Tears of a Fallen Crown:Characters:Mirage:History
- 1 Chapter1: Look Them Not in the Eyes
- 2 Chapter 2: Human Cargo
- 3 Chapter 3: One of Them
- 4 Chapter 4: A Ghost and a Conscience
- 5 Chapter 5: Home Again
- 6 Chapter 6: A New Beginning
- 7 Chapter 7: Walker in Darkness
- 8 Chapter 8: The Deathlord’s Fortress
- 9 Chapter 9: The Green Lady
- 10 Chapter 10: Enemies and Nightmares
- 11 Chapter 11: Training
- 12 Chapter 12: Love Does Not Die
- 13 Chapter 13: Reunion
- 14 Chapter 14: Gifts and Goodbyes
- 15 Chapter 15: Jauffrey’s Story
- 16 Chapter 16: Cat-Ridden
- 17 Chapter 17: Death of a Thousand Summers
Chapter1: Look Them Not in the Eyes
Samira’s father smiled at her, but there was fear behind his eyes and that was what scared her the most. “Be strong.” He said gently, “And remember, don’t look directly into their eyes. Show no fear and no mercy – mercy is something they won’t be showing you. Any time now…be on your guard!”
The fey had been raiding their city frequently, riding on the backs of horses that seemed as smart and wicked as their riders. They had come for the young and the beautiful, as always. As a member of the nobility, Samira and her father were responsible for the well-being of their people and protecting the town was now priority number one.
She looked down on the unsuspecting villages, on the home of a certain servant of theirs that she very much wanted to protect…and then with a bit of a frown on the secluded and safe home of the man she was betrothed to marry. It wasn’t that she didn’t care for her fiancé. He didn’t seem to be a bad man, but she barely knew him and she didn’t like his cowardice. Still, there had been a complication that recently caused her to wish she had never agreed to the wedding in the first place. It seemed that the squire of her brother had always cared for her. All of the times he had teased her and competed against her, it seemed he wasn’t trying to hurt her feelings after all…he just wanted an excuse to be close to her. And now, he and his family were in danger.
She was quickly snapped out of her daydream as a dark shimmering silhouette appeared over the sand dune. Her father held his hand up, “Archers, be ready on my command.” He turned to her, “Samira, I want you to signal the royal guard then return to the keep – that’s an order!” He had caught Samira’s indignant stare, and knew she meant to disobey him. “I’m sorry, Samira, but I changed my mind about you fighting. You were lucky the past two times. I’ve told you you’re not ready to fight them, now please do as I say!”
With a cold silence, she nodded and climbed down. She sped her horse as fast as she could toward the royal guard, who were all standing perfectly still awaiting her word. She said in a commanding voice, “Join my Father at the watchtower. The first has appeared over the dune. Show no fear and show no mercy – those are his orders! Look them not in the eyes!” They immediately obeyed. Samira’s voice was as commanding and strong as her fathers, one of her family’s characteristic traits.
As they rode off in the distance she turned towards the castle – then quickly turned back tossing a black robe over her armor. “Don’t worry, Dad, you won’t see me saving anyone.” She said, smiling to herself. “And no one is going to get me.”
She was right, of course, that no one saw her in the battle. In fact, in the chaos, it was hard to see anything at all. The fey had already started their assault by shooting flaming arrows at the thatched roofed buildings. The smoke was thick in the air, making daylight look like night, and she could hear them cackling madly throughout the flame. One in particular seemed to be the leader barking orders to his riders, mostly shouting, “Take that one! Go after the beautiful one… Burn that cottage next.” She went in the direction of the voice, sword outstretched.
She began to see a form in the smoke. It was a fey, dark skinned with long unnaturally flowing hair. He had in his hand what looked like a very ornate mirror that was almost hypnotic to look upon. He also held a huge spear that looked as though it had been formed by the gnarled branches of a dead tree. He was staring right at her. Still, she quickly averted her eyes.
He laughed, a sound which reminded her of fingernails running along a blackboard. “Clever girl,” he hissed and faced the mirror towards her, looking into it, “Why, what beautiful dreams you have! I have plans for you…DUNE, DUNE I need your assistance here! I have another prisoner for you to take.”
“You won’t find taking me that easily, Bastard!” Samira said with a snarl. She was reaching for her lance on the back of her horse. “Your arrogance will be your undoing.”
He smiled, “Let’s begin.”
Samira turned her horse around and galloped it straight towards him in full charge, aiming the lance directly at his chest…but suddenly it was as though he wasn’t there. She didn’t have time to be puzzled as she felt the side of his spear hit her squarely in the back and knock her roughly off her horse. Her head was swimming in pain, but she heard two voices laughing and the leader saying, “Good work, Dune. And, good haul today. Let’s withdraw. EVERYONE, TO ME!”
Chapter 2: Human Cargo
Samira felt sick with worry as she was stripped of her weapons and roughly shoved into a small wooden cage filled with the other victims of their assault – many of whom she knew. Her hope fell even more as she saw a familiar face, that of Caleb, the squire of her brother. “Caleb…” She mouthed, but he shook his head and whispered, “Better that they not know we know each other.”
She nodded, but carefully made her way to the other side of the cart to sit next to him. They were moving so fast that the landscape seemed to blur around them, yet the ride was so smooth it was like sailing on a calm sea. She could see the horsemen of her father riding fast to catch up, but trailing further and further away until they were nothing but a speck in the distance. And then, she knew all hope was lost as they approached what looked like a shimmering wall on the peak of the highest dune and slowly moved through it.
It was like walking into a dream. For a moment she forgot the danger she was in with the overwhelming beauty of her surroundings. They were in what appeared to be an unbelievably lavish castle. Embossed gold and diamonds glittered on the intricately designed walls. The ground was like a flawless mirror reflecting a ceiling that was detailed beyond words. Each carving seemed to be a story of romance and intrigue, that a person could spend days looking at and still not finish the entire story. Still, she felt her happiness turn to fear as she stared up ahead and the cart slowed to a halt. Sitting on a throne that appeared to be made of finely carved gold, wearing what appeared to be silken gold cloth, was one of the fey nobles. Her eyes were as cold and ruthless as a shark’s, and by her cruel smirk her intentions were about as kind as one as well.
She stood and applauded softly, “Well done, my warriors, it appears you have brought me fine stock today. Marian, you may have first pick, since the dream mirror was your idea. I shall have second, and the rest shall be divided according to how many each of you caught.”
Samira looked at the one she called Marian. He had been the one with the mirror she had seen on the battlefield, the leader she had tried to kill. He grinned and to her horror, glanced over in her direction, “I think I know just the one your Highness.”
She tried to shrink back in the center of the cart, but the fey seemed to move with a speed and grace that was sickeningly unnatural. He was on her in a matter of moments pulling her out of Caleb’s arms.
She looked in Caleb’s eyes, and tried to tell him, “No!” but she was too late. He jumped up and screamed, “Leave her alone, Savage!”
His outburst attracted the attention of the noble. She walked over towards the cart with the air of one who never runs, hissing, “You, Boy, what business is it of yours whom my lover chooses?”
He turned his head away, but couldn’t hide the rage in his voice, “Forgive me, your highness, but it isn’t your business what I say, so shut the hell up!”
Her eyes narrowed, “Well, it becomes the owner’s business when the slave disobeys.”
The fey was gazing at Caleb’s reflection in the mirror. Samira gasped at what she saw. There were images surrounding Caleb, beautiful images which she came to realize were his hopes and dreams. They were very vivid and some made her want to laugh and cry all at the same time. There were images of them getting married, fighting alongside one another, killing the fey that threatened their homeland…but that was all she could see as the fey noble thrust the mirror into Marian’s other hand and said with a laugh, “Well, what a delightful situation. This will be the most fun I’ve had in years. You get to be my slave, and your lover will be mine’s. And, for that outburst, we’ll draw this out as long as possible.”
Samira had time to stare one more time into Caleb’s eyes, as they pulled them away from one another. She heard the fey noble whisper to Caleb, “Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to tell you every emotion that is robbed from her, and Marian shall do the same for you. Now, doesn’t that make you feel better? Hah!”
Marian pulled her away from Caleb roughly by the arm. The castle, for only fifteen fey, was huge. She watched the twists and turns of the hallway he was pulling her down very closely in the off chance that she might somehow escape. Marian seemed to be enjoying himself thoroughly, cackling maniacally and talking about all the terrible things he was going to do with her once they got to the room.
It was a magnificent room, decorated in purples and golds, with a giant four poster canopy bed, a fireplace that sported two golden statues of falcons that looked so real that they could come alive (which she noticed seemed to pivot on their pedestals to direct their gaze towards her), and an oriental rug that was so soft it left indentations where her feet had been. The entire room was lit by the fire and candles on sconces on the wall. Still, looking at the joy on Marian’s face as he pondered which emotion he should steal from her first seemed to corrode the room’s very beauty and showed it to be what it truly was – a farce.
The room itself seemed to be a large cave. The rug was a thick covering of sand, the fireplace was simply a pit with some firewood inside of it, the falcons were just two orbs that appeared to be looking glasses nestled loosely in stones, and the bed was carved out of an old dead tree. Still, if she concentrated on the objects as though they were real they did indeed become real. That was the way fey magic worked.
Marian continued on and on as though trying to rob her of her hope, but all that Samira could think about was Caleb and what he had to be going through. As though he read her mind he stopped mid-sentence and said furiously, “Miana may wish to draw this out, but I grow weary of your apathy towards me. Perhaps you’ll focus on the present more if I take away some of your memories of the past!”
Samira tried her best to run, dodging his lunges for her behind the bed, but suddenly the walls seemed to come alive and roots grew around her arms to hold her to the wall. “Look into my eyes,” he cooed wickedly, “and let’s find out about your past.”
Samira knew she couldn’t avoid looking into his eyes forever. Every time she turned her head one way and closed them shut tight, it seemed they were suddenly forced to open and there he was. Finally she accidentally focused on him. It was as though she was under mind control.
She soon found herself in a sort of trance, re-living her happiest childhood memories. Then, to her horror, Marian began to feed on them, as a butterfly sucking nectar from a flower. She began screaming and couldn’t stop. As the memory faded, it seemed to melt away leaving behind only a shadow, but just enough to remind her there was something she missed. Still, it was indeed gone, a chain she knew she’d never be able to link again.
She didn’t know how many hours had gone by, nor did she care. She relived many happy moments; riding her first horse, picking flowers in a field with her mother as a child, watching a shirtless Caleb sparring with her brother as a teenager – experience all of the emotions of the memory – and then nothingness. All that was left in their place was the sound of echoing laughter that reminded her of fingernails running across a blackboard.
When she became conscious again she felt a slight bit of pride. Though she had screamed she hadn’t cried. She could tell by Marian’s face he was a little disappointed, making her feel even more proud of the fact.
Still, he grinned smugly, “Oh, I have plans for you. Your memories and dreams are as beautiful as your face. I think I shall sip them like a fine wine. In fact, you’re doing so well, I think I’ll let you visit your friend tomorrow – while you can still remember him.”
She remained silent. He cackled and began dancing out of the room, waving a hand to extinguish the light of the candles and fire as he left, “Now you see, aren’t I a good master? Pleasant dreams, Samira!” With that he left her, and the roots holding her to the wall slowly lifted her into the bed. In the total darkness Samira allowed a single tear to roll down her cheek as she tried desperately to remember the memories and feelings he took – and failed.
That night, Samira had a magnificent dream. She dreamed that she had secretly concealed a knife in her boot and had killed Marian. Then, she had drank his blood (it was believed by her culture that drinking the fey’s blood that stole your heart would bring everything it had stolen back) and reunited with Caleb.
However, as she opened her eyes to the morning light that was now pouring down from the ceiling, she saw that nothing could’ve been further from the truth. She felt all memory of the dream and the hope it offered her sucked away by a hungry looking Marian hovering over her – close enough to kiss her if he so desired. She felt physically ill. He laughed saying, “Thought I would have a light snack before breakfast. Not to worry, I took only the dream. Not the emotion – yet. So, try and rest up, we have a long night ahead of us!”
Samira didn’t have a choice, the roots were now holding her to the bed, and the experience of being emotionally drained was also physically exhausting. She fell asleep. She was woken up around noon by Marian knocking on the door. She could feel a rage building up inside her that she had never experienced before. Seeing that the roots were no longer holding her down, she prepared to attack him, to try to strangle him with her bare hands, until she heard him say, “Samira, I’ve brought someone to see you…”
Caleb looked horrible; though she was sure she did as well. Still, his eyes lit up when he saw her and, though she couldn’t remember running across the room, before she knew it they were kissing passionately and crying. She looked up, seeing a look she didn’t particularly like on Marian’s face, and then he slammed the door so hard the room seemed to shake.
Caleb held her close and whispered in a voice barely loud enough to hear, “Are we being watched here too?”
She nodded. He bent his neck forward so his lips were touching her ear, saying in an even more silent whisper, “I know what they’re planning to do to us. They’re going to drain away all of our emotions slowly and make us ‘breeding stock’ to create some human-fey hybrids!”
All Samira could do was gasp but she whispered slowly, “Are you sure?”
He nodded, pretending to be kissing her neck and said in a shaky whisper, “Miana doesn’t know that I know yet, but being drained until we’re nothing but a shell is a fate worse than death. I’m taking my own life tonight, and I suggest you do the same. You can use the beaks of those birds to cut yourself before they have a chance to stop you.”
Samira nodded her head, in tears.
Suddenly, Marian burst into the room with a look of suspicion on his face, “Well, I was hoping for something a bit more interesting – what are you two conspirators planning?”
Caleb shook his head, “I wasn’t conspiring to do anything. I was confessing my love. Now, please either leave us alone or separate us, but stop insulting our intelligence. We know your spying on us.”
Marian shrugged, “Suit yourself.” And grabbed Caleb roughly by the shoulder pulling him away, growling as he did so, “And, rest assured, I’ll have Miana find out what you two were really talking about!”
Caleb called out to her, as he was being pulled away, “I love you, Mira!”
He had always been the only one to call her Mira. Everyone else had called her Sam for short. But, she hadn’t had time to answer him.
Samira hadn’t been able to stop crying, even though it was hours before Marian came back. His mood was very altered as he entered the room. Instead of the maniacal grin he usually sported he seemed very subdued, almost sad. He sighed, “Well, it seems we have to speed things along quite a bit. Miana figured out your lover’s little secret luckily just in time. So, it seems I’ll have to drain all of your emotions away at once – I hope you’re happy! I was rather enjoying our little affair!”
Samira tried to run, but the room seemed to shrink down around her, making it easy for Marian to pin her down. “Look into my eyes, damn you!” He snarled, and suddenly she felt something sharp pulling at her eyelids, clearly the roots that always did Marian’s bidding. She tried desperately not to, but the pain became too much and she locked eyes with him.
All at once she felt herself being forced to remember and feel exactly what he wanted her to. She recalled her feelings of joy – gone. Then, she all of her memories of what it was to be a virtuous knight were gone as well. She felt her principles like mercy, kindness, and bravery, all being ripped away from her at once. Suddenly she felt nothing but apathy for the world around her, but her lack of emotion was being replaced by a two different emotions – pure unadulterated rage and hatred.
As he began to drain away more of her happy memories and lesser emotions he whispered sinisterly into her ear, “I’ve decided since I like you to steal your regret away as a gift. I’m sure Miana won’t be so kind to your friend. But, don’t worry, he’ll get to see you one last time with his wits about him – but only after I steal the last two things that matter, your love and loyalty, especially to him…I can’t wait to see the look on his face!”
