The Forsaken

By Michael G. Giles

Copyright © 2003 BY Michael G. Giles All rights reserved. None of the information in The Forsaken may be reproduced in any way shape or form, or by any means, without express written consent by the author, Michael G. Giles

1

The attack was the gathered retaliation of the lesser-dragons; the insensitive military strikes upon their lairs had provoked them. The military wanted them out, not necessarily dead. The dragons were confronted within their own lairs and slain; numerous brood cut down, pierced by lance and sword. There were too many over-rambunctious foot soldiers and knights plunging far into the extreme, ignoring orders. Two of the of the king's sixteen military legions were lost in the raids. It was written that the men who died perished so that many could live, free of the terror of the monsters. Many of the commoners saw it merely as an excuse to kill the dragons. Lust for blood, power, and increase in personal wealth dominated the king's heart. The evidence of truth in this lay in the history of the past. It was a time of great anxiety for the people of the city-port, Navan. They became greatly disturbed, sending in petitions in favor of the dragons, afraid that the killing would cause the creatures to retaliate against the city; they wanted them left alone. Everyone knew dragons had dangerously high intellect. These petitions had come about due to three incidents which had occurred far outside the city walls. The first two dragon encounters, in which children were the victims, were promptly ignored by the governor. The third involved the Governor's own son, who was badly injured by fire. Then, and only then, was action taken against the great fire-breathers.

In the beginning the people wanted blood for blood against the very dragon that took the lives of their children. It was a cold hard fact that a dragon, once it shed blood, did not stop. The scent of man would hurl it into a killing frenzy. It was also a fact in dragons lived the law of tooth for tooth, meaning if a dragon offended he or she would be offended upon in like manner. Witnesses had only testified of a single dragon responsible for the attacks. But their witnesses were dismissed by the self righteous governor, and legion after legion of the king's knights were dispatched to slay every dragon within a hundred leagues. Ironic it was that in the midst of the king’s design to solemnly bring the dragons to justice for the people, grand celebrations were launched within the castle walls after each hunt (dragons skins hanging by great hooks, secured to great oaken timbers worked into large racks were the evidence of more than a motive for the people). Each skin was sold for no small sum of gold. And once the first dragon hide was purchased it became a crazed mercantile exchange of which the profits were incredible. The king's knights were continuously dispatched, battalion after battalion, armors shining, lances held high, out of the city by night to “defend the borders”.

Among these knights was a general by the name of Kenneth Bullrammer. It was he who led the first of the king's legions out to battle when it all began. General Bullrammer was opposed to the killings, especially to the loss of his men with every dragon campaign. But he was an oath-bound, blood-sworn, knight. The honor of his vows to the king and kingdom outweighed his personal judgements. And so, time after time, he led his men out, tracking the great beasts in a campaign of death. The hunts usually lasted for three moons. And, as his liege ordered him, he took down dragon after dragon at considerable losses. He himself slew three young dragons single handedly while out in the field. On one hand the struggle raging between beast and mankind sent the uprooted dragons fleeing into the distant mountain ranges. On the other hand it increased the wealth of the king significantly.

One day General Bullrammer and his men had traced a dragon to a location where a single dragon had fled. With his men strategically surrounding the valley, he readied his knights. As soon as all was ready he gave the signal to charge the valley. The thunder of their horses hooves filled the air and echoed throughout the mountains as they stormed the ravines and canyons. Into the heart of the towering peaks they invaded, into the dragons place of retreat. Unbeknownst to all this act would directly provoke the greatest dragon assault against the inhabitants of Navan in all its history (even though the raid was never accomplished). For something happened that day within that valley, something General Kenneth Bullrammer, slayer of three dragons, would never speak of in full . . . not to his men, his family, nor even to his king.

The thunder of hooves pounded to a stop just inside the valley's entrance. One knight, a high ranking captain, signaled with a horn to hold position, to await further orders, at the command of General Bullrammer. As the last note died away, the knight's face grew pale and the horn fell from his lips. Turning to his General, he hoarsely whispered, “General Bullrammer, what-” “I see Captain Beckner, I see!” Retorted General Bullrammer angrily. There were no dragons within the valley. Not one shed dragon scale for evidence. Not one dropping -- nothing. He signaled his troops to hold ground as he heeled his War-Horse forward to the spot which was the center point of the vale. There he reined in to a stop. His stallion sauntered sideways nervously as he leaned down from the side of his mount searching with an experienced eye for the signs of recent prints. His stallion's eyes rolled in fear, stomping and throwing its nose up, ears laid back. Speaking to his horse in soothing words he continued to search for dragon evidence, leaning further toward the soil. His horse abruptly reared in terror, throwing him to the earth. Years of training had taught him never to fight against a fall but to let it happen and relax. As soon as he struck the earth, he was back upon his feet, hand quickly grasping the hilt of a broad sword at his side. With a ring of steel, his sword was unsheathed. Cursing he watched his steed tear away from the area he was at across the grassy plain. It disappeared over a small rolling hill. He briefly marveled at why his mount had lost control; what it feared. In all its life, he had never lost command of it. Over the years he grew to trust its instincts as well as his own; and this is what scared him the most. His men could fire a hail of bolts down on any sudden attack which might come upon him, though he could not fathom anything possibly getting through the ranks of his knights. He trusted the scouts to watch the skies for a possible dragon-strike. But the feeling he sensed was that it was here upon the ground that he now stood. This place was a menace and a threat, not the surrounding mountains, not the sky . . . here.

Each minute seemed to him as ten as he listened to the sounds of the wind blowing through the tall grasses, of the familiar sounds of shield and sword, lance and armor inadvertently violating the space of each other with the shifting of three-hundred mounts stamping and snorting impatiently in anticipation. All these were the familiar sounds of which he was accustomed. Bullrammer looked around, the muscles in his strong stone-like face twitched with anticipation as he searched for some hidden secret which might reveal the nature of his uneasiness. An apprehension began to manifest itself in him, slowly transforming to horror. He felt its icy fingers begin to grope at him, unseen. Within his mind he visualized some men in his recent past, how they had lost their lives upon the battle field as they fell victim to it. Fear was the enemy, and he frowned at it as it severed him as a razor-sharp blade. The General shook his head, driving the feeling away with a mind of steel. Concentrating on the task at hand, he searched on. But even as he did so, his legs began to feel heavy, and his thoughts became jumbled. His boot caught on a protruding rock, causing him to fall to the ground. Again he arose as quickly as he had stumbled. Cursing, he crouched frozen in terror as if an adult dragon was suddenly upon him in its full wrath. He waited for the enemy to fall upon him as his eyes darted this way and that. He searched for any hint of movement in the grass and sky. With a start, the General straightened to his full height, gasping at what he heard -- or rather what he no longer could hear. Stumbling to the top of a grassy mound he looked out at the open plains against the mountains, searching back and forth along the mountains edge, confused and bewildered, not believing his own eyes.

Empty. There were the plains of trodden grass as they should have been had an army passed over them. But his legion was gone . . . simply gone.

As if evil itself came in answer to his fear a cold wind swept through the valley, coming up from behind. With a dry-throated’ curse he reeled about, feeling the grasp of something distant, as if something was reaching, groping out for him. As General Bullrammer peered out into the uncanny frigid blanket of chill flowing past him he strained to see any hint of an enemy. His heart drummed and throbbed as it had many times within the heat of battle, yet it was laced with an icy terror he had never before felt. And then it came upon him. He beheld, as if it were, a mere black hooded cloak born up into the sudden rise of winds. He passed over it once, thinking it was nothing more than what it seemed to be; debris caught in the currents upon the horizon. But as it neared him his eyes widened, terror pulsating with every beat of his pounding heart. It was indeed not just something caught up by the hands of nature.

General Kenneth Bullrammer was never one to let something else control him; he being a man of great physical stature, having a tempered mind of steel. That is why the king had chosen him as the leader of one of his twelve legions. His men knew him as one they could set their back against in time of need for security and guidance. Yet he had never encountered something such as this . . . no, never alone.

He watched as the cloak, now more clearly visible, floated through the sky, moving swiftly as if upon the currents of a fast flowing river. It was all he could do to keep his breathing steady as this apparition approached. His heart fluttered dangerously within his chest as the thing lowered without a sound before him, not quite touching the ground. And it spoke in a voice that touched his mind rather than his ears in chilling whispers causing him to shrink before it. It’s mental voice hissed as if attempting to communicate with him down through a thousand millennia, the words becoming jumbled and faded at times. “Mine you are within mountains these. Yourself give to me. Try it is useless me to resist, resist, resist.”

