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Shadow Kingdoms Part 1

 

 

Part 1 – Blood and Ashes

It’s funny how different life and death is. But also how similar they are. They are like two sides of the same coin. Death takes away a life, while life is the opposite. Both cause suffering, but both can be beautiful. Life is but a fleeting moment, while death is eternal.

When the ashes of this world are scattered, death will reign supreme.

The blood of innocents will water the earth.

No one can contend with death. It is the supreme, the end. 

Some people speculate about the mysteries of death. They will remain mysteries until the world crumbles.

 – Vesan Stryke

King of the Vampires

 

 

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

There were five kingdoms. Dragons ruled the skies over the prosperous kingdom Anhua. Elves lived in harmony in the woodlands of Silvardor. Dwarves mined away deep down in the mines of Westik. Druids practiced their arts in secret on the isle of Handemon. Mighty kings and queens ruled over the mighty human empire, the kingdom of Sanobar. The races moved freely between the kingdoms, although generally they stayed secluded. 

Such a carefree existence did not last. Dragons established five crystals of immense power, one for each kingdom. Then there was one dragon, an elderly seer, who used his life to create the Key. If there was an object of extreme power, the Key had ten times the amount. You could destroy the whole world and the other parallel worlds as well. 

There were four worlds. One was Dargon, home to the five kingdoms. Another was the Abyss, home to the monsters. Demons, vampires, Grysan and elementals are among the Arysi, the big monsters. They dwell near the center of the Abyss. The Abyss was a hellish place filled with lava pits and blood red soil. Some say that the blood of Ziocrat, the god of death, stained the soil to that shade. Lesser monsters such as Grysan dwell near the edges of the Abyss. Portals to Dargon appear randomly around the edges, meaning that the weaker monsters regularly enter Dargon. However, they are weak enough to not do any serious damage. The third world was Heresh. It was the world of the undead, the necromancers. King Naghren ruled supreme there. Heresh was a world comprised entirely of hues of green and grey. It was a dull and lifeless place, with most necromancers returning to Dargon to capture beings who have evaded death. Also, no one desires to spend eternity in such a place like Heresh. Vampires regularly visited the court of the king, whenever they were fortunate enough to stumble across a portal to Dargon. The only creatures you would encounter were creatures infected by the Dark Cloud, becoming mere mindless servants or beasts of burden. The fourth world is the Ether. Your spirit is captured by the Ether moments after your death. In a way, the Ether is a version of paradise, for you can wish for anything without a soul. No humans, but if your loved one died, then you would be united with them in death. The Ether appears differently to every person. Also, you can tailor the world to your own eyes, so the Ether is as changeable as human nature itself. 

The elder Seer’s Key was hidden in a remote location known to few and guarded by five crystals, one for each kingdom. The dragons thought Dargon safe again. Little did they know that wars would be fought over the very power created to save the world. The Key had the power to save the world… but also to destroy it.

Guardians rose, fierce and dedicated to protecting Dargon and harnessing their Crystal Powers for good. The most memorable generation of Guardians were Alexei, Reyneld, Jaron, Farnic, Arilea and Leiea. Alexei was the KeyGuard. Reyneld was perhaps the most famous guardian of all time. He was the golden guardian, and Dragonkind. Jaron was the Silver Guardian, Farnic the Ruby guardian and Arilea the Emerald guardian. Jaron was an elf, Farnic a dwarf and Arliea a druid. Leiea was human, and the sapphire guardian. Together, they represented all of the kingdoms and races. 

Times were good in Dargon. The gods were worshiped, monsters dispatched to the Abyss and the dead stayed dead. Archangels were worshipped as messengers to the gods. They were created by Pelos, the god of good and of dragons. In that time there were many archangels, and many dragons. Pelos was worshipped everywhere. Aeliyas, his sister and the goddess of evil, was not as prominent. However, things declined quickly. Famines spread, people starved, and lost confidence in Pelos. Those who worshipped Aeliyas found their fortunes turned for the better, so more and more deserted Pelos. That was when the demon war began. A rift appeared at the northern borders of Dargon and demons swarmed through. Anhua was destroyed. In a final desperate battle, Reyneld used his powers to draw forth the Key and used the powers from the Key to vanquish the demons. However, when he did that, he opened up small portals that let in demons that lived in the outer edges of the Abyss. The guardians disappeared soon after the demon war, but the people of Dargon lived in peace. Soon, the guardians became lore and legend, rather than a reality as time passed and no new guardians surfaced. Mothers told thier children bedtime stories of the time when the guardians were at their mightiest. Loyal Alexei, Brave Reyneld, Mighty Farnic, Leiea, Arilea and Jaron. Those were the last guardians for many decades. In Sanobar, the kingdom flurished. Old king Darwond the second passed away, and King Kashius took the throne. He married and had two children. In Silvardor, the rulers there also worked feverishly to repair a kingdom scarred by war. Dwarves worked hard in the nights mining precious stones and materials used to rebuild homes destroyed by war. The druids in Handemon concocted many arcane potions to heal those harmed by the war. All the races of Dargon cooperated to repair their homeland. However, dragons had died out. Soaring the skies above Anhua, the mighty beasts had fought for Anhua, to no avail. Anhua was no more. All who dwelt therre were no more. Dragons and wizards, Dargon’s most powerful magic wielders were dead. Destroyed trying to save their kingdom. Such was the cost of war. Innocents suffered and many perished.

Now, those who desired the Key to do evil rose to power, aided by Aeliyas who wished for dominance over all in Dargon. However, new heroes rose from the stories of the old, and when calamity struck Dargon once again, mighty heroes would fight to save the world they loved…

CHAPTER 1 – The Lord’s Plan

A girl stood in the waiting chambers outside of the lord’s room. She had stood there everyday, hoping to finally be admitted. She waited dutifully a full hour, before turning to leave.

“Lirya Thronesgar. Only daughter and heir to the Thronesgar empire. So why won’t father see me?” She muttered as she slowly left the room, with defeat in her eyes. Her father, Lord Rowan Thronesgar, had refused to see her for many months now, and it was with no explanation whatsoever that he left. She walked out into the hall and tripped over the hem of her dress, but was luckily caught by one of the guards stationed outside the waiting room. He picked her up, put her upright and gave her a sympathetic face. All the guards were aware of her attempts to see her father.

“Thank you, Reylous.” She said gratefully.

He bowed to her, “No problem, m’lady.”

Grumbling about how dresses were an inconvenience to everyone, Lirya recalled her brief conversation with her mother, concerning the dress.

“Why in the name of Pelos do I have to wear this?!” She had asked her mother earlier that day.

Her mother had told her. “As the only daughter of Lord Rowan, you have a reputation to uphold, just as I have mine. So you will wear that dress, Lirya Aylusa Elena Thronesgar.”

Hours later, Lirya ran laughing down the spiral staircase with her best friend, Sanja. She had changed into some leggings and a tunic held with a belt. She was, in fact, dressed as a boy. Her mother would have thrown a fit if she had seen how her daughter dressed. Not that Lirya particularly cared about her mother’s thoughts anymore. She ran to the archery range with Sanja and they each took a longbow and a quiver of arrows. Then they walked over to a lane and started shooting. Whoever shot the first bullseye won. Sanja won the overall contest with seventeen wins while Lirya got three.

Someone shadowed them. He wore a green tunic and brown pants, the uniform of squires at the Castle. Jason Kainley was sixteen and was a squire to Lord Rowan. Lord Rowan had ordered him to watch the girl, Lirya. So he did. He watched her laugh and shoot with her friend. It made his heart ache to see them having such fun, while he had no one. He decided. He walked out from the shadows. Jason silently scooted over to the stand with the weapons and grabbed a longbow and quiver of arrows. He then stood a bit back from the girls and reached back to grab an arrow. He nocked, drew, sighted and the arrow sped away. It skewered the bullseye. Both girls turned and gaped. 

“Who are you?”

An innocent question from Lirya.

“Jason. Jason Kainley. I work as a squire here at Thronesgar Castle.”

Lirya frowned. Finally, she replied.

“I’ve seen you before,” She said. Then she muttered under her breath, “But where…?”

“No matter. Can I join your game?”

They moved slightly to make space for him. Then the game began. Jason soon discovered that the girls were sore losers. 

“You cheated!”

“Stupid Game!”

He suddenly worried that Lirya would speak to her father about him. Lord Rowan might dismiss him. Or… or give him a servant’s work! Cooking, cleaning… ugh!

Lirya must have noticed because she gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder.

“Don’t worry. I won’t report you to my father, she said in a soft voice, “He never has time for me anyways.”

She looked so sad, so downcast that her father neglected to see her. Jason didn’t think as he reassuringly gave her a hug. She stiffened at first, then hugged him back. She had probably never had a friend who wasn’t a nobleman or noblewoman. He was a mere squire.

The clanking of armor made him release her. He waved at the castle guards as the marched towards them.

“Hello! What brings you here?” Jason cheerfully greeted them.

“You are under arrest for the suspected kidnapping of the young Lady Lirya Thronesgar. We have orders to take you to the dungeons.” The leader’s voice was low and gruff.

“Wait! What?!”, Jason cried, “What is the meaning of this?! From who do your orders come from?”

“Yes! I would like to know as well!” Lirya pushes forward and stands in front of Jason.

“Our orders come from Lord Rowan.”

“Lord Rowan. My father. He has time to arrest someone who is my friend, but doesn’t have time to see me?!”, Lirya’s voice was laced with contempt, “Well.  If you are taking Jason, I am coming with you. We go straight to my father, though. Not to the dungeons.”

The guards surrounded them as they walked to Lord Rowan’s Council Chamber. Lirya put a hand on Jason’s arm. A gesture of comfort.

“I’m sure my father will see reason.”

“Reason? The reason, he had for not seeing his only child?”, Jason said bitterly. That hit a nerve. Lirya straightened. Jason caught a glimpse of her face and saw raw anger masking pure anguish. Then she shifted her face into an indifferent mask. Poor nobles, he thought. Not even allowed to show their emotions. Taught to hide them at early ages.

“He must have had a reason. He must have. Just like mother never really talked to me. Not since some five months ago, when she recovered from her illness.” She sounded like she was trying to convince herself.

They reached the Council Chamber door and Reylous, the commander, knocked briefly. A servant opened the door, bowed, and left quickly.

“Come in.” A rich voice sounded from within.

“Lirya! I haven’t seen you in months! How old are you now? Fifteen? Sixteen? You must almost be of age now,” Lord Rowan said, sounding almost happy to see them.

“I am sixteen, father. I have not seen you in months either, though I tried to get an audience with you several times in these past five months. You never talked or even looked at me, Her voice broke. Tears pooled in her eyes. She didn’t let them fall, “Why?”

He didn’t seem to be listening. 

“Jason. I have reason to suspect your hand at kidnapping my daughter Lirya.”

“This is outrageous! I never would do that! She is my friend,” Jason said.

“All right. Take the boy to the Room and lock it. Two guards on watch outside the door. I will speak to the girl alone.”

“No!”

“If you resist, the boy dies. I suggest you behave,” Lord Rowan said icily.

When they were alone, Lord Rowan spoke.

“You are of age now. You seem to moon over something all the time. Is it a boy?”

“No, father. I do not love any boy. Jason is my friend, nothing more.” Lirya wondered where this was going.

“Ah. Then there is no problem.”

“Problem? What are you talking about, father?” Lirya raised her voice.

“Why, nothing at all. I would like you to meet Jaons Ravenstorm. He is the heir to the vast Ravenstorm empire. He is heir to vast lands and many castles. Jaons! Come on in! Meet my daughter, Lirya,” Lord Rowan called.

A young man stepped into the Council Chamber. He looked her up and down.

“You’re beautiful. If you wore a gown, you would be positively stunning! As my future bride, please wear a gown next time we see each other.”

“Future BRIDE?! I will not marry someone I do not know or love! How you do this, father?!”

Jaons looked confused.

“You did not tell me that she was unwilling to marry me,” He said accusingly.

“Relax. Of course, she will marry you. Poor Jason would hate to be cast out, branded as a criminal forever, now, would he?”

She gasped.

“No! Don’t! He doesn’t deserve that.”, she begged him, “Please!”

“You know what I want.” His mouth twisted into a cruel smile.

“You do not have to marry me if you don’t want to,” Jaons said quickly, “But I would like a chance to court you, to change your mind.”

She sighed.

“Fine. I will marry. Jason goes free. Sanja… Sanja will see reason.”

That was a lie. Sanja had Lirya’s tutor and friend of sorts in the art of being strong. Sanja had made certain, as her self-appointed role, that Lirya grew a backbone. Sanja was going to be furious.

Her voice strengthened.

“Release him, father! You promised!”

“I did no such thing. I will release the boy after you are wed.” He smiled, “I do hope you wed soon, though, because the room is not at all comfortable.”

He rose and left, leaving Lirya with a sense of dread.

“I’ll be seeing you, then,” Jaons left with those words.

She was all alone. Then she realized. She had always been all alone. Lirya was destined to be alone.

CHAPTER 2 – Unwilling Bride

“He can’t do it!”

Lirya paced around in her bedroom as her seamstresses tried to take her measurements. Her wedding dress. Her wedding. To that prick, that Jaons of Ravenstorm. He was handsome, but Lirya didn’t want to be married. Not to even the most handsome of men. No. Jason depended on her. He needed her. 

“I won’t marry him!”

“That would be a shame,” Jaons stood by the door to her chamber. The open door to her chamber.

“I would love to get to know you”, He continued. Then he left.

“This is it. I’ve had it. I’ve had enough! I will not marry! I’m going to have to bust him out,” She muttered and then stormed into her bedroom, locking the door. She ignored the seamstresses pounding on the door and tried to think.

By noon, Lirya had it all figured out. She went to see Sanja. Sanja was reading. She loved reading. There was no law against it, but it was frowned upon to read as much as Sanja did.

“Sanja. I need your help.”

“Of course you do. Busting Jason out will be hard.” She returned to her book.

Lirya blinked.

“How! How did you know?”

She sighed and closed her book.

“I am… not… fully human., She admitted. She fixed her purple eyes on Lirya.

“What?”

“I was born a Mind Reader. I could hear people’s thoughts and speak in their minds. It was hard. It was dangerous and I never loved my gift. Nor did I loathe it. I endured it. It was painful. I heard what you planned to do.”

“Okay? Will you help me then?” Lirya was confused.

“I will. We can take my horses from the stables to leave.”

“Oh. Of course. I hadn’t thought that far.” 

Will I really have to leave?, Lirya wondered.

Yes. It is your destiny. Your father will know, and he will come after you.

Sanja’s voice echoed in her mind.

“I have to tell you. As a friend. My name is not Sanja. My name is Deymalon. I am Deymalon of the Mind Seers.”

“Deymalon. Can I call you Dey?”

Deymalon smiled. Her violet eyes sparkled. 

“Yes. I am Dey.” Dey smiled, “Dey is a nice name.”

They were going to get Jason out! Dey had gone to the stables to ensure that the horses were ready and to bribe the stable boy into silence. All was ready. Lirya had gotten two bows with spare quivers and three swords and daggers. She strung the bows and left two quivers out. A sword in a well-oiled scabbard was stacked against a wall. It was for Jason. The rest was packed. She had changed into a green tunic and brown pants, with a cloak on top of it. Dey was dressed similarly. 

 

The clock struck 11. It was time. She grabbed her bow and strapped a quiver to her back. Lirya ran into the servant’s corridor and sprinted towards the prison rooms. Despite the fact that Lord Rowan was a merciless man, he had at least decided against putting people in the dungeons. He called his rooms “Prison Rooms”. Lirya burst into the main passage of the castle. It was deserted. The servant’s corridor, also called the Servant Way, was located inside the actual castle walls and could reach pretty much every room in the castle. Cleverly concealed doors in rooms and corridors were the only thing that showed of the Servant Way. She wandered down the corridor until she turned and almost alerted the guards. They were there, two large guards. Lirya silently drew an arrow from her quiver. She nocked and drew. Then she darted out into the open.

“Put down your swords or this arrow skewers one of you.”

Surprisingly, they obeyed. The swords fell with a dull clang on the stone floor.

“Alright! Now open the door and let Jason out.”

One of them took a key from his belt and slotted it in the keyhole. He turned it and opened the door. The other guard walked in and came out a moment later, dragging Jason out. Jason was bound and gagged. His eyes darted around, fixed on her, and flickered with relief. Then they widened in alarm.

“Untie him!” Lirya hurriedly ordered. Was he hurt?

“I don’t think so.” That cruel, slippery voice. She turned.

“Ah. Hello, Lirya.” said Lord Rowan, smiling that cruel smile of his. She cursed herself for her ignorance. She had a feeling that if Jason had his hands free, he would have face-palmed himself. It was a trap, and she had fallen for it. Her arms trembled from holding the bow drawn for so long. She relaxed her draw a bit.

“If anyone approaches me, even you, father, I will shoot without a second thought.” She warned. A guard approached anyways. She sensed his movement and turned, bringing the bow to full draw, aimed at his leg and shot. The guard wailed and fell crashing down. He inspected his wound and when he looked up, Lirya had another arrow nocked and ready. He gritted his teeth and broke the shaft of the arrow. Then he pulled it and cried out as the blood came out. It was not a lot, though, because Lirya was still careful about permanently disabling anyone.

“Devil spawn!” He spat. Then he limped away. The guard pressed a hand on the wound to staunch the flow of blood.

The other guard held Jason and inched towards his sword. Lirya turned her bow to him and he stopped. Lord Rowan moved as fast as a snake and struck her with the hilt of a dagger he apparently had on his person. She crumpled and dropped the bow. Jason yelled something incomprehensible, which was probably good because he had yelled very creative curses to Lord Rowan. He struggled. Then he felt it. The white-hot anger coursed through him and he seemed to be glowing. He was glowing. His eyes gleamed goldenly and shot beams of light on. His whole body was covered in golden light. His bonds snapped and his captor stumbled away. Then it faded to a dull glow against his golden armor that now covered his body from head to toe. He lifted his visor and looked at Lord Rowan with gleaming, angry eyes. He slowly drew a sword from the scabbard at his side. It had a golden hilt with a giant ruby in the middle. The sword was a silver color, with a golden strip down the middle of it. He raised it above his head and it glowed goldenly. His left arm had a shield attached to it. It was pure gold, with an outline of a crystal.

“You.” Lord Rowan breathed, gaping at Jason who now stood in front of him. Then he knelt before Jason. 

“The Golden Guardian. It is you.” Lord Rowan looked up with worshipful eyes.

The other guard had retrieved his sword and moved behind Jason. He swung his sword. Faster than the eye could follow, Jason spun around and his sword clashed with the other. He withdrew and thrust at the guard. The guard managed a clumsy block so he never saw the blow as it drove his spirit into the Etherworld. He took one glimt of his previous life before he left it. His smoky body was invisible to everyone else but the slayer and he watched as the Golden Guardian withdrew his sword from his body and it crumpled to the ground. Then the tug of the Ether was too much and he left the world.

