Ashes of Fate - Season 1
Copyright © 2015, 2016 by Cynus
All Rights Reserved
All Rights Reserved
"Hey, the kid's awake," a gravelly voice penetrated the darkness of the tent as his eyes fluttered open, "Go get Faust."
"What?" The boy said as he sat up from the bedroll, but he collapsed back down to his elbows just as quickly when his head protested the movement. He had the worst headache he had ever experienced, and he couldn't quite remember why. There was hardly any light to be had except a small flicker of flame which he caught glimpses of through the tent flap, but even then he squinted into that light as if his eyes had been shut for a long time. Two forms stood by the flap, watching his every move, and he was sure that one of them had spoken just a moment ago. "Where am I?" He asked, hoping the answer would help jog his memory.
"Shut yer trap, kid," a gruff male voice responded, and one of the forms took a step toward him, causing the boy to recoil in fear. "We ain't gonna answer any o' yer questions 'til Faust gets here."
The flickering light was coming closer, and the boy winced as a lantern entered through the flap held in the hand of an elderly man. "Oh, look at this! Finally awake, huh?" The elderly man said pleasantly, looking the boy up and down. "Really, Garth? I was just coming to check on him when I heard you from three tents down," he continued as he turned to the gruff voiced man, "Do you have to terrorize our guests?"
"I'm sorry, General Faust," the man replied as he snapped to attention, "It wun' happen again."
"See that it doesn't," Faust replied and then turned his attention back to the boy who was squinting through the lantern light, trying to understand why the elderly man looked so familiar.
"Who are you?" The boy asked, wincing as his head throbbed once again.
"The name is Faust, son," Faust replied with a pleasant smile. "How are you feeling?"
"I've had better," the boy replied as he sat up straight again, slower this time than the last, allowing his head time to get used to the movement. "Now, what am I doing here?"
"Don't tell me you don't remember anything?" Faust asked with a raised eyebrow. "That would be awfully convenient on your part."
His memory was still a little fuzzy, but it was starting to come back to him.
Tristan could hear them arguing. That wasn't unusual, and he had come to associate the sound with that of a lullaby, meaning that he had little trouble staying wrapped up in his ratty old blanket as they fought over only god knew what. In all of his fifteen years he had never known them to act any different. They would stop soon enough, and by then it would probably be morning. He only listened halfheartedly as he closed his eyes and attempted to find sleep again.
"Why isn't the fire going? I told you to start it at dusk, and we're well into nightfall!" That was Corban. He was the eldest of the three brothers, and by far the crankiest, especially when his orders weren't carried out. Of course the second oldest, Zach, was always willing to fuel that crankiness by doing the opposite of what Corban said.
"We're out of wood, Corban," Zach replied with a voice that dared his older brother to challenge the claim. "There's nothing left to burn."
"There's always something to burn Zach…" Corban said condescendingly. Tristan could picture the face his oldest brother was making perfectly as he stared down at Zach. It was the same look he always gave whenever Zach was being difficult. And if everything else were normal Corban would now be stepping up to Zach and grabbing his arm roughly as he made some accusation. True to form the next words out of Corban's mouth were, "You didn't even try to find wood did you?"
"Get off of me!" Zach shouted in response, and Tristan could hear the sound of Zach tearing his arm free from Corban's grasp. "I had other things to worry about."
"Yeah?" Corban taunted in disbelief, "Like what?"
"There were soldiers in the streets, alright?" Zach replied defensively, and this time Tristan perked up at the turn in the conversation. 'Soldiers' was one of the words that triggered a trained response in him, and usually had his heart racing. "I didn't fancy going out and letting myself get caught."
"What?" Corban asked in surprise. "Soldiers in Ashburg…" He whispered with a touch of fear. "You don't think…"
"Yeah, I did think," Zach replied, and it was his turn to be condescending. "That means no fire tonight. Why do you care anyway?" He asked, and Tristan could tell from Zach's tone that his brother's anger was already starting to subside. "Looks like you weren't very successful in your hunt tonight."
