The barkeep, Gaylon, stood at the well-worn bar looking at the old knight who sat across the room at a lonely table, sipping a mug of ale. He was already old but tonight he looked older and weary from his tales. The merchant in Gaylon wanted to ignore this. The knight was his cash cow as more and more people wondered in from the night air to hear tales of the long-forgotten Knights of Day. But the softer side of Gaylon thought the old man may never finish his tale as he’s liable to fall over dead any minute.
Gaylon came around the bar to speak to the knight when the old man stood and slammed his mug to the table. The room fell silent. Firelight flickered in the Knight’s eyes as he stared around the room making a slow circle. The effect sent chills down more than just Gaylon’s spine.
“Gather round one and all for I tell the tale of the Knights of Day and one of their darkest days. It was a day of betrayal and assassins. A night that evil was let loose on Serpents Hold and the Reaper of souls visited those that stood for the light”.
The rain and wind tore at Falon’s cloak as he moved down the muddy street. For two days they had been stuck in the port known as Serpents Hold and Falon was more than ready to leave. Nothing disgusted him more than the beggars in the street and the knife-wielding hoodlums that lurked in the shadows.
Valcor’s injuries had proved worse than originally thought. If not for Raest’s arrival on the ship Valcor would have been lost. Falon had seen with his own eyes the delay poison’s effect as it swept over Valcor’s body. First the skin turned an ugly gray and then it appeared that his very muscle was being eaten from within. When Raest had arrived Valcor was nothing more than flesh pulled tight over bones.
Finally last night Valcor had awoke and spoke asking for only water. This morning he was up and walking and it was believed that by tonight he would be ready to travel. Not that it mattered much. The storm had kept all the boats in port. Some said it was a storm of magic and meant evil was on the horizon.
Falon did not believe that anyone could cause such a storm, but he did know that they needed to get off the island as soon as possible. That’s what brought him out into the rain. Falstaff had asked that he look for a ship. So far, he had tried four taverns with no luck and this “Dragons Breath” was to be his last stop before giving up hope.
He stepped into the dilapidated building and was immediately assaulted by the pungent odor of sour ale and human sweat. The only light was from a hearth that burned in a far corner of the room. Bodies were crammed in tight waiting for the storm to pass. A minstrel played some long-forgotten tune by the fire, but no one paid heed.
Falon pushed his way to the bar and signaled to the short stumpy looking man who was pouring ale as fast as the barmaids could bring mugs. “I’m looking for a ship” said yelling over the crowd.
“Well, you came to the right place lad,” returned the man as he slammed the mugs on the bar. “We be full of Captains and crew tonight thanks to the witch’s breath a blowing outside.”
“I’m looking for someone that would sail in this.” At this Falon noticed that several in the room had stopped talking and were looking at him. Several appeared to think he was a mad man. Others just laughed and returned to their drinks. “We are willing to pay well for the journey.”
The Tavern keep began to laugh “And will you be paying for their transportation to hell when they drop to the bottom of the sea.” He turned to grab more mugs as those around him joined in his laughter. “You’ll not find a man crazy enough in here and if you do it won’t be no Captain.”
“I beg to differ,” came a loud voice from across the room. “How many are traveling with you.”
Falon could only see a figure cloaked in the shadows as they danced across the room. “There are seven and we wish to sail to Nujel’m. We are willing to pay well for the dangers you would face sir.”
At this the figure rose and walked across the room. “I will take you,” said the voice as a woman stepped into the light. Her skin was the color of olives and her body muscular and strong. She had long black hair that was tied behind her head. Falon caught his breath at her harsh beauty. “But we must leave soon.”
The woman who stood before him took Falon back. She had a beauty that was wild and savage, yet her stance and broadsword showed her to be a woman much less than wild. Falon understood that this woman must be from the lost lands. An area of land that could only be reached by mysterious caves and tunnels. It had long been told of the people’s beauty who lived there.
He was sure that there was a mistake that this woman could not be the captain of her own ship but before he could speak the tavern keeper spoke up. “Jasmine, you have no business going out in this storm. Its suicide lass. You may be the best in this port but your no match for what waits outside.”
“I do not fear the weather Graf. The Sea Witch has sailed through much worse than this. Besides I think it is time to move on.”
Graf threw his towel onto the bar and moved around to stand beside Jasmine. He was a short man anyway but next to the long-legged woman he looked like a dwarf. “Damn it girl I’ve known you since you could walk. I know of your trouble here with Sneed, but I can handle him. Don’t do this I beg of you.”
