THE SHUNNED (Part 2)
By Ted Peterson
The reason Allelia knew where Tyrio would be was because she had remembered something. She remembered Tyrio speaking of hiding in cemeteries in Immradiil because guards fear such places. There was a small family graveyard he must have come across in his peregrinations around the estate, and Allelia moved towards it, trudging through the thick snow, one step at a time. One step at a time, through the black trees over the white snow. The flurries had begun their descent, buffeting by the wind in a horizontal blur that swarmed around the forest like a living thing. She wrapped her cloak around herself in vain to keep the chill at bay.
Allelia had barely reached the edge of the graveyard where the fence tried to block incursion when she saw the blood in the snow. There had been a struggle there not long ago, but the conspiratorial blizzard had covered up all but the barest hint of a disturbance. The blood stains formed an irregular red path which Allelia followed into the cemetery.
The snow lay thickly drifted on the headstones in the graveyard. Allelia barely glanced at the names of her forebears buried there, her eyes focused on the path she was following. At any given moment, she would lose any sight of the blood drops, but she managed to find another, and then another, taking her further into the woods.
Finally, when the trail seemed truly vanished, Allelia began to shout, “Tyrio!”
With the whistling wind, Allelia’s cry seemed small, so she tried again louder, “Tyrio!”
First she heard Tyrio’s voice reply “Here!” and then she saw him drop down from the trees above. Slow step by slow step, they came together.
Allelia touched his bloody shirt. “You’re wounded.”
“The cold has numbed any pain,” Tyrio said. “The Vampyr who did it fared much worse, I assure you. Why, why are you here?”
“I want,” Allelia corrected herself. “I need to understand. If you’re Shunned, then everything I’ve been told is wrong. The ‘friends’ you talked about, they’re Shunned too?”
Tyrio nodded. “I told you the truth. We fought. There were those who wanted to follow the pale path of Arthinoc, the Shunned king who created the Vampyr.”
“I heard the Shunned ruled them.”
“The argument was that since we were already damned by most, why resist the call of the demons within us,” Tyrio explained.
Allelia paused before replying. “Which would make you a monster.”
“Aye,” Tyrio agreed. “People don’t try to understand monsters, but that’s true. Shade showed us different path to take.”
“Aye, they fought against Arthinoc and the Vampyr,” Tyrio said. And then he added, “The Vampyr are everywhere.”
“Here?” Allelia asked.
“All around us, in the hills around Hethbridge,” Tyrio said. “Arthinoc knows how to coordinate an attack. The town will never know it’s doomed until it’s gone.”
“They’re not prepared. We have to warn them,” Allelia said. “Come on.”
Tyrio smirked. “They’d never believe us.”
“We have to try,” Allelia said, grabbing Tyrio’s hand. They began the slow trek back towards Hethbridge.
It took hours plodding through drifts and piles of snow. Tyrio carefully guided them along paths only he could detect, avoiding where he said the Vampyr were encamped. Once, they stopped and on Tyrio’s silent signal, hid themselves behind a massive frost-streaked boulder.
A few moments later, a pair of dark figures glided past, their footfalls barely making a mark in the snow. They paused a few yards away, as if sensing the humans’ presence. Allelia could see their piercing red eyes glancing over the landscape before moving on.
Tyrio waited for nearly a half an hour before whispering, “Good. We can continue.”
“How can you do that?” Allelia asked. “Because you’re Shunned?”
Tyrio shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t know if all Shunned can do it, but we tend to have a sensitivity to activity like that. It kept me alive in Immradil.”
“Is it true what they say about how a child becomes Shunned?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know that either,” Tyrio replied, giving Allelia a crooked smile. “I don’t think I was given a ritual of birthrite when I was born, but how could I remember? I never knew any family. Others I’ve spoken to say it was done to them, but failed. I’m afraid I’m not much of an authority on being me.”
“You can tell me how it feels,” Allelia said.
“It feels like you’re haunted,” Tyrio said after a moment’s pause. “Or hated. Or both.”
“We’re nearly there,” Allelia said as they made their way slowly up a embankment of snow.
At last the snow-streaked walls of Hethbridge were on the horizon, and then loomed larger and larger as Allelia and Tyrio trudged through the snow, closer and closer. It was well after midnight, but over the city walls, the town was glowing, lit up with torch light.
“You said they wouldn’t be prepared,” Tyrio said.
“Maybe I underestimated the Duke,” Allelia replied. “Let’s see.”
Finally, they were at the eastern gates, and Tyrio rapped as loud as he could. After a moment, a guard called down, “Hark!”
“LADY ALLELIA OF WHYTHE!” Allelia called up. “IT IS AN EMERGENCY!”
With groans and creaks, the gate slid open enough to allow Allelia and Tyrio to come in. They were slammed shut the moment the city guards arrived.
“I need to see the Duke,” Allelia said. “The city is in grave danger.”
“From what we’ve heard,” said the Captain of the Guard. “The danger is from you and your Shunned lover.”
It was then that Allelia and Tyrio noticed the light which lent the city its glow was from hundreds of its citizens holding torches aloft. They milled about the large city square where there was even greater illumination from a giant bonfire, so stacked with wood that it nearly dwarfed the Duke’s grand palace behind it.
Ten foot stakes jutted between the flames, webbed with blacked chains holding up smoking husks. Allelia thought they were more kindling, until she noticed twisted arms and legs and even faces in the forms.
“Vampyr?” she gasped.
“No,” said the Duke, coming out of the crowd. Like his cousin, Allelia’s father Lord Wythe, he cut a rotund figure with a ruddy complexion. “They aren’t Vampyr. They’re Shunned.”
Allelia looked to Tyrio, who stared impassively at the burning corpses. He didn’t resist as the guard wrapped him in chains, but Allelia did. She rushed at them in fury, trying to pull them away, until she too was restrained.
“The vampyr are your enemies not the Shunned!” Allelia snarled.
“Your father, Lord Wythe? Who do you think told us about you and,” the Duke of Hethbridge chuckled, motioning towards Tyrio. “It?”
“You must alert the guards that the Vampyr are approaching,” said Tyrio calmly.
“I don’t trust the words of the Shunned,” replied the Duke. “You would lead us to our doom.”
“Then you are truly the Damn Fool my father always calls you,” Allelia interjected. “You will have the blood of Hethbridge on your hands if you do nothing.”
“Your father, you’ll find him if you look,” The Duke grinned. He motioned towards the pyre. “He thought that telling us about you and the Shunned would shield himself from his complicity.”
Allelia gasped, surprised to find tears in her eyes. “Complicit?! You killed him?!”
“He was dead long ago. Or didn’t you know he was Shunned himself?”
“You’re not a fool, you’re insane,” Allelia began sobbing. She felt the guards behind her yank her roughly towards the pyre.
“Be careful, be gentle,” the Duke chuckled. “I want them fully conscious up until the end.”
The crowd behind the Duke cheered lustily.
Tyrio and Allelia were bound together on a tall wooden post in the center of the pyre. Allelia felt Tyrio’s hand reach and grasp hers.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly as the flames were stoked. “I knew this would probably be my end, but I never thought I would meet someone like you. And then let you go like this.”
The smoke from the fire swiftly billowed up, swallowing them. Allelia felt rather than saw Tyrio’s lips on hers. It was their first kiss.
“I don’t know what to say,” he whispered.
“I do,” she replied. “I love you too.”
The smoke blew away, and they saw the fire beginning to rise in a wave to wash over them. Through the fire, and through the crowd of townsfolk watching, they could see dark shadows, the Vampyr, slithering down the walls of the town.