FRESH STORY CONTENT 11/21/2022 — Derek Barton — Wyvernshield!! – 2022

Salty sweat dripped endlessly down LLasher’s forehead and into his eyes. The bandana wrapped around his head was thoroughly soaked. His legs clenched beneath, doing the majority of the work, as he hauled himself up one knot at a time along his rough, hemp rope. 

A silhouette peered over the cliffside lip. “You are almost there!” Lyndasia called down. 

“I know, I know. I lost my arm, not my eyes!” he snapped back at her. “The things I am asked to do.  Being a criminal was so much easier!”

Only her laughter in response drifted down to him. 

Finally he crawled up and over the edge, rolled and laid on his back, his sides heaving. Lyndasia laughed and punched his shoulder good-naturedly. She rolled up to her knees, stood then offered him a hand to get to his own feet. “I bet you sat like a fat slug in your cabin on the ship. Just ordered all your crew to do your dirty work.  And do you know what that is called, my friend?”  

“What?” he snapped at her.  She was beautiful, but her humor was as usual mocking. Her long black dreadlocks banded together with green metal rings cascaded down over her right shoulder. She had tan and black studded leather and a pair of short swords scabbarded at her sides. Her brown eyes sparkled with mirth and energy. 

“That is what they call Koyo’rah.”

He stared at her, not understanding her words and lost to her meaning.

“Koyo’rah.  Another word for what you call karma.”

LLasher had to chuckle at the unexpected answer.  She had him dead to rights.  It was the standard practice for a slaver captain to remain on board while the Hunting Crews went out and brought back their quarries.

A flash of memory came to him. Faces of young men, barely past their first ten years of life, looking at him with wet cheeks and snot dripping from their noses.  They were captured and stripped from their families.  Young, strong and still at an age that they could be broken into fine, obedient slaves.  

LLasher’s good humor dried up.  Sudden shame over the ugliness of what he had brought upon the world.  How many families did he split up?  How many lives was he responsible for?  Koyo’rah indeed.  

Lyndasia must have seen the passing emotions and expressions across his face. “Sorry.  Are you alright?  Did I stir something up?”

“Let us just see what good we can do here today.”

She eyed him but decided to not continue the subject.

Changing the topic, she pointed down in the valley below. Today’s mission was due to a bit of the limited information found in the messenger bag LLasher and Rivyen had retrieved at Adventdawn. Letandra had opened mines. Their true purpose was not clear.  “There are roughly four guard towers, manned with minimal men. On the ground floor and in the mines themselves I found they are heavily guarded but there is a window of time when they switch out that we could take advantage of.”

“Who are these guards?”

“Most appear to be hired mercenaries or Dovvish Clan Barbarians. No one that seemed beyond my men’s abilities to overcome.  Inside the mines are the majority of the slaves.  They work all day and into part of the night. Seems the Queen has stiff penalties for failure to meet her quantity demands.”

“What?”

Lyndasia plucked out his spyglass from his belt  and pointed at a ridge on the western side of the valley. He brought the wood and metal tube up to see a construct with a row of fashioned nooses. Some were occupied and the bodies were being cleaned by flocks of crows. 

“Some of them are slaves, some of them are guards,” Lyndasia stated. “I understand your reasoning to be here, but you have to understand why Rivyen also vetoed the idea.”

“He does not like to take risks or chances.  That is not my style and, honestly, we are running out of time.  She is gaining too much power and resources.  I am not even sure we can take Letandra on at this point.”

LLasher tugged at his bandoleer of throwing hatchets and made sure they were secure across his chest.  

“He sees that. But what he sees and you do not is that we have a long struggle here.  He is in it for the long haul and when you are short-handed, it is not wise to bet against the odds working in your favor.”

He faced her, anger in his eyes. “If this is how you feel, then why are you here? I do not need babysitting and it is sure damn too late to try and talk me out of this.”

