Dreamers Do Lie Chapter 2 – Clan Vorilia

Dreamers Do Lie Chapter 2 – Clan Vorilia

Morning came too soon.

Jostled awake by an absent kick, Arimand snapped his eyes open. It was dark inside the unfamiliar tent, and cold. Where was he? The sounds outside were too loud, too chaotic for a unit cutting through enemy territory.

He sat up, his legs and back aching in protest. He reached for his cloak but found it missing. The previous day came flooding back; the surprise attack, the empty hours on the crowded riverboat, the wasteland.

Another of his tent-mates tripped over him on the way to the exit. This time, he left the front flap open.

Though the sun hid behind a cluster of bloated, grey clouds, the Vorilia camp was alive with activity. Men chatted as they stripped canvas from its crooked supports. Women doled out strips of dried meat for morning rations. There were no signs of children. Perhaps they were allowed to sleep in.

Ignoring the tightness in his thighs, Arimand slid to his feet. Shifting his weight from foot to foot, he stood awkwardly outside his tent, uncertain what to do. He could try to win himself breakfast, but it hadn’t been included in his negotiations. He should help strip the camp, but he wasn’t familiar with the protocols.

“Morning, Commander!” Eselt’s gruff voice interrupted his indecision.

Arimand tensed. “Shouldn’t I greet you that way, Chief? There are no longer men under my command.”

“Indeed,” Eselt grunted. “I see you haven’t tried to steal breakfast. I hope that means I won’t have to escort you out of our territory.”

“I won’t force your hand. But I had hoped to find you open to further negotiations this morning.”

“You’ve got a way with words, Commander. Most people are down on their knees by now.”

“You don’t seem the type to be swayed by fancy words and empty promises.” Though he’d take to his knees if it would help. “I know my efforts last night hardly make up for your hospitality-“

“That was clever,” Eselt admitted, running his fingers through his scraggly beard.

“I’m willing to work hard. I don’t care what task. I’m smart enough to realize I have a better chance with your clan than on my own.”

“You heard Dwenba. Our stores are dwindling. The more we accept into our ranks, the harder it gets to provide for ’em.”

Arimand bowed his head. “I won’t fight if you tell me to go. But I would like a chance to repay your hospitality, even if it won’t earn me a place in your camp.”

“You’re either humble for a military commander, or a sly negotiator. Fine.” Eselt placed his hands on his hips. “You seem worthy of a chance. Make a decent contribution to our supplies and you’ll be welcome among us.”

Arimand swallowed a swell of excitement. He didn’t imagine it was easy to find food in a place like this. Yet his empty stomach fluttered, clinging to the tiny thread of hope.

“Chin-up, lad, I’ve got a gift to start you off.” Eselt gave him a hearty clap on the shoulder, then extended his other arm.

Blinking, Arimand took the water skin from the clan leader’s hand. He sniffed it suspiciously but smelled only leather. He was thirsty enough not to question where the liquid came from. Tilting his head back, he took a gulp.

The color drained from his vision. All light suddenly bled out of the world. He had never been happy, could never be happy again. All the work he had done, his dreams and aspirations, meant nothing. He died before he could make anything of himself and left no legacy to succeed him.

Three hard thumps brought him back to reality. Eselt smacked his back once more for good measure.

Gasping, Arimand tugged the neck of his shirt away from his body. He leaned forward, coughed and realized he had fallen to his knees.

“There, there lad,” Eselt’s gruff voice sounded surprisingly gentle. “It happens to everyone the first time.”

The first time? “What did I just drink?”

“Water. From Acheron, the river of woe.” Straightening, the stocky clan leader retrieved the water skin from his belt and took a swig. A moment later, he sighed. “It’s the only source of safe drinking water in this ring.”

Invisible weight hunched Arimand’s shoulders. What was the point of hunting when it would never be enough? Shouldn’t he press his cheek to the cool stone and await the inevitable?

His cut knee ground against the edge of a rock as he lowered. The pain sliced through the haze in his brain. What am I doing?

