February 6, TA 3019/AD 1200
Here, in the wild steppes of the east, tales of what had happened in Europe spread across the land as fast as the riders could carry them. The whispers from the west grew more common and louder by the day, stories of raging storms, mightier than any ever before; of black mountains that rose out of nothing; evil spirits given flesh. Konchek, son of Otrok, Khan of the Terteroba Clan, knew well of the tales by now. He made it his business to know the happenings of the realms to the west, so that he could know when to strike against them and when to bide his time. Now, though, the tales he heard were those that he could scarcely believe. But he had consulted the shamans about the tales, those wise men who could pierce the veil between flesh and spirit, and what they spoke of did nothing to dispel his fears. Instead, they told him of the ill omens that they had seen: The sky to the west going dark, Tengri’s eternal blue sky blocked by clouds as black as night that blown over the lands by fell winter winds; the strange behaviors of the dogs and the horses and the cattle, who seemed to smell something evil on the breeze; the signs that they had found within the entrails of their sacrifices, always of blood and fire and approaching death. The shamans had asked the Spirits many questions, from every method that was known to them, but had found no answers, only a message that dark times were ahead.
The Son of Otrok’s heart filled with dread at such words. He had been raised and bred in the faith of the steppes, of the tides of nature and the spirits, and he was loathe to ignore what those that peered into the world beyond told him they had seen. He tried to take the consul of others, to find someone, anyone that might give him different tidings, but none could be found. He did not look for any that would willing lie about the omens, or those that would conceal the truth from him, far from it: Konchek had not lived on the steppes for near half a century by ignoring the words of the wise and showing disdain for the spirits. But he had hoped that in their words he could find a light in the darkness, a fire to hold back the shadow he suddenly felt was assailing his soul. What he had found instead had only invited it in.
The Khan did what he could, of course, to find comfort for himself, but that amounted to little: sending riders to find further news out of the west and searching for further omens were near the only courses available to him. He told none of what he had heard, still hardly willing to believe it himself. He tried occupying himself with his works, with hunting and caring for his horses and with his day to day affairs, attempting to keep his heart from obsessing itself with the omens. It was a losing effort. Even with only whispers and omens to go on, dread of what might be coming filled his heart, plaguing his thoughts with visions of fire and death. Sleep evaded him, and what little of it he found was plagued with nightmares, dreams of a nameless terror that followed him into his waking hours.
This particular night was no different. Konchek lay in his bed, his eyes wide, staring at nothing in particular. His thoughts came and went like a roaring river, passing through his mind faster than the swiftest steed. The black sky, the tales of evil Spirits given flesh, the hounds smelling darkness on the wind...thoughts of such things swirled through his mind, coming and going and coming again. His sense of time seemed to pass away, lost in the whirlwind of fear and questions. He lay there a long time, aware of nothing but his own thoughts.
And suddenly, he was no longer in his bed. There was a sudden jolt, as if he had awoken from a long dream, and Konchek found himself suddenly out in the middle of a great field. Startled, the Son of Otrok took in his surrounding. He was standing in a green plain of yawshan grass, that familiar covering of the steppes, that stretched without end far beyond the edge of his vision. Looking up, he saw that it was as light as midday, yet there was no sun in the sky. He turned his gaze to the ground, and at his feet the grass moved like waves in the ocean, the breeze blowing in his hair as it did the grass. So, too, could he feel his own hands as he felt his flesh, solid as it had ever been. He felt his tunic across his soldiers, the sandals on his feet, the warmth of summer on his skin. He could smell the familiar scent of the steppes, could taste the dust in the air. The Khan felt fully awake, and yet…
And yet, how could it not be a dream? It was winter in his lands, not summer. It was not so warm in the steppes this time of year, nor did the sun shine so brightly, nor were the fields so alive. And how could he have been brought to this place if it was not unreal? Where could he be standing but within his own thoughts, unless some evil spell had been weaved upon him?
“This is no evil spell, Konchek, son of Otrok, but you are right that I have brought you away from your home.”
Konchek whirled around at the answer to his thoughts, his body tensing. Behind him, where there had been nothing but the endless field a moment before, stood a woman, hands held up in a gesture of peace. She was simple yet beautiful in garb and appearance, with a green dress woven from what looked to be single vine, and golden hair that shone like the sun. Her face seemed to slightly shift with each passing moment, so that Konchek could not quite discern her features, but a serene smile stayed fixed upon her.
Nodding to him, the woman continued: “Peace, Khan of the Tertoba Clan. For I am no foe of yours, and you are no foe of mine.”
“Who are you?” the Khan asked, suspicion in his voice, “and what have you done to me?”
The woman laughed slightly, taking a few steps towards him. “Who am I? I am the one who planted the first trees, and cared for them as they grew, and I care for them still. It was the fruits of my labor that became the sun and the moon. You know me as the Spirit of the Earth, the mother of all things that grow. As to what I have done to you, I have only come before you to deliver a warning, which you may heed or you may not.”
