Sunday, November 22, 2009

NANOWRIMO Compilation: Chapters 19-25

Chapter 19 – The Escape

This was a fight that they did not need at the moment. Not only would all of the noise from fighting attract the remainder of the guards in the mansion, and eventually the town, but it was an unmatched fight to begin with. Six heavily armored guards against an elf and soldier clad solely in cloth armor and carrying only daggers and short swords for armament. Arynn, left Howe sitting on the ground and went to stand next to Keladkha for the upcoming fight.

The first of the soldiers charged directly at her, sword raised for an overhead swing. As he brought the blade down at her, she nimbly deflected it with one of here own daggers. As the blade crashed into the ground next to her, sticking in the floor, she counter attacked with the other blade. The blade slashed across the guards throat, causing a torrent of blood to shoot from the gaping wound and quickly puddling on the floor. His body slumped to the floor in front of her, as she stared down the remainder of the guards.

Rather than charging one by one as the first one had so foolishly done, the remaining five guards all charged at one. Three of them quickly had Keladkha surrounded, forcing him to fend off sword slashes from all directions. The battle was not starting off well for him, as he took several short, shallow cuts across the chest and back, not enough to do any serious damage, but just enough of a hindrance. He finally was able to deflect a blow enough to allow an opening for a counter-attack. As the opponent's slash went harmlessly by, he plunged one blade into the guy's foot and the other straight into his chest. He quickly drew the blades back and turned to face the remaining two, thankfully no longer having anyone on his backside.

Arynn was faring even worse in her encounter. The men were using their strength advantage to knock her back onto the ground constantly. Numerous times she had to roll away at the last second to avoid being impaled on the end of a sword. Her clothes were glistening with blood that was escaping a nasty cut she had taken across the abdomen. After being knocked down yet another time, she finally saw an opening for an attack. She quickly jabbed one of the daggers into the man's thigh and as he recoiled in pain, she lept up and jammed the other blade into the bottom of his jaw, piercing the brain.

As the limp body hit the floor, she turned around and went on the offensive against her remaining foe. He backed up, constantly managing to deflect the quick, nimble thrusts from her daggers. She finally back him up into the corner of the room, cutting off much of the space for him to maneuver his blade. In one final act of daring, she took a running leap at him and plunged both blades deep into his chest, pining him up to the wall behind him. It did not all turn out well though as he had just managed to position his sword in just such a way that it pierced through her side as she lept at him. She fell to the ground next to the pinned body, the sword still sticking through the wound as blood stained it crimson.

On the other side of the room, Keladkha was unaware of what had happened to his companion as he continued to fight the two remaining guards. As one of the guards charged him, he quickly sidestepped and kicked out, knocking his opponent to the ground. Before the guard had a chance to recover, he rushed over and plunged one of the swords deep into the man's abdomen, causing a torrent of crimson blood to spill onto the floor.

Almost as soon as he turned back around, the other guard was on top of him. He did not have any time to react as the guard sent the hilt of his blade into his chest, knocking the wind straight out of him and sending him flying to the ground. As the guard stood over him waiting for the final blow, Keladkha realized that there was nothing he could do. He was wheezing much too hard to be able to dodge the attack from an opponent with superior positioning.

But just as the guard was about to the bring the blade down for the finishing move, Keladkha was surprised to see the man's eyes open wide in terror. He then noticed that there was a crimson stain slowly spreading across the front of the man's armor shortly before the man feel to the ground in a heap. Standing behind where the man just had been was Earl Howe. Sometime during the fight he must had managed to remove his manacles and recovered a dagger. When he had seen Keladkha on the ground with the guard over him, he had sprung to action and attacked before the final blow could be dealt.

Keladkha struggled to his feet to thank Howe for his actions in saving him, but before he could get the words out, he saw Arynn slumped on the floor in the corner of the room. He limped over to her body and saw the sword sticking out from her side. He slowly removed it, all the while applying pressure to halt the bleeding. He was pleased to not that she was breathing, though it was apparent she had blacked. With no signs of additional guards approaching for the moment, he went about patching up her wounds. He gently applied a gauze with a healing salve and then used some coarse linen bandages to wrap her abdomen tightly to restrict blood flow to the area.

After dealing with his own wounds, Keladkha turned to face Earl Howe. “I must thank you for what you did to save me.”

“For all you have to help me up to this point, I had to do something. But I must ask, what are you doing here? Are you insane, the number of pirates around here against just you two.”

“Well, we managed to get this far. Nothing says we can't get back out.”

The conversation then changed to that of how to escape from the area. Going back to the rear of the compound allowed them the best chance of getting out of the city unnoticed, but it the problem was going to be escaping through the house in the direction they had just come while carrying the unconscious body of Arynn. It was at that point that Keladkha remember he had seen that a secondary roof between the second and third level wrapped around the house and was not very steep.

Walking over to the window, he saw that he was able to easily slide it open. He peeked his head out and noticed that they would in fact be able to climb along it to reach the rear of the house. The lamps that hung in the streets were not strong enough to illuminate the area greatly, so they would be able to move along it in the shadows. He walked back over to Arynn's form and picked her up and slung her over his shoulder. Thankfully she was pretty lightweight, what seemed to be normal for elves, and would not provide too many problems on the return trip.

He slowly ducked through the window, careful not to bump her too hard on the window frame. Once outside, he looked around for any people that could see their escape. Not seeing any, he motioned for the Earl to follow them out onto the rooftop. They closed the window behind them not a moment too soon, for as soon as they began taking their first few steps along the roof, they heard a commotion from the room they had just left. Apparently the guards from the first floor had finally decided to check out what the commotion had been and would now be furiously searching the house for the culprits. With the windows closed, they never even thought that the attackers could have been mere feet away.

They continued along the rooftop at as quick of a pace as they could manage given their injuries and extra weight to carry. When they had finally maneuvered around to the back of the house, Howe was the first to climb down into the backyard. When he motioned that it was clear, Keladkha lowered Arynn's body down to him before hopping down onto a crate that shortened the distance. He took back up her weight and while crouched down, hurried through the tall grass back to the back wall of the compound. Once there they found a stump that allowed them the ability to climb over. Once again, Howe lead the way, checking for any patrolling guards. Keladkha hefted Arynn's body up onto the wall and climbed up himself before handing her back down to Howe and jumping off.