Corban didn't even sound offended as he explained, "When I saw there wasn't any fire I decided to leave the buck in the woods before I came to check it out."
Tristan had heard enough to rouse him. The topic of soldiers had brought him to awareness, and when that topic had ended their argument he knew something was up. "What's going on, guys?" He asked as he raised himself up on one arm to peer at them through the moonlit night. Even with the silvery glow illuminating the area it was hard to make them out, standing in the shadows of the ruined building as they were.
"Tristan!" Corban said with what Tristan thought was a smile. "Hey, we didn't mean to wake you."
"Seriously, what's happening?" Tristan pressed as he rose to a sitting position. "I heard something about soldiers…"
"It's nothing," Corban replied with a reassuring smile as he came by to crouch down by his side. He ruffled Tristan's hair as he said, "Everything's fine, little brother."
"Yeah Tris, go back to sleep," Zach added with a smile to match their older brother's. "We'll wake you when it's your turn for watch."
"If you say so," Tristan said, though he didn't quite believe them. With a yawn he rolled back over and tried to go back to sleep, deciding he'd confront them in the morning. If they weren't going to tell him what was going on now then it would take a lot of energy to get it out of them, and he'd rather face it when he had more sleep.
Whatever it was that they were going on about, they stopped talking about it, probably to make sure he was asleep first. That was the way it always was. If it was something important they were sure to leave him in the dark until it was necessary to tell them. He was supposed to trust them to keep him safe, that's what mom had said before she died of the fever ten years ago. He had been five, almost six, then; Zach had just turned eight, and Corban had only been ten. Corban had done well looking after the two of them, using the survival skills that their parents had taught them. No matter how good he was, there was only so much that a ten year old could take and both Tristan and Zach had been forced to grow up fast in order to pull their own weight.
But that didn't mean that they trusted him, not with the important things. No, he was trusted to do things, but not to know things. They kept telling him that they would tell him when he was older, but he couldn't help but wonder when 'older' was. He would be sixteen in a matter of days, and he was getting sick of being treated like a child. That didn't mean he wouldn't put up with it. They were his brothers after all, and there was safety in numbers. The more there were working together, the higher chance you had of surviving, at least that was what mom had always said.
He couldn't remember dad. Dad had died in the war the year he was born. The war had ended that same year, at least for most people. Nightshade had won in Europe, and their allied group Skinwalker had succeeded in North America. It had been a global coup, well planned and well executed, and the governments hadn't stood a chance. The Noh-Kitsune had taken over Japan, Korea, and half of China, and Africa had been thrown even deeper into civil war than it already had been, just to keep them occupied. As for the rest of the world, the North Wer Alliance was still fighting battles against rebels, whether it was the jungles of South America or the cities of the Middle East.
The fighting made the world look like a war zone, and even the places where the fighting had ceased were still far from recovering. The age of information had been ended and a new era had begun. It was referred to as 'the age of the beast' by many, particularly the rebels, and it wasn't difficult to understand why. Monsters that many had assumed were myths and legends and suddenly come out of the woodwork and seized control of everything. The main group leading the rebellion were the Wer, an elite force of Lycanthropes; werewolves, weretigers, wererats… There were more than anyone had thought possible, and they were bent on making the world hell for humans as the humans had done to them over the centuries.
And they had succeeded. Every human was a target during the first decade of the war, until finally the North Wer Alliance formed and called an end to the fighting, provided the rebels were willing to give themselves up. Those that did were promised amnesty, provided they never rose up in arms against their masters ever again.
Very few rebel groups still existed in North America and Europe, and their father had belonged to one of the last few who had stood up to Skinwalker. The Icarus Confederacy. He didn't know much about the group, except the few stories that Corban could still tell, but the only thing he knew about the reason they were hiding from the soldiers was that it had something to do with their affiliation with Icarus. He had spent many nights trying to sleep, wondering why the soldiers would still be after them, the children of a man who had fought against them, but he could never figure out why.
