Chapter 4

Chapter 4

“Ah, death shalt not take our young warrior from us yet.”

A dim light filtered into Sal’en’tor’s eyes as he began to regain consciousness. There were two shapes peering over him. One was a male and was wearing a type of brown robe while the other was a female, dressed in a type of reddish flowing dress. The female looked oddly familiar. Sal’en’tor tried to sit up but found his back and arms unresponsive.

“Rest, now.” A deep voice issued from the male, “Thou were poisoned, greatly, as to test my mightiest skill. You strength hath not, of yet, returned and it will be some days before thou canst move as freely as thou once did.”

Sal’en’tor grew dizzy and said, “What devilry is this? What concoction befuddles my senses?”

The voice spoke again, “It is the aftereffects of a certain poison, made only by the blackest of hearts. You art fortunate that thou hast such a will to live, otherwise I would have lost the life in which I hath so diligently strived to preserve.”

“Who hath poisoned me and to what purpose would my death serve to that person?” Sal’en’tor asked.

“You will remember well, my soldier” Spoke the female voice this time. “It was the black creature that attempted my life. Many fell that day, yet you somehow were spared. The Graces have a plan for you and death will not come until that plan is complete.”

Sal’en’tor grew puzzled, “Attempted your life? Your mistake might be great, my honorable lady. I saved the Queen. I remember you not.

The female’s face grew soft. “Then maybe a touch will remind you, Sal’en’tor.”

She reached down and gently took his limp, cold, hand in hers. Even though the poison had dulled his mind, Sal’en’tor would never forget the hand in which his honor was bound. He at once tried to rise again. He got his head off his pillow but was pressed down by a firm hand.

“My Queen,” Sal’en’tor whispered weakly. He turned toward the healer, “I must be allowed to rise. I wilt not be seen by my Queen so.”

“Thou shalt not rise.” spoke the Queen, her authoritative voice putting to rest any argument between the healer and the soldier.

Sal’en’tor lowered his head slowly back to the pillow. “I obey my Queen. But, my Queen, how hath you digressed into merchant daughter clothes? Why hath your power flown from you like a bat in darkness?”

The Queen saddened slightly, “Time hast past greatly, my soldier. Nigh three months to this day. Many things have changed in our world which we call home of the Al’kara’tos.”

She sat down on a chair, and put an arm on Sal’en’tor, as if needing his support again.

“When you almost fell into darkness, many more fell beasts came for my life. The black creatures set upon us so fiercely that within a short while, my guard was soon all but depleted. Again and again they came, until I was forced to issue martial law.” The Queen’s face grew sad and sorrowful, “I erred most greatly at that decision. As you well know, the Commander hath strove for my crown ever since he hath tasted power. My rash decision gave him that opportunity. I know not if the black creatures were his design but now I know he hath plotted this in his black heart for years without count. Having gained control of the city and all its powers he could work his will against my followers and me. Many he executed, many he tortured, until finally only I was left. A fallen Queen in her own dungeon was more than I could bear. I was kept there for 3 weeks, rotting away, slowly, in torment.” Sal’en’tor could clearly see the anguish and disgust on the Queen’s face, “It was the night before my death, in which those who were still faithful to the Crown came for me and set me free. We escaped and I was hastened away to this place to be hidden. You wert still in black slumber when your sleeping form was brought here to be tended. This safe haven hath been my home for two months. But my standings are not the only things that hath changed in our world. The Commander hath declared himself king over all Al’kara’tos, proclaiming me slain by the foul creatures. He is quite the coercer that I had not thought possible for someone of his bluntness. He has the people under his spell. They follow him without question as they once did me. This was the present state until about two weeks ago, a strange and foreign race, in our land, was seen by a miner, who lived on the outskirts of town. The miner followed this group all the way deep into our city and back all the way up from whence they came. The miner came back with strange tales of a land of fire and a massive fireball that flies high in the sky then disappears leaving the world in darkness similar to ours. He spoke of this race having many, many armies and strongholds. The words ‘armies’, and ‘strongholds’ brought the full attention of the Commander. The miner was interrogated, and then executed. I only know of these things by the faithful few that still remain in key positions in the palace. The Commander hath just recently dispatched a regiment to assess this new land above our heads. I await word as to if they were successful in any of their exploration.”