In the clear for the moment, the two of them began tracing the steps they had taken earlier in the night to get to this point. By this time though, the guards from the mansion had sounded the alarm and sounds of people getting up and heading out to search for the intruders came from all around them. They mostly kept to the side streets and ducked into the darkened alleyways every single chance they got. They were going to take this journey as slowly and safely as possible. The last thing they wanted to do was run headfirst into an oncoming patrol.

Numerous times along the escape route they had close calls. One of these almost saw them turn the corner straight into an oncoming patrol. Luckily, one of the soldiers had something with just enough time to allow the Earl and Keladkha to backtrack and hide in an alleyway. Once the patrol had past, they darted from the shadows and continued heading for the outskirts of the town.

The return trip was taking much longer than the infiltration attempt, but at last they had reached the edges of the city and were able to see the campfires from the Earl's armies' camp. They picked up the pace as they crossed the darkened No Man's Land. They greeted the guard at the entrance to the camp and headed in, weary from the night's events.

Chapter 20 – The Final Showdown

They spent the short remainder of the night in a tent that the Earl had allowed them to use as thanks for the rescue. The sleep came blissfully that night as they rested in a place of safety and didn't have to constantly keep watch for any number of things that could have killed them in the night. The camp was noisy, as soldiers constantly passed by on the way to their postings, but it failed to interrupt their sleep.

When they had finally slept off the tiredness from the previous night's excursion, they made their way back to the center of the camp and the General's tent. By now it was well into mid morning and they were surprised to find that the army was not pushing out for an assault, instead staying in the camp and making preparations. They had finally reached the large, circular tent that housed all of the high ranking members of the army and were let inside by the guard at the door.

Once on the inside, they watched as the Earl and his generals planned another assault on the city. From what they were able to overhear, it sounded as though this would be a night assault and that the primary target would be razing the city to the ground. “With the pirate lord dead, his troops will be demoralized.”

“Or having their fighting spirit reinvigorated,” one of the general's muttered, obviously annoyed.

“I'm telling you the plan will work. At sundown the archers ignite fires as far into the city as possible, and while they are dealing with that, we lead a charge straight to the heart.”

“Yes sir,” all the generals replied, not wanting to get on Howe's bad side.

As most of the general began to exit, Howe noticed them and motioned them over to the maps showing the battle plan. “Tonight we are going to end this pirate threat once and for all. It will be my most glorious battle.”

“I'm sure it will be, but I must talk to you as to why we originally came here.”

“Probably has something to do with Tiethal's death, doesn't it?”

“Yes. All the troops of the empire are needed in the capital to prepare for an assault on the forces that attacked us. Also, the nobles are needed to help decide the succession to the throne. We have already summoned Earl Eamon of Caendor to the city and you need to head there as soon as possible to help get the process underway.”

“I see. Stay and help me on this night and I will do as you ask.”

“We will sir.”

Keladkha and Arynn mulled around the camp for the remainder of the day, watching as all the preparations were made for the upcoming battle. Every soldier would be taking part in this final blow and the camp was abuzz with activity. Blacksmiths went about repairing arms and armor that had seen damage in the previous clashes. Doctors were getting the most able injured healed enough to be able to join their comrades. The stable workers were donning the war horses in their battle armor and making sure they were all set.

As the sun began to set on the eastern horizon, the troops began assembling in formation on the edges of the camp. The archers were the closest to the city for the moment, as they would be launching many volleys of flaming arrows in attempts to create a firestorm that would hopefully kill off most of the pirates. Behind them were the cavalry, who would be the first to charge down the streets into enemy lines.

A nervous energy was running through the air as troops wondered if they would live to see their families ever again. This was unlike all the previous forays and such a large scale assault would most likely mean high casualty numbers. The hope was that the fires would do most of the work and they would merely be heading in clear up the rest and raze the remainder of the town.

When the all light from the sun had finally vanished, torches were lit and the entire army moved into a position not that far from the first of the destroyed buildings on the edge of the city. At the signal from one of the generals, numerous men carrying torches stepped towards the lines of archers. With another signal, they began sprinting down the lines and lighting the cloth attached to arrowheads.

The archers released the arrows as soon as the cloth caught fire, sending them on a high arc into the city center. This process continued for nearly an hour, exhausting the entirety of the ammunition supply. From the edges of the city, they were unsure how much damage they were actually causing. But from what they were able to see, numerous fires had been lit across the city, giving it an ominous orange glow in the night sky. Arrows gone, the archers retreated to the back of the lines and rearmed with swords for the fight ahead.

The generals rode up and down the lines on horseback, shouting out last minute instructions to their troops. With everything squared away, the horn was finally blown to charge. The mounted combatants took off like a gunshot, barreling down into the city. The encountered little resistance throughout much of the first half of the city. That changed though when they finally reached the town square, which was not quite fully guarded as some obviously had been sent to fight the fires.
The horses broke on a wall of pikes, suffering many casualties, but causing nearly as many from trampling the lines. The cavalry continued pushing as far as they could, eventually pushing the enemy back behind its fortifications. By this time the foot soldiers were beginning to arrive, so the horsemen pulled back and prepared to find a way around to flank.

The ground troops were taking a constant peppering of arrows from pirates hidden behind the makeshift walls. They continued to push though, eventually reaching the gate and bringing a battering ram forward. The shoddy construction soon fell to the sheer power of the ram. As the gates swung open, the defenders on the inside were met with an onslaught of charging soldiers. Morale was quickly broken and they retreated into the mansion that was the centerpiece of the square.

Rather than risking men in the close combat that would characterize fighting indoors. The generals signaled that they would try and burn the defenders out. Under constant fire from archers firing from the upper windows of the mansion, troops ran up and used torches and some oil to ignite the outer walls. It would now be a waiting game to see if the enemy would wait it out and die by fire or make a counterattack. In the mean time, patrols were sent out from the square to check the remainder of the city.

These patrols went from building to building, searching all the floors for any people inside. If they found any, the were killed instantly as there was going to be no quarter was going to be given to pirates. Once they had searched the house, they used torches and any fuel to be found to light the house on fire before moving on to the next one. As time went on, the streets became choked with heavy clouds of black smoke, reducing visibility and causing rampant coughing. Even with all of the clouds, the fires lit the streets up almost like it was the middle of the day.

The troops surrounding the mansion were surprised as each minute passed that the pirates did not leave the mansion. Sporadic fire was still coming from the upper levels, but most of the building was engulfed in flames. Almost at once, the doors burst open and nearly a dozen men burst from the building, their clothes covered in flames. The soldiers waiting near the doors, cut them down before they got too far though as well as the few others that followed as time went on.