Earlier in his youth he had associated himself with all manner of folk of every type. He had been a renegade adventurer, leaving his parents and family for weeks, sometimes months on end, to see the world. During these ventures Kenneth had fallen into company with some possessing great power, and they had taught him many things: Magic, tracking, self mastery, fighting, and much more. A good friend and Sorcerer by the name of Merdreth had once warned him to never depend on one's self entirely; it would be a grave mistake. He was counselled to seek power in the things of all the world as well as magic and self. And so with this knowledge, and much practice and experience over the years, he slowly forged his body, spirit, and mind upon the anvil of mastery and became his own master. Above all, he trusted himself first, doing all he could do. But never at any time would he rely solely upon himself when another could better his cause.

His enemy now hovered before him, the likes of which he had never encountered. But now the terrible sensations which had nearly overcome began to subside with the instant recollection of his past companions. Their memory gave him the strength he needed (though he wished they were now at his side to aid him). His many trials with them had tempered him to deal with such as this. Yet what fool wold not be afraid of an enemy which could cause an army to vanish? Only a dead man would be fearless.

“Be gone foul spawn of the Under World! Be gone I say, in the name of the king!” The figure's eyes blazed as it loomed up menacingly in front of him. “Try mortal foolish.” Bullrammer did not wait. He attacked with great skill and force, performing the dance of death with an unfamiliar foe, giving the enemy no chance but to defend. Long they fought within the vale, the General using his great broad sword and his foe casting words of fear that pierced his heart as the arrow pierces flesh unto death. It seemed as though they forever battled, the sun rising and setting three time followed by the moon. The nearness of his enemy had a chilling reaction to the very air about him. At night, sweat grabbed his flesh as icy frozen fingers, or solidified into his hair. In the heat of the day it cooled him. This gave him strength and aid from the enemy itself. His mind surged forward toward victory; there was no other way. The general denied the possibility of defeat. You see, he always was stubborn in that facet of the facts. Only the apparition’s defeat was acceptable to him . . .

. . . General Bullrammer's entire host of men had no knowledge of the event which had taken place in that valley. After it was over, he again beheld his army just as it was before. Sweat drenched, he returned to his legion and called a council. While at council he rebuked his personal advisors, captains and scouts for not holding position until he had returned. All present testified that they had never changed ranks, nor had they left the valley. Boldly one of them stood forth and admonished his general for speaking such treason against he and his men. Bullrammer grew silent, pondering upon the things which had happened. In the end he grew to understand the nature of this event which had befallen him, if only in part. He had been told stories, and had been a part of great quests, some of which were now fireside legends, and knew he was now caught within the plan of a powerful entity which had the heart and soul of blackness. He now cursed the day as it had happened to him.

2
They struck the city, twelve score and sixteen in number, leveling half the city in one day less than a fort-night. The death toll was high among the people; the kings military nearly destroyed. And even though three score and six dragons gave their lives in that shocking attack, all the people of Navan learned a bitter lesson. Three days before the dragon attack was to end, General Bullrammer and his legion returned from the mountains to the palace. Startled beyond speech, he learned they had been absent from the kingdom for almost one full year. But he had no time to wonder how, his city was under attack. And so he and his men joined the battle. But it was too late. The dragons had spread their death amidst a now decaying city. Most all was wasted. After the dragons withdrew, General Bullrammer was arrested and tried for treason by the King's Court. At the conclusion of a one day trial he was stripped of all rank and honor. And though the king dismantled him from all duties as a knight, he would not loose his tongue as to the reason of the delay -- he would have been labelled as insane. His counselors testified that they had gone to hunt the dragons as ordered, and then come back as planned. But the king threw them all out in a rage, naming them liars and enemies of the people. Kenneth would have been hung on the gallows (in fact a scheduled execution had been decreed by the king) but hundreds of knights raised their voices in protest, some threatening to follow Bullrammer. But in a secret meeting a nervous king bargained Kenneth's life to him if he would help to restore order among his legions. Because of the Oath of Knighthood he had sworn, he did as the king bade and order was restored. It was because of this that he lived to begin the rebuilding of his beloved city.

In that fate-filled period of time something had happened to him, disturbing him greatly. And he would not speak of it to anyone, no matter how many times they inquired. He was expelled from the castle, never to return. The survivors of the people who had sent petitions to the Governor, asking him to persuade the king to let the dragons be, riled the public to vengeance. Lynch mobs stormed the city, making their way to the Governor's mansion with ropes. But the dragons had done the job for them. With blood still hot in their veins they made their way to the ruins of the castle where a one-week scourge of the remaining military began. Soon only the people remained, and all the knights which denounced the royalty they served; and they were few. The king and his family were tried by an angry people and sentenced to death. Gallows were built, used, and hen burned with fire to let all know that the peoples voice should be heard. Kenneth Bullrammer witnessed it all, helpless to deliver the king which he had served for years; and he did try. Many former knights tried to rescue the king. Most were slain, the people suffering the losses of ten to the knights one. But the number of the people measured at least twenty to one. Nothing could be done, and soon it was ended.

As the king and his family swung lifelessly from ropes Kenneth looked at each face within the throng of people. Glee, amusement, savagery, blood-lust and satisfaction filled their countenances. In many areas of the city fights broke out, leaving many wounded and dead. But these fights were brought under control by the force of the people. From that day forth they set up their own laws and chose a religious priest to be their leader. Just under five-hundred knights had survived. All his adult years had been spent to protect this people. And what gift did they give in return? Barbarianism.
3
One year later Kenneth married. Eleven years after, a son was born to him. He named him Garrion after a mighty warrior he had once travelled with. A man of greater strength and skill than his own. One that had been a good friend, teaching him the ways of a warrior. His wife was happy beyond measure because they finally had their first born. She smiled at him often when she would look into his eyes and would tell Kenneth that his eyes had been stolen by his son. Kenneth would always smile, stand and kiss her and the child. Often he would leave the house on a pretended errand, despair overcoming him; a despair that would cause this grown man to weep bitterly . . . secretly.

The recollection of dark prophecy that apparition had sealed upon him long ago blackened his mind at times. Sometimes if he tried hard enough he could lock it away for days at a time. But it always came back to him; that prophetic day when he had faced that thing, battled with it, pitting his iron mind against it as well as his blade. His victory was a bitter and cold future.

His mind strayed, his vision blurred, flashing into the past; unbidden trespass. As if he were suddenly forced to meditate upon this very thought. It felt as if another mind was bending its will upon him, forcing him to think back upon that fate-filled day. For an instant he stiffened erect, as if an assassin’s blade had pierced him from behind. Then the panic and fear of one who realizes he walks among enemies crossed his face. He felt as if he were suddenly intoxicated, as if he had just gulped down three pints of Dwarven Hammermouth. He felt twisted and stretched as if by many strong hands. The terrible impact of that which was upon him reminded him of the past. And in recalling the past, Kenneth knew he was creating its birth here in the future. He knew he could not hold out much longer. His mind felt as though it were slipping. Squinting, Kenneth rubbed his face with one hand. As he lowered his hand, his voice caught in his throat. His defeated foe was before him as if he was taken back to that valley . . .

. . . the cloak fell to the ground as General Bullrammer panted, sword raised into fighting position above his left shoulder. Within seconds the thing took shape within the folds of that night-black disguise, rising, again, slowly to its power and height, defiant of the winds that increased in fury through the valley, its eyes flashed with hatred and malice.

“Won you have. Bested’ in battle me few have.” It raised hidden arms high and spit out a curse upon General Bullrammer:

All may seem good by fortunes fate
All life's dreams you may gain

Know you now I write the slate
An address of anguish and pain

She shall bear your first born son
And say that he has your eyes

But know you now he is the one
Through him I bring your demise

When first I shall touch him I take you to me
Your wife's soul will forever be mine

For I am the shadow, I make all men see
The illusion of life sublime

Then shall descend my darkness and wrath
That shall force your soul through my gate

With power I seal you to this blackened path
Bound with the power of hate

Kenneth’s eyes focused, his breathing coming to him in gasps. He could not find enough breath to sustain him. Blackness engulfed him. He awoke alone just like so many times before, alone and in terrible fear. The fear was not for himself, but for his beloved wife and child. This memory vividly haunted him much, and was an ever increasing manifestation. He knew he must do something. There was not much time left. He must save his family. A plan began to germinate within his heart and mind.

Fourteen years passed.

