The Traveler By Lady Faelyn Rose Of Chesapeake Chapter One The moongate glowed in the predawn haze. For a moment it hummed with magic and then the shape of a man on horseback appeared within it’s center. The rider urged his mount forward a few steps into the clearing which surrounded the sphere of light. He wore a cloak of rich forest green. A hood hid his face in shadow. Black leather gloves and sturdy black boots kept the chill of the early morning air at bay. A large bow carved with ancient runic symbols hung across his back. He sat quietly atop a huge black Nightmare Bronson let his eyes adjust to the half light as he surveyed the city for the first time. Umbra. It lay before him like a cemetery. Cold and silent. Not like any city he had ever seen before. A community born of dark magic and death. With a tap of his heels Bronson guided his mare onto the road. The steed was ready for a fight. She tossed her head and danced a few steps to the side. He held fast to the reins, controlling the energy of the monster. “Soon, mistress Nox” he promised her. The sound of the mare’s hooves upon the pavement echoed off the jet black stone buildings. The stones which formed this city were said to have been mined in the bowels of the dungeon Doom. A dense mist snaked along the surface of the road and into the distance. It crawled between the leafless black trees, giant mushrooms and stacks of bleached human skulls. Burning gas escaped from pyramids of stone along the sides of the road, lighting the way. Somewhere in the distance he could hear the sound of whispered chanting, many voices calling out as one. “Anh Mi Sah Ko.” Voices trying to summon the dead. Bronson had read of this place in his studies long ago. It was the center of Necromancy. A haven for those who practiced the magic of the dead. The shops looked deserted at first. Then a flutter of movement caught his attention. A man, pale and bloodless as a corpse, was standing in the doorway of a provisioner’s store. He held a broom as if preparing to sweep the steps of his business. But the shopkeeper looked back at the traveler through black hollow holes instead of eyes. A familiar warning sounded in the warrior’s mind as he continued down the road. Only in the deepest gloom of a dungeon had he felt like this. Never in a city. Quietly Bronson pulled his bow from its resting place, glad he had chosen the undead slayer as his companion this day. From out of the fog another human came towards him, hurrying up the road on foot. As Bronson rode closer he could see that this person wore the dress of a Necromancer in training. A white skull helmet covered his head. Dark leather armor and a dark cloth wrapped around his waist completed the uniform of a novice. He carried a large green book close to his body as if protecting it. Bronson drew his mount to a halt. “Good morrow.” he called out in a clear voice. The young Necromancer stopped and looked up through the eye slits of his skull helmet. The bared teeth of the skeletal face made him appear to be wearing a frozen ghoulish smile. “Do not linger in this city if you value your life.” The student’s voice was muffled in his mask. “Only the undead and those with the knowledge and power to control them can remain here.” he said boldly. The mare snorted, misting the air between them, tossing her head with a jingle of bridle. Her red eye fixed upon the young man with angry intent. The youth’s gaze fell for a moment to the three long faded scars marring the shoulder of the black beast’s coat. The vivid image of a giant claw slashing across flesh flashed before his mind’s eye. A battle between the mare and a daemon from the depths of hell played out inside his brain as he stood transfixed. The lad shook his head suddenly realizing that this event was being shown to him by the monster the traveler rode. “Telepathic powers!” the Novice gasped. He looked again into the magical red eye of the mare. Instinctively the student took a step backwards holding his spell book closer and higher against his body, like a shield. “I say this with all due respect, my lord.” he stammered. “I thank you for your warning, I shall heed it well.” His deep voice held a touch of humor. “If you would point the way to the west gate I will leave this place with all haste.” The lad pointed in the direction which Bronson was already traveling. “Keep to this road and you shall find it, Sire.” Bronson inclined his head in thanks. “Good luck to you, young one.” He said. Lightly tapping his heels to the mare’s ribs, Bronson set them in motion once again. The novice continued in the opposite direction, his breathless chant joining the other distant voices. “Anh Mi Sah Ko.” The road wound around the buildings of Umbra until it came to a stone gate leading out of the city to the west. Through the gate a bridge carried the warrior across a black abyss littered with tiny lights. The abyss of dark energy surrounded the city like a moat, protecting it. Bronson peered into the bottomless river sparkling with stars and thought of the night sky of his home near Minoc. What tales he would tell when he returned from this