Sal’en’tor let out a stunned sigh. “My mind doth reel from these events. I am most grieved and tormented by such news. Why hath these things been done and why in my time?” Painful memories rose up in light of the situation. “What of …Teacher?”

The Queen bowed her head, “1st Teacher was given the rite of Kor’un’tor, the rite of the Fallen Guardian. His burial was the highest of his rank. He was grieved by many who knew him and many that did not.”

The rest of the day and into the morning of the next, Sal’en’tor lay, silently grieving his Teacher. His memories brought happiness for a moment, only to be jolted into remembrance of his sudden loss. Sal’en’tor made the friendship of the other occupant of the cozy home. His name was Ev’lok’tor and was a healer. Ev’lok’tor lived a distance from the city but still remained under its protection. No one came to visit except an occasional merchant or a traveler. It was nearing dinner time when Sal’en’tor could sit up on his bed without being exhausted. He could still feel the cut on his side but the healer said it have been a grazing blow so there would be only a light scar. The Queen came to him regularly, feeding him some broth from the mushroom garden that grew outside the house, as well as to give him water from a nearby pool. Their meetings were always formal and regal on Sal’en’tor’s part but the Queen however seemed like a different person. She was not as proud as she had been the day that they had first met. She seemed more humble in a way.

During the night Sal’en’tor woke up with a start. It was pitch black and he felt a strange, disturbing feeling in the pit of his stomach. He felt a cacophony of emotions: sadness, fear, hate. His stomach tightened with emotions he had not felt since he was a child. Most of Sal’en’tor’s strength had returned so Sal’en’tor sat up quickly and reached for his long sword which lay beside the bed. A hand grasped his shoulder. It was the healer. He also had a weapon in his hand. It was a type of sickle. The healer used it for cutting mushrooms but Sal’en’tor had known that he was skilled in more then just the art of farming.

“Be silent and heed my words.” came the healer’s whisper. “It is a Skee’lich. A Lesser Worm. Do not be afraid. This creature will only attack if it knows its prey is nearby.

“What will be our course of action, friend?” asked Sal’en’tor.

The healer said, “Our course?” he chuckled softly, “Nay, our only hope in adverting danger and death from our Queen is to remain silent and draw its attention away from us and onto the nourishment which drew it to our grotto in the first place. Mushrooms are quite profitable but they are the Worm’s tastiest catch, besides Al’kara’tos of course. Our only option is to roll out our kegs of mushrooms and relieve its appetite. Lesser Worms only attack if they are either hungry or threatened, after eating the mushrooms it will feel neither. Stay in bed and keep quiet; the slightest noise could doom our quest before it begins.”

A putrid smell filled Sal’en’tor’s nostrils.

“Do not breathe too deep, Sal’en’tor. I have no proof but they say the Skee’lich’s breath causes convulsions,” came the healer’s voice in the darkness.

Sal’en’tor brought the top of his night shirt over his mouth and nose to deter the hazardous fumes.

Ev’lok’tor crept silently to the corner of the house and quietly rolled a barrel of mushrooms toward the door. The operation went fine until one of the barrel’s root fiber planks let out a hideous groan of protest at the sudden weight. All of a sudden, a blast of hot sulfur rushed through the windows and blew open the door. A great sunken, pale, eye looked into the house. The Lesser Worm was aware of their presence. It’s wiggling, gyrating flesh stopped quivering for a moment. Then it opened its cavernous insect mouth and consumed most of the front side of the house. Cracking and crashing filled Sal’en’tor’s ears. The Healer dove for safety as the roof caved in, collapsing on the very spot he had been moments before. Sal’en’tor willed himself to move. He moved slowly, like in a dream, unable to react quickly or sharply. The Queen woke up quick suddenly and upon seeing this monstrous grub-like creature almost upon her, grabbed a rock which had fallen from the ceiling and threw it directly in the face of the creature.  The Worm shyed slighty giving the Queen time to leap to her feet and stand next to Ev’lok’tor. The Lesser Worm was about twenty feet in length and nine feet in width. It had no difficulties in shouldering aside whole sections of the house with its massive girth. Ev’lok’tor stood up and ran forward, his sickle in hand. The healer leap to the side as the mighty pincers of the mouth snapped shut, barely missing him. Ev’lok’tor raised his sickle and drove it deep into the jiggling mass that made up the hide of the Worm. The sickle dug deeper into the side, its hilt disappearing in the flesh. Ev’lok’tor stood, weaponless, as the Lesser Worm turned its head around to regard him. Annoyance flashed in the eye’s of the Worm as it started to turn toward Ev’lok’tor. Sal’en’tor knew he must act if he were to defend his newfound friend. He rolled his feet off the bed and onto the floor. As his arms picked him off the bed, his feet gave way to the sudden weight and Sal’en’tor crashed on the floor. Sal’en’tor saw his friend pinned now, the creature’s great blubber pressing him against the tunnel wall. Sal’en’tor came up with only one option, he turned toward the Queen, “May your aim be true. Throw my sword to Ev’lok’tor for my body betrays me at this time of great need.” The Queen understood instantly and with strength which slighty surprised Sal’en’tor, sent the longsword hurling threw the air at Ev’lok’tor.