Nearly an hour later, the flames weakened the structure of the house enough that it was no longer able to support itself. It finally collapsed into a heap of burned timber and flames, signaling the end of the pirate resistance. The patrols had been making quick work of the remainder of the city, and before the morning rays even broke the horizon the city was successfully destroyed.

As the army finished its work, Earl Howe returned to the camp to meet with Keladkha and Arynn, who had stayed behind to help with any of the wounded brought back. “The battle is won.”

“Congratulations sir. I assume you will uphold your end of the bargain.”

“I will, my troops will be marching within a week. Your service here is through if you need to head off.”

“Yes, we will be taking our leave. We shall meet again in Belnor. Best of luck.”

With that he turned around and mounted up on his horse. The two of them rode from the encampment, leaving the city billowing black smoke behind. They were headed back towards the Great Road and off to the Shalomnori Wilds to meet with the wood elves again.

Chapter 21 – On the Road Again

Their travels once again took them through the marshes and by the spot where Shen had fallen. Keladkha brought his horse to a stop, next to the still barely visible bloodstained dirt and dismounted. He knelt down on one knee and said a little prayer of the Maker in honor of his fallen comrade. Then without another word, he climbed back up onto the horse and began riding at a good clip away.
The camp for that night was once again plagued by the tiny, biting gnats that were so prevalent in these parts. No matter how much they tried to keep them away, with multiple blankets, thick smoke from the fire, they kept on coming back in force.

They finally were able to drift off into blissful sleep when a light rain shower moved in a couple hours before morning. It was miserable when they awoke though, as the rain had wiped out their fire and soaked everything completely. With the rain still coming down, they would be unable to start up another fire to dry it out. As a result, they gathered the belongings and mounted the horses in their soggy armor for a miserable day of riding.

Rather than the showers breaking up in the hot air as they had hoped, they managed to intensify as the hours trudged on. While the morning sky had only been filled with light gray rain clouds, they were now black and ominous looking. The area around them was darkened, looking almost like it did shortly after the sun set. Flashes of lightning darted between the cloud tops, briefly lighting the way. Rumbling thunder provided an eerie soundtrack as they continued moving. Soon, the rain was coming down by the bucketful, so heavy that they could barely make out the road not ten feet in front of them.

Any hope of a dry camp for the night was lost as the area grew darker and darker, signaling that the remaining daylight had been exhausted. The managed to find a slightly higher patch of grassy ground to set their bedrolls on, but the area was mired in mud. With every step they took, their boots would sink into the muck and required great effort to pull free. The rain finally broke sometime during the night, leaving a warm, muggy, and cloudy morning behind. The path had turned to mud and the horses were struggling to make any good speed at all, yet they continued to push onwards.

By mid-afternoon, they had finally broken free of the marsh roads and entered the paved roads of the Great Road. The pace quickened and their spirits lifted as the scenic beauty of traveling the road returned. It wouldn't be too long before they reached the edges of the forest and headed in to speak with the wood elf people for aid. That night, they stopped at a small roadside inn that was the usual stopping point for merchants along the road. Business was light however and they were easily able to get two rooms for the night.

Given the chance of finally having a nice hot meal after the days of cold bread and jerky, they gratefully took the chance of ordering food in the main room with other few guests stopped there. As they chowed down on a delicious meal of steak and potatoes, they chatted with the other guests to get news on happenings in the empire. It appeared as though the southern folk of the Tracopes were once again attempting to assert their independence now that the king was gone. They were also glad to hear that Earl Eamon had arrived in the capital and taken control of the defense and rebuilding projects that the city faced. Also, there were no further stories of attacks on settlements, though a few travelers along the road had gone missing with wagons found destroyed.

With their stomachs full of food and ale, they finally retired to their rooms well after midnight to slip blissfully into a good night's sleep. It was probably the best night of sleep that they had enjoyed since leaving the generous confines of Caendor and the hospitality of Eamon. Once the first rays of the morning sun popped through the windows, they were gathering their belongings and headed back out onto the road. Their goal for the day was to enter the forest and at least make it a good portion of the way to the elven capital.

By the late afternoon they were deep into the trees when caught sight of some movement ahead. Not wanting to give away their position while they scouted it out, they dismounted and tied their horses to some nearby trees and set out on foot. As they closed in on the source of the sound, they noticed that it sounded as though multiple persons were walking through the underbrush. Peeking into a slight clearing ahead, they saw what appeared to be a scouting party of five orcs.

Given the chance of finally being able to ambush the enemy rather than be on the receiving end, they quickly snuck their way around onto a path ahead of the party. They crouched behind trees and waited as the orcs worked they way up to the positioned. At Keladkha's signal, Arynn quickly unleashed two arrows onto the party, felling two orcs before they even knew they were there.

As the orcs turned to determine where the shots had come from, Keladkha burst from behind his tree and lopped off one of the orc's head. It fell to the ground as the now empty neck spurted blood like a geyser. He swung again and slashed across the chest of another one of the creatures dumbly turned around. Before the body had even hit the ground, the last member was felled by another arrow. As they quickly searched the bodies for any supplies of note, they had forgotten a fact gleaned from the last time they had been attacked: that orcish scouting parties consisted of two groups of five.

The ambushers were now the ambushed as a two arrows pierced the back of Keladkha's armor, sending him sprawling to the ground. Spurred to action, Arynn quickly spun in place and unleashed an arrow at the first orc that burst from the tree. As it hit the ground with a loud thump, two more popped up in its place. She dropped her bow and pulled out her daggers to fight, but they were two much for her and quickly overwhelmed her. She could only watch as they brusquely tied her hands and feet together with coarse rope. Keladkha was given the same treatment, wincing as they roughly treated his wounds.

They began dragging them through the woods, though the destination was unsure. It seemed as though the orcs took a morbid pleasure in ramming them into every root sticking from the ground and through every set of brambles. They were quickly coated in dirt and muck from the ground. Keladkha's wound was growing even more painful with every bump he hit. The rough bandage they had placed on it was already soaked through with blood.

About an hour had passed, and they were bruised and battered from being dragged through the underbrush. All of a sudden though, the orc that had been dragging Arynn fell limp to the ground, an arrow sticking out of his head. Seconds later, the other three orcs met the same fate, arrows straight through the head. Keladkha tried to rollover to get a better view of what was happening when he saw four elves step from the brush on the side of the path. They quickly trotted over and cut them free from the bonds.