“Do you need a ship or not,” said the woman turning away from Graf.
“Yes, we do, but who is this Sneed?” asked Falon not wanting to become entangled in local problems.
“He is none of your concern,” the woman said coldly.
“He’s nothing but a two-bit hoodlum and if that’s why you’re leaving then I’ll go take care of him for you.” Said Graf, his face turning red with anger.
“I think I can take care of my own problems. I am bored so it’s time to sail on. That’s my choice.”
Graf turned and walked back behind the bar. “You will be the death of me yet little girl.”
The woman turned and studied Falon as if deciding what to do with him. “I’m Jasmine, Captain of the Sea Witch. Be at the North dock by nine. I sail wither your there or not.” And with that the woman known as Jasmine disappeared out the tavern door.
Graf turned to Falon and walked to within a nose of him. Falon could smell the spirits of ale on the man’s breath as they looked at each other.
“She is a daughter to me you hear. If anything happens to the lass because of you, I’ll hunt you down and see you strung from the sails. Do you understand me boy?”
Falon could feel his anger began to rise. As if it would be his fault if this wench sailed them to the bottom of the ocean. His hand slid to his sword but just as quickly let go. “I am a knight of the KOD. We do not put ourselves or others’ lives at risk for a whim. If we perish it will be the will of the gods and I for one shall go with a blade in hand.” Falon’s anger still boiling in him he turned and walked out into the gloomy rain.
He had done as Falstaff had asked. Let them all be damned if this was to be they’re last quest before death came for them. And with that final thought he disappeared into the mist of rain.
Thankfully the rain had stopped, but in its place a thick fog had settled over the small port town. Jasmine stood cloaked in the fog’s tendrils peering into the muck. Her crew of three was already aboard the Sea Witch making the ship ready to sail. She would have preferred the rain to this fog.
She heard her men muttering in the darkness to each other. Then she heard a crash and a muffled cry. “Stiles? What’s going on?” There was no reply, and she drew her short sword and walked up the plank to the deck. “Stiles where are you?” she called to her first mate but still there was no answer.
She had started toward the wheel when she felt the blade lay against her throat. The man pulled her close to him gently. “You will not be harmed. Do as we say, and we will do our business and be gone.”
“What business could you have with me?” she whispered fearful to speak aloud.
“It is not with you or your men. We want only your passengers,” he replied with a hiss. Jasmine could smell the faint smell of roses and immediately knew whom she was dealing with. It had been said for years that inside the guild of the Serpents Crest there was a secret group of assassins. They were experts at stealth and most of their victims did not know what had happened until they smelled the flowers just before death.
Jasmine felt her throat grow dry and knew that she and her crew would never be allowed to live after seeing the assassins at work. She was working on a plan of escape when she heard the jingle of armor approaching the dock. Here passengers had arrived.
The assassin moved the dagger from her throat and placed the point against the base of her neck. “Call them aboard and do not give them warning or you will die before the words have fully escaped you.”
In the fog she could just make out several figures that gathered at the bottom of the boarding plank. “Hail the ship.” Shouted one of them. “It is I Falon of the KOD.”
“Hail Falon” she answered. “We are ready to sail.”
“Hail Sea Witch it has been many years.” The voice came from the dock, and she recognized it immediately. A voice from her past that gave her knew hope that she may yet survive.
“Why Tiny Corsaw would that be you.” She said trying to keep the excitement from her voice.
“It would be my good captain.”
She could feel the dagger bit into her skin as the assassin tried to hurry her up. “I have not seen you since that time in Bucks Den at the Peg Leg Inn.”
There was a pause for several seconds before Tiny replied. “Aye that was a fun time indeed. May we board your ship?” There was a subtle change in Tiny’s voice that told Jasmine he had caught the message.
It had been may years since they had meet. The last time being at the Peg Leg where a band of bounty hunters had come for Jasmine claiming her a pirate. Tiny had been a member of her crew and a trusted friend. Together they had just barely escaped the inn with they’re lives. If Tiny caught her meaning, then he and his new friends may be able to escape her fate.
Before she could reply she saw figures moving up the plank. By the cut of their shoulders, she could tell they were knights in armor. As they neared, she could see that each carried a crate of some kind. “I hope you don’t mind Captain, but we have some cargo to bring aboard.” The voice was Falon who came first aboard the ship. As he stepped up, he moved to the right giving room to the others who boarded and stopped at the top of the plank.