Gritting his teeth, Arimand pushed to his feet and dusted himself off. “I thought it was the Styx that cut through Hell.”

“It does. But no one dares drink from the river of hate. Not if they want to maintain some semblance of civilization.”

“So each of Hell’s rivers carries a different power?”

“Of course. It wouldn’t be miserable enough if anything behaved the way you expected. Those that drink from the Styx go mad. They try to destroy everything in their path or kill anyone they meet. Some desperate, lonely souls will take the risk, but the clans won’t touch water from the Styx. It would undo us.”

“Doesn’t Hell have five rivers?”

“Aye. But only three touch Ethilirotha; Styx, Acheron and Phlegethon. Acheron marks the outermost border of Hell. The closer to it you land, the less damned your soul. It’s only accessible from this ring. The devil only knows how they find water in the deeper rings.”

Arimand regarded his companion curiously. How did Eselt know so much about Hell’s layout? From the way he talked, he must have been dead a long time. “What happens if you don’t drink at all, or eat for that matter?”

“It’s unpleasant.” Eselt shrugged. “There are ways for the dead to die, make no mistake. But thirst and hunger ain’t among ’em. It’s either the endless ache of emptiness or the bitterness of eternal despair.”

“Fine choice,” Arimand muttered. He drew a deep breath. “Point me in the proper direction, and I’ll do my best.”

Eselt led him through uneven rows of tents to the camp’s outskirts. It was actually much larger than it had seemed the night before; some of the smaller structures had been obscured by night’s long shadows. They skipped the breakfast line, much to Arimand’s chagrin. It seemed he would have to earn his meals from now on. Beyond the dilapidated structures, a small cluster of men sharpened the ends of twisted sticks along with a mismatched array of swords and daggers.

“Kimuli,” Eselt barked as they waded into the group.

“Yah?” A large, rugged man set his sharpened stick aside. His face sported several scars that may have come from a wildcat’s claws. He was bald aside from a single shoulder-length braid dotted with worn, discolored beads. The dusky shade of his skin made it difficult to identify which region he may have hailed from.

“Arimand, here, wants to earn his keep. Show him how it’s done, and keep a close eye on him. Good hunting.” With that, the clan leader departed, leaving Arimand the center of the hunting party’s focus.

Grumbling to himself, Kimuli turned his head and spat. He wiped his lips against his bare arm as he regarded his newest recruit. “Seems yeh already got a sword.” He nodded to the blade sheathed at Arimand’s side.

Arimand drew the blade slowly, tilting the edge so both men could observe it. “Still seems sharp,” he agreed. “It should serve.”

“Good,” Kimuli grunted, retrieving a bundle of sharpened sticks. “Make sure yeh keep up.” He said nothing more, not bothering to introduce Arimand to the rest of the hunting party.

Only a few took it upon themselves to make his acquaintance as they started out, including a strangely cheerful man by the name of Sulard. He was midnight compared to Kimuli’s dusk, clearly hailing from Irynt in the south. He stood a full head higher than the rest of the group, which would make him easy to pick out of most crowds. Sulard had several helpful hints that Arimand took note of. Everyone else was more concerned with the hunt than Arimand’s success.

After hours of stumbling through biting winds the night before, Arimand was unprepared for the day’s swelter. Though the sun never peeked from behind the clouds, heat beat down on his face and neck. Sweat soaked his clothing, but he dared not remove his armor, for fear he’d never recover it. He didn’t know what they hunted, but he assumed protection would prove useful.

Of all the hunters, Kimuli had the keenest eyes. It was him who drew attention to several rough indentations in the hard-packed sand that looked to Arimand’s eyes like places where small rocks had been lifted away. These were evidently tracks, carved by the thick nails of their prey. They led into a deep canyon littered with fallen rocks and boulders, some twice the height of a man. The precarious nature of some of their perches warned the hunting party might not survive if anything triggered a rockslide during their passing.

