Chapter 12


The five of them didn’t bother lighting torches, the sky had cleared to patchy clouds which scuttled quickly past the two partially full moons. The going wasn’t as bad as they had expected. The Pass was still used by fast riders during the day and a few adventurous wagon trains that thought they could make the pass before the sun set. The first half hour was quiet and still with an owl somewhere overhead calling out.

Then they saw it.They all froze still and a chill ran through them.

“You know what the last order of Commander Geodron Volengaard was?” Horgan asked. “No one gets through, ‘We will make this the Pass of the Dead’”

They gulped and watched it. It started out as nothing, just a pool of white that might have been mistaken for low lying fog in the darkness. Then it started to rise and form, growing arms and other appendages. Features began to be defined as the moonlight reflected off of it. Soon it was a fully formed spectral man, replete with arms and armor.

Horgan forced his feet to move forward. When he was ten paces away it spoke.

“HHhhhaaaaaalllllltttTT!” it called out in a slow drawn out hiss.

They froze as one again.

“IIIiiidddeennnttiifffyyYY.” it called and shifted forward, its ghostly spear now at the ready.

Horgan coughed, clearing his throat before stepping forward.“I am Horgan Strongback of the Black Boars, Bannerman to Commander Geodron Volingaard.” he said and then stepped back.

Marrissa stepped forward.“I am Marrissa, Sister of Kote,” she said and stepped back.

Doranai stepped forward with a boldness that surprised Tael.“I am Doranai, Sister of Kote; Daughter of Medithia of Kote, Daughter of Gilden of the Black Boars,” she said with her head held high and then stepped back.

Varina stepped forward nervously.“I am Varina Brasman….I have been given to the protection of the Sisters of Kote.” She said uncertainly and stepped back.The Ghost seemed to smile at her.

Tael stepped forward.

“I am Tael Volengaard,” he said simply and stepped back.

“Prrrooovvee iiiitTT,” the ghostly sentry stated.

Horgan started to sing the dirge and, unbidden Marrissa, joined in, and then Doranai and even Varina.

Through the Dark

Of moonless night

We fought our foes

In winless fight

We fought

We sang

We bled

We died

And far away

Our widow’s cried

When dawn came

The drums were calling

My body lay

Where I had fallen

We clashed

We Fell

We mourned

We tried

And they left us lay

Where we had died

Tael hadn’t sung the song since he found out it was literally about his father’s death, but he still found himself mouthing the words, even if he didn’t vocalize them.

The ghost was more than likely unaware that, after the Autumn war’s end, the song became immensely popular, spread by twelve lonely survivors. By the end of the next year it was sung in every tavern and school across the country. It was even popular across the border in Natail.

A second spectral man started to form and the group faltered.“FFffoollloowwWW,” it hissed and started to drift farther into the dark pass.

“It is good to see you again, Bayan.” Horgan said as they passed the first sentry.It saluted him and then sunk back into the earth. They followed their ghost escort into the pass. The air around them grew cold, so cold that they could see their own breath.

Horgan followed as if in a trance. Tael knew that he had trod this pass more than once and probably a thousand times in his nightmares.

Soon they came to a wider natural valley. There encamped were dozens of ghostly figures, some hunched as if in pain. Others looked as if they were sleeping. Still several more looked as if they were ministering to the dying, right where piles of bones lay.

The entire spectral army stopped what it was doing and turned to look at the group being led into the clearing. Up ahead of them were the broken ruins of an old keep. Slabs of cut rock were piled haphazardly about into a mound. The ghost soldiers came forward and began to gather around the five living. Their guide drifted away and left them trapped in the center of them all the ghosts

Then it was there. Standing atop the broken mound. Varina took an involuntary step back, then caught herself, squared her shoulders and stood her ground.

Then the ghost turned toward them in the moonlight. They could see through him into the rest of the valley. The ghost didn’t glide down the mound as the earlier one had, it took each block as a measured step and came to them, stopping an arms breadth away.

“Hello old friend.” he said looking at Horgan. His speaking was not of the slow drawn out sounds- that the sentry had made. Each word was crisp and clear.

“Hello Commander,” Horgan said and pulled himself as straight as his aged frame would let him, then snapped off a parade salute.

“I’d give you a handshake but I seem to be dead,” General Geodron Volengaard said, Tael could actually see the ghost of his father smile.

“You have grown old. Has it been that long?” The General asked.

“Both longer than forever and shorter than one sleepless night,” Horgan replied.

