Chapter 22 Blood War

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Kellahn’s burial site lies at the bottom of the canyon in the many caves built into the walls of stone. Thousands of caves make up the burial site and generations of Kellahn families are buried within the walls. As is custom in Kellahn, the dead are cleaned, dressed in the finest clothing, and laid out on slabs of stone to be commemorated. Preparation takes an entire day with the number of the dead needed to be cleaned and dressed appropriately.

For many weeks the bodies will remain on display in the largest of the caves to allow the souls enough time to be weaned from the living world and into the afterlife. Then for another five days the bodies will be placed in holding graves, holes dug into the walls of the caves, until their final resting places are dug.

The bodies of those killed during Jaxon’s betrayal are lined up in neat rows, but Daniil and Kylii hold the place of honor at the front on higher slabs of stone.

As the sun lowers in the sky, setting behind the horizon, the people of Kellahn gather. The city fills with the light of torches and processions of those mourning walk together down the pathways. The cave soon fills to capacity as everyone in the city and the allied forces come to pay their last respects.

Sorrowful songs echo through the canyon. Voices mix together filled with sadness and many only singing the tune, not knowing the words, but feeling the emotion fill them.

Standing at the front of the crowd are Meah, Ime, Altan, and Kiphy. Tanith sits next to Meah, her head pressed against Meah’s thigh and tail encircling Meah’s legs. Saunem sits next to Tanith, his body touching hers and cooing softly. Ime holds Meah tightly.

Feeling the time is right, Altan steps forward, placing a wreath of golden leaves on both of the brothers’ bodies. He kneels and prays silently, waiting for the silence to fill the cave. The crowd hushes and soon the only sounds are of those weeping, but even they subdue their cries, eager to hear what the ruler of Kellahn will say.

Finishing his prayers, Altan stands and faces the crowd, his eyes scanning the many somber faces. “We lost many yesterday. Many good men and women who answered our call for aid were ruthlessly murdered in their sleep, many whom families, friends, and comrades will miss sorely, and many who we’ve come to love and accept in our city. This tragedy shall never be forgotten and may never be forgiven.”

Meah grabs Ime’s hand and squeezes. He returns the squeeze, but his eyes remain on Altan.

“The lives lost were brave ones. They answered our call to rise up against the evil threatening our lands, the evil whose hands are now steeped in their blood. And we loved them for their bravery. They are now with their gods, watching over us and passing their strength on to us so that we may repay their pain many times fold to their killers. We can only pray they guide us in our forthcoming battles to victory.” Altan turns to face Ime and all eyes follow his gaze. “Ime?”

Squeezing Meah’s shoulder before walking forward to take Altan’s place, Ime places a thankful hand on the ruler of Kellahn’s shoulder. Altan hesitates, but then pulls Ime into a comforting hug before returning to stand next to Kiphy.

The cave goes absolutely still as eyes focus on Ime, intent on catching every word he speaks. Even those weeping had fallen absolutely silent so as not to miss a thing Ime says.

“Yesterday, I lost two who I considered to be great allies and even greater friends. They were good men. They were brave men. They gave me strength whenever I lost it. They could be stupid at times, but they were loyal to those they cared about.” Ime’s eyes meet Meah’s for a moment. She smiles encouragingly. He takes a deep, shaky breath. “Daniil and Kylii Lakeen sacrificed their lives for those they cared about. They sacrificed their lives to protect the ones they loved.”

Ime searches the faces of the crowd, meeting the eyes of all watching him. “And now we must repay them as well as those who weren’t even given the chance to fight back.”

The crowd agrees, some voices calling loudly through the cave. One calls for Jaxon’s death, initiating a cacophony of agreeing voices. Fear shoots through Meah and she struggles to keep from defending Jaxon, resigning herself to staring only at Ime.

“Tayli and his Shadow Watchers betrayed us and now they’re dead. Jaxon betrayed us. It’s true and he still lives. But he’s only a small pawn playing a part in our true enemy’s plans. Klaeon’s army…” Ime hesitates, licking his lips, before continuing. “Klaeon’s army stands at five hundred thousand.”

It takes a moment of the number sitting in the empty, silent air before an eruption of startled voices fills the cave, echoing loudly. Panic rises in many and words of anger are thrown at Ime, blaming the news on him. The allied leaders stare at him, giving no sign of surprise or fear. They only watch.

“Enough!” Ime’s voice rises above the crowd, silencing them in an instant. “It’s a truly terrifying reality. We’ve lost many and he sits with his hundreds of thousands safe in another land. But I will be damned if he kills another person I love.” Ime’s rage erupts from him, engulfing the cave in magic. White fire encompasses him, filling the cave with enough light to fill the crevices of the graves. The crowd reacts in awe, seeing Ime glowing with white light, but moves back as the heat washes over them.

The only ones who don’t back away are Meah, Altan, Kiphy, and the allied leaders. The crowd recovers slowly and a new life fills them, fueled by Ime’s rage and white fire. They chant his name and raise their hands in the air.

Glaring into each face, Ime pulls his fire back to a less blinding intensity. “Klaeon’s time is over. Tomorrow we march to war. Tomorrow our path to victory begins and we shall not return until Klaeon lies dead.”

The crowd hurrahs and exits the cave en mass, heading for their homes or camps to prepare for the next day. The allied leaders nod their approval at Ime before heading out after their men. Altan and Deven pay their final respects to the dead and follow.

Kiphy steps forward once the cave has emptied and stares at his sons’ bodies. He places shaking hands on them and kneels, lowering his head first to pray then to kiss them one last time. Tears fall from his eyes and create small dark circles on the dirt floor.

Ime and Meah feel the need to speak to him, but can’t find the right words. The three stay a little while longer, the two khorgois at their sides and the silence of the graves their only comfort.

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