4
Garrion Bullrammer was born in Navan, June twenty sixth, fourteen years after the dragon-strike on the city. He grew up with his family the first six years of his life playing among the ruins with his childhood friends. He was a happy child, larger and more sober than the others. Kenneth watched Garrion slowly mature from a child into a young man. His dreams at night often recited that curse so long ago. He dreaded the passing of time as he recalled the phantom's curse. That thing that had attacked him without reason. He relished and savored days gone by, remembering them as the good old days when things were more peaceful. How ironic it was that such thoughts should hatch themselves within his mind. At times he would catch his thoughts and place them in check, remembering all the death in the Dragon Wars. With the passing of each day’s passing he regarded them as safe moments in which he found himself hiding at times. Every thought spent meditating upon the future was spent with a growing dread. But once passed by he relished in its safety.

Time sped on.

5
At the age of twelve he had taken to helping his family and friends reconstruct their homes. He especially liked helping Mr. Guildings. Mr. Guildings would give all the children who helped a treat after each task was accomplished. He also worked hand in hand with other neighbors, families, relatives, and strangers who were bent on the reconstruction of Navan.

Garrion talked little to the other youths his age. An accident which had crippled him for a few months had left his voice permanently damaged. The other children would laugh and make fun when he stuttered out his sentences with great difficulty. So he mainly kept to himself, not wanting any attention. At times his father would stop him as he worked frantically on a pile of rubble. He would put a large arm around his son and say, "Garrion, stop working so fast. Just keep up a good pace. It is good that you are willing to work hard, but don't let others get you so upset that you become foolish. These ruins could bury you if you aren’t careful. Remember what has happened to you already with the accident and all?” With tears in his eyes Garrion would smile and squeeze his father's arm. And even though it helped to have his father understand him, it still cut like a knife to have his "friends" be so mean to him. Often times he caught himself wishing that they had his problem so that they could understand him. Things would be . . . better.

Like a Shadow Cat, Kenneth always stalked and observed Garrion unnoticed; as if something would suddenly snatch him away. No one ever noticed the subtle ways in which Kenneth protected his son (not even his family). His skill was beyond any in the city.

At the age of fourteen his father took Garrion on a trip in the family wagon. They left Navan before the sun peaked over the eastern mountains and rode on in silence out through the tall fields of corn at either side of the road. It seemed that Garrion could sense seriousness about his father. He huddled in his cloak in silence, keeping the early morning chill from making his teeth chatter. They travelled for three days, toward a mountain range. Their destination: The valley where it all began.

Kenneth always faced his fears. He knew that If he could place himself within the mind of an enemy, and understand the motive, victory could be more easily achieved. By taking his son up here into these mountains, Garrion would be conditioned. His mind could be touched, his senses experienced a little. This would callous his emotional senses. In this manner, Kenneth Bullrammer thought to weather his son to situations he would some day face.

On the third day they pulled into a beautiful valley, full of bees and insects, rabbits and birds, and every other kind of wildlife imaginable. Kenneth brought the wagon to a halt at the center of the valley. Garrion watched his father jump down from the wagon and go to the rear. A canvas hid something large beneath it. Garrion's curiosity had been aroused when his father had asked him to come with him. He inquired where they were headed, but his father only replied, “You'll know soon enough young man. It's a surprise.” Now his curiosity was at a peak as his father took hold of the canvas and looked at Garrion, hidden sadness in his eyes.

“Garrion. I have brought you here to give you something -- a gift. I have also brought you here to train you in the ways of a knight, as I am.” He stripped back the covering to reveal a large oak-wood chest. Reaching within his tunic his father drew out a silver chain strung through a shiny silver key. He pulled it from about his neck.

“Come here son. I want you to open it. All that is here”, he pointed at the chest, “is now yours. Come.” With a broad smile Garrion bounded clumsily down from where he sat and rounded the wagon to where his father now held the key out to him. Eagerly he reached for the key, but his father closed his large hand around it before he could snatch it up.

“Before you open it there is something you must promise me.” Garrion nodded. His father's voice became almost cold as he looked down upon his son. His son held his eyes as they bored into his.

“This is not a light matter. I ask only that you promise me - no, yourself - that you will take this with all seriousness of heart, always. Promise me this and what is in the chest is yours.” Garrion sobered and looked his father squarely in the eyes, noting the strict charge of what he was being asked. Something in his fathers voice sent a chill down his spine, waking him up to the reality that his father was not playing games. This was serious.

“I s-s-swear it-t b-by our f-f-family n-n-n-n-name.” He stuttered terribly in the cold. Being satisfied by his son's promise he took Garrion's hand and turned it palm up. Slowly he pressed the key into his palm and closed his hand around it, stating, “It begins.” Garrion did not understand what his father meant as he fit the key into the lock. When the chest opened he gasped in amazement. His father moved to his side and whispered.

“Armor, broad sword, morning star and dagger. I never had much use for a shield. These are yours. You are nearly as tall as I am and in time you will fill out. The armor will fit. Go ahead take them out and get used to them. You will have a lot of time to get to know them. Indeed you will become one with them. I have ever kept them in the best of condition. I changed the leathers all throughout the armor just a year ago and oiled it and the plating. I think this armor would protect you from a building if it chanced to fall upon you.” Eagerly Garrion's hand went for the hilt of the broad sword, wavered, and changed directions, wavered a second time, and finally grasped the handle of the morning star. His father smiled and reached for the sword.

Once a month, thereafter, they came to this very spot. Kenneth began training his son as a knight, as he was trained long ago at the hand of Garrion. Each day, after finishing up their daily labors, both secretly practiced in the back yard of their home. Kenneth built a tall fence to keep out prying eyes. The old and fallen order of knighthood had been abolished years back. Stories of the knight's deeds, which had brought on the dragon-strike, were still spread across the land. Kenneth had to be careful.

Day after day, week after week, moon after moon Kenneth taught his son the Way of The Warrior. And even though Garrion had never before held a weapon of war in his hand, he had the gift. His father had a growing hope that sprung to life as he saw his son master the techniques which he had trouble with when he was yet a lad. Slowly Garrion gained more strength and coordination of body. His son would grow used to the armor; fill in to it in the next few years. Garrion steadily took command of each weapon, wielding them with growing expertise. His favorite remained the morning star.

Five years passed.

Some of the dead fire-breathers which had perished in the waters of the coastline ruined a once thriving fishing industry. It was in the nineteenth year after the battle that the creatures of the sea had fully trusted the waters once again. The people had to rely on agriculture to survive. But were now turning their nets and baskets once again to the sea in great hopes of a more productive life.

It was in this period of his life that Garrion caught sight of the attractive Sylia , who helped by bringing food to the workers as the reconstruction proceeded. She smiled especially his way, bringing a larger portion of bread and cheese to him each time. She lingered just a bit longer every day she came. She would talk to him long into the dying evening after he finished his day's work. They talked about everything together. As far as Garrion was concerned other girls did not exist. He was friendly with them, yes. But it was just . . . he liked Sylia. She returned his affection to his great pleasure and this helped his self esteem greatly. Garrion was never very self secure. He had been teased unmercifully as a youth because he was clumsy and spoke with a stutter. But in the last five years his peers began to sense something in him; something in his posture and the way he held himself. The teasing and jeering quickly stopped and turned to respect. And Sylia made him feel important -- loved. It did him right among the other young men to be seen with a beautiful young woman. In time they became the closest of friends as they worked together.

Over the years they became closer and closer. At the age of nineteen he proposed to her and she accepted. They were to be wed in three months time.

6
Jobs began and jobs were finished. Garrion began working on rebuilding the ruins of the Baxter Manor, a place where lawmen were to be stationed once completed. He earned wages enough to support Sylia and himself quite comfortably.

He was so charmed by her. Her long black wavy hair and white skin always gave her away in a crowd. If ever he saw her approaching, he was struck still, and could only watch her as she so gracefully neared. The smile she always gave him, that sly twist of the most delicate mouth, with that glow in her eyes, made him nervous, causing butterflies to swirl within in his stomach. Sure, they could talk and play and discuss business for hours on end. But once he saw that glow in her eyes. Once he came to the realization that her look was other than playful, it was escape he sought. Escape that always ended him up in her arms, enjoying the whole world. He thanked all creation for her. He did not know what he would do if she ever decided to stop loving him. On the opposite hand Sylia loved him with actions. She never expressed her devotion for him in any way unless he pried it out of her. Then she would give him that look she knew would lock him up tight. She held him in the palm of her hand by her willpower alone. And she knew she was stronger than him. She was in control. And in her own right, Sylia was also afraid of him. Not too often, but sometimes, he would ask her questions concerning the two of them. Mostly they were practical questions, or her thoughts spoken aloud when he did not expect it. But being the master, she would always retreat from the subject by asking a question of her own.
“Have you chosen where we are to live after we are wed?”

