How the Harthaen Were Born Prose in Istra | World Anvil
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How the Harthaen Were Born

31st of Obann, 14078   Damion stared at the amulet, its violet stone shimmering in the weak autumn sunlight. It happened to be attached to a dead man rotting in the underbrush, but that was besides the point. The amulet seemed to be calling to him. It was in the shape of a snarling wolf head from a profile view and its eyes glittered with light purple amethysts. Its owner laid cold and still. He wouldn't need it anymore. What was the harm?   He had come to these mountains with nothing but the clothes on his back. After returning to the job board in the coastal town of Nalthis for what might have been the hundredth time, he was offered a job by word of mouth as a soldier guarding a merchant caravan. It would require heading north to Sekhav, and with the hazard pay, it seemed to be the key to putting a few coins in his pocket. Five thousand gold, to be exact. Damion could live for months on that much gold. In addition, the job took him as far away from the kingdom of Althain as he could go, and out of the hands of the bounty hunters. He'd tried to tear down the posters with his face on them and a handsome reward of 50,000 gold, but it was no use. Staying in Althain, especially the crowded city of Nalthis, would be suicidal. His father had been a merchant and Damion had been his apprentice for nine out of his fourteen years. He knew how to handle weapons, though he only owned a single dagger and so far, the men had been impressed. His Trade Sekhavi was nearly flawless, thanks to hours of studying languages, and he had handled the rapid change in altitude better than they all had expected. The cold was another beast entirely. Layers and layers of fur, and still Damion shivered uncontrollably. With every blood-chilling gust of wind, Damion thought of how those gold coins would sound once they jingled in his pockets.   The merchants had exchanged their horses for yaks long ago, and Damion marveled at their deep snorts and long horns, so different from any animal he had grown up with back home. Though they were adapted to this land, with their thick fur and strong bodies, Damion felt his body rebelling against the harsh conditions. One unfortunate side effect was the constant need to relieve himself. The merchants laughed and said it was normal. "Mountain bladder," they called it. During a stop to rest the yaks after a particularly steep incline, Damion excused himself and went into the dense evergreen forest to take care of business.   The trees loomed high overhead, almost as tall as the ones in the Great Forest back home in Althain with their giant trunks, but these were covered in a layer of ice and snow. He slipped between the trees, concealed from view, and a moment later he turned back towards the caravan. After a few steps through the overgrowth, Damion nearly tripped over something. It was a man, frozen solid and laying on his back, his gray eyes staring into the canopy of branches far overhead. He wore a dark gray cloak with animal claws stitched into it and embroidered thread inlaid with silver, indicating that he must have been rich among the Sekhavi. The man had the beginnings of a beard, a thick wool scarf, and around his neck, a wolf amulet made of silver and amethyst. If he sold it, Damion could easily add another five hundred gold onto his five thousand he would earn at the end of the job.   Damion pulled off his gloves, reached behind the man's neck, and unclasped the silver chain. He tucked the amulet into his pants pocket for safekeeping and ran out of the woods before the merchants went looking for him.  