“So you claim to be Eje, then? What proof have you of such a great claim?”
“When you have heard my message, I will leave for you my sign. But time is short, and there is much to be told. Will you listen?”
Konchek weighed his options. She was a Spirit, certainly, if she was appearing to him like this. The question was to whether she was one of Good or Evil. But in either case, he saw little that he could do. Wherever his Spirit had been brought, he doubted that he could leave without permission. His choice, then, had been made for him. All that he could do, it seemed, was to hope for the best.
“Alright," he said haltingly, his wariness dominating his tone, "I will hear your message, Spirit. Tell it quickly. But know that if you deceive me, you will regret doing so, no matter how powerful you are.”
The Woman smile, and moved to stand before him. "I am no deceiver, Konchek. I am here to warn you of the one that is." She reached out to him then, continuing to speak. “Take my hand for it is better for me to show you the coming danger than it is simply to tell of it.”
Konchek hesitated for a moment, before reaching out his own hand to grasp hers, seeing no other option. When he did so, the scenery around him changed. The first thing that he noted the smell that filled the air, of smoke and ash and blood. Next he heard the screams, of agony and fear, sounding out from all sides. Looking around, he saw that he was now standing in the center of a small village, most of it burning, and all around, he saw people, many of them maimed and bleeding, all fleeing in any direction they could. Their cries were ones of terror, and in their eyes he saw nothing but stark fear.
A moment later, Konchek saw why. Behind the fleeing crowds came into view a line of hideous and deformed men, their eyes red and wild, their faces and limbs grotesquely shaped, like they had been made as a vile mockery of men. They carried with them savage and twisted weapons of war, and they cut down any that they could reach, sounding and looking like wild beasts as they did. Some of them rode massive wolves, with mottled fur and teeth like daggers, running down those that tried in vain to flee, driving wicked spears into them or tearing them apart with their claws.
“What is this madness?” Konchek whispered, in both horror and awe
The vision changed then, and now he saw a great city astride a river, its Citadel upon a hill. As he watched, an army of the savages marched upon it, storming its walls and battering down its gates, tearing apart all who resisted them with their swords and spears and ever their teeth. Among them were giants, as tall as three men, who held tree trunks like clubs and crushed men like insects. The men of the city tried to resist, but against the savage horde they could do little. Konchek watched as they were slaughtered without mercy, cut down where they stood.
Then he heard a terrible scream, a sound of pure hatred and malice that felt like a knife being driven into his very soul, forcing ice into his veins and freezing his heart and mind. Looking upwards, he saw a Black Spirit, faceless and in black robes, riding atop a terrible winged serpent, larger than any beast that the Khan of the Tertoba had ever seen. It had wicked claws that grabbed men where they stood, paralyzed with fear.
Then he saw the ruins of the city, and what little was left was ablaze. In its streets were mounds of corpses, upon which stood the twisted and wicked men, who drove their blades and spears into those that remained alive. Their roars of victory sounded out like thunder, echoing in all directions. The giants smashed down buildings that sheltered those that had tried to hide from the savages, exposing them to the wrath of the twisted men. In the heart of the city, standing on the ruins of what was once its Citadel, Konchek saw the Black Spirit, who gazed out over the city in silence, a sound like hateful laughter seeming to emanate from them. All around, the savages continued their celebration, tearing down and burning all that they could reach.
“What is this evil you show me, woman?” Konchek said, his heart filling with fear, turning to the Woman, a terrified look upon his face.
“It is the evil of the Abhorred One” the Woman replied, her voice tinged with sadness. “He is the darkest of all the Black Spirits, master of all the twisted men and giants and even the one who rides the serpent. And now he has come into this world, to bring it to ruin. Already, his hordes march across this earth, burning down all that they find and slaughtering all those that would resist. And if they give mercy, then those that receive it shall wish for death.”
The scene shifted again, and the Khan now saw a line of men and women, bound in chains. The savage men were leading them, beating any that slowed in their march, finishing those that could go no further with the sword or the spear or the axe. The latter of these, Konchek saw, were left at the side of the road to rot if they were fortunate. If not, he saw the savages take knives and hatchets and cut apart the bodies. Some of the meat they threw to their wolves. The rest was kept for themselves.
Another change. Now a different group of men and women, still bound and chained, still watched by the hideous ones. They were building a road, Konchek saw, one that wound through a scarred and burning landscape, and he could feel a hellish heat upon his face. As he looked upon them, he saw the people choking, their lungs filling with ash and dust. He was many collapse, unable to breath, and the savages watching them would beat them and prod them until they rose again or until they would rise no more. Those that perished were not cast aside, though: he saw them thrown into the path of the road, to be used as mortar for the stones.
“This may become the fate of all,” said the Woman, here voice thick with sorrow. “The Abhorred will enslave any that he does not put to the sword. All in the world, every last man, woman and child will be bound if the Dark One is not stopped. The whole earth will become choked in his ashes.”