And this always worked. She knew she played the game well and became cunning about it. It was her weapon to silence words and begin a reaction. It always ended up in her favor. And even though she could capture him entirely . . . she knew she was his. She loved him more than life itself.

Every time he saw her at the end of the day he would pick her up by her thin waist, holding her high. He was clumsy and heavy footed, but she overlooked that. She did not care. He was well mannered and respectful. And he was delightedly interested in her. He was a gentleman.

7
One day after Garrion had finished a day's work and had just entered the front gate to his yard, he saw three strangely dressed men and one robed woman just leaving his house. Upon seeing Garrion, his father preceded them and gently pulled him to them. “Garrion I would like you to meet some friends of mine.” Garrion bowed clumsily and awkwardly returned questions asked him, extremely embarrassed to have to stagger out his greetings to strangers. He was taken back when they neither laughed nor smirked at the way he spoke. He was treated with the same respect he gave them. This pleased him, though his reluctance to be there was scrawled across is face. There was one present that dwarfed even his father's size. His arms and legs were as thick as a small tree, looking as sturdy as well. He had the same name as himself but knew nothing of the connection. One gray haired man, tall and lean, wore a green-brown, weather-stained cloak with a wolf head brooch fastened at the neck. The wolf’s slanted eye sockets were inlaid with rubies which sparkled in the light of a nearby lamp's radiance. It seemed silly to think that the brooch was actually watching him. But it seemed so alive to Garrion. He could hardly take his eyes from it. He was a tracker, or a specialized scout of some sort. The young woman wore the robes of an apprentice, that was clear. His father had taught him things like this ever since he was young. She stood close to the old man, quietly, hands folded within the white sleeves of her robes as if waiting for something. Her name was Ashly. After making his acquaintance she did not speak again, her arms resuming their previous position within the sleeves of her robes. The man named Merdreth, whom Ashly stood next to bowed gracefully to Garrion in greeting. Taking the opportunity Kenneth patted his son's shoulder.

“They were just passing through. You are lucky to have met them. Garrion, please go inside. Your mother wishes to speak with you.” He had noticed his son's hesitation to be there. Garrion nodded and bowed respectfully to each in turn and excused himself. Kenneth watched his son enter the house with a slight smile, his eyes darkening as his son grew farther away.

As Garrion entered the house Kenneth's eyes changed from the casual mask it had been to that of deep concern and fear.

“Merdreth, will this work against such an adversary?” The old man knuckled his back and stretched a bit.
“I hope so my fine friend. I hope so. I shall speak no more of it, and neither shall any of you. The more we discuss this lunacy of an idea the stronger the enemy shall become. I am even more powerful than I used to be yet my body is not.” He looked squarely at Kenneth.

“We must make preparations Garrion.” He turned to the large man standing next to Kenneth.
“Stay and watch the house . . . unseen.” The wizard looked at the one with the Wolf’s head brooch.
“Borlag, be with him. Watch each other's back.” The two nodded as the old wizard turned away.
“Off with you both. Kenneth, Ashly, come. Walk with me.”

Late that evening Kenneth came walking back to the house, knowing he was being watched by the most trusted companions he had ever been privileged to know. This is why he had requested their presence by letter. He knew the time was near at hand when their presence might hold his mind together (his family as well - if only halfway). As he entered the house he saw his wife Andrea and Garrion visiting and laughing together in the kitchen through the dining room archway. A sudden lump in his throat caught and he choked. His eyes stung as he turned left, climbing the stairs to his bedroom, deep in thought.

Kenneth rubbed his faced with his hands, wishing this was all a dream, knowing that is was not. He should have been prepared for this. Certainly he knew this day had to come. Garrion was as trained a knight. Looking out his bedroom window into the darkened street he whispered softly, “Garrion, I hope you can weather this storm. It breaks too soon. If you cannot, I lose her. Then I have no choice but to follow. I need her. I will never leave her side. No not even if I must enter into the escapeless’ Abyss itself. And to follow her, should she be taken, I would take hold the shadows terrible hand . . . this time.” Through the window, Kenneth Bullrammer looked up into the starry sky being overtaken by an incoming storm, wiping freely falling tears from his face. He remembered, years ago, when he had defeated the phantom within that accursed valley. On returning to his men, according to their word, not one moment of time had passed from the time in which he had been thrown from his horse until he had returned to his men. A memory flashed in his mind. He could see himself at that meeting.

“General Bullrammer - sir - you fell from your steed, regained your feet, and then returned”. The trusted leaders of his legion had declared. They had spoken the truth.

He knew it would be useless to stay by his son's side. He would merely blink and it would all be over. According to Merdreth, staying at his son’s side would weaken him. Something about blood ties and emotion giving the enemy strength. Another thing about a curse broken only by separation from Garrion. He did not want to know all the details. He trusted the old wizard enough to stake his very life on every word he said. His, and Andrea's life both. His eyes clouded, blotting out the stars as he prayed.

“Please help my son. I have given everything I have had in life for the cause of justice and honor. I know I deserve less than the air I breath, but I need my wife . . . my very heart's existence. I beg, favor my son's strength to defeat my enemy. Please.” He spent the rest of the evening with his wife and son.

Before leaving for work the next morning Garrion kissed his mother goodby and punched his father playfully on the shoulder as he passed out the door. His father nearly called after him to say farewell and only just had enough strength to stop himself.

After he was gone for some time two figures appeared from the shadows of a nearby alley and walked slowly towards the Bullrammer's residence. Soon a carriage pulled up in front of the house and stopped. Garrion lumbered up to the door and knocked. Mid-knock Kenneth opened the door and nodded blackly.

“We are ready.” Andrea's eyes sparkled with delight as she hung onto her husbands arm like a young girl which had just been told she was going to see a Master Bard preform for the day. Garrion turned with a nod, just barely avoiding her eyes as guilt washed across his face. Once at the wagon Borlag greeted her with the mask of a smile forced across his face, bowing. She curtsied in return, a broad smile and eyes full of delight as she held up her hands to Kenneth. He knew that later she would hate them all if this did not turn out in victory. Kenneth took her hands, helped her into the wagon and climbed in after.

As the carriage drove off Kenneth looked back at his home. Within the doorway stood he and his wife, apparently chatting about something. It was quite complicated to his mind. His thoughts turned, hopefully, towards his son, as the coach turned down the next street heading out of town. His hand closed around Andrea's. Merdereth's timing was critically precise. Of course, he was a wizard. One day later would have shattered everything which Kenneth had hoped for all those years. Merdreth knew the creature had come.
8
Every evening Sylia would pick Garrion up from work with her father's wagon. This evening she did not come at the expected hour. A messenger boy, who became a penny richer, delivered the message saying that she would be there as soon as she could. This gave Garrion some time to himself. Time to relax from a hard day’s work. He set his back against the wall of rocks he was currently reconstructing and watched the early autumn sun laying itself to rest in the crimson horizon. Sighing heavily he thought of Navan. I’m tired of this city being in such ruin. I've worked all my life with others who want it cleaned up and rebuilt. But they seem to have drifted off into their own paths and destinies, forgetting their own home. I think my future is to stay here, he sighed wearily, and work alone if I must. If everyone would help, it could be done in a matter of five years at best.” Again he heaved out a long and exhausted sigh and laid his head back against the stones, shutting his eyes and taking advantage of the last rays of the sun.
9
“Garrion. Garrion.” He awoke to see the master carpenter looking at him.

“Have you been here all night?, oh, you probably just came early.” Mr. Baxter turned, smiling in approval and walked up the newly crafted walkway with the order to, "hop-to-it", whistling to himself as he headed for the unfinished estate. Garrion's eyes turned to the eastern sky; the sun was rising. Something wasn't right.

“S-S-Sylia!” His head rushed as he lumbered to his feet. Steadying himself he waited until he knew he could run straight without killing himself on the piles of wood and brick laying in different areas of the yard and side street. No sooner did his head clear than he charged down the street like a bull. He ran as fast as he could through town, taking the familiar short cuts he knew so well. Finally, out of breath he came to her father's door and frantically knocked. The door shuddered slightly under his careless, stony rap. Again he pounded the door, though not as hard as the first time. He was afraid that he would be met by an angry guard. Again he rapped on the door, calling out to Sylia.