It was at the point he had just started to steal away her memories and feelings of love that she knew she couldn’t let him. Even if that meant killing herself as Caleb had suggested, she would do it. As more and more memories of people she cared about and ideals she once had fell away, she somehow managed to concentrate on the room and what was around her. She saw, on Marian’s boot, a small dagger within her reach. Concentrating on nothing at all she grabbed it and plunged it into her chest.
Chapter 3: One of Them
Death wasn’t what she expected. In fact, she didn’t feel dead at all. She was hovering over her body, looking down with rage at the fey who hadn’t quite registered what had happened yet. Suddenly, she saw what looked like a glowing ball of light hovering around her. It seemed to speak to her in an echoing voice, saying, “I give you a choice, young one. Do you want to die now or do you wish to have vengeance on those who have wronged you? Decide wisely, for once the decision is made you can’t go back.”
Samira looked at her body, at the fey who now was shaking it with rage upon seeing the dagger in her chest. It took only a moment to decide. She looked up at the glowing ball and growled, “Death will give me no rest until I have my revenge.”
The orb said nothing at all, but plunged itself into the open wound in her chest. It felt as though a portion of her soul went with it, but oddly it seemed as though all of this had happened to her before – as though it was destiny.
Suddenly, Samira found herself alive again, only with a strange dark power coursing through her veins. It was something that she had never experienced before, and it was also a bit frightening. Still, it was strong and just what she needed. She howled with rage and threw Marian off with such ferocity that he was nearly knocked unconscious as he hit the far wall.
He gasped, “You’re…you’re one of them?”
She didn’t know what he meant by “one of them” but she did know the expression on his face was one of great fear, so she decided to go with it, smirking saying, “Yeah, apparently I am one of them.” She slowly approached him, vengeance the only thing on her mind. She needed something she could cut him with and suddenly she remembered the dagger. She wrenched it out of her already healing wound with a grin and held it above his head.
He whimpered slightly and balled up against the wall, “WAIT! NO! SHOW SOME MERCY!”
She laughed in contempt, suddenly feeling that the situation was amusing, “Mercy? What’s that? I think that’s a concept you stole from me – sorry!”
She towered over his now crumpled, shivering form. She grinned wickedly and said, “I’m going to mar that pretty face of yours, then I’m going to let you slowly bleed to death. Does that sound good to you? It’s better than you deserve.”
He groveled, saying in a voice that had lost all of its previous arrogance, “Please…if I had known you were one of them I wouldn’t have -”
Before he could finish she leapt onto him and started beating him, paying careful attention to cut his face. He screeched in pure pain, and she screamed back at him, “IF YOU HAD KNOWN YOU WOULD’VE STOLEN MY HEART SOONER AND THEN KILLED ME QUICKLY! DON’T YOU DARE LIE TO ME NOW!”
Suddenly, the door flew open and the fourteen other fey that had raided her village started pouring into the room. She had forgotten the eyes of the statues were looking glasses. Still, all of her senses felt heightened, and she was moving too fast for them to stop her now. With ease she knocked the first attacker unconscious and suddenly she felt a dark ball of energy forming almost of its own accord in her hand. She howled in rage and released the energy over all of them at once. Two of them died and three of them were hurt badly as the wave of energy cut through them like a sword’s edge.
Samira picked up a sword from one of the bodies and used the three bodies as shields and to block the entrance to give her the vantage point. Their wyld energies were also not working against her, probably another effect of the strange power. The remaining few didn’t have a chance.
Marian gasped in horror at the pile of bodies at his feet. He began stammering something she didn’t catch – he was having difficulty speaking for her sword which was now sticking out of his belly.
She grinned at him, picking up another sword, “I don’t have time to watch you die, but don’t begrudge me staring a bit. I must admit watching you die has been what I’ve been living for the past few days.”
He gasped, blood starting to trickle down his chin, “…Just…don’t kill…her!”
She smiled wickedly, “Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to show her all the courtesy she’s shown Caleb. But, before I go, there is something you can do for me.”
She didn’t know why, but the idea of drinking his blood no longer made her feel sick. She began to lap the blood up that was now oozing out of his open wound. He laughed (though his throat was gurgling a bit) and groaned, “Drink up all my blood if you must, but it wont’ bring back your emotions, not for long anyway.” He quickly stopped, realizing he had let something important slip all too late.
Samira grinned wickedly and said, “Thanks for the warning!” Grabbing a flask off of one of the dead fey and pouring out the amber liquid inside in exchange for more blood.
The fey laughed very weakly, “It’ll give you more than just emotions. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!”
“I don’t have time for this!” She hissed, kicking Marian in the stomach one more time as she dashed out of the room. She had remembered Caleb and only hoped she wasn’t too late. Still, even in her hurry, as she entered the mirrored hallway that led away from Marian’s room, she had to stop dead in her tracks.
She barely recognized herself. Her eyes had eye-shine like that of an animal, and were yellow like that of her pet hawk. Her teeth had become fangs that were now dripping with Marian’s blood. Her forehead was bleeding where a strange symbol had split open and was glowing in many dark colors. “What am I?” She mouthed slowly.
She was rudely snapped out of her trance by a man’s painful scream.
Chapter 4: A Ghost and a Conscience
“NO! CALEB!” She screamed, knowing her emotions were back now, at least temporarily. She felt tears suddenly pouring down her cheeks and a sickening fear settling in her belly.
Samira knew what she would find in the room before she got there. Caleb had done what he said he would do. There was an elaborate dagger sticking out of his stomach, and he was staring blankly at the ceiling. The fey noble, Miana, was licking the blood off the corners of his mouth, as though trying to steal the last bit of warmth from him, before throwing him roughly down upon seeing Samira in the doorway. She grinned sickly – but her expression changed from cruel joy to horrific fear in an instant as she gazed at the mark on Samira’s forehead.
“WAIT!” She screamed, backing away from Caleb’s body swiftly. She almost reached for the dagger still in his stomach, but upon seeing Samira’s eyes narrow as she did so, she seemed to think better of it and desperately fumbled for words, “I didn’t…he killed himself…I was only going to-”
Before she could say another word, Samira was on her, slicing with the sword until Miana was barely recognizable in form. It was as though someone else was doing the attacking; she both loved and hated it at the same time. Revenge felt better than she imagined it could, and yet it now felt pointless as well. She felt her pulse racing with the thrill of the kill, but at the cost of Caleb’s life, the revenge still didn’t satisfy her thirst.
She collapsed in exhaustion next to Caleb’s body, Miana’s blood all over her hands. She cradled him in her arms and wept for what felt like an eternity. She didn’t know if it was just the blood’s effect on her, but she could feel all of her emotions at once, and all of them seemed to bring more pain.
“I’m so sorry, Caleb.” She moaned, “I wish I could’ve told you how I felt about you before you died. I LOVE YOU!” She kissed his now cold lips, but that seemed to make it worse.
Suddenly, just when she thought she had no hope, she heard a soft and familiar voice whisper in her ear, “I love you too.”
Caleb’s ghost had been there the entire time, with his arms around her, and yet she hadn’t even noticed him. He smiled and said slowly, “I know you tried to save me and its okay. I really am better off this way than becoming what she was going to make me. I’m afraid she did rob me a few emotions though.”
Samira felt the effect of the blood wearing off, but she still couldn’t help but to be relieved. “Caleb,” She said in barely a whisper, “I’m afraid I’m not the same person you loved before. I’ve changed too. The fey stole most of my heart away. All of the ideals I used to have are gone. I’ll understand if you don’t want to be with me anymore. I…I’ve done so many horrible things and these powers I have are dark.”
He smiled and said, “I don’t care what you’ve become, as long as you don’t care what I’ve become. Besides, I sort of bonded myself to you, so I can be here as long as you’ll have me.”
“Really? But what if I become some sort of monster?” Samira was already scared of herself, and it carried over a bit in her voice.
Caleb laughed and said, “Then I shall have to become your conscience.”
The effects of the blood wore off, but her attachment to Caleb, thankfully, did not.
Chapter 5: Home Again
Samira couldn’t understand why they had to take the others from the caravan back. Half of the group had already been turned into practically shells, while the others were still so confused and hurt that they probably wouldn’t survive the journey. She rolled her eyes to herself as she loaded them into the back of the cart and sighed to Caleb, “Why are we doing this again?”
“Because,” he said gently, as one would speak to a child, “It’s the right thing to do. Besides, we couldn’t just leave them here to become more food for the fey. They’ll probably have reinforcements here soon, if nothing more than just to check up on the others for not checking in.”
“Yes.” She said, coldly, “But didn’t you say yourself that they’d be better off dead?”
He frowned, “Don’t you pity them in the least? Taking them back is more for their family’s benefit anyway. Even if they are shells of who they were, their families will be happy to have them back.”
As Samira spoke to Caleb, the people who sill were unaffected by the fey exchanged concerned glances. Apparently no one else could see Caleb. To them, it was as though she was having a conversation with someone who wasn’t there. Still, they gladly accepted her help into the covered part of the cart (the caged portion, though it was now unlocked), and stayed out of her way.
On the ride home, Caleb said, giving her a worried glance, “Mira, I don’t suppose you’ve given any thought as to what you’re going to tell your parents.”
She nearly stopped the cart. She hadn’t given the subject any thought. In fact, she could barely remember her family, much less what the inside of her home looked like. She only just remembered the way back to the village. She sighed, “I’m open to suggestions, if you have any.”
“Well,” he said, seeming to be thinking hard about it himself, “I think you should tell them the truth. Your Father isn’t the type of person to turn you in to the Empire even if you are considered a anethema and, maybe they’ll give you some supplies when you leave.”
She shrugged, “Why should I leave if they’re so considerate.”
“Well, the longer you stay the more people will start to wonder about you. It doesn’t look like anyone recognized you from the cart, but if you’re hanging around the castle someone will know it’s you – and, someone will probably turn you in. It might even be your ex-fiancé. He was always very public about his alliance to the empire, being from one of their noble houses.”
Samira sighed, “This is so hard, not being able to remember anything. I hope you’re right about my family. Point them out to me when we get there, okay?”
He nodded. The rest of the trip was silent.
When they reached the village, their cart was greeted by both celebration and mourning. The citizens had been able to tell from the watch post that she was bringing everyone back, but it hadn’t sunk in yet how bad off the survivors were. Most of the families were crying and moaning, and yet some of them actually seemed happy that whatever remained of their children, wives, and husbands, were back. Even those who didn’t seem happy came up and shook her hand, thanking her profusely.
No one recognized her. She had pulled her the hood of her cloak up above her head and continued to look down. Every now and again someone would catch a glimpse of her teeth or her eyes and shudder, usually backing away with a quick apology and retreating to their homes, probably locking the door.
As far as they could tell she was some sort of strange bounty-hunter and had done their dirty work by killing the fey. One of them actually said, “We’ll tell the nobles what ye done. He’ll pay ye, then ye can go. Yes, go.”
Upon hearing “the nobles” Caleb elbowed her in the ribs. She spoke up quickly before the old man had a chance to leave, trying to disguise her voice by making it sound a little raspy, “I’d like a word with these nobles of yours in private. If you’re informing them of my deed, inform them of that as well.”
The old man frowned and nodded, but headed towards the keep.
When he reached her, her father had about the same air of suspicion about him as the townspeople. He had a bundle of gold with him and, without dismounting from his horse; he threw it at her feet. “Here. In thanks of what you’ve done for us, there are two hundred gold pieces in there, if you’ll just leave us in peace. We don’t want any trouble. As you can see our town has been through enough.”
She frowned and said in the same raspy voice, “I appreciate your generosity, but I didn’t do this for gold. I asked the man who summoned you to tell you I needed a word with you in private. That is all I’m asking. And I won’t leave until I get it.”
He gave her a dirty look, but nodded, “Fine. Come with me to the castle keep. I hope you won’t mind an armed escort there.”
She shrugged, “As long as we can talk privately when we get there.”
He nodded and she was escorted to the castle keep, followed by about twenty knights and the suspicious whispers of the people.
When they arrived, he dismissed the guards, but kept her brother armed and ready with him, and his wife. He said, in the same mistrustful tone, “You’ll have to excuse my son, but we have no reason to trust you yet. Also, since we are all family, if you wanted a word with ‘the nobles’ you’ll have to speak with all of us. We also have some questions for you about our daughter and a squire of my son’s who wasn’t with you on the cart.”
She smiled, letting her voice return to normal, “Well, perhaps I can answer all of your questions at once.” With that she threw back the hood of her cloak. Everyone in the room gasped. They recognized her but only barely. They all seemed to want to run forward and hug her, but upon seeing the glowing symbol on her forehead, they shirked away a bit as though thinking better of it.
Her father was the first to approach her and speak, putting a hand on her shoulder, “Well, I see why you needed to talk to us alone. So, it seems you’re one of them. This changes a lot of things.”
She nodded and sighed, “Please, can you tell me what I am? I know I’m one of the anethema now, but I don’t think this is a symbol of the sun. So, am I really one of them or am I something else?”
He sighed, “I don’t know. But whatever you are, you’re still my daughter and I’m glad you’re home.” He hugged her and the rest of her family did as well. She felt very awkward, wanting to pull away from them like a stray animal pulling away from its new owner. They were all crying and kissing her on the face. Still, she bore it with dignity and finally, when they were finished crying and hugging her, she continued, “So, what should I do now?”
“Well,” her mother said, wiping the tears from her eyes, “I guess you can stay here. We’ll just pretend we never found you. You won’t be able to get married, though.”
Her brother shook his head, “No. We can’t hide her away from the world. Besides, someone is bound to find out eventually. Wait…” Her brother seemed to have an idea, quickly saying, “Sam, what happened to Caleb?”
She sighed, “Sorry to be the bringer of bad news. He’s dead.”
The group all gasped. They had expected that the fey would’ve changed him, but Caleb never seemed to be the type to give up, at least not without a fight. Her brother groaned miserably but said nothing else.
She somehow knew what he was going to say and finished the thought for him, “Don’t worry. He got to tell me what he wanted to before he died. And, I feel the same way about him. And, even though he’s dead, he’s still with me right now.”
“That’s sweet.” Her brother said, but he still looked miserable.
Samira laughed, “You don’t understand…Caleb, do you have enough energy to show yourself one more time?”
He appeared suddenly in the middle of the room, saying in a tired voice, “Well, maybe one more time.”
Everyone shrieked in surprise, but then everyone seemed a bit happier. There was nothing horrific about Caleb’s appearance. He looked like himself only a bit transparent. He said, with a slight smile, “I’ll be traveling with Mira from now on. And, while I can’t very well protect her like this, at least she won’t ever be alone.”
Her father shook his head, “I think I could use a stiff drink. Oddly enough, though, that does make me feel slightly better.” He turned to his wife, “I’m sorry, Dear, but she can’t stay with us. It would be suicide for her to stay. Even now, the Sidereal probably have sensed something coming from this region. The sooner she leaves here the better. But, I don’t know where she should go.”
Samira nodded, “Yes, I know I have to leave. But I’ll find my own way. I was hoping maybe you could help me get started. If you could just give me a horse and some supplies I’d be grateful.”
Her father stiffened, “Anethema or not, my own daughter isn’t leaving her home with nothing but a horse and some supplies. You’re part of this family and you’ll always be part of this family. We’ll send you off properly with your inheritance. And, to keep it a secret, we’ll tell everyone you were killed by the fey and we burned your inheritance as an offering to you. And, Caleb, we’ll tell your family what became of you as well.”
He nodded, “I appreciate that. I told you everything would be alright, Mira.”
