The land sagged beneath the dampness from last night's storm Lukous mused to himself as he dressed in his usual attire with his oaken club at his side before gathering the freshly felled timber he meant to trade for news with his merchant friend from afar.
‘Not that it is much of a difference,’ he thought sourly. Stepping out of his family’s age-old home, he looked at the blackened trees that encompassed his home and village with a sad look. For as long as he could remember, they have had always looked…wrong. Some of the leaves had hints of green on them but for the most part they were withered and withdrawn. The trees and the land itself got worse as he walked towards the village proper, with the sickness of the land more and more present in his view. He always had a strong feeling why it was as so and knew in his heart the truth of it, but he did not wish to acknowledge it in his mind so early in the morning.
Stepping into the village, he drew into his skin; from some sense of primal instinct for protection. His free hand curled around his club and tightened, squaring his shoulder and his eyes darting at the gathering villagers that stared at him from their homes and shops. His other hand under the timber became a fist; more than ready to lash out with equal force of his club if pressed to use them. But he knew that the villagers would never dare attack him in the day with outsiders present. They knew the consequences of people asking questions they dare not answer and answering to infighting could very well lead to the truth being unleashed.
They knew, as did he, if he were to be actually slain by them, the village would be doomed to destroy itself from the inside out, confirmed by both his family as well as Rackit’s family. Still, he had to protect himself in case they got bold as they’ve done in the past or if Rackit decided to move out on him at long last and try to take control over the village completely. He did not bother calling him Father Rackit even in his head as he had continued the betrayal and butchering of Dualism as well as defaming the Way to hide his horrible deeds.
Shaking his head out of those angry thoughts, he continued to the trading depot, ignoring the buildings that reminded him of abandoned carcasses of animals slain out in the forest that were left alone for far too long, the people that stared at him from their windows that reminded him of darkened shadows. He ignored them so he did not have to look at their eyes, which bore such horrible depth and bleakness that should never be found in the mortal world. It always sent a chill down his spine when he did look at their eyes. Lukous considered himself lucky that he did not see Rackit’s eyes yet as his were the worst of all of the village, but he doubted the man would be hiding long today, even with the merchant here. ‘day was when he held his ‘seminars’; a cruel joke to call them that.
That man alone was the main source of the taint of the land and the people, with his mockery of the so called last temple of Dualism spreading more of the taint. Or, Lukous thought to himself, the Church of Ecclesia as it was called and decorated when outsiders came, as it was now. The vileness of the village stemmed from that building and contaminated almost everything in its path, but that man infected the people constantly and thoroughly.
Clenching his club tighter, he walked into the building with a slight intake of air. It had always bothered him walking into one of the buildings as it felt like walking into Nau’s realm, only perverted due to Rackit’s influences. Yet, he needed to travel into the trading port to get what he wanted from the merchant. Looking around, he spotted the merchant in the corner of the room at a table far away from the local inhabitants, as he long ago requested to make sure no one came behind him and try to kill him
He was not as tainted with the bleakness of sin as the rest of the people of the village were, but it was still there, no doubt a product of his profession. He was sure of it, as he saw it grow a sliver once when the man clearly cheated him in a trade. But at the core, he knew the man to be a good person. With a sigh withheld, he walked over to learn of the outside world.
The merchant looked up at the man he knew as Lukous with mixed feelings. His family had been trading with this man’s family for ages now and they’d always provided the best meat to sell or whatever else they had to offer them. Yet, they always had that annoying sense of superiority of themselves; looking down at the people and the village. It was a nice village, with pleasant looking trees and vibrantly painted buildings. It was secluded, which meant that the village did not need to worry itself of being too grand to offend any nobles nor did they need to pay any taxes to nobles. He might set himself up here one day when he retired. Then again, he frowned to himself; there seemed something off about the village, with his eyes drawn to the town’s church of Ecclesia, but he could never put his finger on it.
“Hello the merchant.” The brown hair, blue-eyed man said softly with a light bow of the head, sitting down in front of him. . Like his family before, they had always used the old greetings of business when they did their trades. It was odd as no one bothered with them anymore, but then again, he was not going to question it. They seemed very high strung for simple villagers, but he didn’t want to loose such a valuable asset this far east by offending him.
“Hello the trader.” He bowed his head back, looking at the whole timber pile the man dropped on the table. It was exquisite stock and he knew that he’d make a tidy profit by sending it to his friends to make it into furniture cheaply and then make a fortune selling in towns to the south and west. “May your health be well as we last meet?” He added the next part of the old greeting and now he waited for the man to return it back so they could begin.
