Monday, November 2, 2009


Due to a partial rewrite of the first section, here is the entire work so far. 5000 something words.

Chapter 1 – Chasing Myths

The falling snow whipped between the trees, driven by the unceasing winter winds. These were the Shalomnori Wilds, an ancient forest settled on the northeastern shores of Ortheon. Stories had been passed for generations of a witch living deep in the woods that killed wayward travelers. No one was entirely sure if the stories were true, but many people had vanished without a trace over the years.

Cloaked by the growing darkness, three of the King's soldiers trudged through the snow drifts. All were clad in full plate mail armor, clutching their heavy woolen cloaks close to their bodies for warmth.

“Do you think the stories are true?” Taliel, the youngest of the group piped up. He had only enlisted a year ago and this was his first assignment. His windswept blonde hair, slight freckles, and boyish good looks lead to many morality regulations being broken during his leaves in the city.

Keladkha Silverkin had enlisted nearly a decade before and had served alongside the eldest member of the party, Shen Matale, in the Tracopian Reunification War. The war had been a brutal retribution from King Tiethal for an attempt to leave the empire by the border tribes. Entire villages had been ordered burned and its inhabitants killed. The soldiers of this war still harbored bad feelings towards the King for the terrors they still experienced every night.

The war had taken a toll on Keladkha, physically and emotionally. Much of his chest and back were covered in scars from numerous clashes with the enemy. He had aged greatly in the war, with gray hairs starting to invade his cropped brown hair. His face was leathered and creased from the time spent outside. His eyes were the only thing that still seemed young, a piercing grayish coloration that always seemed to be darting about, watching all angles.

Shen had served the empire for nearly a century, belonging to the long-lived northern hill people called the Atronochs. His service was coming to a close and the long years had left their mark. He could have once been considered handsome, but two long scars on the right side of his face left a grisly mark. His long, flowing silver hair was pulled up into a ponytail that still reached nearly halfway down his back.

“We better hope so, if the King wants us to bring her in,” Keladkha replied. “The plague is hitting Belnor bad and anything that can help is much needed.”

It had been six months since the first residents of the city fell dead in the streets. The months following saw it spread to all edges of the empire. Cities across the country stood on the brink of anarchy as citizens clamored for answers. Theories as to the source ranged from attempts by the neighboring nations to seize land to dark cults of necromancers building armies of undead.

The King was desperately searching for a cure, seeking the counsel of mages and alchemists from all corners. When nothing had proved effective, he expanded the search into myths and urban legends. To this end, he sent soldiers out in hopeless searches for items of lore.

“You have to admit that many strange things happen in these woods. We have been walking for nearly a fortnight and have yet to see any animals, not even the birds are singing.”

The group continued to trudge on in silence as each became more aware of the howling winds. As night finally fell on the area, the trio found a small area sheltered by fallen trees to set-up camp. The drifts were slightly lower here and they went about unrolling their bedrolls and gathering wood for a fire.

“It's hopeless, we'll never get a fire going in this,” Taliel lamented after trying for nearly an hour to get one started.

“Guess we'll just have to deal with cold waybread,” Shen muttered, tossing the rock hard bread to the other members of the party.

“How come you never talk about the Reunification War? It was such a great victory for the empire, but it's never brought up,” Taliel questioned.

“Too many dark memories, too many friends lost,”Keladkha wearily said.

“Yeah, but there must be some interesting story to tell.”

“So you want to hear a war story. I've got an interesting one to tell you,” Keladkha spat angrily. “We were deep in the Tracopes, a small town called Quann. It was nothing more than a fishing and farming village situated on a picturesque lake. Rolling hills, green pastures, even a waterfall and river going through the middle of the town. It was the kind of place that you would want to settle down and retire in. The people were friendly to the king and we had spent nearly a week camped on the edges. They constantly brought us food and gifts to help in the war against the rebels. Orders came down a couple days later that the town was to be eliminated. Knowing that insubordination meant death, we entered the town on a dark, moonless night. Half of our unit went around gathering up the residents and locking them into the town hall. The rest of us started torching homes and pillaging belongings. The fires lit the area up like it was midday and the smell of burning wood flooded the nostrils. The last building we lit on fire was the town hall. I can still hear their screams...” Keladkha trailed off with a mournful look. “You wanted a war story, that is how the war was fought. There was no majestic cavalry charges, no brilliant strategy, just the endless slaughter of innocent citizens.”

Taliel was left speechless as both Keladkha and Shen stood up and curled up on their bedrolls. Sleep would not come easily tonight.