She nodded, but said nothing.
Her mother frowned, “What did happen to you down there, Samira? You just seem so cold.”
Samira told them the entire story, the entire truth. She covered everything from the fey torturing them to how she became what she was, not sparing them the details. She rattled it all off as though she was talking to strangers, but by the end of the story they could understand why.
Her mother had to leave the room, crying loudly and muttering something about helping her pack.
Her father and brother looked slightly peaked but they listened until the end. Her father suddenly hit the mantle of the fireplace with such force he nearly splintered the wood, “DAMN THE FEY! DAMN THEM ALL!”
Her brother put a hand on his shoulder, “Father, its okay. She’s already avenged Caleb and herself. At least she’s still…” He paused glancing at her for a moment, but then quickly added, “Alive.”
He shook his head, “I’m not so sure about that. I’ve heard stories about a certain type of anethema that have surfaced in the Northeast. They say they come from the lands of the dead into the world of the living. They serve the forces of death and destruction and are supposed to be almost as bad as the monsters of the sun. I think that she might be one of them.
Her brother shook his head, “No. I can’t believe that.”
“Well, we have to at least accept that it’s a possibility. What if she is? If she is, then she doesn’t belong in our world anymore. She needs to be with others of her own kind.” He turned to a bookshelf on the wall and started pulling out various map cases and old maps, continuing as he did, “I’ve heard rumors that near the lap, there’s a way to enter the cities of the dead. Now, the source I heard this from wasn’t very reliable. He seemed to be a raving lunatic, but then, if you had wandered into the land of the dead, you’d probably seem that way as well.”
Her brother groaned, “Father, you can’t be suggesting that Samira should go there, can you?”
He turned around, and yelled, “DO YOU HAVE A BETTER SUGGESTION?”
Her brother shook his head, silent.
Her father sighed, “Look, I don’t like the idea either, but if she isn’t one of them, she probably won’t be able to find the way there anyway. And, if she can’t, at least from the lap she should be able to at least find a boat to sail to the West to hide in the islands there.”
Caleb spoke up, “Yes, you’re right! That’s a great idea. And, since I am a ghost, maybe I can help her find the place. And, if I can’t, then the islands to the West should be a safe place to hide out. The empire probably wouldn’t look for us that far away.”
Samira just nodded. She didn’t like everyone talking about her like she wasn’t in the room, yet she couldn’t think of a better idea. After all, she had lost a lot of her memories, and all of the places they were discussing were very fuzzy in her mind.
She sighed in an irritated voice, “While all of you are discussing my future, do you mind if I have a look around this place. Maybe if I see some of the rooms I’ll start to remember some of what the fey stole from me.”
They all nodded, but her Father sighed, “I’m sorry, Sam, it probably seems like we are planning your future for you. We’re just worried about you and want to make sure you’re safe. That’s all. If you are going to explore the palace, you might want to put that cloak on again so the servants don’t recognize you.”
She shrugged growling, “Well, then thanks for your concern. I’ll be going now.”
Samira could barely find her way around the towers, and sadly as she went from room to room nothing seemed to stick out in her mind much at all. She couldn’t decide which room was her own (after all, this place was a palace, and there were many many rooms) and even though the palace was beautiful it in some ways reminded her of the extravagance of the fey, and that put her in an even worse mood. She found herself wandering in the various courtyards (mostly gardens of statues since there wasn’t much vegetation that could live there), and then she found something that actually did bring back good memories and made her feel something similar to joy.
The falconry was in the centermost courtyard. The birds were all masked and were resting soundly. One bird in particular stood out in her mind, her hawk, David.
She walked up to it and began stroking his feathers fondly. He was an older bird, but she still insisted on using him whenever she went hunting. While there was never much to hunt in the South, sometimes it was fun to take a trip all the way to the Southeast to let the birds practice. It was, after all, the sport of the nobility, and gave all the nobles in the region the chance to socialize. It was on one of these trips, in fact, that her ex-fiancé had proposed to her. She felt a little sick at that thought, but continued to stroke the bird and get lost in some of the better memories. She thought the fey must not have thought bonding with a bird was unimportant. She was glad they were wrong.
She sighed, “Well, David, we’ve been through some good times. I remember how I would cry as a child when you’d bring back a baby rabbit. But, when I got older I understood you were just doing what was natural. And now, I’m just doing what’s natural for me. I guess now we can really understand each other. I’m glad I found you.”
She had been so wrapped up in memories; she hadn’t heard her mother walking up behind her, “Sam, why don’t you take him with you?”
She turned around in shock but then smiled, and upon seeing her smile, her mother felt a lot better. She continued, “You’ve always been attached to that bird, and even though he’s old, at least you can remember him. Maybe he can remind you of your home, no matter where you end up.”
Samira smiled, “Thank you, Mother. I really do appreciate it.” Samira found herself doing something she hadn’t expected, hugging her mother again on her own accord. One more good memory to add to the few she had discovered.
Samira and her mother talked about her past, taking their time getting back to the others. While she couldn’t remember everything her mother talked about, every now and again there would be a memory she did recall slightly that she would try to take note of. By the time she and her mother had made it back to the common room, the others had finished packing for her and had everything she was to inherit along with a good bit of money, ready for her to take.
Her father and brother smiled, “Well, everything’s ready for you to go. But, we were hoping you’d stay for dinner. Then, we can send you off with a good meal and we can leave at nightfall. People might be suspicious if you leave during the day. I’m hoping to sneak you out under their noses.”
She nodded, “Sounds good. And, thank you.”
The dinner went by too quickly. Just as she was starting to at least feel content being there, it was time to leave. Still, she didn’t feel sad. Her family was giving her many tearful goodbyes, and she did try to look sad for their sake, but she felt slightly excited. Maybe the land of the dead was where she belonged. And, if so, maybe she could feel content there as well. And, with Caleb and David at her side now, she didn’t feel alone. They skirted along the outside of the town behind the larger dunes as her father had instructed and soon were out of sight.
Chapter 6: A New Beginning
The journey was a long one, even with her father’s fastest horses. All four of the Arabian stallions were strong and fast, but they still had to make many stops along the way to give them water and rest. They had an entirely enclosed wagon filled with locked boxes that contained everything her family thought they would need. They had two nice Lamellars, a Great Sword, a chopping sword, some martial arts weapons, a good supply of tools, raw metal to begin working into weapons and armor, and some blasting powder as well. She also had enough clothing to fit every occasion and enough rations to last all the way to The Lap. Her family had also personally given her a great deal of money in gold, jade, and jewels as well, so they could buy anything they had forgotten to give them.
There were many small towns on the way to The Lap, but they couldn’t stay long at any of them. Her appearance was still slightly disturbing, even when the wound on her forehead was almost entirely gone. So, she bought what they needed and left quickly, not wanting to arouse anyone’s suspicion.
Along the way, she and Caleb couldn’t communicate very often, since manifesting himself took a lot out of him and sometimes would take him several days to recuperate. Still, he would manifest whenever he could, if nothing more than to talk to her to make the journey faster, or to tell her what was going on in the Underworld along the way. Oddly enough, it seemed that he was already in the Underworld when he didn’t manifest. So the planes seemed to be right on top of each other, something she never knew was possible. He couldn’t really see what was going on in reality, but could always tell where Samira was, being connected to her.
As they got closer and closer to The Lap, Samira began to feel as though an invisible force was pulling her. She felt like they were very close to finding the place she needed to go – and it wasn’t The Lap. Finally, one day, she saw what looked like heat waves in the distance, and she said slowly, “I think the entrance is right here.” She slowly approached the mirage, and found that it was indeed like a shimmering wall. It reminded her of what the cart had passed through when they entered the Wyld. She readied her weapon, took a deep breath, and walked in, leading the horses and wagon behind her.
Suddenly, she could see Caleb as though he were a normal person, only very slightly transparent. The land around her looked the same as it had on the journey, only slightly more desolate. She could also see the forms of other ghosts, slightly transparent and floating around in the distance. And, even though she had never been to or heard the word before, she knew where she was. She said softly, “Ah, we’re in a Shadowland.”
Caleb looked confused, “A Shadowland? How do you know?”
She shrugged, “I don’t know. It’s like I remember this from somewhere…like a past life or something. But how I know isn’t important. At least now I do know one thing; we need to wait until nightfall. When nightfall comes, and we leave, I’ll be in the Underworld with you.”
Samira was right. When she left the same way they had come in at nightfall, she was in the Underworld. It didn’t differ much from the Shadowland, except for the fact it was a lot drearier. And here, Caleb looked like a real person, not transparent at all. He was so real they could touch. And, oddly, that made her feel better.
As they pressed on, the landscape seemed to get drearier and drearier, even more so than the desert itself. She also discovered a road with a decaying wooden sign reading “To Dari of The Mists.”
“Well,” she said slowly to Caleb, “I guess that’s as good a place to start as any. Let’s go.”
Off in the distance she began to see what looked like a very old city, dull and gray and almost blending into the horizon. As they got closer she also began to notice that it looked suspiciously like the way The Lap had been described to her by her father, only more deserted. Still, Caleb noticed the strangest thing of all, stopping as they approached the gate, “Mira, they’re all ghosts!”
They were indeed all ghosts. All of the guards, citizens, and even animals were ghosts, some even floating around the city some walking as though they were still living. They were all interacting as ordinary citizens, acting alive even though they clearly were not. Still, somehow instead of feeling afraid, Samira felt somehow at home. She nodded at Caleb and smiled dryly, “Then we should fit right in. Let’s go.”
To Samira’s surprise, the ghosts immediately opened the gates for them. The guards even bowed saying, “Welcome to Dari of the Mists, My Lady. You grace us with your presence, My Liege.”
Samira and Caleb were receiving many uncomfortable glances as they passed. The ghosts just seemed to naturally clear the way for them as they made their way to the first inn they saw. They checked in, but the ghosts wouldn’t accept her money, saying, “Real money isn’t any good here, but you’re welcome to stay on the house.”
When they reached the privacy of the room, Samira turn to Caleb and sighed heavily, “I wish I understood what I am. Clearly this is the world I belong in, but I still don’t know how to fit into it.”
A commanding voice from the doorway made both her and Caleb jump as it said, “Perhaps I can enlighten you.”
Chapter 7: Walker in Darkness
A man was staring at them from the doorway. He was like nothing she had seen before. His skin was blue, his hair an ashy white, and his eyes were a bright and intense orange. He was looking at her with a slightly amused expression, as though he was in on a joke that she was not.
Samira shrugged, “I fail to see the humor in this situation. Then again, I don’t see the humor in many things anymore.”
He shrugged and smiled again, “Well, forgive my rudeness then. I always find it interesting to meet a deathknight that doesn’t quite know who she is yet. I think you’ll be very well-pleased.”
She shot him a knowing smile, “I’m listening.”
He closed and locked the door then sat down and began speaking in barely a whisper as he continued, suddenly seeming very worried that someone might be listening in, “As I said before, you are what is known as a Death Knight. You are what a ‘anethema’ would be in your world only your powers have been corrupted, making you a guardian of the dead rather than the living.”
She nodded, “Well, that would explain some of it, but why hasn’t anyone tried to arrest me here?”
“Well,” he said with a grin, “Many living humans don’t know about the deathknights, and in the lands of the dead the deathknights are usually treated respectfully by neutral ghosts. So, being arrested is probably the least of your worries.”
She nodded again, motioning for him to continue. His voice became more intense, “Still, we must not tarry here long. The ghosts might not bother you, but you won’t be received well by other deathknights. You need to ally yourself to a deathlord or you might be considered rogue. A rogue deathknight is dangerous and so they’re usually dealt with harshly by those loyal to a lord.”
“Let me guess,” Caleb said, in a tone that proved he obviously didn’t appreciate being ignored, “You’re a deathlord.”
He grinned, “Well, my apologies. You’re sharper than I expected for a ghost. Yes, I am. And, I can teach both of you everything you’ll need to know to survive here. All I ask is your loyalty and for you to do a small favor for me. Oh, and don’t worry. You’ll be well paid.”
Caleb frowned slightly but looked at Samira, “I don’t like this, but it’s up to you. You wanted to know where you belonged, so if you think this is the only way, I’ll understand.”
She nodded then said slowly, “I don’t think we have much choice. Besides, I do need to learn more about what these powers can do. So…um…what is your name anyway, Sire?”
“Call me Walker in Darkness. And yours?” He held out his hand.
Samira didn’t know why, but she felt she shouldn’t tell him her real name. Something about it didn’t feel right. She held up a hand to Caleb, telling him not to speak, and then said quickly, “You may call me Mirage. My associate is Raiton.”
Walker in Darkness laughed loudly, shaking her hand, “Clever girl! I should’ve known you’d know better than to use your real name in the Underworld. Well, shall we go then?”
She nodded, “Very well, but where are we going?”
He grinned, “To one of my fortresses to train. It’s a bit of a journey, but I have ways of making it faster.”
As they left the city by the back gate, Samira noticed some men dressed in dark armor walking around the city as though looking for something. She pointed them out to Walker in Darkness, and when she did so, he quickly began picking up the pace, whispering, “Ah, I knew we wouldn’t have long. Those are the deathknights of the First and Forsaken Lion. I’ll tell you more about him later, but after we get to my bastion where no prying ears can hear. Even now, I’m being followed by a hungry ghost spy of one of the other deathlords. It would be best if we talk very little until we get there. I’ll have one of my servants fetch your wagon and horses. It’ll be best to store the wagon at the fort and the horses in my stables on the edge of the Shadowland closest by. Living animals don’t do very well in the Underworld.”
After a few hours of riding, they came to the edge of the ocean. To Samira’s surprise, instead of the vibrant blue she was expecting, the sea was an inky black that smelled faintly of decay. Their guide raised his hands and began singing a sad yet enchanting song, when suddenly a small boat came to the surface with a living figure head singing the very same song he was. It came right to the shore as if to greet them.
Walker in Darkness turned to them, “Oh, you should know not to take a regular boat into these waters. The creatures living there will tolerate boats like these but very little else. No one knows what lives in the Underworld’s sea, but those who find out don’t live to tell the tale.”
Caleb looked uncomfortably into the water most of the journey, but eventually Samira managed to sleep. Neither could tell how long they had been sailing, only that they were headed up the coast. Day and night seemed to have very little to distinguish them apart from one another here, so she wasn’t sure how long they traveled, only that she hoped to get there soon.
Chapter 8: The Deathlord’s Fortress
Finally, one day, they were shaken awake when the ship dropped anchor. Off in the distance, silhouetted by a strange twilight glow, Samira saw what seemed to be a huge palace almost the size of a large city. Spires of black obsidian towered above it in such a fantastic way it seemed they should collapse, and yet everything was perfectly symmetrical, each tower having a twin counterpart opposite it. Both Caleb and Samira stared in awe of the place until, unable to contain his curiosity, Caleb gasped, “What is this place?”
Walker in Darkness replied curtly, “This place is my palace. I wish I could offer to show you around, but that glowing fog is miasma. It kills any living thing, even a deathknight. We’ll be staying in the fortress in front of it.”
The fortress, while dwarfed in comparison to the palace, was still very impressive. There was a massive outer wall with a moat filled with inky black water surrounding it. They passed through entire armies of shambling zombies and skeletons that all stood to attention as Walker in Darkness passed by them. Ghosts of various types were occasionally seen roaming back and forth – but none dared to attack the group with their master. Two huge clockwork monstrosities were standing guard by the front gate. Their hulking forms were a grotesque combination of gears, bone, and flesh. Walker in Darkness nodded to the sentries and they quickly turned aside and started cranking giant levers to lower the drawbridge for the group.