“You are lucky to be alive human. We have been tracking this group for most of the day when we stumbled across the bodies of their comrades. If we hadn't noticed the signs of someone being dragged, we wouldn't have followed,” one of the elves stepped forward.

“I guess I owe you many thanks,” Keladkha replied.

“I don't want your thanks human. You are lucky these orcs are more of an enemy than you or otherwise we wouldn't have cared.”

“Wait, Princess Arynn? What are you doing in the company of a human?” one of the other elves spoke up, realizing who his companion was.

The first elf took a rough hold of Keladkha and brought him close, “You better explain yourself here.”

“Leave him alone, Attan, I am here on the Queen's orders. He is fighting our enemies as well,” Arynn spoke up, walking over.

“Yes, your majesty,” the elf replied, letting Keladkha go but still glaring at him.

“You must take us back to the capital, we need to speak with my mother.”

“Right away, mam.”

They walked between the trees at a good pace, causing Keladkha to need to stop several times to catch his breath. Even though the wound had been cleaned and redone by Arynn, it still required constant changing as the walking didn't help the blood flow to stop. After what seemed like hours of walking they finally made camp under the stars. Sleep came quickly to Arynn and Keladkha. They were unhappy in the morning when the elvish patrol got them moving again before the sun had even risen.

It was late afternoon after a full's day march that they finally reached the outer sentinels protecting the elvish city. With some doubtful looks from the guards at the human, they were allowed to pass. Rather than heading straight to the Queen's quarter, they first went to Arynn's hut for some food and decent night's sleep.

Chapter 22 – An Audience With the Queen

Once morning had fallen over the land, the guards arrived at the hut to escort them up to the palace to meet with the Queen. Even though he had been in the city before, he noticed that the guards seemed uncomfortable having a human around and constantly kept one hand on the hilt of their weapons. They arrived at the main tree and began the long ascent to the throne room.

Quickly making the climb, they were ushered into an audience with the Queen nearly immediately. As they entered the room, the queen stood up and immediately walked over to her daughter. “The stench of death hangs heavily over you. The journey has proven to be a long one.”

“Yes mother, the human king has been killed and now Keladkha is uniting the people to restore the empire,” Arynn replied.

“The task seems to be a great one and not one to be taken lightly. How has it proceeded?”

“We have gathered troops and the nobles from two of the three fiefdoms. Only one remains before we will be able to hold the Landsmeet to decide on the new King of Ortheon and then formulate a plan of attack for striking back at the orcs,” Keladkha responded.

“I see, but if you have not gathered all of your troops, why have you entered the forest again. It seems like more pressing matters are at hand than to be walking between these trees.”

“Mother we came because the humans need troops to strike back against this blight on the land. We will not come through this unscathed if the humans fall.”

“You ask me to put our lives on the line for those that so willingly murdered our people not too long ago? You know my stance on the matter, we will fend for ourselves as we have done for centuries. The rise and fall of humans is of no matter to us.”

“But it is mother... our fates are intertwined. We can not live while they fall.”

“Your thoughts are clouded by your feelings for him. I can sense what you feel when you look at him. You would betray our own people in favor of a mere human. A human whose soul is black with sorrow and hate, motivated by a blood lust for some wrong that was done on to him.”

“You have him all wrong. He is trying to do the world right and you are acting to the contrary. You are dooming the world to an endless darkness.”

“I should never have let you leave with this human. It has changed you greatly and now I regret what I must do. You two are forever banished from the Shalomnori Wilds. If you are ever seen again on our lands, you shall be killed on sight. Now gather your belongings and leave.”

As she finished this proclamation, she turned away from them and began walking back to her throne, ignoring the pleas from her daughter. The guards closed in around them, and forcibly started to shove them from the throne room. Arynn continued to struggle against the guards, still trying to get her mother's attention. Keladkha accepted the fate, as he walked towards the door, guards one step behind him looking for any sudden movements.

They were lead all the way back down from the palace along the long, winding path that ran down the tree. The guards stayed outside of Arynn's hut as they were given ten minutes to pack up all of their belongings and stash it on their horses. With everything gathered, they were led from the city by the head of the guard, who once again reiterated their punishment.

On the outskirts of the capital, they were finally set free to go on their own way, yet unable to come back for help. The riding for the remainder of the day went without talking on either side. The trees and shrubs seemed to slowly move by as boredom began to set in. The ride to the Tracopes was going to be a long one and they had hoped that it would have been buoyed with good news of elven hope. Instead, it began with a sense of dread on what was to come. They were in need of as many allies as they could possibly get and this was going to be a major setback.

Camp for that night just seemed to continue the gloomy mood that they had both sunken into. For some reason, a camp fire just did not want to catch, even though they were doing it in the exact same manner that had been doing it all the time. As a result, they were forced to sit in the cold, darkness eating cold bread and tough jerky. Very few words of conversation were said between the two, until Arynn finally broke into a rant, “What is my mother thinking? Banishing her only child from the city over such a simple issue. She has to know what will happen if your kind fails in its task, it would only be a matter of time before the remaining elves are purged from the map. Something must be up with her to have her act like this. It is uncharacteristic even for her wild mood swings.”

“I don't know. But if we aren't going to get help from her, we are going to need to get double our efforts in securing more support. The Tracopes are not going to be friendly to us, but we will have to get their help somehow.”

After the short burst in conversation, each one went back to brooding on their sides of the camp. It was Keladkha's turn to take the first watch and stood up and began traversing the camp in circles to get a lay of the land. As he returned to the camp, he stopped and stared at Arynn for awhile as she sat cross-legged, deep in meditation as was the elven way. He had her mother's words running through his head, those about how she felt when she looked at him. He wondered if it was true that she was harboring feelings for him. While he definitely felt the twinges of affection for her, it was also problematic to become attached with one who he had to work so closely with.

Breaking off the thought train, he continued to make some rounds about the camp until it was time to for him to rouse Arynn for her turn to keep watch. He made his way back to where she was sitting and gently shook her from her thoughts. As she got the cobwebs out her head, Keladkha climbed down onto his bedroll and gratefully fell into a deep slumber for the remainder of the night.

Arynn was still fuming over her banishment from her homeland and the apparently strange behavior of her mother in the discussion. She had thought for sure that her mother would have agreed to help aid the humans and realized the immense dangers that they faced from the coming of the orcs. She continued mulling this over as she made her way around the camp, keeping one eye out for any possible movements in the darkness.

