Excerpt for The Caravan Tales: Shadow Lingers by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Caravan Tales

Shadow Lingers



By David W. Hepp



Copyright 2017 David W. Hepp

Smashwords Edition



Cover Art & Illustrator

Rachelle L-A Hepp

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be distributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.



All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Shadow Lingers

About the Author

From the Author

Sneak Peak: The Far Cry: Legend of the Scepter

Introduction

The Caravan Tales are derived from “The Far Cry” novel series. These stories take part on a fictional world, named Ryden. It is a fantasy world of magic and mythology… swords and kings… good and evil. These tales are told from a single character’s point of view and their accounts; some you may cheer, some you may loathe, but within these stories will come a sense of reality in the events they face. Brace yourself, for not every story will end up a happy one.

The realm of Ryden is treacherous. Many creatures of unknown origin lurk about. Make no second guess for what you read, intuition will serve you well, but do not rule out the unexpected. In this world, power struggling demi-gods exist with only the ability to influence material plane dwellers… unless of course, they are invited. Look for details in which to solve and discover the secrets of each story. Tell tail signs could solved every mystery. Beware though, think too deep and you may unlock your own secrets and let in a fear that will connect you to them.

Shadow Lingers

Casually I glanced around, and even though the torch cast shadows everywhere, I could make out a human silhouette among the trees. I stood still as if to hide in the wake of the flickering fire that I held. I listened, but could only hear the beating of my heart impacting against my chest, begging to get out. I was alone, walking through this daunting forest until the snap of a twig caught my attention to my left… now I was in fear of the unknown. It was late at night, and many travelers have fallen prey to what many would call, “The beast.” I was a fool to think that I would be any different.

The crisp night air didn’t provide me with any comfort against my shivering body. The swelling mist from the ground only aided to the creepy atmosphere of this dank forest. Even more, there were no sounds… no crickets… no owls… or random cries of wolves in the distance… not even the hint of a breeze to brush across my ears, to let me know that life existed in this nightmare of a place. It was as if everything had run away. I was the only soul to tread down this path.

My eyes twitched with a sudden flicker of the flame. My pupils readjusted, and it was gone… The shadow. I raised my torch for higher light and scanned my flanks. I twisted my body around in haste to find this thing. With this sudden encounter of fear over mind, I had forgotten my sword. I switched my torch to my left hand and pulled my trusting blade with my right. What a beautiful sound the blade makes as it withdrew from its scabbard. Certainly, this beast has been warned that I am ready.

I looked to the stars above… then to the moon, with its crescent grin. The light was foul, and that eerie mist played me for a fool as the broken clouds threw huge shadows of their own. I knew that whatever it was I saw… I was definitely in its territory. I had no advantage other than my wits.

I swallowed my fear and pressed on, down the path to my destination, wading through the rising mist like a weighted boat through water. I was miles away from the quaint town of Del Rek. It was really of no importance other than to have a place to stay for the night. I would have made it, yet my horse went lame, having twisted its hoof between a set of rocks. Now all I had was a small pack of items slung over my back, a small pouch of coins and my sword. I was so poor, not even brigands would waste their time on me. Though now I felt that I faced something that cared not for money or possessions. I had been warned to make it to town before the rise of the mist… for the mist itself, as they said was merely a blanket of the dead.

Ten steps… twenty, thirty… I continued to look over my shoulder as I continued. The mist had reached my chest like floodwaters and as odd as it seemed, it became harder for me to walk. I looked to the trees, trying to define what they were… Sequoia, Birch, Oak… I really didn’t know, but they were nothing like I had ever seen before. The bark seemed unnaturally thick, brown with hints of green moss that had formed at least thirty to forty feet high. I could only deduce how damp this forest could get, and now it became ever so clear to me that I was going to be swallowed whole by this ever-rising sea of humidity.

I stopped for a moment to silence my own steps in an attempt to catch anything following me off guard. What I could sense after I halted was a backwash of mist that filled in behind the movement of my body, like a wake of water. The trailing mist passed over the top of my shoulders like a sweeping milky overflow that curtailed back into its own mass, which sent chills throughout my entire body.