Ev’lok’tor saw the sword spinning in the air toward him, and hope came once again. He grasped the hilt in mid-air and then slashed and hacked his way through the creature’s mass. White flesh flew in all directions. He saw the Queen helping Sal’en’tor to his feet, only to see Sal’en’tor and the Queen collapes once again as the young warrior’s legs refused to stand. Ev’lok’tor knew his only way of saving his Queen and friend was to lead the creature away from them. Instead of fighting to rejoin his friends, Ev’lok’tor made his way toward the entrance tunnel, which lead out, away from the house. The Worm was enraged now, it was hurt too badly now to ignore such a nuisance. Ev’lok’tor ran to the entrance to the cavern where he had build his house. He waved his sword in challenge to the Lesser Worm. The Worm let out a bellow and thrashed toward Ev’lok’tor. The same feelings that Sal’en’tor had felt near the beginning of the conflict now returned with a much greater intensity. Sal’en’tor and the Queen gasped, in agony, on the floor as emotions poured into them, hate, anger, sadness, rage.  Sal’en’tor forced himself to concentrate, picked up the knife again, and begun a ferious crawl to help his friend. Ev’lok’tor was suffering the same emotional stress and fell to his knees in response to the sheer torment this downpour of feelings caused by this strange and powerful creature. Ev’lok’tor struggled to his feet. The Worm was almost upon him. He staggered back a few steps. The Worm reached for him with its mighty pincers. It was too late! The pincers snapped shut and began to grind together. The Worm’s eyes glazed over as it sought to taste its prey. It never saw the knife until it was too late. Sal’en’tor had managed to climb on top of the Worm and had driven the kitchen knife into the Worm’s left eye. The Worm bellowed out in distress. With a fair chunk of flesh and an eye missing, the Lesser Worm thrashed around wildly, throwing Sal’en’tor to the ground. The Lesser Worm had taken enough, its only thought was to get away from these fierce animals and find some easier prey.

Sal’en’tor rose up on his knees, quite shaken. “Gods, first I suffer from a poison, now a creature of great fierceness. I dread that I may be inadequate for the continued challenge.” He whispered to himself.

The Queen ran over to where Ev’lok’tor had last been seen. The Worm’s flesh clung to the walls, still quivering and shaking. The Queen saw a form huddled under piles of flesh. She ran over and wiped the flesh away from the still form. With a shout the Ev’lok’tor leaped up in the air and let out a whoop. “Ha! Gods! Was that an excitement for these old bones of mine! I feared that I would awaken in the Silver Halls but the sight of the living comforts me still.”

The Queen let out a sign of relief and sunk to the floor, “I fear, my dear friend, that our quest together was about to be undone. Greater evils may soon set upon us in this dark place.” The Queen seemed to wilt, “My heart quails to think of such evil against my person. Who is it that causes these terrible events to happen to myself and those in my company?”

Ev’lok’tor kneeled beside the Queen. “I once was a young apprentice when I heard word that you had taken throne. I heard that this new Queen had come to save us and redeem us to our rightful place as the conquerors of the world. My imagination, at once, ceased not to conjure up great and powerful attributes of you, my Queen. One such attribute was perseverance. Now if thou would do this elderly healer a service and not dispel such a fantasy then I would forever be in debt to you.”