Jason turned to Lord Rowan with new anger blazing through him.

“You made it happen. Didn’t you?”

“What do you mean?” Lord Rowan stuttered. He had risen from his kneeling position.

“You made me kill him. You knew.” His voice was ragged. Jason was still shaken on the inside from killing the man. He had seen the spirit depart. It had been a smoky version of the man he just slain. Even Lirya had not gone so far.

Lirya groaned. Jason ran to her. No. Jason clanked his way to her in his armor. He gently helped her sit up. Her eyes fluttered open.

“J-Jason?”

“Yes? Are you alright? Your father whacked you one.” Jason was concerned.

“Oh. So that’s why it hurts like the mother of all-” Whatever else she was about to say was drowned out in a piercing cry. A blade protruded from her side. Blood was pooling around the blade and anyone with some experience with battle wounds would know that it was a fatal wound. Jason tried to save her. He pulled it out and frantically tried to patch the wound up. Lord Rowan laughed.

“There goes a troublemaker.”

“Y-You murdered your own daughter!”

“No matter. She would not be married away, so she had to be put away. Permanently.”

“But I’m your only daughter. Your only child and heir to the Thronesgar empire!” Lirya joined the argument as her life seeped away. She was going numb in Jason’s armored arms.

“Are you? Aylusa was ill five months ago, wasn’t she? Well. She wasn’t really ill, it turns out, but pregnant. She gave birth months later and it was a son. My heir. We arranged with the Ravenstorms to marry you to Jaons.” Lord Rowan chuckled at the look of understanding, then pain, on Lirya’s dying face.

“Richard is my heir, the heir to Thronesgar castle and the entire empire.”

He left. Lord Rowan calmly walked away from the corridor where it had all happened. He knew that he would not get pursued. Jason had two choices. Kill Lord Rowan and Lirya, or leave Lord Rowan alive, and spend the girl’s last few minutes trying and failing to revive her. Jason chose a third option. He channeled all his grief and hatred and energy and gave it to her. All the raw emotions made her body shudder. She moaned. Her spirit was already on its journey to the Etherworld. 

Lirya’s smoky spirit stared in disbelief at her body, lying Jason’s arms, breathing her last. She felt the subtle tugging sensation. The pull of the Ether. Then something tugged back. She grasped frantically to that tiny shred of hope. The pull of the Ether grew stronger, then she felt herself move. Towards her prone body. She would have whooped with joy if she was certain that she had a voice. She entered her body and felt giddy with joy as she felt the pain lessen and was able to move a bit. Indeed, the wound was closing, until there was only some dried blood around the edges of the wound. There was no mark, no scar or blemish. Her eyes opened. Jason was staring in disbelief at where had once been a fatal wound.

“Jason? Jason! We have to leave. Dey is waiting for us.” Lirya tried to get up, but a sharp pain where the wound had been flared up and she groaned.

“Lirya? You… live?”

“Yeah. I suppose that I am the only person to have a personal Guardian to bring me back.” She tried to joke, but it sounded more serious. Jason looked down at his armor.

“Bring you back? What- Oh! The armor  is glowing!”, Jason said astonished. The armor glowed as golden as when it had first garbed him. When the light faded, he was dressed in a dark red long sleeved shirt with a golden band high up on each sleeve. He had a grey tunic that reached until the knee. It was split down the front and back at the hips for easy mobility. He was wearing a black belt with a golden buckle. He wore brown boots and had a blue cloak fastened at his shoulder with two golden clasps, one on each side. He had green pants. The only sign he had on moments before was a golden armband with a ruby in the middle of it.

“Wow. Nice outfit!”

He smiled.

“Thanks. By the way, who is Dey? Where is Sanja?” He stood up and helped her rise. It hurt a lot, but she endured it and with tears in her eyes, she stood. By rule, she should have died and should, in theory, be in the Etherworld by now.

“Dey is short for Deymalon and that is Sanja’s real name.” Lirya explained, “She is waiting for us by the stables. With our getaway horses.”

“Getaway horses?” Jason laughed.

They stumbled into the main corridor, Lirya leaning heavily on Jason because her wound still bothered her. The fact that she was still on her feet surprised Jason. She kept stumbling and Jason could tell that she was at the end of her strength. It had taken the strength from her when the magic had healed her. Eventually, when she almost collapsed again, Jason scooped her up and carried her the rest of the way. She gave a weak protest before grudgingly admitting that she needed it. She grabbed hold of the bow and her quiver of arrows and tried not to be too much of a bother. As she jolted along in Jason’s arms, she remembered.

Lirya was standing by her father. She was dressed in a plain grey dress. His hair was smooth and black, with only a few strands of grey mingled in. His eyes were dark and stormy. They softened when they looked at her, though. She smiled at him with a front tooth missing. She was eight at the time. She held a book out to him.

“Father. Will you read to me?”

“I would love to, little lordess, but I have things to do.” He always had things to do. He had only read to her once, that she had remembered. Little lordess was his pet name for her. She had not known how true Lord Rowan had intended those words to be.

The world around her slipped and suddenly she was remembering her earliest memory. It was fuzzy, but she saw her mother smiling at her. She saw Lord Rowan looking at her. 

“It is a girl?” she heard him ask.

“Yes.” Her mother’s tired voice sounded.

“This will not do. I must have an heir!”

Sounds of crashing and banging echoed through the room. Lirya began to cry. Her mother picked her up.

“Be quiet now, Lirya Aylusa Elena Thronesgar. Your father is angry.”

Another voice sounded. It sounded like… Jason’s voice?

“Lirya? Lirya! Wake up!”

Someone slapped her lightly on her cheek and it all came back.

“Lirya! The healing must have taken more out of you than we realized.” Jason stood over her. He sounded relieved. He had been concerned that the magic he had not known how to control had killed her. He had felt all that grief welled up in him and the hopelessness he felt for not being able to save her, and then in his mind, he had seen the hole. He had thrust all those emotions through that hole and somehow saved her. 

“Can you get on the horse now?”, Jason asked her, “We rode the first stretch already. We doubled with Dey leading your horse.”

She blushed. She had been carried, manhandled on to a horse and made Jason ride double with her sleeping form for hours. 

“Sorry. Of course, I can. For someone back from the dead, I’m not all helpless.”

Lirya looked over and saw a beautiful black mare with a white patch on her back, where a person would normally sit. Of course, there was a saddle cover most of the patch, but bits of it were visible under the saddle. She felt fresh and strong again, but still needed a small boost from Jason. He boosted her foot up and she managed to get on the mare. 

“Does she have a name?”, She asked once she was astride.

“No. Name her. Go on.” Jason urged her. He sat on a midnight black stallion.

“Alright. I’ll name her Snowdrop.”

“Wow. Nice name. Mine is called Shadow.” Jason patted Shadow on the neck. The horse nickered.

That’s not my real name, you know.

“I- I heard… heard the horse speak!” Lirya stammered with wild eyes. She was not going mad, was she?

My real name is Sealyor.

The others stopped and stared at her, confused. Dey’s high pitched voice sounded.

“You cannot be serious.”

“Y-you can’t hear it?” She felt tears prickling at her eyes. She was going mad.

Why are you crying, child?

“I guess that nobody believes me when I say that you talked to me.”

Jason and Dey gaped, astonished.

I always talk. You are the first to reply. You are special, child.

“Really?”

“Um, who are you talking to?”, Jason questioned.

“This sounds weird, but I’m talking to your horse. He says that his real name is Sealyor.”

Jason blinked.

“Okay. This sounds very odd. I shouldn’t really be surprised, though. I mean, I got magical armor and healing powers just hours ago. It shouldn’t surprise me that you can speak to animals. Just curious, can you talk to any other animals? Like, other than horses?”

Lirya tried to widen her senses. A storm of voices burst into her head. She felt down, clutching her head in agony. She quickly created a mental barrier. Little snippets of conversation still got through.

Hey! How was your day!

Give me my nuts! You took my acorns!

Your antlers are very pretty. They-

Sssstop sssslithering over my housssse!

Paws off me, you great blundering bear. I will-

Gooday Mr. Otter!

Care to go fishing with me? The water will be nice and cool in this-

Then there were the many voices of the birds, gossiping about the latest news.

Dey jumped off her horse and ran to Lirya. She touched Lirya and heard the voices. Dey withdrew her hand quickly and stood up, dusting off her tunic and leggings.

“Be silent! The girl hurts from your voices!”

There was a stunned silence. Then the animals wisely kept their beaks and mouths closed.

CHAPTER 3 – Etherborn

The sun fell through bright green leaves. The forest was filled with life. When Lirya awoke, they died down to a few well wishers and some small talk.

How ya feelin’, Noble child?

Then there was Sealyor. He was slightly confused.

Was it something I said?

Lirya stifled a laugh.

“No, Sealyor. It was all the animals out there. Their voices flooded my consciousness.”

And I got knocked out again. Why did it keep happening? Her head would probably bust from all the pounding headaches.

You are Etherborn. Dead, but not really dead.

“That’s good, right?”

You are special. Nobody since the last Guardian of the Key was Etherborn.

Sealyor kept expressing the “special” part.

“Wait. The last Key Guard was Etherborn?”

Aye. He had a will so strong that he summoned the Abyss to the Ether and snuck out through a portal to Dargon again. It was then that his powers began to develop. He could master the elements: Wind, Water, Earth, Fire, and Lightning. His powers began to show when a loved one of his was in danger, as it does for all the guardians. Your friend Jason included.

“J-Jason is a Guardian?”, Lirya stammered. Jason and Dey were packing up the camp try to look like they weren’t eavesdropping when they clearly were. I must have been awkward for them, to only hear one side of the conversation.

Well. Yes. He is the rarest of them all, and the most powerful. He controls the very energy and emotions. He is the Guardian of the Gold Crystal. The second Guardian of the Gold Crystal. Reyneld was the first. Guardians have long lifespans but they seldom survive long enough to die of old age.

“Wow. Must be comforting.”

She turned to Jason who was trying to listen and pack the saddlebags. Somehow he had managed to get the bags on her horse. The result was a near disaster. He kept missing the bag, so the item would fall on the ground. Jason bent down and tried to pick it up, then realized that he had things in both his hands. He rose and bumped his head on the saddle bag. Which spilled more things out. Jason put the things in his arms into the saddle bag. He stooped down to pick things up.

“Jason!”

He jerked up and hit the saddlebag again. Dey sighed, ran over and quickly and expertly packed the bag. Jason looked at Lirya and felt a flutter of happiness. They had survived.

“I found out that you will most likely be dying soon.” Lirya said.

That was a truly saddening thought. So much for survival. Jason walked over to her.

“What did the horse say?!” He demanded.

“He told me that I was Etherborn and that the only other person who was Etherborn was the KeyGuard himself.” she said. Then she said, somewhat accusingly, “He told me that you were a Guardian!”

Jason shuffled his feet nervously.

“Yeah. About that…”

“When were you going to tell me?!”

He was strong. He was the rarest and the most powerful. Why did he hide it? Did he know, or was he truly clueless?

“You’re strong, the strongest, in fact. Why did you hide it? You can manipulate energy. You can shape emotions and energy into magic!”

“I truly did not know until Lord Rowan hit you with the hilt of his dagger! I swear it!” Jason desperately wanted her trust, and he was telling the truth, hoping that she would believe.

“That’s why you had golden armor!” Lirya realized, “I’m sorry. I should have known. My father has many texts on the subject of the Guardians.”

“Hey. Maybe we should experiment with your powers!” She added.

Jason nodded. He had to know what he could do. He glanced down at his bracelet. It was not particularly heavy. He touched it cautiously. Nothing happened. He touched the ruby in the center. Suddenly all of his nervous energy left him. He quickly withdrew his hand. The ruby pulsed with a steady glowing light. Had it absorbed his energy? He slapped the ruby. Suddenly he was glowing.

“Jason!” He heard the others yelp.

Then it was over. He was dressed in the armor again. His shield was strapped to his arm and his sword was in his right hand. He was in a battle ready stance with the visor of his helmet down to protect his face. It had taken less than a second to switch. He lifted the visor and swung his sword experimentally. It cut through the air smoothly. The blade was razor sharp and deadly. Jason turned to block an imaginary enemy with his shield and swung his sword at the imaginary enemy. It flew through the air much faster than he had thought and he lost his grip on it. It fell on the grass a couple of meters away. He jogged to pick it up. He sheathed it and walked to the others.

“That was amazing. I had no idea of that hidden power.” Lirya was practically jumping up and down with excitement.

“Yeah. This armor is pretty cool.” Jason admitted.

“No. Not the armor. Your speed. You moved lightning fast, there!”

“Truly?”

“Go on! Try to do it again!”

Jason jogged around the camp. He managed it in a few seconds.

“Wow! It’s true!” Jason was impressed by his abilities. He stopped and felt completely fresh. 

He slapped the ruby again and glowed for a brief second, before reappearing with his other clothes. They were warm and clean. Jason had a sneaky suspicion that he might not ever have to wash his clothes again.

Then he felt it. The utter exhaustion after using the armor. He stumbled to his horse and mounted with some difficulty. Dey and Lirya were looking at him with worried glances.

“I’m fine.” He muttered. Then he rode on ahead. They hurriedly rode after him.

“Where are we going?” Lirya wondered out loud.

“Doxford City.” Dey replied.

“Doxford?!” Lirya exclaimed, “But it’s crawling with my father’s men.”

“No. Not your father’s men. Lord Ravenstorm has sent his men to patrol. The old guy, Habers, doesn’t do anything anyways.”

Michael Habers was the town sheriff. He didn’t do much but get drunk on whiskey and left all the town duties to his son, Jonathan Habers. Most people just called him Jon. Jon was a young man of about seventeen. His father was old enough to have been his grandfather, almost. Michael was sixty-nine.

“His son does. Jon Habers does his father’s work.”

They rode in silence for much of the way.

Doxford stretched below them. It was a mass of bright lights and small, flat buildings. They were standing on a hill a bit away from the city walls. Anyone looking from the church tower or the watch towers would have seen three riders silhouetted against the setting sun. Then they left. They turned their horses around and rode down towards the city. 

They stopped in the forest a little bit away from Doxford. They could clearly see the city gates and the two guards patrolling them. They wore the colors of Lord Ravenstorm.

“Right. Disguises. Any ideas?”

Jason was right to the point.

“We can cut my hair shorter and pile Dey’s up into her archer’s hat. It’ll disguise us, but you stand out, Jason. Maybe we can_”

“You CANNOT leave me behind if that was what you thought.” Jason cut in.

She opened her mouth to tell him that of course, he was coming, then she shut it with a clop when she realized that she had actually been thinking of leaving him behind in the woods. Jason nodded, satisfied.

“Lord Rowan walked away before I changed, He won’t recognize me. Nobody’s seen me in these clothes.”

“Alright.”

They got the disguises ready. Dey used her dagger to Lirya’s hair. She cut her beautiful waist length hair to her shoulder. Lirya looked good in this new look, Jason noticed.

CHAPTER 4 – Traitor

They went down to the city that afternoon. They all had the hoods of their cloaks pulled up to hide their faces, but the extra disguises were a precaution in case the guards demanded to see their faces.

They rode to the gates. The two guards gazed up disinterested.

“Remove your hoods.” One of them said in a bored voice.

They obeyed.

“‘K. Go on.”

The guard waved them on and they rode into Doxford. A little way into the city and it was filled with smoke, farm animals just walking about and lots of people. Some rode horseback and most walked. It was dirty, smokey and very loud. All the traders and food vendors were shouting in the general chaos of the market in the afternoon. Ladies in coarse, homespun clothes mingled with the ladies with the finely tailored dresses, holding lacy handkerchiefs to their dainty noses. Roughly dressed farmers and workers walked among the men dressed in silks without blemishes on their hands from working or hauling things around. Everyone was in the market which was odd because normally the rich and dainty never went into the market. It was Dey that spotted it. A poster nailed to a fence near the market center.

Public Beheading

Let it be known to the citizens of Doxford that on this day there will be a beheading of a traitor who aided the assassins who came to Thronesgar Castle on the eve of the twenty first of Brightfire. 

THAT the traitor will be beheaded in the town square on this day. All are invited to attend.

THAT any person who knows of the whereabouts of the trained assassins will be paid 10 silver seguns to tell the Lord Darron Ravenstorm all that he knows.

THAT anyone who gives shelter or aid to the assassins will be deemed a traitor and will forfeit their right to live.

Signed:                                                                                   Signed:

Lord Rowan Thronesgar                                                Lord Darron Ravenstorm

“A traitor? Who?” Jason’s brow furrowed.

“Um. Jason? We’re the assassins. Who did they catch? Let’s head into the town square to see who it is.”

Jason nodded wordlessly. They wheeled their horses around and headed for the town square. They had to dismount a while from the town square because it was jam-packed with people. They bought rooms in an inn – The Crown and Castle. They stabled their horses there, then they walked to the town square. They pushed and shoved the people away as they cleared a path to the center of the crowd. People complained, but stopped when they saw those big swords that they carried like they knew how to use them.

They jostled aside the last people and glanced up at the platform. Dey gasped and moaned.

“It’s the stable boy that I bribed. We have to help him!”

“Shh! How? This is a public event!” Jason put his finger to her lips. A warning. Someone might hear. He looked up at the crude platform that had been constructed in a hurry for the execution. The boy stood there, pale and frightened. His hands were tied behind his back with a length of rope. His face was bruised and swollen and his uniform was torn in several places. His brown hair was matted with mud and his forehead was bleeding. He looked fearfully at the crowds gathered to watch him lose his head. His eyes widened in recognition when he saw Dey. She put her finger to her mouth with a gesture that said “Be silent” better than words. He blinked and inclined his head ever so slightly. Nobody but Dey noticed. 

“Jason. You should hide and summon your armor. Lirya, have your bow ready to shoot. I’ll cut him free.”

They both nodded. Jason walked to a nearby shop, shoving away a few people in the process and hid, summoning his armor. Lirya suddenly decided to string her longbow and check on her arrows, sliding one into her boot while pretending to be satisfied with the conditions of her arrows. She straightened and loaded her bow. Jason came back, wearing his shining armor, sword in hand and shield strapped to his arm. People jostled each other out of the way when he strode past. Upon the makeshift stage, an announcer walked up and unrolled a parchment roll.

“This man, Selsian Arden, a stable boy of Thronesgar castle was caught aiding the assassins after Lord Thronesgar’s life. He is a traitor to the crown and will be executed today in the name of his majesty king Kashius!”

He rolled up his parchment and walked off the stage.

“The king doesn’t know of this. I am sure because he is a lenient King and would have held a trial in the boy’s defense first, at least.” A man whispered to his companion. His companion shook his head, “A lot goes on behind his majesty’s back.”

The executioner walked onto the stage, receiving a loud applause. Selsian flinched and whimpered. Back in the crowd, Dey had gotten everything prepared.