I quivered uncontrollably with a great sense of dark underlining uneasiness. The metal of my sword grew cold, all the way through the hilt. My hands had become chilled and clammy; even the leather wrapped handle of my sword seemed to be a little moist and slippery. There was no doubt in my mind that I was surrounded by a presence of evil.

I lowered my torch to warm my sword and hand. As the torch reached the surface of the mist, it flickered away in fear and a puff of steam rolled off the wood to where the flame shuttered. I quickly rose the torch again… to save the flame. This was madness… a mist so thick to dowse a hot burning flame!

Then, “Uoy llik lliw eh… yawa nur…” a soft female voice came across my ears from behind. I snapped my head back to see a silhouette of a woman formed by the mist itself standing before me. I gasped and stepped back in fear, yet she was so beautiful… The milky white mist seemed to twirl within the embodiment of this creature. Her eyes were focused on me, her hair flowed freely and wild even without a hint of a breeze. She was adorned with a gown, given the detail of this apparition. Her angelic voice spoke once again more vehemently as she pointed forward over my shoulder, “Uoy llik lliw eh! Yawa nur!”

I was so taken by this; I was caught in silence without a thought. Then she suddenly rushed forward. I cried out in anticipation of the worst, yet only felt a great chill as her presence passed through my body. I turned back around to see her body slowly sink into the ocean of mist. I couldn’t make sense of it, yet I believe that she was trying to warn me. I wasn’t adverse to such a notion. It was then I looked down into the rising mist and noticed thicker clumps of mist swirl around my lower body. I sheathed my sword and started to run as I held the torch as high as I could.

I ran with almost reckless abandon as I peered into the thick of the mist. I didn’t know what I ran from, but there was a growing feeling in my mind of danger. The mist fought against my sprint, yet I still moved with bounding speed. Everything was a blur. The mist became almost blinding as it rose up to my eyes. My mouth inhaled the damp moisture and exhaled steam from the boiler of my lungs. I was weakening, but I would not give up so easily when I still had strength left.

I pushed myself to the utmost of my limits… for even though Del Rek had to only be a few miles away… on foot, it might as well have been a hundred. My ears were covered, and faint echoing screams came within the mist… Women, children… grown men as they begged for mercy…

The milky white mist seemed to hold a certain magic about it as it twisted patterns of various density, like images that appear in the clouds. Though, these patterns became smooth and picturesque. I could no longer run. The air I breathed was too thick and these images, became figures of people… All white as the mist... like the woman I saw earlier. Though, it didn’t seem they were here to afflict me or speak to me… It’s just… I realized that they were the very men, women and children I heard. Their eyes, blank in stare for what I could tell.

I couldn’t believe that these visions in the mist were real. All these people… dozens... hundreds of them… aimlessly walking, looking up past the surface of the mist… to the trees… to the moon… to the flame of my torch, crying out, moaning and mumbling just one apparent word, “Wodahs! Wodahs!” They repeated it over and over all together. Then after a few moments, they returned to their own cries of agony. What did all this mean…? What were they doing?

I suddenly felt uneasy and turned around. A pair of ghostly children, were right behind me, almost at arm’s length as they reached up towards my torch. I backed away, startled once more. One of the young ones, a little girl in ponytails, looked straight into my eyes. There was bewilderment in her eyes, a lost soul seeking comfort. It was the light! They searched for light, but then why do some claw at the trees? To escape?

The flame of my torch hissed and fizzled in retraction against the mist. There was nothing more I could do, for my arm was fully extended over my head. The screams of the dead escalated as if they feared the extinguishment of the torch. Then a familiar voice screamed out somewhere in the distance, “Yawa Nur! Yawa Nur!” It was that woman, and she was warning me.

More of the dead lingered closer to me, to which, did not provide me with fear. It was something else, and she… she knew it was coming for me. The torchlight flickered again and hissed once more as if to tell me to run. So, I ran… I darted around the surrounding ghosts. It was like a beacon… the torch. For as I ran, more visions in the mist appeared. They all looked at me as I fled past them. They would reach for me, wailing their cries, “Wodahs! Thgil!” Those two undefined words echoed around me. I felt pity for them, yet I feared that I would soon be joining them in their torment.

I still had so far to run before I reached Del Rek. The torch continued to wince above the rising mist, hissing against extermination. And I, grew more exhausted with each breath, struggling through my fingers to breathe dry air.