And his brothers would not tell him. He let the thought go. It was no use to focus on something he couldn't change, especially when it was depriving him of rest. He was certain he would know eventually, and he had to be satisfied with that. With his mind cleared of worry he eventually found the sleep that he needed.
He was awakened with the dawn by someone shaking him awake. Squinting in the early morning light he looked up into Zach's face with confusion. "Hey Tris," Zach said with a smile, "it's almost time for breakfast."
"I thought you guys were going to wake me up for watch?" Tristan said as he sat up the rest of the way. Their campsite looked like it had been tidied up, a sure sign that they would be moving again soon. Tristan had started to hope that they'd be able to stay put for a while. They had been in Ashburg for a few months now, and it had looked like they had finally found a place that the soldiers rarely visited. Now he knew what the conversation had been about last night. They had spoken about leaving, and then had spent the entire night getting everything together. Most likely they had been so distracted that they hadn't even thought of waking him up, and he had to wonder if Zach had slept at all.
"Nothing to watch for…" Zach said with a noncommittal shrug. Tristan could see the tiredness in Zach's eyes, but it was obvious that his older brother was still wired. Zach was always anxious right before a move. "Listen," He went on with a smile, "we need to get some wood for a fire. Corban brought in a buck last light and we need to get it cooked."
"Sweet! Venison!" The news of meat was always enough to get rid of any worries Tristan had. It was a rare treat to have fresh protein of any sort, and venison was his favorite. Tristan jumped out of his bedding and said excitedly while he stretched, "Alright, I'll take Thornridge Street."
"Actually," Zach countered with a frown, "I was thinking you could stay here and watch after Corban."
"What?" Tristan replied in surprise. It was normally his job to get the wood. "Why?"
"Nothing," Zach replied with another shrug, "I just need to stretch my legs."
"And you think I don't?" Tris argued with an incredulous stare. "Come on," he pleaded as he stepped toward the break in the low wall that served as the entrance to their campsite, "I'll be back in less than ten minutes, and then you can go for a walk or something."
"Listen, Tris," Zach said as he quickly stepped in front of Tristan and put his hands on his younger brother's shoulders, "you really need to stay here."
"But…" Tristan started to protest again, only to be shaken slightly by Zach in frustration.
"Tris. Stay," Zach said firmly, looking him in the eye. "Please don't argue with me."
Something in Zach's gaze told him that no matter how much he pressed, Zach wasn't going to budge on the issue. Tristan was going to stay put even if Zach had to tie him to a post and wake Corban up to monitor him, so instead Tristan took the safe route and simply nodded his agreement. Zach knew that he had been heard and thirty seconds later he was gone, taking nothing with him but his hatchet and his backpack.
That left Tristan alone to pitter about the campsite as he tried to stay busy. There had been an ulterior motive for him to go out and get wood that he hadn't made clear to Zach, and now he wished he had mentioned something to the older boy. He had recently finished reading his latest book, and he was in desperate need of a new one. It was the one thing that kept him sane whenever he was on lockdown. He was normally prone to fidgeting, and without something to distract him he went stir crazy. He tried to focus on rolling up and tying off his bedding, and then preparing the spit for cooking the buck, but that only took a few minutes. He didn't even have Corban to talk to. His older brother was deep in sleep, and Tristan knew it was much needed rest. Nothing short of a crisis would cause him to wake his brother up, and his boredom was certainly not crisis level, at least not yet.
That left him with pacing as he tried to control his thoughts. Once again he was drawn to thinking about the soldiers, and why they were in Ashburg. The only reason why they would come out this far was if they were tracking rebels, and as far as he knew they had come to this part of Washington specifically to avoid any of the known rebellions. Corban was good at staying informed of where such people were so that they could continue to lie low, but apparently he must have been wrong this time.
Zach's voice in the distance drew his thoughts back to the moment as he heard his older brother yell, "Hey! What's the big idea?"
A gruff voice answered, "Where are you going with that wood?"