journey. A wide dirt avenue stretched out from the gate of Umbra into the wilderness beyond. Shops and houses of every conceivable size and design crowded together along its length. Colorful banners and signs beckoned the passing travelers to stop and inspect the wares of hopeful vendors. Adventurers and tradesman dressed in bright clothes moved along the road. After the darkness of the city it was like walking from a cave into a field of flowers. A lovely young woman in a pale pink dress called out to him from her shop. “Here, my lord, try my tasty meat pies. I just put them out. They are still warm.” Before he could respond another voice hailed him from the vendor shop across the road. An old man riding a giant blue beetle cried. “Young Warrior, look upon my wares. Wondrous artifacts brought up from the Dungeon Doom. Rarities, oddities, things your mind can little comprehend!! Weapons to make you powerful in battle! Come see for yourself, come.” Bronson shook his head. “Perhaps another day.” he replied as he rode past, still heading west. West. “About half a days ride west from the Umbra gate.” His brother had written to him. “Along the road to the Tree Fellow Pub.” The letter had said. A pub!! His brother was a pub owner? He had worshipped his older brother Seamus like a hero since childhood. Seamus was fearless. Any venture Seamus decided to take on he completed, mastered and excelled in. Seamus was now a shop keeper? He tried to picture his wild adventuring brother meekly serving ale to passing strangers. He could not imagine Seamus fat and lazy, idling the hours away by the fire with a book. “Marriage must have addled his wits.” Bronson said out loud. The mare’s ears twitched back at the sound of her master’s voice, listening for the few words she knew. Attack. Kill. Guard. And stay. Bronson chuckled at the thought. Stay!! That command rarely worked with his pet. She was still half wild. The buildings became fewer and farther apart once away from Umbra. Soon dark thick woods bordered the road on both sides. Deep in the woods creatures stirred. Bronson recognized their voices. A bear roaring. A llama chortling. But one sound was new to his ears. A short sharp cry came from beyond the trees. It drew closer and was soon joined by more cries. A chorus of ear piercing shrieks. With a swoosh of leathery wings a group of enormous vampire bats came sailing out of the trees one hundred yards in front of him. Their sharp claws and fangs showing plainly even at a distance. They increased in speed as they drew closer, excited by the smell of the man and his pet. “God’s teeth!!” Bronson swore. In one fluid motion he dismounted, drew and loaded his bow. He fired at the closest vampire bat. It took the arrow full in the chest but only slowed for a fraction of a second. With wings beating rapidly it dived towards the warrior. The bat’s claws latched onto his arm, tearing his cloak. The fangs of the beast buried into the thick leather gorget at his neck. “Nox kill!!” he shouted. But the mare was already charging headlong towards the flock of blood drinkers. Her battle roar was deafening as she lashed out at the largest attacker with her hooves. She breathed her flaming fury over the next two bats, sending them crashing to the road. Bronson drew his hunting knife and drove it into the bat dragging at his arm. Again and again he plunged the knife into the creature until it released him and dropped to the ground at his feet. Large black hooves beat upon the fallen bat until it was little more than jelly with broken wings attached. Nox stood proudly beside the carnage she had created roaring and stomping her foot. Like a spoiled child she wanted her reward. Bronson used the toe of his boot to search through the bat corpses for one which was not totally pulverized by the mare’s frenzied attack. With his hunting knife he quickly dissected a carcass and pulled out the heart with the knife point. He held the bloody prize out to the mare like a lollipop on a stick. She carefully lipped it into her mouth and devoured it in one gulp. With a grin Bronson repeated the process on another bat but when he turned to offer his gruesome treat, Nox was gone. He caught a glimpse of black hooves and a flying tail disappearing into the forest to the north. He shouted her name but knew it was pointless. He could hear her battle roar half a mile away in the forest. “Evil beast.” he grunted, heaving the meat to the dusty road. Bronson gathered up his pack and slung his bow over his back. With a sigh of exasperation he set out at a trot into the forest trailing his pet. He had not run far when he heard the roar of two Nightmares locked in mortal combat. Bronson increased his pace towards the sound. In a clearing ahead he could see Nox and a wild mare fighting. Flames and explosions, blood and black hair whirled around the two monsters as they tried to kill each other. The warrior drew his bow and fired at the wild mare. The arrow flew straight into the neck of the enraged creature. Bronson kept his distance sure of his mare’s victory with his aid. He continued to fire off arrow after arrow hitting the