I came to realize even more that I would never make it before this evil mist would consume my torchlight and drown my breath. The torch was almost out, it was only a matter of minutes and I came to a halt once more. I looked around at the ghosts that appeared before me. Their faces were so sad, so desperate as they glanced up at the remains of my torchlight. There were still a few that clawed at the trees as if to climb… Climb!

Why not! I hurried over to the nearest tree and tried to dig in a step hold with my foot. The bark broke away to expose the smooth under-flesh of the tree. There was nothing to gain footing other than the bark itself. I reached up as high as I could and dug my fingers deep into the thick bark. I braced my left foot against the lip of the remaining bark, and with one fluid motion I attempted to hoist myself up. The footing held with the length of my foot, but my hand only pulled away the bark. Fortunately, I landed back down on my foot and the torch-flame had just receded to the very top end of the torch, keeping a minimal flame.

I quickly reached for my dagger, strapped to the right side of my belt. I inverted my grip and tried once more as I reached up high and then drove the dagger deep into the tree. I had only seconds as I could feel the mist swell once again. I hoisted myself against the dagger. I rose about three feet in height and the torch was able to breathe freely once again. The light grew with my success, yet a new problem arose. I had nothing else by which to hoist myself with. With the torch in my left hand, I could not even grip the bark. First things first, I kicked away some more bark to where my right foot could step.

There was only one clear way of climbing higher. Withdraw the dagger quickly and push up along the face as best I could to jam the dagger into a higher spot. I was fairly certain that I shouldn’t let go of my torch, or at least until I broke through the surface of the mist. I looked up to see where the closest branch was. “Oh dear gods!” I exasperated. These were ancient trees indeed; so tall and mature in how far up that first branch was. It was at least a good twenty feet, but as I noticed the level of moss that grew on the trees, that wasn’t going to be high enough.

I coughed with a breath of the thick mist and braced myself against the tree. I dug the handle of my torch into the bark for additional leverage, then put my right foot into the notch that I had kicked out. I braced myself carefully and readied myself. I was going to have to do this quickly.

I suddenly felt something very cold enter my left leg. I looked back and saw a number of ghosts who clambered for me. A man had grabbed for my left leg, yet his hand merely went through. His presence contained within my body chilled my very soul and what little warmth I had left in my body quickly drained through to this mystified man. I cried out and quickly pulled the dagger and pushed up as best I could.

I managed to stick to the surface of the tree and drive my dagger into the tree at a downward angle. The dagger dug through the bark and into the thick of the tree. It caught well enough to hold, and my body jerked, yet I kept my weight against the dagger to insure a good hold. I was certain an improper shift in weight and the handle would drop down and I would surely fall.

I kicked a new place with my left foot and took hold. I dug the end of the torch into the bark for the next length and rose up against the dagger. My head broke the plane of the mist and I was able to breathe freely once again. I was also just out of reach of those lost souls. I was tired, but I had to keep climbing. I figured about four or five more times and I could reach the branch and rest.

My heart pounded, my muscles tensed, and my hair crawled, yet I pushed myself again with a deep breath. I braced and pushed against the bark as I pulled the dagger from the tree and stretched up once more. The bark under my right foot gave away and I started to slip back down. I drove my dagger into the tree as best I could, but the moment it dug into the tree, my weight pulled the dagger handle down and away instead of into the tree further. I lost my hold and I knew I was in trouble.

I fell through the surface of the mist as my impact against it billowed outwards like a smoke cloud. My torch gave out and I hit the ground on my back. A sharp pain ran through my body and to the back of my head. I winced and grabbed my head as I tried to sense if anything was broken. I rolled on the ground from side to side, to stretch my aching body.

It was then that I heard a growing collage of screams and panic roll in from the right. I opened my eyes. Standing over me were a few of the ghosts that had reached for me before. But now, they stood there, staring to the right as if paralyzed by fear. I got up slowly as I struggled to collect my balance. The screams grew louder and closer. The blank white eyes of these lost souls widened with their cries, “Wodahs! Wodahs!”

The stench of the mist started to grow foul, as I dared myself to look towards what they feared. I slowly pulled in a breath and looked. There it was, closing in from a distance, the dark entity that stalked me before. It was a shifting dark shadow, gliding through the mist, moving with great speed as it darted back and forth across my field of view. It moved from one ghost to another as it tormented each one.

