~ A drum roll shattered the void, the deathlike silence that was shrouding the chasm. The melodious rhythm resonated off of the steep rock faces; first barely audible, then suddenly swift and clear, like the ringing that would haunt ears after experiencing a deafening crack of thunder.

Delano eyed a wooden handled knife carefully. The serrations of the blade were either terribly dull or almost completely nonexistent. A light layer of rust started to form along the perimeter, it had lost its metallic luster from years of neglect. Possibly a once brilliant hand blade was now a mere artifact, made for nothing more than to pierce the soft skin of freshly churned butter. He rubbed his finger along the serrations, hardly feeling anything other than a smooth surface.

Just as I had thought, dull as bricks, thought Delano, confirming his suspicions.

An unexpected, almost out of place grin formed on Delano's lips. Positioning the handle loosely between two fingers, he balanced it gently, and rose his arm away from him. With eyes narrowed and deeply focused with the task that lay in front of him, he flicked his wrist, which made a short popping sound, and let loose of the dagger.

~ The drum roll transformed flowingly into individual taps that could be related to raindrops striking standing water, or the calm before a horrendous storm. They were perfectly spaced and cadenced, starting out slow, then faster and faster, then slower once again. It was all about the rhythm, never missing a beat.

Light of the sky caught the metallic object and reflected sharply into Delano's dark eyes, almost causing him to turn away to shield the unnatural light. But without a flinch, his idle eyes remained focused on the whirling object.

The young man had caught it by the handle, in midair; the exact place and position from which he had released it.

"Heh," he uttered under his breath, his enigmatic grin emphasizing his pride in this small accomplishment. It was a wonder what could keep him from his dreaded deep-rooted anxiety. With a final skilled whirl of the blade about his lanky fingers, he tossed it to the side, where pale soil skirted around it and over it and nearly concealed it from view.

He started to tap rhythms that had been engrained into his mind, on his knees with his hands.

~ The tempo steadied to a moderate speed, alternating routines of taps and strokes. A familiar lilt came into play; a quiet, cheerful tune that related to ales and pipe smoking while being sang, but ended up to be a disappointing and depressing song, reminding the multitudes of listeners of what had become absent in their lives.

"Delano! Wake up!" The voice echoed absently.

"Bloody hell! What?" Delano opened his eyes from a troubled sleep to consciousness that wasn't much better. Once his eyes came into focus, he found himself staring at the loose flaps of his tent. They flailed in the stale, clammy air that swirled about. It contained a vile smell, one that grasped Delano's senses and unfortunately would not depart. Every once and a while the flap would flutter just enough to reveal the outside world to the young man, and only to divulge the grayness and bleakness of it. In the distance, and more than likely overhead, clouds that exposed their gloomy mood reflected their drab appearance onto the ground and items below. Everything was drained of color: his skin, his clothing. Even though he could not see it, his lips were even ashen in color, giving him a sickly form.

He sat up lazily, propping himself up by the strength of his arms. A light twinge of pain from his right wrist caused him to cringe slightly and shift the weight to the other arm.

"Good Lord, Del!" A merry voice coming from outside Delano's quarters sent him to the present. He looked up from the tent flaps to the beady, black eyes of a young man, older than himself, but still young. "Good Lord, Delano!" he repeated again. "Look at yourself. You look like death. Are you ill?"

The man was wearing an outfit identical to Delano's. He was clad in a russet dyed tunic, with fringes on the shoulders and crossing diagonally across the length. A symbol was embroidered on the left part of their chest on the tunic: a jumble of carefully organized lines and curves that was recognized as the emblem of the country that they loved so dear and protected, Esbeth.

"Don't be a fool, you don't look too good yourself," Delano said hesitantly, all of the sudden feeling sick to his stomach.

The man ignored him. "Ah, it's these cursed clouds. Follow us everywhere we go, the tossers. Personally, I think that it is just a bit of bad luck."

Delano collapsed back onto his bedroll, then let out a sigh in thought.

Bad luck, just what I need.

"What I would give for a long swig of ale, for pity's sake." The man laughed nervously.

Delano perked up at the thought. "Too right! We ran out of those sort of provisions days ago."

"Malarkey it is! It truly is, Delano!" He grabbed Delano's shoulder and shook it overdramatically. He continued, "How does the King expect us to do all his dirty work if he can't provide our simple need of ale, what? I can't even recall the last time I have set foot in a tavern, it has been so long." Nostalgia set in after this thought, and he frowned at this realization.

Delano laughed. "All I remember was that you were undeniably blitzed that night, and I must admit, it was not one of my most memorable nights in Turanghe."

~ The taps started to pick up pace as in a casual march, taking equal turns of taps and short stroke rolls. What was compared to raindrops meeting with water before sounded now more like the beginnings of a downpour.

Delano stirred watered-down stew in a scorched pot while chopping random vegetables and adding them to the brew. The odor was not all that desirable, but in the conditions that he had to cope with, that was what he had to do. Cope.

The fire cracked as it tried to consume the barely pleasing firewood that was still soggy from the previous rain. It was a frail ember that emit much more smoke than it should have; it burned probably only because it was something to occupy the time with.

It was getting darker by the minute, and after a while, the silhouettes of evening faded into the blurry mess of night along with everything else in the surrounding area.

As he was preparing his meal, doubled over, sable strands of hair clung to Delano's forehead, while the rest fell limply around his face. He attempted to push it away, but failed miserably. He had let his hair grow too long during this estranged time in the wilderness. Facial hair even started to grow fully, especially on his chin.

He could hear the groans and whispers of others in nearby resting quarters. Delano just happened to catch the last phrase of someone's words.

"They'll be here soon."

Tones of worry, tones of false courage. He knew that not one of them were ready to die, but knew that it was inevitable.

Delano ate silently, and alone, his watered-down stew.

~ There were two of them, both playing in perfect harmony and precision. Those behind them fell into step along with the endless rhythm. It was their spirits, their hopes, their dreams; all meshed into the single beat of the drum. The taps were indistinguishable now, the march had reached the climax as the timber drumsticks pounded against the drum at amazing speed: the cadence was coming to a close.

Who knew that the enemy had led them into a trap?

Not until the enemy was upon them did anyone realize that it was far too late…

Red, black…

~ Silence…

Delano glanced up from his especially distasteful meal to see a long line of smoke coming from the horizon. An eerie silence came over the entire encampment, and Delano knew.

Out of the corner of his eye, and through all the darkness surrounding him, he could see a speck of light on the ground, covered up slightly and emphasized by the weak light of the dying embers. He picked it up and by feel, realized immediately what it was. Delano cradled the old knife in his hands as chills shot up his spine.

He stored it alongside the drumsticks situated in a deep pocket of his tunic, and held them close to his chest as nostalgia set in one last time.

It won't be long, no, not long at all.