Walker in Darkness grinned at Samira, saying, “Wonderful, aren’t they? One of my other deathknights created them for me. When your training is over, I’ll probably send him to help you in your task.”
Caleb grumbled, thinking Walker in Darkness couldn’t hear him over the gears, “You still haven’t told us what our task is.”
Apparently, Caleb was wrong, since Walker in Darkness turned sharply and replied smugly, “Patience, Raiton, all in good time.”
As they entered the main hall, once again they still had to be in awe of the place. Its walls, floors, and ceiling were all made of what appeared to be polished obsidian. In fact, it was polished so brightly, that they could see their reflections in it almost as well as in any mirror. There were also elaborate statues carved into spaces in the walls such as black horses, people screaming, skeletons, horrible abominations, and in the center of the room a carving of the deathlord himself, posed as a conqueror. All of the statues were so elegant in detail that it almost seemed they could come alive- and to Samira’s shock, they did.
As they walked by, the heads of the statues all followed them. As though sensing their worry, Walker in Darkness waved his hand indifferently, saying, “Pay it no mind. I have ghosts possessing those statues for protection, and they’re probably only curious about you. They won’t harm you, but I suggest you stay close. There are worse things in this fortress than ghosts.”
The hallway opened out into a large circular room, but from the obsidian gears lining the ceiling, Samira got the feeling the hallway probably only opened into this room because the deathlord wanted it to. The entire place looked like it could revolve to take him the shortest way to get where he wanted to go, and probably the longest way for his enemies. The fortress was a marvel of engineering. She wondered if he had built it himself. Still, she decided not to ask, for fear of seeming rude.
The room she was in now seemed to be a sort of throne room. There was nothing in the room except the throne in front of them but even this was extremely elaborate. It was carved into the black obsidian of the wall with intricate scenes carved all over it. It also seemed to be a mixture of obsidian, sun-bleached bone, and crimson and black silk. Everything she had seen so far in the fortress was a testament to his power and while it did frighten her (and terrified Caleb), she could still very much see the benefit of being trained by him. Plus, after coming all this way, she doubted very much he was going to harm them.
With the air of a king, he sank into his throne and faced them. Almost instinctively, Samira knelt down in front of him. Caleb followed suit. Walker in Darkness beamed at them but motioned them to rise, saying in a chuckle, “Well, you know your manners. Still, rise. I’d like to have a word with both of you face to face.”
They stood and, oddly enough, two obsidian chairs had appeared behind them. They sat down, waiting for him to speak first. This also seemed to please him and he nodded and grinned at them again, “I can see we’ll get along very well. I wanted to tell you that you won’t regret the decision to be my deathknight. I’m going to train you in sword fighting, necromancy, and anything and everything you’ll need to know in the future. You don’t understand your powers now – I’ll teach you to define yourself through them. You killed a few fey; I’ll teach you to kill hundreds-”
Caleb stood up, “How did you know that?”
The deathlord smiled a bit sheepishly, “Well, as I said, you’re sharper than I expected. I tend to research my deathknights before I choose them. I knew where the spark implanted itself and went to investigate. From the fey corpses I found there, I knew she was a promising talent.”
Caleb sat back down, still frowning.
“As I was saying,” he continued, calmly, “When I’ve finished training you, you’ll be able to take on hundreds of men, fey, and hopefully even a few of the chosen of the sun should you have to. All I ask of you in return is that you do a few favors for me and to remain dedicated to me. I’m hoping that when all your training is through, you’ll gladly serve me dutifully as a student would serve a good teacher. And, in return for your loyalty, I’ll give you rare equipment, your own spies and armies, and even access to one of my manses. I’ll even give you free reign to do as you please as long as you’re still serving me. Do either of you have any questions?”
Samira couldn’t help but feel excited. The idea of commanding her own armies and having the skills to kill hundreds of fey – she felt a strange urge to lick her lips thinking of their blood – made her only have one question, “When do we begin?”
Walker in Darkness cackled, “I like your eagerness! We’ll start first thing in the morning. I’ll have a vigorous training regime planned out so hopefully you’ll know everything you need within a few months.”
He looked over at Caleb who clearly by the look on his face didn’t like the idea of staying a few months. Walker in Darkness chuckled, “Not to worry, Raiton. I’ll be training both of you.”
Caleb nodded, but by the look on his face that was exactly what he was worried about.
Walker in Darkness showed them the way to the guest rooms, which were right down the hallway on the right side of the throne room. Again, Samira got the impression that the castle was moving to accommodate them, feeling that Walker in Darkness probably wanted them close by to keep an eye on them.
He said as they entered, “This is the master guest room. I hope you find these accommodations comfortable. It contains both a canopy bed and a coffin, depending on what you prefer. I’ll have a servant bring you a meal as well. You must be famished after your journey. I don’t eat much anymore myself, so I didn’t think to offer you anything on the trip. My apologies.”
Samira smiled, “No need to. A meal would be nice, though, and I’m sure we’ll be comfortable here.”
The bedroom was very ornate and filled with furniture, not at all what Samira expected after seeing the openness of the throne room. It was decorated in crimson, black, gold, and finished red-wood. There was a four-poster bed, a desk with a quill and parchment, a bookshelf filled with oddly bound books, a wardrobe filled with clothes with a mirror, and as he had said, a coffin in the corner of the room. There was a nice washroom attached and elaborate statues decorating the corners of both rooms. Oddly, these seemed to be of satyrs and black winged angels. Somewhere in the back of her mind, it reminded her of a room she had once had, without the coffin, of course. Caleb, however, still seemed unimpressed.
Walker in Darkness nodded to them and said quickly, “Well, I’ll take my leave. My emissaries tell me someone will be arriving in my domain soon, and I should get ready. If you need anything ring the bell above the bed and one of my servants will attend to you. Get plenty of rest – you’ll need it tomorrow.” With that, he turned and left closing the door behind him.
As they heard his footsteps trailing away in the distance, Caleb turned to her, “I don’t like this, Mira – not at all.”
She sighed, “Truthfully, I don’t like it much either, but we’re here now. Besides, as uncomfortable as this is for us to have to depend on him, I think this is the best place we can be right now.
He nodded, “I suppose you’re right. He’s been very hospitable to us.”
Samira nodded absently. She was holding the fey mirror and seemed transfixed on it. Caleb looked over her shoulder. Around the image he could see illusionary scenes swirling around her of her destroying entire cities of fey, founding a new city in the remains of the fey forest, and himself at her side as her partner. He couldn’t help but to smile. She had to care about him, and even if it was unconsciously, that was at the very least a start.
Samira, or Mirage, as she was now calling herself, found a pretty silk gown in the wardrobe to sleep in and curled up in the soft bed, immediately falling asleep. Caleb started to settle in and watch her sleep. It felt like it had been a long time since he had seen her with such a sweet and vulnerable expression on her face. Still, he was snapped out of his memories of her as he heard the click of heels walking quickly down the hallway. He gently kissed Samira on the forehead and ventured out to investigate.
Chapter 9: The Green Lady
Caleb stepped out just in time to see a woman dressed in green hurrying down the hall towards the throne room. From the way she was walking he could tell she was furious. So, he glided slowly across the room and settled in the shadows behind a statue, sure that they wouldn’t be able to see him. Luckily for Caleb he was right.
“SIRE! I SEEK YOUR URGENT COUNCIL!” She snapped, but her loud outburst was followed by the soft rustling of fabric as she knelt low to the ground.
Walker in Darkness, in his usual calm tone, sighed, “I presume you bring news of the Mask of Winters?”
She stammered, suddenly losing the previous confidence in her voice, “No, my Lord, but I heard vicious rumors that you had taken yet another deathknight under your wing. I needed to know if these rumors were true.”
He growled in a calm, cold tone, “And what business is it of yours if I did?” Suddenly, his expression changed from cold to worried, then immediately to anger. He stood from his throne, his eyes seeming to glow with rage as he continued, “I GAVE YOU STRICT ORDERS TO WATCH THE MASK OF WINTERS, AND I EXPECT THOSE ORDERS TO BE OBEYED! WHO IS KEEPING WATCH IF YOU AREN’T THERE?”
She was now lying flat on the ground, but her voice spitted venom as she hissed, “I’m not a fool. One of my most trusted charges is keeping watch as we speak. But, Sire, you gave me the position as your only councilor. How can I council you properly if you don’t keep me informed?”
He laughed mirthlessly, “I suppose that’s true. But then, I make my own decisions with or without your council. I have that right as your master. This matter didn’t seem urgent to me, so why should I have sought out your advice in the first place?”
She fumbled back into a kneeling position, “Well, with the plot I exposed to usurp you from your less loyal deathknights, I was concerned she might be a spy. I mean, first you trained that foolish man, Death of a Thousand Summers, against my council, and now this. With so many people training here at your own fortress – I was only concerned for your safety, my Liege.”
“My safety?” He scoffed, “Do you really think I lack the foresight to check and see where my deathknights are from and what they’ve been doing before I train them? Death of a Thousand Summers was a great pupil of mine, and has my trust. And, I was the first deathlord to approach Mirage who also hasn’t met any of those treacherous deathknights you mentioned. So, unless you think me a fool – and I would choose my words wisely if I were you – this has to be about something else. I command you to tell me what it is.”
She was silent.
“Heh.” he said in an almost amused tone, “I’m going to find out what this intrusion is about.” He snapped his fingers and a ghost dressed in crimson and black robes appeared, kneeling next to the green lady.
“Jauffrey,” Walker in Darkness said in a commanding tone, “Read this woman’s thoughts, and then tell me what they are.”
The woman in green’s expression changed quickly from rage to fear, “Wait…there’s no need for that!”
Walker in Darkness shrugged, “I gave you a chance to tell me. What’s done is done. Jauffrey?”
The ghost stared intently. His eyes glowed a milky white for a moment, and then he turned with an amused look on his face and whispered silently into Walker in Darkness’ ear. At which point Walker in Darkness threw back his head and laughed so loudly it echoed off of the obsidian walls. The normally pale face of the woman was bright red now with rage and embarrassment.
Walker in Darkness stared into her eyes and grinned, “What petty jealous thoughts. Now I know why you call yourself the Green Lady. You thought I desired her, didn’t you?”
She looked away from him, saying nothing.
“And,” he continued, laughing again, “For some reason you thought your position as councilor was in jeopardy – PATHETIC! Do you think I’m that easily won over by feminine charms? If I want to make love I can summon succubae, or seduce any woman I choose! I don’t need to bribe one with the position of power. I allowed you to advise me because of your shrewd nature and because you found the spy in my midst. Another stunt like this and I might have to reconsider allowing you to advise me at all.”
There suddenly was a sly grin on her face, but she still said nothing.
He frowned, “You’re hiding something else, aren’t you? You better not have tried anything foolish.”
She looked him directly in the eyes, “Well, you said yourself that I have a very shrewd nature.”
Caleb felt ill as he saw her eyes dart towards the direction of Samira’s room. She had done something – something to remove what she felt was a threat.
Caleb darted back to the room, not caring if anyone saw him as he ran. His only thought was to get back to Samira before whatever it was could reach her. But, as he threw open the door it seemed he was too late.
Chapter 10: Enemies and Nightmares
Samira was out of bed, blood covering her gown from the wound on her now glowing forehead and various other gashes on her body. Her hair was wild, her expression even wilder, and she was brandishing her family’s great-sword against what appeared to be a living statue, her other hand was on the cord, now ringing the bell above her bed.
It looked as though one of the angel statues had actually broken away from the side of the wall, walked to the bed, and was about to impale her with a golden sword, when she must’ve awoken and fought it off. Though the statue was still intact there were several places where it was chipped and damaged, making it clear that had it been a living creature Samira would’ve been the winner.
Caleb knew there had to be a ghost possessing it, but before he could even act, Walker in Darkness burst into the room and acted for him. With lightning speed the deathlord struck the statue hard on its side with a giant glowing axe. There was a flash of light, an inhuman screech, and the statue slid apart in two even pieces – the ghost possessing it was nowhere to be found, but the axe seemed to glow with ectoplasmic energy. The Green Lady was behind him pretending to beg for mercy, but in reality was looking in to see if her plan had worked. Judging by the expression on her face she was quite disappointed it had not.
Walker in Darkness sheathed his axe behind him and, to Samira’s surprise, bowed low in front of her.
He looked directly in her eyes, and she saw real sorrow behind the expression, saying, “My Lady, a thousand pardons for the temperament of my advisor. I hope you aren’t injured badly.”
She shook her head, “No need. Only a few scratches.”
“Still,” He said, calmly, “It would be best if you’d let me attend to you.” He ran his hands along the wounds on her body and to her shock they began to mend themselves closed. A look of jealousy was creeping up on both the Green Lady’s and Caleb’s faces, but both said nothing. By the sly expression that came over Walker in Darkness’ face, it seemed he was taking his time to toy with them anyway.
After he finished, Walker in Darkness turned to the lady in green and yelled, “APOLOGIZE, NOW!”
She looked defiantly into Samira’s eyes and murmured, “Sorry.”
Walker in Darkness frowned and sighed, “I’m very disappointed in you, Green Lady.” Oddly enough, he did indeed look disappointed more than angry. He continued, “She wasn’t your replacement, but rest assured if you betray me again, she will be.” With that, he walked off and the Green Lady exited the hall without another word.
Jauffrey the ghost who had probed the Green Lady’s mind stuck his head in, “You two okay?”
He shook his head, groaning, “I hate her so damn much! Isn’t she the biggest bitch you’ve ever seen?”
Even with her horrific experience, Samira had to smile and nod. She liked this ghost already.
Jauffrey laughed awkwardly, seeing the angry expression she was giving Caleb, saying, “I’ll just leave you two alone.” And, he quickly closed the door behind him.
After she was sure everyone was gone, Samira glared at Caleb then growled, “If you’re going to be my bodyguard, Raiton, then I suggest next time you – GUARD MY BODY!”
Caleb stammered, “Wait…Mira…I –”
“That thing almost killed me.” She said, flatly, and turned away from him.
He growled, “Mirage, I’ve given up a lot just to be with you. I’m so sorry I wasn’t here, but I was risking my life in there to find out what kind of man our host is. I was doing it to protect you!” He was about to storm off, not knowing where he would go, when Samira said gently, “Stop. Don’t go.”
She was drinking from the flask of fey blood, her liquid courage. She continued in a logical voice, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been so hard on you. You were trying to protect me and it wasn’t your fault. To tell you the truth, I’m more upset about something else that happened before the attack and I guess I took it out on you.”
He nodded and sat on the opposite side of the bed. He could see a strange expression starting to form on her face – a very worried and sad expression.
He edged closer to her, becoming worried himself, “Mira, what happened?”
She turned away, feeling tears forming in her eyes, then sighed, “This is going to sound stupid, but I had a very bad dream. I’ve felt strange ever since I became a deathknight, but now I’m starting to have odd and very vivid dreams. I haven’t had dreams like this since I was a child, but those dreams were of the future, and these seem to be from the past.”
“Go on.” He said gently. He remembered hearing rumors that occasionally, but very rarely, Samira would have a dream that would actually become reality. It was her, in fact, that had first warned her father that the fey would attack the village – but at that time he had thought it was just a dream. He got a chill, suddenly wondering if all those nightmares about zombies and ghosts she used to have could’ve just been visions of what she would become later.
She put her hand on her forehead and sighed, “I hope I’m not losing my mind, but I think what I was dreaming wasn’t a dream at all. I think it was a memory. I think whatever that ball of energy was that made me what I am had an imprint of its last owner still on it.”