It was hard to tell what it was doing exactly or how it attacked, but each resultant encounter left a trail of blood! Blood from ghosts? The white blanket of mist turned into a growing coat of red as the shadow approached. I waited no more and fled in the opposite direction. I raced through the heavy woods as best I could, followed by screams of death as it gained upon me.

I glanced back, and its ghostly victims would become decapitated, or their stomachs would explode into a spray of blood. This cruel beast seemed determined to kill everything in its path, yet it was clear that it was hunting me. I could see that it did fly, this shadow, and that’s all it seemed to be. It was more like a shape-shifting blanket of darkness that rippled with seemingly effortless rhythmic movements as it swooped from victim to victim, to shed their blood.

Where was I to go… to hide? And even though it was slowed by its killing dance around the misty spirits, it still gained ground upon me. There was nothing for me to do but to continue to run in the direction of Del Rek. My mind raced faster than my feet. How could I survive? The trees were too high, there was no light… only the sea of mist in which constricted my breath.

Then, ahead of me I saw her! That woman! She stood a little ways away as I continued to run. She pointed to the right as if to direct me. Who was this woman? Why is she trying to help me? I didn’t have any answers, nor did I have any better ideas than to follow her direction. As I passed her, I looked into her blank white eyes and headed to the right.

I began to choke as I could feel myself drown with the amount of moisture I had breathed in. Yet still I pushed myself, beyond the aches and pains that my body proclaimed with every jarring step. I could hear it getting closer to me, yet I dared not look back in fear of losing my bearings. I needed all of my focus on where I was going, despite the hollow whispering sounds of death that curtailed behind me.

Then, through the next plane of trees I spotted a building! A stone built chapel as it looked, faded within the mist as if a mirage, but it was real. I gained a new hope and praised the lady that pointed me here. A mass of misty ghosts seemed to swarm around here, milling around, lost as usual. I darted through them as their heads turned to me with solemn glances of intrigue. Then I could hear them wail as the shadow reached them.

Eyes of horror caught them as I could see their expressions to that which chased me. This demon was very close, and their shrieks of death proved it so. I pushed harder and harder as I weaved around the ghosts as if to use them as a shield to delay him more, but it knew I was going for the building. A ghost I sprinted for looked at me then screamed with fright as it seemed a wind blew into his face as his hair flew back and his eyes widened with a reflection of darkness in his pale eyes!

My heart leapt, and I had to look back as I took this hint from the ghost that it was right on top of me. I sharply turned my head around, regardless of my sprint. There it was five feet away and less, with its large cloak of darkness pushing to catch me. Then I noticed its sharply slanted red eyes as it glared at me!

My right foot caught the edge of the root of a tree and I flew to the ground. As shocking as it was, I managed to roll with it until I slammed into a tree. I winced in pain, but my adrenaline allowed me to keep my wits as I looked to the church. I could see a door and a window that reflected light from the inside. I glanced up and quickly bore my feet against the ground. The shadow couldn’t resist the kill of the neighboring ghosts as it decapitated the very ghost that warned me of the trailing shadow’s proximity.

It swooped down for me, but that woman appeared between us! I regained my footing and made a sprint for the door. I didn’t look back, but I knew that she sacrificed herself, giving me that extra moment I needed to escape. And all I heard from behind me was her last cry, as her essence was exasperated.

“Fifty feet…” I proclaimed to myself as I bolted for the door. The remainder of the ghosts had fled, leaving a clear path for me, yet also no further distraction for the beast that closed in from behind. “Twenty feet…“ I started to lean forward more and more, eager to reach the door, yet now I could sense the encroaching blanket of darkness as it started to cascade overhead. I could hear its groan and incessant hungering growl as it loomed over me.

Those last few moments to the door seemed to take forever, but there I was… my hand grabbed the doorknob and without stopping I turned it and slammed my body into it. If this door was locked, I hoped the force behind my run would give me the only attempt I had to open the door. I could hear the Shadow hiss its hatred for the light as I breached the door and the lantern-light broke out into the misty darkness. I collapsed to the floor with all my expended efforts and rolled about ten feet into the well-lit establishment.