The attack was sudden and amazingly accurate for the fog being so thick. The twang of crossbows ripped across the ship and the whistle of the bolts struck the crates which the men held in front of they’re chests. The knights never flinching launched the crates through the air towards they’re attackers. It was then Jasmine saw that each had come aboard with the crate in their hands to hide the swords they also carried unsheathed.
“You filthy witch!” hissed the man behind her. Without thinking Jasmine spun and kicked the assassin in the chest knocking him to the deck. But he was up in a flash and his blade quickly cut a gash in her upper arm. The two stood facing each other. Jasmines short sword drawn and at the ready. “I was to let you live but you have chosen your fate.”
“I take no promises from assassins who slink in the night like the serpents they swear oaths to.” Jasmine lunged forward but the man was too fast and stepped aside while bringing the dagger in low. Jasmine could feel the stinging cut along her belly as another gash was opened.
Jasmine never saw the figure immerge from the fog, nor did the assassin. Suddenly a man with a baling hook appeared behind the robed assassin and drove the point deep in to his shoulder. The assassin yelped and pulled away from the new threat. So sudden was his movement he jerked the handle from his attacker’s hand.
With the assassin out of the way Jasmine could make out Tiny as he stood on the deck-dripping wet from the water. “Sorry it took so long but I’m not as fast going up the anchor as I used to be.”
“I’m only glad you caught my warning.” Said Jasmine as she began to circle in the fog looking for the now gone assassin. “I don’t know who you’ve allied with, but someone wants you all very dead my friend.”
Tiny slid to the back of Jasmine and circled with her. He was unarmed but had taken a fighting stance. His eyes never slowing as they searched the fog. “It’s the damn Brit court that’s causing this mess. I should have stayed at sea.” Suddenly there was a crash to Tiny’s right and as his eyes turned that way, he realized his mistake to late.
The assassin leapt from the fog. Clutched in one had was the same hook Tiny had just used. Before he could move the assassin was on him. With one powerful stroke the hook’s point drove deep into Tiny’s chest. He gave a cry as he fell to the deck in a heap.
Jasmine spun to face the threat but as she turned, he was gone again. She knelt by her wounded friend and heard the ragged gurgling that was his breath. “You’ll be well my friend. We will get you away from here.”
Tiny laughed until he began coughing. Blood ran from his lips and his eyes were squeezed tight in pain. “I believe, my Captain, that I am bound for the seas of beyond. Don’t worry. I have waited for this. I’ve seen all the grand seas of this land and it is time for something new. Fair well.” Tiny’s body tensed with pain again and he stopped speaking. Jasmine could still hear his breathing as it struggled to escape his body.
Jasmine was lost in concern for her friend she never saw the assassin as he moved from the mist towards her. His dagger hung in the air like a snake waiting to bite. He was about to strike when the body of another assassin sailed through the air and landed at his feet.
“You’re about to meet the same fate villain.” Hissed Falon as he walked from the fog. His blade dripped the blood of the assassin’s companion, and his face was contorted in a fit of rage. It seemed to grow even wilder when he saw the form of Tiny on the deck. “Die scum!” and with that he shot through the air. His blade howled as it swung towards the assassin.
Moving at just the last instant the Assassin avoided the deathblow but received a deep cut to his arm rendering it useless. His dagger fell to the floor with a clank. He gave a yell and then dove over the ships railing splashing into the water below.
“Tiny!” exclaimed Falon as he ran to his side. Jasmine sat on the deck next to her friend. Falon could tell by the heaving of her shoulders that he would be no help. “He is gone.” Whispered Jasmine not looking up. “He was one of my few friends.”
Falon was lost and without thinking the words came to his lips “He shall be honored.”
“He shall be avenged!” said Jasmine with venom as she sprang to her feet. “I shall hunt down all of that order and see them all hang for this!”
“Falon! Where are you? Damn these mists I can’t see.” It was Falstaff with Valcor close behind. The two stepped from the fog and stopped at the sight of Tiny. “He shall be honored.” Said Falstaff with a wiriness his fellows had not seen before.
Suddenly a voice began to slip through the fog and reach their ears. “Vas Ort Grav!”
“Mage” hissed Valcor as lightening crackled through the air and struck the deck of the ship cutting a burning hole.
“Vas Ort Flam” the upper deck exploded with a crash and flames began to lick at the sail.