Having made numerous rounds around the camp, she walked back and sat down on a log. As she sat there, she looked longingly at Keladkha sleeping form. Her mother had been right about the feelings she felt towards him. Every time she looked at him, she felt butterflies in her stomach and a deep desire arose. The problem though was that it seemed that he not at all interested back. He hadn't been particularly open with her in the early going and he had only shut himself off more in the time since Shen's death. Sighing, she got back up to do some more rounds about the camp.

Chapter 23 – The Demons Are Everywhere

When morning came, they packed up their camp and set forth again on horseback. They were hoping to break free from the forests and get back onto the Great Road. From there it would be a week long journey across the heart of the empire to reach the southern borders that were home to the Tracopes and its capital, Andor. Along the way they planned to rest for a couple of days in Caendor to replenish the supplies it would take to survive in the jungles.

With their luck of late, a snow storm managed to blow up as they were just exiting the last trees of the Wilds. The winds were some of the strongest that they had encountered of late. The snow stung their eyes as it whipped by at gale forces. Drifts began forming in the low-lying portions of the roads, forcing the horses to work harder to make the same amount of progress. Thankfully, the storm was brief and they had ridden through it by the time they were going to make camp for the night.

With another hard day's ride, they caught sight of the spectacular white walls of Caendor before night fell. The guards at the gate recognized them almost instantly and allowed them entrance without too much hassle. Once inside, they were quickly shepherded into the castle where the Countess was waiting to greet them. After the pleasantries were exchanged, the servants took them to their rooms and set them up with some hot bath water.

They lingered in the castle for the next two days, in a life of relative luxury. When it came time to finally pull themselves away, they were not happy to leave the soft beds and warm baths behind. But with packs full of freshly prepared food, the journey for the remainder of the way didn't look too bad. They set out onto the plains with clear blue skies above and a cool breeze from behind, helping them on their way.

The journey to the southwest from Caendor was smooth and easy sailing. They hardly ran into anyone traveling across the road, save the occasional merchant, and the picturesque quality of the road continued to leave them amazed. The temperature continued to rise as they made their way to the south, much to their delight as they no longer had to spend it shivering on frigid bedrolls on the frozen ground. They no longer had to rely on the fire as the sole source of heat.

It was the third day of riding when they came across a strange looking fellow standing in the middle of the road. His robes were torn and he was constantly chewing on his nails and pacing back and forth across the road. As he saw them approaching, he broke into a trot towards them, “Oh please you have to help me. It is horrible, there are demons everywhere.”

“Demons, what the hell are you talking about man?” Keladkha questioned skeptically.

“I am... am... a part of a... certain community for the... er... practice of magic, and something... went terribly wrong.”

“A mage, I thought they banished your kind from the continent decades ago.”

“They tried... but we have kept the practice alive... in small communes.”

“And now you want us to help you?”

“Yes please, you have to kill all the demons in our facility.”

“How do I know you aren't some kind of foul demon monster trying to murder us by having us go visit your friends. Or how do I know you aren't some crazed duster who is merely so fucking high right now that you don't know who you're talking. Or better yet, are you a highwayman who will try robbing us after luring us over to your buddies.”

“Please you have to believe me. You must help.”

“Well, it's not like we have anything better to do. I always did enjoy slicing demons, brought a gleam to my eye and ectoplasm to my sword,” Keladkha said rolling his eyes as he motioned for the crazed person to lead them to wherever this building was.

They followed him into the woods for nearly a half of an hour before they came to a clearing in which a building stood. From the outside, they could already tell that something strange was going on on the inside. Random shrieks and shrills emanated into the forest and the windows showed an ominous green glow. “Maybe he wasn't joking after all,” Keladkha muttered.

“I'll have to follow you inside because I will need to pull up the summoning circle on the second level to make sure no others can get it,” the mage spoke.
“Whatever, I just want to get this over with so we can get back to the task at hand,” Keladkha angrily replied as he dismounted his horse. Arynn dismounted soon after and the group made its way up to the front door which had been smashed down at some point in time.

Keladkha was the first one to make his way through the opening into the darkened room on the inside. The other two quickly followed and gawked at the scene inside. Bodies of other men dressed in the same manner as the mage who had hailed them littered the floor, their bodies ripped to shreds by what looked to be some powerful hands. The walls, ceiling, and floor were covered in the dark green sticky substance that was known as ectoplasm, a residue left behind by the demons that occasionally passed into this realm from the shade.

They readied their weapons and prepared to move on to the next room, what the mage said was the dining room. Thankfully the building was small and there wouldn't be too many places for demons to hide and strike out at them. Standing at the door, Keladkha slowly swung the door open and peered inside. On the opposite side of the room stood three demons. These demons were piles of purple gelatinous goo that seemed to hover a foot off the ground. They had no legs and only short stubs for arms. The head was one with the body with a giant toothy grin and gigantic bug eyes.

The door creaked as he opened it fully, attracting the attention of the demons. Keladkha and Arynn took a few steps into the room and stood ready with swords and daggers in hand, as for some reason, the creatures were immune to arrows. The creatures slowly started gliding over in their direction, their eyes glowing bright red as they did. Keladkha ran forward and met the first of the demons with an overhead slash. The blade easily worked its way through the goo, causing the beast to end up as a pile on the floor.

Before he could react to the other, he was forced to watch as one of the other demons opened its mouth and shot a stream of slime onto him. It kept coming and coming until it had completely covered him. Almost as soon as it had made contact, it began hardening. Keladkha became unable to even move his arms or legs as it became almost like he had been encased in a hard plaster.

Arynn watched as this happened and reacted by flinging one of her daggers straight through what could be considered its head. The pile of goo flopped down onto the ground. Just as the last demon was turning to coat Arynn in the same substance as Keladkha, the mage stepped from the shadows at the door and unleashed a fireball at the beast. Upon contact, the entire creature was coated in flames and floated about the room shrieking in agony.

When the creature had finally succumbed to the flames, Arynn ran over to the now rigid form of Keladkha. She took one of her daggers and hit the hard coating with the hilt. The shell cracked a bit, allowing her to pick off some of the hardened goo. She continued the process until he was able to move his arms and help in the process of removing the remainder.

With it finally gone, Keladkha commented, “Well that was fun. Remind me to do that again sometime.”