I looked back to see the shadow beast stop at the doorway, shrieking in pain with the introduction of the light. Its eyes had widened at first with surprise then slammed shut with its cry. It quickly shuttered and flew up out of the doorway. This mist began to pour in and I scampered to my feet and slammed the door shut as I crumbled to floor once again.

I hacked and coughed with my newfound ability to breathe dry air again. I was dizzy and exhausted with relief… I could hardly gain my breath and the lights seemed to blur and dance with the shrinking vision that which my mind could no longer cope…

* * * * *

“Oooohh…” My head… my body seemed to swim in the darkness of my subconscious mind, aching with pain. Then I could feel myself slowly gaining consciousness. The nerves in my body were beginning to remember, but my eyes were still heavy. I tried to take a hold of my head, but found myself restrained… I was bonded… laid down on a table perhaps, but my wrists and ankles couldn’t budge. “Hello...?” I could barely speak. I took a deep dry breath, “Hello? Is anyone there?”

I could hear footsteps from clogs on stone approach. Then a rather decrepit voice came from my right, “So our brave visitor awakes.”

“Where…? Who are you? Why am I strapped down?” I questioned with little hesitation and for that I felt I was in danger once again.

“You’ve stumbled upon a temple of ArcBane. And I must say that I am impressed that you made it here. Nobody ever has before, except for our own brethren and initiates who pass our tests. But you are not one of us and you are trespassing on our hallowed ground. Despite my first impression of you, we rather loathe intruders.”

“Wait! I was just on my way to Del Rek! My horse broke its leg and I couldn’t make it through the woods before dark! I would have never come here except I was being hunted by something unnatural. And this woman… a ghost pointed me in this direction! I meant no harm!” I felt a darkness come over my body. My eyes started to adjust to the low candle lit room. I could barely make out two hooded figures that stood to my right. I was indeed strapped to a table. My eyes began to water as I strained to see what was around me.

“Ah yes, the fair maiden of Glaive, still trying to find a great hero to come save them all.” The low elderly voice spoke. He motioned something to his counterpart, and the other cloaked figured moved about the room, extinguishing the surrounding candles. It was then that I noticed the sole torch by the only door in the room, which had a barred window.

“She just won’t give up hope,” He continued. “She is still so very disappointed in her failure to free her people. A sad story, but I’m sure she’ll tell you all about it for all eternity.” He chuckled ever so disturbingly.

The other hooded figure had finished extinguishing all the candles and approached the door. He lifted the torch out of its holder. The elder who spoke smiled, then simply turned and walked away. What did he mean? “Wait! I just want to go to Del Rek! Just let me go!”

He continued to walk, and I could hear the chamber door open, “I’m sorry, that’s just not possible, for we require every soul to aid our cause.” The elder followed his companion through the door. He turned and took hold of the door before he looked at me again, “We are ever so appreciative to your contribution. As a special thanks, your initiation will be performed by our Shadow Wraith. I would introduce you, but I’m sure that you two have already met.”

He closed the door and then peered through the barred window with the flicker of the torch flame behind him. “Quite an honor I’d say.” They laughed and proceeded to walk away, leaving me in the diminishing light.

Then I heard that ominous shallow hiss from just above me. My eyes were able to refocus in the darkness… and there, the curtailing shadow hovered over my body… its eyes red… wide in anticipation of my expression as I spotted it!

“Noooo!” I screamed aloud as if to somehow frighten it away. It shrieked its hatred for me and a wide set of razor sharp teeth appeared with it bloodlust howl! Darkness quickly fell upon me… and I… was consumed by evil…



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If you enjoyed this short story, won’t you please take a moment to leave me a review at your favorite retailer. Thank you!

About the Author

David was born and raised in California. He was an athlete, a dreamer, had a pinch of acting and tech savviness. He took to writing and poetry in his College days, while all of the above still played as unknown factors of his early life, of what would he become.

Over the course of trying to find his niche, writing had become an enjoyable hobby, and towards the end of his college days, He had started his first book. For years it was a work in progress, but bit by bit, regardless of the good days or bad days, it was a goal that was determined to be completed.

In 2007, that goal would be completed, and his first book, “The Far Cry: Legend of the Scepter” was published on paperback. Before and after that publication, David started to create a series of short stories and novellas based in the same realm as The Far Cry.