The Queen smiled through her sorrow, “I will grant your request. Most assuredly, I promise you. However such evil hast come against us. Coincidence, these events, cannot be. Some greater force than the Commander must be at work against the crown. Someone, or something, must be plotting the downfall and destruction of the Al’kara’tos to be weaving such a masterful trap for our people. First, these black assassins, then these creatures from above, now the very creatures in which we once subjected. Foul mischief is aboard in our lands. We cannot hide from one so cunning. We must go to where such a mastermind would never think of. My heart doth quake in my chest to think of such an endeavor, but what of the surface in which this new race has been found. Any creatures that the land of fire must hold could not be worse than the monstrosities that the evil forces may use down below. But I shalt take counsel in these matters. Ev’lok’tor, what say you to this course of action?”

Ev’lok’tor grew serious and sat down on a nearby rock for a while, thinking. “My mind doth betray me in such matters. I know of no other safe haven where we might rapture the Queen away. This new “surface” may be the exact savior that the Al’kara’tos need at this moment.”

The Queen grew sad again, “But to leave my people, what would become of them?”

Ev’lok’tor grew stern, “What becomes of our people will happen whether you are here to witness it or not, my Queen. These new “races” that abide above may just prove to be our saving grace. On the other hand they may prove to unleash a horror unknown to any amongst us in this age. Yet, one rolls the dice of life everyday with his knowledge or not. I prefer to have a choice in this grave matter, rather than having it decided from me.”

Then, with a face of honor and regality, the one that Sal’en’tor had seen in the throne room of the palace of Kul’dum’tos, the Queen said, “Then to the surface, we shall go.


Chapter 3

Chapter 3

It was another two hours of walking until the three exited the tunnel into an enormous cavern. The cavern was so enormous that it fit a city in its bowels. This city was the grey wonder called Kul’dum’tos. The group passed underneath the grey arches, watched casually by the gate guards. Inside the city was unlike most busy towns. There was silence and the only sound you could hear was the soft whisper of haggling and buying. Sal’en’tor went first and pushed his way through the crowd as Teacher and the Herald followed. The castle was hard to miss, being the tallest building by far. Upon reaching the palace gate, they were stopped by one of the guards. “Hail, friend, I must ask you your business in the keep of Her Majesty.”

The Herald stepped forth, “Hail, friend, I come bringing the Teacher to Her Presence as was requested.” He pulled forth a scroll, “This will verify my claim.”

The guard read the scroll then politely handed it back to the Herald and stepped out of the way. “May the Queen’s blessing be with you and thy kin.”

The Herald completed the farewell by saying, “And to you and thy kin, peace.”

Upon entering the palace Sal’en’tor saw the great column masterwork that made up the great hall and all its substructures. Craftsmanship was like great pillars of clouds holding up the sky. They approach the throne room’s great stone doors. The doors were opened and before them, on a throne some twenty feet high, sat the Queen of all Al’kara’dos. She was wrapped in earth silk and held a glowing scepter in her hand. Her face, as all Al’kara’dos, was devoid of all features save her two orb-like eyes that shone forth in the darkness of the underground. Sal’en’tor was stunned by her very presence that hung like a curtain.

Teacher stepped forward in front of the rest and said, “My most wonderful and magnificent Queen, thou hast called me and thou servant hast answered. Your very whim is my destiny, your slightest look my reward. Speak for thy servant hears you.”

With that the Teacher bowed low to the ground. The Queen’s voice rang out, soft yet authoritative, “Rise, Teacher. We have much to discuss and plan, yet I must first hear of your other companion. One I know for I had sent him, but who is the third? Is he of some importance unto whom I must pay my respects? Speak, Teacher, and tell me who this mysterious figure is.”

Teacher motioned for Sal’en’tor bow as he had done shortly before. While Sal’en’tor was bowing, Teacher begun his narrative. “While unknown to your graces, my Queen, this soldier is likest to my very son. His father, in our dark days, was slain whilst defeating the Great Worm who had come against us, his mother serveth thou by making the carpets in which your perfect feet doth tread. He hath proven himself worthy to your will, time and time again. Yet his greatest service was that of just yet recently. We were ‘delayed’ in coming here, Your Majesty and if it were not for his most honorable and courageous feats in combat for Your Highness then your Herald, as well as I, should have been overwhelmed and your will would not have been carried out. His name is thus, Sal’en’tor, Head of the 3rd class of your most Powerful Commander.”