Two guards dragged the struggling boy to a block, so encrusted with dried blood that it looked a ghastly dark red color. The boy turned a shade paler. He swallowed.

“Can… can I have a blindfold?”

One of the guards nodded and undid a handkerchief from around his neck. He tied it tightly around The frightened boy’s eyes. Then he knelt by the block, shivering at the contact with The dried blood. He waited for the blow. Would it… hurt?

The executioner swung his blade, an arc of death descended. Selsian was blissfully unaware of the upcoming death. Sure, he knew that soon a blade would strike his head from his body, but he did not know that the blade was already on its way. The executioner was merciful, in his own way. He did not want the boy to suffer for long.

The boy never died. An arrow pierced the executioner in the hand, causing him to drop his blade. It clattered on the wooden platform. Selsian jerked involuntarily.

“Wh- what’s go… going on?!”

Nobody bothered to answer him. Jason was sparring with the two guards and Dey had vaulted up onto the platform and removed Selsian’s blindfold. He blinked at the sudden bright light.

“You.. you saved me!” 

His smile could have lit up the heavens. 

“I thought that I was a goner!”

Dey dragged him to safety while he chattered on about life.

Lirya had another arrow nocked and drawn, ready to shoot at a moments notice. Jason had the guards disarmed and tied up on the platform. Just as everything seemed to be going fine, everything went wrong.

CHAPTER 5 – The Guardian of the Silver Crystal

Guards swarmed out into the town square and surrounded Jason, Dey, Selsian, and Lirya. They trampled over civilians whenever necessary. They wore the colors of Habers, the blue and green arrow. It was not Habers that led them, though. A new and unfamiliar man in armor led them. He made the guards bind all of their hands with lengths of rope and led to the town prison house. He shoved them into a large cell where they lay, dazed and unable to get up because of their bound hands. 

“So. What’s the situation?”

Jason took control and tried to stand up. He fell. Then his face lit up. He wormed his way to the walls of the cell and tried to stand up again. This time he balanced himself using the wall and managed to stand up. Sure, his hands were still bound, but at least he had found a way to get them standing up.

It turns out that Jason was the only one strong enough to do it. Oh well. If only he could reach his Ruby. Selsian tried to touch it. A blinding light flared, then he hurriedly snatched his fingers away. They were red and blistered. 

“Oh. Yeah. There’s some kind of safety feature on it that does that.” Jason explained.

Selsian’s shirt was smoking and his rope cuffs were… gone. Little burned stumps fell to the ground. They were burned and very black. Barely more than ashes. Everyone gave a muted cheer. 

“You might have mentioned that a bit earlier!”

His voice was tinged with annoyance and amusement. Selsian would not have scraped his hands trying in vain to get up if that was the case. Dey tried to touch it, but when she touched it, nothing happened.

“I guess that it ran out of energy,” Selsian said. Then he untied everyone. Lirya rubbed her hands together to get some feeling back into them. She glanced around and saw others doing the same. 

“So… what now?”

Dey broached the question in everyone’s minds. Ever the planner, Jason answered.

“We wait until someone comes, then when they open the door, we rush out and swamp them with our sheer numbers.”

“Yup. Our sheer numbers of… what? Four?” Selsian said sarcastically.

“Three. You’re too young, Selsian.”

He bristled with indignation.

“I’ll have you know that I turn thirteen next month!”

He drew himself up to his full, and rather unimpressive height.

“Yeah. And we’re all almost sixteen, you know.” Lirya cut in.

“I can hold my own, you know! I’ll demonstrate!”

He took a fighting stance and waited, balanced lightly on the balls of his feet.

“Come at me!”

So Jason did. He rushed at Selsian and cannoned into him, sending him flying to the floor, with Jason on top of him. He quickly pinned Selsian’s arms to the ground. That was it. The match was over before it had really begun.

“Do you yield?”

“Never!” Selsian snarled, trying to wriggle free. Eventually, Jason gave up on getting Selsian to yield. He was just too stubborn. Jason’s back was aching slightly so he carefully unpinned Selsian’s arms and got up.

“You know what? Sure. You can come. Just don’t blame us if you get killed. Jason extended his arm to help him rise and Selsian grasped it.

The sound of footsteps echoed down the long hallway. A shadow appeared.

“You all know what to do? Lirya, ambush. I’ll knock him out. Selsian, tie him up. Okay?”

“What about me?” 

“Uh… Dey… you can… can steal his keys in case everything goes wrong.”

She huffed. In other words, she could do nothing. He just made that up in the spot. Dey was sure of it. 

Everyone was silent. They crouched in their assigned places and waited. Someone cleared their throat. 

“Shh…”

“Shut up.”

“Um… that was not me, ” Selsian said awkwardly.

“Well, who was it, then?” Jason muttered sarcastically.

“That would be me.”

A light flared and it illuminated a young man with the palest blonde hair. He had a smooth, clean-shaven face, with the whitest skin, like fresh snow. He had light blue eyes, almost turquoise in color, that was slanted, like an elf’s. He wore a black cloak with a golden clasp, with a dark red tunic and grey pants. He had a belt to match the cloak, with a golden belt buckle. He looked like a vampire or some supernatural creature. A ghost, perhaps. There was a slight outline at the wrist of his sleeve, even if it was carefully covered and almost invisible.

“Who are you?”

Lirya asked the question with slight wonder. He looked so… odd with his pale skin and hair and his dark clothes. He looked very simply like a vampire. 

“I am Jon Habers. Take me with you.”

“Why should we?” Jason challenged him. He seemed to be the unspoken leader, Jon noted.

“Simple. I’m one of you. I’m a guardian.”

He rolled up his sleeve and showed them the silver bracelet on his arm, with the large ruby set in it. Jason blinked. He looked at his own bracelet and back at Jon’s.

“I believe you.”

He cracked a grin. “Now let’s bust out of here!”

He and Jon slapped their bracelets and glowed. Jon glowed in a silver light. Then he was dressed in the same armor as Jason, but a silver variation. They drew their swords and hacked at the bars, almost as if they could read each other’s minds.

Hack a little more to the left, Jason

“Alright, ” Jason replied and hacked a little more to the left.

Lirya gaped. It was some kind of mind communication after all. What she did not know was that all Guardians got mind links to each other so that they could relay important information to all the kingdoms of Dargon. Now Anhua and Silvardor have found their guardians. 

A splintering crash sounded and a cloud of dust rose. Lirya coughed and covered her mouth and nose. A sharp cry rang out. Jason was nowhere to be seen. Neither was Jon.

“Jason!” Lirya yelled, “Where are you?”

The dust cleared and it showed Jason kneeling by the crumpled form of Jon. The pale young man coughed. Flecks of blood dotted his lips, red against white. He grasped weakly at the iron bar that impaled his stomach. His chest rose and fell with a jerking, unreal movement. He had not much time left in this world.

Lirya’s eyes widened. She dashed to their side. Jon may not have won her trust, But he was dying, and everything is forgiven when they are about to pass over or have already descended to the Ether.

“Oh, gods!” Lirya gasped as she took in the full extent of the injury, “Can you heal him, Jason?”

His next words struck her heart.

“No… no energy… h-heal… him…”

CHAPTER 6 – Monsters of Dargon

Jason never had too little power. It just wasn’t possible. Jon didn’t deserve to die, knowing that someone could have healed him, but had wasted his power. Strictly speaking, he hadn’t wasted his power, but it would seem so to the dying person.

Lirya stuttered, “I’m sorry, Jon.” Her tears flowed, “I wish we had gotten to know each other.”

She knelt by him, her tears dripping onto his gasping form.

Jon stared down at his body in shock. His hair was all messed up and he was too pale. He wondered if it was too late to take out a comb and make his hair look decent. He looked so odd, it was no wonder that the girl had been frightened of him. He looked like an icy being. It was only then that he wondered why he could see his body. He looked down at himself. His smoky translucent body was what he saw. Jon had seen so many strange things in his life that he was only mildly surprised. He blinked, then shrugged. If death was his destiny, then so be it. If the gods willed it, then so must it be. So must it be. He worshipped all of the gods, but in particular, he worshipped Iside, the Winter goddess. He did not know why, but he felt some sort… connection… to Iside. Perhaps it was his icy features, for Iside had raven black hair, the snow whitest skin, and stormy grey eyes. She was a lady of Cold. Or perhaps it was his icy skin. He was never warm to the touch. Inside, however, he was perfectly fine. He snapped his mind back to the present. Already he could feel the tug of the Ether, slowly becoming more insistent. 

“Jason… Can’t you at least try? Please! He doesn’t deserve this!”

Heartwarming, if Jon’s heart were not as cold and frozen as the rest of his body.

“No… energy… you… heal… Jon… K-Key… Guard…”

Jason was coughing, exhausted and back in his freshly laundered tunic with the grey surcoat on top.

“Who? There’s not been a Key Guard in, like, forever.” Lirya cried, despairing.

“You… Key… Guard… Aura…” Jason summoned a huge breath, “Heal him Lirya! You’retheonlyonewhocan!” 

Then he collapsed, unconscious.

“J-Jason?!” Lirya asked, fearful of what she would hear.

“Right. I can do it. Jon needs my help. I WILL do it… “ Jon heard her mutter, gathering her courage.

She closed her eyes and stood erect. Her breathing relaxed. She almost stopped breathing, then her eyes opened. They were a startling electric blue, and they seemed to glow, radiating pure power. She was cloaked in pure blue light, then it faded away. Lirya was wearing a purple cloak, outlined in gold with a hood and a dress of white material, decorated with golden symbols. She had a golden sash tied loosely around her hips and a white staff decorated with golden swirls and runes. She was outlined in a powerful blue aura. Lirya swung her staff in a complex series of backhand, forehand, stabs and slices, creating a blur of dangerous light. Selsian could only gap in amazement at the sudden change. After all, just moments before, she could not have had any idea whatsoever about how to wield a quarterstaff. Now she was wielding it with ease, like years of practice would have allowed her to use it. Also, she looked powerful in the getup, powerful and innocent, if such a mixup was possible. She let her arms hang loosely and closed her eyes again. Then she dropped the staff but seemed not to hear it clatter on the ground as she gasped and her eyes flew open. They gleamed solid golden and she raised her hands and pointed them at Jon’s crumpled form. A blue light erupted from her hands and flew into his body. The body shuddered and rose slightly. Jon watched and felt a huge tugging sensation. He gave into it and found himself back in his old body, healing from the wound. He opened his eyes and saw Lirya looking at him with shock.

“You’re alive!” She said, then her eyes widened, “… elf…”

She knew! All his life he strove to hide his terrible secret, but now this slip of a girl had unearthed his deepest secret simply by looking at him. What kind of power did she possess to be able to do that?

“What kind of power do you possess, girl?” He demanded hoarsely.

She shuffled her feet. “I don’t really know… I’ve never done this before. Why do you ask, elf filth?!” She demanded hotly. So the rift between the humans and elves had not been resolved yet, Jon noted.

“I am not ‘Elf Filth’ as you so colourfully put it-”

“-No, you’re even worse! You’re a filthy halfbreed! Don’t try to deny it! I have seen it!”

Jon sighed. All his life, that was what he had been hiding from. So what if his mother had been an elf of stunning beauty? They had loved each other, his mother and father. He, however, was the reason that his mother had disappeared to Silvardor again after his birth. He was lucky that he had only inherited the slanted eyes and icy beauty from his mother. If he had gotten the pointed ears, then he would really have been screwed. No one hires a half-elf. This way, he could pass himself off reasonable well as a human. They claimed that he had been born with the facial differences, but that he was a human. Why could they not just accept that he was partially an elf? His personality was the same.

 It had gotten harder to hide when he started to get powers – like running like the wind, freezing lakes and being stronger than ever. He thought that it was part of his elfish heritage and perhaps some of it was, but it was really his Guardian powers. Every guardian had them, and when he suspected, he entered his family’s vast library and read the books on the subjects of the Guardians. He found quite a lot of information. He tried to make his powers work in many ways – running in front of racing horses, letting the town bullies corner him, cutting himself with knives and swords and punching himself in the face to see if he got any pain inflicted reaction. Mostly, he just came to the healer with broken limbs and cuts and bruises. He got to know Maek personally after the first few visits.

However, nothing really happened until his only friend was threatened. Shaela was a delicate girl. She had been cornered by cutthroats, bent on silencing her forever. Jon had been passing by when he heard her screams, hastily muffled. His better hearing had picked out the sound it was unmistakably Shaela. He had drawn his sword and rushed to her aid, unaware that one of the three cutthroats had been on watch. The cutthroat had smashed the hilt of his sword into Jon’s head, and he had been knocked out for a few moments. When he came to, he was tied together with Shaela. She was slapping his head lightly.

Later, the leader, a man called “Snake” cut Shaela lose. He backed her against the wall and drew his knife, pressing it to her throat. She stopped screaming and concentrated on breathing. He said that they were under orders to kill the girl by a “Boss”.

“… So it’s nothing personal, girl, but simply my job.” Snake said, slowly pressing the knife harder to her throat.

At that, Jon exploded. His bonds froze and broke, and everything was bathed in a silvery glow. He stood up and was for an instant covered in the silver light, then he was covered head to toe in silver armor with a slim silver sword and a bracelet with a ruby set in it. His eyes glowed murderous grey and he looked at Snake. The other cutthroats had fled.

“Don’t go a step further if you value her life!” Snake shouted in a shaking voice.

Jon didn’t answer but raised his right arm. He pointed his index finger and Snake and suddenly a stream of silver light flew out. It hit Snake’s sword and froze it completely. Then, with a flick of his finger, Jon shattered the ice sword. He walked to Snake, but to Snake, it seemed as if Jon had teleported. Jon took a firm hold on Snake’s arm and lifted him up with one arm, seemingly with no effort at all. Them he threw him clear across to the other side of the alley that they were in. Snake hit the wall with a sickening CRUNCH and lay still.

“Have you… killed… him?” Shaela asked in a trembling voice.

“No.” Said Jon coolly, “If I wanted him dead, I would have thrown him with more force.”

He stepped over to where Snake lay, desperately trying to suck air into his lungs. His leg was bent an odd angle and his face was caked in blood.

“Who is your boss?” He asked menacingly.

Snake just lay and wheezed. Then he felt an iron grip on his throat and moaned. Not the knight in silver armor again!

“Yes. It’s me.”

He heard the voice before he heard the SNAP of his neck. Then everything went black. 

His spirit stepped out of his body and looked at his killer. It was a mere youngster. He could not have been more than sixteen. That was the last thought before Snake departed to the Etherworld.

“… and that’s when I saw his spirit rise out of his body!”

Jon finished his tale to his friends who sat around the campfire in the woods outside Doxford. His eyes were wide, for he had not killed anyone before and so had not known that spirits depart for the Ether and the slayer can see it happen.

Jason strokes his chin.

“It’s true. I saw it too when I killed a guard.”

Jon breathes a sigh of relief.

“So I’m not going mad, or anything?” He asks.

“Oh, we don’t know about that. You could still be mad.” Jason says.

“What?”

“Kidding.” Jason laughs, “I’m sure that you’re fine.”

The next morning, they rode off into the woods towards a remote fishing village. They had planned it all the day before. They would travel to the fishing village, Seliue, to hire a boat and someone to ferry them to Silvardor. Jon had to talk to his mother, and Lirya and the others had to find a safe place to lay low. 

Jon had spent a lot of his time in the forests of Sanobar so he knew his way around and directed them in the direction of a house of a wizened old man who should be able to help them.

 Hours later, they rode out into a neat clearing, with a small makeshift house in the center. It looked as if no one had lived there for a few days, at least. It had started to snow, and there were clear tracks in the snow.

Jon frowned, “He should have kept a fire lit. He could catch a cold.”

“Let’s take a closer look, shall we?” Jason motions them to follow him closer to the house. The door creaks when Jason forces it open and they instantly saw that the interior of the house had not been used recently, for most things were decked in a thin layer of dust and muck. Jason had brushed his hand along a table and quickly snatched it away in disgust.

“Ew.” He wrinkled his nose at the terrible smell that came from the kitchen. He peered into the kitchen and frowned. Food was splattered across tables and walls, even the roof.

“Uh, guys? There’s been a food fight in here.” He called out to them.

“You’re kidding, right?” Dey hurried over to see, “Nope. No kidding, a total mess.”

She narrowed her eyes at the mess, “It looks like my mother’s kitchen after my brothers have been through it.”

“Brothers?” Lirya asked as she walked into the kitchen.

“Yeah. Daryn and Samuh. None of them were gifted. They were outcasts in our family and every other. Eventually, they ran away.” Dey blinked rapidly to shake the tears that gathered at her eyes. Lirya saw and brushed some dust off a chair and sat Dey down.

“It’s okay to cry, Dey. No one is immune to everything. Remember, we are your friends and we will take care of you. You don’t have to take all of our burdens.”

Dey allowed her tear to slide down her cheek. Soon she was sobbing into Lirya’s shoulder. Jason and Selsian were the strong, muscular men, and they had to do the manly task of sweeping the whole place down so that it was livable again. Jon searched for any clues as to the whereabouts of the old man. The house, looking so small and old on the outside was really large and comfortable on the inside. Most of the house was built underground, though. Jason and Selsian had both gotten brooms and had swept away most of the dust in the living room and the bedrooms where the friends would sleep the night. After all, it was getting dark and the wolves were howling at the silvery moon, high in the sky. Dey had cried for a while, with Lirya comforting her and now had made the kitchen presentable and had cooked a marvelous meal for the friends with what she could find. They now sat, enjoying the food, while discussing how to proceed next.

“I suggest that we keep pressing through this forest to Seliue.” Jon expressed his opinion. He had not found much evidence from the old man, other than some old texts that he had brought up. Some of the papers were sprinkled with blood.

“Well, you got us this far, so I trust you.” Lirya looked around at the fire crackling merrily in the hearth and the warm, sleepy feeling of contentment that everyone felt. The others nodded their heads in agreement.

“Can I see the papers that you brought up, Jon?” Jason asked, peering at them. One was a thick, leatherbound book with a pale gold and almost illegible title. The other was a map with some writing on it and a bloody piece of paper.

“Sure,” Jon said and handed them over, careful not to touch the bloody paper. Jason scanned the contents of the paper and tossed it aside.

“Just some stupid poem.”

 Then he opened the book.

“Guys? Can you have a look at this?” He showed them the worn and crumbling book. 

“Many would not believe me when I say that all that I’m about to write about really happened, so this book is the sole copy in existence unless someone from the royal armies also decided to do the same. This seems like a tall tale, but it is a true tale, however unbelievable and I would not be telling this but it is an extraordinary story. This story is special and cannot be hidden and forgotten when I breathe my last, so I have devoted a few years of my remaining years to complete this recollection of this important piece of Dargon’s history.