It was midday before Kimuli ordered the group to surround an oblong boulder resting in the remains of a recent rockslide at the base of a rugged tor. Arimand drew his sword and tried to imitate the other hunters’ crouch. He expected a wretched beast bearing claws like those that marked Kimuli’s face to leap at them the moment their leader slid the boulder aside. Anything that survived in this wasteland must be terrifying.

But while the creature huddling behind the boulder proved unlike anything Arimand had ever seen, it was definitely a scavenger – as everything in Hell seemed to be. It wobbled on the ungainly legs of a baby deer, but its ears were floppy and half again as long as its head. Thick patches of coarse fur clung unevenly to its skin, and a pair of budding antlers protruded from its brow.

What he took to be an awkward abomination soon proved swift and graceful. Though the hunters launched several spears in the creature’s direction, only one bit flesh. It grazed the creature’s hindquarters, drawing blood, but didn’t lodge deep enough to do real harm. As the creature swept toward the edge of the circle, the hunters used their weapons to drive it back and keep it cornered. Someone lunged with a second spear, but a powerful kick from the creature’s hind legs snapped the spear in two before it penetrated.

Kimuli’s voice rose above the din with harsh encouragement, proclaiming it the largest beast he’d seen in years. The party shared a hungry desperation; a bounty like this would fill their bellies for days. No doubt the shaggy fur would make a fine blanket and its hide a sturdy new tent or several pairs of shoes. But the creature was as desperate to live as they were to claim it, and no one seemed willing to close within range of its sharp hooves.

Arimand gritted his teeth, recalling Eselt’s ultimatum. He was unlikely to receive a second chance if he returned empty-handed.

As the creature pranced toward the boulder, seeking an escape route, Arimand took advantage of his position to slash at its hind legs. He struck a glancing blow, and the creature skidded down the slope with a high-pitched screech.

It recovered faster than he anticipated, leaping straight at his chest. He dove, trying to keep away from its clawed hooves, but the beast was nimble. It kicked as hard as a horse.

The air fled Arimand’s lungs as the blow flung him back toward the circle of hunters. The rabbit-deer leapt again for the slope. This time the hunting party’s spears bounced harmlessly off the rocks.

Amid frustrated curses, Kimuli drove his men into action. But the rocks were too loose to support their frantic attempts to scale the incline.

With a rueful smile, Sulard hauled Arimand back to his feet. “That was brave of you, Arimand, but foolish. You all right?”

Still struggling to catch his breath, Arimand nodded.

Kimuli cast them both a stormy glare. “Come on, men, we’ll hunt elsewhere. Quickly now! That will have put us behind.”

“Don’t mind him.” Sulard grinned, helping Arimand dust the grit from his armor. “Kimuli thinks everything is a competition.”

Arimand laid a hand on his chest through the hole in his shirt. This time his fingers came away bloody. The creature had scratched him, but the wound appeared to be shallow. Sulard waited for him to confirm his wellbeing before he joined the rest.

A sharp sting joined the ache in Arimand’s calves and the dull throb of his feet as he shuffled after the hunters. Sulard quickly outpaced him. If Arimand fell behind, Kimuli probably wouldn’t bother to take him back to Eselt for dismissal. Yet his best efforts barely kept pace with the rear ranks.

He paused a moment, kneeling to catch his breath. He leaned one arm against the side of the slope, and a splash of crimson caught his eye.

Heart racing, Arimand leapt to his feet. In the distance, Kimuli uncovered a new hole. His hunters formed two rings around their quarry; a smaller creature, unable to leap over their heads. Arimand glanced again at the bloody streak. He had one chance to prove himself.

As he scrambled up the slope, ignoring the pain in his legs and chest, Arimand tried to disturb as few rocks as possible.

He needn’t have worried. The wounded beast lay huddled between two large rocks. It barely lifted its head to note his approach. A large gash marked the underside of its chest.

Arimand’s breath caught in his throat. His blade must have clipped it when he dodged.