At this last remark the Queen let out a quick and sharp laugh, “Not as powerful as thou thinkest my dear subject. But enough of my shrewd remarks, this soldier has risked his life in my defense and such sacrifice is not recorded so lightly. Let the soldier come here.”

Sal’en’tor’s eyes widened as he slowly approached the throne, his head bowed in respect. As he neared the throne steps, leading to the seat of power, he halted, unsure of how to proceed. To even approach so closely to the Queen was something of great honor. “Rise up the steps, soldier. Thou doth not fear your Queen so.” The Queen said. Sal’en’tor carefully and slowly stepped closer and closer, expecting at any moment to be halted. As he climb the last step, he stood face to face with the Queen that ruled over all Al’kara’dos. Slowly a thin, pale, graceful hand rose out from under the earth silk and calmly hung suspended in the air. Sal’en’tor fell to one knee and took the sacred hand in his. It was warm and soft, yet almost weary and tired. It hung heavily in his hand, as if she required his support. He gently released her hand and rose solemnly. He walked backwards down the stairs and next to Teacher. Sal’en’tor glanced toward Teacher whose face betrayed the same surprise and astonishment that his held.

“Let all here know of the gratefulness and pride of the Queen to her subjects that risk all for her desire,” said the Queen. “Now,” as she turned her head to regard Teacher, “I must take counsel with my subject in matters that must be spoken of in private.” Teacher bowed low to the ground and approached the Queen’s throne. The Queen rose up gracefully and slowly descended the steps. When she reached the floor she turned her head toward the Herald and Sal’en’tor. “Let these subjects be bathed and given royal clothing. The Herald is to be promoted to 3rd Herald in the service and…” she paused. She walked slowly toward Sal’en’tor. “My mind grows weak, what would a soldier ask of his Queen?”

Sal’en’tor eyes grew moist from emotion. “You could not reward me anymore than thou hast done already, my Queen.”

At this the Queen’s face softened slightly, “Your words doth become you, my servant.”

She turned to one of the many chamberlains standing in a corner. “Let this be taken in record. I, the Queen, swear by myself, for there is none higher, to bestow upon Sal’en’tor any honor that he may see fit, excluding the Crown, my hand in marriage, and beyond half the kingdom’s worth.”

Sal’en’tor almost staggered in response, “I…I….”

The Queen raised her hand in silence, “Better that thou not speak then to harm the great esteem I hold for you now.” And with that she turned and walked away beside Teacher to a private chamber. After the Queen and Teacher had exited, the Herald motioned for Sal’en’tor to follow him.

The Herald let out a breath, “3rd Herald? That places me above all except the Post Master and the Guild Master, a reward indeed.” Sal’en’tor just followed in stunned silence. The Herald looked back at him and chuckled softly to himself. “I see that the Queen hath wrapped you in her spell of rapture, one wish up to half the kingdom? No one hath been able to boast more greatly than thou. Come along, I am hungered and-” All of a sudden a shriek was heard from behind them. A cry and a ringing of steel on steel issued from the throne room. The Herald and Sal’en’tor turned on their heals and rushed back into the throne room. The scene at once arrested their attention. The Queen was backing up, in shock. Three throne room guards lay slain and Teacher seemed locked in combat with a dark and sinister shape, covered in black robes. Teacher, his sword drawn, fought faster than Sal’en’tor had ever seen before, but the black creature was faster and was forcing Teacher backwards. Sal’en’tor drew his own sword and the Herald, his dagger. They charged toward the battle. Sal’en’tor was just about to relieve Teacher, when the black shape drove his blade, through Teacher’s defenses, and skewered him through the middle. Sal’en’tor’s heart skipped a beat as he rushed past the falling body of his old friend and engaged the black creature. Sal’en’tor knew he had only a few moments to live, for the speed the robed creature  was faster than any he had ever seen. He barely raised his blade quick enough to block an overhead swipe. He tried to put the creature on the defensive by a quick thrust up the middle but his blade was smacked away. Before Sal’en’tor was able to regain his balance however, the creature spun around and delivered a slashing blow to Sal’en’tor’s side. Bright blue blood splattered to the floor as Sal’en’tor struggled to remain standing. By this time, palace guards were pouring into the room and were closing in fast upon the unknown attacker. The black creature, knowing itself defeated by numbers, let out a shreak and then threw something to the ground. Before Sal’en’tor had a chance to react the object exploded and a black mist filled the room, concealing everything. By the time the mist cleared, the creature was nowhere in sight. Sal’en’tor’s legs finally gave way and he collapsed on the floor. He looked up at the ceiling as darkness started to fill his eyes. He saw guards running past him in slow motion and he thought he saw the Queen being rushed out of the room to safety. He then turned his head to his left and looked into the dead eyes of his Teacher. Sal’en’tor faded into darkness.

