Gaylon stood in the doorway of the small room. The Inn of Hope was not large and only had a few rooms. Valant had paid considerable gold to stay for some time. Gaylon had grown to like the old knight but tonight he worried. The man laid in his bed drawing shallow breaths and his skin was pale.
“Valant rest tonight. The story can wait.”
The knight opened his eyes slowly and looked long and hard at Gaylon. There was a hardness there, along with a glint of desperation. “I must tell the tale. My time is short and people must know.”
“Know what? About a long dead guild. I know the tales of the Knights of Day. They say they betrayed the court and were hunted down and executed for their treachery. I’ve often wondered since you arrived how you survived.”
The old man looked around the room and after some thought signaled the man closer. “Time is my enemy but there are others that would rush my death. Know that I was not always known as Valant. For now, that should be good enough.” The old man rose slowly from the bed. As he stood a small dagger appeared in his hand and came to rest against Gaylon’s throat. “I consider you a friend but know this. Call the Knights of Day traitors again and I will kill you where you stand.”
There was steel to the words and Gaylon did not move for fear of being cut. “Who are you,” he whispered.
“Not now,” Valant sheathed the dagger. His point well made. “Before the end everyone will know.” He began to shuffle towards the door. “Help me downstairs. There is a tale to tell.
It took the group some time to work through the fog to a small tavern on the edge of town. They now stood looking at the dilapidated sign that proclaim the establishment “The Sunken Ferry”. All could tell that the tavern was not a very welcome place. There were drunken sailors lying about in the street and a blood-soaked boardwalk to great you.
“You all stay, I’ll go in.” said Jasmine as she moved towards the door.
“I think not,” replied Falstaff as he moved forward. “We will accompany you.
“And stand out like the land lovers you are? No, I think not. I shall go alone.”
“Listen to me,” growled Valcor as he stepped forward. “So far, my wife and son have been hurt, a guild brother lay dead, and my honor destroyed because I could not protect Lady Shanna. I will be going wherever you go until the Lady is found.”
Jasmine stood silent for a moment and studied the warrior. “Very well but wrap your cloak tight. I want no one to know you’re a knight until the time is right.”
“I shall go also,” said Falon as he moved to stand by Jasmine. “If that is alright with you Guild master.”
Valcor gave a disapproving look, but Falstaff could tell that this would be acceptable to Jasmine. “Very well but the slightest hint of trouble we will be coming in. I will not lose another guild brother today.”
Jasmine seemed satisfied with this and indicated that the two men follow her into the tavern. Once inside Falon found his senses assaulted. The smell and the sights were much like those of the Dragon’s breath but worse. Falon saw no knights, no gleam of armor or heraldry of a crest. In this tavern there were only men whom he would call murders and thieves. Valcor moved to the bar and stood watching silently.
Jasmine walked through the crowd with easy strides while Falon’s hand rested on the hilt of his sword and his eyes flew around the room. He noticed Jasmine walked deliberately towards the back of the bar where a fat bald man sat.
The first thing Falon noticed about the man was the tattoos that ran up the back of his neck and around his head to his ears. They seemed to be intricate designs, almost like runes. It looked vaguely familiar, but Falon dismissed it.
The man sat at a round table shoved into a far back corner. Armed men stood to either side and it was obvious to Falon the man had some importance to deserve guards. Falon looked at the guards and saw them to have scars across their arms and faces and again the tattoos seemed to wrap their bodies.
The fat man looked up and smiled at Jasmine’s approach. “Well gentlemen look who we have. It’s the sea witch herself.”
Jasmine stopped in front of the table with both hands planted firmly on her hips. “I have need of you Thorn.”
“I’ve told you before that if its stud service you want, I am not at your whim. You should be to at mine” this caused a riot of laughter throughout the bar. Falon could see with concern Jasmine’s face turn a deep red as her temper flared.
In one fluid motion Jasmine leapt across the table knocking the man called Thorn to the ground. Her dagger appeared almost magically in her hand and came to rest against his throat. The guards were caught completely off guard and Falon had to admit he was to. The difference was he reacted much faster and by the time the guards even thought to draw steel his blade was in his hand, and he stood over Jasmine protecting her back.