“I am glad you have grown old, I only wish more of us would have. We were all proud of your reluctant agreement to lead the others to safety. Someone had to tell the tale, and everyone one of our silent prayers went with you and grateful that you would go so we did not have to”

He turned to the assembled spirits, who seemed to have morphed into more substantial beings in the short time that the group had stood there.

“We all honor you.”

The group stood as one and saluted Horgan, who openly tried to hold back his tears.“I should be with you all here today,” he replied.

“We wouldn’t have let you,” Geodron replied. “You had an order and a duty to preserve the lives of our wounded and the memories of those who stayed behind so that they knew we did not die in vain and that no enemy made it through, that we made this the Pass of the Dead”

A soldier broke from the crowd and shuffled up to Doranai.“Maridithia, I have missed you,” he said and held out his arms, still holding his sword and buckler.

Doranai almost looked as if she might run, then another look crossed her face and a tear ran down her cheek.“Father,” she said.

The spirit looked confused for a moment, and then spoke.

“Little strong headed Doranai, my daughter,” the ghost waivered. “Your mother?” it asked questioningly.

“She gave her life making sure the others survived.” Doranai was weeping openly.

“She would.” he said “I am proud of you for following in her calling and glad she died away from this accursed place.” Then he stepped back into the ranks.

The ghost of Geodron Volengaard moved to stand in front of Tael.

“I did not want this life for you” he said looking at Tael’s armor and weapons, with a sad look of resignation.

“I am not a soldier father. This is your armor and sword.” Tael suddenly felt as if he was a small child again, desperately wanting to hug his father.

“Maybe they were but you have used them and made them your own.” his father said with an air of finality.

In that moment Tael knew that his father was right, that the tools and weapons of war were indeed now his own.“Thank you father, I will keep them and care for them as my own,” he said.

“I love you son,” his father said.

“I love you too, father.” Tael choked back tears.

“Do not cry for me. I died doing what I was told to do. I died for the lives of all of our land. I cry for your mother, my wife, and all of the mothers and wives who will never see us again.”

He started to drift away, and then stopped.

“Why are you here?” he asked slowly.

Horgan stepped forward and stood next to his former leader.“We have important business with the Duke of Biltenbleu and were forced by foul beasts into the Pass. If we can gain the other side of the valley, we can catch a ship to our destination,” Horgan said in all seriousness.

The ghost of Taels father waivered in the spotty moonlight.

“It will be difficult, but not impossible. We have never made it to the other side of the valley, though we try every night. Maybe with so many of our kin here today, it is time we tried in earnest. Our people need to know that the pass is now safe and that all of their husbands and fathers are now at peace.”

He looked back at the group.“Even you Varina.”

Everyone looked at the girl, everyone but Horgan.

The ghost Commander gave a nod and an ethereal trumpet sounded. The ghost soldiers came to attention without a sound.

Having remounted the broken mound of the keep, Geodron turned to them.“This is our final battle. Let no one flag or fail before the end. We support each other as we always have. You may be here because of your country, but we fight and die for our friends and family. And so one last time into the Pass of the Dead.”

The ghost army stepped forward as one and surrounded the living assemblage.

Gilden stood beside them. “You will make it through the Pass of the Dead,” he said to them while looking at his daughter, then turned his eyes back forward.

They started marching at a steady pace and Tael fit right in with his cuirass and sword, his step matched theirs as if he had been born into it.

Soon they were at the farthest point of the defensive line. Here and there the bleached bones of dead heroes could be seen slowing becoming one again with the earth, as well as a few more recent dead, their faces contorted into death masks of fear.

“No one survives a night in the Pass of the Dead,” Tael reminded himself, yet people still tried.

“This is it,” Gilden said. “I believe that belongs to you.” He pointed off to their right and a lone flag pole stood, its base pushed into a pile of rocks. There was a tattered silver standard still attached to it and Horgan broke ranks and marched to it, pulling the pole up out of the ground and holding it high so a light breeze unfurled the Volengaard color standard. The ghost soldiers stood a little straighter and Horgan did too. He was now again what he had always been, the banner man.

The moons were well past high. They started off again, and immediately a cry went up in the front. None of the living could see what was causing it even though they could look through their hosts.

“Quick give me your hands!” Marrissa hissed. They quickly linked hands and words came tumbling out of the Sister at a rapid pace. The Pass became a stark world of black and white, and the ghost soldiers became almost solid in their eyes. Then they saw black misshapen forms oozing up from the ground to block the path of the advancing soldiers.

