LAWS OF THE LAND
1. Each gift of life must be paid for with blood.
2. No animal will be made to walk as the living dead, nor returned to life from death.
3. The number of 6 and 1 will never be spoken, and groups of 6 and 1 will be avoided.
4. The Truename will be cherished and kept and not sullied with lies.
5. No life will ever be wagered on a game of chance.
6. A line of white sand will not be crossed.
6 and 1. None shall leave the Land.
BEYOND THE VEIL
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I have an old book of poems. The binding is long since gone and the cover is little more than two battered sheets of dull ochre marking the beginning and end. I hold it together with twine, which has left permanent dents in the peeling leather. On the third page is a poem which reads:
Glory of the golden light
Your warmth my heart enlivens
All color made bright in your sight
The crystal blue horizons.
The title of that poem, written in some other world, looking at some other sky, is the sun. Lower case letters, as if it didn’t matter. I used to sit and read that poem again and again, to try and imagine what a sun like that would be like: one of warmth, of bright cheer. I always thought of it as a kind of embrace, or like being under heavy furs near a fire at an inn. I stayed in an inn once, the first night we left Athleas, when we didn’t know how hard it would be, and it was like that: warm and soft and safe. I slept all night.
The sun I see is not that sun.
At night, as Aedan puts up his ward around our campsite, doing what he can to keep out night creatures, before we have to extinguish the fire and wrap up all together in our blankets to keep warm, I read that book. I’ve tried reading it during the daytime, and the poems are still beautiful, but there is something about firelight that makes words on parchment more powerful.
Aedan has a tic: he clops one hoof against the ground right after he finishes the last words of his prayer to the First Lich. It’s almost like the signal. We get to work damping the fire. The ward is strong, but only holds so long. Catriona had said we were only a few valleys from the Plains of the Dead, so tonight could be the worst. Then two more nights and - First Lich’s blessing - we’ll get to the gates of Tair Mar.
We began building the pile, bodies next to bodies. Aedan’s unnatural heat always made him popular, but it was the faint wisp of sulfur following him that kept me away. They say your senses are sharpest when you are ten, so maybe that’s why it didn’t bother the others as much. We’d try to wake just before twixt. Six in the morning was too dark, and eight too late, but the twixt hour was a poor time to have any goals. I’d always loved being next to Gangrel when he was still with us, before the worm-men took him, because his wolf-furred back was like another blanket. There were almost twenty of us when we left.
There was the usual rumbling and shifting, sniffling and shuffling as the pile got comfortable, slowly sinking into the darker sounds, the midnight quiet as each person fell to their own thoughts or into the soft motionlessness of almost-sleep. This was the part of the day I hated the most, the part I was escaping with my book and my firelight. I knew none of the others were sleeping yet either. Like me, they were waiting. This was the time when my stomach started to clench and burn, when I had to trap the sobs deep down at the base of my throat where they threatened to strangle me.
It was the quiet pause. The moment when everything seemed alright. The moment before they found us. Before the noises begin....