“Everybody down the plank quickly.” Yelled Falstaff
Falon grabbed Jasmine as she stood on the deck with indifference. “Come on!”
“I will not leave my ship or my crew!” she said as more lightning struck the now crippled ship.
“Your crew are dead by the assassins and my guild will buy you a blasted ship! Now come on!” with that Falon grabbed Jasmine by her arm and pulled her towards the plank. At first, she hesitated and then she began to move. The two made it off the ship as the mast crashed to the deck like a great spear.
Together the small group watched as the Sea Witch gave a mighty grown and began to slip below the waters of the port. Jasmine stood away from the others and watched as tears ran down her cheeks. “You will all be avenged” she said with a whisper.
Valcor moved away towards a large stack of crates that they had concealed the Lady Shanna behind. As he turned the corner his voice caught in his throat. At his feet lay Shock and beyond was the crumpled form of his wife Raest.
“Falstaff quickly!” yelled Valcor as he moved to his wife’s aide
At first, he feared her for dead but as he lifted her head, she gave a slight moan and shifted in his arms.
“She is alive. Just unconscious.”
“Shock can you hear me,” said Falstaff as he knelt by the young warrior. Slowly the boy began to move his head and opened his eyes.
“Mother,” he said in a whisper.
“She is well, Valcor is tending to her. Tell us what has happened. Where is the Lady Shanna and Gadin?”
Shock slid to his elbows and began to look around. “Mother gave a scream and fell to the ground. Then it seemed the shadows came to life. I saw the flash of a blade and drew mine but then I was struck from behind. I tried to stay conscious, but darkness fell over me. The last I saw was a shadow moving towards the lady and Gadin was nowhere to be found.”
“I knew the man was a coward. “Hissed Falstaff as he helped the boy to his feet. “You did well young squire, by the sound these were professionals. You’re lucky to have survived.”
Meanwhile Valcor attempted to awaken his wife and was relieved when finally her eyes opened to look into his. “My husband, is everyone alright?”
“We’ve been better, but what happened to you?”
“It was a mind blast spell. I should have seen it coming,” she cursed as she rose to her feet slowly. “It was a very powerful mage I can tell you that. I never even felt him until he struck. Probably from one of the dark orders.”
“We know.” Hissed Jasmine as she stepped forward. “He sank my ship and those assassins killed my crew. I’ll be taking payment for my ship and moving on thank you.”
Falstaff stepped over to the young lady and tried to place a hand to her shoulder. For his deed he found a dagger pointed to his throat. Valcor gave an oath and drew his sword. Falon flew to Jasmines side. “Don’t do this.” He cried
“Don’t touch me. I am not one of you and I want nothing of your sympathy. You people are partly responsible for the death of Tiny. I should kill you as well as those Serpents.”
“I know not what association Tiny was to you, but he was one of our guild. Do not accuse me of his death for I would gladly lay my life down for any of the guild. Tiny knew the danger but still he saved you. You will not accomplish anything by killing me.” Falstaff said in as calm a voice as he could muster. “I will get you the gold for a ship. I will help you avenge the deaths that have occurred. But I will not do it at sword point.”
At his words Jasmine lowered the dagger but kept it at the ready. “I am Falstaff guild master of the Knights of Day. I swear to you my guild will help you in your revenge for it is ours as well. But for now, I see that we must find the Lady Shanna.” Jasmine began to protest but Falstaff raised his hand. “The same assassins that you seek have taken her. To find them we must find her and vice versa. I would say it would be in our best interest to help each other.”
Jasmine stood silent for a moment before she spoke. “I agree. But I hold no obligation to you or your guild. When this is done I go my own way.”
“Agreed. Now, do you know who these assassins are?”
“Serpents Crest. And I know where to start looking for their hole.” With that she sheathed her blade and the group prepared to move out in search of the Lady Shanna.
“The Lady Shanna taken through an act of treachery. The brave sailor Tiny lost to an assassin. His body sinking below the ocean in a fiery wreck of the ship known as the Sea Witch. Evil most foul as a den of serpents was revealed. The Knight’s were about to enter the mouth of the viper. Would they walk away or die trying to save the Lady?”
Valent lowered his head to the stained table. “I must rest” and with that he fell silent.
Gaylon moved across the tightly packed room to the side of the old knight. He breathed a sigh of relief as he heard a slight snore. “That’s all for tonight folks. Come tomorrow to hear more.” He then lifted the Knight and began shuffling him towards his room. The crowd slowly began shuffling out of the little tavern.