Thursday, 20 November 2014

Scent: Part 14

They hurried through the city into a residential district. Moving at speed was hard for Fang as he wanted to inspect everything in his new surroundings, Reven was constantly pushing or pulling him away from ‘interesting’ smelling things. At last they came to a stop outside a large stone house. The house was ringed with a high wall and a spiked metal gate sat before the long sandy path that led to the front door. A lone guardsman sporting a long black cloak and a black helm that completely covered his face stood on the other side of the gate. Reynard paid him no attention as he pushed one half of the gate opened and stepped through. Aisha motioned for Reven to follow and he did so, Fang trotting in after him. Aisha stepped through closing the gate behind her and the whole time the guard stood motionless. Reven wondered if it may be a statue and not a person at all but then a breeze caused the guards cloak to ripple and Reven wondered no more. They walked the path to the front of the house and the door swung wide just before they reached it. A kindly looking old man was revealed as the door opened and he held it wide as they made their way in. He was dressed in a black and white butler’s suit and bowed as the travellers entered. ‘Welcome travellers’ he said, making his ruddy cheeks wobble. He batted away the ruff at his neck before continuing, ‘The master awaits you below’. He closed the door and motioned for them to go down the hall. Reynard took the lead and headed down the hall and through a door on his right. He held it open for the others as they made their way in. Reynard shut the door behind them and made his way over to a cupboard. He opened both doors of the cupboard and went to step into it but hesitated. ‘Reven, when we meet the master do not speak to him unless he addresses you. And speak to no-one of the things you see here...our secrecy is one our greatest weapons. Do you understand?’ Reynard’s brow was furrowed as he spoke. Reven nodded his agreement and was surprised at how serious Reynard was. Aisha pushed past him and walked into the cupboard. She fumbled inside for a moment and then there was a click and the back panel of the cupboard slid to this side revealing a torch lit stairway. Aisha moved inside and headed down the stairs. Reynard motioned for Reven and Fang to follow and they did so. After Reynard stepped through he shut the cupboard doors behind him and tapped a switch that sent the back panel sliding back into place. 

The stairs seemed to go on forever. They were carved out of solid rock and spiralled down. They passed several opening top other levels as they travelled but didn’t stop at any of them. Reven had counted three other levels before the one that they stopped at. The hallway they walked down was interspersed with wooden panel doors and was richly decorated with pictures and wall hangings that all depicted bloodletting in various forms. They were either battles or scenes of assassination. One featured a figure riding atop a huge war hound whilst beset on all sides by snarling green beasts. Reven stared in wonder at the works of art and followed Aisha in a daze as they made their way around a bend in the hall and then they came to an abrupt stop. They stood at the open doorway of what appeared to be a huge cave. It was a huge rock dome dominated by a huge statue that stood in the middle of a raging fire pit. Around the edges of the room stood pairs of warriors all dressed similarly to Reynard and Aisha and in front of each pair stood a child. The children looked as if they ranged in ages but most appeared to be older than Reven with some looking like they were verging on adulthood. ‘Last in’ whispered Aisha with a grimace, stay calm boy and luck be with you’ Aisha led Reven over to the pit whilst Reynard secured Fang in a cage at the back of the room before taking his place at her side. Fang whined as he looked out and Reven couldn’t help but turn his head and smile to reassure him everything was ok. If he was honest though he didn’t know that for sure. Reynard and Aisha had been quite elusive on the road when he had asked them about why they were travelling and what they wanted with him. They had said that there would be a test and that he would meet the “Master”, whoever he might be. Reven was relieved to see that the faces of the other children in the hall all had the same bemused look as his and some that just looked downright scared. A few of the children were sobbing quietly to themselves, their small bodies quaking at the strain of keeping their sobs in. He continued looking round and made a count, there were twenty children in total, all waiting and not one of them with a look that said they knew what they were waiting for. 

After a few uncomfortable minutes of silence a hooded figure made his way into the room with a woman trailing behind him. As they arrived at the fire pit in the centre he removed his hood and the attached cloak and handed it to the woman. In response she handed him a long knife. The blade of the weapon was completely black and wavered from side to side as it came to its glittering point. The man was huge, taught muscles rippled in his arms and his leather vest could hardly contain his barrel chest. His grey hair was tied back and despite the fact he must have been getting on in years to sport it he had a look of vitality and strength about him that couldn’t be denied. He looked around the room, taking a reverse grip on the knife as he did so, the blade tucked up behind his forearm. He made his way to a child to Reven’s left and looked at him appraisingly. He pulled the cloth of the boy’s shirt to the side to reveal a pink scar that seemed to shine in the light of the fire. He nodded his approval and moved onto the next child repeating the process. He did this a few times before reaching a girl that looked as if she was just about to reach her teenage years, only a little older than Reven. He put his arm around the girl still holding the knife and just appeared to lift her up; one hand at her neck and the other scooped under her legs. He handed to her two guardians who bowed and stepped backwards out of the ring of children. The girl’s body was limp and he could hear the children either side of her gasp and whimper. They were quickly hushed and the man moved on, continuing his inspection. 