Chapter 2

Chapter 2

“Sal’en’tor!” Sal’en’tor opened his eyes. “Sal’en’tor rise! We have not time on our side. Fly we must away from here! I fear the enemy is not far behind.” Sal’en’tor woke up suddenly and rose to his feet.” Teacher stood in the doorway with another figure that wore the clothes of a Herald of the Queen. Sal’en’tor grabbed his blade that was straight and true, much like a long sword yet sharper. He put on his armor and walked quickly out the doorway. The hallway in which the military barracks were kept was quite restricting so their movement was somewhat restricted but as soon as they cleared the military sector of the tunnels, they were about to speedily move as they desired. The tunnels were carved with much masterwork. The main tunnels, in which the three companions were now traveling, were like huge walkways through the mantle. About an acre in width the tunnel could sustain heavy traffic. The main tunnel that led to the military barracks was empty. None went there that didn’t belong. Every so often the group of three would pass a lone traveler during their walk from the barracks to the Main Chamber. No words were said in greeting is it is the custom to speak only when necessary. Sal’en’tor walked beside his Teacher and the Herald.

The Herald was like most Heralds, handpicked of the school of communication. The best of the best and the quickest of the quickest were chosen to serve in the Queen’s Palace. This Herald looked sturdier than most Heralds that Sal’en’tor had seen. The Herald carried a small dagger on his belt, customary and more decoration then versatile, but effective nonetheless. They had been traveling about five hours with no mishaps when out of the darkness Sal’en’tor made out three figures. Unlike the rest of the passer-bys they had encountered, the unknown group moved to block their path. Sal’en’tor made out the Herald’s hushed whisper,

“Beware, our enemy may be at hand.” Teacher said nothing but looked onward, his hand on his sturdy stone axe, his orb-like eyes narrowed. A voice was heard from the group who was drawing near,

“Halt! Who travels on the road so late this night?” It was a gruff voice and one Sal’en’tor recognized well. It was his rival and competition during his training at the Military barracks, Va’nor’tos. Sal’en’tor could make out his features barely. High cheekbones and a scar that ran from head to neck, as well as a thick chest and a square jaw, Sal’en’tor was evenly matched. Va’nor’tos and two companions whom Sal’en’tor did not recognize stood blocking their way. Va’nor’tos said again, louder,

“Halt! Who travels so late at night?” Teacher raised his voice in reply,

“Have you misplaced the infinitesimal scrap of respect that I beat into you that Fornight Eve? Have you forgotten thou manners toward thy Teacher?” Instead of cowering like Va’nor’tos would have done in the past, he raised himself up and said,

“Spare me thou words, oh false guide! I know in whom thou serve. One who would bring destruction upon our very heads and condemn us into a black and pain filled tomb!”

Teacher’s eyes flared, “You speakest as if thou know of what blasphemy thou sayeth! You cry words that hold more meaning then your very life has in existence!”

Va’nor’tos snorted proudly, “Do you retreat yourself and attempt to lecture me? Has your arm grown too weak to hold its own ground. Thy words are twisted and vile; your lips hold many deceitful teachings!”

Sal’en’tor drew his sword and the hiss of steel filled the tunnel, “Thou wouldst dare insult the Teacher so? Your tongue hath uttered things that deserve death!”

With a bellow and a cry Va’nor’tos drew his own sword and shouted in defiance, “And wouldst thou attempt to teach me the error of mine ways, you insolent welpling! Would thou strive against your betters as though you were mine equal? Does the Queen so stupidly choose her soldier so? Does the Queen seek out any who would bow a knee to her in return for her hollow favors?”

This time it was the Herald who replied, “Your babbling tongue hast dug you a grave, young one. If thou so speak of your Queen as of such, thou deserve to die!”