There are five kingdoms, Sanobar, Silvardor, Handemon, Westik and Anhua. Sanobar was ruled by the wise and benevolent queen Sabona. The Queen’s husband died a while after they married, leaving her the sole ruler, with no heir. She later remarried and produced one heir to the royal throne of Sanobar. The young prince grew up to become the strong king that he is today. She was advised by the five Guardians of the Crystals and the Guardian of the Key. The Golden Guardian can control energy and can manipulate the essence of the world. They look like they have spent a lifetime working in the glare of the hot sun somewhere in the barren Anhua. The Silver Guardian can control frost, is immune to temperatures and look like they have been frozen and frostbitten. The Emerald Guardian can control the very earth of Dargon and are always one of the sons and daughters of Nature. The Ruby Guardian can control fire and occasionally lose control of their tempers and roast someone unfortunate. As mentioned, they have very short tempers and are always Earthborn. The Sapphire Guardian controls water and can change to a waterform, where they can move faster than light through the water, or they can teleport to a different body of water, no matter how small.

Years ago, Demons escaped the Abyss and summoned the Lord of Chaos himself. The Chaos, Haert, was set free in the world and much that was evil was done and terrible things, unspeakable things were done to those who were faithful to the mighty god, Pelos. The demons, under orders from Chaos, created armies and stormed Dargon, slaughtering and plundering at will, destroying Anhua utterly. All seemed lost, and those still faithful prayed to Pelos for help. Some even prayed to Aeliyas, but no one bothered to pray to the ever-studious Gilan, the god of neutrality. It was a time of chaos and panic. 

I have experienced it all personally when my commander ordered us to march to the plains of Suf-orta to assist the armies fighting against the demons and Haert. My name is Mertus Silvertread, a loyal soldier of the Queen Sabona’s royal army. 

King Kashius was just a teenager when he ascended the throne after his mother died, insisting on joining the combat and fighting alongside her loyal subjects. She fought like a wildcat until there was a ring of dead demons around her and the ground, as well as her armour,  was soaked in blood. In fact, she fought so well that the god of Chaos himself took interest in that mortal queen who caused so much disruption in his ranks. He caused thunder to rumble, even when the sky was completely cloudless. He appeared before her in armour so black it seemed to make the even night seem like twilight. He unsheathed his broadsword and attacked her. She fought back like a lioness, but she still was no match for a god. She was mortal, but never went down without a fight. Indeed, they fought long and hard before he struck the blow that broke her sword. Still, she fought on, this time with her bare fists and landed a good solid punch in Chaos’s godly nose. He roared in rage and slashed his sword at her. She ducked, but not in time, and was cruelly gutted. The god then used his supernatural strength to toss her body clear across the battlefield and into the ranks of the royal army. You can imagine that it caused quite a distraction when they realized what had hit them. The broken, mangled and very much dead body of the late queen Sabona. Practically unrecognizable, her body was bent a very odd angle. 

The guardians, the guardian of Anhua in particular, were very close to the queen, advising her during her reign, and when they realized what had happened, they gave a roar of anguish and pure defiance. The golden guardian, Reyneld, let out an unearthly howl of anger, so overpowering that many dropped their swords. He transformed in a flash of golden light and dropped off the cliff they had been standing on. He easily jumped thirty meters and landed with a catlike grace, running into the fray almost instantly after having landed. He swung his mighty sword and instantly half a dozen enemies were wounded or dead. Reyneld continued like that until he left a trail of destruction and he was fighting in the heart of the demon armies. He only stopped with his sword at a demon general’s throat because the general had managed to croak that he had an important message.

“You the Golden Guardian?”

Tarbork, the general, asked hoarsely. Reyneld simply nodded, grimly.

“Well. I tell you this before you die. We destroyed Anhua. Your place. Gone. All gone.” Tarbork laughed and his army jeered.

“No!” Reyneld yelled, his pain and sadness clear in the echoing cry of despair. All that he had fought for was gone. His life, his world, his kingdom. Even his title was simply a title now, with no meaning. “Dragonlord.” They called him if anyone had survived. The body stood up for a moment more before collapsing on the ground, spewing blood from the neck. He had no further use in this world. He slashed his sword at the demon general, taking his head. Then he decided. Reyneld manipulated to the very essence of Dargon. He called the Key from its resting place. He called it into his outstretched palm. A shimmering orb of bright white light shone in his outstretched hand. The light shone so brightly that all across the battlefield, demons, and humans alike stopped fighting and looked to see what it was. Sword hands dropped and weapons fell to the ground. So powerful was Reyneld’s magic that everyone stood mesmerized by his voice. 

He held the Key up for all to see. Then he shouted out the words of magic. Everything glittered. Then an invisible force drove into all the demons. Every horny, old devil was thrown clear across the battlefield and back into that hole that they crawled out from. Then as soon as it had appeared, the rift closed, hiding the horrors down below. The Abyss. Many thought that it was underground, but it was not so. The Abyss existed on a different plane, a different universe. A pale blue light shone. It came from a circle of light, but when you looked into it, you saw monsters, you saw the Abyss. Then the light disappeared. No one knew what that meant. Was it an omen, if so, for good or for evil times up ahead? 

The royal army rose, confused, and gathered weapons and dead or wounded soldiers back to the Druid healers. Many wounded died before reaching treatment, but a few survived with scars if they were lucky. Robes swishing around their feet, the druid healers walked among the dead and wounded, assisting wherever they could. The looked like elves, but for the fact that they were all ancient, old crumblies. No human in living history had seen a druid youngster, ever. Perhaps they hid them until they turned ancient or perhaps something else happened. I for one, do not know.”

“Druids? Interesting. Read on, Jason.” Lirya said, resting her elbows on the table with her head in her hands.

“I worship… can’t read that… Beware those of pointed fangs… this part is smudged… monsters roam… darn this paper is torn there… night. Midnight… I’ll just skip to the part where it is legible… strikes…” Jason read.

“Read on, please?”

Jason frowned. “The page is just ripped off. There is nothing more that I can read.”

“Can I see. Perhaps I can-” Jon start to say when a sharp rapping on the door interupted them. They all rose and grabbed their weapons, while Selsian opened the door. A blast of snow flew into the warm and toasty house from the blizzard raging outside. Nearly a dozen cloaked figures stood outside the door.

“Who goes there?” Jason called out.

A muffled voice answered. “We are but innocent travellers. Night has fallen and we were ambushed by bandits, who ran off with our gear. We were very fortunate to see the light from your house.”

“Oh, this is not my house. We are simply borrowing it. ” He said and stepped aside to let them pass. One person walked up to the front porch, but no further. Jason stared, a little unnerved.

“Why are you standing there? Welcome in.”

They all walked in. They shook the snow out of their cloaks and proceeded to remove their outer, and very wet, clothing. 

“We are very grateful to you.”

The one who spoke removed his cloak and hung it up on the clothes pegs by the door. He had midnight black hair and pale skin. He had light rosy lips and wore black clothes. His eyes were blood red and when he smiled at them, his perfect white teeth showed. Only, two of the teeth at the corners of his lips protruded much longer than the rest. 

“Who… who are you?” Lirya stuttered, after seeing his unnerving smile.

He gave the smile again. “I am one of the Strykx, better known as “vampires” to you puny mortals. I am Vesan, the lord over the Strykx.” He waved his arm at the other figures undressing by the door. Some shook the snow out of their raven black hair while others hung up their wet cloaks to dry. 

“These… are my companions, all Strykx. Don’t try anything if you value your lives.” His smile faded, replaced by hunger. His gaze wandered to Selsian, who stood frozen in a corner. Vesan strode over to him, walking with a catlike grace. Much was alike with him and a cat, especially the way they stalk their prey and toy with their food. Now Vesan cornered Selsian and closed in on him.

“I know that you mortals worship life so please excuse me for a moment. I must make an exception, for I am ever so hungry.” He licked his lips and grabbed Selsian who was jolted out of his frozen paralysis only to be found in the grasp of a hungry vampire. Selsian’s eyes widened in fear and he frantically tried to squirm out of Vesan’s grip. Vesan only smiled and held him tighter. Selsian finaly stopped struggling and lay still, in the vampire’s grip and closed his life, as if he had given up on life.

“NO! Don’t give up! Selsian! Wherever you end up, I will find you!” Dey vowed, “I make this vow to Pelos and to Aeliyas that I will find you Selsian, even if I have to tear up the Ether and the Abyss to find you. Hang on, please!”

That brought a slight smile onto Selsian’s face before the vampire bent down and pressed his teeth to the sensitive skin of Selsian’s neck. Then the teeth punctured the skin and Selsian stiffened for a moment before going limp in Vesan’s arm. 

Selsian felt the teeth before they punctured his delicate skin and blood left his body in a rush. He instantly felt woozy and weak and leaned into the vampire’s strong grip. His heart rate increased drastically and he knew that his heart was working overtime to get blood to every area in his body. It was no use, however, when more blood left him than the heart could replace. He felt a slight tingling in his toes and leg before he felt… nothing. Soon, he felt nothing at all, but the extreme pain in his neck. He tried to move his arm to swat at whatever was making it hurt so much, but found that he could not move many part of himself. Even his head was feeling odd. He tried to open his eyes, but found that he had no control over his muscles. That was… odd. That was the last thing he thought before his mind shut down completely. The last thing he felt was the pain in his neck lessen and disappear. Then his spirit was forced out of his body. 

CHAPTER 7 – Necromancers in Heresh

Selsian looked down at his body, held in the hands of the vampire. His skin was as pale as the snowy blizzard howling outside and the only place with a little of his tanned skin was the neck, where two bloody puncture holes were visible on the still-warm skin of the neck around the bite. He saw the vampire remove his fangs and lick the blood off his lips. He saw the vampire drop his body and he watched as his friends screamed in anger and pain at seeing him leave the world like this. He felt something tug so hard that he had no choice but to follow it. Was this the tug of the Ether? Didn’t people describe the tug of the Ether as peaceful and calm?

He followed and found himself speeding along a dark tunnel. There was a small glimmer of light at the end of it. Selsian saw that he was getting closer to it. Now, there were many spirits, from the overdressed, pampered noble to the skinny and ragged commoner. The stream of spirits thickened and seemed to choke him. He tried to force himself past a family stubbornly trying to keep together and he raise his hand to push past them. His hand touched the father. His hand went through the father. The father didn’t even notice. He was busy glancing over at his wife and little daughter who could not have been more than six or seven years old. How could the king allow this to happen? The little girl should be happily running around the town playing with the other kids, not stuck in this tunnel to the Ether. Not now. It was far too early. It was not right. King Kashius ought to have known that many of his subjects were in the tunnel, drifting to the Ether.

Something was happening. He felt sick. His stomach was paining him greatly. He doubled over, groaning. Nobody noticed. They simply continued to drift towards the light. Several drifted through him, but they paid him no extra notice.

Suddenly, he tilted and crashed through the floor. It was completely dark for a moment, then he gasped. A huge city was below him. A world built entirely of green, black and purple hues. He saw a trail in the air. He saw that it was a green trail cutting through the twilight of the place he was in. Some instinct in him made him follow the trail as it spiraled down to the city below. He followed it as it led him through a winding path. It led him to a large building at the center of the mass of buildings. He followed the trail through the doors of the front entrance and right up to a throne in the center of the room. Then the trail just disappeared. No trace of it remained. He looked around in confusion.

“I called you here, spirit.” A deep voice said.

Selsian turned to the throne, but it was empty. Then suddenly, a flash of light followed but a man dressed in green and black with white skin but black hair. It remined Selsian so of Vesan, who had robbed him of his life and he involuntairliy took a step back. The man chuckled.

“Are you afraid, spirit?”

“N-No.” He said in a stuttering voice that betrayed him.

“Ah, but I think that you are. Do you not, spirit?” He favored Selsian with a predator’s smile.

“Then… then why do you ask?” He said, his voice strengthening as he spoke.

The man raised his eyebrows. “You are talking to your future master. Do not let your tongue run wild.” He warned.

“Who are you to say that you’re my master? My master was Lord Thronesgar. I serve no one else.”

“Ah, still defiant, I see. Well, listen closely, for I have a deal for you, spirit.”

Selsian said nothing, but waited, scowling.

“I can give you another life. You can go to the surface world, Dargon, I believe you call it, and you can visit your parents or whoever you wish.”

“Why?”

“Oh, I often do this. But, you see, the people I help do not get reincarnated as a human, but as a necromancer. You would command the dead to do your bidding, but you would pay a huge price.”

“What price?” Selsian asked.

The man replied. It was shocking, to say the least.

“Your life.”

“What do you mean?” Selsian demanded. He was confused, but certain that accepting the man’s offer was the best choice.

“Your appearance will change. Also, you will do my bidding when asked, spirit.”

“I do not serve a master that I do not know the name of.” Selsian retorted.

“Then I will give you mine. I am King Naghren of Heresh. I command the necromancers.” Naghren said.

“I accept your terms. My life is yours. Command me as you will.”

“Good. You shall be a spirit no longer.” Naghren smiled. Then he waved his hand at Selsian.

Selsian felt a tingling sensation all over before he was double over in extreme agony. Every area of his body was on fire. He writhed and moaned on the ground, tears streaming from his eyes. Then black spots danced before his vision and he saw no more.

Ryhon.

Your name shall be Ryhon Darkwielder. 

When he woke again, Selsian saw that he was lying on a soft bed. His head reeled with knowledge. He had somehow been given all the arcane knowledge of a master necromancer.

Someone attended to him. He appeared to no more than eleven. That was another shock. The servant was a ghost. He had white skin and hair and glowing green eyes. Where the whites of his eyes would have been, it was simply black. Selsian widened his eyes and backed away from the servant until  he hit the headboard on the large bed. 

“Have I upset you, Master Ryhon?”

Selsian frowned in confusion. The servant cringed.

“No… what’s your name?” He finally asked.

The servant blinked.

“My name is Jemery, Master Ryhon.” He said respectfully.

“Why do you keep saying ‘Master Ryhon’?” Selsian asked.

“Your new name is Ryhon. Ryhon Darkwielder, my master. Did you not know?”

Selsian stared, shocked. So that was why he had heard that name. So he was to be renamed, then. Ryhon Darkwielder. That name was not altogether bad. 

“So that was why I heard it.”

“Aye, master. All new Necromancers hear their new names before they heard nothing at all.”

“No. Don’t call me that. I was also a servant. I do not feel comfortable with the attention. Will you not just be my friend?” Ryhon asked.

Jemery gasped.

“N-No, m-master Ryhon. It is an honour, but I would be snuffed out if I did not serve you.”

“Snuffed out?” Ryhon questioned.

“Oh, the horror! As a ghost, I cannot die again, but his majesty king Naghren can snuff out ghost at his will. They say that when he was born, he clenched his fist and a couple of hundred ghosts were snuffed. When you get snuffed, you disappear from this word forever. You simply cease to exist. You will not go to the Ether, the Abyss, Dargon or here, Heresh, ever again.” Jemery answered. “I had a friend, who chose not to serve his master. I was there when it happened. His majesty simply clenched his fist and Henry was gone.”

Ryhon’s eyes widened. Such power was unheard of!

“Does my master like his new appearance?” Jemery asked, grabbing some clothes for Ryhon.

“My appearance? No. I never liked it.” Ryhon said, distracted.

Jemery’s face fell.

“I spent an hour finding the right clothes to match your pale skin and black hair, though.”

Was his appearance changed?

“Can I have a mirror?”

Jemery lead him into a small room with a full length mirror in it. Ryhon’s hair was black as night while his skin was white as snow. His eyes were very dark purple. They were so dark they almost appeared fully black. His hair was slightly shorter than waist length and he wore a robe of many shades of grey and green, outlined in purple. Ryhon gasped. Such difference in his appearance, but now, Ryhon wasn’t even sure that his appearance was the only thing that was changed about him. He highly doubted it. He felt more powerful and more hatred. The world had done him injustice in sending him to the Ether and now Heresh had reincarnated him to let him do justice to the overworld. His eyes flashed. First he would hunt down and destroy the filthy vampire, Vesan, then he would build up his power and do justice.

“So… is it to the master’s satisfaction?” Jemery timidly asked.

“Very much so. Thank you.”

Jemery breathed a sigh of relief.

“Shall I then escort you to his majesty?”

Ryhon took a deep breath. He squared his shoulders and made sure that he had an impassive facial expression.

“Lead the way.”

They walked through long, winding corridors of what Ryhon assumed was the royal palace of Heresh. Jemery was a ghost, however, so he simply floated. There was many a time when he would float through a wall, expecting Ryhon to follow him. He would return a moment later, with a sheepish look on his face and apologize. 

“Where are we?”

“In the Royal Palace of Heresh surrounded by the city of Ilgyos, master Ryhon.” Jemery answered.

“Is Heresh… large?”

“Aye. It stretches far. There are far too few cities and towns here, though.”

“Why is that so?” Ryhon questioned.

Jemery gestured at a nearby window and they walked towards it. He told Ryhon to take a look outside. Ryhon peered out. He saw everything. He saw skeletal birds flying around in the sky, saw a few little dark spots dotted around the green ground of Heresh. Towns, he supposed. Ryhon saw Skeletal dragons soaring the skies and he saw bony alley cats jumping the roofs of the city of Ilgyos below him.

“Wh-What magic is this?”

“The magic of your reincarnation, my lord.” Jemery said. “You are special, though, because my senses tell me that you are an Overlord.”

Ryhon stared, fixed, at the wonders outside the window.

“How… high… are we?”

Jemery smiled. This castle was special because the windows outside would show the heights that you preferred. From what he could gather from his overlord, Jemery thought that Ryhon must have wished that he could fly when he was alive. He told his master that. He also told his master that they had to hurry to see the king.

“His majesty hates waiting.” Jemery explained as he lead the way to the throne room.

Moments later, they arrived at the throne room. Ryhon noted, that along with a better appearance, he had suddenly become faster, stronger and he was hardly breathing hard, though he had run in a sprint for the past few minutes nonstop. When he was alive, that would have had him gasping and panting for air. Jemery spoke a few words to the two Necromancer guards standing by the door.  One of them nodded and walked in to the throne room. Possibly to announce them. He came out a moment later.

“The King will see you now, novice.” He said in a gruff voice.

Ryhon nodded and let the insult pass. He walked in the throne room. Jemery, he noticed, was outside and made no move to follow him. Ryhon walked up the blood red carpet in the center of the room, his cape swirling at his feet. He walked unconsciously with a slight swagger to his step. He had no idea of how much that irritated the king as he watched Ryhon walk closer. He had no idea that the king was silently gritting his teeth and fuming inside. 

When Ryhon reached the king, he bowed.

“Rise, Ryhon Darkwielder.” The king raised a hand to welcome him. “May I present to you my friend?”

A figure emerged from the shadows by the throne.

“His name is Vesan. He is the vampire king.”

CHAPTER 8 – Reunion

Vesan! Ryhon felt blinding rage settle over him. He looked up at the vampire with murderous eyes. Indeed, his eyes burned and seemed to crackle and sizzle with dangerous electrical hate. The vampire was entirely unaware, but had looks been capable of killing, Vesan would have dropped dead that very instant. Vesan had a small crown upon his head, with many rubies. He wore a blood red tunic, with gold outlines.