From the volume he knew that they had to be just outside the entrance to their campsite. Tristan moved to the wall and crouched low, peering around the corner to see if he could see what was going on. He could see Zach standing with his back up against the wall, a pile of wood in his arms. Tristan couldn't see who was talking to him, but he saw his brother's hand inching toward the hatchet tucked into his belt. Whoever it was that was speaking, Zach didn't like him. He rarely resorted to violence unless it was absolutely necessary.
"What's it to ya?" Zach replied indignantly, "A man has a right to keep warm, doesn't he?"
"Where's your camp?" The man with the gruff voice asked, and before Zach could answer the man went on, "You've got more with you?"
"Nah," Zach replied coolly, "I'm the only one."
"I don't believe you," the man replied, and Tristan saw the tip of a rifle come into view, leveled at Zach's chest. "Take us to your camp or suffer the consequences," The gruff man ordered.
Zach already had a plan in motion, and before the man could do anything else Zach tossed the pile of wood at what Tristan assumed was the gruff man's face and then wrestled the rifle from the distracted man's grasp. Without any more hesitation, Zach took off running in the opposite direction of the campsite, rifle in hand. Tristan's heart began to race as his older brother disappeared from sight, and for a moment he was at a loss as to what to do.
"He's running!" he heard the gruff man shout, "Get him!" There were more of them. Tristan could hear the sound of footsteps in the distance, getting further away as they chased after Zach. If he had to guess he assumed there were at least five following after his brother, but there could have been even more nearby. Zach didn't stand a chance, armed or not.
Tristan rushed to Corban's side and shook his older brother awake. As Corban stared up at him groggily, Tristan whispered harshly, "Corban, Zach's in trouble."
"Huh? What?" Corban sputtered as he sat up in his blankets.
"Zach's in trouble!" Tristan said a little more loudly and then rushed toward the entrance of the low wall. He stopped to grab his buck knife and then shouted over his shoulder, "Come on!"
"Tristan, wait!" Corban called out, but Tristan was already out on the street and headed toward the scene. He caught a brief glimpse of a dark grey uniform before it turned around a corner in front of him, and he raced to the corner of the wall but slowed down before he came around the bend. He peeked around the wall cautiously to make sure that no one was looking in his direction and only when he saw that the soldiers had gathered further down the street did he step around the corner. They were wrestling with someone on the ground, and it didn't take long for Tristan to make out that the grunts coming from the writhing form matched those of his brother.
One of the soldiers shouted an obscenity and then slammed down at Zach with the butt of his rifle. Tristan winced as the rifle collided with his brother's head and Zach stopped moving. "Bastard took a bite out of my arm!" The same soldier shouted and then raised his rifle for another hit. One of the other soldiers stopped him with an upraised hand, but the first soldier wasn't satisfied. "Gah!" He shouted in frustration and kicked Zach in the ribs, causing Tristan's brother to let out a loud groan.
The groan was all Tristan needed to spring into action. If Zach was alive then Tristan had to do what he could to make sure his brother stayed that way. He shouted at them from his place by the corner, "You let him go!"
"What the hell?" One of the soldiers said as the group looked around for the source of the noise. Another soldier spotted him a second later and shouted at him, "Where'd you come from, kid?"
Tristan saw Corban out of the corner of his eye, climbing to the rooftop of a building across the street, bow in hand and a quiver of arrows slung across his back. Now that he knew he had backup his conviction was even stronger and he shouted again, "I said let him go!"
As the soldiers started moving toward him he readied his knife, knowing that he'd at least be able to stick one of them if they came near. The threatening action gave the soldiers only minor pause, but instead of advancing further they leveled their rifles at him, daring him to continue to challenge them. He didn't have to keep up his bravado for long as the twang of a bowstring filled his ears, and one of the six soldiers was suddenly on the ground, clutching at the arrow that protruded from his throat. Before any of his fellows could react another arrow was flying through the air to take another soldier in the chest.