The early morning rays signaled that the snowstorms that had plagued them for the last week had finally passed. The members of the party went about their packing up tasks silently, the memories of last night's discussions fresh in their minds. As they set out on their trek, they each knew that the journey should be ending soon. There was only one portion of the forest that had yet to be checked. It was also the one that was the central part of most stories.

Hours passed as they continued to wander through the freshly fallen snow. The reassuring whistling of the wind was replaced with an uneasy silence. The only sounds to be heard for miles was the crunching of their metal boots in the snow.

“What was that?” Shen called out suddenly.

“I didn't see anything,” Keladkha replied.

“I saw something walking over there,” he said motioning towards an opening in the trees.

“Let's keep moving and keep our eyes open. I have a bad feeling about this area.”

Over the next hour or so, there was numerous sightings of something brown moving around in the trees. Upon further inspection though, every time showed no evidence of someone being there. No tracks, no broken twigs, it was almost as though their eyes had been playing tricks on them.

As dusk began to fall over the woods, the three soldiers entered a narrow ravine. The walls of it were barely wider than their own shoulders, little room to move and so tight in places that they had to move sideways. By the time they had made it halfway through the ravine, they began hearing rustling behind them. It was indistinct at first, but there was a loud whoosh as the sound began gaining on them rapidly. They barely had time to turn around before they saw a wave of flames overtake them.

Keladkha, who was in the rear of the group, was the first to be overtaken by the flames. The pain was excruciating, it felt as though he was being boiled alive in his heavy plate mail. Slowly, as the pain grew to be much, his outer extremities began to shut down. His legs gave way and his arms were unable to stop the fall. He landed face first in the mud they had been traversing. He tried to scream, but the sound died before it even left his throat. As he lay on the ground, the last thing he remember was the flames diminishing and a figure approaching him.

Chapter 2 – Rescue?

Keladkha woke with a gasp. He thought that he would have died in the flames, but the room seemed to be real enough and his entire body ached. He was unsure what room exactly he was in. It appeared to be a small, possibly one-room cabin. His rough wooden bed was in the corner of the room, opposite a large hearth filled with various size cauldrons. There was a small wooden table on the other end of the room on which his armor lay. It appeared to be heavily blackened, but still together. The walls of the cabin were covered in the hides of various woodland creatures.

Unsure of who the figure approaching him had been and who brought him here, he tried to sit up in bed. With a grunt of pain, he quickly gave up that plan. It was apparent that the flames had caused him some serious damage. Slowly pulling the sheets away, he noticed that most of his body was wrapped in coarse linen bandages.
Suddenly, he realized that Shen and Taliel were nowhere to be seen. Whoever rescued him surely should have gotten them too. Maybe this was a small village and they were being held in a different house. Maybe, the savior was headed back to get them now. Keladkha refused to believe that anything bad could have happened to them. He had been the first to be overcome by the fire, they were still fighting on when he had passed out.

While waiting for this mysterious person to return, sleep overcame him. Unsure of how much time had passed, his eyes fluttered open. His vision was blurry, but the room around him seemed darker. As his vision came to, he noticed a figure kneeling down by the hearth tending to the fire.

“Who are you?” he asked, stumbling over the words.

“Ah, you're awake. I was beginning to worry to about,” replied a young female's voice as she turned to face him.

“A wood elf? But no one has seen your kind for centuries.”

“We are able to hide far away from your kind. Some of the others aren't happy about bringing a human here. Especially one of noble descent.”

“Noble descent? I am merely a soldier in the King's army.”

“Hmm... We must have been mistaken. But please rest now. The attack has left you severely weakened.”

“Who attacked me? Was it one of your kind or something else? And where are Shen and Taliel? What have you done with them?”

“You really should relax,” she said as she came and sat on a stool next to his bed. At this close proximity, Keladkha was awestruck by her beauty. Her face was unblemished and her large brown eyes were easy to get lost in. She had her long brown hair pulled up into a ponytail. “You've been running a fever since you were brought here,” she calmly said, placing a cold towel on his forehead. “Your questions will be answered in time, as I am not knowledgeable enough on what's happening?” She absent-mindedly ran her fingers through his hair, staring off into the distance. Noticing what she was doing, she quickly pulled her hand back.
With that, she stood up to grab a platter of food sitting on the table. She placed it on a table beside the bed and walked from the structure, leaving him to his thoughts. He wondered why she seemed so reluctant to answer his questions. Was he to expect the worst? It didn't seem like they had been the ones to attack him, but he couldn't be entirely sure.

There was no reason to get so worked up right now, so he switched his attention to the food left by the elf. It smelled amazing to him, especially in comparison to the stale bread they had been eating for two weeks. It seemed to be local plants stewed in a creamy sauce with some freshly baked bread on the side. Even though there wasn't much, every bite was surprisingly filling.