She stepped back a step, surprised by his sudden temper. “No.  I am not here to talk you out of it, I am here to back you up.  Look, you and I are more similar than you would think. Tal and Rivyen plan, organize and analyze every detail, but on the actual battlefield, those plans are often thrown out. The littlest items throw everything off.  I agree with you on this — stopping the mines.  We know whatever she is doing behind the Wall, she somehow needs this mine.  She does not know yet we know about it.”

“Exactly! If we take away the key parts of her plans, then we can make progress in other areas.  All we have been doing is playing catch-up.  We are the outlaws now. We are trapped off the coast and we have no inkling of her actions behind those stupid storms.  We are losing. And…I am losing Letandra.”

Lyndasia reached out and placed her hand on his arm and squeezed.  “Today, we are here and we are not being idle, alright?”

He coughed into his hand, trying to hide how emotional he was getting.  Changing directions, he said, “How many do we have and what are we up against?”

She answered, “There are a dozen men along the perimeter, patrolling and looking for any trouble inside and outside the quarry. In the pit with the slave miners, there are at least two armed foremen with each cluster.  Clusters vary based on the area they are working.  The most accounted for by my spies in a cluster was two dozen which had double the foremen.” 

She paused and pulled him close to lean to the right then pointed her finger to show him rows of wooden cages. “The pens have hyenas.  They are not fed for days.  This is another facet to stop slave uprisings.  If the hyenas are freed, they would swarm and shred anyone unlucky enough to be near.”

“Nasty.”

“We have fourteen archers and two teams of dagger-monks. Beross upon my request graced us with several potions that will put to sleep the animals.  We will release–“

“–Why not just have your archers shoot them in the cages?”

She frowned, disapproval registered on her face. “They are not to blame for their treatment. Once we destroy this place, they are going to be fed then released in the wild. The Order believes every life has meaning.  You have not learned this yet?”

The flash memory of young men lined up in chains, fresh whip marks on their naked backs, crossed behind LLasher’s eyes.  

“Alright.” 

“We can use the archers to take down the guards — they chose to be here.  The monks can sneak into the tunnel works and free the clusters as they come upon them.”

He turned away from her and held up his hand to block the light from his eyes as he rescanned the valley quarry below. “Seems a bit haphazard and prone to have slaves killed.  I think we would have better luck at sunset.  The majority of the slaves will be back in the dormitories and not spread throughout the mine tunnels. The archers and the dagger-monks can use the fading light to mask their positions.”

As the Khestal Ezan Spymistress she was not involved in battle tactics often. She shrugged. “As you wish. This is your operation.  I can divide one team of dagger-monks and have a few secure the slaves used during the late evening in the mines.”

***

As LLasher detailed, the quarry mine had ceased most of their operations as the sun set.  Four to five dozen slaves were being guided roughly to dinner in a circular clearing.  Two fire pits blazing.  On the pits were twin cooking pots filled with a watery brown stew.  Water pouches were handed down the line. 

The slaves were mostly prisoners from Wyvernshield and even some of the former pirates that had sacked the city before The Bleeding Crown took over.  There were all ages; the Ebon Queen did not discriminate between men, women, old and young. All were hands that could lift a pick or dig with a shovel.

“How do you plan on finding her?  She will not look the same as we remember her.” Lyndasia whispered to LLasher as they were back upon the clifftop spying on the quarry.

“That is a great question.  My hope is that Jereyna will reveal herself to us once we gain possession of the mine.”

“Jereyna was his woman?”

LLasher nodded.  “Aye. She and a friend of mine were leading citizens out through the sewer tunnels during the siege.  I do not know what happened or how they were captured but neither of them returned that day.”

“You are sure she survived?”

He winced. “My friend, First-mate Humphreys, learned that she had been taken prisoner. Later she was sent here with most of the prisoners.  Since then I have not heard anything else about her or my other friend, Ka Shayla.”

