Authors: Shawn E. Crapo
Slowly, the plants around him began to shudder. Their leaves faded from brown to green, uncurling and shifting their surfaces into the rays of sunlight that filtered in through the canopy above. New plants sprouted as well, reaching up into the life giving sun, and spreading their roots deep within the resurrected soil. Several small animals that had been lying dead among the brush stirred and then pounced to their feet, bounding off into the woods. A few moments later, the underbrush had been restored, and the clearing was green once more.
“Very good, Farouk,” Jodocus said. “The forest has been repaired. Your efforts will not go unnoticed. All of the wildlife of the forest is under your protection, and it will repay you in kind. When you need protection, the forest will be your guardian. I learned over my years that it is a symbiotic relationship. Every bit of life you return to the forest will be reciprocated in one form or another.”
“I feel connected to the forest already,” Farouk said. “It is a kinship like none other I have ever felt.”
“That is common,” Jodocus explained. “When your power grows to encompass the land itself, that feeling will be a hundredfold. Communing with the land itself is a much more rewarding experience, and much more intense. But, I’m used to it. You will grow accustomed to it as well.”
Farouk was about to speak, but Jodocus suddenly looked to the side, his brow furrowing in concern.
“Do you feel that, Farouk?” Jodocus asked.
Farouk looked around, then to the ground, opening his mind to the surrounding forest. He felt a minor sense of negativity, as if something was approaching from a distance. Something dark and evil.
“I feel it,” he replied. “I don’t what it is, but I feel its darkness.”
“Yes,” Jodocus said. “Perhaps it is time to use your new gift. Hide, my friend.”
Farouk dashed to the underbrush, crouching as low as he could and willing the Dryad’s gift into action. Jodocus watched as Farouk faded into the greenery around him. He smiled proudly and took a concealed position among the brush on the other side of the path. He, too, faded into the greenery.
The Druid and his apprentice remained crouched, concealed in their hiding places, and waited. After several minutes, the sound of unearthly hissing echoed through the woods. Something dark was approaching the clearing, and both of them could feel its aura. It was a feeling of disparity, anguish, and hate. One that unsettled even the Druid himself.
It was a familiar feeling to him, one that he had experienced in the past. But he had long since vanquished creatures like this from Eirenoch, and was at a loss to explain the presence of something so similar and evil. It was not a Defiler, he knew, nor a demon. It was something that had once been human, but now roamed the Earth in only spirit form.
The Druid took hold of his staff, focusing his power into a single point at its tip. He would blast the wraith with his power when it appeared, hoping it was enough to banish the entity forever.
Farouk saw it first, watching as its blackness floated into the clearing. It was a mass of shimmering darkness, vaguely man shaped, and surrounded by an aura that frightened and repulsed the apprentice. The creature moved to the center of the clearing, spreading its mass to absorb the life energy that surrounded it. Farouk could feel the trees and plants around him shudder, as if they, too, were afraid.
Suddenly, Jodocus materialized within his hiding place and boldly stood in the creature’s path. His staff was raised in defiance, and his teeth were bared in anger. His robes billowed with the power of the Dragon, and his eyes glowed with energy.
He spoke in the Dragon’s tongue, cursing the entity. “Begone, foul spirit!” he growled, aiming his staff at the mass of darkness.
A flash of green light appeared at the end of his staff and streaked toward the entity, exploding on impact. The dark mass screeched in agony; its black, ethereal tendrils moving around sporadically. Jodocus stepped forward, waving his staff before him. With each pass, the staff sparked bolts of green energy into the spirit’s depths, dissolving it gradually.
“Back to the depths of Hell!” Jodocus shouted. “Begone with you!”
Farouk looked to his staff, which seemed to be gathering energy on its own. Without hesitation, he took it up and stood, rushing to stand next to his mentor. As he watched Jodocus continue to dissolve the creature, Farouk raised his own staff, willing the gathered power into a bolt of energy that streaked toward the beast. It shattered the spirit’s form, sending it back from the center of the clearing. It screeched again, swirling faster, trying to regain its cohesiveness.
Jodocus blasted it again, this time sending an invisible whirlwind into the creature’s center. The spell swirled within it, sucking its dark energy into the vortex. It slowly shrank in size as it mass was absorbed, screeching and sending out tendrils of darkness toward the Druids. Then, with a flash of blue, the ball of darkness exploded, sending the two back a few steps with the impact. They watched as the darkness gradually spread out and dissolved.