"Shit, there's another one!" one of the four remaining soldiers shouted, and the group dove for cover. Tristan used the distraction to hide back around the corner, but he kept his eye on what was going on, hoping that Corban would be alright.
One soldier took charge and gestured to two of his men to stay under cover and for the third to follow him as he said, "You two, take that archer down, we'll deal with the kid."
That was Tristan's cue to leave, and without any further hesitation he was trotting down the street, past their campsite and deeper into Ashburg. He heard gun shots behind him but took them as a sign that Corban was still alive. If there wasn't a target to fire at they would stop, and that was the hope he had to hold on to. He could hear the footsteps of the soldiers following him, but they were getting ever more distant as he ran on. There wasn't a person he knew who could catch him, which meant all he had to do was keep himself out of sight so the soldiers couldn't shoot his retreating back.
Unfortunately, he came around a bend and saw more soldiers coming his way, which forced him to backtrack and dart down an alleyway. He knew that the soldiers had probably seen him come this way, and that meant he was in trouble. He knew the streets in Ashburg well, but the alleyways were a different story. More gunshots spurned him on and he decided to let luck lead him through. Without thinking about the path ahead he just kept running, turning right and then left and then right again, only to find himself at a dead end. A stack of rotten crates sat up against the wall, and an old fire escape hung down from the building to his left.
The click of a rifle drew his attention back to the mouth of the alleyway and he turned to see the soldier who had ordered the other ones around. He was probably their leader, but it was just as possible that he had simply assumed command when the real leader had fallen to one of Corban's arrows. "You're quick," the soldier observed with a sinister grin, "but that isn't going to save you. Surrender."
"Hah, you can't catch me," Tristan taunted as he juggled the knife in his hand. "You have no idea who you're dealing with." He dove toward the ground in a forward roll, coming up quickly as he threw his knife at the soldier, though the strike was not meant to be lethal but rather serve as a distraction. As soon as he was on his feet again he jumped for the ladder that led to the fire escape only to hear the blast of the rifle from right behind him.
The pain in his hand was more intense than anything he had ever felt before. As he dropped to the ground clutching at the hole that indicated where the bullet had gone clean through his palm it was all he could do not to black out. Blood ran down his arm and quickly soaked through his sleeve before it began dripping onto his pants. He squinted through the pain as he applied pressure to the wound, watching the soldier approach him with a wicked grin on his face.
"Oh I think we have a pretty good idea," the soldier said as he leaned down to look Tristan in the eye. "You've been evading capture for a while, but you're not going to get away this time."
The soldier raised his rifle again and aimed the butt of it at Tristan's skull. Before the strike fell, Tristan prepared himself mentally for the pain he knew was about to come. As soon as the rifle collided with his head he blacked out and no longer cared. At least he could no longer feel the pain of his hand, nor think about what the absence of gunshots in the distance meant for the fate of his brothers.
"So you're the man who commanded those bastards who attacked us in the street," Tristan accused Faust with an angry glare. "What do you want with me?"
"I'm your new caretaker," Faust explained with a sinister grin. "I suppose it's only fair since I had your last one killed."
"What are you talking about?" Tristan asked as an ominous feeling settled upon him. Something told him he wouldn't like the explanation he was about to receive.
"Corban Langster, age twenty, one month away from his twenty-first birthday, wanted for treason against the North Wer Alliance, dead or alive," Faust explained as if he were reading a news story. He smiled as he went on, "We had to settle on dead with him, and his brother Zach Langster. It's a pity really. I would have preferred to have all three of you as a prize for my commander, but you'll have to do."
"Murderer!" Tristan shouted and jumped to his feet, only to find himself restrained by the two guards who quickly moved to his side. They hadn't needed to; his throbbing headache was already in the process of bringing him back to his knees, and as he collapsed to the ground he went on in a tone of disbelief, "No, I refuse to believe that they're dead! They'll come and get me, and you'll pay for your lies."
"You really do believe that, don't you?" Faust replied incredulously. "Come on. Let me show you what you're up against."