By the time he reached Reven three children had been handed to the pair of warriors at their back and Reven could not help but feel anxious and more than a bit fearful of the muscled giant who stood in front of him. The man’s face and body were criss-crossed with scars and his eyes seemed to burn with a feverish glow. He stared deep into Reven’s eyes before pulling his shirt aside and nodding approvingly before moving on. Reven released a breath that he hadn’t realised he was holding and stole a glance over his shoulder at Reynard. Reynard motioned for him to look forward but gave him an encouraging wink. Once the man had finished looking over the last child he made his way back to the woman and spoke in her ear. The woman nodded and made a note in a small book she had opened. The man looked out over the children that remained in the circle and began to speak with a voice that boomed and reverberated in the cave like dome. ‘Welcome. You may not know why you are here or who we are but all will be revealed soon enough. One thing you all share in common is that you have nothing in this world. Nobody waits for you, you have no possessions bar those that you carry with you now. We are the Black Veil and you are our aspirants. The time for your first trial is already upon you.’ As he spoke these words all of the warriors stepped back from their child and left the room in single file. This included Aisha and Reynard. Reven watched them leave and as soon as the last warrior had passed through the door a metal portcullis rumbled down to bar any exit. The warriors turned and jostled for position, each trying to get the best view of the room they had just left. The woman moved from child to child relieving them of their possessions and for Reven this meant his short sword, money pouch and his booted dagger. The man followed in her wake handing out wooden clubs from a bag that he had picked up from the side of the room. Once each child had a club the man stood in the centre of the room and addressed them all again. ‘In this room there are five bags. Each bag contains a weapon. Each weapon guarantees a life.’ The children looked at each not understanding what the man meant. He smiled broadly, ‘Admission to our order is only won through strength of arms. None of you know each other, you have nothing but miserable lives. We offer the opportunity to change that. You fight or you starve. The last five standing will join us.’

Many of the children seemed reluctant to do anything with this information. They stood staring blankly at each other or the clubs in their hands. Reven looked at the children either side of him. They stood about five feet apart, he looked at his club and noticed for the first time the dark satins that marked its surface, blood he thought. ‘Fight’ the man bellowed as he made his way toward the portcullis coming to rest against a wall. A child opposite Reven reacted and swung his club at a boy next to him. The child stared at him blankly as the club smashed down on his head, collapsing his temple and sending him to the floor, convulsing in his death throws. Reven was next to react, striking out to his right and bringing his club down hard on an older boy’s wrist. Bone shattered under the blow and the boy dropped his weapon involuntarily as his fingers slackened. Reven’s return stroke smashed the boy full in the face sending a spray of teeth and blood arcing out of the boy’s mouth as he collapsed motionless to the floor. A scream from behind him caused Reven to duck, a club whistled over his head and a girl slammed in to him carried by the inertia of her attack. They fell to the floor in a heap and Reven snarled as he tried to push her off. She regained her composure quicker though and straddled him putting her weight on her club trying to cut off his air. He brought his club up and it caught her a glancing blow on the back of the head and her attack waivered. He threw a punch with his other hand twisting his body as he did so, knocking her to the floor and rolling on top of her. He brought his club down repeatedly leaving her once pretty face a bloody mess. 

Reven came to his feet and looked around. All over the room there were struggles, Fang howled in his cage wanting to be released into the fight. Reven saw a boy finish another with a swipe to the jaw and he stood looking at Reven. The boy rushed at him breathing heard from his exertions. Reven side stepped as the boy swung at him and his attacker stumbled past. Reven cracked him neatly on the back of the head sending him sprawling. He didn’t rise again. The last of the fights were dying down and Reven turned, looking to the edge of the room for one of the bags. He ran to the edge and made his way round it. There, behind a rock he spied a bag and pulled it free. He delved into it and pulled out a bow and a single arrow. He held them aloft looking at the man who still leaned against the wall next to the gate. Other children were doing the same and finally 5 stood. One holding an axe, one a knife, one a sword and the last a hammer. The man started forward as the children gathered in the middle of the room. Looking directly at Reven he spoke ‘Six stand, only five places were offered’, the man inclined his head towards the cage that held Fang, ‘Kill the hound.’ Reven screamed ‘No!’ and starting backing up frantically towards the cage. The boy immediately to Reven’s left, the sword bearer started after him. ‘It’s just a dog, let me pass’. Reven roared and launched himself at the boy. Despite having one of the deadliest weapons there it was too heavy for the boy to lift in time to defend himself. Reven’s club landed squarely between the boy’s eyes with a gratifying crunch. Reven fell upon him battering his prone body with blow after blow until the big man who had been watching the scene unfold restrained him and lifted him clear. Reven struggled free, gasping for breath. The man looked at him with a wide smile on his face and simply said ‘five standing, good’.

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