The door slung open to a robe-clad, cranky old man who grunted as he laid his reddened eyes upon Garrion. Abruptly he slammed the door in his face. Garrion knocked again, this time harder, a frown etching into his face. The door nearly popped its hinges. This time he did not care. When the door flew open the second time, Sylia's father had one of his guards in front of him. Mr. Baxter looked angrily at Garrion, half covered by the guard's body.

“What do you want boy! Do you realize the hour?” “S-Sylia.” The old man looked puzzled for a moment. Then he turned his head as his daughter descended the stairway. She approached slowly and stood next to her father looking at Garrion.

“Who is this father?” Garrion grew wide eyed; her father became suspicious at once.

“You seem to know who my daughter is, but she obviously does not know you. Too much Kohahk last night? I suggest you leave at once or I'll call my guards down on you son. Do you understand what I'm saying?” Suddenly Garrion laughed, a trace of hysteria in his voice.

“S-S-Sylia, th-this is a g-good jok-ke, b-but its n-n-n-not funny to m-m-m-me.” “Joke? Who are you? Father he’s frightening me!” She stepped back hastily, as if Garrion were a poised viper on the porch, waiting for that first leg to stretch itself out. From behind Sylia, another guard appeared from seemingly out of nowhere placing himself in between her and Garrion, hand readied at swords hilt.

“I'll have to ask you to leave. Now.” The guard slid a long sword a hand's length out from its sheath in a warning gesture. He laughed as he looked narrowly at Garrion, obviously ridiculing the way he stammered. Garrion's eyes rolled upwards as blackness took him. A guard bent down over him cautiously and shook him.

10
He awoke from the nightmare to Sylia gently shaking him. “Garrion”, she said in a hushed tone, “I'm here now. Wake up sleepy head.” As she watched him lift his head, the soft light of the dimmed lantern revealed tears streaking his face.

“What is the matter?” She hugged him back as he launched into her arms, latching onto her tender frame as though he were about to lose her forever.

“D-don't l-l-leave m-m-me Sylia! Pl-please n-n-never l-leave m-me!” She looked lost for a moment and then realized he'd had a bad dream. She ruffled his hair playfully and frankly promised she would never leave him. Seeing the troubled look slowly, yet reluctantly slipping away from his face she gave him that look -- to take control. It worked, as usual.

She helped him to the wagon and he drove her home. After kissing her good night, he slowly walked home, deep in black thoughts. He hated that awful dream. But that feeling would not go away. He did not wish to press it with her and change her mood. It would have ruined the slow ride home. Maybe she would have been upset, thinking that -- “This is nonsense”, he thought, “What is past is past, done and done.”

When he got to the street of his house he spotted two friends, he had grown up with, just leaving his home. They looked sad as they walked down the small rose-clad pathway and out onto the street. They drew their cloak hoods up over their heads, quickly hiding the silent mourning in their countenances. He ran down the pathway and through the front door into the guest room. Looking around he saw nothing out of the ordinary. But a sharp cry he knew to be from his mother sent him charging up the stairs and down the hallway to the door of his parents room. He twisted the handle and entered in haste. His family doctor was there beside his mother tending her as best he could. His father lay, still as stone next to her.

Upon entering the room the doctor stood and beckoned him to his mother's side. Quickly Garrion went to her and knelt by the bedside, taking her hand in his as the doctor stepped behind him, smiling wickedly. Then the doctor became as living smoke and dissipated in a single breath. Garrion knelt and kissed her hand gently.

“M-m-mother, wh-what happ-ppened?” His mother started when he spoke to her, like a person jumping out of a terrible nightmare by the touch of another. Her eyes stared without focus at the ceiling as she gripped his hand firmly. “My son”, she forced the words through clenched teeth, “it wants you my son! Don't give in! Never give in to it!” “G-g-give in t-t-to wh-what?” She tensed as each muscle tightened in her body. A moment later she passed away, screaming in silence, clawing at the air before her. He held her close to him in shock, rocking her back and forth, back and forth, all the while his eyes fixed upon the still form of his pale father. He screamed for the doctor to no avail.

He was truly alone.

Through the night he wept bitterly. And when the sun began its ascent he laid the still frame of his mother gently down. All night his mourning and shock had dulled his senses. But as he lay his mother down and covered her and his father with a blanket, he felt suddenly watched. Someone was here. He could feel it. He sensed awareness from behind him and quickly turned. But no one was there. The doctor was gone also, and that seemed wrong; terribly wrong. In a sudden fury of anger he inspected every part of the house. But it was empty. And though he was alone, he felt that something was groping towards him, reaching for him as if from a great distance. But there was only him, alone.

Chills cascaded over him, as if icy-cold water had suddenly poured from above and all the curtains in the room moved. Feeling threatened to his very soul he ran to his room. Through the doorway he spotted the large wooden chest his father had given to him long ago. It set against the far bedroom wall. He stumbled through the door, making his way to it and knelt as he pulled on the silver chain from around his neck. Garrion fumbled with the lock, but his shaking hands could not fit the key into it. Stopping, he took a deep breath and counted to three. He tried again. The key snapped. He let out an exasperated cry, tensed, then slammed his fist into the side of the chest. His hand rebelled in pain but he paid it no heed. The chest yielded with a crunch. Huge muscles knotted and bulged in his arms and shoulders, as he took hold of each side of the new opening and pulled will all his might, trying to rip the chest apart in a panicked rage. He did not understand the reason he felt so afraid, but he was.

Abruptly the chest yielded, boards giving way from bolted seams. He ripped the lid off with a scream and looked into the chest, suspicious that what was once in it would not be there now. His fear was washed away at the sight of armor and weapons. He picked out the set of plated armor piece by piece, quickly buckling them onto his body as if in a race with an enemy that would soon be upon him. Making sure all was securely latched and strapped on tight, yet not too tight, in case if conflict became necessary, he reached for the weapons, stood and strapped them upon his body.

His mother warned him not to let it take him. His eyes blurred. Let what take him? His thoughts turned to his parents. With a strangled cry he put his plated fist down through the bottom of the chest and the floor it set upon. Rage filled his senses, causing his vision to blur. It was not until exhaustion took him that he slumped to the floor.

“M-m-mother . . . f-father?” Silence suddenly filled his mind as memories flooded down upon him. Memories of his father holding him after his accident, of his mother rocking him gently to sleep each night, singing to him. Practicing the art of war and honor with his father in the back yard and in the valley far away. Many memories flooded his vision, washing away all the rage, all the hate he was feeling. The last thing he saw was the three of them eating at the dining room table, talking and laughing, enjoying . . .

Garrion stood and straightened to his full height of a hands length over six feet. He did not notice the weight of the armors. Each piece had sliding parts and hinges to it, mobilizing its wearer to impressive agility. Dark became his thoughts. Whoever did this would pay with their own blood. Somehow a steady calm seized him at that moment.

11
Garrion awoke with a troubled whisper. He was holding his mother and rocking her back and forth, tears streaming his face. I have dreamed again. He thought to himself. Yes, dreamed. As his senses cleared, he raised one shaking arm. In his dream he had fully donned his armor. He was wearing it now, weapons fastened and buckled.

Only it was still night, and moments after he had taken his mother into his arms. With a sob he pulled her to him, his tears wetting her hair as he stared in denial at his father laying so still. How could this have happened? How? He felt empty. After long moments passed he felt something. Not knowing what it was he laid her gently back into the bed and stood, right hand closing around the handle of his morning star. A cold breeze swept through the room provoking chills and wild thoughts within him. Loose papers on a nearby dresser were caught up in the draft and carried around the room in circles, spinning through his parents chamber in hurricane-like fashion. Instinctively he armed himself with his morning star and crouched defensively in fear, as if someone was suddenly rushing him from some shadowy spot within the bedroom. He welcomed the thought and grimly smiled, ready for the chance to do battle with a foe which had killed his mother and father. He wanted vengeance.

As he glanced to the corner nearest him, where his parents lay still as stone, an expression of horror had been their last expressions. By the bedside next to his father he saw something there in the corner of the darkest part of the room. It was no more than a shadow at first. As he turned his full attention to it the darkness of the entire room seemed to drag its way to that point, shaping and forming itself into the appearance of a blackened cloak. The light of the nearby lantern seemed drawn into it as well. The cloak seemed to flow in the currents of some unseen wind, independent and defiant of the revolving gusts within the room. Two pale points of light emanated deep from within the hood, radiating a sickened and tainted light. Unholy it seemed to Garrion as it looked without feeling upon the forever sleeping couple.

