where the tattoo would go while receiving appreciative cheers from the gathered crowd. If K’Fir were a typical Shadar-Kai, he would have been expected to share his brother’s triumph by challenging him with a crow of his own, an act which most likely would end in a good-natured brawl and perhaps a broken nose. But by the age of 13 it was painfully obvious that K’Fir failed to measure up to even the simplest standards. Not a single eye glanced in his direction; it was as if he had vanished into the floorboards.

The memory morphed and shifted as he ran through the market district, mutating in the shadows of his mind as another dark moment surfaced.

“Take your brother with you on the scouting run, Sefu.”

“Enu is barely able to hold a blade. Maybe next year.”

K’Fir had paused at the doorway as he heard the distinct voices of his older brother and Afia, his aunt. He pressed his back against the wall, stilling his breath has he listened to their words.

“Sefu,” Afia’s voice was harsher and stronger than before, “You know which brother I am talking about. K’Fir just needs to gain some confidence.”

There was a snarling sound and the scrape of a chair dragged over wood. His brother was sighing loudly. “If I take him he’ll ruin everything. He’ll bolt the second there’s any danger and embarrass us both.”

K’Fir felt a lump of anger rising in his throat, but he dug his nails into the wooden structure’s walls and remained silent.

“If you just gave him the chance-”

“No.” A new voice rang out above that of his Aunt, one that he recognized with terrible clarity. “You know just as well as I that K’Fir doesn’t have what it takes. Stop making excuses for him, he’s not your child.”

Zahar. K’Fir shuddered as the sound of his father’s voice resonated in the room. He closed his eyes, feeling the tremor of disappointment threaten to put voice to his grief. K’Fir didn’t wait to hear how the conversation ended, instead choosing to slink away and then run as fast as he could to find refuge in the towers. Zahar’s form leaned against the doorway, watching as his second son fled. Distorted blackened fingers twitched and then rose to stroke the newly formed crease in between his brows. That boy was in every way his mother’s child. With a tired shrug he turned, and shut the door behind him.
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Re: K'Fir

Postby Cailin » April 12th, 2011, 8:19 pm

Part 3

The memories of inadequacy and alienation chased each other bitterly in K’Fir’s mind as he made his way through the markets, deftly avoiding those locations which led to the Shadowdark alleys of Ikemmu. The fear in him had only festered since that day, the day he knew he could never be what his father wanted. And even worse, Sefu had died heroically in his first Uchehi-Kai. All eyes suddenly saw K’Fir again; the eldest son. Expectations and failure in equal measure threatened to drown him, chasing him up the towers and into hiding. Only Enu refused to let him go and now K’Fir was avoiding him, too.

The jumble of thoughts and memories must have muddled his senses, for as K’Fir rounded a corner he found himself colliding with and subsequently barrelling through a barrier between the realms. He tripped, spun and tumbled to the ground and into the Shadowdark.

Fear seized him instantly, the grey haze in the air felt suffocating and malevolent. K’Fir pushed himself to his feet, stumbling back but finding the portal gone. The streets were hauntingly empty. Feelings of dread and despair pressed in on him, squeezing his heart in an invisible vice. With a strangled cry he lurched forward, pulled against his will by some invisible force or perhaps his own body’s desperate attempt to fight back. The Shadar-Kai knew the Shadowdark as nearly a living essence, eager to pull the warmth from the blood, hungry to replace the spark of life with darkness and death. The evil force of this place was particularly drawn to the weaker mortal feelings: fear, despair, apathy and sadness. K’Fir was the best possible bait for such vicious forces, and his knowledge of this fact only served to make things worse.

His fingers were already chilled, rapidly the coldness spread up his arms - numbing his desire to run. The fear surged, hastening the unhooking of his spirit before the cruel glee of the Shadowdark.

Please... I don’t want to die, please...

He found himself begging, pleading, but unable to speak the words. His vision was swimming so dramatically that he barely noticed the appearance of something approaching him in the alley. Soft hoof-beats did register though, and K’Fir forced himself to look up as the Shadowdark retreated some from the aura of the nearing creature.

Before him stood a pale grey horse; imaciated and covered with open festering sores. Flies flitted over its skin from wound to wound, large black insects feasting and breeding in the horrible oozing red wounds. K’Fir fought back the urge to wretch at the sight. The creature fixed its hazy-black eyes on him and snorted softly.

Greetings mortal. I bring you an offer from the true Lord of Death.

It took K’Fir a moment to realize the creature was speaking to him in his mind, and he shuddered at the scraping sound clawing at the insides of his skull as it spoke. His terror threatened to tear all ability to speak from him, but he managed to nod his head in understanding.

You wish to be free from your mortal fears, from the power your father holds over you.

K’Fir shook violently at the words simultaneously screaming and whispering in his mind. He nodded again, before finally choking out “Yes. Yes, I beg you!”

There is a price.

The horse swished its bone-white tail casually.

“A-Anything!” K’Fir moaned, his hands buried in his hair as he doubled over, eyes shut tightly.

The dead eyes blinked, and the pervasive presence of the Shadowdark lifted slightly as K’Fir felt his breath returning to him slowly. The horse stood over him, watching him carefully.

You agree then. Freely and by your own will.

K’Fir stood upon a precipice. The moment before the fall. Behind him, death and fear, ostracism and alienation, the noose of Zahar’s legacy tightening around his neck. Before him, the abyss of the unknown. Could it really be as terrible as what he already endured?

At the edge he stood, arms spread wide.

K’Fir struggled to his feet to look the creature in the eye. “No tricks.”

The horse shook its head, disturbing a cluster of flies on its neck.

I do not lie. You will have what you asked for.

He took a deep breath. “Then I agree.” Over the edge and into darkness.

The horse made a soft whinny of excitement.

It is done then. Orcus will be pleased.

A sudden spark of dread made K’Fir pause. “O-Orcus? But the Raven Queen is-”

A false queen. The horse snorted tersely, One you bow to no longer.

“Wait I- I didn’t know you meant Orcus!” K’Fir took a hesitant step backwards as the horse advanced on him.

The ground beneath him began to tremble. The horse seemed unconcerned with K’Fir’s change of heart.

Too late, K’Fir Masozi.

The ground opened up beneath him before K’Fir had a chance to run, pulling him down into the abyss of shadow. The world above him seemed bright in comparison to the all-consuming darkness, as all too quickly it faded into the black chorus of screaming voices and coiling shadows.

Enu rounded the corner in a flash. He was sure he had saw his brother run down this corridor, sure he had heard his terrified scream... but there was no one there. Not even tracks. He flicked a buzzing fly away from his shoulder absently as he scoured the area for any sign of K’Fir. Defeated, he returned home hoping perhaps his brother had managed to escape as he had once dreamed.
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