“You…you feel guilty.  You feel guilty over King Taihven’s death.  That is why you are risking all this — to free his woman in an attempt to ease–“

“–No. She is a side benefit to sacking the mine. If she was the only reason, I would have come here on my own and snuck her out. The mine has to be destroyed as you stated earlier.  It is a part of her plans and we have to find any way to delay or prevent her goals from being carried out.”

Lyndasia did not look convinced, but she did not press the issue further.

“Signal the archers.  It is time to shut down this disgusting operation,” LLasher ordered.

Six of the perimeter guards walked along the top walls of the quarry.  Three walked within the encampment below and three more were at the mouth to the only road entrance to the mines.

LLasher and Lyndasia slipped quietly down the cliffside.  Two of the dagger-monks went with them and the other team set off in the opposite direction toward the guard and foremen barracks.

Using the shadows and the occasional boulders stacked on the grounds, they made their way close enough to the hyena pens for Lyndasia to throw chunks of raw meat.  The growls of the creatures quieted quickly as they succumbed to the magical properties tainting the food.

LLasher hand signalled to her that they should hit the group by the fire pits. Mischief brought out a radiant smile upon her face, she nodded anxiously.

As they crept closer to the fire pits, one of the foremen could be heard berating a slave.  

“She is not asking much of you, scum.” He kicked a young woman in the ribs as she curled up on the ground. “Yet every day we have to tell Queen Letandra that we are even further behind!” He used his thick hide boot on her once again and followed it with a glob of spit that matted her hair.

Another foremen chimed in, “I think they do this on purpose.  They think all this is unfair.”

The first laughed at that. He spun around with his arms wide and addressed the throng before the fire. “What? You think because you were born in the city, you were beneath manual labor? You lot need something to motivate you, perhaps?”

He looked down at his boots. “Is that it, whore?”  He grabbed her by the long tresses of brown hair and hauled her to her feet. “What should I tell the queen next time? You are sorry, you were not made for–“

He blinked as a flash of fire light reflected off the metal of LLasher’s hatchet. It sailed end over end through the air and embedded itself easily into his thick forehead. His body dropped like a potato sack beneath one of the cooking pots. 

The second foreman stuttered in alarm, then went for his own sword but Lyndasia’s short sword slit his neck from ear to ear.

A louder raucous and more shouts were heard coming from the confines of the barrack shacks.  

The beaten slave woman shrank back from the strange pair in front of her and scrambled over to the other clusters of slaves.

LLasher held his hands high and empty. “I have others here that are working to free you.  Remain calm and quiet — we will have you freed shortly.”

He knelt down next to the first foreman, a man with a receding hairline and long, graying beard.  After yanking free his hatchet, he found a ring of keys on the man’s belt. He tossed them to Lyndasia.   

Lyndasia called out softly as she approached the suffering prisoners. “Let me unlock your leg chains.” 

LLasher asked, “Do any of you know a woman by the name Jereyna?” 

At first none dared to speak, but after he repeated the name, a lanky man walked free of the cluster.

“She was sick last week. They took her to the infirmary.  We have not seen her since.”

“Do they actually Mend here or…” Lyndasia asked but could not dare finish the question.  

LLasher paled at the idea of getting sick in the hands of these monstrous men.

“Sometimes. It depends on the degree of illness or the value of that person.  They liked her, she could read and that made her valued. They would give her directions on a map of the mine. She could help the other slaves get things done.”  He finished embarrassed and stepped back among the others.

“Where is this infirmary?” LLasher asked, his voice raspy.