The couple of other side rooms on the first floor, thankfully proved to be empty. The mage was able to account for most of his fellow magi through all of the corpses on the ground. It appeared as though none had been as lucky as he had been to escape. The ordeal was taking its toll on him though, as he appeared to grow more and more depressed with each body they found. Eventually it was time for them to head upstairs to what, according to the mage, was one large room that served as the living quarters.

As they walked up the stairs and into the room, Keladkha got a first glimpse of what they were up against. “This is my kind of demon,” he remarked.

“It's a desire demon, they try and give you deepest desires so that you will submit to them and then they remove your soul and take over your body,” the mage responded, looking into the room.

“Doesn't sound all that bad to me.”

The three of them walked into the room, weapons drawn. The desire demon, which resembled a nude form of a female, turned around as she heard them coming. She began speaking in a low, sultry voice as they got closer. “There is no need for fighting here. I can satisfy everything you have ever desired if you just put the weapons down.”

“Hmm, funny my desire involves my sword, you, and a whole lot of blood. So how's this going to work?”

“Are you sure that is your deepest desire? Because when I look into your soul, I see something very different. How about trying this on for size?” she uttered in her seductive tones. She quickly spun around and when she was facing them again, she had taken the form of Arynn. “This is the sense I'm getting here,” she said, voice mimicking Arynn's perfectly. “Now put down your weapon and I will be able to satisfy everything you have ever wanted.”

“You drive a hard bargain, but I like the real version better than some creeped out demonic one,” he responded, charging forward with his sword held high.

As he approached, the demon flung forward an arm and unleashed a major shock wave that picked him and threw him backwards onto the ground. As he groggily looked up, Arynn and the mage had been petrified in place, unable to help out in the battle. He picked himself up from the ground and began moving towards the demon. With another wave of the hand, there were suddenly three exact copies of her. Taking a swipe at the nearest one, the blade went straight through the illusion, causing it to vanish into thin air.

The other copy vanished with another quick swipe from his blade, leaving him face to face with the desire demon. Out of thin air she summoned a massive two handed battleaxe, looking almost comically large in her hands. He took another swing, but she expertly blocked the blade with the hilt. Keladkha was forced to dodge to the side as she responded with a large overhand swing. Before he was able to stand back up, the demon walked over to him and stood above him. She reached down and grabbed his chin with her hand and said, “We don't have to fight you know? We can be happy together.”

“I know,” he responded as he kicked up and threw her off balance. Before she could bring up the axe in defense, he had stood up and taken a massive swipe at her neck. The blade easily sliced through the skin and the entire demon quickly dissolved into a pool of ectoplasm on the floor of the room. Keladkha turned around to see the mage and Arynn drop to the ground as they were no longer petrified. He walked over to them as they stood up, looking around confused.

“Where is the demon?” Arynn asked.

“Dead. She is now a pool somewhere over there.”

“Thank you so much for your help cleaning this place out,” the mage spoke up.

“Kind of glad I did though, I thought you were just some crazy person on the road when you stopped us earlier. What is your name anyway?”

“Makatak. Um... Would I be able to... tag along with you? I have nowhere else to go.”

“Already got an elf, why not add an illegal mage to the party? Yeah, you can join us, just try not to get in the way too much. Now what was this about the summoning circle?”

“It is straight ahead, along the windows over there. Some of my fellows were experimenting with wild magic that was too much for them. It should be a simple process to remove though.”

With that, Makatak walked over the windows and knelt down over a shimmering circle on the floor. As he said a few words, there was a flash of light and it was gone. So that no one would stumble across all of the remains in the future, they decided to set fire to the building before leaving. They made their way back on to the Great Road, leaving the pillar of black smoke long behind them.

Chapter 24 – Ambushes

The remainder of the journey to the Tracopes was fairly uneventful. The mood around camp was lightened considerably with a new member to converse with and get a sense of his story. Makatak had spent nearly his entire life in the small building studying magic after showing signs of it at an early age. His parents had been worried what the King's forces would have done if they had found him, so they it was they who decided to give him up to the fellowship of magi.

While studying there, he had endured a rigorous and disciplined life. It was up with the sun and within an hour they would be deep into lessons about harnessing the power for good. These would last until a very brief lunch break which was followed by practical instruction in the use of spells. After dinner, they were given their only free time with the stipulation that it be used for the advancement of their studies. This included practicing alchemy or enchantments until the elder decided it was time for the lights to be extinguished. This pattern repeated itself for years.

Makatak was considered short for being a human, only standing as high as Arynn. The use of magic had been widely known to cause some premature aging in its practitioners and he was no exception. His shoulder length black hair was streaked with bits of gray and his face was creased and leathery. So even though he was shy of three decades old, he looked much beyond his years.

The sheltered life he had experienced with the fellowship had obviously not prepared him well for a life on the road in the wild. Every rustling sound in the undergrowth frightened him and he found it hard to sleep on a cold hard bed roll at night. Even though he had a horse from the fellowship's stables, he was unfamiliar with the beast and could barely manage to keep it under his control. His ability in magic did come in handy when it came time to set up the camp though as he was able to light a fire that needed no wood to burn and set up on a magical barrier that would alert them if anything came near them, eliminating the need for nightly watches.

The temperature continued to rise as the road continued winding its way to the south. Gone were the days of bearable days and comfortable nights, now replaced by sweltering sun parched days and warm stuffy nights. The humidity of the air around them also rose, leaving them to feel the sweat remaining on their bodies unable to evaporate into the already saturated air. Frequent rain showers also popped up, lasting no longer than an hour or so each time they arrived but managing to make the humidity even more unbearable.

The forests surrounding the them changed from the temperature trees to those of a jungle nature. More colorful flowers and plants sprinkled the undergrowth and the jungle seemed more alive with animals of every sort and nature. But as they moved into this territory, they had to be on their guard more than ever. The people that called this swath of land home weren't exactly the friendliest to the King's troops and could strike from hidden locations in the undergrowth at any time.

Running low on fresh water supplies after days of traveling, they decided to strike a path deep into the forest to find a spring of some sorts to refill their jugs. A couple hours into the trek, they finally came across a fast moving river that was so clear that they could see all they way down to the bottom. Canteens and jugs were gratefully dipped into the water, refilling their stocks to the fullest in days.

As Arynn and Makatak went about filling up the water and washing some of the armor and clothing, Keladkha took the chance to explore some of the surrounding area. As he beat his way through the bush, he came across some stone ruins that seemed oddly familiar to him. All of a sudden, the realization hit him that this was where his army had camped so many years ago during the Tracopian Reunification War. The ruins of the town they had been ordered to destroy was not going to be too far off.