wild mare in the chest and neck. But as the battle raged on he heard the shrieks of vampire bats approaching from the east. The bats, drawn by the scent of blood, burst into the clearing. They began swarming around the fighting mares, tearing at their exposed flesh. Bronson moved closer and cast a magic healing spell over his pet. “ In Vas Mani “ He reached her side and attempted to staunch the flow of blood with bandages. The bats were concentrating their attack on Nox. They tore at her with fangs and claws from behind. The wild mare attacked her head on. She was badly hurt but still fighting for her life. He cast greater heal again and fired an arrow at a passing bat, missing. From the forest to the west a crossbow bolt came flying towards the battling mares. It hit one of the bats and knocked it to the ground. The bat floundered unable to continue its assault. Another bolt hissed above Bronson’s head hitting a bat and tearing its wing completely off. He looked towards the trees and saw a hunter dressed in blue aiming a heavy crossbow at the circling bats. The bandages were working and Nox began to take the advantage in the fight. The wild mare was tiring quickly now. Crossbow bolts from the hunter in the woods hit with deadly accuracy around them, wounding and killing the bats one by one. Finally Bronson stood back, took aim and fired an arrow into the wild mare’s chest. She crumbled to the ground and lay motionless in her own blood. Bronson stood up and scanned the woods. There in the trees on the west side of the clearing was a young woman dressed in a blue riding gown and feathered hat. She lowered her crossbow and look steadily at him. He gave her a salute and a courtly bow. She smiled and nodded her head in reply. As Bronson was about to call out to her, he was hit from behind with tremendous force. He stumbled to one side, nearly falling. He turned to see Nox standing beside the fallen mare’s body, stomping her foot and roaring for her reward. The sound of female laughter floated across the clearing. When Bronson looked again he saw his lady fair disappearing into the trees. “You will grow fat on this journey, I fear.” Bronson grinned at Nox as he held out a piece of bloody nightmare meat. He wrapped the mare’s reins around his wrist to prevent another escape. Taking bandages from his pack he prepared to use his veterinary skills on her deep wounds. The mare nudged him again with her nose. Being nudged by a Nightmare is very much akin to being hit by a troll with a club, Bronson thought. He flexed his abused shoulder and set about the task of healing his mare. As he knelt beside her, applying the bandages, he began to see telepathic images from the mare’s mind. He envisioned the woman in blue riding across the clearing pursued by the wild nightmare. Her ethereal steed was no match for the galloping monster. The deadly mare gained on her as it expelled balls of magical flame. She was losing ground and her strength was nearly spent when Nox came charging out of the woods. His pet’s attack had allowed the woman to escape into the trees. Bronson blinked his eyes as the vision ended. “So you had good reason to leave me standing in the road.” he said applying another bandage. “And the lady came back to help us with her crossbow.” Nox roared and stomped her foot. Bronson threw the mare another chunk of raw meat and continued healing her. Before long they were heading back through the forest towards the road. Bronson scanned the trees many times for signs of menacing bats or mysterious ladies in blue. Neither one appeared. The skies opened up and rain poured down turning the Malaas highway to mud. The rain seemed to invigorate Nox and she splashed through the puddles like a frisky colt. Despite the weather they reached his brother’s pub in the mid afternoon. The Tree Fellow Pub stood before him. The new stone building and its nearby stable looked clean and well cared for from the outside. It was a three story building made of thick grey stone and iron fencing. It was placed close to the road. A stable boy came running from a smaller building next door. Bronson dismounted and handed the boy the reins and a gold coin. As the mare was led away Bronson walk up the stone steps and opened the heavy gate. He walked through a small courtyard to the front door. Inside a large fireplace dominated the rear wall of the room. A grey stone table with comfortable chairs had been placed before the fire. In one of the chairs a red haired women sat sewing leather armor. She peered over her glasses at the water logged, muddy traveler with his torn, bloody cloak. “Welcome, sire” she said as if his state of disrepair were an everyday occurrence. “The common room is up the stairs.” She went back to her sewing. Seamus had written that their widowed cousin, Kayla, had come to oversee the running of the pub. She was a grandmaster tailor and smith making her an asset to his arms enhancing business, as well. Bronson pushed the hood back from his head revealing his face. He ran a hand over his wet red hair. “Is that how you greet your favorite cousin, Kayla?” The woman looked at him