The wraith had been destroyed.
Farouk stood frozen, still frightened and unsure. He had never experienced anything like this before, having only fought with men in his years as a warrior. Battling an entity like this was a completely new experience.
“Well,” Jodocus said. “That’s that.”
Farouk caught his breath, looking to the Druid in amazement. “What was that creature?” he asked.
“That,” Jodocus replied, “was a wraith. A malevolent spirit. Why it was here, I don’t know. I had banished them many years ago, driving them away from the barrows and tombs they inhabited. This one may have wandered here from across the sea, or the sea itself. There are dead men there, too.”
“A wraith is the spirit of a villainous man?” Farouk asked.
“Precisely,” Jodocus replied. “Seeing this one makes me wonder if The Lifegiver is influencing the dead on this island. Waking their souls and enslaving them to do his bidding.”
“The Lifegiver has created strange creatures before,” Farouk said. “And he has brought the dead to life on many occasions.”
“That is disturbing,” Jodocus said, his face a mask of worry. “If he can raise the dead from this distance, then who knows what else he can do? We must keep vigilant, Farouk. Our task has just become much more complex.”
“I am with you, Jodocus,” Farouk replied.
Jodocus smiled, knowing that Farouk was truly willing to stand by his side. But he wondered if the two of them would be enough to undo all of The Lifegiver’s destruction. It would be difficult and dangerous, but he had no choice. He was created to maintain the balance, and that was what he would do.
“Come, my friend,” Jodocus said. “We will return to my tower. I must do some research into this matter, and commune with the Dragon. We need to find some answers before we can proceed.”
The sky had darkened to a pleasant, starlit evening as the Knights reached Bray. Eamon had commanded the Knights to tether their horses to the nearby trees, and they all lay quietly along a ridge overlooking the coastal town. It was quiet, with only a minor amount of activity along its docks. The town itself was built right on the coast, with most of the buildings and houses resting upon stilts and connected with a network of planked, suspended walkways.
As the Knights scanned the town, they saw only a few scattered Jindala guards patrolling the walkways, and one of their own vessels moored in the distance. Many small boats were docked, but empty, and most of the town’s own fishing vessels had been commandeered and occupied by enemy sailors.
Bray was now under Jindala control. The Knights had to come up with a plan to retake it without endangering the townsfolk. As the Jindala were spread out and unaware of their presence, stealth seemed the best option. They would have to sneak into the city and take out the guards one by one. Arrows were out of the question. Even if the three archers among them were able to hit the guards from this distance, their bodies would fall into the water, alerting any others nearby.
“We’ll need to infiltrate the town without raising the alarm,” Eamon stated. “Any ideas?”
“My armor has the power of shadow,” Daryth reminded him. “I can take out the nearest guard by the shack to the right and signal when the way is clear.”
“Do it,” Eamon said. “And be careful. Hide his body in the salt marsh.”
Daryth nodded, putting away his bow and drawing his dagger. He pulled up his hood and bounded over the ridge silently. As he entered the shadows, he faded from sight, his armor blending in with the darkness.
“I can barely see him,” Angen said, squinting into the darkness. “He’s just a shadow.”
“The power of the Dragon armor,” Eamon reminded him, “is different for everyone.”
Daryth snuck down the hill into the swampy ground below. He remained in a crouching position, treading carefully through the muck to stay silent. His target stood on a ledge attached to the shack, facing away and swaying slowly with fatigue. Daryth approached from behind, his dagger in his teeth. He reached the edge of the dock, gripping the ledge and silently pulling himself onto it behind the guard. When his feet were firmly upon the planks, he gripped his dagger and crept up behind the guard, ready to strike.
Reaching around from behind, Daryth grasped the guard’s head, covering his mouth, and plunged his dagger into his back. The guard slumped to the walkway, Daryth easing him down to lessen the impact. He dragged the guard backward, sliding quietly off the ledge, bringing the guard down with him. He turned to the Knights as they watched and gave a thumbs up to signal that the way was clear, and then dragged the guard to the rear of the shack.
Brynn, still scanning the immediate area, saw another guard on the roof approach Daryth’s side of the eave. He quickly drew his bow, waiting for the guard to reach the edge of the roof, and fired.
The guard flinched, grasping the arrow that struck him in the chest. Without even a groan, he tumbled over the edge, landing with a small splash in the muck. Daryth jumped, turning to the Knights again, his hands raised in question.