Then, silently, without another word, as Al’kara’tos do when they fight, they draw their weapons and advance upon each other. Sal’en’tor at first strode toward Va’nor’tos but was quickly shouldered aside as Teacher pushed past him, his eyes burning like fire. Va’nor’tos’ insults had struck a chord with Teacher and now only Teacher would show him his error. As the combat joined, Sal’en’tor found himself facing one of Va’nor’tos’ companions. Both were armed with steel long swords and both seemed equal in combat. Teacher and Va’nor’tos struck the first blow. The ringing of metal upon metal soon echoed through the tunnel as, silently, they battled. Sal’en’tor swung first at his target, a clean thrust to the heart. This, of course, was parried as Sal’en’tor had predicted, so he spun to his left and swung low at his opponent’s legs. Instead of feeling the slicing motion as he had expected, his sword whooshed under his enemies legs, who had reacted beautifully and had jumped over the passing blade. Sal’en’tor barely dodged the downward chop and rolled clear of the second swing that passed over his head. Sal’en’tor regained his footing and glanced over to his companions to see how they were faring. Teacher was, without question, winning his bout which Va’nor’tos knew as well.

The Herald was thrusting and dodging with surprising ease as he faced his opponent armed with a thin rapier. Sal’en’tor jerked his head back just in time to bring his blade up above his head to block another vicious downward swipe. Sal’en’tor thrust his foe’s sword aside and once again thrust towards his heart. The other Al’kara’tos responded as he did before but he didn’t expect Sal’en’tor to pull back just before the point of impact, allowing his blocking blow to pass. Sal’en’tor drove with his legs as his blade plunged eagerly into his opponent’s heart. He fell without a sound, as all Al’kara’tos do. Sal’en’tor turned just in time to see the Herald drive his dagger deep into his opponent’s throat. With two down only Va’nor’tos remained. Desperation filled Va’nor’tos’ face as he knew he was beaten. Teacher flowed with a controlled rage as he disarmed his foe and spun in a complete circle to gain momentum as he decapitated Va’nor’tos. Va’nor’tos’ head hit the floor and rolled a few feet before stopping, face downward, blood emptying from his brain.

Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Steam billowed from the underground fissures and water dripped lightly from the cavern ceiling. Deep within the earth, tunnels ran through the mantle and deeper still. There was no light and there was no sun, only blackness and the Dark. A deep, royal voice rang through one of the tunnels, “You are Al’kara’tos. You are mighty. You will serve the Queen and her Protector with your life. You fear no death, you fear no pain. You will carry out your orders to the very last.” There was a pause. Then the voice spoke again, “To whom do you submit?”

A multitude of voices, millions and millions, rang out. “Al’kara’tos!”

The drums beat slowly and rhythmically, like a pounding heart. Figures moved about in the labyrinth of underground tunnels in which the city of Kul’dum’tos stood in its gray splendor. The black rocks mirrored the movement made by the shadowy figures. The figures stepped in time to the drum. Left, right, left, right. Boom, boom. Boom, boom. The beat had sunken into the very depth of the rocks, penetrating to the very core. Boom, boom. The beat sounded one message to her soldiers. Boom, boom. Awaken! Boom, boom. Arise! Boom, boom. To War!

The thudding had become his very life force as he entered is new living quarters. His yellow eyes glanced over his belongings which had recently been deposited on his bed made from stone. The chant, “Al’kara’tos!” still rang in his ears as the ceremony, in which he was made 1st Soldier, along with 4 million other recruits. He was destined to serve his Queen in unfailing loyalty and unquestioning action. He stood a moment, observing his new living quarters with interest. His face had no features to them. So did all Al’kara’tos. Blank faces except for their eyes which were like tiny orbs suspended in the dark. His neck was thick and his shoulders broad. His legs were powerful and his stance balanced. His hard skin was pale but his muscles stood out like wave crests in the light of a white moon. He sat down on the hard bed and began to rest, the beating of the Great Drum humming in his ears. In this present state of mind he began to muse,

“If not yet I, who have stood no more than 20 years, then who will the Drum summon to her gates? If yonder glory hath yet to reveal herself, to whom and under what persuasion shall she act? Who will lead us to conquest and glory? Nigh, it has been more years than the rocks themselves have been in formation, than we have tread the path to victory. How then, will we prosper in this hardened soil if we do not yet try ourselves in the conquest of others?” At this, a figure stood at the doorway, which contained no door. The figure was his mentor and teacher,

“Musing again, my Sal’en’tor? Thoughts doth yet become of you so easily.” Sal’en’tor rose from his bed and sat up,

“Greetings, Teacher. Verily I say to you, I had not expected thy coming till at least the ending of the hour.” The Al’kara’tos known only as Teacher drew up a chair that was in the far corner of the room.

