The Month of Equin, Veng thought. That's what scholars called this last leg of the year. In the kingdom of Predonia, it meant the winding down of winter, of rain and constant cold. He shielded his eyes with a hand and peered across the yellow sands in search of his son. At times, it was hard to imagine a land that saw anything beyond clear skies and heat.
In all his thirty-two years, he'd never seen so much as a single drop of rain, but then seasons meant little to a desert hemmed in by massive stone walls and unforgiving seas. Perhaps things had been different before the kingdoms were formed, back when the Empire still reigned. One more thing his son would have to adapt to.
He caught a flash of red and white amongst the haze. Jarend. Ever since the man's return from his self-imposed annual exile, Jarend had tasked himself with watching Kael. Such an arrangement suited Veng just fine. Of the few people he entrusted with his son's safety, the equinean was by far the most effective bodyguard. Not even taking into account his species' talent controlling the elements, the man had a knack with blades Veng couldn't help but envy.
Jarend lay on a slab of ruddy rock jutting from the foot of the monolith that was Rogue Rise, a forehoof dangling over the edge. His gaze was fixated on the boulders littering the rear of the natural fortress. Veng peered at the spot, still unable to spy his son.
Clambering over to the man's side afforded him a far better view. There was the vampire horse, merrily bounding across the sand after his son. Playing seek-me, again. Better out here than in the tunnels where they could stumble upon far too many sights that a boy his age shouldn't see. "You should've killed it when it first arrived," Jarend muttered.
Veng hopped onto the slab and perched on the edge, his talons brushing the sand below; Jarend's naturally four-legged, skewbald body took up too much space for anything else. "I'm not killing my son," he said, knowing full well that Kael wasn't the 'it' the equinean referred to.
The man's yellow eyes turned on him. One white brow lifted until it vanished beneath his wind-tossed hair. "The vampire horse is dangerous." "Klif?" Were they speaking of the same creature? If he didn't know any better, he'd barely be aware of the lethal potential lurking beneath the jet-black coat and spindly legs. "He's no more a danger to anyone than you or I." Less so when it came to Jarend. Through his parent's illegal union, the man had gained more than command over fire and air; lightning was also at his disposal. The kingdoms feared Rogues because they were meant to be deadly, yet they allowed far more dangerous things to walk their streets than petty murderers. "You know the legends. The only way Klif is ever likely to become a danger to anyone is if they seek to harm his bond mate."
Jarend grunted and they watched the pair in silence.
His son was shirtless again. It was hard to keep clothes on the boy in a land where most people wore as little as they could, Veng included. Predonia's cooler climate should correct that behaviour. For now, the bronze shade of Kael's skin, a trait inherited from his mother, had him all but vanishing against the boulders.
Not that it helped him. Whenever his son left the vampire horse's sight over the hump of a dune or behind a rock, the vampire horse resorted to other means rather than scrabble after his bond mate. Black smoke would wrap about the long legs and he'd disappear, reappearing closer to Kael in a similar fashion. Despite all the stories saying such an act was natural for his kind, it seemed to take a lot out of the creature.
Perhaps the difficulty was tied to his vegan diet. Or rather, the scarceness of vegetation available to satisfy his dietary needs. It'd been something of a shock to discover what should have been a carnivorous creature became sick after eating meat and, for a while, he thought they'd lose the animal. The walfres may manage to survive on the desert's sparse flora, but that was the result of eons of evolution. The vampire horse… well, as far as Veng could figure, the creature must have been a mutation.
"I have to know," Jarend said after a long while. "Why'd you do it?"
He tore his gaze from the pair, fighting to keep his expression neutral. No one asked him before, although they surely had theories on why the mighty Vengeance opted to sire a Shadow Speaker. If nothing else, it was excellent fodder for the idiots who wrote the history books. He must remember to speak with Yardain. The Roguesses had their own rumours and, unlike his niece, the old woman would've heard them all. Yardain would know who to target, who needed to be permanently silenced, to keep word of his son from reaching the kingdoms.
Jarend's long, red nose wrinkled. "Don't give me that look. I'm not daft. There's only one way your son can be bound to a vampire horse. You're the last person I'd expect to give up his soul."
He thought back to that night, of the beauty who would become Kael's mother fast asleep in his bed, whilst the glowing figures of the All Mother and Evalka hovered over him, demanding he give up the last piece of himself. "I'd no choice." He refused and, still, the Star of Night took. Stole. All of it at her grandmother's behest. He hadn't realised such a thing was possible. And now his son was stuck with a magic that was better off buried. Any unearthing should belong only to the safety of bedtime stories and historical records.
Jarend resumed watching the pair. " 'Cin tells me you'll be taking them to Predonia City."
Veng nodded. He could've taken the journey months ago, but the thought of letting his son go was harder to accept than he'd anticipated. "Next month." Delaying any longer would only harm Kael's chances. Whatever fate the All Mother had in store for his son, Veng was determined not to let him be turned into another monster. The world already had its share of them.
"Is that wise?"
A soft chuckle rumbled in Veng's throat. "Laccindy's been venting to you, hasn't she?" Was there any conversation he had with his niece she did not share with the man?
He gave an affirmative grunt. "You'd have an easier time getting your son past the gate guards if I took them. Or Laccindy. She could bribe them far easier than either of us."
"I know." Ever since she was young, Laccindy had taken to strolling through the sole entrance to the Predonia kingdom. "But I need her elsewhere." A vampire horse, especially one entering the city at a young boy's side, would garner the attention of the underground well before the pair could reach the academy. He needed them distracted. Laccindy and her little group of thieves were the best for the job.
Jarend shook his head, sending his white and red hair flying. "You're a Rogue."
Veng arched a brow at the man. Did Jarend think he'd forgotten what he was? He'd been possessed, forced to commit atrocious acts he could never find redemption for, then drugged and convinced to fight for a position amongst thieves and murderers that he now no longer wanted… he was well aware of how those outside of their community viewed them. "Your point?"
"You get within bowshot of the wall and they're likely to kill you where you stand."
If he were on his own, perhaps. Certainly if he did something stupid. But with a child at his side? Well, the sight of the vampire horse alone would give them pause long enough to see more than some Rogue at their gates. "I've made my decision."
Jarend folded his bi-coloured arms and glared out at the desert. "It's a stupid decision."
He grinned. "Now you're starting to sound like my niece. I'll be fine." Veng stood, dusting off the sand clinging to his skin. "It's time for the boy's lessons." He would miss those hours. Miss any time he got to spend with his son. Two and a half years wasn't nearly long enough. It has to be done. Both boy and vampire horse would fare better beyond the desert. "I should get their attention."
"Allow me." Sparks appeared in Jarend's hands. They twirled about his palms, the glow deepening the shade of red hair covering his left hand whilst turning the white hair of his right hand a strange orange shade.
In one flick, the sparks flew towards the playing duo. When they formed a neat line, they exploded in a rumbling pop and burst of light, immediately drawing the pair's notice. They swiftly raced across the sand towards the slab, his son's long tail swinging widely to keep him balanced as the footing grew unstable.
"Try not to get killed," Jarend said as Veng went to leave. "No child should witness their parents' murder." There was a rawness in his voice that suggested he spoke from personal experience. He'd never spoken of it, but given that his species frowned upon the mere thought of anomalies like himself being created via unions between the various elemental clans, it was entirely possible.
"I'll do my best." But if it got Kael through the gates, got him away from a future of becoming just another murdering Rogue, he would do whatever it took.