During those final phases of publishing The Far Cry, He and his artist, Rachelle, would kindle a relationship and she became his wife in 2008. Currently, David works in the Structural Design field and writes in his spare time.

From the Author

I want to thank you for downloading this short story. I made it available for free to give you a taste of my style of writing. I enjoy writing about more common people in this fantasy world that are thrust into adventure. I think there can be a real connection in this way. Of course, we can all cheer a good hero and they are certainly fun to write, but I, like so many of us were if not still an underdog somewhere in the course of our life.

What makes us who we are? The person we think we are? or the person other people perceive us to be? Are you fight or flight? Do you find that you love often or hate often? Do you have faith or no faith? There is a real unseen fight that we have each day, and I believe that every day is an opportunity to make it a good day for someone else, because I know I can choose to be a good servant.

Thank you again, I hope that you enjoyed this story and those that are to come.

Find out more about me at my Smashwords Profile.

You can also connect with me on Facebook

Sneak Peak :The Far Cry: Legend of the Scepter



The Messenger

As the season of winter transformed into spring, the snow on the great Isthar Mountains receded. The wide spanning range was a strange pattern of peaks and craters. They spread from the central plains, all the way to the eastern coast. At each end, a perpendicular set of mountains ran to the north. They also extended to the south at the eastern end. Their beauty was unparalleled in the world of Ryden. They could be seen from hundreds of miles around.

In the midst of the mix of these mountain ranges, a natural plateau formed the base of lord Kargan's dark fortress. His castle perched atop one of the highest peaks, with three sides facing steep cliffs. It was a natural advantage to the sole entrance down the length of the mountain's scales.

Lord Kargan looked out from his balcony, just outside his war room. The spring sunset dissolved behind the crest of the western range of the Isthars. The display was gorgeous, as the orange and reds of the sun, lost the conflict against the dark intones of twilight. The mountain valleys formed its chilling mists below and the higher peaks deteriorated under the lifeless cast of high altitude winds. Kargan viewed the world from up on high as he massaged his goatee. The deathly wind was rather invigorating to him as only the thoughts of his rule over all he saw came to mind.

A short distance from the fortress gates, approached a sole cloaked figure. The robed gentleman walked towards the gates in a casual manner, as if nothing was feared by the great edifice before him. The hood to his cloak was oversized as it hung down below his eyes and drew shade just above his nose.

The guards atop the fortress walls, spotted the stranger and alerted their counterparts below at the gate. The Captain on duty gave no instruction to intercept the man, but to allow him to approach if he dared.

The unknown guest made no hesitation as he continued to the gate. Once there, he knocked. The metal sleeve of the gate was drawn open and a guard peered through the slender view to address the guest, "What's your business here?"

The guard was crude, but had little to no effect of the morale of this confident visitor. The guest's voice spoke with a certain haughty demeanor, "I have come to see lord Kargan. I have a message and a proposition for him."

"You armed?" Inquired the guard.

"I am alone and on foot in the middle of the Isthar mountains, of course I'm armed you fool! Now stop wasting my time with such frivolous questions and open the gates!"

There was a pause of silence, then muffled words from beyond the door. Moments later the locks were withdrawn, and one side of the gate was pulled open. There, the Captain, denoted by the red sash, was accompanied by a handful of guards.

The stranger entered, but before the gate was closed, the captain inquired more, "Who are you?"

“My name is Koen, and I serve under Damascus."

"Well Koen, give me your message and I will take it to him," The captain suggested.

"There is no parchment," Koen informed. "I myself must relay this proposition to Kargan personally. I must leave with his answer tonight."

The captain circled the strange messenger, still unable to see Koen's face. "Very well, we will take you to him, but first you must leave your weapons here."

"No," Koen boldly debated.

"Now, you don't think we are going to let some stranger into our master's castle, armed! Perhaps unwise if you turned out to be an assassin!" The Captain requested once more. "Now set your weapons down, or you’ll go nowhere. Do not worry, you'll get your weapons back." The Captain stepped closer to Koen to check for his unseen weapons.

Koen put his hand up, "Don't be foolish, reaching for my weapon like that Captain. You'd lose your hand before you could even react to withdrawal." The Captain paused, and Koen continued with compromise, "You may guard me with as many men as you wish, so long as you don't touch me. I will keep my weapons sheathed at all times. I am here to form an alliance, not start a war. So, take me to lord Kargan now, or find yourself the cause of the disruption of this alliance. No doubt, your master would be most unpleased with such behavior towards a favorable guest."