“Now Thorn you are going to take a walk with me.” Thorn was staring up at Jasmine with fear etched into his face. Falon got the idea no one had ever gotten this close to killing Thorn.
“What do you want witch?” The words came out as a dry whisper.
“When we’re outside. Now come on.” Jasmine drug the man to his feet and pushed him toward the door.
They were halfway across the room when the ring of steel filled the air, and someone cried out. Jasmine and Falon turned to the sound only to find a man with a crossbow. Blood ran from his parted lips as Valcor withdrew his blade from the man’s back. “I would suggest no one else try anything. I can make your death much more painful and slower.” He said as he joined the others near the door.
“If you do as I say then Thorn will walk back in here shortly. If you,don’t, you can find his bloated carcass in the street. No one steps out the door.” With that the three and their hostage left the bar in a hurry.
Once outside the tavern Falon felt his breathing slow. He heard the sound of steel being drawn as his comrades emerged from the shadows. “What happened?” said Falstaff as he moved towards Jasmine.
“Oh, we’re just taking Mr. Thorn for a walk so he can clear his thoughts.”
“We need to move,” said Valcor as he turned toward the door and the sounds of men yelling in the tavern.
Slowly Jasmine released the blade from Thorns throat. “The slightest trick and you are dead fat man.”
The group quickly faded into the fog and moved down the deserted streets and alleys of Serpents Hold. After nearly twenty minutes of walking they finally came to rest in a garbage filled alley.
“Now Thorn you will answer my questions.” Said Jasmine as she shoved the man to the ground. “Where is the Serpents Crest at?”
“You want the girl, don’t you?” he asked as a sly smile crossed his lips.
Valcor gave a vicious growl and kicked the man in the head. “What do you know of the Lady Shanna?”
Thorn sat back up spitting blood and glaring at the big knight. “You had best make it worth my while or you’ll get nothing.”
“I will give you your life,” said Jasmine as she flashed her dagger.
“Ah! Kill me and you will know nothing. Dead men don’t talk.”
Valcor drew his own dagger and with one quick motion cut open the fat mans cheek. “I have fought Orcs on nearly every field of battle. I have learned there is thing much worse then death.” Valcor leaned close to the bleeding man. “Have you ever seen the Orcs torture someone? I have. I watched and I learned little man. Would you like me to show you what I was taught?”
Thorn looked back at the knight with terror in his eyes. His baldhead was covered in sweat that rolled down his plump cheeks and dripped to the ground. “There is a house on the North side of town. That is where they gate to their keep.”
“And where is this keep?” asked Falstaff stepping forward.
“I don’t know” Thorn stammered. “All I know is they move to and from through the gate.”
“You will take us to this gate worm,” hissed Jasmine.
“They will kill me.”
“And you think I would do less,” said Valcor grabbing the man by the collar.
Jasmine leaned close and whispered to Thorn. “Look at it this way. Take us to the house and you go free. Chose not to and we kill you here. At least with option one you stand some chance.”
Thorns eyes darted from Jasmine to Valcor. He glanced briefly at the others as if pleading for help but when no one moved he wilted into himself. “Very well, I will take you. But I will not go inside.”
“Lead on fat one” said Jasmine as she shoved Thorn forward.
The group walked for nearly an hour before they came to a stop in front of a downtrodden old shack. The windows were covered with boards and grass choked the path to the door. Valcor looked at the path and saw the worn look of boot prints in the dried mud. Another thing he quickly noticed that the door appeared to be in sturdy condition and would be difficult to force through.
“This is the place” said Thorn as he started moving away. “I have fulfilled my obligation.”
“Not so fast fat man” said Valcor grabbing him by the collar. “How many are inside?”
“No more than two. That’s all I’ve ever seen.”
“You go first then,” growled Valcor dragging the man towards the door.
Thorn began to quiver and tried to pull away. “No! No! I did as you asked.”