“Ceremonies doth bore me, my pupil. It lies more with pleasing the Queen in which I draw my life’s blood.”

“Well said, Teacher. I too hunger for the chance of service in which our armies have obtained in hopes of a long and healthy life.”

Teacher nodded thoughtfully, “There lays the quagmire in which our power rests. Too much have we given up our ways to the comforts of the home and hearth, too many soldiers and too less veterans. Daily does our Queen call us and yet the Commander doth not respond. My heart fears another civil war. Our destruction brings joy into the hearts of our enemies.”

Sal’en’tor looked up suddenly, “The great Al’kara’tos hath no enemies!”

Teacher raised his hand up quickly, “Of course,” he said quietly, “but, verily, there are those among us and apart from us who plot against the Queen and her people.”

Sal’en’tor leaned closer toward Teacher, hanging on his every word.

“There have been rumors that hath touched mine ears.” The Teacher continued,

“There had been speakings of a strange wind blowing down from above. The Seers speak of a race above our heads, who walk in fire and light!”

Startled, Sal’en’tor quickly regained his composer, “Is this the reason our Queen doth call?”

“I do not know, my pupil. Yet, when the summons falls from the Commander to the Teacher, I will answer with all hast, even if some evil oppresses me. I fear that the Commander is not agreeable with just being the Commander. The Queen may yet be in danger. That is why I hath come so soon! Whispers and water fall through cracks and I have heard that a summons is heralding my direction. The danger may be overwhelming but I alone know that you are trustworthy among the Commander’s troops. I hath seen you ever since you were from your mother’s womb. I hath raised you as a son in place of your perished father. I must trust in your loyalty to your family and to your Queen. No reward I or the Queen could give would equal the peril in which we are to embark. There are worst things than death, as ye well know.”

Sal’en’tor looked shocked at the sudden news he had received. He gazed down at the floor. His mind reeling at the new information with which he was entrusted. He spoke slowly, “My pledge is to the Queen herself, not to the Commander or his minions. If my Queen calls, I will answer.” The Teacher let out a breath of relief.

“My pupil, thou doth not know the measure in which thy words comfort me. If the herald is successful in his mission then I shall receive my summons by this night. Await for me here in your chamber. We leave as soon as we hath received the summons. Now sleep my pupil, I fear that our trip to Her graces may by troubled much by an evil, foul scheme.” With that, Teacher rose up and exited the room. Sal’en’tor laid back on his bed. His eyes closed and his mind slowly beginning to rest. Tonight would be his time of duty!



The year was 3049 of the Royal Lords calendar. The grass had grown green and high. Farming was easy and the profit was high. The economy was in a solid state of normalcy. This land in which the Giver had blessed so mightily was called Gvern. Gvern, at the time, was divided among three kingdoms. It was this government in which the people grew, and thrived. It was not until a great mine shaft was opened in which a great darkness fell over the land. You could not see the darkness, you could not touch the darkness; it just was. You could feel it in your bones. Like an aching acid, deep within your core. Incidentally, this great mine shaft which had been discovered by a farm hand was directly in the middle of all the three kingdoms, right at the tip of each border. As soon as the word “gold” was mentioned, all three kingdoms immediately claimed the mine as theirs. This of course led to great strife. Diplomacy gave way to demands, and demands led to embargos, and embargos led to starvation. This of course led to pillaging and raiding on all three kingdoms’ parts. Yet it was not until a raid went bad and one of the princes of the three kingdoms was kill that the kingdoms declared war. This war lasted years and years. The green grass was burnt to the ground and the trees and forests were consumed in the making of war. All the land turned to darkness and ash. It was in this land that all three kingdoms destroyed themselves entirely. Only raiders and peasants roam the charred land. Many of them wished they had died, and many of them did. It was not until a hero came forth, Raiven Thornbrook, that all the lost people came together as one nation. Raiven united them as a people and they began to rebuild. Soon the grass started to grow and the cities began to refill. It was in this time setting that our story takes place, in the our first tale of the underground race called the Al’kara’tos.

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