The Captain straightened himself as the logic of Koen's words came across. "Very well, we will take you to lord Kargan. But, I hope for your sake, he favors you as you favor yourself." Then he instructed his men, "Six of you, with me, to escort our guest. The rest of you back to your duties."

The Captain led his escort to Kargan's war room, where he most always resided. He knocked at the large double doors that led to the grand room. The two guards at the doors, opened them, once the command to enter came from inside.

Inside, the room was huge, two stories high with the second floor viewable from a hallway that led to other guest rooms and commanders’ quarters. The hallway stretched around the top of the room to the far end, all the while, decorated with standing pillars from top to bottom. In the middle of the room was a long and wide table, decorated with the Realm of Ryden inlaid with regional characteristics on top. To the right, the entire wall was replaced with sectioned clear glass. Beyond were the outside patio, and the grand view of the mountains. The single door that opened to the patio was also made of glass, save for the frame of the door.

Lord Kargan's fellow commanders were gathered around the table in discussion when the captain made his appearance with his escort and guest not far behind him. Kargan was still outside, clearing his mind of the politics within. One of his commanders retrieved him, "My lord, you have a visitor."

Kargan looked back through the large wall of glass and spotted the encircled guest, "Who is he?"

"Not sure my lord. Captain Gedrow said that he is a messenger from his master, Damascus. That they wish to form an alliance with you."

"Really,” Kargan pondered the name.

"Do you know who he is my lord?"

"No, I don't, Kaine, but," Kargan sought more knowledge, "Send for the Mage, I want his insight, if needed."

"I believe he is still gone sir," Kaine informed.

"Then send for his apprentice!" Kargan barked.

"Yes sir, right away." Kaine opened the door for his master, then adhered to his orders.

Kargan eyed the robed fellow as he approached the table. He picked up his goblet of wine and took a drink. He spoke aloud, as if to hear himself preach as he sat down at the head of the war table, "I hear you have come to form an alliance, yet I do not know who you or who your master Damascus are? I certainly could not form an alliance with one who's face I cannot see."

The shallow voice of the unknown messenger came alive once more in address to his peer, "You are the great Dark Knight Lord Kargan?"

"Yes, That I am," Kargan replied rather unimpressed with his visitor. "And who might you be?"

Koen unveiled his hood to reveal the dark face of an Elven Drow. The underground race of dark Elves were most distinguished by their dark purplish tainted skin and golden flaked eyes. Koen's hair was long and silver, another trademark of the Drow, yet his was lined with various strands of black. The narrow faced Drow focused his eyes on the dark Knight, "I am Koen, servant to Damascus, leader of the ArcCult. He sent me here to show our respect of your accomplishments and power."

Kargan's brow rose to hear such unknown praise. His works were generally underhanded and cut throat. Not likely a trait that one, or even a group of people would praise. "I always welcome any fan of my works," Kargan led on his guest with slight sarcasm. "Now, what exactly is the ArcCult? And why does Damascus wish to join me?"

"The ArcCult is the longest lasting Sect of the followers of ArcBane. Upon the millennium, our god will return from his entrapment that was placed upon him by Ryden. We will unbalance this sanctioned material realm and place ourselves under power. Damascus has seen your strength and wishes that you join us, under the banner of the ArcCult."

Kargan's eyes widened with the jester of servitude, "Let me get this straight. Your Master, wants me to join him, and serve under him?"

Koen's face never flinched with Kargan's baffled reply. His tone remained serious and direct, "Yes. He wants you to build and lead the ArcCult’s army for a War of Tribulation. It is also his understanding that you follow no dominate god and advises that you proclaim yourself to our mighty god, ArcBane."

The room was silent after Koen's bold words. Everyone awaited Kargan's response, likely in anger. The opposite happened, as Kargan found himself riddled with laughter at such a jestful request. His commanders joined him as the dark Knight exuberated his reply, "You expect me to proclaim myself to some Cult, of a near forgotten god! I have dominated my enemies, I have commanded thousands of men, and I have built this fortress that will soon become the center of this world, under my power! Now, you and your master think that I should subside my plans, to join your cause! HA!"