It was some time before the elven maiden returned, this time with a much older male. They stood in the middle of the room for some time, examining him, before they even spoke to him. “Why have you come?” he asked Keladkha in a very curious tone.

“King Tiethal sent us on to seek out the fabled Witch of the Wilds.”

“The 'Witch of the Wilds,' that fairy tale your people tell of those in the woods. Your king is sadly mistaken if he seeks that legend, for she does not exist. Why has he sent you on such a fool mission?” he replied, obviously disgusted.

“A plague has been killing our people for many months now. He is desperate in his search and seeks any leads to a cure.”

“We know of this plague, and its cause. The witch for which these wilds are named will be unable to help in such a matter.”

“So there really is a Witch of the Wilds? I thought that was just a tale told to keep small children out of the forests.”

“She is our queen and you will eventually have to go before her for judgment on the sin of entering our lands.” With this statement, he turned and started to head out the door.

“Wait, but what of my fellow soldiers and who attacked me?”

“You will find out soon enough,” he said and walked out the door with the elven maiden following close behind.

The next few days followed in much the same manner, with very few visitors and even less information being revealed. The elven maiden returned numerous times to tend to his wounds and provide him with food to eat. Through conversations, he had determined that her name was Arynn and that she was related to some powerful member of the clan. She stayed relatively tight-lipped around him, though he noticed her constantly giving him curious glances. It turned out that she had never met a human before and that she longed to learn more about mortal species.

A week passed before the Queen finally summoned him to her chambers. By this time, his wounds had recovered greatly, thanks to the elven healing magic. When summoned, he was escorted by four warriors armed simply with short, curved swords, the likes of which he had never seen before.

The Queen's residence was situated high off the ground in the oldest and largest tree in the area. It was nearly a quarter hour of climbing before they reached the main chambers. Carved directly into the trunk of the tree, the chambers were a magnificent sight to behold. Everything was as ornate as being carved out of wood would allow. It even rivaled the sights of King Tiethal's palace in Belnor, long known as the Jewel of the Empire.

Upon entering the throne room, Keladkha's eyes were drawn immediately to the throne and the woman seated upon it. She looked like royalty in her flowing green and brown robes and her golden hair done up in a ornate bun. He was directed in a point directly in front of the throne to bow down.

Following the formalities, she began to speak to him, “Greeting Keladkha Silverkin, sergeant in the Ortheon army. I am Shalomnori, Queen of the Wood Elves. I hear that you were sent as an ambassador from your King to save your people from the plague. It is unfortunate that you come to speak to me on a subject that we know quite well. We know that this is no ordinary disease, it is the curse of demons. Demons from the beyond the Shade that wish to enter this realm for the first time since the coming of humans.”

Keladkha stood in shock of what she had just revealed. He had thought the ideas as to the source that had been flying around for awhile had been crazy, but this was simply insane. The Shade was the dream world, where people went in their sleep and upon death, not a place for demons to come from to kill off the inhabitants of this world. “This just doesn't make any sense though. This doesn't even seem true, it can't possibly happen.”

“That is because such things are from well before the time of humans. Your recorded history does not stretch back far enough to memorialize the fight of the elves against the demons. Upon your journey here, you say you were attacked by a wave of fire. That was the work of such demons. Their strength has grown of late, enough for brief forays into our realm.”

“But if the demons attacked, what happened to my two companions?”

“This is the most troubling aspect of what you speak. When we found your body, we found you alone. There was no trace of others. Either they escaped with their lives to be held prisoner or died and were dragged off to be scavenged.”

As she said this, the lights in the room were extinguished so that the only light was a couple candles behind the throne. The Queen slowly stood up and in a higher than normal voice called out, “As the jewel is overcast, the four pillars will fall at last. An ancient foe rises from the abyss, bringing with it the great darkness. One from the ancient line must fall, to find salvation for all.” Upon finishing, the lights suddenly returned and Keladkha now realized they were the only ones in the room.

Shalomnori eyed him suspiciously, looking as though she knew more than she let on. “It appears that trouble is rising. You must leave our lands at once for you have brought much danger.”

“But what was that?” Keladkha asked, surprised.

“Only you will be able to figure that out. Prophecies are for those involved to decipher, not outside ears. I can tell you that events have been set in motion putting all our lives at risk.”

“What do you know? Why can't you tell me that?”

“Vague premonitions is all I see. You will find out all you need to know when you return home. Another thing, I want my daughter to go with you.”

“What, why?”