He hated to kill a defenseless creature but necessity compelled him. Besides, it would be cruel to let the thing bleed to death. With one swift slice, he slit its throat.

Then came the difficult task of dragging the carcass down the hill without damaging it. In the end, he swung the body across his shoulders. Blood soaked his clothing by the time he reached the base of the slope, where a group of stunned hunters waited. Perhaps one of them had noticed the bloody trail.

For a moment, they stared in disbelief. Then they swarmed him. Strong arms relieved him of his burden. Kimuli ordered the carcass bound to a pole made of spears to ease the rest of the journey. Meanwhile, Arimand endured several backslaps and handshakes that only aggravated the pain in his chest.

As the light faded, the clan’s hunting parties converged. Aside from Arimand’s lucky kill, their success amounted to a small bundle of squirrel-sized creatures. No one could believe their good fortune when they marched the rabbit-deer carcass to the supply tent. Dwenba laid one hand over her heart when she saw it.

Eselt’s eyes bulged from their sunken sockets. “In all my years, this is only the second of this size I’ve seen.”

“Aye, and it’s intact,” Kimuli boasted, sharing Arimand’s glory. “That hide is going to be useful.”

“That it is.” Eselt’s eyes found Arimand’s. “And you killed it alone?”

“I don’t think I can boast that,” Arimand protested. “I landed a lucky strike. And I paid for it. But I’m glad I took the risk.”

A hint of a smile graced Eselt’s lips. “Well then, Arimand, I believe you’re once again welcome to share my fire.”

Relief couldn’t heal his wounds, dispel the night’s chill, or ease his aches but it certainly helped. This time, he received an equal size dinner portion. Even so, he rose at the end of the meal and made his way to the cooking fires to scrub dishes. He’d better not get cocky; one stroke of luck wouldn’t replace hard work.

When the cleaning was done, the grateful women offered to tend his wounds. They scrubbed the scratches clean and dabbed them with a warm salve that eased the sting. Dwenba even took off with his shirt and returned it with most of the blood stains scrubbed away. Arimand thanked them profusely before excusing himself.

In the morning, he would offer to skin the new catches and prepare the meat, unless Eselt wanted him for other tasks. For now, he returned to his crowded tent. His lucky kill hadn’t afforded him a better sleeping position, but his tent-mates seemed more accommodating. They huddled a little closer, sheltering him from the drafts that drifted through the closed flap.


He missed the sun, the glittering blue sky and the forest after rain. Each of Hell’s days was much the same. The sun rose but remained hidden by the clouds. Clan Vorilia broke camp at dawn and trudged through the heat of the day across the monotonous, blasted landscape. They saw few signs of life and gave other clans wide berth. As the night winds began to howl, Eselt called a halt. The clan hastily reassembled their shelters, sat beside their meager fires and devoured a humble meal before shuffling back to bed.

A week of traversing the uneven, unyielding rock left Arimand’s once-comfortable leather boots battered and frayed. His blisters weren’t worth counting. The camp women gave him ointment to dull the pain, but it didn’t prevent new sores from forming. The icy winds, coupled with sleeping on the ground, left him drained. Working through the unrelenting heat generated a constant haze that clung to his brain.

The clan’s meager meals and water rations did little to stave off his constant hunger and thirst, not to mention the terrible sorrow that accompanied eating and drinking. Adding other food to the water seemed to dull its magical properties, but there was no way to erase its devastating effects. He had been so miserable his first night in camp, he failed to notice the sorrow that accompanied his meal.

Now Hell had seeped beneath his skin. It sat in his joints and poisoned his muscles. A soldier grew used to certain hardships, but his body had never seemed so fragile. It didn’t help that Eselt spent the entire week hovering over his shoulder. Arimand feared one small mistake, one misstep, or misspoken word and he’d be cast aside.

So he noticed the distinct absence of the clan leader as he stripped the fraying canvas from his shared tent the next morning. He paused after lugging the packed bundle to the proper cart, but a quick glance revealed nothing that would have stolen Eselt’s attention. Had he finally won the man’s trust?