Valcor dropped Thorn on the doorstep and drew his battle-axe from its sheath on his back. Not pausing he pounded on the door with the axe hilt. All stood silent as a rustling sound came from behind the door.
“Who is it?” came a muffled voice from the other side of the door.
“It’s Thorn,” returned Valcor. Silence followed for several moments and finally the sound of the door being unlatched.
The door had just started to swing open as Valcor gave it a mighty kick and charged in with war howl. Jasmine dove over Thorn and charged in behind Valcor, her dagger cutting arches in the air.
“Shock watch Thorn.” Said Falstaff as he ran after Raest and Falon.
Inside the small house was a grizzly scene. Valcor had cut the doorman from waist up while Jasmine had gone after the man behind. His throat sliced open in one quick cut. Falon’s broadsword had removed another guard’s arm and the man lay screaming on the floor.
“Where’s Raest?” asked Falstaff as he moved towards a curtain at the back of the house.
“She went to the gate.” Said Falon
Valcor and Falstaff stepped through the curtain and found the last guard laying on the floor. His skin had turned a pale green and he clutched himself crying in pain.
“Poison can be a nasty death don’t you think,” said Raest standing next to the blue shining doorway of the gate. “I paralyzed him and asked who was on the other side. He chose not to answer.” She turned and leaned down to look at the man. “I’d say you chose poorly, wouldn’t you?”
“Who’s on the other side?” repeated Falstaff.
The man gave a grown and through clenched teeth said “two guards in the portal room.”
At a look from Falstaff, Raest whispered magic words and the ugly color left the man’s skin. His breathing eased and his body began to relax. “Where is the keep?” when the man did not reply Raest began to utter more magic words.
“East of Skara Brae.” He said quickly looking at Raest in terror.
“Raest,” said Falstaff. Without another word Raest uttered magic words as the guard tried to crawl away. Suddenly there was a burst of light and the man feel unconscious on the floor.
When the others moved in from the other room Falstaff told them what had been heard. Raest again used her magic to stun Thorn knocking him unconscious.
“On my signal Valcor goes in first. With his axe he should do some far damage. We need to eliminate these two before they can sound an alarm,” instructed Falstaff.
“I’m going too,” said Jasmine stepping forward.
“You will go, we are all going.” Returned Falstaff.
“No, I’m going when he does.” Jasmine hissed
“Listen to me wench,” started Falstaff
“Oh, to hell with this!” exclaimed Valcor as he dove through the portal. Jasmine turned and dove in behind him.
“Damn you!” yelled Falstaff has he shoved Falon through. “Go now!”
And with that the group left the island of Serpents hold and entered the den of the serpent.
Derrick sat staring into one of the dozen blue ovals that indicated a
gate. He despised this duty but knew he had no choice. He had been in the
order of Shadows for almost six months. So far he trained during the day and sat
guarding the portals half the night.
At first he had not minded the assignment. He had worked with a man named Garth. Garth had been one of the master assassins but had been injured and was stuck doing menial task now. Garth had taken the young man under his wing. Derrick was taught techniques to keep him ahead of his training and told stories of the glory days of Garth.
But that had changed a week ago when Garth seemed to vanish. Derrick had asked about him and tried to find him, but all claimed to have never heard of him. The man was a mystery.
In Garths place was left a young man who could do nothing but talk none stop, usually about whatever barmaid he’d found himself in the company of the night before. He had only been in the order a month and had already tried to claim leadership of their watch. Derrick had ended that rather quickly by threatening to gut the boy and throw his body through one of the portals.
On this day things were normal as usual although the other watch had reported that the Order Master had been injured in some battle and had to be carried into the keep. Well, that will be the only excitement for the next ten years thought Derrick as he sat down near the door.
“So, what do you think about the Master?” asked Ian
“What do you mean” replied Derrick not wanting any conversation.
“Him being injured. They say he’s lost his skill and is liable to lose the order now.” Said Ian trying to sound snobbish as if he were above all.
Derrick could feel the rage boiling but knew there was nothing to do. Members of the Order were allowed to settle personal conflicts but only when not on duty. He would have to wait to beat the daylights out of Ian for blasphemy. “I doubt he will lose any position and it is the nature of the world to fail a battle on occasion.”