She sighed and took another drink from the flask of fey blood. She clearly didn’t want to recount the details of the dream, but she knew she had to get if off of her chest. She continued in a shaky voice, “In the dream I saw Walker in Darkness’ palace; only the cloud of miasma was no longer around it. There were many people there – well, mostly ghosts, but also some deathknights and a few people that looked mostly normal. And the owner of the castle was throwing a masquerade ball for all of them. She was a beautiful woman with a cloak of black feathers.”
She shook her head around and took another drink from the flask. It was becoming hard to remember the dream. Still, she closed her eyes and tried harder to remember, “I’ve lost most of it, but I do remember something bad had happened to the woman with the black feathered cloak. They were mad at her – the creatures that live in the abyss – and she was very very bitter. She said, ‘If I can’t have my palace then no one will’ and she had a terrible curse put on it before they came to get her. Then, I felt like I was running for my life, something hit me in my back, and I died – only I didn’t just die. The part of me that makes me a deathknight ripped itself out of me and the rest of my soul fell into nothingness…I’m damned, Cal – Raiton. I know it.”
He sighed. It did sound pretty bad. And, even though he didn’t want to admit it, when Samira had a vision it was very rarely wrong. Past or not, he could easily believe that the vision could’ve been a memory from the power’s previous owner. Still, he shook his head and tried to smile saying, gently, “No. It was probably just a dream. And, even if it wasn’t, that might not be your fate. We’ll face whatever it is together. For now, though, you should wash up and get some rest, and this time I’ll watch you the entire night.”
That night Samira had the same dream, only this time she could see it wasn’t her running away, but a man with cold blue eyes. But, this time, as he screamed and fell towards oblivion, she saw him make a hole in reality with his sword just before the dark essence ripped itself from his body, and the rest of his soul grabbed the hole and pulled himself into it.
As she awoke she muttered, dreamily, “He escaped.”
Caleb looked down at her with a smile, “Who escaped?”
She started, suddenly remembering where she was, “Nothing…sorry. Is it morning?”
He shrugged, “So I’ve been told. Jauffrey brought you some breakfast. It actually looks pretty good. I halfway expected it to be raw meat in a place like this.” He laughed, and she was indeed forced to smile, but he could tell the dream was still on her mind.
Chapter 11: Training
Almost like a pleasant surprise, there wasn’t much time to think about her dream after breakfast. True to his word, Walker in Darkness had the whole day planned for them. First he tested them with an obstacle course to see how flexible they were. Then, he had them spar with ten unarmed skeletons to test how well they fought against multiple opponents. Every time they were hurt, he’d heal them or, in the case of Caleb, give him more energy. Then, after a grueling day of training, as the day turned to twilight, they were to both spar with him.
Samira was very nervous. The thought of sparring with the master was a bit intimidating. Still, she was much more relieved when instead of the huge axe he used earlier on the statue; he came out with simply a dagger.
“Come at me with full force.” He said, vehemently, “I’ll be going easy on you, but there’s no reason for you to go easy on me.”
She did as she was told, striking hard blow after hard blow directly at his head with her sword – and he effortlessly blocked each. Still, he would occasionally smile saying, “Very good!” or “You’re too open.” Finally, after he was satisfied with her progress he said, “Excellent. I think you’re ready to spar sword to sword.”
He left for a moment and came back with a jewel-studded great-sword matching the length of her own. “Remember”, He said with a nod, “Don’t hold back.”
She grinned, “Don’t worry, I WON’T!” Their swords clanged together like the tone of a funeral bell. They fought for what felt like hours even though it was only for a few minutes. She occasionally came very close to landing a blow, but he would land almost all of his, giving her small cuts as he did so. Clearly he was toying with her, but when he seemed the cockiest, suddenly she landed a blow that cut his cheek. He grinned widely, “Very good!” He could tell she was exhausted so he motioned to stop the fight.
Walker in Darkness applauded softly and smiled, “You did magnificently for your first try. Now, go clean up and I have a bit of homework for you. I want you to find the book with the picture of the glowing sword on it in your shelf and study it until you’re too tired to stay up any longer. But, first, get some rest and I’ll see you at dinner. I’ll test you on what you learn tomorrow. For now, I believe its Raiton’s turn to spar.”
Caleb didn’t like the thought of sparring with Walker in Darkness, and yet, there was a part of him that really wanted to at least try to hurt him – the part of him that had been jealous of him touching Samira. Suddenly, something in the way Walker in Darkness was looking at him made him think he was looking forward to it as well, though he didn’t know why.
Walker in Darkness smiled slyly, “We haven’t gotten to talk much yet. None of us really have. That’s why I thought tonight we’d all sit down and have dinner together. But first, what kind of fighting style do you prefer?”
Caleb grinned, “Martial combat.”
Walker in Darkness grinned wickedly, “Oh, this should be fun! I haven’t had a good brawl in a long time. I hope I won’t be disappointed…”
Caleb laughed, “Oh don’t worry – you won’t be!”
Walker in Darkness made one of his servants fetch two pairs of tiger claws and they began. Walker in Darkness didn’t have to ask Caleb to not hold anything back. He was trying all the tricks Samira’s brother had taught him, but nothing seemed to catch the deathlord off guard. Finally, Caleb jumped for his face full force – and Walker in Darkness grabbed his hands in his own, locking his tiger claws with his, saying, “Raiton, why do you dislike me so much?”
Caleb snarled, “I don’t trust you!”
He grinned, “Lack of trust is very wise, but you’re still at my mercy. Don’t you think if I wanted to kill you I would’ve done it by now?”
Caleb was silent, trying to pull away from the deathlord to avoid his piercing gaze with those bright and unnatural eyes.
Still, Walker in Darkness wouldn’t let him, “Listen, I can read your mind without the help of a ghost. You want to win this fight to impress Mirage, you hate losing, you’re jealous of me, and you have a knack for getting into trouble.”
Caleb kept trying to pull away, but this time stared him in the eyes directly growling, “And what of it?”
Walker in Darkness laughed, “I saw you last night spying on me and my councilor. I’m trying to teach you something important, a life lesson. Do you know why Mirage fought so well against me? She can’t feel much of anything anymore but hatred. So, she doesn’t think about much of anything but the fight.”
Suddenly, Walker in Darkness twisted his tiger claws slightly, letting him loose, and kicked Caleb hard, knocking him to the floor. He continued, hovering over Caleb, “You could be a great fighter, Raiton. We need to find your strong and weak points, though. I’m counting on it – you see, if you can live up to your full potential, you can be Mirage’s one and only bodyguard. And, yes, that’s a very big compliment. Now, get up and fight me.”
“Well, thanks for the compliment,” Caleb said, brushing himself off and staggering painfully to his feet, “But, I want to ask you one more thing first.”
Walker in Darkness shrugged, “What now?”
“Was the Green Lady right to be jealous?” Caleb halfway expected him to laugh at the question, but to his surprise he didn’t.
He shrugged, “What I told her was true. I don’t like to mix business and pleasure, for the very reason you saw the other night. I’d be blind not to see that Mirage is attractive, but I don’t act on impulse alone, like some sort of animal. You needn’t worry, and the Green Lady shouldn’t have worried either. Mirage is much more valuable to me for her skills than her body. Now, are we going to fight, or not?”
Suddenly, Caleb respected Walker in Darkness as well. And, with his jealousy off of his mind, Walker in Darkness didn’t have to worry about being disappointed in the brawl.
Over dinner they discussed many things. Samira was careful not to include too many specific details about her past, but she did tell him much more about herself and Caleb. While Walker in Darkness didn’t tell them specifics about his past either, he did tell them about working against the Mask of Winters and about his plans for gathering allies in his fight against Great Forks. He also tried to tell them more about the Underworld and its philosophies and ways. He explained about resonance – the buildup of dark energy that occurs when a deathknight ignores her nature, and the taboos associated with creation. Still, he seemed not to really care if she broke the taboos saying, “You’re given special privileges as a deathknight, so most won’t apply to you.” It was also over dinner that he finally mentioned the details of the favor he wanted them to do for him.
“You see,” he said, picking at his meal as though he was thinking of eating it, “I’ve got too many things to do already. With Mask of Winters so close I have to concentrate my efforts on him. But, I need to keep my eye on things further South as well – that’s where you come in. I need some of my more competent deathknights to keep an eye on the First and Forsaken Lion. I’m hoping that by the time you leave here you’ll be able to handle it easily, especially with the help of Death of A Thousand Summers. He’s the one who created those guards at the entrance of this keep.”
Samira nodded, but said nothing. While she was interested in the mission there was something else bothering her.
Walker in Darkness noticed and said, in a more gentle tone, “Mirage, you have to be hungry after all of your training, but you’ve hardly eaten a thing. Something is on your mind and I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know what it is.”
She frowned, knowing she had to tell him now. Her dreams were what were bothering her. She had so much trouble sleeping the night before she had decided to take a short rest after the swordfight. Yet again, she had had the same dream, only this time she had been dancing with the woman in the feathered cloak and talking about preparations for a war. It was as though every time she had one of those dreams she kept catching more and more glimpses into a life she had never lived.
She sighed, “I’ve been having troubling dreams lately.”
He nodded, “Ah yes. The life of a deathknight leads to a great many troubling dreams. There will be worse ones to come.”
She nodded, but continued, Well, when I was little girl I used to have dreams that were more like premonitions of the future. They were very vivid like the ones I’ve had lately”
Walker in Darkness stopped pretending to eat his meal and looked up, “Really?”
She nodded, “Yes, but the dreams I’m having now look more like things that happened in the past. I could be wrong, but I think they’re memories of the deathknight that had this essence before me.”
He seemed deep in thought for a moment but then nodded slowly, “That could be. I’ve heard of such things. Still, I wouldn’t let it bother you so much. Just think of it as only a bad dream. What are the dreams usually about that could upset you so much anyway?”
Samira exchanged glances with Caleb who sighed and nodded for her to continue. She looked at her plate and sighed heavily, “Well, this might come as a shock so just remember that I don’t have any control over the dreams…I’ve been dreaming of your palace, before the miasma, and of a woman with a black-feathered cloak.”
She looked up. The expression on Walker in Darkness’ face was one of pure shock. His blue skin even looked a shade paler. She cringed and looked away, thinking he would be angry, but to her surprise he said in the same calm voice, “Are you sure?”
Samira nodded. He looked her intensely in the eyes, saying, “I don’t think you’re lying, but now would be the time to tell me if you are – I don’t tolerate lying with my deathknights.”
She shook her head, “I’d be a fool to lie to you. Do you know what these dreams are then?”
He slowly nodded, “The woman you saw in the visions was the deathlord that used to own my palace. She dishonored her Malfean gods and they dragged her down into Oblivion to forever serve them. Still, she cursed the palace before she left; turning it into what it is now. I’ve tried to lift that curse ever since I acquired the palace, but even I am not knowledgeable enough to lift it without knowing what specific protections were cast on it.”
Suddenly, he jumped up from his seat, “MIRAGE! What if you’re the key to breaking the curse on my palace? The Old Ones must’ve smiled on me to have gained an asset like you!”
Samira blushed, but frowned, “Now wait!” She said, quickly, “I told you I can’t control the dreams. So far all I know is that she had it cursed in the dream. I don’t know by who or what enchantments are on it.”
“Still,” he said, still pacing with excitement, “That’s already a start! Just the fact I now know she didn’t have time to curse it alone is one more bit of information than I knew before. Now, tell me everything you remember about the dream!”
Samira told him everything she could remember. His eyes grew wide when she described the final scene of the deathknight cutting a hole into reality just before he died and crawling into it before his soul could be sucked into the darkness.
He grinned, “Thank you, Mirage. This may have helped me more than you can know. If his lower soul is still alive he might still be in the labyrinth – and, I may still be able to interrogate him! If only I had a name; I could find him!”
Samira spoke, snapping Walker in Darkness out of his fantasy, “Um…Sire…I have to ask you something.”
He shrugged but continued pacing, still obviously plotting in his mind, “Yes, what is it?”
She sighed, “If he hadn’t torn that hole in reality, what would’ve happened to his soul?”
He stopped pacing abruptly, and then sighed heavily, “Ah, so that’s what’s been troubling you. Well…” He sat back down and thought a moment, “There’s really no easy way to say this so I’ll have to be blunt. His soul would’ve been torn into nothing by the jaws of Oblivion, as is the fate of all deathknights. I’m truly sorry, Mirage.”
Caleb’s face fell. He gave Walker in Darkness a dirty look over his meal of burnt offerings, but he could see how that would’ve been a hard fact to sugar-coat (not to say Walker in Darkness was the type to sugar-coat anything).
Samira said nothing, but stopped eating her meal and stared into space at the floor.
Walker in Darkness said quickly, “Now, now, courage Mirage! If he could escape his fate, then I feel sure that you’ll find a way to escape yours as well. I’ll help you in any way I can. Just let me know what I can do! All I ask in exchange is that you tell me if you have another of those dreams. Deal?”
She smiled weakly, “Deal.”
He smiled broadly, obviously in a much better mood after the information she had shared with him, “Well, let’s finish our meal and then retire. You still have a lot of studying to do – and I have a bit of research to do myself.”
Chapter 12: Love Does Not Die
The month went by very very quickly. Samira and Caleb were so busy training that they lost track of the days. Walker in Darkness started eating with them every night usually asking about the dreams, but to their shock he also seemed to be legitimately happy to be in their company. They were actually all enjoying their time together, training, learning magic, eating, and talking. They were also surprised how much Walker in Darkness was opening up to them, telling them his personal feelings often and even telling them what little he could remember about his life before becoming a deathlord. That was another thing that he and Samira had in common – not being able to remember much about their early lives.
One day, after a particularly long day of training, he approached Samira and said, “Mirage, I have something I’d like to teach you. You’ve got quite a knack for necromancy, and I think Raiton could very much benefit from this spell. It’s called the Five Gifts. It’ll allow him to touch, smell, hear, taste, and see as though he were a human again all day and all night. I feel bad for him. He seems to finally be realizing what he’s missing as a ghost rather than a human.”
Caleb had indeed seemed very sad lately. Even though he tried to hide his depression by throwing himself into his training, it was becoming obvious. She nodded, “Yes, I think you’re right. I think he’s sad about something else too.”
Walker in Darkness nodded, “I know what it is. He never got to be with you when he was alive, did he?”
She blushed and said, “I guess I didn’t think about that. No, he didn’t.”
He seemed to be thinking for a moment and then said, “I have an idea. Something which I think will make both of you closer and will be a nice break for all of us. After you’ve mastered the five gifts, I’ll give you the weekend off to spend just the two of you. There’s a safe place I know of in creation – nice spot for a honeymoon.”
She gasped, “You’re suggesting that we should get married? But, isn’t that associated with creation? I thought doing something like that was considered bad for a deathknight.”
He shrugged, “Well, it could be your first lesson in resonance. And, I’ll bet it will improve Raiton’s attitude immensely, and hopefully the Green Lady’s as well.”
She nodded and a sort of half-smile came across her face, “You know, I think that was a dream I used to have. Who knows, maybe this will improve my attitude as well.”
Samira focused hard on learning “the five gifts” while Caleb trained in more ghostly abilities. From what she heard, Walker in Darkness had been training her with necromancy while Jauffrey was training Caleb with ghostly arcanoi, looking for his strengths to decide which path of virtue to train him in. His talent, thus far, seemed to be in shape-shifting. She had noticed he had altered his appearance very slightly lately to make himself look more attractive. Still, she hadn’t been paying enough attention to realize it was for her. It made her feel ashamed that her mentor had noticed before she had.