“Good shot,” Wrothgaar whispered. “Bad timing.”
“He would have seen Daryth below,” Brynn said. “I had to risk it.”
Eamon clapped Brynn on the back. “It’s alright. No one was alerted. Let’s go.”
The Knights quickly crested the ridge and made their way down to the swamp, being careful to avoid the deeper pools of brackish water. They met Daryth behind the shack and crouched in the shadows.
“Good work, Daryth,” Eamon said. “Did you see anyone else nearby?”
“No,” he replied. “But I didn’t notice the guard on the roof, either.”
“Perhaps Brynn could keep his eyes on the rooftops,” Azim suggested. “His vision seems to be more acute than ours.”
Brynn nodded. “I’ll keep an eye out.”
“Alright,” Eamon said. “We’ll proceed into town, but stay off of the walkways for now. Once we get an idea of where all the guards are, we can take them out one by one. Daryth, lead the way.”
Daryth nodded, and then turned to peer around the corner of the shack. When he was satisfied the way was clear, he signaled the Knights to follow. They crept along underneath the walkways, wading silently through the water. Brynn watched the rooftops, his eyes aided by the moonlight. As they approached another shack, Daryth signaled for them to stop.
“Two guards,” he said. “I can take one, but someone else will have to take the other.”
Wrothgaar scowled. “I can’t do it,” he said. “I’m about as quiet as an avalanche.”
Azim stepped forward. “I will take the other one,” he said, drawing his dagger.
Daryth turned, glancing around to make sure there were no other guards in the area. He then crept toward the two targets, Azim following behind. Daryth motioned for him to get behind the guard on the left, and then crept up behind his own target. The two guards were speaking in the tongue of Khem, and Azim held his finger up to signal Daryth to wait. He listened closely to the conversation.
“I’m not looking forward to seeing the Enkhatar,” one of them said. “Fortunately, we’re on the West coast and won’t have to see them for awhile.”
“Agreed,” the other said. “I feel uneasy around them. Vile creatures.”
Azim turned to Daryth with a worried look. Daryth furrowed his brow in question, but Azim shook his head, not wanting to speak until the guards had been killed.
“I hear the Enkhatar will be bringing new blood with them,” the first guard spoke again. “Something even more vile than the Defilers.”
“Where did you hear this?”
“I overheard Sultan Hadar tell the Sheikhs in Argan. They’re something familiar to the people here. Something from their legends that makes my blood run cold.”
The guards then fell silent. Azim nodded to Daryth. The two stood, reaching out to grab the guards’ ankles. They pulled back in unison, causing the guards to topple backward. They each caught their targets, covering the guards’ mouths to silence them, and plunged them into the swamp, pushing their daggers through their backs.
“What were they talking about?” Daryth asked, pulling his dagger from his target’s back.
“Disturbing news,” Azim said, signaling the Knights to join them.
Eamon and the others dashed across the swamp to regroup. When they had reached the walkway, Azim related the conversation.
“The Enkhatar are coming,” he said. “And they are bringing something with them. I do not know what it is, but it is something from your legends.”
“Who are the Enkhatar?” Eamon asked.
“They are the dead, brought to life to fight for The Lifegiver. They were once men, mighty warriors of ages past, but raised from the dead to serve the darkness.”
“Could these be the former Keynakin?” Eamon asked.
Azim sighed. He had not considered that possibility. The Keynakin were the most trusted Knights of Imbra, and were considered divine warriors among the people of Khem. The Lifegiver had murdered them, and now Azim understood why they had never been buried. An eternity of undead servitude would seem a likely fate for such honorable warriors.
“That is possible,” he said.
“My people have similar legends,” Wrothgaar said. “Dead warlords and their knights who walk among the living. They are called the Draugr, fearsome undead warriors that inhabit the tombs of kings.”
“I’ve heard of them,” Brynn said.
“I have, too.” Angen added. “When I was young, I encountered one in the North. If these Enkhatar are similar, then we may be the only ones who could stand against them.”
“Correct,” Azim said. “Their armor is nearly impenetrable, and even enchanted weapons do little.”
“Where will they appear when they arrive?” Eamon asked.
“I got the impression they will land in the East. The guards seemed thankful they were here on the opposite coast. But they were still fearful of what the Enkhatar were bringing with them. What, in your legends, could they have been referring to?”
“I don’t know.” Eamon said. “We will have to consult with Jodocus, if possible, or perhaps Maedoc. I wish Erenoth were here to relay a message. We need to know the nature of these new beasts.”