“And how do we stop this?” Konchek asked, fear filling his voice. “What may men, any men, do against such evil?”
“This is not a battle without hope,” she replied, smiling again, her face still full of sorrow. “The way to victory has been laid out, and the route, while dangerous, is not impossible. But the path will take time to walk: until then, the line must be held. That is the quest that I give you, Konchek, son of Otrok: to take up arms, and hold back the growing tide. Call all those that you know of to you; they may not listen, but you must speak anyways. Tell them of what I have shown you. Lead them against the shadow. That shall be your duty in these times. Others will walk the path to the Dark One’s destruction: you must aid in giving them a victory worth winning. But before you begin, I must give you a final warning.”
His surroundings changed again. He was back in the steppes now, and a cold wind blew through the night. Gazing into the darkness, Konchek saw a Black Spirit, like the one he had seen upon the serpent, and they were riding a black horse, with eyes red like blood. As he watched, the Black Spirit rode through the wilds, and in their wake he saw the grass behind him wither and die, and whenever they paused for more than a moment Konchek saw all sorts of worms and insects crawl from the ground at the feet of his mount, gnawing at its hooves and making the ground around them turn black.
“Not only in the sword is the shadow’s might,” the woman said, pointing out the rider. “He sends out his agents even now, to deceive any that they might find. They look for those that might be corrupted, might bow down and worship the dark. The Abhorred looks to consume their spirits, and twist them into slaves to his will. This one, among others, comes for your people. They seek one to use as a tool, a weapon to bring your people to their knees.”
“And who is it that they seek? Who among my people would betray us to the dark?”
The Woman opened her mouth to speak, but then suddenly tensed, a wary look coming to her face. “I have lingered too long,” she said, a slight nervous tone to her voice. “His gaze is turning towards you. I must take my leave, before he places his vision upon you. Heed my message, Konchek. Before it is too late.”
“Wait!” Konchek called, reaching out to her, but the Woman was already gone. Not half a moment later, where she had been standing burst into orange flames, and the Khan of the Tertoba Clan felt as if his flesh was burning. As Konchek watched in horror, the flames took shape, and in the blink of an eye a great burning sphere was before him. Terrified, the Son of Otrok could do nothing as the shape morphed, and the heart of the sphere turned black as night, the fire becoming like a piercing eye, gazing into his soul. Paralyzed, Konchek began to scream as the eye grew larger, threatening to consume him, and in his mind he heard a terrible voice, whispering in a scream: I SEE YOU.
Konchek was still screaming when he opened his eyes and found himself sitting upright, back in his own bed. It took him a moment to realize that the burning eye was no longer before him. Panting, Konchek worked to calm himself, looking around at his surroundings. Yes, this was his dwelling, for there was his armor, there were his robes, and there his sword and shield. But something was different. It took a moment to place what, but then he realized that all around him, scattered about the tent, were wild flowers, of many hues and sizes, each and all in full bloom, even now in the cold of winter.
When you have heard my message, I will leave for you my sign. The woman’s words to him echoed in his mind. Standing, Konchek walked over and took one of the flowers in his hands, examining it. It was as green and healthy as any that he had ever seen, with not the slightest marking upon it. The Khan took a deep breath. She had been true in her claims, then. Eje the Earth Mother had come to him. And the message that he had been given was terrible indeed. Taking a deep breath, Konchek began to collect his thoughts.
At that moment, the flap of his tent was thrown open and into his room stormed his personal guard, a dozen men built like oxes and armed to the teeth. They were clearly expecting assassins and a battle: they waved their blades in the air, battlecries on their lips, searching the room for intruders.Startled, Konchek almost fell to the ground, stumbling slightly as he tried to maintain his balance. The commander of his guard took notice of him and spoke.
“My Lord, are you alright? We heard you screaming.”
The Khan paused before responding, still looking at the flower. The man spoke again.
Konchek turned to his captain, his face ashen. “No, my friend. No, I am not alright. Soon enough, none of us will be.”
The man stared after him, a questioning look on his face. Konchek sat down, the man’s eyes still on him. He continued to breath deeply, still trying to settle his thoughts.
“Send out riders,” The son of Otrok began finally, his breathing finally coming under control “Tonight, if possible. Send them to everyone, every last clan and hut. Summon them all. They are needed.”
“All of them, my Lord? Even the likes of Gzak and Kobyak? ”
“All of them, my brother. The Kor, the Iiunesuk, the Berish, the Hotan...everyone. Before it is too late.”
The man nodded slowly, and he and his men turned and shuffled out of the tent. The Khan watched them go, listening to their question as they went. Then hunched over, his face in his hands, his mind trying to process the events that he had been shown. He breathed hard, his body shuddering. He felt the winter wind blowing through the open flap of his tent, and its cold felt deadlier, and eviler, than it ever had before.
For before, he had not known the evil that would come upon it.