Cautiously optimistic, Arimand joined the queue to receive the strip of meat that served as breakfast. He savored the salty jerky as he perched beside the rickety caravan, ready to help lift the unloaded crates and secure them in place.

They were nearly finished packing by the time he spotted their leader. He almost didn’t notice Eselt’s scraggly mane as it cut through the crowd, too captivated by his companion. He hadn’t seen those bright eyes and that fiery hair since his first night in Hell. Eselt cradled the woman’s pale hand in his as he escorted her to the largest of the clan’s wagons, in which the children usually rode.

Arimand couldn’t tear his gaze away until the woman disappeared behind the cart’s cloth cover. She moved with a regal grace. Something about her posture and the serenity of her expression suggested she hadn’t been in Hell for long. If she wasn’t newly dead, she had certainly weathered Hell’s rigors well. Then again, he had never seen her outside Eselt’s tent. She didn’t help cook, clean or pack. Who was she? Why did Eselt grant her such clemency?

“Are those knots secure?” When Arimand failed to answer Kimuli’s query, he received an elbow in his ribs. “You lost yer head?”

“What? No. I mean, yes. The knots are secure. Need me for anything else?”

Kimuli snorted but a hint of a grin split his rugged features. “Just get yer head out of the old world and back into the underworld. It’d be nice to catch something along the way.”

Arimand stole another glance in the direction of the covered wagon before he took up his escort position. Without pack animals, it was up to the men to haul their makeshift carts from one camp to another. He’d been on dragging duty the past two days and was relieved to receive a lookout assignment instead.

Throughout the march, Arimand found his eyes drawn back to the covered wagon. If he managed to stand at the proper angle, he could sometimes catch a glimpse of the fire-haired woman sitting in a circle of laughing children. But he didn’t dare look for long; his attention was meant to be elsewhere. Not that there was much game to hunt.

He bit his tongue and listened to the other hunters complain. He didn’t dare add his voice to the chorus, for fear Eselt’s absence was some clever test.

“Where are we going anyway?” he asked during a lull in the conversation.

Sulard sighed and wiped the sweat from his brow with one arm. “The locals call it Blalt.” Arimand wondered who had chosen the name. Everything in Hell sounded ugly. “It’s a kind of port on the river Styx.”

“So it’s a town?”

His companions laughed. “Closest thing the badlands has to one, I guess.” Sulard shrugged. “It runs all along the river in this ring. They call the west bank ports ‘Blalt’ and the east bank ports ‘Schan.’ So people know where you’ve come from.”

“Of course,” Arimand murmured.

“All yeh need to know is yeh can trade there,” Kimuli interrupted. The burly hunter tended to hover near Sulard. Arimand had observed them, on occasion, exchanging conversation via knowing glances when they thought no one was paying attention. “If something has made its way to Hell, yeh can buy it in a port market.”

Arimand wondered how objects made their way to the damned realm. They encountered plenty of things a man couldn’t carry or wear when he died but, before he could ask, Kimuli spotted a pair of tracks. The trail ran cold not far from the caravan, and Kimuli went back to complaining while Sulard tried, in vain, to soothe his temper.

By the end of the march, Arimand was too weary to search for the strange woman. It took all his focus to complete his assigned tasks. And though he no longer needed to prove himself, Arimand volunteered to assist with the clean up after the evening meal. He had grown fond of the clan women’s company.

Dwenba’s gripe had proved accurate; the damned men spent most of their evening around the campfire speculating about affairs in the mortal world. What they didn’t know about the war, they tried to guess, a pastime Arimand had no desire to share. The women seemed more inclined to discuss their former lives and the circumstances which led to their damnation. Perhaps they were less embarrassed by their fate. Many admitted to stealing, a few to being unfaithful wives. Most came from difficult situations, spending the majority of their life on the street or trying to attract men who could give them more comfortable lives. And most were proud of their survival despite daunting odds, even if it ultimately tainted their souls.