Still, she decided she would make it up to him. That Friday, Walker in Darkness presented her with a gift, grinning as he said, “Here you go…fresh fey blood! Don’t ask me how I came across it. Only know I would’ve made your thirst for revenge satiated for now. Drink up. I’m sure you’ll get more than enough emotion back for tonight.”
And, drink up she did. He had four bottles of fresh blood that somehow had retained all of its essence, making it much more potent than usual. She consumed an entire bottle right away, but decided to save the rest for the rest of the weekend. Suddenly she felt love again, and excitement.
Walker in Darkness smiled and said, “I think you’ll find some nice dresses in the wardrobe.” Then motioned for her to go.
When Caleb entered the room after training all day his jaw dropped. Samira was grinning at him wearing a beautiful skin-tight silken black and red dress. She smiled seductively, “Hello, Handsome, are you ready for our special night?”
Samira began chanting and suddenly Caleb gasped in shock, as his eyes turned from grey to blue, and he suddenly saw things as though he was alive again. Even his body seemed to become slightly substantial, making him able to touch.
“How…” He stammered.
Samira laughed, a sound he hadn’t heard in a long time, “Walker in Darkness is so pleased with our training that he’s given us the weekend off. He taught me that spell just for you so that we can have a nice time together. He wants us to have dinner with him and then he’ll escort us to the Festival of Masks taking place in a town in creation!”
He smiled broadly. It was the happiest she had seen him in a long time. Caleb yelled, “I’LL WASH UP!” And, shut the door behind him as he got ready.
At dinner Caleb was silent except for the occasional groans of pleasure for the taste of the food. When he saw Samira and Walker in Darkness staring at him he grinned sheepishly and said, “Sorry. You forget how much pleasure a little thing like tasting your food gives you, until you lose it.”
“Quite.” Walker in Darkness said, picking at his food as usual, “So, are you excited about the festival?”
They both grinned and nodded.
He smiled slightly, “Good. As I said, I’ll escort you there and back. Just have fun and stay out of trouble. I hear you’re a very good craftsman, Raiton. How about I provide you with some metal, and after you eat, you make some masks for yourself and Mirage?”
He nodded but sighed, “I’ll try. I haven’t tried to craft anything since …well, since the ‘incident’ with the fey.”
Samira smiled, “I’m sure you’ll do fine.”
After the meal, Caleb worked on the masks for two full hours while Samira packed. The masks were indeed worth the wait. One was the head of a raiton, and the other was an almost jackal-like head that reminded Samira of the god Anubis. They were beautiful and yet frightening, perfect for the Festival of Masks. They both dressed in dress clothes for the occasion, Samira in her silk dress and Caleb in a red shirt, black vest, and black pants.
Walker in Darkness applauded at the masks, “These are exquisite! When you return I’ll graft soul-steel to them so they can be your helmets in the future. Are you ready to go?”
“More than ready!” Samira said, quickly. And so, they all left.
Walker in Darkness escorted them all the way to the place where he had kept their horses, in the Shadowland nearest to the town. There was a road leading past the stables to the town, so he knew they wouldn’t get lost. He bid them a fond farewell and sped back towards his castle. He had something on his mind – a visitor who would be there soon.
When he reached the castle, she was already there at the door. “You’re late.” The Green Lady said coolly.
He shrugged, “You know I’m always away on business. You were lucky I managed to get back in time at all.”
She looked around, a sly smile forming on her face, “Where are your pets?”
He smiled mirthlessly, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. But I do have some news that might make the petty and jealous side of you feel better about ‘my pets’. It seems that the two of them are getting along very well now.”
She shrugged, “As you said, it’s no concern of mine.”
He grinned, “I’m glad to hear you’re over it. Now, you said you had news of Mask of Winters this time?”
As they walked inside she paused, “Well, before we discuss business, I did have one suggestion concerning them.”
He groaned, “Now what?”
“I could be wrong, and forgive me if I am, but I think you’ve grown attached to them.” Walker in Darkness gave her a cold look but said nothing, so she continued, “After the last incident, I should think you know the dangers of getting attached to people firsthand. And, you don’t want them to get too attached to you either. They’re young deathknights. They don’t know nor will they be able to understand the atrocities you must perform to appease the Malfeans. The sooner they leave, the better for all of you – and your little friendship.”
He smiled cynically and growled, “So did you come to give me news of Mask of Winters or to lecture to me about something I already know? I thought you were my advisor, not my Mother.”
She grumpled, “Hmph.” And continued inside.
Walker in Darkness knew that this wouldn’t be the end of the Green Lady’s rivalry with Mirage, but then, sometimes it was such a bad thing for two loyal servants to compete…
Meanwhile, Samira and Caleb reached the town, just as the last rays of the setting sun fell. It was amazing, like a dream. The town looked like it was just becoming large enough to be a city, and yet it still retained the charm of a small town. As they entered, the townspeople had just begun to light the torches and a large crowd had gathered in the town square. They could hear what sounded like an entertainer announcing, “Night has fallen! The Festival of Masks will now officially begin!”
Everyone in town donned their masks at once and began to dance to a lively song performed by the entertainer. He was singing about the origin of the Festival – that it was thought to be the one day the deceased could rise again. Caleb and Samira exchanged glances and couldn’t help but to laugh – so that was why Walker in Darkness had them come here! Samira felt wonderful. Somewhere in the back of her mind she remembered the emotions she had felt before they had been stolen from her. The blood of the fey really had somehow retained the life-essence of the creature it was taken from. She knew she had to make the most of this opportunity.
They danced, drank, and laughed, for what felt like hours, marveling at the costumes, music and parades. Suddenly, Caleb dropped on one knee and produced a ring from his vest pocket. He smiled, but the smile was slightly sad as he said, “Samira, I made this ring for you a long time ago, but I never had the courage to ask you. And, up until now, after everything that happened, I thought you might reject me. Well, now seems to be the best time to ask you. Will you marry me?”
Samira was shocked but also very very happy. She smiled sweetly, “Yes, Caleb.”
He looked shocked as well, but they both embraced and kissed. She whispered quickly, “Are you sure? You know I won’t be like this when the effects of this blood wears off…”
He shrugged, “Well, will you still stay with me and be loyal to me?”
She nodded, “Yes! Even if I can’t feel true emotion anymore, I’ve always cared about you and felt loyal to you. And I do love you, I know it. And, even if I don’t always show you I care the fey didn’t have a chance to steal my sense of loyalty.”
He beamed, “Then let’s go! Right now!”
She didn’t have a chance to speak as he pulled her by the hand towards the nearest church. Still, she wasn’t going to object. She knew now would be the best time.
When they knocked on the church door, the priest answered in his pajamas, looking very surprised and slightly irritated, “Are you here to scare me with those masks? Sorry, I’m a man of the church. Ghosts and monsters don’t frighten me.”
Caleb looked like he was suppressing a laugh, but said in a shaky voice, “No. We came here to be wed.”
The priest’s eyes got big with surprise, “Here? Now? This kind of holiday has bad portents for that sort of thing…wouldn’t you rather wait?”
“No.” They both said at the same time.
He shrugged, “Well, suit yourselves. Meet me in the church – I’ll be getting my robes on.”
“Wait!” Samira said, suddenly. Something told her it probably wouldn’t be appropriate for them to marry in a church. “Can you marry us outside in the open air? Tonight is such a lovely night…”
He grumbled something about catching a death of cold, but then sighed, pulling the robes over his nightgown, “Alright, young Lady, alright…”
Caleb and Samira took their masks off, holding hands in front of a fountain in front of the church, offset by the occasional fireworks coming from the village square. The priest came out holding a pure white scarf and bound their hands together with it, offering blessings and prayers on their behalf. The moment he started, Samira felt a dark energy building up inside of her. It was an odd feeling like an itch that needed scratching, or a bad thought nagging at the back of her mind. Still, she surpressed it, wanting to enjoy every moment of her own wedding and to remember every detail – one more good memory to add to the few she had left. She and Caleb kissed passionately as he blessed their union and she tossed the priest a bag of twenty gold pieces for his trouble – at which point she felt the dark energy building up even more. She knew they were lucky they chose nightfall. While Caleb was substantial enough to touch and be touched and to wear clothes, he didn’t have a material body and was still slightly translucent. The priest would’ve noticed, except for the fact he had bad eyes.
Afterwards, Samira went to a shop and bought a gold ring with a personalized inscription on the inside saying, “Love Does Not Die.” She knew Caleb wouldn’t be material forever, but she also knew of a way to make sure he received the gift. When they checked into the nicest inn they could find, Samira tossed the ring into the fireplace in the room. Caleb looked confused, but Samira continued to let it burn, offering prayers of dedication to Caleb – and as the ring finally melted away entirely, it suddenly appeared on his finger. She grinned, “Now it’s official.”
He grinned seductively, “Well, not quite yet…”
The next day was bright and sunny, enough to make Samira groan and pull the covers above her head. The night had been wonderful in every way, but the dark energy was starting to feel like it was eating away at her from the inside. She knew there was a way to release it, but also knew from what Walker in Darkness had told her before, that releasing it in the town would be extremely bad. So, she pulled her cloak off of the nightstand and threw the hood over her head.
Caleb, being a ghost, didn’t need sleep. But, oddly enough, with the five gifts, he found that he could and was just waking up next to her. He beamed at her, “So this wasn’t just a good dream! We really are here together. You don’t know how long I’ve dreamed of this day.”
She smiled, weakly, “I’m sure this isn’t exactly how you dreamed of it though.”
He shrugged, “It doesn’t matter the circumstances. I’m happy just to be with you.”
She had to smile too, “I’m happy to be with you too.”
She laid back down and stretched, pulling the covers over her head and saying in a muffled voice, “Well, we have a day and a half left. What do you want to do…besides what we did the other night?”
He shrugged, “Well, the Festival goes on through the weekend, so I guess we’ll just stick around town and enjoy the show.”
She nodded, “Sounds good to me, after we catch up on some sleep.
Samira renewed the five gifts spell and the two went out to enjoy the day. There were parades to watch, and more dancing and drinking to do. Plus, it was also fun to shop around, buying things like jewelry, exotic food, and playing carnival games for prizes. As much fun as it all was, Samira kept the bottle of blood close to her, nursing it as though she was drinking a bottle of wine. She wasn’t sure if it was just a crutch to rely on the blood as much as she did, nor did she care. She knew it gave her emotion back, and that was all that mattered. She wanted this to be a weekend to remember, not only for herself but also for Caleb. She didn’t want to revert back to her now apathetic nature and hurt his feelings…not this weekend.
And so it was that day and night, and the rest of the next day. For once, she was making many good memories to replace the old ones that she lost, and just when she felt like she was getting used to a fairly normal life again, the vacation was over. They were watching the sunset, knowing the next day they would be back in the Underworld, training in Walker in Darkness’ castle.
Still, even though the weekend had been wonderful – something they would remember a long time, it did teach them that the world they were from now was too different for them to belong to the world of the living entirely. Even though they enjoyed drinking, eating, playing games, and dancing, and acting like they were alive and normal again there was always something separating them from the other people. People shied away from them the way horses shy away from snakes, or children flinch at the thought of walking through a graveyard. Still, they gained something greater than just a weekend away – they learned that they would always have one another to rely on in death, and that was better than fitting in with an entire world of life.
Chapter 13: Reunion
As they rode out of town to meet Walker in Darkness at the stables, they were mostly quiet, thinking their own thoughts about the weekend and both silently and secretly smiling at the thought of their marriage. The quiet enabled them to hear the soft thudding of hoof beats behind them.
They both turned to see a man with long flowing hair, wearing what appeared to be a stone mask adorned with real flowers that appeared to be blooming from cracks along it, riding on a large Arabian stallion.
“I don’t like this.” Samira whispered, and tried to spur the horse into a soft gallop. Sure enough, their pursuer galloped his horse softly as well.
Caleb shrugged, “Maybe one of the villagers wanting to travel with us? Should we try to speak to him?”
She nodded and called behind her, “HEY! WHAT DO YOU WANT? IF YOU WISH TO SPEAK WITH US THEN SPEAK!”
The rider said nothing, but upon seeing them slow down, began to gallop his horse a little faster.
Samira prepared her sword and called out, “STOP! OR PREPARE TO FIGHT!”
The man on horseback stopped.
She felt strangely sick at the sight of him, there was something very familiar about the man’s form that she couldn’t place, him and the magnificent horse he was riding. Still, whether she knew him or not, it was becoming clear his intent was hostile.
She yelled, this time letting all the anger out in her tone, “IF YOU DON’T WANT TO DIE I SUGGEST YOU MAKE KNOWN YOUR INTENT!”
The rider laughed, a sound that reminded Samira of fingernails scraping a blackboard and said, smugly, “I should think you’d know my intent, Samira. Revenge is something you should know a lot about!”
Both Caleb and Samira gasped. The voice they were hearing was that of the fey Marian. And, by the look of him, he was alive and well.
He laughed again, smugly and hissed, “Well, isn’t this a handsome group, a ghost and a puppet. You should’ve watched me die as you wanted – since it seems, from the look of things, you were a bit too late after all.”
Samira was breathing heavily. She felt her heart beating faster and faster as the feelings of hate and anger welled back into her mind, and consumed with them all of the joy the weekend had brought. She couldn’t hear Caleb trying to calm her down, nor could she see the clouds suddenly thickening and blocking out the sun in the sky above her. All she knew was the dark itch in the back of her mind had become too much for her to handle and she could feel the darkness starting to overtake her – and once again, she found herself liking it.
The fey had gone into another tangent about how he was going to make her suffer like he suffered, and about how he had managed to stop himself from bleeding to death and called to one of the horses to escape…when he too began to notice the change in Samira. She had begun go growl and laugh at the same time. He began to see two lumps bulging in her back that suddenly sprouted out into what looked like black angel wings. Her eyes were glowing a bright yellow, and her jaws began to pull themselves outward becoming like the maw of a dog. There were feathers sprouting along her face as well as black fur, and her fingernails were turning into claws. By the time the dark energy had manifested itself she looked like a monster out of a fairy tail with dark billowing wings, a jackal-like Anubis head very similar the mask Caleb had made for her, wicked claws for hands, and black spines lining her back where her backbone should be. She was flapping the wings and hovering over her horse, staring at him with murder in her eyes. Both Marian and Caleb were suddenly terrified and speechless, so she spoke for him.
Her voice was raspy and deep, like one would imagine an animal to sound, if it were suddenly to gain the ability to speak, “Why so silent, Marian? Could it be I’ve even made you speechless? You’ve truly made my night, Sir. I’ve always regretted not being able to see you die, and now it seems you’ve given me a second chance! How kind and how foolish!”
Caleb whispered breathlessly, “Mira, please…”
She jerked her head in his direction, growling, “Don’t rob me of my revenge! This is one dream I definitely wish to fulfill!”
The fey hissed, “I think you’ll find that more difficult than you think!”
He jumped off the horse, diving for her with his sword outstretched. She laughed hoarsely and glided out of the way, slicing at him with her sword as well. He stared her in the eyes and concentrated, only to look confused as she threw back her head and laughed at him, having protected herself from his magic. He screamed and darted for her again, this time managing to slice off a few of her feathers from her newly acquired wing. Still, she struck back just as quickly, managing to cut off several strands of his long flowing hair. As they fought one another sparks seemed to erupt from their weapons clashing, probably from the dichotomy of cold soul-steel to the fey’s dream-crafted weapon. He jumped for her and she dodged deftly out of the way, she dove for him and he would move just in time to avoid the full blow, and yet both seemed to defy gravity, jumping higher and moving faster with every attack. He was fighting her with brute force.