Without a word to the others, he continued his journey further and further off of the beaten path. Eventually, he stumbled across some rotted and burned timbers littering an overgrown clearing in the trees. The memories flooded back into his head, unbidden. The painful thoughts of rounding up the villagers and forcing them into the town hall were all that was able to come to mind. He walked through the almost indistinguishable ruins, tears welling up in his eyes as all the painful memories returned. He eventually found the spot where the town hall had once stood. As he stepped between the fallen timbers, he disturbed some bones that were hidden under the plant growth.

The tears still streaming down his face, he knelt down amongst the bones and said a prayer for the villagers. After he was done, he continued to kneel there as he remembered all of the terrible things they had been ordered to do during the fateful war. He was unsure of how long he was there but the voices of Arynn and Makatak finally jarred him away from his thoughts. Arynn's questions about why he had been crying were merely shaken off as a remembrance of past wrongs.

With stocks restored, the party returned to the roads and their journey to Andor. The following day, they noticed a marked increased in the movement of creatures in the underbrush on either side of the road. About mid day, as the stifling heat was at its worst, they found the source of the increased activity. An ambush had been laid for them to ride into. By sheer dumb luck, they had accidentally taken a smaller side path off of the road and came up around behind the tribal people lying in wait.

Upon the tribals realization of what had just occurred, they stood up to begin the assault just as the three party members had dismounted their horses with weapons drawn. Makatak was the first to react, throwing out his hands, causing a blast of wind to shoot out and threw three of the six assailants several feet onto their backs. Taking advantage of the temporary drop in enemy numbers, Keladkha charged forward and hit the lead assailant in the face with the hilt of his sword, stunning him and causing him to drop to the floor.

Arynn just managed to duck under the wild swing from the blade of one of tribals. As his momentum took him by, she quickly darted out with her daggers and plunged both of them deep into the enemy's back. The attacker fell to the ground, two torrents of blood pouring out of his wounds. Keladkha didn't even see the third assailant come up and slash with a sword. Luckily, Keladkha's heavy armor managed to protect him from wounds but not from being knocked backwards. As he looked up, he watched as the tribal attacker was suddenly frozen from another hand thrust by Makatak. The mage followed it up with what appeared to be a large rock. As the rock made contact, the frozen person burst into a thousand pieces of ice, a violent looking end.

By this time, the other three attackers had recovered from being knocked back and were making a charge. The mage was the first to respond, throwing out his hand yet another time. This time a swarm of stinging, biting insects flew out, looking like more violent versions of the ones they had encountered in the marshes. The flew straight towards the tribe member on the right, quickly engulfing him. His charge suddenly slowed as he began screaming out in agony as the insects began to eat his flesh. Right before their eyes, he vanished into a bloody mist as the bugs devoured everything.

Keladkha had stood back up and took advantage of the distracted attackers to run up and take a mighty slash with his broadsword. It went straight across the chest of the nearest assailant, digging several inches into the flesh. A geyser of blood shot out as the body fell lifeless to the ground. Arynn dealt with the remaining attacker by dispatching him with two quick arrows to the neck.

It was at this time that they heard rustling in the undergrowth behind them. They quickly spun around to see one of the tribal members, that Keladkha had knocked with the hilt of his sword, standing up and fearfully looking at them. “Please don't kill me, I surrender.”

“Least I knocked some sense into you, but I can't risk leaving you alive. You could bring more reinforcements onto our position and have us murdered for what we've done.”

“Please no. I can join you so that you aren't attacked anymore.”

“How do I know that I can trust you?”

“Please you have to. I have seen what you are capable of and know that if I betray you I will be given no quarter.”

“Just keep that in mind. Man, an elf, a mage, and now a tribal, who would have thought this would be an adventuring party. What is your name?”

“Zephyr, and thank you so much.”

With no horse of his own to ride on, Zephyr joined Makatak on his. After cleaning up and patching up the few wounds they had sustained, it was time for them to move back on. As night fell on the area, they set up camp and sat around the fire, getting to know their new guest some more.

Zephyr was apparently a member of the Yuanti tribe, a group of nomads that swore no loyalty to either the empire or the nobility in Andor. They had long been the target of military campaigns aimed at driving them from the forests are they were thought to pose a risk to the frontier settlers. In reality, they were more the victims of unjust perceptions about their religion, which consistently included the use of human sacrifices to their pagan gods.

As a senior member of the tribe, Zephyr was considered the rank equivalent of a captain in the army. He had his own garrison of troops and normally led scouting parties to determine new camp locations and check on the incursions of settlers and farmers. The tough life in the jungles of the Tracopes had aged him considerably, leaving him with shoulder length silver hair and a faded tattoo across the entirety of his face. He stood a couple inches taller than Keladkha, yet was noticeably thinner in stature.

Chapter 25 – Shadows in the Night

On the following morning, they picked up camp and set back out onto the road. Their travels were continuously peppered by passing showers that came and went without any warning, that still managed to soak them to the bone. They hoped to cover the remaining distance to Andor by mid afternoon. Thankfully, their travels were unimpeded by any more tribes as they continued to traverse the winding roads.

By the time the sun was already on its downward path they finally caught sight of Andor. It was the least impressive of the fiefdoms of Ortheon, having been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times during constant wars that raged in the jungles. The outer walls were an eclectic mix of wooden palisades and stone foundations. A remaining layer of ancient stones served as the base of the wall and wooden palisades had been built on top. The wood was chosen when the stone quarries that had supplied the area for centuries dried up many years ago. The main gate showed numerous instances of the wood rotting way from life in a wet, humid climate.

Walking inside the city left them surprised at how deteriorated of a state the city currently was in. The homes and shops were nothing more than shacks built with scrap wood and were so shoddily put together that it appeared as though a stiff breeze would cause them to collapse. Filth and waste were piled up in the streets, attracting copious numbers of bugs with an atrocious smell of rotting food and human waste. As they walked the streets, they had to jump to the side more than once to avoid feral dogs snapping at them for getting too close to their food.

The noble district didn't prove to be in much better of a shape, unlike when they had visited Trelnoth. There was noticeably less filth littering the streets, though packs of feral dogs still ruled the streets, snapping at anyone who got to close to their scavenging piles. The houses lining the streets had been built decades ago and the poor economy that had plagued the city for most of its existence left many of the owners unable to pay for the repairs. The nobility here was by title only, as the families barely lived in conditions better than the peasants. Numerous homes they passed were filled with broken windows, peeling paint, and sagging, rotting porches.