“I have a job for you, Ryhon.” Vesan said. “There are a few pesky humans who are resisting capture in an old hut. I want you to find them.”

“Right away, your majesty.” Ryhon stood straight. If Vesan did not recogize him, then he would hide in plain sight. He tried to recall his friends in the overworld, but could not come up with a single name. He frowned.

“And when you find them.” Vesan stared right into his eyes, “Kill them.”

Ryhon felt powerful and eager to please. He gave a bow and looked to the king who flicked a finger and sent Ryhon soaring back up to the overworld. 

The ground rumbled and Ryhon seemed to rise straight out of the ground. Indeed, that was what he had done and his from solidified a moment later. The king had changed his form so that he could go through surfaces like a spirit, and now changed it back. Soon, Ryhon would be able to do it at will and without assistance. He took a deep breath and smiled. Then he focused and dark tendrils of death curled around his legs. His eyes burned bright and his cloak and hair flew wildly about. An unlucky deer bounded right across his path and he extened a finger and blew a blast of dark energy into the poor creature. The deer collapsed in a heap on the ground and twitched. Then it rose and started to walk towards him. The eyes burned green and it had a fully black coat when moments before the coat had been a luxurious brown colour. It reached him and knelt before him. He waved a hand and it crumbled into dust. His fine senses told him the nearest place with humans in the area. It was a small clearing not far from where he was and it had four humans and what appeared to be some beings that were clearly not human. There was one human that seemed… different. He started in a sprint to that area.

He arrived in a few moments. The clearing had a small hut in the center, but the snow was disturbed and there were signs of a scuffle. Multiple pairs of feet entered the house but none went back out. He concluded that they must all still be in there then. He prepared himself and called upon all the ancient knowledge of magic that he gained since entering Heresh. Then he entered.

A girl stood and had an arrow aimed at his chest. He waved his hand almost contemptuously and the bow and arrow flew far from her grasp. She stared at him with wide eyes. He continued farther into the house, pausing only to disarm a young man who had a dangerous looking sword. He saw all the vampires, bound and gagged in a corner. There were many blood stains on the floor and a young woman in a corner had a nasty gash in her thigh. Blood was seeping out of her makeshift bandage. Something… called him to her. He walked over and she looked up. He felt a jolt through him. You know this person, his soul said. Who is this, his memory said. Well, not even a powerful spell of forgetfulness can block out from his heart that he had once been loved. No. He knew who she was.

“Sister.” He said hoarsely. She jerked up and whipped around to stare at him. Her violet eyes stared into his.

“Brother. Samuh.”

Samuh. A memory clicked.

He was playing with his twin brother, Daryn. He reached up to grab a tasty piece of cake. First, one for his brother, who so dutifully held  him up so he could reach it. Then one for himself. He had just grabbed it when a voice sounded from the doorway.

“Filth! GET AWAY FROM MY CAKE! NOW!”

He looked up and saw the baker, mrs. Ornad fill the doorway with her presence. She had a ladle in one hand and now attempted to land a hit on the two frightened boys. They managed to get away, though, but Samuh had gotten a red mark across his cheek from where the ladle had given a glancing blow. His cheek stung as they watched the cake hungrily. Another hungry child tried to take the cake and once again, mrs. Ornad appeared in the doorway. This time, when she spotted the little girl, she carefully placed the ladle on the countertop and knelt down to the little frightened girl. She spoke.

“Hello, little girl.”

“H-Hi.” The girl stammered.

“Would you like some cake?” 

The girl nodded swiftly. Then she frowned.

“Wh-why didn’t Samuh and Daryn get any, then?”

Mrs. Ornad stopped.

“They didn’t get any because they are demons. Born of a respected family but without family magic.”

She thrust the cake into the girl’s hands and the girl quickly ran away. Meanwhile, Samuh crouched, hidden and hurting because he had heard every word. The little ten year old felt a tear slip down his cheek…

“Samuh.” He said, “I have not been called that in a long time.”

She looked at him and a tear fell to the ground. Then she stumbled. Ryhon was there in an instant. He held her up. Then he whispered in her ear.

“They call me Ryhon.”

He checked her for injuries with his dark magic. Ryhon felt his heart cry.

“Sister, dearest sister I never knew that I had, my heart aches so to have met you, only to have you slip through my grip again. Death has a claim upon you, I am afraid.”

“I-I am dying?” She whispered. When he nodded, she sighed.

“Take me with you. I don’t ever want to lose you again.”

Ryhon’s heart soared with joy.

“I can do it! I’ll take you to Heresh. You’ll become a necromancer like me and we can live together.”

He felt her spirit slip away and used his magic to grasp her soul spirit. He took her with him as he decended to Heresh again. On his way down, he sent a silent prayer to Ziocrat, the god of Death. Then he cried out to his king and master, King Naghren.

“Majesty! I beg of you, accept this woman as your bonded servant as you have done to me.”

Deep in Heresh, King Naghren heard his overlord cry out to him. He was playing chess with his “head” advisor, who ironically, was actually a head. Nobody knew why he could talk, but he is the wisest being in all of Heresh. His name was Rondak the Wise and he could enchant stationary things to being mobile, like the chess pieces they were playing with. The little chess pieces moved of their own accord when Rondak and Naghren directed them.

“Rondak, my overlord wants me to accept a woman as a necromancer. A woman. Only once before has a woman joined our ranks before. Should I initiate her? She is dying.”

Rondak’s beard quivered as he thought. If he had a body and hands, he would surely have been stroking it.

“It is thine wish, my liege. Thy wisdom guides you, as it guides me. I shalt say allow her to join you, however, my liege.”

“Hmm… “ Naghren muttered, “Tower, move four steps forward.”

The tower obliged, sliding four steps and colliding with a queen. He smashed her out of the game where she landed with a splintering crash, little bits of stone flying everywhere. The tower stood proud on its spot.

“By Ziocrat!” Naghren swore, “We need to get more pieces.”

He considered the girl, dying. Naghren flicked a finger and Dey landed in a heap on the ground, entangled with Ryhon. Then he separated them with another motion. He eyed them. They had put up quite a fuss when snatched away from one another.

“Do I separate two lovers?” he barked.

Ryhon stepped forward.

“No, my lord, you do not. If I had any attractions beyond our existing connection, it would be… unholy.”

“And why is that?”

“My lord, she is my sister.”

Ryhon knelt before the king and Dey did the same. Naghren brushed Dey’s shoulder briefly as he inspected her spirit. Her body was wedged inside the earth a hundred miles deep, but her spirit was oblivious to the fact.

“You wish to become a Necromancer.” He stated.

“Yes, my lord. I vow to serve you. Command me as you will.”

He smiled. He was about to say something when Ryhon spoke.

“Sister. When he transforms you, it will hurt. It will hurt like hell.”

She nodded and the king made a motion with his finger.

She stood up quickly, only cumple to the floor, writhing with pain. Ryhon stared, shocked, but unable to help. He took a step as if to touch her, but the king spoke.

“No! If you touch her, you could be permanently fused together.” He warned.

Ryhon hurriedly snatched his hand away.

Dey felt pain. Unending, horrid and continuous agony. Her brother, Ryhon had said that it would hurt like hell, but to her it felt a lot worse than that. She cried out and dark spots danced before her eyes. Then her vision went dark.

Aelron.

Aelron Darkwielder.

Ryhon looked anxiously at his sister when she opened her eyes. He had carried her up to his room and she now laid on his bed. A servant, Pyrhis, hoovered by her bedside. Her eyes fluttered open and she looked around. She was not as scared as Ryhon had been when he had first woken, but it probably helped that she saw him first. 

“What did you hear?” he asked gently.

Her eyes clouded with confusion.

“I heard something say ‘Aelron. Aelron Darkwielder.’” She said, “What does it mean?”

“I am Ryhon Darkwielder. It has acknowledged our relation. Your new name is then Aelron.” Ryhon informed her, “I never knew your previous name, though.”

She looked at him.

“I never told you?” she exclaimed, “I used to be called Deymalon, or Dey.”

“Dey. I think that Aelron suits you better.”

“I agree.” She told him softly, “Do you know of Daryn?”

Daryn. His brother. He sent waves of dark magic spiralling through the world, searching for the signs of his brother. There was nothing. He frantically searched every town in every Kingdom but with no luck. Then he felt something. There it was again. 

Brother dearest. Help me.

CHAPTER 9 – Kingdom of Nightmares

“Gods!” Ryhon clutched his head. That voice. It kept plaguing him. It voice in his dreams, the voice in his memory. Daryn. His brother. Who was dying. Ryhon ran out of his sister’s chamber, waving away Jemery’s concern. He disappeared down a corridor with Jemery and Aelron looking helplessly there. Jemery shook his head.

“Master pushes himself too far.”

Aelron stared down the corridor with pain in her eyes. She had heard it. Their bond and allowed each share their thoughts and feelings as well as pain. Daryn was alive, and Samuh… no, Ryhon… was coming to fetch him. They would all be reunited again. Then she felt something. It smothered her senses and she collapsed on the floor. Jemery turned and tried to catch her, but she slid through his hands, as they were insubstantial. 

It was dark. She opened her eyes, but could see nothing. Then her body rose. She could do nothing but follow along.

Jemery watched in muted astonishment as Aelron rose, her eyes open but sightless. She turned to him, her milky white eyes staring right at him. Aelron’s hair whipped around her face and flew wildly about as if in a blizzard, but there was no wind. He mouth opened and mist flowed from it. Mist flowed from around her, behind her and seemed to come from everywhere. Then she spoke.

Danger follows the overlord of the dark

Who he seeks is not the true one, but a mark

A mark of darkness that only one of the dark can see

Of this danger, one can really only flee

Only one person has the power to fight

The overlord of darkness and night

May he succeed or fail by the will of the lady

Aelron collapsed back on the floor. Her hair went limp, her eyes closed and the mist faded. Jemery called for a servant with proper hands to carry Aelron. A burly servant arrived moments later.

“Thank the Lady! Here she is. She is a prophet!” Jemery babbled on, frantic in his worry about Aelron and his excitement at learning what she was. A prophet. A reader of the future. The only other person who could read and manipulate the future was the Lady. The Lady Aethyn who was the ruler of all the souls and hearts of Heresh dwellers. All in Heresh believed in the Lady. She was the goddess of Heresh, some might say. Not even Ziocrat rules Heresh.

The burly servant, a guard, bent and scooped up the limp form of Aelron and carried her back to her room.

Meanwhile, Ryhon stood in a deserted alleyway in a city in Sanobar. His fledgling magic had brought him to a random city in Sanobar, but at least it had actually been in Sanobar. Once, he spelled himself to Westik, attempting to teleport to Silvardor. He had found himself surrounded by angry dwarves. He looked around. There was an old beggar sitting in a corner, hoping to earn a bit of coin. Any coin. Ryhon looked down the alley. It was dotted with sleeping forms. All homeless or beggars. He frowned. In all of his experience in Sanobar, he had never seen such needy people as these beggars. As he walked down the street, gaunt faces stared at him. His neck prickled at the eyes on his receding back. Sweat beaded on his forehead. Hungry children peeked at him from the corners. Dressed in rags, they looked more frightening than real ghosts. He could no longer pretend that they didn’t exist. He approached one of the thin, skeletal children. A dirt covered teenaged boy. He had shoulder length brown hair and a thin and lanky frame. He looked no older than sixteen or seventeen, because he was short. The boy shrank away as Ryhon got closer.

“No. Don’t go.” Ryhon stretched his hand out in a vain attempt to stop the boy. The boy didn’t run to his mother, though. He turned and gazed at Ryhon with wonder filled eyes. He was frightened, but he was also curious. 

“Who are you?” He reached a tentive hand out to touch Ryhon’s cloak. He seemed shocked to find it had real substance. Ryhon didn’t blame the boy. He knew how he looked. He looked like a vampire, or a ghost.

“My name is Ryhon.”

“No. What are you?” The boy frowned.

“Ah. I am a Necromancer, a servant of his royal majesty King Naghren of Heresh.” Ryhon replied casually, as if that was how you greeted any old person on the streets.

The boy widened his eyes.

“You’re a monster! A creature of the unholy darkness!” He exclaimed. He glared right into Ryhon’s eyes, definitely, “You’re Death coming to take me. Well I don’t care. Take me.”

Ryhon shook his head.

“No. You are mistaken. I was reborn, but I am not evil.” That may be wrong, he thought. I may very well be evil. 

The boy narrowed his eyes.

“Truely? Prove it by doing something good.”

Ryhon sighed, but complied. He waved his hand and the boy was dressed in a neat faded and white shirt, that was nearly a yellow colour but was clean and comfortable. The seams were coming apart a bit by the sleeves that were folded up to his elbows. He had a loose mossy green vest on top that came half way to his knees, secured by a black belt with a golden buckle. The boy had beige pants that resembled leggings and brown, but well used, boots. He had a hood attached by a string, resting on his shoulders. The clothes were many times better than the ones that he wore before.

“These clothes are amazing!” He said, eyes shining, “I could go poaching for the king’s deer with these clothes. I could feed my family!”

Ryhon flicked his finger and a longbow and a quiver of arrows appeared on his shoulders.

“Go. Feed your family.” He said softly, then he raised his voice, “I invite one hunter for each family to tread forward and recive hunting garb and a longbow with arrows so that you can feed your families.”

There was absolute silence. 

“We don’t know how to hunt, or to shoot an arrow.” A man from the back called out.

“I can teach you. I know how to. I used to be a great hunter before we fell on bad times and I had lost my bow.” A teenage boy about nineteen walked out from the shadows.

Then a man hesitantly stepped forward. Ryhon waved his hand and he got similar clothes and hunting gear as the boy. The boy stood next to Ryhon, eyes shining, watching the families finally having hopes for the future. The man smiled, probably the first one in years.

“Thank you, my lord! You have my humblest thanks. My name is Merchal.”

Then he jogged back to his family and gave them all a fierce hug. More potential hunters came forward, some of them as young as eight years of age. Little boys without fathers to guide them through life.

 

It took a while to get all the families equipped, but every moment was worth it, when Ryhon saw all the little children admiring him. Afterwards, he tried to locate his brother again. He teleported to the relative location of his brother, in a flash of golden light. Ryhon looked around. Something rustled in the bushes nearby. He was by a forest edge. So he was outside the city of Kenstel, then. The only other town on Sanobar near a forest is Doxford, but that one was many miles away from Kenstel. He conjured a sword and faced the bushes. Something sprang at him.

CHAPTER 10 – King’s Guard

Robert crouched in the undergrowth. Ryhon had been very generous to him and he would never forget that. He was the boy that Ryhon had gifted the hunting garb and longbow. Unfortunately, his friend had stolen his longbow and arrows. His friend was nowhere to be seen. Damn. That deer was supposed to be shared. He stood on a rock outcrop and yelled out to his friend.

“Myrk! Myrk, dammit, that deer was for both of us!”

Robert ran through the undergrowth, his long brown hair flying, to where he thought that he had seen Myrk. Myrk had curly red hair that stuck out anywhere in a forest. A flash of red. Myrk! Robert turned and sped towards that spot of red. He slowed and hid. There was a deer, grazing, then there was Myrk, aiming an arrow at it. A flash of sunlight was reflected from the point and the deer went down. Myrk went out into the open to check on his kill. Robert jumped up and grabbed his longbow from the startled Myrk’s hands. Then he squatted and slowly pulled the arrow out of the deer, careful not to damage the hide.

“He’s mine!” Myrk protested.

“Nothing’s yours. That’s my bow and you just killed the king’s deer!” Robert growled and picked up the deer, balancing it on his shoulders. Then he took off, Myrk following.

“The king won’t mind! He’s got plenty of deer, the king has.” Myrk said while watching the deer’s dead head bouncing up and down on Robert’s shoulders. His oversized rags threatened to trip him, “Won’t miss one.”

He splashed through a small stream, making a lot of noise. Rober glared at him, “Well I would miss it, because half of that deer was my supper.”

“I was hungry.”

Robert turned and looked at him. Myrk was a few years younger than him, but he acted downright childish sometimes.

“Well, you certainly can’t tell the king that!” Robert growled. 

Myrk looked genuinly confused.

“He would give you this speech about not poaching his dee and then he’ll let you go. Only he’ll lop off one of your hands so you’d remember what he’d said.” Robert said grimly. Myrk paled and they continued to walk in silence. Then Robert stopped. His head flew up and he looked wildly about, eyes darting here and there. A man rode out on a horse. He had the chainmail of a soldier and wore a light blue cape. However, his chainmail was of better quality and he appeared to be a leader, of sorts. He had a sword by his side and wore a cone helmet, with some of his short blond hair showing.

“Guards!” Robert shouted and took off running, as fast as he possibly could. Myrk stumbled after him but it seemed that luck was not in their favor. Six more men, similarly dressed rode out and attempted to corner them. A soldier rode out right in front of him and Robert skidded to a stop, before running in the other direction. It was a futile attempt, however, and they were soon cornered. Robert dropped the deer carcass to the ground and he and Myrk had bolted, only to be blocked and herded into a blockade of soldiers. 

“What’s your name, serf?” The captain rode over to Robert and glowered.

“I’m not a serf. I’m a free man.” Robert protests. The captain frowned, angry, and slapped Robert. Hard, on the cheek and Robert tasted blood in his mouth.

“If I say you’re a serf, then you’re a serf!” He growls. Robert glared at him rebelliously with his arm held up to his lip to staunch the bleeding.

“Now, serf, you are in trouble.” The captain said, his face 

“Why?” Robert, ever the rebel, said defiantly.

“Must I spell it out for you? No one but one of the king’s foresters may carry a bow in the forest. No one may hunt, maim or kill the king’s beasts. The penalty is a hand less.”

Robert opened his mouth to answer when they were interrupted.

“Sir Caermon! We must hurry to the castle. It’ll be dark soon and we’ll get lost.” One of the younger soldiers shouted.

Sir Caermon. It must be the notorious Sir Caermon of Glyffhill. 

At Stonewall Castle, Advisor Richard was having a bad day. He glowered at all the servants and his limp brown mustache twitched as he gave an angry sigh. He wore a red outer robe that brushed the ground when he walked. Richard also always wore a thick gold chain, one that signified his station. He sat at the high table, reserved for nobility. He was nobility. Only when the king visited did he have to vacate his seat in favor of a more modest seat. After all, the king was the king and he deserved the best of the best. As did his wife, the most noble Queen Elysadora and their children, princesses Zaiela and Elvina, prince Leyon and the eldest, Crown Prince Adrian.

His brother was a priest and was currently staying at Stonewall Castle for a while before returning to Starfire Abbey. The abbot Gerin Duaeyn stormed into the audience chamber of the ancient castle.

“Richard! The king wants the Scarvalley Abbey drained. It was flooded.”

Richard, already in a foul mood, glared at Gerin.