Finally, Marian, with a look on his face as though he were growing impatient switched weapons to a longbow and took aim at Caleb who was having trouble keeping up with the fight. Marian said with a chuckle, “Don’t worry, I’ll show him the same courtesy you showed Miana!”
Before he could pull the bowstring, he felt the powerful blow from Samira’s fist impacting the stone mask and breaking it in two. He dropped the bow, using both hands to cover his marred face. “NO!” He screamed, looking for the other half of the mask. “YOU WEREN’T TO SEE ME LIKE THIS!”
She laughed cynically, “I knew your face was beyond repair. Pathetic! Too bad your skill isn’t as large as your ego. Now I know why you came here after me. You wanted revenge or you wanted to die. And, I won’t give you either.”
She took one half of the mask, attached it to his arrow, picked up his bow, and shot it as far as the bowstring would allow her, hissing as she did so, “Happy hunting, Marian! Let’s go, Caleb!”
They left the now bitterly weeping fey behind and continued along the road.
Caleb was silent as they traveled the rest of the way to the stable. Finally, he couldn’t take it, “Mira, are you okay?”
She nodded, but said nothing.
He sighed, “You should’ve killed him. He didn’t deserve to live.”
She laughed bitterly, “Ah, but that was what he wanted me to do. Killing him would’ve been being merciful.” She paused, and, as he looked into her eyes, he saw something sorrowful behind her expression in her unnatural glowing eyes, as she sighed, saying, “I’m sorry. I should’ve killed him. But, part of me wants to know he’s still suffering. I’m a monster now, aren’t I?”
Caleb shook his head, “I don’t care what you are, Mira. You’ll always be that noble knight you used to be to me.”
A bestial smile formed at the corners of her maw, “Thank you, for that – and for this weekend.”
Caleb motioned ahead of them, “I think we should be thanking him for that.”
Walker in Darkness was leaning against the stable. His orange eyes wide with surprise and what looked like pleased amusement as he stared at Samira’s appearance. He laughed and grinned, “My! You did have a nice weekend! Didn’t you?”
Walker in Darkness seemed to be hiding something from them. Even though he seemed very happy to see them, there also was sadness behind his eyes. He said, slowly, “Well, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this weekend, and I’ve concluded that you both are nearly finished with my training.”
Both Samira and Caleb gaped. She stammered in a throaty growl, “But…but we’ve only barely been here a month…”
He smiled, “Well, I said you were quick learners, didn’t I?”
Caleb frowned, “Are you sure we’re ready? We haven’t done anything wrong have we? If this is about this weekend…”
Walker in Darkness shook his head, “No, no, dear boy! Not at all! I guess this is more about me than you. You see, I’ve been concentrating so hard on training you I’ve been neglecting my duties as a Deathlord. Neither of you have done anything wrong – at least not in my eyes.” He laughed a little, looking at Mirage’s appearance again.
She sighed, “Well, I’ve enjoyed training with you. If you need more time to yourself though, we understand. In fact, maybe we could even consider training less often and letting you go about your business.”
He shook his head and sighed heavily. She noticed he oddly seemed to be very sad. She was even more shocked when he said in an almost pleading voice, “Please, you don’t understand. I like the two of you – and there are things I have to do that I don’t want you to see me doing.”
At that, they both nodded solemnly and Caleb sighed, “Well, how much more training do you think we need?”
He grinned, “Two weeks at most. But they’re going to be very very rough and long weeks!”
Chapter 14: Gifts and Goodbyes
Samira was surprised how quickly the first week flew by and how much she had learned. The schedule was indeed grueling. When she wasn’t physically practicing she was studying. It was much harder on her than on Caleb who no longer needed sleep. Still, it was well worth it. While she still wasn’t as good as Walker in Darkness at swordplay, she was very close by the end of the week. He taught her some difficult techniques that most people didn’t know, and while she didn’t know all the charms she wanted she was very well-read on the subject and only needed a little time to put them into practice. She even was making him break a sweat during their sparring, which seemed to please him immensely.
Meanwhile, Caleb was mastering his own charms, still being trained by Jauffrey; to such an extent that Walker in Darkness gave him a special gift to help. He was becoming a master shape-shifter but lacked the mastery of the virtue associated with the ghost magic he needed. Walker in Darkness gave him a vial filled with liquid that smelled like orchids, something he called, with a grin, “liquid compassion.” And, it was more than enough for him to master his path of arcanoi by the end of the week as well.
The second week Caleb and Samira mostly trained on their own and sparred with each other. Walker in Darkness said he was “preparing for their journey.” Several nights in a row he went into the basement for several hours, followed by the clanging of metal being shaped and screams of agony, as though the very metal itself was in pain. He had hinted that he was a master craftsman of soul-steel before, and the sounds, they assumed, must’ve been a result of that fact.
On their last night, after a supper alone, Walker in Darkness surfaced from the basement, covered in sweat and smoke, but he looked happier than they had ever seen him. He was followed by a group of servants carrying many items that looked of incredible value.
Walker in Darkness seemed to beam with pride as he motioned to a full set of soul-steel armor that looked specifically crafted to fit Samira’s body. He grinned and said, “It is done.” He also motioned at a diaklaive fashioned to be large enough to deal a very heavy blow. And, at a ghost carrying what looked like the mask she had worn at the festival, only made of soul-steel. He grinned, “What do you think, Mirage? Do you like your new armor?”
She was overwhelmed, “It’s wonderful!”
He looked over at Caleb and said with a laugh, “Don’t feel left out yet. I have some items for you as well.”
He motioned to another group of ghosts. One held a finely crafted set of tiger claws and a black lamellar, and the one next to him held another soul-steel helmet, this one fashioned off of the raiton mask he had worn to the festival. The last one held the vial of “liquid compassion” and what appeared to be a glowing green lantern with a large green crystal inside of it.
Walker in Darkness explained, “The lantern is a very precious gift that you should try to keep a secret. It illuminates your path in any darkness, even in the labyrinth. And, if you wish to find something or a way out of the labyrinth, all you have to do is concentrate on the thought, and the light will guide you towards it. This is a big responsibility – if Mirage must flee to the labyrinth, you must guide her out.”
Caleb nodded solemnly, but also with a bit of pride.
Walker in Darkness smiled and continued, “The liquid compassion is there should you need to use it again. But, use it sparingly. Too much compassion, or too much of any emotion, can be a dangerous thing.”
Caleb stared him in the eyes and nodded in understanding, realizing Walker in Darkness was referring to their duel on the first day there.
Walker in Darkness’ orange eyes seemed to twinkle with excitement as he motioned for them to follow him, “I also have one more surprise for you. I have two extra noble steeds for you both. They can travel between both worlds easily without dying. One in particular needs someone to care for it. I think he’d be best suited to you, Mirage.”
He led them behind the castle into a magnificent stable and showed Caleb to his horse, then escorted Mirage to her own. The animal was thrashing around in its stall upon seeing them approach. It was indeed a beautiful horse, looking very much like an Arabian stallion she used to own, only its eyes glowed an eerie reddish-gold in the darkness, and it was as large as a warhorse.
Walker in Darkness said softly, “When I went to get the fey blood, this poor animal was stolen and taken by them to be turned into one of their enchanted stallions. Sadly, since his nature is dark and their magic is based on creation, by the time I recovered him the damage had already been done. He was one of my smartest horses, but no matter what I do now he won’t calm down. I’m afraid if he doesn’t take to you I’ll have to put him down.
She sighed, “I’ll see what I can do.”
Samira approached the stall cautiously, but the horse continued to buck and rise up on its hind legs as she approached. Samira’s mother had once told her the best way to calm a horse was to whisper softly to it and pet its muzzle. But, it seemed she wouldn’t be able to get close enough. As though sensing her thought, Walker in Darkness snapped his fingers saying, “Restrain him!” And several ghosts appeared, throwing ropes around the horse and holding it still.
The horse rolled its eyes upward, avoiding looking into her eyes but eventually did glance at her as she continued to rub and whisper to it. As their eyes met, she suddenly felt and odd connection to the animal and it slowly started to calm down. There was an instant where it seemed they were sharing thoughts and images, mostly of being tortured by the fey – and hating them for it. She whispered in a firm but soft voice, “Calm yourself.” And the animal obeyed. She continued, “You’ve been treated cruelly, but I will treat you with kindness if you will obey.” Though the animal couldn’t speak, it bowed its head low to the ground, as though beckoning her to ride it. It seemed they had an agreement.
Walker in Darkness applauded, “Stunning! You have a way with horses.”
She grinned, “I think I used to own a few.”
Later that night, Walker in Darkness gave them several maps of the neighboring region and helped them plot a course to Chairoscuro. He said it would be a good place to start gathering information about the First and Forsaken Lion since it was rumored to be a city he desired. Also, as long as they stuck to the route he had mapped for them, they would run into Death of a Thousand Summers, the deathknight he had previously sent to gather information on the First and Forsaken Lion as well. He had hoped they would travel together and it seemed now that they would. She was to report to him if the Lion’s troops were on the move or if he overtook any cities or acquired any new territory. Other than that, she, Caleb, and Death of a Thousand Summers, were free to do as they pleased.
As he finished explaining the plan, he asked calmly, “Now, what would you like me to do for you? Death of a Thousand Summers asked me for an army of zombies. Do you desire your own army as well?”
Her mouth gaped open. At first the thought was very tempting, but then she thought better of it. “Well, I would like one eventually, but I’d rather gather forces on my own, when I know I’m ready.”
Caleb could tell she was thinking of her new dream, to exterminate the fey with the very people they ravaged. He nodded, “Yes, waiting would be best.” (He also didn’t like the idea of what Walker in Darkness would have to do to gather an army for Samira.)
She nodded and continued, “I guess I could use some trustworthy spies though, so I can keep watching the First and Forsaken Lion even at his own borders.”
Walker in Darkness nodded, “A wise decision. Then you will have the spies and Death will have his army. Anything else?”
She nodded slowly. She was afraid to ask before because Jauffrey was one of Walker in Darkness’ more trustworthy allies, but she had grown attached to him. He was the one who had trained Caleb most of the time, and with his hatred of the Green Lady, she knew he would be the perfect ghost to deliver messages only to Walker in Darkness for her.
She sighed, “You’ve been so kind to both me and Raiton. I hate to ask for anything more, but I need a trustworthy currier. Will you allow Jauffrey to accompany us, if he will?”
Jauffrey, who had been overseeing the meeting, looked shocked, “Me?”
She smiled, “Yes. You’re the only one I trust to send Walker in Darkness a message personally other than Raiton, and I need him to stay with me to be my bodyguard.”
She turned to Walker in Darkness and said, “I’d like to keep corresponding with you through letters should something come up I think that might be of interest.” She was thinking of her dreams.
Walker in Darkness’ eyes grew wide, realizing what she was referring to as well. He quickly said, “That’s an excellent idea! Jauffrey, if you wish, you may begin traveling with Mirage – as her servant.”
He looked even more surprised, “Really? I would be…”
Walker in Darkness nodded, cutting him off mid-sentence, “Yes. You would be to her and Raiton what you are to me right now, only you would have the added job of being a currier between me and her. Can you handle it?”
He grinned, “Yes, Sir!”
Walker in Darkness beamed at all of them and said with a yawn, “It’s getting very late. I’ll brief you one more time in the morning and then you’ll head out before dawn. Good luck, and pleasant dreams.” With that, they ended their last night with Walker in Darkness, excited and a little afraid.
The next morning, Mirage was surprised to find twenty five ghosts under her control awaiting orders as her spies, including Jauffrey. As her first order of business, she was to tell them where to station themselves and to give them specific instructions about when to report to her.
Luckily Mirage had anticipated as much and it was easily done. She stationed them at the most strategic spots nearest to the First and Forsaken Lion’s territory without actually being in it. They were to report back to her should he begin to be on the move.
The best and most trustworthy of the group were to actually infiltrate his territory slightly and begin mapping it out. Should they be discovered they were to try to flee, and if they were caught they were to say they were sent by the Mask of Winters, and then beg for mercy (mostly so they could hopefully return to her, but also to cause more problems for Winters).
Mostly, they all were to use their own judgment and to investigate any rumors that might be useful to their cause. After two months time if nothing brought any of them back, they were to report back in shifts of five, one or two from each region to tell her what they had found out, or what they had been doing. Those who did an excellent job that brought her more than just rumors, that is, proven facts, would be awarded with “The Five Gifts.” Walker in Darkness seemed very pleased with her plan. And, as she had planned, Jauffrey was to remain with her as a servant and messenger.
Walker in Darkness escorted them out with the pride of a Father sending his children off into the world on their own for the first time. They all had ample supplies, great armor and weaponry, and, as promised, they knew more than they needed to know to merely survive. Walker in Darkness seemed almost sad, but as they were leaving he would also be going back to business as usual. Still, he smiled and clapped them both on the shoulder, saying, “This isn’t goodbye. This is a chance for you both to shine. And, when you do, I shall know it and be honored for it.”
They smiled and both bowed low. Mirage met his eyes, “The honor was ours, being trained by you. We can’t thank you enough for all that you’ve done!”
He smiled and said a little dryly, “All I ask for is your loyalty. I don’t know why, but there’s something special about you two – I felt it with Death of a Thousand Summers as well. I’m sure whatever you do will be great, and you’ll repay me one hundred fold.”
He suddenly unsheathed his axe and said with a grin, “And now, before you go, I shall officially make you a deathknight by giving you a name suitable for one. I knight the Mirage, as Lady Mirage of a Dead Desert Rose.” He tapped her on the shoulder with the axe and oddly enough, it was as though her old name suddenly meant very little, like a simple pet name or nickname. His name was now her identity.
He then turned to Caleb, “Raiton, though you aren’t an Abyssal, I consider you also worthy of a knightly title. From now on you shall be, Sir Raiton, Phantom Raition of the Shimmering Desert Mirage. Serve me well and protect your wife.”
Raiton nodded vehemently. And, with a final wave, the three of them were off.
Chapter 15: Jauffrey’s Story
As they headed down the road, Mirage turned to Jauffrey, “So, Jauffrey, I hope you’ll enjoy traveling with us, even though you’re our servant now. You could’ve refused – we would’ve understood.”
He smiled, “My Lady, it’ll be a pleasure leaving that woman behind.”
Caleb sighed, “I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of her. Why do you hate her so much, Jauffrey? I mean, I despise her for trying to kill my wife, but why do you hate her?”
Jauffrey sighed heavily, looking very sad, “It’s kind of a long story. But, since my new masters have asked it of me, I suppose I can’t refuse. She was my first employer, back when I was alive and she was nothing more than a noble’s sorceress. I was, in essence, her butler and most trusted confidant as well.”
Jauffrey sighed heavily and continued, talking a bit faster as though he wanted to get his story over with quickly, “You see, being a butler is a very time honored tradition. I was bound by oath never to tell her secrets, even in death. But, my oath wasn’t good enough for her. I fell in love with one of her maid-servants and secretly took her as my wife. And, while I never discussed my mistress’ business with her, the Green Lady became suspicious of me. You see, I was the only one who knew her true nature as an exalted of the Stars, and about her later dealings with Walker in Darkness. So, one day, after her nature was discovered by her peers, she believed I was behind it. She poisoned my wife and young son, and stabbed me in the back when I found their bodies. I guess that’s why I liked you both from the start – you reminded me of what I had lost.”