again. She took in the red hair and mustache. His features so like Seamus’. She looked startled for a moment and then her eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Bronson?” she asked rising from her chair. “Cousin Bronson?” “Aye, it’s me, Kayla lass” he answered, smiling at her. She came forward taking his hands and looking him over like a prized steer. “You have grown so much! I hardly knew you!! I was expecting a beardless youth! You are as tall as your brother now.” she said, kissing his cheek. He squeezed her hands and laughed. “Beardless youth! Has it been so long since our paths have crossed, cousin?” Kayla surveyed the torn and dirty cloak. She took note of the blood on his face and arm. “You had a pleasant journey from Umbra I see.” she said suppressing a grin. “The usual morning ride down a country road.” he removed his cloak and gloves. “Seamus told me you refused a recall rune to this house. You prefer to ride for miles and fight monsters along the way?” she asked picking up his soiled glove between two fingers as if it were a dead mouse. “Aye, It’s the best way to explore a new place.” He answered, smiling. “I have never been to Malaas before. “Where is the proprietor of this fine establishment?” Bronson asked, pulling off his muddy boots. “Seamus should be returning soon. He could not wait any longer to start his hunt.” “He’s not here? Not here serving ale to his patrons?” he asked with a mischievous grin. It was Kayla’s turn to laugh. “The day will never come when Seamus waits tables in a pub. You will find your brother much as he has always been. But you will see for yourself soon enough.” “Go upstairs and get something to eat while I mend this for you.” She picked up his cloak and gave him a gentle push towards the stairs. “Go on now.” He took the stairs two at a time. The clock on the mantel ticked and the rain pattered gently against the glass window panes. Bronson’s chin rested on his chest and a soft snore passed his lips as he napped in a chair by the fire. Kayla sat across from him sewing and drinking tea from a delicate china cup. She had cleaned and repair all his clothing and gear. Then she had placed them near the door while he slept. “What could be keeping Seamus?” she thought. Suddenly there was a thundering roar that shook the glass in the windows and set the tea cup to rattling in its saucer. Bronson jumped to his feet reaching for a weapon that was not at his side. He stood blinking and trying to remember where he was. The door burst open and the wind blew wildly around the room as Seamus entered. The large sleeves of his pure black robe flew out around him like daemon wings as he strode across the room to a line of chest against the wall. He wore a golden helmet on his head. His red hair hung around his shoulders like a cape. The hem of his robe was soaked with blood and mud. Bits of leaves and twigs fell on the floor as he moved. A large dragon scale was hanging precariously from the front of his robe. “Three Bloods and a Poison!” he announced as he threw open the first chest and rifled through it. He stopped and looked over at Kayla, his eyes were unreadable under his helmet. “And the lock picks would be…?” he questioned with a smile showing beneath his red mustache. “In the chest on the right” she said quietly, returning his smile. He crashed the lid against the wall as he opened the next chest. Quickly he grabbed the picks and whirled back towards the door. The dragon scale on his robe came loose with the motion and sailed across the room hitting the table. He stopped at the door and turned looking back at Bronson. “You’re late!” his voice boomed. “ALL FOLLOW ME!!” he commanded. The roar of a wyrm sounded from outside the building rattling the windows and tea cup once more. Without another word he disappeared out the door. “You must hurry” Kayla said herding Bronson towards the door with one hand, shoving his pack and equipment into his arms with the other. Bronson was all but running when he hit the courtyard, shrugging into his cloak as he went. Outside the house a blue moongate stood in the road. Seamus and his white wyrm were gone. The stable gates flew open and Nox trotted out, the young stable boy dragging beside her by the reins. As Bronson ran to mount the mare Kayla stood calmly on the steps. “I put a rune for this house in your pack just in case.” She called out to him. Bronson jumped up on the mare's back and catching the reins steered her towards the moongate. He was within a hare’s breath of the gate when it closed leaving the road in darkness. The mare whirled, prancing in a circle for a moment and then came to halt. Bronson took a deep breath and let it out. “Daemon dung!” he swore. “Just wait a moment.” Kayla said in a soft voice from the steps. She pulled her shawl closer around her shoulders against the evening chill. With a hum of magic energy a moongate opened in the road. Seamus stepped out of the moongate, looked at Bronson and boomed “I SAID ALL FOLLOW ME!!” Then he disappeared once more into the gate. Bronson threw his head back and laughed before following his brother into the magic portal.