In the dream Frey was inside an apartment that, during the chill winter morning, smelled of frying eggs and breakfast. He was small, perhaps six years old, sitting on a mauve velvet carpet of the living room floor, reading a book, and he doesn't look up from it, as though it had caught his attention truly.
The book had mostly pictures in it, sketches, depicting a monster two legged like a man, but with jet-black skin, bulging biceps and big hands with razor claws, with a head that had the twisted horns of a ram and the face of a black dragon. The monster was naked, except for the chains around its midsection, and the steel shackles around its huge wrists. Below the sketch was a word, or he thought was a word, written in cuneiformic runes but he knew didn't come from Sumeria, and below the runes was a title written in English "The shackles-god".
There was a knock on the door--a gentle knock, and Aunt Jill came rushing out of the kitchen to get it, still in her frilly blue apron and her crow-black hair tied in a high ponytail behind her head. Pancake sizzled on the pan she left unattended. She opened the door, and was pleased to usher in a tall man in a black trench coat and gentleman's beret. A child psychiatrist he was, Frey's psychiatrist, to be exact, though he couldn't remember ever having a shrink, but then again, his childhood was probably so unremarkable that he ended up forgetting most of it.
After closing the door Aunt Jill disappeared back into the kitchen counter, a bit peeved, but not irate, when one side of the pancake became a bit too brown. This, was probably a memory of the time when Aunt Jill didn't yet have a husband, no family to take care of. Since Frey's mother and father were both well into management of their brainchild, a software company that developed satellite imaging, GPS platforms that are considered primitive now but were cutting-edge technology then, and his parents were lovebirds at work making chunky pounds of income everyday, but they never had time for their only child.
Aunt Jill for quite a few years before her marriage, became his mother then, and in summer and winter vacations he'd stay in this small unit she rented, reading books or watching Animal Planet, and before she left him for a family of her own he was old enough to handle himself. She taught him how to cook, really cook, not just use the oven to heat grocery bread, or use a can-opener to open SPAM which, frankly, he never did like.
Aunt Jill asked the man to sit down for breakfast at the dining table, which was antique mahogany Aunt Jill inherited from Frey's late grandmother. The man just smiled at her and answered, "I won't be long, just checking up on the kid." the man walked up to him then, and crouched so that they were eye-level. Frey looked up from the book.
"Hey, little man." the man said. He looked at his fifties, with a creased forehead and graying slick-back hair under his dark-blue beret. Frey said nothing, just staring at the man with the curiosity of a child. "You enjoying my gift?" the man looked at the giant book Frey held in his tiny hands, at its bleaching brown leather cover, where "Advent of the Forgotten" was written in large, spidery handwriting. Frey quietly nodded, remembering the book was given to him by the man, not too long ago.
"You know, that book is old. Very old. Probably older than most gods I know."
Young Frey pointed at the sketch of the monster, then down at the runic inscription below. "... This means?" he asked. The man spoke a garbled word, and Frey didn't catch it. "--he's the god that imprisons other gods. The shackles-god, the very idea and concept of incarceration." Frey looked at the man with his head tilted, obviously confused. The man sighed, ruffled his hair. "When you grow up, you'll understand. For now you must read. Finish the book, and maybe you'll see the shackles-god yourself." the old man in the black trench coat smiled, and Frey felt creeped by it, though he couldn't tell why. He left quickly after that, like he said he would. Aunt Jill called him, "Breakfast's ready, sweetie." and Frey closed the old dusty book. The breakfast didn't fill him up, no matter how many pancakes he had eaten. He downed two plates of pancake and bacon that morning, and he asked his Aunt for more.
Aunt Jill, although a little surprised, was more than happy to see her nephew eating with a big appetite--something that she had never observed before, in the months she had spent looking out for him. Mary would be very pleased, she thought, that her son was finally eating with vigor, although she did not know that what the little boy was really hungry for, was not food.