“May I ask, who did he tell? If he wanted me to do it, then he would have sent a messenger to me.” Richard gave a nasty smile. He knew that Gerin was rifling through his messages, intercepting the messengers. “Don’t you think?”

Richard savored the look of utter bewilderment then annoyance flicker on his brother’s face. Then a sneer formed Gerin’s features.

“So. You know.”

Yes. Richard had long known that Gerin saw all of his messages before he even had knowledge that they were on the way.

“Aye. So, you must drain Scarvalley Abbey with your resources.” Richard smirked.

Gerin exploded, “Gods above, Richard! We’re haggling over so little!”

His purple robe dragged on the floor and over the hay that had been laid over the cold stone floor inside the building as he walked. It was smokey and unpleasant, inside the castle walls, but when it was not too cold, castle servants flung open the windows allowing the smoke a pathway outside as so not to choke everyone in the castle. Richard angrily shoved a servant out of the way as he followed Gerin.

“I’ll drain the Abbey.” Gerin said, “But you must let me have more foresters.”

“I have none to spare!” Richard spoke, annoyed.

“You seem to have trouble keeping the forests clear of them, though.” Gerin remarked.

“Glyffhill’s not doing so badly. He caught two this morning.”

Gerin frowned, “He should be catching more.”

“He says that he needs more men.”

“He has plenty.” Gerin muttered.

“Glyffhill’s brains are in his backside.” Richard growled, “What he doesn’t need is more men but more here __ Richard pointed at his head __ and goodness knows, he’s not getting any smarter.”

“Your forests are teeming with foresters. Let me have the two Glyffhill caught.” 

Richard gave a snort, “As if you’d want them. They’re peasants. But test them, by all means, if you insist.”

“I most certainly will.” Gerin smiled and stalked to the dungeons.

In the dungeons, Robert looked up at the grate that covered their only way up. Their prison was a simple hole with a heavy iron grate reinforced with bolts over the entrance. The only way to get in or out was to have the guards lower the rickety ladder kept against the walls for this purpose. Sometimes, if the prisoners were male, they would just push them into the hole or make them jump. It was a little shorter than the height of two men, one standing on the other’s shoulders, so if they landed right it would not hurt much.

“They’ll kill us, you know.” Myrk whimpered.

A scratchy voice echoed through the dungeon, “No. They’ll leave here to rot.”

Robert turned. “Who’s there?”

A man stepped forward. Then another and another until there were about five men without Robert and Myrk.

“Whoa. I thought we were the only ones unfortunate to be stuck in here.” Robert said.

A shape slowly moved to Robert. The light from the grate revealed an ancient man. He had stringy and matted white hair and beard and a dirty face. His thin hands cupped something. He shuffled closer to Robert humming and muttering nonsense.

“He’s mad.” The man that spoke before said.

“Oh I ain’t mad. No.” The mad man shook his head, “No. Oh. Look, Robert. New arrivals.”

Robert frowned. That man was most certainly completely insane. The old man shuffled closer to Robert and shoved his cupped hands at him.

“Say hello to Robert.” He said in a singsong voice, opening his hands. There was a mouse in there. Robert pulled away in disgust.

“No. I’m Robert.” Robert said.

The old man shook his head, “No. This is Robert.” He said pointing at the mouse. Then he stroked it.

Myrk laughed, “You have the same name as the rat!”

“That. Is. About as funny as us being stuck in here.” Robert said icily.

“Sorry, Robert.” Myrk said, shamefaced.

There was a creak and they looked up. 

The grate was opening.

CHAPTER 11 – A Royal Prisoner

Light flooded the dungeon and a face peered over the edge. It was Gerin. His face was twisted in disgust and he held tightly onto that silly purple hat that he always wore.

“Which of you filthy maggots are the two foresters Glyffhill caught this morn’?”

Robert and Myrk stepped forward.

“What do you want?” Robert called out.

Gerin motioned to some guards who lowered the rickety ladder.

“Come on up. You’ll be my foresters now.”

Robert looked up at Gerin then at Myrk. Then he smiled and climbed up the ladder to freedom. He climbed the whole way up and stepped into the torchlight. Then Myrk crawled up. Robert stealthily walked behind the first guard and clubbed him unconscious with one of the spare iron bolts. The guard crumpled and the other turned, but not fast enough to avoid the same fate as his fallen comrade. Gerin stared at him with wide eyes.

“Wha-” He sputtered.

“You didn’t honestly think that I would just accept, did you?” Robert scoffed.

Myrk grinned stood by Robert’s side as they advanced towards Gerin. He was still rather disgruntled to be called a ‘filthy maggot’ and had not quite gotten over it. Gerin backed away and nearly tripped over the hem of his purple robe.

“Yo- you won’t kill me.” Gerin stuttered still backing away.

Robert gave him a feral smile.

“Don’t be too sure. I don’t kill men of god, but my friend here has a slight grudge against you. Besides, you did call him a ‘filthy maggot’.”

Myrk, too, gave Gerin an unnerving smile and stepped closer to Gerin, pointing a stolen sword at him. Gerin visibly paled. He didn’t doubt for a moment that Myrk could have killed him, despite Myrk’s youthful and innocent looks.

“I am the Abbot of Starfire Abbey and you can’t kill me!” Gerin tried to speak with authority.

Robert laughed, “Relax. We won’t kill you. I’m sure you won’t mind missing a few fingers and toes, though.”

Gerin paled further.

“But I want to kill ‘im!” Myrk protested.

“Yes. But we need him alive to collect a large ransom to feed our families.” Robert reasoned. Myrk was angry and unafraid of killing, but later when he regained his senses, he would despair. The anger gradually faded from his eyes as he saw Robert lead Gerin out with a dagger at his neck. 

“Wait! We want to come with you!” A fellow prisoner shouted. Myrk halted and gestured for Robert to stop as well.

All the prisoners dressed in their rags stood in a rough line facing Myrk and Robert, who was holding Gerin. 

“Let us come with you. We have lost everything and have nothing more to lose.” A tall, burly man introduced himself as Will Sarvus, a former King’s Guard. One by one the other prisoners introduced themselves. The youngest was a teenager about fifteen, who introduced himself as Rillan. He was dressed in finer clothes than the rest and was not half as filthy as the others. 

“Rillan. How long have you been in there?”

Rillan though for a while and then said, “I’m not sure. I’d say about a fortnight, but it could be less. Time ceases to exist when you are stuck in that hellhole.”

Robert nodded.

“What family do you come from?”

Rillan paled.

“Please… I can’ tell you that. You will hate me for what I am.”

Robert stared at him, silently. Then he relented.

“Fine. You can tell me later. Come along now, we must escape. Have we got everyone?”

A young man, Darik, ran to the prison and peered down.

“The old man is still there.”

Then he yelled down to the old man, “Are you coming?”

The mad man shuffled into the light and shook his head.

“No. No. I can’t leave Robert.” He stroked the rat and muttered, “No, no, no… no.”

Darik quickly dragged the unconscious bodies of the two guards to the edge of the prison and tossed them down, one by one.

The mad man looked at the bodies as they came tumbling to the straw floor. A conical helmet fell off the head of one of the guards and rolled away. The mad man grabbed it and placed Robert into it. The rat squeaked.

Up at the top, Darik quickly swung the grate closed that pushed the iron bolt closed to contain the guards.

They ran as silently as they could through the many castle hallways. Robert had a stolen sword, as did Myrk. Two other prisoners had daggers, also taken from the guards currently deep down in the dungeons and the biggest, and meanest prisoners held Gerin. Surprisingly, Gerin still held his purple hat. 

Robert’s footsteps echoed in the silence of the castle halls. They had split up, and Robert was to take the hard way out. He was also to obtain weapons for his men. Robert raced through the hallways until he found a locked door. The door was reinforced and locked with as much iron as possible. Considering how rich lords loved to lock up their belongings, Robert decided that this must be the weapons chamber. He quietly withdrew a thin, bendable metal rod and stealthily picked the locks. 

Finally, the door was open, but what Robert saw inside was anything but the weapons he was expecting. He carefully took a step into the room and blinked. A man crouched inside a circle of eight swords. He was clearly in pain, but looked up at Robert. His eyes were dark and his hair matted but he wore the clothes of a noble. Robert closed the door and walked to the man, careful not to enter the circle.

The face that greeted him was surprisingly young. A young man, perhaps eighteen, looked at him. He was gagged and Robert removed the gag after assuring the man that he was a friend.

“Who are… you?” The man croaked.

“I am Robert, a hunter. Who are you?”

The man stared.

“You don’t know me?” He asked, clearly disbelieving, “I am Prince Aidan of the Archangels.”

Archangels. That race went extinct centuries ago, if Robert’s history was up to date.

“But… archangels are extinct. You are not supposed to be here.”

Prince Aidan stared, then his eyes widened.

“What year is this?”

“This is the year 50 ADW.”

“What? ADW? So it’s not the year 4783?”

Robert couldn’t believe his ears.

“4783 was centuries ago. Since the Demon Wars, we have been counting up again, so 50 After Demon War.”

“Demon War?” Prince Aidan asked.

“Where have you been the last couple of centuries?”

The Prince laughed weakly, “You won’t believe me if I told you.”

“Try me.”

So Prince Aidan told of his adventures. He had been locked in this prison for a century and a half. Prince Aidan was 342 years of age. He was only a young archangel, about a hundred years old when he was taken. Now he has been captured for nearly three centuries while it seemed only like a few hours.

“Please, good sir, help me out of here!” The prince pleaded.

Robert nodded and asked, “What should I do?”

“Pull out the sword with my name on it. Hurry, please!” Aidan groaned.

Robert looked at the swords.

Daeylora. Eclipis. Saera. Zarvik. Yurin. Fendik. Joric. And finally, Aidan. He grabbed the sword and pulled. It came up and clattered to the ground, but excrutiating pain lanced up his arm and all over his body. The next thing he knew, the prince hovered over him with a worried look on his face. The prince helped Robert up and turned, looking sadly at the seven swords.

“So, why do they keep you here?” Robert tried to break the tense silence.

“Because I am the most powerful being in all the known worlds. I can destroy Dargon.” replied the Prince.

CHAPTER 12 – King of Beasts

Ryhon dodged the flying, furry monster. The beast spun in midair and turn, snarling, to face Ryhon. It was a werewolf. It looked like a regular wolf, but it was more aggressive and about ten times larger than a real wolf. This werewolf had black fur and flashing ruby eyes. It snarled at Ryhon and slowly circled him. Ryhon drew upon his vast knowledge and snarled a challenge to the werewolf.

“Face me in your other form. Man to man. Face me if you dare.” Ryhon growled in the language of the werewolves. The large wolf cocked its head to the side, shocked, but then began to change form. There was the sound of snapping bones as the bones broke and rearranged themselves in the skeletal structure of humans. Soon the man stood and faced Ryhon. He had matted long black hair, a gaunt face and emerald eyes. He wore a black tunic that reached his knees and was split down the middle and at the back for easy movement. He wore a gold belt and had black boots with gold around the edges. In fact, all of his clothes were black and gold. His leggings were black and so was the cape that hung from his shoulders. 

However, it was not the clothes that shocked Ryhon as much as the face. It was a face from his memories, a face long forgotten.

“Here I am. Now, tell me, who are you to speak the wolf tongue?” The man said warily.

“I am a necromancer. I am of the undead. I go by the name of Ryhon Darkwielder.” RYhon replied, “Tell me, who are you?”

The man stood silently for a moment before speaking, “I am Daryn of the Aethil House. I am the king of werewolves, and you’d best bow to me.”

Ryhon lost all ability to breathe. 

“Daryn.” He rasped, sucking in large breaths of air.

“I see you have heard my name. Now, bow to me.” He said a bit more forcibly.

Ryhon stood there, staring at his brother, not quite comprehending.

“Are you deaf or just plain dumb?” Daryn said, annoyed.

Ryhon shook his head. He really does not recognise me, Ryhon thought sadly.

“Great, first necromancer I encounter happens to be the dumbest being alive!” Daryn muttered, “Now, BOW TO ME!!!”

Daryn gestured to the ground.

Ryhon blinked, shaken out of his confusion by Daryn’s furious shout.

“Daryn. You don’t understand.” He tried to reason.

“That’s King Daryn to you, mister.” Daryn said, “And my word is law so I understand. Bow to me and you will live.”

“King Daryn. Do you not have family?” Ryhon questioned.

Daryn furiously glared at Ryhon.

“No. None that care for me.” He said shortly, cutting off any arguement. 

“I care!”

Daryn glanced at him, “Why should you care?”

“Because I am your brother, Daryn. I am Samuh- No I was Samuh. I tried to find you, but they took me. They wiped my memories and gave me new ones. I became Selsian, a stableboy. I forgot that I had a brother, much less an older sister, Aelron.”

Daryn stiffened.

“My brother hated me. He left me. I was fostered by the werewolves and eventually fought for dominance and won. I have no family.”

The words stung. Like a blade, it pierced Ryhon in his heart.

“No. Daryn. I am your brother. I love you. Don’t leave me. I need you like a twin needs his other half to feel secure. I need you the way brothers love each other. Aelron needs you.”

“Aelron? Who-?”

“Dey. She… she was injured. I had to do it…” Ryhon pleaded.

Daryn narrowed his eyes.

“What. Did. You. Do?” He said slowly and clearly.

“She’s a necromancer. She asked me to do it… because she was dying.” Ryhon sighed, defeated.

“WHAT?!” Daryn exploded, “WHO IS THIS MURDERING PERSON?!”

His eyes flashed red, a sure sign of his anger.

“Vesan.” Ryhon muttered.

Daryn’s eyes widened.

“Not the vampire! He seemed so honourable when he visited us.” Daryn growled, “I can’t believe that I was fooled.”

Ryhon walked over to his brother and touched him lightly on the shoulder.

“We all were, brother.” He said softly.

He felt a surge of power in him and knew that his brother had forgiven him. He channeled a small amount of his power down their newly mended bond and felt his brother stiffen at the amount of power.

“I apologise. I did not mean to shock you.” Ryhon said hastily.

“No. The fault is mine. I had underestimated the power of the undead.” Daryn murmured, dazed at the mere thought of all the power that the necromancers much wield.

Ryhon felt Daryn’s sincerity, his loyalty and honor overshadowed very slightly by greed and a lust for power. Their bond enabled both to sense the other’s emotions and their inner values, be it greed or innocence. Daryn saw his twin brother’s bravery and honor overshadowed by inner grief and a darkness that shadowed all his inner light. He seemed to be swamped in the blackness of his heart, suffocated by the darkness.

“There is something wrong. Something dark… something destructive.” Ryhon muttered.

Like your heart? Daryn was tempted to say.

“The vampires should not have been in Dargon in such large numbers.” Ryhon continued, “They are higher ranked, Arysi, we call them. Debui, the lower ranked ones have disappeared. Turmoil spreads.”

There were two types of monster. Arysi, the more dangerous, devious and troublesome ones. Then there were the Debui. They were the small nuisances, but no major problems. Vampires, Dragons, Flame Elementals, Water Elementals, Ice Elementals and Earth Elementals are all Arysi. Goblins, Ogres, Trolls and Grysan are all Debui. Grysan are small feline creatures with wicked horns and feathery wings. They make for perfect pets if you could capture a kit and raise it yourself. They have been proven very loyal.

It could take a dozen trained mages to subdue an Elemental and even more mages to immobilize a dragon. If there were many Arysi running wild in Dargon, then chaos and danger would spread like wildfire.

“Are all the monsters ARYSI?!” Daryn asked with wide, frightened eyes.

Ryhon nodded grimly.

“I had an unfortunate encounter with a horde of Vampires.”

Daryn noticed a slight dark tinge to Ryhon’s aura when he said that.

“They killed you, didn’t they?” Daryn guessed.

“Yes. Vesan sucked me dry.” Ryhon shuddered.

Suddenly a blast shook the world. Ryhon spun around. The area was fiery and smoking. The light illuminated a winged shape.

CHAPTER 13 – Demons

Ryhon could only stare in astonishment as a demon landed in front of him. It had blistery red skin and batlike wings. Huge curled horns gleamed wickedly in the firelight. The demon had a muscular chest and legs that ended with hooves. It stood as tall as a mountain and dark clouds swirled around the tips of his horns as he roared his anger out to the world. The demon opened its mouth and its throat glowed for a moment before it spewed a fireball and set fire to a couple of trees turning then to cinders.

“FREE!” The Demon roared.

Ryhon snapped out of his daze and muttered a curse under his breath. This was WAY out of control. That demon should have been banished to the very center of the Abyss, where were was a magical prison, but here he was. This demon was one of the Old Kind, Kashe’ ovel, and as far as demons went, he was one of the most powerful. He was called Beyruk but in the Old Language, Be’veyuik. 

Ryhon muttered an enchantment, “Byde re Be’veyuik ase carni.”

Bind he, Beyruk, with chains.

Beyruk roared in anger as silver chains wrapped themselves around him, binding his arms and torso before snaking lower. The demon flexed his arms and the chains creaked dangerously. They widened, straining before breaking with a sharp snap. Bits of metal fell around Ryhon as he looked up.

“Uh oh.”

Then he muttered another old charm.

“Tras eu yuret af shamsk re Be’veyuik ne va arid.”

Take a tree and smash he, Beyruk in the head.

That one was improvised, but no sooner had Ryhon said the incantation had a tree dropped from the sky and fallen right over Beyruk’s head. For any lesser creature that blow would have killed it, but Beyruk barely stumbled, much less collapsed.

Now a dangerous red spark kindled in Beyruk’s eyes and he glared hatefully at Ryhon. The dark clouds swirled even closer and sparks of purple electricity could be seen building up in the swirling mass of darkness.

“Aw, crap!”

Ryhon had forgotten that Beyruk could do magi, a dark form of magic. Beyruk, also, used incantations.

His deep voice rumbled and the world shook from the force of his voice.

Almost immediately tendrils of the storm brewing sped towards Ryhon. That was impossible. Beyruk had to know his name to perform many attack magi at him. He dodged the magi and qucikly drew a sword out of the air, striking the tendrils of storm, dissolving them instantly. He took a fighting stance, drawing another sword from the air. The swords were dark as obsidian with a purple jewel in each hilt.

“Saymudah, yorei esdapa inori aspekta!”

Samuh, you cannot escape me. The actual thing that Beyruk had said was more like Samuh, you cannot me escape, but the ancient language was tricky that way. 

“My name is not Samuh, you oaf!” Ryhon yelled up at Beyruk.

“Eh, but the magi worked, so one of your names must have been Samuh.” Beyruk said in the human tongue.

Suddenly a large wolf bounded across the fiery clearing and growled threateningly to Beyruk.

“NO! DARYN, YOU FOOL, GET AWAY FROM BEYRUK! HE WILL SMASH YOU!” Ryhon cried desperately. He was not ready to lose another sibling.

The wolf growled but backed off a bit. Then he morphed into a man. Daryn’s eyes flashed red briefly before resuming their emerald tint. Ryhon conjured another sword and tossed it at Daryn. Now they were ready. Twin watched the back of twin as they battled Beyruk, just as they had done before.