"There's something you should understand lord Kargan," Koen formulated his reasoning. "Whether you join us or not, ArcBane will return, and the ArcCult will rule this realm. You may even conquer this world yourself, but simple ruler ship never lasts long. Yet, with the mighty ArcBane at our side to empower us, we will be unstoppable! If you were to join us, you would receive insurmountable power! Only if you declare your loyalty to ArcBane and to the ArcCult. Now, I interject my offer once more. Will you join us?"

Kargan was tired of this arrogant guest, "As I said before, I will not become a mere pawn in someone else's attempt at conquest! Especially from a weak and decayed god! Anyone who thinks they would try to surpass me and rest it from my grasp, will become my enemy!"

Koen's eyes squinted with a mystical glare, "It is unwise to stand in the path of ArcBane's power! You would do yourself favorable, if you plead your forgiveness to him now! Blasphemy of his name, makes you an enemy of the ArcCult!"

"Then as an enemy, you will not leave this castle alive!" Kargan cued his men. The guards drew their weapons, "Seize him!"

Koen reached back behind his neck, under his hood, with both hands. Awaiting his grasp, were the handles of two swords. One, was a finely crafted Drow Bastard sword with strange beveled edges with slightly curved points at the middle of the blade. The second was a rapier, with only a three-foot blade. The single edged weapon was thin yet sharp for piercing strikes. This sword was created by a highly skilled Drow craftsman, but this sword contained another mystical secret. At the handle guard was an amethyst jewel, to proclaim the unknown magical trait.

The guards charged in, yet Koen's agility prepared himself quickly for the attack from behind. With the bastard sword in his right hand and the rapier in his left, the wild Drow showed his adept swordsmanship. He showed amazing strength and dexterity as he deflected and lanced with brilliance and ease, as if each sword was controlled by a separate person. Two, then three guards fell to the stone floor of the castle. Koen seemed to dance around the overmatched guards. The guards began to flinch at the dual swords that wielded around in fluid brilliance. Koen's cloak flung around him like a dancing partner, as it shadowed his every move with a reverberated touch.

Six guards laid on the floor before they finally stopped their advance upon him. Kargan and his commanders stood and watched with curious amazement. It was true that they had never before seen a Drow, but they had no idea how skilled they could become. More guards entered the room, but the battle had halted. Kargan took another drink from his goblet as he protested to himself the lack of ability in his guards.

Koen's eyes stared wildly around for the next adversary. Then realized he had earned the respect for a pause in melee. Kargan then attempted to subdue his guest, "Good show Koen, but I have hundreds of men in this castle. It would be a waste of your talents to have me kill you now. Drop your weapons and perhaps we can talk about your joining my command." Kargan lied, but he didn't know the sense of wit within his adversary.

Koen could smell the stench of lies, but it mattered not. "You are a fool Kargan! You have condemned yourself to doom without the allegiance of ArcBane! Yet, perhaps for the better, if this is the best you can train your men! Now you will fear the ArcCult!"

At that moment Kaine returned to the room with the apprentice, Veilus. Veilus's eyes made a subtle remark at the sight of the messenger. Kaine drew his sword and forced his way through the group of guards that awaited for a second command.

Koen eyed the new commander, then squinted to focus as his memory sparked at the sight of the young Mage. Then he directed his attention once more at Kargan, as he rubbed his left thumb over the amethyst of his rapier, "You best hope that you are more prepared in the future lord Kargan." Then, Koen maneuvered his enchanted rapier, as he sliced the air into a highlighted form of a dimensional door.

Kargan soon realized that Koen was preparing to escape and quickly instructed once more, "Get him!"

Once the outline of the magic portal had been cut, the mystic door came alive with psychedelic energy. Koen stepped through and the door quickly closed behind him. Kaine, amongst the rest of the charging guards halted as the messenger had dissolved beyond the door that diminished in midair behind the Drow.

Kargan then finished off his wine. His only remark came rather calmly, "Captain Gedrow..."

Gedrow stepped forward, afraid for his life, "Yes sir?"

"No more visitors,” Kargan got up and headed back to the patio to clear his mind once more.

"Yes sir," Gedrow replied, thankful that Kargan was not spiteful.


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