Frey woke up in the dark corner of the wagon. He was cold, and he was hungry. He thought back to when his last full meal was, and he remembered eating one of those pink-furred, ram-horned rabbit meat Hugo roasted over the campfire yesterday night. It tasted and melted in the mouth like chicken breast, except for the hind legs--those felt stringy and got stuck between the teeth, and tasted more like horse meat than poultry. Thinking of food only made him hungrier, his stomach protested in a low growl. Behind him, on the other side of the wooden wall separating the inside of the wagon and the coachman, Dolor and Bautu were talking.
"Y'know, I don't feel like going back to the capital." said Dolor.
"Why?" Bautu asked.
"Well, I wouldn't want to explain to the General how by the great Humos' grace the slaves were stolen. I'll admit it, I'm kind of scared. I know the man, I've served under him for ages now. He could whip us, or feed us to his gargoyle pets, whichever he feels like doing at the time of the day." Dolor answered.
"I am not afraid." Bautu said. "I am loyal to the gods of my land, and they will protect me."
"Ay, where did you come from again?"
"Hasuk, in the West. My kin worship the gods of the wild. Haun of the wind, Keta of the leaves and the summer growth, Makula the protector of the wilderness. Good gods, although a little fervent at times, tempestuous."
"Well kid, I just hope the power of your gods stretch until this far. 'Cause in'ere in South, in the territory of the King, we only worship one god, and he likes blood."
Outside was an orange night, and they were leaving behind acres of golden crops, green grass and vineyards, watched over by towering wooden silos and hulking barns. As they went further, Frey saw pastures and ranches, and peasants herding six-legged sheeps into stables. There were also cattle, but were at least two heads taller than an Earth cow, and was much more beefy in size. He could eat a cow that big, he thought.
The wagon slowed, and then stopped. Either Dolor or Bautu knocked on the wooden wall of the wagon. "It's the capital, kid." Dolor said. "Wake up."
"I'm awake." Frey replied. He crawled toward the exit and stepped off the car. He breathed in fresh air, and was more than glad he finally got out of the slave car that reeked of urine and lingering despondency. He looked around, catching sight of farms and huts and livestock, and then ahead, where everything was a giant black. He rubbed his eyes, and when he looked once more, they were at the foot of a wall. A giant one.
Redel Capital was behind three meters of impossibly large, undoubtedly heavy stone slabs, stacked in an alternating pattern up to what, he guessed, sixty meters off the ground? The wall was not nearly as thick or as tall as the Great Wall of China, but it was an impressive sight, and thinking it covered a whole city made it even more so. There might've been a trench on top of the wall, but the wall was either too high, or the fog was too thick, that Frey couldn't see all the way up, or both.
Blocking the road into the city were two soldiers wearing the same leather-and-steel implements as that of Hugo and Krul's company, but they came with standardized pikes and the crimson emblem of Redel on the left of their chest. They halted Hugo's cargo, and one of the two soldiers checked on the expensive stacks of vermillion cloth the car lugged, while the other soldier talked to Hugo and Ardey and Horan, and the two coachmen laughed with the soldier, while their old captain, Hugo, looking older and more burdened than the first time Frey saw him, stood by, not really pitching in with the jokes and army jargon, just listening by the sidelines seemingly tired, mentally more than physically. Within the next few moments, of the soldiers inspecting the cargo, but mostly just chatting with their returning colleagues, Hugo's wagon was given the green light. Ardey shouted "Let's go!" at Frey, and once again he was inside the cargo, sitting between Hugo and the rainbow assortment of silk-like vermillion sheets. He was face to face with Gren, who looked beyond Frey pretending he did not exist, not in front of him. Frey was fine with it--made things easier for both of them.
Ardey cracked the whip on the horses, and they pulled away fast, from the huge city gate made of intersecting steel bars, into a bustling community of merchants, warriors, mercenaries and shopkeepers, and before he lost sight of the gate he saw Dolor and Bautu, no larger than kidney beans in his vision, but he recognized them even from that distance: Dolor's wrinkling copper skin, and Bautu's sterile-white tone, and they got smaller and smaller until he couldn't see them anymore. Somewhere in his mind he thought, possibly, that it was the last he'd see of the two men, and he'd been right.