FRESH STORY CONTENT 10/27/2022 — Derek Barton — Wyvernshield!! – 2022

In spite of the activities they were about to perform, the night was relatively quiet in the compound.  Taliah was in her ceremonial robe, waiting on a Bhik-sunii to retrieve her from her room and escort her to the Ritual Room. She was calm and rested, her thick red hair bound up in a silver brooch.  Her blindfold laid across her lap, she did not like to wear it in the privacy of her room. However, for the Order ceremonies or when she was consulting visitors she always had one to cover the deep groves, the scars cut into her face and of course, the hideous open eye sockets.  Without it, there was always an awkward tension in the air.  She understood that people were thrown off by the mutilation and it made them uncomfortable. Yet she was at peace with all of it. It was the price she paid, the penance for her forced actions on behalf of the Viestrahl which led to much blood spilt.

She wondered what the Blood Seyde would reveal to her tonight.  Normally, she took her cues from nature when to perform the Seyde, a bath in blood. Storms would coalesce and sweep in to their island.  The pounding of the rain, the strafing rains, and the raw energies released by its lightning would charge her power.  

Sometimes with those storms came a mystic messenger, a white cloud-like entity.  These entities wanted her to see their stories, live a moment or day in their lives.  They were her guides through history. Even a king once came to her and confessed to her his greatest sins. These visions had revealed much to her and explained so many mysteries of local lore to her which she shared with Tal Crowan and the Khestal Ezan Order.  

Yet, there were no such storms this evening.  She proposed the idea to Tal and set up the Seyde herself.  A compulsion or maybe it was intuition, but something nagged at her and inspired the idea to try and gain knowledge of the Etohlosii through her visions.  At first, it took some convincing as the procurement of the precious gallons of blood was expensive. In the end, he agreed it may provide a direction.  

The Beleardea were ahead of them and with the Ebon Queen’s backing, they easily blocked all of their other endeavors to learn what was happening behind the Barrier of Storms.  

A memory of crystal water stained red, a fountain of white and silver stone, the horrific vision rose up in Taliah and she shuddered.  It had been a terrorizing, prophetic dream she had before Letandra had been taken by the Crown.  A revealing glimpse into madness and human sacrifice.  The blood in her fountains were human, while the blood Taliah would bathe in was from animals.  A subtle but important difference.

A metal gong was struck and reverberated through the compound. It was time, her escort would arrive soon. 

She pulled up the red and gold blindfold and placed it over her scarred face.  Carefully, she worked herself over to stand near the door.  

Moments later she heard the wooden clogs of the Bhik-sunii girls as they came to her bed chamber.

One gave a soft knock and they came in without a word. She extended her arm then was led through the halls.  

Taliah laid naked inside a silver bathtub, the cold metal chilling her backside as she waited for the ritual to begin.

She smelled a faint wisp of scented smoke coming from several braziers in the corners of the room.  A metallic tinkling sound drifted down to her ears that came from long metal chimes hung from the ceiling in between red wax candles and ruby crystal chandeliers.  

The Bhik-sunii strode up and surrounded the bathtub, presumably with their silver pitchers.  She braced herself and focused her thoughts.

Cam Rhea initiated the special Song of Crossing to deliver her into the In-Between. The In-Between was an enormous intersection of all  existence, where all the planes connected. It was said to be like an emerald sea where nothing physically existed yet everything could be found there too.  She did not understand it nor had she ever seen it with her own eyes, even before she was blind.  

The Song of Crossing and the intricate chants were to guide her to the intersection as well as provide a level of magical and spiritual protection.  There were said to be creatures that could prey upon souls or even capture one in order to replace them in reality. 

“Pa tas bea’tra.  Pa tas bea’tra. Pa tas bea’tra – Keyor!” Speak through the blood.  Speak through the blood.  Speak through the blood — Dead One!  As the girls chanted, they poured the oily liquid contents of the pitchers. Taliah then felt their hands upon her limbs and shoulders keeping her firmly beneath the surface of the warm blood.

She spasmed and her body fought their hold, but in time as always it gave in and went limp. As she entered the Crossing, her body became weightless. Then a fire built inside her, it raged through every cell.  While she still could not see, a picture formed of her surroundings inside her mind.  Every nerve of her body was in direct connection to the In-Between and absorbed every detail in an all encompassing vision.    