Garrion's blood chilled within him. His mind screamed as the floor began to revolve underneath him. He fell to the stone-cold, wooden floor face up, groping for his fumbled morning star in vain. His hand fell across the dagger's hilt at his hip. His fingers wrapped tightly around it. He jerked it from its sheath as the thing turned towards him, those awful eyes flashing in his direction. Then it was above him, hovering like a vulture over his paralyzed body. With all his strength he slashed out at it. The dagger flew from his hand as the blade struck through its cloak. Instantly his hand lost feeling, followed by pain that set his bones alight with a chilled flame. The numbness filled his hand, spread up his arm and then into his shoulder. The dagger skidded across the floor and thumped against the far wall as his arm hit the floor. Hissing in displeasure it scorned him like a faint, bitter-cold wind in his mind.

“Become, you will, what now am I.”

“N-n-no.” He whispered hoarsely. “No.” His mind reeled like a ship in a cyclone, threatening to be swallowed into the ocean's deep. He felt its frigid thoughts reach into his mind with a wrenching force that made his body shudder as he screamed helplessly, silently, despairingly. With the last conscious will of his being he fought its attack as his thoughts turned to his mother's last breath and final words. Helplessly he closed his eyes and resisted its power with every shred of strength left in his mind. Without emotion, it spoke again.

“Resist not me human. Useless to resist is it -- try. Welcome in me, welcome me in.” Garrion went lax. His muscles could not keep up their strength any longer. He looked up once more into the eyes of his enemy so cold. As he knew he was losing consciousness his thoughts again went to his mother's last words; her final warning.

“N-never.”

12
Garrion awoke to water dripping onto his face, a gust of cold wind driving into his wet clothing. He started at the quick slash of lightning that invaded the sky above him. The sound of metal rimmed wheels on a cobble-stone street approached. He sat up, his muscles rebelling from having formed to the rocks he’d set his back against. As the wagon advanced his way he noticed the driver was wrapped in a black cloak, head bent downward. He recognized the wagon and the horse as it neared. They belonged to Mr. Hall, Sylia's father. It moved slowly by him, as if he was yet dreaming, witnessing everything in a motion slower than his own by half. A thick fog blanketed the ground as far as he could see. He hadn’t noticed it until he thought about the fog. As the wagon neared, the rider looked up slowly and turned to face him. Garrion's mouth dropped open.

“S-Sylia!” He was glad to see her. Finally she had come to pick him up. But as she looked at him Garrion noticed her eyes were glazed over, as if she had no comprehension. He called out to her in vain again as she neared. Garrion was scared. He could not recall ever having felt so alone. He gained his feet and took one step toward the horses to stop them but his feet became burdensome. When he had first awoke he knew he was not wearing his armor. Now his knight's armor was once again upon him. As if a wizard had cast a spell upon his armor to change its density to that of lead, he felt himself being dragged down with every step. Just without reach of the wagon, he fell to his hands and knees and could will himself to go no further. He cried out to her as she turned away from him and hung her head back down once again.

The horse snorted, sounding like the thunder in the sky above him. The noise of it cracked so heavily that all the lamps hanging within all the doorways as far as the eye could see began to burst and shatter. Like a wave of destruction it destroyed both glass and light source until all was left in darkness. Windows exploded outward into the streets as both rows of houses yielded up all their more fragile wears, raining down into the streets. Unsound homes shook, wavered, and then collapsed in heaps of rubble and dust mingled with the sudden screams of people within. The damage of the merciless shower of glass shards was stayed by his armor as he prostrated himself to the ground and covered his face with his arms, crying out in astonishment. He raised his head, knowing this had to be real. He took in the destructive scene before him.

The wagon was rolling along as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

“The back wheel!” He thought desperately. “One . . . two . . three!” He lunged with all his might for it as it rolled by, sounding like a giant stone rolling down the empty street. His hand caught hold of the rim and he was dragged to his feet. But at its touch his hand began to feel heat seeping through the metal of his armor. All to soon his hand was burnt and he screamed without sound as the rumble of the wagon on the cobblestones filled the air around him with a sound like thunder. All around him the remainder of the sturdy homes collapsed and fell into ruin as if struck by an earth quake. Rock exploded, cement split and wood splintered causing a shower of debris to rain down upon him. A large chunk of concrete struck him in the right shoulder. Even through his armor he still felt the terrible impact of it. He knew he had to keep hold of the wagon or else his Sylia would be gone. He gripped the wheel tightly as it rolled on, his hand feeling the bite of fire. Once his feet were under him he staggered to the side of the wagon and gripped it as it slowly rolled onward. His shoulder rebelled against the effort. With both hands he clutched the turning wheel and heaved. With all his might he tilted the wagon upon its two side wheels. For a moment it teetered on the brink of falling to its side or landing upright again. He knew if it fell back into place he would not get a second try. With a last desperate effort he threw his body into the wagon. It swayed, then crashed onto its side. As it fell his mind was filled with a ghostly inhuman scream, as silent as the stars, yet like a stormy tide of the sea breaking up against Garrion's mind. The force of it caused him terrible pain. The girl plunged onto the cobble stones with a scream and then went still as Mr. Hall's horse broke loose from the harness and bolted in fear, thundering into the darkness of the shadowy street. The pounding of its hooves shook the earth causing Garrion to stagger. He gripped the sides of his helm in a vain attempt to keep out that hideous cry in his mind. Gritting his teeth he fought back the urge to faint . . . without success.

His vision blurred, then slowly focused as cold rain brought him back to consciousness. He unsteadily regained his feet and looked at the destroyed buildings all around him. Then he remembered Sylia. Staggering over to her side he noticed that her legs were pinned under the wagon. Instinctively he reached down and gripped underneath the side, heaving the wagon from her broken legs with a strength that he could not possibly have had in him. The wagon slammed against a pile of rubble, once a beautiful home. He quickly knelt beside her still form and turned her slowly and carefully to face him. Jerking his hands back he gaped in startled amazement as his hands became cold. From within the hood of the black cloak two pale star-like eyes began to glow. The cloak shifted as if it were alive. It was not her, but a shadow deeper than night, deeper than the darkest corner of the world, black as the eternal void of the abyss. Its eyes kindled as two burning coals as it rose up before Garrion. He staggered back away from his enemy, catching his footing on a beam and falling to the ground. He clasped his hands to deafened ears as it spoke into his mind again.

“Mine tonight will you be.” No! Mother . . . father! Help me! Garrion shrieked within himself. He felt as if he were going mad. A few strides away was a partially fallen building. He tuned over and began to crawl towards it as that haunting voice followed him. As he approached the ruins Garrion looked desperately for some sort of a hole to hide himself in. Behind him, its eyes glowed as fire; white-hot molten spheres within that hooded cloak of night. He grew wide eyed with horror as he witnessed the dead, crushed by the fallen debris. He moved away from them, backing towards the phantom, not knowing what he feared more, the thing which hunted him, or feeling the dead before him. As if reading his thoughts a voice came to Garrion softly, subtly.

“Fault yours is that dead they are. Caused you it by me resisting. Hopeless against me are you. Garrion, take you I can away where happiness find you will with others all forsaken as they are.” Tears filled Garrion's eyes and his heart ached as he looked at the people which . . . he had killed. Yes, he had killed them all. It was his fault. All he would have to have done was give himself to this thing that wanted him and they would have been spared.

With a cry he knelt and began to strip from him his armor, piece by terrible piece, throwing it down with spiteful curses against himself, until he was naught but his clothing, shivering, teeth chattering, looking upon his handy work of destruction. With a shout he dove back through the small opening, brushing the folds of its cloak as he did so. But this time he was spared remembering the numbing chill that raced down his spine, or the mind boggling effect that touching it had upon his senses. The cloaked entity watched him go . . . and waited.

He ran to each destroyed home hoping to find someone left alive. Yet he only witnessed the same thing over and over again. Through that section of the city he searched, looking for any left yet alive. On he searched and searched and searched. In weary exhaustion he stumbled through a fallen door into a home half destroyed. He recognized it as Mr. Hall's home; Sylia’s father. Making his way unsteadily through the wreckage he searched for what he hoped he would not find. But his hope was in vain. He found her. Her legs pinned by a fallen beam. From the looks of the scene her death had been slow and painful. She was gone. He knew there was nothing he could do for her now except weep for her precious loss. His mind reeled as he knelt down and touched her. She was still warm. It was his fault that she had died. Just as that thing had whispered to him. His fault. He wished to join her. Join her in death.