As they found themselves wandering through the market district, an old man with a peg leg bumped into Keladkha. As he did so, he muttered, “Meet me in the old clock tower on the other side of town as the bell tolls twelve.” Immediately after saying this, he yelled, “Bug off!” and limped off into a dark alleyway before they could even respond to the strange situation.

“What the hell was that about?” Keladkha wondered aloud.

“We heard that these people want to break off from the empire, so it might be an ambush,” Arynn ventured.

“An... ambush? Maybe we shouldn't go,” Makatak said, nervously scanning the crowd around them.

“If they wanted to kill you, they would have just done it now. Anti-imperial fervor is peaking right now and no one would care if a soldier was killed in the streets,” Zephyr added.

“Well that's good to know,” Keladkha uttered sarcastically.

The group then decided that they should try to seek an audience with the earl to see if he would willingly help them. They easily found the lord's estate, as it was the only building in the place to be constructed entirely of stone and looked to be well maintained. The guards at the door stonewalled them, refusing to even send a message back to the earl that a representative of the King's army wanted to speak with him. With some threats of violence, they finally managed to persuade him to take the word back. The reply that returned was not what they were hoping, more guards to escort them from the premises. The earl was going to have none of the king's business on this day.

With the rest of the evening to kill before the meeting with their mysterious contact, they decided to stop in the nicest bar they had seen all day. The Prancing Pony, as it was called, would have been considered the dirtiest hole in the wall place to drink in any other city of the empire, yet here it was the cleanest and nicest spot they had seen. They drew some attention when they walked in for the seemingly random assortment of characters in their group, but the attention soon went back to the other conversations going on.

While they had hoped to gain some information regarding the political climate and situation in the city, the only information they were able to glean from the clientele regarded whores, prostitutes, wenches, and ladies of the night. It was not the most enlightened bar they had ever been in. As the darkness grew outside the windows, they downed the remainders of their ales and headed back out into the now emptied streets.

They slowly made their way to the opposite side of the town, where the meeting had been arranged. When they arrived though, they looked at the clock to tell that they were still over an hour early. Rather than go to find another spot to pass the remainder of the time, they stood against the walls and chatted to make time pass quicker. The guards wandering the streets were not happy to see people loitering there and yelled at them to move along. Knowing they were doing nothing wrong, the group ignored the patrols and waited for the bell to toll midnight.

When the bells finally began ringing out their mournful tone, the four of them quickly ducked inside of the building. They hadn't been told where inside to meet, but it was smart assumption that it would be at the top of tower where they didn't risk any interruptions. Upon reaching the top of the stairs, they found two figures lurking in the shadows, one of which was obviously the peg-legged old man that they had bumped into earlier. The other was much younger and looked to be a servant of some kind in the royal house.

“Good, you decided to show. I was worried that you wouldn't want to help me out,” the old man said, stepping forward.

“Help you out? We are here on important business, you better be helping us out,” Keladkha replied angrily.

“Well let us just say that our interests are mutual. If the earl decides to break away from the empire, it will hurt our struggling economy even more and I will be unable to earn future profits.”

“Okay, so how do we fit into your plan?”

The old man fidgeted around a bit, obviously worried about what they would think of his plan. “We are going to assassinate the earl, his son is much more open to our interests.”

“Okay, how?”

“Wait... you agree to this without any qualms?”

“He stonewalled us earlier. I need a quick solution and it is probably the most straightforward and easiest task I've been presented in my travels.”

Flustered by Keladkha's easy acceptance, the man continued, “We want to have you replace this servant in the house. That way you can administer this poison to his meal tomorrow at mid day,” he said, pulling out a small vial of clear liquid.

“Sounds good, I assume you will smuggle me in tonight.”

“Yes, if you just put on these servant clothes, I will take you to the mansion straight away.”

Keladkha took the linens from the old man and stripped off his armor and weapons, handing them to Arynn. He slid on the servant's clothes quickly and stashed a pair of daggers under the waist band. Without any further delay, he left the other members of his party to get a room at an inn for the night and followed the peg legged man through the streets. They finally reached the earl's mansion and maneuvered around to a back door entrance that was unguarded. Once inside, the old man directed him to the servant quarters and left him to prepare for morning.

It was well before sunrise that a guard entered the servant's quarters and rang a bell, signaling the beginning of a hard days work. None of the other servants gave Keladkha a second look as he assumed the role of Tack, a cook's assistant. He hadn't even been up for an hour before he was already slaving away over a raging fire, stirring a massive pot of oatmeal. The cook was a surly sort, constantly criticizing his work and trying to get him to work faster and harder.

There was no break after the preparation of breakfast was completed. Once the food had been served, he was put to work scrubbing out all of the pots and pans they had used. He was working closely with another servant but no words passed between them as they worried that any conversation would draw the ire of the cook and lead to a whipping. Thankfully, preparations for the lunchtime meal started soon afterward. A couple hours and the earl would be dead and Keladkha could convince his son to join the cause and be back on his way to Belnor.

When the food preparations were complete and ready to be served to the waiting guests, Keladkha took the earl's plate of food out of sight. There he pulled out the small vial of poison and poured it over all of the food. With that finished he carried the plate out to the earl and returned to continue delivering food to the rest of the guests. When everyone had been served, he tried sneaking to the back door to escape, but the chef saw him and sent him back out to the dining room to attend to any of the earl's need.

The first sign of trouble was that the earl's face began turning an odd shade of purple. He kept eating and talking, but those around him noticed that something was happening. Shortly thereafter, the earl began wheezing and was short of breath before he finally collapsed face first into his pile of food. The person next to him quickly reached over and checked for a pulse before declaring to everyone in attendance that the earl was dead.

Keladkha was going to take this distraction as his chance to escape from the building, but something happened that would change that. He saw, as he was about to slip through the door back to the kitchen, the old man that had supplied the poison stand up and announce to the room, “That servant there poisoned the earl. Look, he is trying to escape.”

Before he even had a chance to react, guards had surrounded Keladkha. They quickly locked his hands in shackles and began leading him down to the basements, where the dungeons were. Mere minutes after the earl was dead, Keladkha found himself betrayed and locked in a dank prison cell underground. If he didn't escape, death surely awaited him.

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