The merchants and soldiers huddled in their tents to rest for the night, but Damion remained sleepless. It wasn't unusual, as he spent much of the night awake and alert, listening for the sounds of guards who might drag him away to the dungeons. Now, though he was high in the mountains and far away from anyone who would know his name or his crime, Damion still laid in his tent, eyes wide open though the others had fallen asleep hours ago. A strange tingling and burning sensation radiated from his right thigh. He reached into his pocket, remembering the amulet he had found earlier. Upon removing it from the pocket, the wolf's violet eyes glowed, piercing the darkness with its stare. Damion shoved it back into his pocket, lest the other men wake up. He slipped out of his sleeping bag and pushed aside the tent flaps to step outside. If he wasn't going to be able to sleep, he wanted to use this time alone to examine the amulet. Was it Sekhavi in origin? The dead man certainly resembled the descriptions of the Sekhavi that the merchants had mentioned. Damion removed the amulet from his pocket again, but this time, the eyes glowed brighter and pulsed as though the energy within was squirming to be released.   An overwhelming sense of tiredness overcame Damion. The events of the day and the climb up the mountains was probably getting to him, but instead of wanting to go back to his bed, he felt the uncontrollable urge to head back into the forest. The dark silhouettes of the trees next to the tents suddenly seemed tempting, mysterious, and filled with wonders. There was something in there that Damion needed to find. He began walking, his boots crunching in the snow, and his cloak flapping in the wind. While he trudged ahead, he held out the amulet, following its lead. It would guide him to his goal, and nothing else mattered until he reached that goal.   Damion didn't know how long he walked for, but at last, in the center of a clearing within the pines stood a large stone. It was a few times taller than he was and covered in ancient carvings. Wisps of shadows curled around it, and the light of the silver moon overhead covered the clearing in light. He stepped forward, reaching out a hand to touch the stone, but a moment of clarity stopped him. What was he doing? Why was he here? Why was he touching a stone with sinister magic in the area? He pulled his hand back to throw the amulet to the ground, but a hand grabbed his wrist. Tendrils of shadow twisted around his arm and dug through his coat, piercing his flesh. He yelped and tried to pull his arm away but whatever had grabbed hold of him had him locked up tight.   A dark-haired woman approached Damion from behind. Her tall, lithe form was draped in a long black dress that swept the ground as she walked, no, floated in front of him. A satisfied grin played on her thin lips, as pale as her silvery white skin. She might have been beautiful if not for the pulsing black veins trickling through her body and the stench of death emanating from her. A deep laugh rose from her throat, revealing rows of sharpened, stained teeth.   "You've been poking around where you don't belong, haven't you? I would advise against doing so in the future." She curled a hand around Damion's throat and dug her long claws into the back of his neck. "You won't like this one bit, boy."   Damion coughed, gasping for air. "Do you mean...the amulet? This amulet?" That could be the only thing she was talking about. He'd sensed that it was valuable, but apparently, it held more than just monetary value.   "It's more than just an amulet," the woman hissed. "That is the prison I was trapped in. When its owner ran away from his village and died in the cold, I was left with nowhere to go. Only he could trap me inside, and in turn, only he could let me go free. But I see the amulet has a new owner." She sniffed Damion's hair and he shuddered as her lips brushed his ear. "Thank you for releasing me, child. You are far too weak to keep me inside."   "You're welcome." It was all that Damion could think to say. "I've done my part, and now we can part ways and put this all behind us."   "No, no, we aren't done yet. You see, I am also weak from having no life essence to feed upon for weeks and weeks. I fed from that man in the last months of his life as I grew stronger, and he sensed this. He then escaped to the wilderness to die far from his people, in order to save them." She frowned, mockingly. "How disgustingly altruistic of him. No one has touched the amulet ever since, and I've been unable to find a new host to feed on. And then you came along."   An icy chill ran through Damion's body. Was this spirit about to possess him? He knew next to nothing about magic or spirits or how to resist them. For all that his father had taught him about how to handle a blade or a bow, he hadn't touched on spirit warfare. "I take it that you'd like to feed on my life essence, then," he said, keeping his tone low and calm. It was all he could do to avoid panicking.   "Oh, don't you worry, I already have been. My name is Luxanis, and I can tell from your mind that your name is Damion. is?" She stepped away, releasing the shadow tendrils around Damion's wrist. "You may go now. I've had my fill, and I've scoured your mind, body, and soul for any bit of strength. You are a pathetic young boy who is fleeing for his life, and anyway, I have what I need now."   "What is it that you need?" Damion asked while rubbing his wrist. It felt dead and numb, but was otherwise unhurt. "If you intend to find another person to possess, be my guest. Let me go and I won't try to stop you."   Luxanis examined her claws and picked at one of them. "How boring. You won't even put up a fight or die heroically in the process. I don't even know why I would tell you what I'm about to do. You can stay and watch if you'd like." She held out an arm and chains made of shadows strung Damion up in the air. They nearly pulled him apart, but he gritted his teeth and bore the pain. "You can tell the entire world what you've seen today."   With a sweep of her hand, Luxanis brushed away the dirt at the base of the large stone. Tendrils of shadow tore through the soil, deep, deep underground, then they resurfaced holding the stone-cold body of a man. His eyes were closed and his face was relaxed, as if he was sleeping, and everything about him was neatly groomed, from his black beard to his gray robes.   "Behold!" Luxanis announced. "A slumbering god, far beneath the mountain. The Sekhavi have tended to his grave for fourteen thousand years, but now, it is time to wake up." She plunged a hand through the man's chest and ripped out his heart, still beating and dripping with blood. "Harthas! God of life and death!" Luxanis cackled. "The perfect source of life essence. Deliver me your power!"   Damion stared, horrified, as Harthas' eyes flew open. They were ice blue one moment, then the next, they turned solid black like Luxanis'. He cried out in agony, gripping at his chest until his nails turned to claws, his skin grew mottled with decay, and all the blood poured from the hole in his chest. Luxanis bathed in the waves of energy pulsing from Harthas' body, soaking in every bit of his life essence, until he fell to the ground in a heap. Still, he was not dead. He moaned and clawed at the displaced dirt by his grave, but he still breathed.   "'ve taken his powers." Damion slumped against the shadow chains. "Are you going to kill him now?"   "And deprive myself of a lifetime of sustenance? That would be foolish." Luxanis stood over Harthas and moved his long black hair aside with her foot to reveal his face, frozen in fear. It chilled Damion to the bone to think that a god would fear anything. "I intend to let him recover, then I will return to feed again. He's a god. He can never die. That is why I chose him over you." Luxanis approached Damion and ran a hand along the shadow chains. "You can be proud to know that your life essence made all of this possible. It was only a little, but it was what I needed to dig Harthas out of his inconveniently-deep grave." She grinned. "Your life essence is more powerful than I originally thought. You should consider becoming a mage."   He had caused this. His own curiosity had lead to the Sekhavi losing one of their gods, and now that this spirit woman had been unleashed upon the world, what would she do? "You need this power for something. What is it?"   Luxanis stepped back towards Harthas. "So many questions. Do you know what the Sekhavi gods did at the beginning of time? You wouldn't know, you're Althainian, but for the sake of this conversation, take a guess."   "Created the world? Created people?" Damion barely even knew the Althainian gods, let alone the Sekhavi ones. It didn't remove the sympathy he felt for the man clinging to life before him now.   "Correct. They created people, and they have the power to do so again." Luxanis grabbed Harthas by the hair, lifted him high, and commanded him, "Create for me an army! Let them be made in your image, and give them an eternal hunger, the same hunger you feel now. Let them feast upon the world now and forevermore."   Harthas slumped forward, gagged, and from his mouth came a shadowy figure. It morphed into a humanoid shape and at last, it picked itself off the ground. It had the same gray skin and black eyes as Luxanis, and now Harthas, and it rushed towards Damion with surprising speed. It didn't walk or run, but it floated, slashing its claws at the air.   Damion closed his eyes and braced for the moment when the creature would tear out his heart, but the moment never came. Luxanis grabbed the creature by its hair and guided it away.   "Damion has been an integral part of this ritual," she said, "we will reward him by preserving his life." The shadow chains melted away and Damion fell onto the snowy ground.   "Why are you doing this?" Damion asked, picking himself up. He hadn't expected a genuine answer, but just behind Luxanis' eyes, he thought he could detect a hint of sorrow.   Luxanis opened the top of her dress and Damion looked away out of respect. "No, my child," she said. "Look."   Damion looked. Instead of the small, heart-sized hole that Harthas had been given, Luxanis' entire torso had been hollowed out. He could see the trees behind her, straight through the middle of her body. "I was imprisoned, tortured, and left to hunger for eternity. This world is cruel, and it will die, even if I cannot."

This content was written during NaNoWriMo 2023.


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