Beyruk roared before conjuring fireballs and throwing them at the brothers. Sidestepping easily, Ryhon and Daryn rushed at Beyruk, dodging the firballs as they ran for the giant feet of the demon. Beyruk growled and stooped low before raising his hand to take a swipe at them. It was impossible to get away in time. Beyruk swiped his arm low over the ground, uprooting trees and plowing the ground.

Fate was with the twins when a golden halo of light expanded and encased Beyruk in a golden, translucent prison before they could be plowed down and killed.

Beyruk writhed and howled, imprisoned and unable to get free. Daryn gave a small canine whimper and shrunk back a pace because the magic stung his sensitive senses. He raked his fingers through his raven black hair, try frantically to calm his erratic heartbeat. Ryhon would surely hear it, and consider him a coward. He was not. Daryn merely grew uneasy around magic because of his wolf soul, his animal part. His wolf soul made him enormously nervous among mages and when magic was worked in his presence. He heard hoofbeats and turned to see a ragged band of men, dressed in the patched rags of what once might have been called clothes. They rode closer and Daryn growled, an animalistic sound coming from his human throat. Two riders, riding in the lead, halted and then gestured for the rest of them to do the same. Ryhon had joined Daryn and stared at the newcomers.

“Hello there.”

“Who are you? Do you mean us harm?” Ryhon demanded.

The boy in the lead frowned. His dark brown hair hung to his shoulders and he wore hunter’s garb.

“Do you not know me, Ryhon?” He asked.

A faint spark of memory. A homeless boy. Beggars.

“Robert?” Ryhon asked hesitantly in a quiet voice.

The boy nodded. Ryhon surged forward and gave the boy a quick hug before looking over the rest of the group. Two boys stood out. 

“Myrk?”

“Yup. That’s me.” He gave a wide smile, “He remembers me!”

Then Ryhon landed his gaze on the other boy. He wore the clothes of nobility, and had short, dark blond hair and a tanned face. He was handsome, but reminded Ryhon a great deal of someone.

“Who are you?” Ryhon asked the boy.

“Rillan.”

“What family do you come from?”

The boy stiffened.

“I cannot tell you that.”

“Why?” Ryhon pressed.

“You will hate me for what I am.” Rillan said bluntly.

Robert shot the boy a warning glare, “I gave you time. Now you must tell us who you really are.”

Rillan’s face fell.

“Please. Can you try not to hate me right away?” He whispered.

They smiled kindly and nodded.

“Fine.” Rillan took a breath.

Then he looked Ryhon dead in the eyes, unflinchingly. The stormy grey eyes meeting violet ones.

“My name is Rillan Ravenstorm.”

CHAPTER 14 – Son of the Enemy

“Ravenstorm!” Ryhon growled and grabbed Rillan by the neck, choking him. Rillan frantically tried to pry Ryhon’s hands from his neck as his windpipe was blocked. He gasped and sputtered, his face bright red.

“No! Ryhon, stop it! You’re killing him!” Robert surged forward and tried to remove Ryhon’s hands from Rillan’s neck.

Rillan felt lightheaded. He saw dark spots dance across his vision as he tried to draw in the air that was choked off from him. He sensed rather than saw someone trying to defend him. Unexpectedly, Rillan recalled his childhood.

Rillan stood rigid as his father yelled at him.

“You are no son of mine!” Darron Ravenstorm yelled.

Little Rillan said nothing, knowing that it would lead to further punishment.

“Answer me, brat!”

Rillan raised his grey eyes and looked into his father’s blue ones.

“You are right, “He said quietly, “I am no son of yours. You are my sire, but no more.”

Darron trembled with rage, then removed his belt and struck Rillan with the belt buckle. He thrashed Rillan anywhere he could reach, within an inch of his life. Then he left. He simply gathered his bloody belt and wiped it off slightly before treading it back onto his trousers. Rillan crouched in a corner, bruised and bloody with an arm broken from a particularly vicious kick from Darron. His linen shirt was torn and stained with blotches of red. His blood.

“Rillan?”

Mylessa Ravenstorm stood in the doorway. Darron’s wife, she was everything that he was not. Mylessa took in Rillan when it was clear that his real mother did not want the bastard son of Darron Ravenstorm. Darron made no secret about his many other children like Rillan. Kind, sweet and beautiful, Mylessa was betrothed to Darron the instant he laid eyes on her. He, already in his mid twenties, gazed upon the lovely village girl who was still a teenager. Mylessa was fifteen when she was betrothed to Darron, and he married her when she was of age, a year later. Forced to marry a horrid man that she did not love, Mylessa bore him one child. A son, Jaons Ravenstorm, was beaten and molded to become the perfect heir. Darron knew that his wife did not love him, and made sure that this one child, the product of their marriage, would be just like him. Jaons was a rebellious child at first, but his father did everything to make his son behave. Unspeakable things were done to Jaons, and  he became an emotionless cruel young man. Mylessa knew that it was hopeless to try to save her son, but Rillan still stood a chance. She cared for him, bandaged his wounds and fed him when her husband was gone. Now she stood, once again, with alcohol and clean linen strips to bind his wounds.

“Rillan. Can I bind your wounds?” She asked quietly.

He turned to face her wordlessly. Then he stood up, one arm hanging, and made his way carefully to her. She gently washed his wounds with alcohol, causing him to grit his teeth and his eyes to water. Then she wrapped his numerous wounds with the linen strips that she had brought with her. Such happened every time, until Darron sent an messanger to Advisor Richard with some money and an explaination of what the money was for. Advisor Richard wad all too happy to arrest Rillan and throw him in the dungeons with the rest of the peasant prisoners.

 

Suddenly, just as Rillan was about to pass into unconconsiousness, the pressure suddenly left his throat and Rillan dropped to the ground sucking in mouthfuls of air. His eyes closed, Rillan concentrated on breathing, huddled on his knees.

“You could have killed him!” An angry voice growled.

“He would have deserved it. A filthy Ravenstorm.” Retorted another voice.

“He will explain in due time.” The first voice said.

Rillan raised his head and opened his eyes. Robert and Ryhon stared at him expectantly.

“It is true that I am Darron Ravenstorm’s son.” He paused, “But I am his bastard son. The son he hates. The son that he paid the Advisor to arrest.”

A sharp intake of breath.

“What father does that to a son?!” Ryhon growled.

“Darron Ravenstorm does. He brutalized my half-brother, Jaons.” Rillan muttered.

“Jaons?! Jaons Ravenstorm? The mild-mannered, emotionless and cruel young man?” Ryhon asked in shock.

“He was not always like that. He treated me kindly… at least, before his father got to him.” Rillan defended, “Jaons was my big brother. He was mischevious, rebellious and even set fire to a tapestry in the throneroom of Ravenstorm Castle. It was accidental, however.”

“He set fire to a tapestry?!” Robert asked, perplexed.

“Cut him some slack. He was only six.” said Rillan, “He thought that the tapestry was fire-proof.”

“So tell me. Why should we trust you?” Ryhon cut in.

“Simple. I know the Ravenstorm secrets, and I have one that people will kill to know about.”

It was true. People would kill for the secret that Rillan had memorised.

“Do tell.” 

“First, you must accept me for who I am. Then I will tell you. Upon my honor as a Ravenstorm.”

Ryhon snorted, “What honor?”

That made Rillan smile. It was just a small smile, just a slight raising of his lips.

“True.” He admitted, then he said, “Fine, I’ll tell you.”

So he told them. He told them, right there and then, the biggest secret of Dargon. He told them about a secret world, a secret sanctuary. The sanctuary, Sagar, was said to have the Key hidden there, and many people were willing to kill to gain possession of the Key. The Key was the most powerful artifact in all the worlds, and Reyneld had used it to vanquish all the demons. It had been lost since the Demon Wars, though.

“It is obvious. We must get it before a Ravenstorm or Thronesgar gets their filthy hands on it.” Robert glanced at Rillan, “No offence meant.”

Rillan shrugged, “None taken. I am aware that I come from a foul family.”

“So. How do you propose we retrieve it?” Ryhon added.

Rillan looked straight at Ryhon.

“We need Jaons.”

Complaints broke out.

“Not another Ravenstorm!”

Rillan was  determined, “We need him. He has special powers.”

“Like the Guardian powers?” Robert blinked.

“Well, now that you mention it, I believe that he is a Guardian. He shows the signs that you have told me that your friends had.”

“But how do we get to Jaons, and then Sagar?”

“I can get us into Ravenstorm castle”, Rillan said boldly.

A voice sounded from above.

“And I can retrieve the Key.” said Prince Aidan as he landed, his magnificent snowy wings out on full display.

CHAPTER 15 – Through the Storm, the Raven Rose.

Rillan and Ryhon gaped in astonishment as they saw the prince. Aidan had large, feathery wings and a circlet crowned his brow. His silky black hair was cut short, quite unusual for people of Dargon, but then, Aidan was an archangel. They were always different. He had a grey shirt with long sleeves, decorated with gold embroidery around the edges and in a swirling pattern all around the sleeve. Aidan was dressed in a long, flowing white surcoat that reached his knees and was split down the middle, front and back. He had a dark brown vest over his white surcoat and a black belt around his waist. Aidan had grey pants and black kneelengthed boots. He seemed to sparkle with electric energy, so powerful was he. 

“I can find the key.” He repeated as everyone stared, stunned, at him. Even Robert, who had found Aidan in Stonewall Castle. 

“Oh, yeah. I picked this guy up at Stonewall.” Robert explained.

“Wha- ?” Ryhon glared, “You!?” 

Then his hand shot forward and gripped Aidan’s, tightly. Aidan’s battle instincts took over and used his supernatural strength to flip Ryhon over and to the ground, breaking his hold on Aidan’s arm. Murderous rage burned in those eyes. Ryhon was up in a flash and ran at Aidan, who raised an arm and shot a fireball from his outsretched palm, while heating up his skin to be blistery at touch. He made sure to wear fireproof clothes for occasions like these. Ryhon put up a hasty shield that absorbed the flames but then disappeared. Then Ryhon tackled Aidan, blistering his hands and face. Ryhon gritted his teeth and held on, but then Aidan gradually lowered his temperature as not to burn the skin right off of Ryhon’s hands. Then he decided to end this petty battle and shot into the air, with Ryhon hanging onto his wrist. With a yell, Ryhon was wrenched off into the air, but he still hung determinedly on.

“Give it up, you foolish mortal!” Aidan yelled,

“Never!” Ryhon snarled, “I’ll teach you, immortal pest!”

Ah. So it was personal! Well, okay. Aidan could read minds. He had to focus to do it, but it came naturally. He listened in on Ryhon’s thoughts.

That royal, immortal jerk! He murdered my parents. He murdered Samuh’s parents.

“I did not!” Aidan burst out.

“Wha- ?” Ryhon sputtered, then his eyes narrowed, “Did you just read my mind?”

Aidan shrugged innocently.

Ryhon rushed at him again. Aidan sidestepped, “Let out your anger. We cannot continue to Ravenstorm Castle until you are ready to work with me and everyone else.” He growled.

“No. You killed my family. You killed my first soul.” Ryhon said quietly, “It will not go unpunished. Nothing’s forgotten.”

“Your memories have been tampered with. Have you ever encountered a Grysan?” Aidan asked grimly, “They wipe the memories of those whose souls they devour.”

“They are loyal.” Ryhon put in.

“Yes, but only to the one who raised them. They devour your soul, then give you a new one. If you have too much hatred or darkness in your soul then you can seek out a Grysan to get an exchange.” Aidan continued, “I must recommend you do seek out another.”

“No. There is no time.” Ryhon took several deep breaths. Aidan noticed that his eyes had returned to a more cool violet than the rage filled deep magenta he had seen earlier.

He opened his eyes and looked at Aidan.

“I am ready to go.”

Rillan was an excellent guide, leading them effortlessly through the forest to the outskirts of the great castle walls. They paused at the edge of the forest.

“How do we get in?” Robert muttered, his calculating mind no doubt forming plans.

“I’ll get us in. The kitchen has a back door, and the kitchen staff know me.” Rillan quickly said.

“Sure. Do we need disguises?”

“Oh. Maybe not the wings, Aidan?” 

Aidan retracted his beautiful snowy wings.

“I guess we are all set, then. Follow me.” Rillan continued.

Everyone followed except the prisoners rescued from Stonewall Castle. Rillan, Robert, Myrk, Aidan and Ryhon headed out of the woods.

Rillan led them out into the open and jogged towards a nodescript door with a simple lock. Rillan knocked three times quickly, then he paused before knocking another two times. It was a code, of sorts.

There were sounds of a lock being opened and the door opened an inch. A pair of eyes looked out. They were a startling forest green shade and looked suspiciously at them.

“Miyla!” Rillan cried out with a smile. The door opened to reveal a servant girl, about his age, with black hair and red lips. Those lips curved into a smile when she heard Rillan.

“Rillan! You’re back!”

He, too, smiled.

“Um… can we come in? We’re… sort of… um, wanted.” He inclinded his head at the doorway.

“Oh! Of course. Come on in.” She said quickly, then stepped aside as they all trooped in. Her eyes lingered on Aidan, who was dressed a bit differently than the rest.

“Who’s this?” She wondered.

“This is Prince Aidan of the High Archangels.” Robert said.

Her eyes widened.

“Archangels are extinct!” She burst out.

Aidan shook his head sadly.

“I am the last, madam. Soon, our race will truly be gone.”

“We must be on our way. Jaons will be in the training pit.” Robert said.

Their footsteps echoed in the empty castle halls. Myrk glanced in wonder at all the rich tapestries and gold statues.

“Why… is it so empty?” Aidan whispered.

“There’s a feast in the great hall.” Rillan mentioned, “They’re all getting drunk on my father’s mead.”

Indeed, faint sounds of laughter and shouting could be heard in the distance. Robert scowled in the direction of the noise.

“They get everything. The rich get richer and spend freely.” He muttered, “While some people, like me and my family, have to work for every penny and still starve in the winter.”

“Through the Storm, the Raven Rose.” Rillan whispered to himself.

“Yes, that is true.” A sharp voice said. Head turned and Rillan saw Darron Ravenstorm with a company of guards. They were surrounded. Everyone had been lost in thought. No one had heard. It was too late.

“Yes, Through the Storm, the Raven Rose. We are the Ravenstorms. I have brought them to you, my lord.” Rillan broke in, a smile on his face.

CHAPTER 16 – A Captive of Flame

“Ah, so you have.” Darron Ravenstorm smirked, “One could question your motives, but clearly you are eager to please.”

The guards tied thick cords tightly around their hands. They tied Rillan up too, just in case.

“I was rather annoyed when I had heard that my prisoners from Doxford had escaped, but it appears that I have half of the group. Knowing your kind, the rest will be tripping over each other to bow at my feet because I hold the lives of their friends.” Darron continued.

“All will soon be well again, my gracious lord.” Rillan whispered.

“Escort him to my chambers when you have safely put the prisoners in the dungeons.”

The guards saluted Darron and marched the prisoners away. Darron turned his back on them and walked to his study, slamming the door shut. There, he leaned on the door and breathed a sigh of relief. His power had not taken control of him yet. He held out his right and surveyed it. Then fire burst forth from him. His hand ignited, but just like last time, he felt no pain. Darron thought of Rillan and his failure of a son, Jaons. The nhis temper flared and Darron Ravenstorm lost control. His fire, previously dancing placidly in his hand, flew from his hand and set the whole room burning in seconds. His heart racing, Darron threw open the door to the study and stumbled out into the hall. Smoke wafted out of the room and startled servants looked bewildered at the lord.

“My lord! My lord, are you hurt?”

Darron looked up and saw baron Oren, an old friend of about fifty years huffing as he ran to his lord. Oren was not what most people would call fit. The result of too many hours of debating rather than fencing in a castle with servants to wait on his every need. Darron wearily ran a hand through his hair. How was he going to explain this one?

“Yes… yes. I am well, baron. I simply cannot believe my misfortune.”

Oren peered into the room, and visibly paled.

“The whole room is ablaze, my lord.” He whispered, “In mere minutes. No candle could have caused this.”

Oren glanced at the soot stained face of his lord, “Do you perhaps know any firewielders who would hold a grudge against you?”

“Firewielders? Nay, I have not seen one in years.” Darron frowned, “Except… my son, Rillan. I see traces of the ability in him. I fear for his life as well as mine and those of the residents of Ravenstorm Castle.”

“You cannot lock away your son! What if something happens to Jaons? Better to have a firewielder as your heir than a worthless rebel!” Oren growled.

Darron’s temper flared and his eyes flashed red. He had no patience and a fiery temper that only fueled his firewielding powers.

“I cannot have a bastard as an heir!” snarled Darron.

Then he lost control. His fire flared and he burst into flame. Oren cowered back, “You’re the firewielder…” he whispered.

Darron’s clothes started to burn but he felt no pain, only unending anger. Darron struck Oren across the face, throwing him the the floor with a burnt face. The fire from the study licked at the door. Darron could do nothing as his hand rose and with a flash his clothes changed. Fiery red, he wore the loose baggy pants of the people of the hot lands with a vest open at the front. His hair was red and like a living flame, it twisted and burned. He had a red cape with gold embroidery on that hung from his elbows and fluttered in the heat. To anyone who saw him, he was the embodiment of a human flame, or a Hellbeing. All of the servants had long ago fled, abandoning their hampers of laundry or chamber pots or platters of extravagant meals.

Darron walked out of Ravenstorm castle leaving a trail of flame in his wake. He had no control. He was captured by his own power, a captive of flame. 

Darron Ravenstorm left behind a flaming inferno in one castle wing. He was so fiery, so burning angry for no reason that he could logically realize. He was just so caught in his power. He stood in an empty castle wing, one that had marble for floors and walls. It was the newest and here he could think. Whatever was going on in his flame-muddled mind. A little servant boy came in with a pail of water for the castle livestock. Through this new wing was the best way there. He gave a startled cry as he saw his master standing there, wreathed in flames. Before he thought, he ran to his master, lugging the pail of water in one hand and threw the contents over Darron’s head. Only then did the boy realize that Darron had not been crying out in pain or rolling around on the floor and he stood so still as he realized that he had been soaked to the undergarments. The fire had smoked and gone out, leaving Darron drenched and free of anger.

“I… I’m so sorry, m… master!” The boy whimpered.

“Thank you.”

“I dunno what came over me, I swear. I jus’ saw you on fire an’-” He babbled on, then stopped, confused.

“What?” He asked, looking at Darron.

“Thank you. I was caught. A captive of the fire. Thank you for freeing me.” Darron said easily.

“If you don’ mind me askin’, master, how did you not burn?”

Curiosity. That was a good trait in a young boy like him, Darron thought. The boy could not have been more than eight or nine.

“I…” Darron hesitated then spoke, “I’m a Firewielder. I just have had no training, so I act dangerous and angry and tyranous to stop people from nticing when I really am those things. Really, I meant no harm to Rillan and his friends. I had to keep up the facade. Please keep this a secret.”