Now, broken to the very core of his soul, he wearily made his way back to that place where he had overturned the wagon. Awaiting his arrival, he spotted his enemy, the living cloak flowing with uncanny ease against the raging storm.

“W-w-why d-did all these p-p-people h-have t-to d-die? M-my Sylia's d-d-dead! M-my m-mother, father, e-ev-everyone!”

“This what is happens to who of those resist mine that is the power. Now with me come you will? And you anymore cause not deaths.”

“Y-y-y-yes.” The shadow held out a black formless shape, what Garrion thought to be its hand. He lifted his to it and placed it into shadow . . . willingly.

“Over is it for you. Sylia next mine will be.” Garrion's heart leapt as he heard her name in the tense that she was still alive. He bellowed and jerked with all his might to free himself from the blackness that held him in its iron grip. As he pulled, the flesh from his hand tore loose exposing bone and muscle. He screamed in anguish and staggered back, holding his right hand with his left.

13
The wagon steadily moved onward far out on the plains. Merdreth studied Kenneth and Andrea steadily, his gaze never leaving them (he had for some time now). Ashly sat next to him attentive, as if waiting for something. Of a sudden Kenneth gripped his right hand with his left as if he'd just been bitten by a dreaded Toxin Spider. His sleeping Andrea turned pale and sighed weakly as her head slumped forward. It was evident that something was happening. Merdreth leaned toward them intently, eyes glistening like the many natural facets of Ironese Crystal in the rays of the sun. He began to chant softly, yet forcefully, straining his speech with every syllable uttered. With a sigh Kenneth looked up at him, strengthened. Then his worried gaze fell upon his beloved wife.

“Come on son. Please.” He whispered.

“Silence!” Hissed Ashly as if she were a snake. She quickly raised her hands in front of Kenneth, patterning the formation of a spell. Kenneth did not know what type of magic it was, but he knew these movements were for conjuring. Arcane words flowed from Ashly’s mouth faster than Kenneth could make them out. A light emanated from the old man as Kenneth heard the name of his son on his lips seven times. Then the light was gone and the wizard slumped to the side, exhausted, sweat beading his face. Ashly continued to chant and braced her body against his to support him from falling forward, all the while giving Kenneth a look that dared him to help. Kenneth fell silent and shut his eyes, bending his mind upon his son . . . and prayed.

14
The shadow loomed up into a menacing form of darkness over Garrion. Something had changed after he cried out in surprise and terrible pain. He was stronger, that life draining feeling not cursing him now. Fleeing to his pile of armor and weapons, he snatched up his morning star and his broad sword and turned to face his nightmare. The hilt of his blade burned dreadfully within the grip of his wounded hand, but he noticed it only with a surge of raw power which built up inside him. Bellowing out a challenge he rushed his foe, both weapons tracing the battle patterns which he had been taught by his father. Lightning flashed from the heavens above seven times, striking the cloaked figure. As the lightning tore into it, the sound of a thousand screams from the underworld rose up piercing the night seven times as Garrion fell upon it in his wrath. Arcing between his two weapons, death from the clouds above blazed, yet Garrion was unharmed. With the rage, not unlike that of a mother bear protecting her young, Garrion let fall his morning star and blade many times down upon the phantom. And as his enemy fell, the earth around the cloak shattered, throwing Garrion back against a pile of rubble. Dropping his weapons he gripped his head and writhed in pain upon the wet ground. He dimly recalled wishing he had kept his armor on. After a moment he removed his bloody hands and stared at them; one deformed beyond healing. Lifting his head painfully to the street, he watched in a haze the spot where the cloak lay. He felt his strength diminishing and knew that if it was still alive he would not be able to put up any significant defense against it a second time. His legs told him that soon they would rest, like it or not. His stomach pitched in his gut threateningly as his eyes beheld the cloak take shape again, those eyes dim, yet slowly regaining that awful light within. Rising up, as if from the dead, it glided silently toward him and stopped just without arms reach.

15
Merdreth raised his head, fumbled for the top of the carriage seat and turned toward Ashly.

“Now.” He hoarsely ordered her. Without responding to him her hands elevated, joining together at the thumbs, palms facing straight forward to the opposite side of the carriage. She stared into the back of her hands as though looking through them, eyes fixed on nothing. Chanting filled the air within the compartment and she grimaced, the muscles in her delicate jaw twitching from some abrupt conflict. Beads of perspiration formed at her temples and broke into tiny rivulets of sweat that slowly made their way down to her chin. She began to tremble, only slightly at first. But as the seconds passed on she began to waver, as if she were losing some obscure battle which only she could feel.

Merdreth slowly turned to her. A second song of magic filled Kenneth's ears as the old wizard touched his forefinger to Ashly's left temple. The former knight wrapped his arms around his wife and held her close, watching in apprehension, witnessing the two work their sorcery. The entire coach was seething in a power he could almost touch, taste, see. A few seconds crawled by as he watched on. Then, shuddering openly, Ashly sighed. Her body relaxed. The hint of a smile scarcely etched itself across her thin face as she fell forward into Merdreth’s arms. He caught and steadied her, holding her close to him, sudden concern etching across his aged face. With a voice that sounded as two granite blocks grinding together he called out, “Ashly! Ithellion nu amur!” For the most brief instant Kenneth witnessed a personage of white flee from the old man and enter into Ashly. It shimmered, then subsided into her being. The carriage staggered and shook violently, briefly. The coach abruptly stopped as the aged wizard and Ashly fell to the floor. Quickly the door to the carriage opened and Borlag leapt inside, graceful as a cat. He took the limp body of Ashly and laid her on the seat while Garrion, Kenneth’s former trainer, tended to the old man. A grave look crossed his face as all looked on apprehensively. Garrion shook his head in disbelief.

“He’s gone” That was all he said. Borlag’s eyes filled with tears and he lowered his head.

16
The apparition's eyes blazed brightly as it looked upon Garrion. A power came upon him that he could not shake. It gripped him with chain-binding strength as he found that he could do nothing, save listen and believe the phantom's prophecy.

Know you now this life you live
This life of pain and pleasure

Your life and hers I now do give
A world of precious treasure

A shudder rippled through the entity as Garrion listened, its voice wailing on, as if forced to continue:
Your first born son, he shall lead
A nation filled with power

And challenge evil, death and greed
To oppose an evil hour

A life of pleasure you both shall live
I seal it with my might

A life of freedom I openly give
Beginning hence this night

It hissed dreadfully and bowed, shaking in bridled rage. With a mind-splitting wail it vanished, leaving Garrion shaking uncontrollably. He let out a quavering breath, gasping for air. He moaned as he looked around. Across the road stood a lone wall that looked welcoming to sit against. He crossed the street not knowing if he had the strength to even walk that far. But somehow he found himself a pace from it. It all seemed a dream. He stepped up to it and turned. Before sitting down he looked around at all the ruin and death. This was the Baxter Manner he'd been working on for so long, so hard. With a heavy grunt he fell back down against the small construction of bricks and leaned his head painfully against the wall. His shoulder demanded that he shriek out in pain. Garrion knew he was going to die, here . . .

17
Slowly the wagon rolled toward the street where he sat, slumped against the wall. A cloaked, hooded figure reigned in on a white mare carrying a lantern in one hand and something in the other, though he could not make out what it was. The wagon came to a stop. The figure jumped down from the wagon and ran towards where Garrion sat. Again everything moved in a motion slower than normal by half. He could only move his eyes as he looked about at the ruin which lay before him. The stench of the decomposing dead lay heavy in the air. Pulling the hood back from her head, Sylia knelt down and looked at him. An icy, cynical look. He tried to explain but his voice was lost. He could only mumble in his half dazed condition. A knife sparkled in the light of the lantern she was carrying. The blade darted for his neck. With a quick motion he jerked his head to the left, causing his body to move just enough to avoid the knife in the throat. It struck deep into his shoulder, cutting through to the bone. His eyes shot wide with the surprise of the unexpected attack.

“I'll kill you for what you did to me! Do you hear me?! I'll kill you Garrion . . . kill you Garrion . . . kill Garrion . . . Garrion . . . Garrion . . . . Garrion are you . . . Garrion please. Oh no, Garrion please I -” His eyes focused slowly and he stared up into his murderer's face. His shoulder was in terrible pain from the dagger she had stabbed him with. He could feel her twisting the blade. With an effort he reached his hand up and grabbed the dagger from her . . . no dagger; just her hand. His shoulder hurt unmercifully.