“I am.” There, it was done with. Now he could get to the business at hand, that lovely timber. “So I see that you have a nice assortment of timber here, what price are you seeking this time?” He held back a grin; the man was a good provider of raw material, but a poor businessman. He had no sense for money and at times he didn’t seem to care he was being cheated openly!
“None, save information.” His mouth nearly hit the table. This was too much to believe!
“Well, there is not much change friend. There was some talk of wars in distant lands, nobles still seek higher taxes, but that’s always the case. The years have been good for the most part, though last winter was particular harsh.” He grunted, remembering being forced to stay off the roads and loose profit. “But for the most part, the world is as it was last time we met.” He sighed, leaning back into his chair. Blinking, he leaned up remembering one new change to the world that this man might find interesting. “Well, execpt of course, old Metamor.”
“Oh?” He blinked, looking confused and interested. “Has that land fallen?” The Keep was known even this far east for its strength and power to keep evil creatures at bay. The Keep was something to admire; that was the general opinion of the people of the village.
Then again, they were in a lucky location. They had the Great Barrier Range above them to keep the monsters out of their midst, with the forest of Aelfwood just to the east and the Elderwood to the west to keep them secluded.
“Nay friend, but the land has become cursed.” He smiled inwards; spinning yarns was something he did almost as well as selling goods. “It seems that some wizard attempted to break through and laid three curses. One that made them beasts, one that robbed of their age and one that robbed them of their manhood.” He grunted, the last one he found the most disgusting. Becoming a woman was far worse than loosing his age or becoming some mangy animal.
“When did this happen?” The man looked very worried all of a sudden.
“About seven or so years ago, why?” All of the sudden, the man got up from the table and started to leave. This was very unusual, as he’d always said the proper words for leaving the table. “What’s wrong friend?” He cried out, picking up the timber with a grunt as he tried to follow the man.
“West.” He said over his shoulder as he started towards somewhere. The merchant wasn’t sure why he was following him or why he was asking these questions, but it felt right to him to do so. “To Metamor Keep.”
“What?! Why?” He reached forward to grab the man’s shoulder to make him face him. “Be reasonable; the land is cursed and leagues away! Why’d you want to go there?!”
“My father died about seven years ago, and if I were to guess, on the day those curses were struck. He’d told me that Yau and Nau give him a message that I was to leave as soon as I heard of a great change in the world and as the last believer of Dualism, I was to record and decipher the meaning behind the change.” He stopped and stared at the merchant hard. The merchant looked around and noticed they were out of the village proper and on an old road in the midst of the forest. By all accounts, he should be terrified as he was alone with a very strange and quite possibly equally dangerous man. Yet he was not nervous in the slightest. “My friend, I do believe this might be the last time I will ever see you. Heed my words; do not come back to this village ever again.” He paused and took a deep breath. “There is much evil in the souls of this land and I do not wish to loose the only man I can call a friend to it.”
“What do you mean by-never mind.” He waved his hand, not caring to get dragged into village politics, always made things difficult. Following the road, they had ended up in front of an old looking house that had seen much better days. In fact, it seemed like battles had taken place in the past and some recently… “Look, it’ll take you months to walk all way to Metamor Keep. I’ll give you a ride in my wagon for the time being. In exchange for two things, of course.”
“Name your price friend.” The man stood on his stairs, looking down at him with his blue eyes, seemingly piercing through him.
“Your name, and the reason why I should never come back.”
“A fair price, friend. My name is Lukous and if you will come in to my house, I will tell you a tale which will answer your second question.”
The merchant was clearly uneasy in his home, Lukous noticed, it was plain to see with him trying not to fidget in his seat and his eyes darting around, picking out the defenses built into his house. The merchant’s feet scrapped against the floor on and off as well as fingers moved across the table when he forget to control his nerves. But he needed to know the truth before leaving as well as Lukous felt the need to tell someone of what had happened to his ancient family and what was happening in the village. Sighing, Lukous sat down at his table in front of the merchant and cleared his throat. Despite feeling the need to share and long ago learned how to hide his emotions, his own nerves were acting up. Sighing, he settled on something that would lead to the truth without worrying the merchant too much.
spat out the word, hating the mockery to the deep of his bones.
“Yeah, there was something always off.” The merchant rubbed his chin, trying to think of what it could be. He always felt something was wrong but he never could pinpoint it. It was something, he felt, clearly obvious if he could only pick out a single tread.
“There is no graveyard behind it nor around it.” The merchant jumped in his seat, finally noticing the fact that many outsiders overlooked. Those that did notice sadly were not clever enough to keep quiet about the lack of ground and asked one of the questions that the villagers did not want to answer. “It’s because they follow a mockery of Dualism and wish to hide their horrible deeds behind the Way’s church.”