“She trusts too naively. Some time with the treacherous ways of your people should change her views. Without your companions, you won't make it back to your city without help. Guards!”

“Yes, your highness?” the head of the guard responded from outside.

“Escort this soldier to the edge of the city and set him on his way.”

“Mam, I have to question the wisdom of this. He has set foot on our sacred grounds and should be killed. Why is he special? Do to him like the humans did to us so many years ago.”

“No questions. Do as I ask,” she responded sternly.

With that, the guard took a rough hold of Keladkha's shoulder and steered him back to the entrance door. Not a word passed between the two as they made the long descent back to the hut. The guard left him at the door and stormed off, not happy that this was happening.

Back in the hut, Keladkha began putting on his armor. It had been expertly cleaned and repaired since the attack. His armor and sword were all that remained, the packs with food and supplies had been burned beyond salvage. A fresh pack, stocked to the brim with elven travel food was laid on the table though. Just as he was going through the final preparations, Arynn entered the room. She was clad in a long green robe and had a long bow and quiver strapped to her back. She also carried a pack, looking like she was headed on a journey.

“Where are you headed?” Keladkha asked her.

“I am Shalomnori's daughter and she wishes that I join you on your journey.”

“The queen let her own daughter tend to a human patient? I find that hard to believe.”

“Since I found you, I brought you back to my hut to begin treatments before letting her know. While she wasn't happy, she allowed me to continue the work. I am training in the art of healing and it was considered good practice.”

“Very well, I don't like the idea of transporting royalty though. We will probably be headed into trouble, so you better be able to use that bow of yours.”

Chapter 3 – An Old Friend

The journey south from the capital was plagued by snows. The elf showed no problems, being able to walk along the surface of the drifts. Keladkha, on the other hand, was forced to trudge his way through the snows that reached up to his chest at times. Progress was painfully slow, as he just wanted to get back on the Great Road to the capital to bring the information to the attention of the King.

Their first goal was to head to the town of Shakur, a frontier town on the edges of the Shalomnori Wilds nearly a week's journey from the elven capital. Here they would be able to requisition horses from the local militia outpost to get back to the capital quickly. If the town could have been considered lawless before the plague broke out, it was absolute bedlam. It had gotten so bad of late that the local militia was forced to enact martial law to curb looting.

The town wasn't much to look at when approaching. The city center held only the bare necessities of local government along with a general store and chapel. These were all constructed out of the same roughly hewed lumber, which was now well worn and warped from the years in the harsh environment. Only the chapel had been constructed of stone, hauled in from quarries in the south. The outskirts of town were littered with logging camps and a handful of farms able to survive the short growing seasons.
Keladkha and Arynn, with hood pulled down low to hide her elven features, were accosted by a militia patrol soon after entering the town center. It was well after sunset and people without proper authorization were forced inside.

“Halt, what business are you on?” the guard called out, jogging up to them.

“The king's business, I am part of the King's guard,” Keladkha replied, annoyed by the interruption.

“I see the armor,” motioning towards the armor bearing the King's crest, “but we have had no reports of the army coming through here.”

“Special envoy with urgent news to get back to the king. Now let my companion and I pass to the inn to spend the night. We are in quite the hurry.”

The guard begrudgingly allowed them to continue on, obviously peeved about having rank pulled on him by an outsider. Ignoring the guard's response, Keladkha led Arynn towards the building with a tattered sign proclaiming it as the 'Wolves' Den,' the local tavern. They entered the tavern and approached the portly fellow standing behind the bar.

“We would like a room for the night.”

“Ah, good to have some payin' customers. Not had many of those with those bandits on the roads.”

“Bandits? I haven't heard of any such rumors.”

“Suprised ya haven't. Been all the talk these days. Merchants have gone missin' almost daily. Post ain't been received since last week either. Times are bad I tell ya.”

They took the key to their room and headed up the rickety staircase behind the bar. The room was at the far end of the hall, far enough away from the other guests. Opening the door revealed a very decrepit interior. The two beds were sagging low to the ground and the sheets covering them were tattered and frayed at the edges. Larges sections of paint had peeled away from the wall, exposing the bare, rotting lumber underneath. The couple candles in the room barely provided enough light to see half the room clearly.

“How quaint. Wish we could stay more than one night,” Keladkha muttered sarcastically as he made his way to the bed on the far side of the room. He began removing his armor slowly, setting it on the floor beside the bed. Exhausted from the journey here, he quickly fell asleep curled into a ball on top of the sheets. Arynn, as elves did not need the sleep that humans did, went about reading some of the odd assortment of books they had found in the room. She was particularly fascinated by one with assorted healing techniques for common illness.