“Are those the dead Natali soldiers?” Varina said almost as a shriek.

“No, those are the soldiers own daemons holding them here,” Marrissa replied and drew her silvered mace.

Doranai also drew hers. “No one survives the night in the Pass of the Dead,” she said.

“No one survives the night in the Pass of the dead,” all of the dead replied.

Tael reached for his father’s, no… his sword and Marrissa put her hand gently upon his arm. “That will do you no good. You have a sword that will defeat these daemons” Tael looked at her without understanding. She looked at him exasperated, her eyes shifting to his shoulder; then he understood. The Elven sword; of course it would be imbued with magical properties.- He pulled it hesitantly from its sheath over his shoulder, in the stark world of black and white it glowed a dull blue except now it had words etched upon it that he had not noticed previously. “Nar Ango.” He wondered what it meant.

Then the black daemons were among them. No time to wonder about it now, he thought as the sword seemed to mold itself to his hand, almost as if it was an extension of his body.

The first black daemon seemed to appear almost instantly between him and the ghost of Gilden. His arm moved almost of its own volition, slashing and hacking a quick swipe that intercepted the entity before it had fully formed. Quickly it was replaced by others.

He knew them instantly for what they were; the daemons that plagued every person who has ever stood their ground for something they believed in and knew that it was their dying day. The daemons of doubt, remorse, regret, envy, failings, missed opportunities, reconciliations, lost loves and dreams that would never come to pass; these were the daemons he would have to defeat if he was to immerge victorious into the light of dawn.

Suddenly, his own personal daemon was before him. It stood there as solid and fully formed as he was. His own reflection in purest black, it moved as he moved, it thought as he thought; it yearned as he yearned. This was the one daemon he might not be able to defeat.

He came back into the stance that Horgan taught him- The Cat at Rest. With his right foot back at an angle to his body and the front on his toes waiting patiently for the slightest movement.The elven sword almost vibrated in quiet anticipation. It was angled across his body, beginning with both his hands low to the left of his buckle and the razor sharp blade pointing across his body at the pink moon over his shoulder.

The daemon stood there motionless for a moment almost contemplating the young farmer; then in a lightning quick strike came at him, its weapons the darkness as an extension of itself. Tal parried and moved forward to strike. Then an errant filament of darkest dark slid across his hand cutting an ice cold scar instantly where there had been none.

Tael staggered back feeling suddenly weakened beyond words.

His personal daemon came forward without hesitation. And stopped dead. Literally dead.  A dagger of bright yellow burst through its ephemeral chest.

“This is my man and nothing or no thing will stand between us,” Varina said and pulled her dagger from its middle. Then she was there by him.

“I love you,” he said.

“I love you,” she replied and planted a kiss full on his lips.

Tael, Varina, Doranai, Marrissa and Horgan moved forward through the night fighting their daemons and the daemons of the whole army until finally they could see the end of the pass. Morning was nearing quickly and they were weary to the bone. Marrissa had to once again grasp all of their hands and repeat her spells to make them see their enemies, and this time Tael took note of their surroundings.

Varina’s dagger from Grotan’s stash was magical, and one of Horgan’s daggers also glowed a faint white color; the sisters of Kote’s weapons were silvered and their robes glowed as magical, though interestingly Doranai’s glowed blue while Marrissa’s glowed a pale yellow.

Dawn was touching the horizon as they finally broke through the last of the daemons and stumbled the last few feet toward the open valley below. They were grateful to all of the ghost soldiers for seeing them safely to the other side. They walked a few more feet and stopped; they realized that none of the ghostly soldiers had followed them out into the open. They turned and looked back. All of the soldiers had stopped at the very edge of the valley; and at the head was Geodron Volengaard.

“Thank you,” he said “You have freed us from our own daemons, and a few of your own.”

Then he held up his hand in a final wave goodbye as the sun peeked over the valley flooding the expanse with light. The ghosts faded as the light of a new morning touched them.

Tael held up his own hand in a final wave goodbye to his father, and Horgan saluted them as they faded from existence.

They stood quietly looking back at the Pass of the Dead as the light crept down into the dark places and reflected off of the neglected bones. Then they turned back to the valley that awaited them.

“We survived the Pass of the Dead,” Doranai said.

“We survived the Pass of the Dead,” the others replied as one.

Horgan reverently thrust the Flag pole into the hard packed earth of the trail, then unclasped the standard and rolled it up, it’s worn frayed edges dangling as he held it in his hand like a baton.

“To Biltenbleu”