“You're going to be okay . . . I hope.” His eyes focused on Sylia's and he sobbed out in relief as he looked past her at all the homes standing intact. All the windows whole, lamps hanging in doorways. His head hurt badly. He raised his hand to his shoulder, then quickly hid it within his torn shirt. It was half gone. Sylia noticed and removed her cloak and wrapped it around him tears of concern streaking her face freely.

“You're sweating so badly . . . what happened?” Her words choked short. He forced a smile to calm her as he let her help him stand. All the buildings were intact, lamps burning brightly. Windows were whole. Nothing had changed.

“My parents. Sylia, my parents. We must get to them. I -- what?” Sylia was looking at him as if he had struck her.

“Garrion. Your voice. You're talking like you did before the accident.” Without hearing her he staggered up into the wagon.

“Please Sylia. My parents.” He looked up into the night sky.

“Please don't let it be true. Let it be just a dream.” The burning pain from the wound of his hand sent the truth slicing through his heart. Deep within he knew it had been no dream. Not that part of it. Sylia got him settled and jumped nimbly into the wagon next to him.

18
Kenneth Bullrammer smiled as tears of joy and sadness streaked his face. His wife awoke with a murmur, mumbling something about Bards. He kissed her forehead and held her as she smiled up at him, still oblivious to the whole situation. That was half the plan; to protect her through all this.

Merdreth had been taken by Borlag to his birth place for burial. It had always been in his demands to have it this way should something happen to him.

Ashly was awake and standing out away from the others in silence. Her arts had saved his son from the same curse which had come upon him, but it had exacted a terrible price. Kenneth approached her silently and stood beside her, not knowing what to say.

“Merdreth was my friend and my family Ashly. I am sorry.” Tears began to form in his eyes and soon spilled down his weathered cheeks.

“I thank you for my son’s life and for my wife and I. I can never repay what you have done for us all.” Kenneth glanced over at Ashly. She was staring at him intently. Turning to him she placed a hand on his arm and bent close to Kenneth, looking up into his eyes.

“Kenneth, when I was taken on by Merdreth it was for a reason. He said I was to be his last apprentice; and I had a very special job in taking on that role. Since I was ten years of age, and I am twenty-four now, I have been taught in the arts tending towards Supernaturalism. Do you know the basics of what I speak, or anything about it?” Kenneth shook his head. “Supernaturalism is the study of transcendentalism . . . Kenneth, the art of life. I have given my soul existence to the study of life and death. Something happened back on the wagon. I won the victory over that creature, but . . . Kenneth, it destroyed me. Do you see what I’m getting to?” Perplexed, Kenneth shook his head. Ashly bit her lip and grimaced. “Okay, let me explain the path of the Supernaturalist. This type of, for lack of a better word, spell-caster develops his or her own destiny. The destiny I have chosen is to live again under this same sun, yet not in this physical form. For instance, legends have it that some have been granted the power to take the form of an animal, or another race such as elf, dwarf, dryad, or the creature of their particular choosing. I am one of those. My choice is to be Woodland Dryad . . . if I prove myself worthy. And that is the key to it all, to prove myself worthy. To accomplish this goal, I had to find a master to whom I would serve faithfully and without flaw to the end. Now are you understanding, or do I need to be more plain in my manner of speech?” Kenneth’s eyes widened in disbelief.

“What manner of power is this, that you can take the form of what you choose should you prove yourself worthy?” Ashly smiled ruefully.

“You are not thinking past the stage of merely being amazed that this can be. Open up your mind more Kenneth and quit thinking like a warrior. Garrion may have trained you well, yet still he has not the mind for this sort of thing -- and you follow suit without thinking. Are all warriors as stubborn of mind as you and he?” Ashly continued without waiting for an answer.

“Kenneth, I was the only Supernaturalist who could be taken on as an apprentice at the time that Merdreth accepted me. He had no choice in me. So do not judge nor mock what you are about to learn, for it is not in your right to do so. Now I will come to the point since you will refuse to do so yourself. Kenneth, Ashly fulfilled her apprenticeship with the giving of her life for your son. Being Ashly’s master and the future heir of her physical body, I had the solemn right to take it when she gave her life for Garrion’s. And so as she fulfilled her destiny, passing away with the terrible strain of that battle, I took up residence in her. I had prepaired a magic to restore her body to full strength, and thus it was safe to take up residence therein. Kenneth, I was getting old. This has been a great hope for me since I first began to train her as my apprentice.” Speechless, Kenneth pulled his arm away from Ashly’s hand and took a step back. He stared into Ashly’s eyes for some hint of treachery, or the truth. All he found was his own doubts gnawing at him. Then he gave in and smiled victoriously. But Ashly (Merdreth) quickly parried.

“Rid yourself of that triumphant grin; it annoys me boy. You didn't think I would come all this way to do this grand favor without price did you? You owe me.” Kenneth's smile deepened.

“Same old Merdreth. You haven't changed.” She smirked.

“Never Kenneth. But my name is Ashly now. And best you keep that a secret to your grave boy, lest evil bestet you at my hand.” Kenneth sobered and nodded. Outside the wagon Kenneth heard Garrion quietly state in his thunderous whisper, which always failed the attempt of secrecy, “Same ol' Kenneth. He hasn't changed one bit.” The former knight looked up into the cloudy sky and prayed that his son would make it alright. All those years of preparation. He knew he had won.

As the coach moved on into the night, Ashly’s eyes burned with a glittering triumph that was not related to Kenneth’s victory. 19
The priest said, “Peacefully they were taken home to the Seven Havens.” The coffins were lowered. As the first shovel of earth was thrown down onto the coffins, Garrion unsheathed his broadsword and gave his parents the Knight's Sending; the tradition of saying farewell to those knights who had died honorably in battle. The ritualistic words which would open up the Sealed Door to the Havens above. He then sheathed his blade and stepped back into his place to be met by the delicate hand of his fiance. As the last words and prayers were spoken, Garrion felt Sylia's hand tighten in his. He looked down at her and found her looking at him. A sad smile spread across her mouth as she said the words, “I love you”, without a sound. She always did this. At this particulare moment, this gave him much strength, and for some reason the death of his parents did not effect him the way he thought it would; the way it should have (something was not quite right). Maybe it was his mind, warped after the confrontation with that thing he would never speak of again.

The funeral was ended.

Nearly three months later they were married. It was a joyous occasion. Garrion found himself enjoying the evening thoroughly as gifts were given and traditional advice given to them. He found himself laughing for the first time since . . . . something was not right. Or rather everything was right. Though he did not know why, he could feel no remorse for his parents. His mind lingered on death most often, which depressed him greatly. But he could not pinpoint his sorrow. Somewhere, somehow they, were alright. He could not explain his thought on this, but he knew it . . . he just knew.

Sylia tended him for the rest of his life with love and care. She often questioned him about what had happened; how he knew about his parent's death before seeing. But he never told her. He never told anyone. The authorities questioned him, hotly debating his role in the matter of his parents demise for years to come. But he would never be convicted of the crimes that some people cried out against him.

Comforting relatives and all his acquaintances mimicked the words of the priest at the funeral, telling him that his parents were at peace now. Before she had died his mother had warned him never to give in. That warning had saved his soul. The only thing that he lived for now, and that made life sweet, was his beloved Sylia whom he cherished and loved.

And yet for three years after, he found that depression was his constant companion. He tried to hide this as best he could, so as not to worry Sylia. But she saw through his pretense and often attempted to sway his mind into lighter paths. Then one day she changed him for good when she confronted him about his "dark mood". This is what she labeled as his sulking and thinking shadowy thoughts. He politely debated that issue, telling her that he would die for her, and he meant it. But he also used those words to avoid the issue, supposing that phrase would bring an end to the repeated discussion once and for all. But one day, Sylia, with a smirk stated flatly, “I do not wish for you to die for me. Instead, would you live for me Garrion Bullrammer?” Her words struck him with a greater force than any foe ever had, or ever would (and there would be many in the future). Knowing she cared gave him much strength to overcome the pain of his trial, and the sorrow which darkly plagued his mind thereafter. Her true love enabled him to gift her with the best possible life, and enjoy it himself to the end of his days.

From ages past and for ages to come
There will be souls Forsaken

The shadow it reaches for someone
Unaware they have been taken

In anticipation it waits and broods
Emotionlessly it will kill

Allied with fear and blackest of moods
It seeks for lives to still

The Forsaken