The two soldiers hoisted him to his feet and he was dragged from the tent. His eyes adjusted much more quickly to the light that assaulted him this time as he took in the sight of the campfires that filled his vision. The sea of tents and fire pits seemed almost endless, though he could see the forest in the far distance.
"You are in the middle of the camp of the twenty-third battalion of the North Wer Alliance," Faust explained with a jovial tone. "Most of the soldiers in this camp will shoot anyone who approaches its borders without question, just like they are ordered to do. Even if your brothers were still alive they would find it impossible to get near you, but I can prove to you that Corban is dead," he continued with a sneer, "He died on arrival. We left Zach where he died, in the middle of the street in Ashburg."
"No…" Tristan replied, shaking his head in disbelief. This was too much to take in too quickly, and he wasn't about to believe it until he had evidence. "You have his body?"
"Yes," Faust replied with a nod. "If you need the proof I'll show it to you."
"Yes, please…" Tristan replied numbly, not even noticing his politeness. Faust began walking forward again and gestured for the soldiers restraining him to bring him along. They began walking, dragging Tristan at first until he forced himself to start walking with them. "Why?" he asked with wide eyes, "Why have you done this to us?"
"I told you," Faust replied in a tone that bordered on impatience. "You are wanted for treason. I read your own file this morning. Tristan James Rembrandt, also known as Tristan Langster, known member of the Icarus Confederacy. Age fifteen, and will turn sixteen on the second of June, this year. That would be tomorrow in case you're wondering," he added with a smile. "Slim build, black hair, and eyes like fire. I think you're probably the only one in the world that currently meets that description."
"Who is Tristan Rembrandt?" Tristan asked with genuine confusion. "I've never heard that name! You got the wrong guy!" He protested and tried to break away from the men that held him, but that only forced them to hold on tighter.
"I don't think so," Faust said with a laugh. "The fact that you don't know your birth name means little to me. You are Tristan Langster," all pleasantness and joviality was erased from his face as he met Tristan's eyes and said, "That much I can see in your eyes."
"So what if I am?" Tristan replied angrily. "I haven't committed any treasonous acts!"
"Are you claiming guilt by association then?" Faust replied, his pleasant smile returning as he went on to explain, "You've been helping your brothers harbor a fugitive, and that is reason enough."
"Helping my brother's harbor a fugitive?" Tristan echoed incredulously. "What fugitive?"
"Tristan Langster," Faust replied, as if it made all the sense in the world.
Shaking his head in disbelief Tristan asked, "How am I a fugitive?"
"You are wanted by Ivan Tsela Adakai, the leader of Skinwalker. I don't question his orders, I just follow them," Faust replied with a chuckle. "You're a very important person, Tristan," he went on with a smirk. "I don't think you appreciate how important you actually are."
"I don't have to listen to this," Tristan replied testily as they stopped before a large tent. "You can kidnap me, threaten me with whatever you want, but I'll never admit to these crimes you say I committed!" He screamed at Faust until the noise of his own voice made his head throb, "I will not be bought by your lies!"
Faust shrugged and moved the tent flap and Tristan was dragged inside. Tristan gasped at the sight that greeted him, his older brother's corpse laid out in a cot with four bullet holes in his chest. He was numb, unable to move, unable to feel. In his sixteen years as a refugee he had seen a great deal of death, but this was the first time in a long while that it was someone he was actually close to. No one except maybe Zach had been closer to him than Corban. "Bought or not, your 'brothers' gave their lives defending you," Faust went on with another pleasant smile. "They knew the truth even if you won't accept it. Face the facts, kid. Your entire life has been a lie."
Thanks for reading Ashes of Fate. I'd love to hear your thoughts, good or bad, on this chapter or any of the future. A writer cannot improve without feedback, and I hope to one day become a master of the craft. Please, share your thoughts, and I promise I'll give them the respect and consideration they deserve. You can email me at Samuel.D.Roe@gmail.com, or you can visit my author page on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Samuel.D.Roe.Cynus/?ref=bookmarks.
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