The Song of the Markhor

70,000 words.

The Song of the Markhor is a story of fatherhood. Gideon Pawl and his father, Astor, are Palikars, knights, who serve the Rhed Empire in the peace that was forged at the close of the Pauvaline Civil War. Gideon’s Veteran Father is haunted by the destruction of their homeland, Markhor and has worked to keep the peace throughout what once was their homeland in the decades since the close of the war.

On business in the Country of Kasio for the Rhed Emperor Astor and Gideon witness an invasion by Rhemus and the breaking of the treaty that has held the peace since the close of the war. Upon the request of Kasio’s queen, Astor and Gideon must guide her through the unexplored wastes of the Graylorn mountains in order to bring her safely to her brother, the Rhed Emperor.

Gideon is young man. His head is filled with dreams of grandeur, heroism, and the desire to be a great warrior. He knows the stories of his father’s deeds and his role in ending the Civil War, and wants nothing more than to make his father proud. Astor wants for more for his son than a life haunted by the horrors of war and has raised him to be a healer, to wield the magic of Canticae through the Song of Creation, and a good man.

As Gideon rides across the burning farmlands of Kasio to rescue the Queen from pursuing Cavalry, works to heal those who survive the invasion, and braves the wilderness of Graylorn and the mountain men who dwell there, he comes to understand why his father’s sleep is tortured and how ugly a thing war is. He learns that the duty of a Palikar, a Knight of Rhed, is to protect the peace and heal those who the world has damaged. As the peace of the world Gideon knows is threatened by the evil of war, the dreams of grandeur fade. The drive for power and greed of warmongering men destroyed his father’s home and it must be stopped. Kasio cannot fall.

Prelude – The Burning

Fires roared throughout the land, driven forward as the army marched. The screams of men, women, and children wailed throughout the villages. Death’s song thundered, caught between walls of steel and flame. Sweeping through the forests, the fires turned the ground to ash. Spreading death from tree to tree, the blaze charred the stones of the cities and burned bodies as it sped, blazing deeper and deeper through the woods. Horns blasted foul music leading the flames and army forward.

The lonely tune of a Gradarius breached the night. Cutting through the horns, the roar of the flames, and the clanging of the armor of the marching men, it spoke cleanly and solemnly under the moon.  Through the wall of flames that ringed the army’s advance, glowing deeper red than the hottest coal, a man walked with sword drawn. Dominating the horns the song of the Gradarius sounded throughout the burning forest, ushering in the sound of Chaos.  The melody rose and fell, screaming through the trees, enveloping the figure. A red light shone through the boughs of the smoldering trees, casting ruddy shadows on the ground. The soldiers stopped their march watching the lone man with drawn sword, unadulterated hate in his eyes. This was his land, the last soldier of Markhor taking the last stand.  They cautiously gazed at his body, bathed in a red light that came from no source. The moon above was as pure and white as ever, but the dead forest floor was blood red. A bright flash of light flooded the clearing for an instant and the music stopped. A booming cachopany sounded from the ground itself beating, burning, searing in the man’s mind. The army before him, walls of fire behind him, there was no turning back. With rage in his heart burning hotter and brighter than the fires raging through his home, he charged.

The tortured symphony drove him. He felt power surging through his limbs; a power like nothing he had felt before. He swung, jumped, and dodged, his rage growing with each body that fell. His blood boiled, and his mind broke. As wave after wave of soldiers fell upon him he laid them dead upon the ground. They struck him, their blows did nothing; they slashed him, their blades pierced no flesh; they shot him, their arrows ricocheted. Losing his sword in the growing mountain of the dead, he fought with bare hands. Bones broke, spines snapped, blood gushed, and skulls cracked. There was nothing left but the animal rage that consumed him; a rage that lusted for more blood. When the pile of bodies rose to his knees, he let off a howling scream. The soldiers froze. They were now trapped within the walls of fire that had protected their march.  The man’s mind was gone but his senses were sharp. Moving with a speed he had never known he tore through line after line of men, a cleansing fire glowing red through the black trees. One by one they fell, torn limb from limb by the beast he had become. 

The song stopped, the fires faded, and the haze in his mind cleared. He was standing in a dead forest, covered in blood, thousands of bodies littering the ashen soil. 

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