“There is nothing we can do now,” Azim said. “We should continue through the town.”
Eamon nodded. “Alright,” he said. “Daryth, lead on.”
The assassin crept through the streets of Faillaigh like a specter, his dark robes blending into the shadows. His years of experience had taught him to remain nearly invisible, and even the Jindala guards that came within only a few feet of him were completely unaware of his presence. To the world, he did not exist. He was a shadow; a deadly shadow with a mission.
Though he had been ordered to eliminate Queen Maebh in Faerbane, the assassin had detoured to the smaller town of Faillaigh to take out another target; one whose words had a more immediate effect on the people of the South Kingdom. Governor Ferrin, sometimes known as the Mouth of the Queen, was Maebh’s formal advisor. It was he who convinced Maebh to allow the Jindala to take up residence in her cities. His motivation, as usual, would have been the prospect of filling his pockets with foreign gold.
Ferrin was a man obsessed with greed, and that obsession was what corrupted Maebh from the day they were introduced. As a charismatic man, Ferrin had no trouble convincing the already petty and shallow sister of Siobhan to turn against her people to live a life of luxury. In a way, she was just as bad as Ferrin, if not worse. She was every bit her mother’s daughter, whereas Siobhan inherited the honor and strength of their father, Magnus.
Despite these differences, however, the assassin was still apprehensive about killing Maebh. She was, after all, the twin sister of his love, Siobhan, and seeing the life drain from Maebh’s eyes would be nearly as heart wrenching as watching Siobhan die. He hoped that she no longer bore any resemblance to her sister, though he knew that her eyes would betray his wish. They would be Siobhan’s eyes.
Garret stopped to rest near the town square, ducking into an alley and behind a stack of crates. Ferrin’s lavish mansion was near, and he could almost smell the man’s greed in the air. He would no doubt be surrounded by guards, or have guards posted at every door. In either case, the only way into the mansion would be through a high window. Luckily, Garret was equipped to climb.
As he gathered the will to continue forward, voices began to echo through the nearby street. A small squad of Jindala guards was approaching, equipped with spears and small buckler shields. They marched in perfect unison, each man scanning the buildings around him for any sign of disobedience. Garret melted into the shadows as they passed, wishing that he could kill every last one of them. Caution stayed his hand, however, and he remained hidden and silent, waiting for the guards to turn the corner. He remained motionless as he watched them disappear into the night.
He was about to dash across the street when he heard a faint whisper nearby. He stopped, scanning the darkness, his heart pounding rapidly. Near the rear of the alley in which he hid, a shadowy figure was crouched. He squinted to get a better look, seeing the outline of a cloaked figure beckoning him to approach. How this man had snuck up on him, he didn’t know, but whoever it was definitely had skill. Garret quietly approached the figure, his hand on his dagger, and his guard up.
“Closer,” the figure whispered. “Don’t be afraid.”
Garret maintained a distance of a few feet from the figure. He was a male, in his early thirties, clean shaven with
“Who are you?” Garret asked.
The man pulled aside his cloak, revealing an amulet emblazoned with the symbol of the Thieves’ Guild. “I am Adder,” he said. “Leader of the Thieves’ Guild in Faillaigh.”
“What are you doing out here?” Garret demanded. “Why are you following me?”
“I know who you are,” Adder replied. “And I know why you are here. Tell me, who is your target?”
“My target is my business,” Garret warned. “And how do you know who I am?”
Adder laughed. “Everyone knows you,” he answered. “You are the Scorpion. The deadliest assassin in Eirenoch.”
Garret remembered the name. He had been given the moniker as a young man in the service of King Magnus. It had been years since he had heard it, and was surprised that a man of Adder’s age even knew it.
“We all know of you,” Adder said. “You’re an inspiration to all of us night stalkers and thieves.”
“I am no thief,” Garret said. “I am a member of the royal court, and always have been.”
“Call yourself what you will, but we are with you.”
“I don’t need your help,” Garret said. “Go about your business, and stay away from me.”
Adder smiled. “Don’t worry, my Lord,” he said. “We won’t bother you. But we will be watching.”
Adder turned and disappeared into the darkness, leaving Garret to contemplate the brief encounter. If the Thieves’ Guild was aware of his presence, then his mission may be in jeopardy. Nevertheless, he would continue. For the sake of the kingdom, Ferrin and Maebh must die.