Paling from realization of what a lack of a graveyard meant , the merchant tried to change the conversation. “W-what’s Dualism?” He paused, and then added, “Friend?” The merchant looked around his home again, perhaps noticing the blots on the windows and the locks on the door now.
“An ancient religion, predating most.” He sat down, reliving the tale that he had been told since he was a kid in his head. He reached into his shirt, pulling out perfectly balanced crystal prism. “On an island due south of this land, there were people that had worshiped two deities, Yau and Nau, life and death. They viewed them as equal parts of the world, and our interactions with the world required proper balancing for a good and happy life. If one were to go hunting for boar, one would need to make sure that piglets were to come in spring. If one were to fish, one was required to make sure they could reproduce. If a lord were to collect taxes, he’d be required to spend it on the people he governed over to aid them. The priests were required to tend to all, providing comfort and aid in both good and bad times, be it poor or wealthy. They were there to welcome a child into the world by using blessing from both Yau and Nau and if one were to die-” Lukous faltered, treading on what had practically destroyed Dualism so long ago.
“What was to happen Lukous?” The merchant was entranced by the tale. Lukous had always been to the point in their trades and sharing few words outside of it. But now, the same man, the one in front of him, was using a softer tone that drew him deeply into the tale. He could be a fine bard if he ever managed to drop that superiority he gave off.
“As to quote, ‘As it came from the flesh, so shall it return to the flesh in the end.’ “ He looked at the merchant with steady eyes, looking for any signs of fear or disgust. The merchant, having spent years on the road, learned how not to show either, yet realization was dawning on him. “Not to kill and devour those who disagree with the word of Rackit.” He spat in anger, turning his head away, hating the man for all him and his family had done.
“Do you know of the tale in your Scriptures about them finding a barbaric town on a island that were cannibals?” He spoke first in anger and sighed softly. The merchant nodded his head. He had heard of all the stories of times long ago, sure half of them were fake to teach some pious lesson. One of the more obvious fake stories was about the supposed higher civilization that practiced dark rituals to keep it maintained. The lesson there was never to accept anything at face value or something like that. Pure rubbish, of course, as the real world didn’t work that way. “I bear them no anger, let me be clear on that. I’m sorry if I did offend you friend.” Sighing, Lukous ran a hand through his hair. “The truth of the mater is that one of the messengers of that ancient town wished to create communications with the new faith on the mainland. The scholars of that time also foresaw a great change in the world and thought by creating ties with the new religion, they would be better off from it. I do not know what happened for sure, but I believe the messenger had spoke to a distant garrison that acted without proper orders from above. They issued threats against the town on the island if they did not repent. The people of the ancient island were divided in action, of either to accept them as the new faith or fight them off to maintain their own faith. A small portion decided to flee, knowing both actions would lead to their deaths. Only those who fled survived the onslaught from that garrison. Again, I bear no anger to the Way or their actions against my ancient homeland. Dualism’s time had come in the great change and the Way was to flourish along with the Lightbringers’s deities replacing Yau and Nau.” He sighed once more, looking down at the table. “They have been hiding, those who fled, here in fear all those years, slowly loosing their faith. Many left to join the Lightbringers, the Way, or the other religions where they felt they would be safe. Those that stayed slowly butchered Dualism into a dark practice. My family has spent the last several generations preventing the town from descending into total sin and horror. The villagers know that fact as well and resent them for it. They could have killed my family any time, they have the numbers on their side and have tried it in the past, but by doing so they would destroy themselves as they would have no one stopping them from preying on everyone that came to the village.” He looked up the merchant. “I have much regret in abandoning them to themselves now, but I have to follow my orders for my faith.”
“That’s…quite a tale.” The merchant leaned back in the chair, no doubt reeling from the information he told him. He was quite scared now with an outsider knowing the truth, aware of the dangers that came from it. Yet Lukous felt relieved for another to know the tale that was not a monster.
“I suppose you will not be taking me to the Keep, friend.” Lukous stared at the man across the table, his fingers darting to his club.
“I never said that friend.” The merchant sat up, looking up at him with light eyes, something he rarely saw. Lukous knew the merchant was telling the truth by those eyes alone. “I made a deal and I intend to see it through.” He spat in his hand and held it out, something that even he didn’t adhere to but he deeply appreciated the feeling behind it. “To Metamor Keep.”
Lukous spat into his hand, smiling. “To Metamor Keep.” He shook the merchant’s hand, a deal being struck. “Thank you friend.”
“It’s Naet, friend.”