“Sure, master!”

Darron winced.

“Call me Darron when we are alone.”

“Also, how old are you?” Darron asked.

“Turnin’ nine next month!” The boy said proudly.

“Master… er, Darron, you look younger.”

He didn’t think much of that remark.

Darron waited until his clothes had dried, which wasn’t long, given how little he actually was wearing. Blasted desert dwellers and their silk garb, Darron grumbled as he made his way to his room. He was freezing as it was considerably colder here than the climate that the clothes were made for. The maids were casting him sideways glances when they thought he wasn’t looking. That was odd. Probably the odd clothes that he was wearing. He reached his chamber where there were thankfully no more eyes. He sighed and sat down on the bed, then decided to take a look at his clothes. With a groan he rose from his bed and walked to the fullsized mirror in one corner of his room. That was when he saw it.

“Good gods!” He yelped.

A face that he had not known in years stared back at him. A Face that had a scar right under the left eye and a face that Darron had not seen in many years. He tentatively put a hand on his cheek, ran his hand along the fiery scar. The person in the mirror did the same. 

CHAPTER 17 – Samuh

Samuh parted the underbush and stepped into a clearing. He thought of Daryn, sitting in that cave they had found, shivering and starving. He looked around and spotted a strawberry patch. Wild strawberries tasted the best and he hurriedly gathered as many as he could to bring back to Daryn. Twins, born only minutes appart, they had none of the same appearance. Samuh looked like an avenging angel, with his fair hair and pale complexions. Daryn had coal black hair and a more tanned skin tone. Still, they clung to one another and many whispered rumors about them. “Demons, the lot of them.” Some said while other muttered prayers or thought them to be supernatural monstrosities and openly spoke their thoughts to the little boys.  It didn’t help that neither of them had inherited the strong magi powers of their family either.

Something rustled the group of bushes near Samuh. He jumped, startled, and dropped his berries. A feline paw reached out from under the bush and pushed a berry towards the bush. Samuh backed away and the creature walked clear from the bushes. It was a truly spectacular creature. About the size of a small dog, this creature had the body of a cat, the horns of a dragon and the feathery wings of an archangel. It also had a feathered tail, like a hawk. It had four, large cat paws and beautiful feline green eyes.

“Wow, you are beautiful…” Samuh muttered, wandering closer.

He reached down to pet the creature but it moved closer and he backed away a step again. Then, with lightning speed, the creature jumped and touched Samuh’s forehead. Samuh collapsed, and the creature landed nimbly on its feet, a bit away from Samuh.

He landed a few feet from his victim. The little boy had collapsed instantly when he had injected a magical potion into the child’s bloodstream. This Grysan despised doing what it had to. This Grysan, called Tjarvic among his pack, did not delight in stealing the souls of people. He despised the bliss that came with each soul. Tjarvic knew that he needed it to survive, but he never took a soul for pleasure. He never took one for the bliss that came with it. Tjarvic took what he needed, and then he left. He looked down at the body of this child, regretting what he was about to do. Then he sank his canines into the boy’s neck. The boy stirred and cried out, but Tjarvic clamped down his teeth harder. The boy bled, but no blood came from the wound. A silvery liquid gushed out the way the blood normally would. Tjarvic then drank from this silvery substance and pure bliss filled him. It was good, energising stuff and he hurriedly drank more. He was about to open the wound further, to see more of the delicious goodness of this soul when a memory hit him. A memory from the boy who now lay at his feet.

Samuh was lying bed, dying when Daryn came to see him. They couldn’t have been more than six at the time. 

“Am I… dying?” Samuh whispered to his mother, who sat by his bed.

“No… you’ll be fine.” she replied hesitantly.

“She’s lying.” Daryn muttered, crossing over to his brother’s bedside, “I can feel that you’re dying.”

Their mother paled, but did not deny it. Daryn took Samuh’s hand in his own, and with the dedication of a six year old to his favourite thing, he whispered, “Stay with me. Please stay, Samuh.”

Black sparks flared up where their hands touched, and their mother, Jiyla Starburn was, for the first time in years, afraid. Afraid of her children. Afraid of her sons, the devil and the angel. 

Samuh passed out.

“Daryn Starburn! Stop that this instant!” she shouted, over the sound of their magi clashing.

He raised his head and looked at her, “No, ma. He’ll die. I’m saving him!”

That was when Jiyla lost it. She whipped her magi out at him and cause him to cry out in shock and pain. He looked at her with a mixture of pure betrayal and anguish. Then he grabbed Samuh’s hand and tried to resume where he had left off. No magi came. No black sparks.

“What have you done?” Daryn cried, tears running down his face.

“I took your magi. I’ll give it back when you behave, you naughty boy.” Jiyla scolded.

“No. I have to save him!” Daryn muttered as he grabbed Samuh’s hand and frantically tried to give his brother the healing blood magi that he needed to survive.

“No! Devil, leave your brother be. I’ll heal him!” Jiyla pushed Daryn roughly out of the way and projected her magi into her son. Samuh shuddered but remained unconscious. With desperation, Jiyla took Daryn’s magi and gave it all to Samuh.

He gasped and sat straight up. His eyes were wide open. Once sky blue in colour, Samuh’s eyes were violet.

No! Tjarvic recoiled from his victim. This boy had a family and a loving brother to go back to. Maybe his family was a little on the crazy side, but at least he still had family. Tjarvic could not give back the soul of this boy, but he could refrain from killing him and give him a new soul. Samuh deserved a new chance at living. Tjarvic closed his feline eyes and envisioned a new soul for Samuh. 

“Who are you?”

“I know this is hard. I’m your mother. You lost your memories. Your name is Selsian Rardback, you are nearly thirteen. Your birthday is the fourteenth of January. You work as a stableboy at Thronesgar Castle and as soon as you are well, you will return to the castle.”

Selsian was lying in a strange house, with a woman telling him that she was his mother. It was all too much to comprehend and Selsian fainted.

Tjarvic slunk away from the boy once he saw that he had been properly taken in and accepted by these humans. He would have a decent life with them. He left with the remainder of the sweet soul in his mouth. Just them, an arrow landed in his chest, knocking him over on his side in the clearing. Tarvic gasped and his legs twitched. A small stream of blood leaked from the wound. With the arrow still in his heart, Tjarvic had only moments left to live. Just before he passed to the Ether, he heard a voice.

“That’s for killing my brother, monster.”

Tjarvic wanted so badly to confess that he had not killed the boy, but fate would not allow him. Tjarvic rose from his body, and for a moment, he saw the Devil standing there, with the bow in his hand. Daryn glared at him, not the least bit afraid of the spirit that hover there. Tjarvic saw the boy, his heart full of hatred and anguish, before he was pulled toward the Ether. Flapping his feathery wings, Tjarvic sped on his way to the Ether. Daryn saw the spirit fade slowly, flapping those beautiful wings and then disappear entirely. Only then did he sink to the ground, crying for his brother.

CHAPTER 18 – Journey to Silvardor

Meanwhile, Lirya and her companions dried their unshed tears and set to work, counting their losses and planning for the future.

“We have to go to Silvardor.” Jon muttered while straightening the already neat and orderly rows of books on the bookshelf.

Jason’s head jerked up, “Why?”

“I have to meet my mother. She is wise, and can guide us on our perilous journey.” Jon said, not really looking at any of them.

“What a load of nonsense! When did you start spouting such- oh, to the Abyss with that! Fine! We’ll go!” Jason grumbled.

“Why the change of heart?” Lirya asked Jason.

“Can’t a man have a different opinion?” He demanded. Lirya gave him a wounded look and took a step back, away from him.

“No. I’m sorry. I… just… my father was said to have been killed by an elven patrol… and… I changed my mind, because it’s time to fulfill my destiny.” Jason explained. He gave a huge sigh and sat down on one of the kitchen tables, with his hand resting on the tabletop.

“Oh. I am so sorry, Jason.” Lirya said gently. She put her hand over his and gave it a reassuring pat. 

They gathered their things, not much more than food and weapons. Lirya had gone to check on their horses only to find them all gone and signs of blood in the shape of hoofprints on the floor. No one had gone into the stables again. They had gathered some blankets from the bedrooms and bundled themselves into coats. Then they headed out into the woods. It was a beautiful day and the snow sparkled in the sharp afternoon sunlight. Jon glanced at the sun with a hand over his eyes, “Silvardor is that way.” He said as he pointed at a worn path nearly invisible under the snow.

“How can you tell?” Jason asked, his voice betraying his intense interest.

“I memorized all the maps and signpoints.” Jon replied with a straight face, but collapsed laughing a moment later at Jason’s crestfallen expression.

“No, sorry. I saw a road sign a little while back that showed the way.” Jon grinned. Jason scowled.

“Not funny.” He grumbled.

Lirya laughed and walked ahead of them.

They walked for a couple of hours, and reached a small fishing village. People in that area called it Seliue. There was a small, shabby inn and a market square as well as the houses that people lived in and of course, the butcher’s. They only sold fish, however, so any varieties of meat were priced very high. Jason, Lirya and Jon walked down the streets to the inn.

“How much money do you have?” Jon asked the others.

Jason dug around in his pocket and came up with a few silver seguns, one gold gylin and four bronze brynus. Lirya had brought twenty gold gylins, so they would have no money issues for a while.

“I have a silver piece and two bronzies.” Jon said, pulling out the money.

They stuffed the money back where they came from and hurried to the inn. As they got there, they smelled the heavenly smell of inn food. They also heard the rowdy laughter and calls from inside the inn, suggesting that it was busy. They stopped outside the inn door.

“I’ll go in, and get the rooms. You stay here. Lirya, can I have a few gold pieces?” Jason said. Lirya nodded and handed him five pieces. He then opened the door and went in. He walked straight to the innkeeper, thickset man, who appeared to enjoy his inn food a little too much. He looked up as Jason approached.

“You a lord?” He asked.

“No, sir. I am a simple merchant. I have made a fair fortune and wish to spend the night here with my companions. Do you have any rooms available?” Jason replied, careful not to give away any additional information.

“Aye, we have a room available. Do you want it…?” The innkeeper asked, leaving a silent question of the name of this merchant that he dealt with.

“Evane Wardlo. We’ll take the room. Also, could we have a meal here? How much is the room?”

“Ah, yes, mr. Wardo. The room is a gold piece and for another gold piece you can have a meal for your company, as long as you don’t have more than four people altogether. You pay for the meal there. Pay the barmaid.” The innkeeper smiled and shook Jason’s hand. Jason nodded and handed over a gold gylin.

“Your room’s on the second floor, the room at the far corner.”

Jason thanked him made for the door to fetch the others.

“Our room is up the stairs and the last one, right at the end.” Jason said as they entered. Lirya caught a few glances from those so in their cups that they were not thinking straight. She glared at them, making them extremely interested in their mugs of mead, all of a sudden. Lirya was still in her Key-garb, the purple dress and cape with gold trimming. She pulled the hood low over her eyes and continued to walk. They were an odd group, with Lirya dressed for the warmer climates of Anhua and Jason dressed in his fine clothes. Jon was the only one who was dressed unremarkably. They reached the stairs and hurried up to the room.

The room was very small. Situated in a corner, it had a small bed, and old closet and a worn bedside table. There was a small lamp on it, and that gave a little light when Jon lit it. 

“Gods! This is horrible!” Jason muttered in disgust.

“We’re only staying here for a night. I’m sure we’ll live.” Lirya said, her face bright with wonder. She had not been allowed out of Thronesgar Castle before, and this was all very interesting for her.

Jon stood up from where he had lit the lamp, “Yeah. Lirya, you take the bed. Me and Jason will sleep somewhere on the floor.”

“Ever courteous, even in this dump.” Jason noted.

Jon chuckled as they removed their heavy outer clothes and bags. Lirya stretched and beamed as she waited for the others.

“Right. Let’s go and get some food!” She smiled and opened the door, holding it open for the boys.

Taking a seat in a corner of the common room, they waited for the barmaid. The barmaid saw them instantly and sauntered over to take their order.

“What’s on the menu today?” Jason asked, handing over a gold gylin. The barmaid giggled and answered, “Ignu bird roasted in thick sauce with crispy potato wedges.”

Jon brightened visibly and instantly ordered a large helping. He noticed the others staring.

“What? Have you never tasted Ignu bird? It’s the best!”

They shook their heads and he looked horrified. He then proceeded to explain all about the ignu bird.

“The ignu bird is a giant bird, about the size of a big dog, with four legs and two large wings. It has these juices in its body that, when heated, gives the bird its distinctive taste. For some reason, the juices from the bird ruins the tastes of any other meats, if you consume it, so that is why it is never served with any other meats.” Jon explained. Then he ordered a meal for both Lirya and Jason. Jason raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

When the meals arrived, they all dug in. Jon shoved a huge mouthful into his mouth while Jason and Lirya were more cautious. Then both of their eyes widened considerably.

“Good god of light! This is the most marvelous thing I have ever tasted!” Jason exclaimed. Lirya nodded her agreement and ug in to the rest of the meal with gusto.

Later, with full stomachs, they made their way back to the room and Lirya collapsed on the bed, which made an alarming creak. Jason and Jon took out some blankets and soon fell asleep. Jon’s snores were evident every now and again. Lirya felt so tired, but try as she might, she could not sleep. Her every sense prickled with a sense of unease. Then she heard it. The low rumble that echoed through the room. Her breathing quickened as she lay perfectly still, with her eyes clamped shut, she felt, rather than saw the shadow of someone standing by her bed, looking at her.

CHAPTER 19 – The Storm

Lirya lay still, barely breathing, as she waited to see what would happen. A hand shook her shoulder gently.

“Lirya?”

A light flared and she shielded her eyes from the glare. It was Jon. He looked at her, sheepishly. 

“You were crying.”

Oh. Once again she felt that constricting terror that flooded her senses, leaving her paralysed by fear.

“I heard this odd rumble. I was scared. This is… new to me.” Lirya whispered, sitting upright in the bed. Jon looked really embarrassed. His face was bright red as he blushed.

“Um. Yeah. About that…” He trailed off uncertainly.

“Go on. Do you know something?” Lirya asked suspiciously.

“That may or may not have been my stomach.” he muttered.

“By Pelos!” Lirya gasped, then laughed, “You sure have one hell of a hungry stomach.”

Then she leaned down and grabbed her rucksack. Lirya drew forth a loaf of bread and a gold gylin.

“Here. Eat the bread on the way down and ask the cooks for an early meal.” She said, handing them over to Jon. He grinned, then left with the items. Lirya sighed, silently berating herself for feeling scared of Jon’s stomach. Then she crawled back into bed, where she promptly fell asleep. 

She did not even stir when Jon snuck back in, with what looked like half of the leftovers from the meals last night. She still slept soundly when Jon then proceeded to devour the food noisily, despite him trying to keep quiet. Jason, however, woke and grumbled something about people needing their beauty sleep.

“Oh yes. Go back to sleep, Jason Kainley, and get your beauty sleep.” Jon laughed.

Jason muttered something under his breath, something likely not meaning well to Jon, who abruptly shut up, having the superior hearing of the elves. Jon polished off the remains of his meal and laid down to get some more rest. 

It was morning when Jon woke the others up loudly in time for breakfast. Jason groaned and sat up slowly, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, but Lirya, despite being woken by Jon that night, sprang out of bed, eyes sparkling. Jason arched an eyebrow.

“Happy, are we? Clearly you didn’t get woken by his –Jason jabbed a finger at Jon– munching. It could have woken the dead!”

Jon looked insulted, “Only the dead? I would have liked to think that I had woken Pelos from his sleep in the Celestial Palace. Oh, and for the record? I did wake Lirya. With my stomach.”

Then he left for breakfast. Lirya grinned, “Hell. It sounded like a Feirwulf.” A Feirwulf was a wolf born of fire. With a body of flame and eyes of blood, it was feared across Dargon.

“Oh! Really?” Jason laughed. Then, laughing, they made their way down for breakfast.

Jon had asked for a large amount of food for their journey, though Jason had protested loudly that they could feed a small army with that.

“I didn’t want to go hungry.” Jon explained. Jason’s eyes widened in disbelief as he beheld the food they were taking. It was a literal feast, and enough to feed a family of ten for months. Using her charm and gold gylin, Lirya secured warmer clothes for herself and horses for them all, as well as one to bear the food. 

A small frown on her face, Lirya muttered, “I only have seven gold pieces. I can only pray that we do not be attacked by highway robbers, for should that happen, we will not be able to pay the ferryman to take us over to Silvardor.”

“It will be fine. I trained with Sir Elvon, you remember him, Lirya?” Jason asked.

“Yes. He was the best and most capable man I have ever met.” Lirya mused.

Jason looked hurt, “Wait. Not me? Am I not capable?”

Lirya laughed and rode closer to him, playfully shoving him. Then she rode forward, ignoring Jason’s yell, “Hey!”

They reached the docks at around noon, inquired around the taverns and located the ferryman. He stood in his boat, with the square rigged sail fluttering in the breeze. It was clear that he was about to take off, but they saw no passengers. Jon called out to the ferryman and the ship stopped, the sail going down. They rode up to him and he greeted them.

“‘Ello. One gold’ piece for each of the animals and one for the three of you.” He smiled, showing broken and aged, yellow teeth. Lirya counted out five gold gylin and handed them over.

“Thank thee. Welcome aboard.”

They got on, and using a special harness, got the horses aboard. The boat left the shore and the three friends got comfortable. It would be a fairly long ride. Silvardor was a days riding from Sanobar, so it would easily take several hours, depending on the weather.

A storm was brewing. It was in the air and the clouds had never looked more sinister. The waves grew more choppy and more spray was thrown onboard. Jon was the first to hang over the side, the wrath of the sea sending his stomach roiling. It probably didn’t help that he had eaten such a large helping of breakfast earlier. As the storm grew wilder, Jason, too lost his battle with the sea. Lirya, however, was strangely unaffected, only turning slightly green as the sky turned darker and darker. The boat was soon thrown around the open sea, like a broken toy. They had sailed into the Great Sea, and there was a grey outline cutting through the fog and spray from the sea. 

“Land Ahoy!” The lookout boy called from the lookout nest. Sure enough, the ferryman heard him and swerved the boat quickly, but he was too slow. It seemed to Lirya that the ferryman was moving the boat in slow motion while the land sped closer. Then they collided. The ferryman was thrown off the boat and into the raging waters. He did not surface again. Without a ferryman, the boat lurched and spun wildly. Jason stumbled towards the helm, intending to try to steer the boat, but the water was flooding in at an alarming pace from the smashed hull. Jason, too, was flung from the boat, his cry swallowed up by the sea. 

“No! Jason! No…” Lirya cried, running to the place where Jason had fallen under. 

Under the water, amid the wreckage from the boat, Jason heard her cry, and tried to surface. Then something struck him in the head and he saw nothing more.

[Part 2 – Silvardor]

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