Within the In-Between were millions of strands or soul-lines, long, convoluted cables, representing each  person’s life.  They wound together in massive braids, the family blood lines of each generation. It was at this point the guide or the Mystic Messenger would take her to the strand she needed and she would delve into the depths of their lives, living through their eyes or witnessing it in a spirit-form.

When Taliah was new to the role as a Blood Seeress, it was hard to know the limits of what she could do and to understand what she saw. And even though she was more experienced, she still found she had a loose grasp on her power.  It was one of the reasons she was so excited to try this experiment this evening.  She wanted to push the boundaries again and at the same time, she hoped to find more useful answers.

She hesitated opn how to proceed. No “Dead One” tonight for her to rely on so she waited for any sign.  Floating in the Emerald Sea among the multitude of soul-lines made her feel insignificant and at the same time a critical element to all the souls around her.  

Finally she felt the tiniest of vibrations caress her skin.  She pushed herself toward it trying to gain a stronger indication of its location.  Again the sensation of rippling waves tickled her. but it was barely any different than before.  This meant that the soul-line was a distance from her.  It would take some time and a lot of mental energy to find the hidden strand. 

That did not bode well for Taliah.  The longer in the In-Between, the harder it was to extract from it.  As well it meant a more intensive rest would be needed afterward. She hated bed-rest. The fact that the hidden strand was some distance, however, did boost her mood. This was a sign that the event to be witnessed was deep in history.

As she had not felt any other twinges or sensations from other strands, she had to hope that this was the one she needed.  

It took the greater half of the night she estimated to reach the soul-line.  Taliah hoped she was not woken too early.  The Bhik-sunii watched over her physical form in the real world and studied her to see signs of stress.  If they feared she was in danger they had processes to retrieve her soul-line.  They knew she disliked long periods in the mysterious plane, yet they also knew this was an important quest for her. It was a dual test of their wisdom for them and a test of her fortitude.

She trusted their patience would hold them from disrupting her.  

Not waiting any time, she located the strand among several knotted family braids and immediately plunged her essence into the ivory cable.   

****

A set of five pedestals stood before her, four with individual marks and thick moldy tomes.  The room was square with a high arched ceiling.  A trio of sky lights allowed sunrays to pierce the room’s gloomy shadows and encircle the pedastals.  Taliah recognized the pedastals and books but not the location.  She saw a similar set up once in a long ago vision, but that room had been hidden in present day somewhere in the city of Rovmantysa.  The Beleardea had established a chamber, acquired the tomes and used them in their rituals.  

She did not understand why they were here now in front of her.  This room was empty, its walls were only adorned with a symbolic scripting. It was the exact opposite of her vision of the altar for ARa Etohl — that room had been circular, ringed with candles and the walls covered in tapestries showing the Vile Beast, the Three-Horned Snake God.

Staring down at her hands, she recognized that they were too rough and callused to be a woman’s hands.  In the right hand was a torch and the other a dirt-caked hand shovel.  

“Aramon, move in already. I want to see.” A woman’s voice, thick with the Jehahi accent called out behind him.

“Aye.  It’s beautiful.  Jussa like the Shaman said.” The man answered.  Taliah remained inside only as a witness.  She had no power here.  All was displayed to her as if they were actors in a play before her.

The man raised from his crawling position and stood in the room.  His face drawn in rapture and his eyes seem to eat up the writing on the walls.

As the woman came in, Taliah noted her youth first then the fact that her naked torso was tattooed in symbols.  She recognized a few religious symbols but could not remember the meanings.  She was dressed in a long flowing skirt and had a bronze circlet which had delicate chains woven into her hair.  The braid hung down her back to her waist. She carried a backpack and a couple of watersacks on a belt.  Neither she or this Aramon were armed. 