They were also more willing to answer his questions, and he had several to ask this evening. He waited until their usual banter subsided to speak.

“Who’s that young woman Eselt keeps hidden away?” He reached deep into the cleaning cauldron to retrieve the last of the dishes and tried to ignore the melancholy that sunk into his skin through his cuts. An eerie silence descended as he straightened. “Did I say something wrong?”

Dwenba plucked a clean plate from his hand with a flick of her wrist. “Everyone asks sooner or later. I don’t know why anyone’s surprised.” Her sharp tone sent everyone scurrying back to work.

“I’ve only seen her a few times,” Arimand replied as he transferred the rest of the dishes into waiting hands. “Given the way Eselt runs this clan, it seems odd.”

Several women snickered. Others snorted.

“I’d sure like to avoid all the chores.”

“We just don’t smile as pretty as she does.”

“If only charm were all it took to be successful, I’d probably still be livin’!”

“That’s quite enough,” Dwenba’s harsh growl silenced the tittering women. “Lady Kaylie doesn’t deserve an ounce of that ill will, and every one of you knows it.”

Arimand blinked. “Lady Kaylie? What happened to leaving our titles behind?”

“There’s an exception to every rule, isn’t there?” Dwenba lightly squeezed his wrist. “I suppose Eselt wanted to set the lady apart. The damned are all equal when it comes to esteem, but the lady deserves some respect.”

“But what makes her special?” Arimand insisted. Part of him already knew. He’d seen the light in her eyes. “Eselt doesn’t seem the type to favor someone for arbitrary reasons.”

Dwenba grinned. “Well, aren’t you the wise one? We all have good reason to respect Lady Kaylie. She isn’t tainted like the rest of us.”


Another round of giggles answered Arimand’s question.

“Damned, darling,” Dwenba clarified gently. “Kaylie’s soul is pure.”

Arimand’s gaze swept the crowd. Most of the women avoided eye contact and several hung their heads until he turned away. The edges of his lips twitched upward as he turned back to Dwenba. “You’re trying to make a fool of me, aren’t you?”

Dwenba shook her head, as solemn as ever. “I’ve never encountered a more serious topic. That girl belongs in Heaven, not stuck in this wretched land of torment.”

“That’s impossible. I’m no religious expert, but I’m pretty sure the old gods wouldn’t let innocent souls slip through their fingers. If they did, there’d be dozens.”

“If there were dozens, we’d call them barely damned.” Dwenba gave him a pointed look. “But there’s only one, Arimand.”

“How could you possibly know that? Hell is vast, and you can’t move beyond this ring.”

“I most certainly could. I just wouldn’t be able to get back.”

“Then how do you know Kaylie’s unique?”

Dwenba leaned forward until her eyes hovered inches from his face. “You tell me, young man. You’ve seen her.”

Swallowing hard, Arimand retreated two steps.

Pleased, Dwenba dried her hands on her tattered apron. “I don’t know what tragedy brought an innocent to the shores of Hell. But I know our Lady Kaylie is special. And if ever the old gods existed, they’ll find a way to lift her where she belongs. In the mean time, Eselt takes care of her as best he can. Thank goodness he found her before anyone else did.”

Suddenly, Eselt’s threats made sense. He didn’t want Arimand slipping into his tent to corrupt his innocent charge. Granting her a title made sense too; she looked like nobility. It would certainly explain her regal manner and fine clothes, but it wouldn’t account for the strange quality that seemed to emanate from her. If it wasn’t innocence, what could it be?

The conversation moved on, but Arimand’s thoughts did not. When he retreated to his tent with moisture-shriveled fingers, Kaylie’s image remained vivid in his mind. Who was she? And what strange event sent her to Hell?

For once, he didn’t notice the howl of the wind or the icy draft drifting beneath the tent flap. Lady Kaylie’s face filled the space behind his eyes as he drifted to sleep.

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