Her reading over the use of leaches was interrupted by the sounds of shouting and swords clashing from outside the inn. Curious about what was happening, she pulled her cloak tight around her body and quietly slipped out the door. No one was stirring throughout the inn, the few guests were probably sound asleep. The steps creaked ever so slightly as she made her way down to the main level. The barkeep must have already gone to bed as the only person to be seen was a gray haired man slumped over the counter, obviously drunk.

She silently propped the front door open and slipped outside into the darkness. Off to her right, she could see some torches and what looked to be some people fighting. Sneaking along in the shadows, she moved to a position that allowed her a clear view of what was happening.

“You think you can steal from me wench? I will kill you for this!” A big bearded man yelled at the huddled up figure on the ground. Arynn finally realized that it was woman being beaten to death by three men.

“I... I... I swear I didn't take it,” came the muffled plea from the woman.

“Then who did?”

“I don't know. I swear it wasn't me. Just let me go please.”

“No! This is the last time wench. Isn't that right boys?”

“Yeah boss. Teach her a lesson.”

Just as they were about to finish their task, one of the smaller, mousy eyed men looked up and noticed Arynn watching from the doorway of a nearby building. “Looks like we gots ourselves a witness boss.” At that, the other two looked up in surprise. Not wanting to get turned in for a crime, they started to run towards the cloaked figure.

Startled by the sudden turn of events, she began sprinting down an alleyway between two nearby buildings. This was not going to end well unless she decided to fight, as there was no way she was going to be able to hide from these goons and the militia until morning. She sensed a good place to lay in ambush when she saw a roof beam hanging out far enough to serve as a means up to the roof. With a great leap, she reached up and grabbed hold of the beam and used it to swing herself up onto the roof.

The men had obviously split up, as only the biggest goon of them all followed her down the alleyway. Stopping the chase when he lost sight of her just before her bit of acrobatics, he cursed loudly at his stupidity. There was no way a witness was getting him turned in to the officials. They would scour the streets until this person was found.

Arynn sensed her chance to strike when the man stopped running. Pulling out the two daggers she kept at her waist, she leaped down on to the man's back, plunging her blades deep into his neck. As the man's dead weight hit the ground, she looked around to see if anyone was around. One of the other goons was standing dumbstruck at the end of the alleyway. Just as he turned to flee, she let one of the daggers fly. It caught him straight in the throat, blood gushing from the wound before he even hit the ground.

As she watched the man flop down to the ground, she was hit with an unexpected weight from behind. The other man had gathered up enough courage to try and take her. Caught unaware, she rolled over awkwardly, landing propped up against the wall of the building. Fortunately, her attacker was winded and lying on his back. He didn't have much of a chance to put up a fight as she plunged her knife into his neck.

She calmly got up and retrieved her daggers, cleaning the blood off onto the clothes of her victims. If a militia patrol showed up she would be in major trouble. With this in mind, she hurriedly sprinted back to the inn. Snaking inside the door, it seemed as though no one was wiser to what had just happened. The drunken man was still passed out on the counter and the barkeep was nowhere in sight. Back in the room, she did her best to clear the blood from her garments. With only a few hours until daylight, she sat on the floor and meditated as was the elven custom.

Keladkha ended up sleeping well past sunrise, a rarity in the life of a soldier. He was cheerfully unaware of last night's events, even whistling a tune as he put on his armor. With everything squared away, he led a quieter than normal Arynn back towards the main part of the tavern.

As they approached they heard a conversation between the barkeep and an unknown man. “I can't let you keep drinking yourself to sleep at the counter every night. The other customers don't like it and if you can't stop, I'm going to have to kick you out.”

“Save the preaching for someone else, I've lost too many men to take this bullshit,” came an oddly familiar voice in reply.

Keladkha quickened his pace a bit to figure out who the speaker was. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, he was shocked at what he saw. Shen was the man who had been passed out at the bar last night. They had walked right past him without even noticing.

“Shen, you old bastard. You're alive,” he called out, running up to embrace his old friend.

Holding him at arm's length, Shen slowly looked him over. “I thought I had lost you. You took the most damage from the flames. I left you to chase after those who took Taliel,” he slowly recounted, tears welling up in his eyes.

“Who took Taliel?”

“I don't know, I never got a visual on them. And when I gave up the chase and returned to the ravine, you were gone. There were signs of you being dragged off. I thought they got you too.”

Looking warily at the barkeep, Keladkha knew he couldn't say too much here. “It's a long story buddy. I will tell you more in private.”

Noticing that someone was standing behind them, Shen questioned, “Who's that?”

“Not the place for introductions.”

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