Mirage and Caleb gasped in horror at his story. Jauffrey just sighed, “It gets worse. She made sure I kept my oath by putting a curse on me so that my spirit could never speak at all. That way I wouldn’t be able to tell anyone about her secrets of the past.
However, after she killed me, Walker in Darkness became curious as to why and summoned and bound my spirit to him. Still, though he did break the curse on me, being a man of my oath, I wouldn’t tell him any of her secrets – even under torture. He was so impressed by my loyalty to my oath; he kept me as a servant as well, knowing I would never allow myself to divulge his secrets either. And, now I’m bound to you both, and yes, your secrets are safe with me.”
“Wow.” Mirage said, still shocked by the story, “But, why didn’t you ever kill the Green Lady for revenge?”
He sighed, “Because Walker in Darkness forbids it, and I’m afraid to try. She’s both powerful and manipulative. Should I ever try and fail, I know she’ll use that forked tongue of hers to have him believing it was all some plot to try to overthrow him! With her at his side it’s no wonder he’s so paranoid. But, he believes she has prophetic visions so he’ll put up with her as his councilor to keep that asset.”
Caleb groaned, “And, Mirage, having real prophetic ability, is now even more of a threat to her. I hope she doesn’t find out, she’s bound to try to kill her again! I hope that she doesn’t have any spies in his midst…”
Jauffrey shrugged, “Hard to say. I’m just glad to finally have that harpy bitch out of my sight!”
Mirage grinned, “Well put!”
Chapter 16: Cat-Ridden
They had been traveling for several days before they even came within a third of their destination of Chairoscuro. Still, they were well-equipped and were making good time. The grasslands around them were becoming more sparse, like a savannah rather than a rolling plain. And, they had finally seen the last of the forests in the distance. (And, none too soon as far as Mirage and Caleb were concerned. Even though they were still in the Underworld, the attack from Marian was fresh on their minds.)
This area was Caleb’s country since he originally came from the Southeast, so he led the group, being used to the dangers of savannah country. At night, he would tell tales of the fey of the region and how they would travel around disguised as a pack of lions. Even though he doubted they could be in the Underworld, he insisted that they travel upwind, to avoid being “cat-ridden.”
He even decided to look into the savannah of creation with an ability that he found he had naturally, two-world vision, allowing him to see into creation from the underworld. His eyes glowed and turned the brilliant blue they used to be, as he looked into reality. Caleb groaned, “Wow, I actually see some of them in the distance now. They don’t know we’re here!”
Mirage felt the rage she felt the day she killed Marian. She growled, “Where?”
He sighed, “Mira, even if I tell you where, we can’t do anything to them here. They’re in creation and we’re in the Underworld.”
She grinned, “Yes, but I get the feeling since we’re so close to the next town, we might be close to the shadowland as well. And, since its night in creation, we’ll be at a great advantage.”
Jauffrey shook his head, “Not a good idea to try to take on fey in their own territory, not even for a powerful deathknight.”
She laughed, “Jauffrey, I’ve done it once already, with worse odds. Raiton, how many?”
He looked again, saying slowly, “Looks like about eight. All in lion form.”
She smiled, “Last time it was fifteen, and that was before I was trained. Let’s go. I have the perfect spell that I’ve been waiting to try out.”
Raiton nodded, “Okay. We’ll try to find a shadowland then. Jauffrey, don’t worry. Mirage knows what she’s doing, trust me!”
Jauffrey finally hesitantly agreed.
They traveled quickly on horseback, skirting along the outside of the town, looking for anything that might be an entrance to creation. Even Jauffrey seemed to be excited and a little nervous, summoning a ghost steed so he could help them search. Finally, after what felt like hours, they found something very odd. There was a gnarled tree in the center of the savannah, standing out like an omen of death, but the base of the tree was hollow. And, to their shock, the large hole created by the roots at the base was the entrance to a very small shadowland in creation, and it was right next to the spot the lions were lounging.
She whispered to her horse, Obsidian, “Do you think you and I can fit inside?”
He seemed to whisper back in her mind, “To kill them, I’ll find a way.”
She called to Jauffrey and Raiton, saying, “We’ve found a way in. I have a very good feeling about this, but should something go wrong, I’ll escape into the labyrinth and meet up with you later. Raiton, if you wish, you can try to attack from here as well.”
His eyes glowed for a moment and he nodded, “I’ll be watching you. Good luck, Mira.”
She grinned, “I won’t need it, but thank you, Love.” She gave Caleb a long kiss, then clapped a hand on Jauffrey’s shoulder, who looked even more worried that Caleb. With a deep breath she cried, “To the kill!” Her horse immediately began pawing at the ground, sliding into the hole front feet first, readying it’s hindquarters to kick up for the entrance of a lifetime.
On the other side of the hole, the fey were ripping at the nearly dead carcass of a young man they had recently convinced to be their prey. He was still alive but barely, still conscious, as the greedy maws ripped at his arms and legs, whispering the ecstatic horror of what they were doing into his mind. They hadn’t gone for anything vital yet, wanting, as all fey, to drag things out as long as possible for their enjoyment and to further torture the victim.
Despite his immense pain he was groaning in pleasure, letting the images of his mind take him away, when suddenly he was shaken out of his fantasy by the shadow leaping out of the base of the tree in front of him.
All of them snapped to attention and scattered, running away from the tree at once, except for the man, who no longer had the muscles attached to his legs to run. He saw in full view what they did not. The shadow was a black horse, leaping out of the base of the tree like something out of a nightmare. The rider was like nothing he had ever seen before, with armor that seemed to make the nighttime air around her a bit darker, and a large sword that looked sharp enough to split a hair. The horses’ eyes glowed a reddish gold, and the rider’s head was covered with a helmet shaped like a jackal, but even the rider’s eyes seemed to have eye shine through the holes of the mask like that of an animal.
The rider, to his relief, ignored him and stepped in front of his body, and began chanting in a language that sounded like it came straight from hell, but the voice chanting it sounded beautiful and melodious, and oddly very feminine – yet as commanding as that of the lions’ throaty grumble. As she chanted, the rider stood up on her horse, and began to hover in the air, and suddenly, a burst of energy, darker than the nighttime sky and swirling like smoke in the wind, erupted in a wave from right in front of her, towards the group of now approaching lions.
And, to the man’s absolute astonishment and horror, as the wave of black wind covered the lions, they released inhuman shrieks as their skins and muscles seemed to shrug off of their bodies with it, leaving nothing but a trembling skeleton behind, which then exploded into dust with the wyld energy that used to be its soul.
The rider grumbled, in that same beautiful, terrible voice, “Pathetic. I had expected a challenge.” and began to turn around to go back into the tree stump.
He quickly yelled to her, “Wait! Please, I need to get back to my town. I can’t move!”
She paused but growled, “Why should I help you? You didn’t seem distressed when I got here.”
He groaned, “I know, I was a fool to listen to them – but, please! I know there will be a reward! I’m a rich noble. These fey have been plaguing this town for what feels like an eternity, and you just killed them all! You’ll be a hero.”
She cackled, “A hero! Do you even know what I am?”
Jauffrey whispered in Mirage’s ear, “Maybe you should take him back to the town. It couldn’t hurt to collect a reward if there is one for the fey. Having a good reputation in creation can save your life.”
“Fine.” She growled, “I’ll save you. But first…”
Mirage rode up to the pile of fey pelts and began lifting up one to her lips with her back turned, pretending to inspect it while really licking the blood off. While it tasted a bit bitter, she found this blood gave her emotions of pride, battle rage, and the desire to hunt and destroy with a great insatiable hunger. While it wasn’t the type of emotion she wanted at the time, she could see how it could be useful and decided to bottle some of it as well. She also easily peeled the pelts away from what remained of the fey and stacked them on the back of her horse.
“Alright,” She said lifting the man onto Obsidian’s back, “Tell me how to get on the main road and hold on tight!”
Mirage hated having to rescue the man. While Jauffrey was right, being a hero in creation may someday save her, this man in her opinion wasn’t worth saving. He complained and talked constantly on the journey and seemed to think that since he was a noble he deserved to be rescued – as though his life was worth more than everyone else’s. Mirage had once been a noble herself, but her family never put their well-being over that of others. Though she couldn’t remember much about it, she did remember that she was captured in the first place trying to fight for her people. This man looked like he hand never lifted a finger to help someone else in his life.
Mirage sent a message to her horse saying, “Make this ride as bumpy as possible!”
Obsidian released a whinnying chuckle and quickly bucked, making the man flop back and forth like a rag doll. Both delighted in the man’s pained screams all the way back to the town.
When they got there, she saw a familiar scene. The townspeople were on the watch for the fey and a group had formed upon seeing her arrive. Before she could address them, the “noble” addressed them for her, “MAKE A PATH! My Father will want to know I’m safe! MAKE A PATH AND FETCH A DOCTOR OR WE’LL RUN YOU OVER!”
The people seemed to believe him, quickly clearing the path; but Mirage didn’t budge. He snarled, “What are you waiting for, go on?”
She glared at him then addressed the people herself, “Your cat-ridden days are over.” She threw half of the pelts at their feet, “Place these in front of the gates so they’ll know to fear you, lest they attack you again!”
At that, she was given thunderous applause and cheers as she rode towards the keep at breakneck speed, making the noble groan in pain again.
When they got to the castle, they were greeted by an older man who, indeed, appeared relieved at their arrival.
He sighed, heavily, “Thank the gods you’re alive, Son! Who is your rescuer?”
The noble-man grinned, “I don’t know, actually. She’s been rather quiet. What is your name?”
She hesitated, finally saying, “You may call me Mirage. Because I won’t be with you long, and I’d like it if your memory of me will just sort of fade away.”
His father frowned but nodded, “Very well, Mirage. I assume you came for the bounty?”
She laughed, “Actually, I came to remove a millstone from my neck.” She motioned her head toward his son who was being gently pulled off of her horse by a group of doctors and complaining loudly.
She expected his father to become angry, but to her surprise, he grinned and said, “So I see. Still, you’ve done me quite a service and payment is the least we can do.”
The noble she had rescued called out, “Father! Make her stay! I want a word with her alone!”
She shook her head, noting where the moon was positioned in the sky, “I can stay no longer than an hour and that would be pushing it. And, I have no desire to stay. I killed the fey for an unending thirst for revenge. Your son was merely lucky.”
He nodded, “Then I’ll fetch your payment at once, with my thanks. Son, if you have something to tell this woman do so now. She has done our town a service and we’ll not waste her time.”
After his father left to get the reward, his son motioned to her from the stretcher. As much as she hated to, she decided to go see what he had to say. He quickly whispered, “My name is Oren, of house Cynis. I just wanted to ask you to take your helmet off for me so I can see if your face is as beautiful as your voice. You see, I’m looking for a bride.”
She snarled, “I take my helmet off for no man. And, I already am someone’s bride. I also grow weary of you talking to me as though I’m your lesser. I’m you’re equal.”
He gasped, “You’re a noble? Of what house?”
She chuckled, “That is my business.”
He grinned slyly, “Marriages can easily be dissolved. And, since you’re a noble, you’re perfect! Please, tell me more.” The way he was looking her up and down made her sick.
She growled, “Well, I will tell you this; I’m leaving as soon as I get my reward and hopefully you’ll never see me again.”
Oren grinned slyly again, “We’ll see about that.” He grabbed one of his servants hissing, “Servant, fetch me my red pouch! I want to give the stranger a special reward!” He gave her a look as though he was plotting something, “You know I could always get you to come back the hard way. I saw the way you handled those fey – what if I put a reward on your capture as a ‘dangerous anethema’.”
She grimaced, “Do that, and it’ll be the last thing you’ll ever do. Besides, I’m nothing but a simple sorceress, surely you know that.”
He laughed, “Oh, you’re good, I’ll give you that. We have a lot in common, I can tell.”
The servant arrived shortly before his Father, and Oren whispered, “I know you’ll be back, after you’ve seen what I’ve given you. Come back and there will be plenty more where that came from. I have a feeling you won’t be gone long.”
She laughed, “I have a feeling I will.”
Before he could come up with a witty remark, she was back on her horse. She grabbed the sack of coins from his father saying apologetically, “Thank you, but I’ve overstayed my curfew!” With that, she galloped out of the keep straight through the town. She had indeed overstayed her curfew, seeing now that it was close to sunrise. It was going to be a very close call, but just as the sun was about to rise she reached the tree and with a flying leap the horse dashed through the hole and back into the Underworld.
Jauffrey and Caleb exchanged relieved glances. Both of them looked tired and were still on horseback, obviously following her throughout her ordeal.
“So, what did he give you?” Caleb panted.
She shrugged, “I never looked.” She opened the crimson pouch and gasped. It was full of gems and various pouches of illegal drugs.
Caleb, having studied herbs and medicinal herbs in his squiring days recognized them immediately, “Wow! These are hard to come by! They’re all very addictive, that’s probably why he assumed you’d come back to him for more. It looks like he gave you some pain killers, some drugs that help in prophecy, and even some that will let you talk to ghosts from creation. Amazing!”
She shrugged, “I suppose they could be useful, but I’m not using them unless they’re absolutely necessary. I think the greatest painkiller of all was getting rid of that guy!” Mirage laughed dryly. Still she somehow had a bad feeling she would someday see him again. And, getting the attention of a noble of an imperial house was not something she wanted to do.
They decided to sleep inside of the town that morning, just in case the foolish noble tried to go into the tree to find them. Still, they were sure he wasn’t that foolish. As Mirage lay down to sleep she couldn’t help but look back on events of the day and smile. Walker in Darkness was right, she had been given the ability to wipe out entire villages of fey – and she wasn’t going to waste that. Being a fey bounty hunter in creation and a Deathknight in the underworld seemed like the perfect idea – she would be a terrible thought for the fey and temporarily a hero for the people that plagued them. That way she could get close to the citizens in creation, and observe their city’s defenses. As she stared at the skins in the corner of the room she also had a brilliant idea of fashioning them into a cloak so the last thing the fey would see was a jackal-headed monster wearing the skins of one of their own. On that wonderfully horrible thought, she drifted off to sleep.
Chapter 17: Death of a Thousand Summers
After several hours of well-earned sleep, they headed out, continuing their journey towards Chairoscuro. The land changed once again after traveling for hours, this time becoming more like a desert than plains. As the reached about the halfway point to the city, Mirage stopped them, saying, “Wait! I see something in the distance! It looks like an entire army of people!”
Raiton nodded, “I see them too. What should we do? It could be another deathknight! Maybe the First and Forsaken Lion found out about us!”
Jauffrey groaned, “Or worse – what if it’s a human army sent from that noble? I’m so sorry, My Lady! I should’ve known better than to suggest that you save someone from creation! It goes against everything you stand for! A thousand pardons!”
Mirage suddenly laughed and sheathed her sword. “Relax, both of you! I know who it is now!”
As they drew closer, the army they had seen suddenly looked a lot less organized. It was, in fact, a shambling horde of zombies with a few abominations in between. Riding in front of them was a deathknight on a noble steed very similar to Raiton’s. The man was an ominous hooded figure with glowing red eyes that every once in a while would seem to multiply depending on which way he was looking. And, as he got within sight of them, he glided off of his horse like a living shadow.
Mirage gracefully leapt from her horse as well and met him in the middle of the road, extending her hand, “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Death of a Thousand Summers!”
He pulled his hood down, revealing a pale and almost zombie-like face with icy blue eyes and pointed teeth and took her hand, kissing it, “The pleasure is mine, Mirage of a Dead Desert Rose!”
And so they had met and would be traveling together from now on, as was their master’s desire.