“Well, I say maybe he should retire if…”
“Someone’s coming through,” hissed Derrick as one of the gates began to glow.
Ian looked up startled. “But they didn’t give the signal.”
Derrick had already drawn his sword and was moving away from the portal. He glanced at Ian in disgust and saw the youth standing open mouthed and empty handed. “Grab your blade!” He yelled as a mad man exploded through the portal.
A mad man, that was the only way Derrick could describe the tornado that burst into the room. The man swung a large battle-axe in a sweeping arch while moving across the room. To late Derrick realized the man had locked on the unarmed Ian as a target. Derrick could only watch in surprise at how the large knight could move so swiftly.
Before Ian knew what hit him the axe drove down on him. The cut was at the base of the neck and cleaved down his chest stopping near his belly. Ian gave a small shriek as he collapsed in a bloody pile to the floor.
The knight then spun and readied for his next target. Derrick had no doubt that he could not defeat this daemon. But he would not go down as easily as the youth had. Then the portal began to glow again. A female stepped through with a long dagger in her hand. And more knights followed behind her.
Derrick knew then that he could not fight so many. He looked around the room but saw he was cut off from the door. Help was outside that door and down a long hall. He could never reach them in time. But then he thought of the portals. IF he went through to one of the houses on the other side, they may have a way of contacting the guards at the keep. It was his only hope.
The woman with the dagger was sliding across the floor towards Derrick as he broke and ran for the nearest portal. He saw her jump like a cat towards him as he leapt for the blue glow. There was a burning across his face and down his shoulder as he felt the tingle of the portal.
Derrick landed with thud on the stone pavement. His breath was knocked out of him. Slowly he rolled onto his back and raised his sword to fend off any further attack. But none came. After a few short minutes the portal disappeared. Good he thought as he climbed to his knees.
He could not see out of his left eye because of the blood pouring into it. And his left arm Stung from a deep cut that started at his shoulder and ran to his elbow. Without much thought he ripped his shirt to make bandages for his wounds. When that was done, he began walking around and taking in his surrounds.
What Derrick found was disheartening. The house he stood in had long been abandoned. The furniture had collapsed to the floor and sunlight shown down through large holes in the roof. When he looked outside his hopes for a town were also quickly gone. Before him was a vast rolling plain bordering an expanse ocean.
Slowly he moved out of the tumbled down shack and began walking an overgrown path to what he hoped was civilization. He knew that his chances of warning the keep about the invaders were now gone. But he would return to the keep one way or another and defend his master. Even if that meant finding his killers.
“Damn it all to hell he’s gone!” Cursed Valcor as he moved to follow the escaping guard through a portal.
“Stop!” Yelled Raest as she moved to examine the gateway. “Destroy the rune. It is what holds the portal open. If we close it then he is no longer a threat.”
Without another word Valcor swung his axe and crushed the rune. There was a hiss and a flash from the portal before it went dark and was gone from the room.
Raest moved to Falstaff. “I have an idea. If we destroy all the portals save one. I can modify its destination to one of our pleasing.”
“Aye sounds like a good idea. Shock, you stay here with Raest and destroy these runes.” Falstaff could see the boy’s face fall at being left behind again. “Cheer up. You’ll get your chance but for now you must do this.” Falstaff was relieved when the boy shook his head yes. “Everyone else let’s go find the Lady Shanna. Oh, one more thing.” Falstaff turned to look at Jasmine and Valcor who were already moving towards the door. “I want one of the guards alive so we can find the Lady faster.” Neither one responded as they slide out into the darkened hallway.
Valant sat spent. His energy had poured into the tale leaving a shell of an old man. “That’s it for tonight,” shouted Gaylon over the murmuring crowd. “He must rest. Know this, his tale is almost told. Come back tomorrow to hear more. With that Gaylon lifted the old man and moved him towards the stairs. How much longer he thought to himself. He can’t last many more nights. But Gaylon more than most was anxious to here the story to the end. How did a once great guild destroy itself?