“We don’t have much time.” She tried to spur him into action.  When he remained frozen, she shrugged and crossed over to the first of the pedestals. 

The tome was three handspans wide and bound in gray-scaled leather with golden rings. A glass crystal orb was embedded in the cover.  Without realizing it, she subconsciously rubbed her fingers over the translucent glass.  A high-pitched whine escaped it and filled the chamber for a couple of seconds.  

“Shasha!  What did you do?”  Aramon shouted as spun to look at her. He ran to her side.  The second tome answered in turn with its own pitch, slightly higher.  A hooked staff shown on its cover and was depicted in gold and platinum metal engraving.  The third book, marked by a Silver Crown rang out in an even higher octave.  All four tomes continued to trill and gain in intensity.

“I…I don’t know?”  A tear slipped down her cheek. “But, I think…I think I hear the voice of Yula Do Vras.  It is so beautif–“

“–NO! You’ve only triggered some kind of alarm.  Grab them before…”

A part of the back wall shifted and a square section of sandstone slowly dropped and cascaded into a pile upon the floor. A passage dark and foreboding could be seen as it continued into mysterious shadows. The tomes shrills whines diminished and faded into silence.

The pair stared at each other, neither had an answer or expected this. 

Aramon approached the opening and held up his torch which sputtered on an unseen draft coming from the tunnel.  The flames steadily regained and remained lit on the wooden shaft. Over his shoulder, he commanded again, “Get the books, Shasha. Come!”

“I donna like the looks of that way.  We should go back the ways we came. That way opened for a reason. Who knows what it’s purpose might be. A trap perhaps?”

A whispery voice called out from the tunnel.  It was featherlight and musical.  She was almost certain it was the same sweet voice she had heard before. The words were impossible to make out but they repeated over and over to them.  

Before the pair knew it, they were standing inside another mammoth chamber, their torchlight barely illuminating a quarter of it.  Marble pillars stood on white and black tiled floors. They rose high overhead to an unseen ceiling. Nothing of this place seemed familiar or even possibly connected to the temple they had invaded. The room was manmade but appeared to be nearly empty. Taliah noted that there were rows of wooden benches or pews on either side of an immense aisle. Their sandals made odd thumping sounds as they traveled deeper into the heart of the chamber.

Finally they stood before a raised dais and a wooden altar.  A gray and red cloth carpeted the dais.  

A figure stood waiting behind the altar, silken beige thin wraps covered the figure from head to toe.  The wraps were see-through and haphazard in fashion.  The figure was a collection of bones, not a full skeleton. A chain of black links and sapphire gems was the only decoration upon its neck.

“Come, O Children O Children,”  The figure called out as the skull turned to acknowledge their presence. It had the sweet angelic voice.

“Who are you?  Where are we?”  Challenged Aramon.

“You are in Sanctuary.  You are forever safe.”

Shasha pulled on Aramon’s shoulder.  “I donna like this.  Please, let’s go back the other ways.”

“I want to show you what gifts you hold.  I want you to understand their meaning and their power.”  The wrapped figure said.  It had no real emotion in its words, just a simple statement of desire. It floated closer, ominous and wreathed with ivory light. Breath-taking, towering over them, intimidating all at the same time.

“We donna mean any disgrace to Yula Do Vras. Our…our mother is dying and we needed the bounty for the books to pay for her care.  We see that this was wrong and we’ll replace them.  Please!” Aramon begged.  

“I am not asking to take the books from you.  They shall be forever a part of you. I only want to show you their reason for existence.  You have done Us a great favor, O Children O Children”  The figure rose above them, its light now bathing them.

The siblings whimpered in superstitious fear and dropped to their knees, clasping their hands.  “Please.  PLEASE! Forgive our trespass.  We will return them.  Donna hurt us.”  Shasha ranted as she buried her face into her brother’s shoulder.

“You do not understand… yet,.. how you have done Us the favor.  Now we impart onto you what you have released into the existence again.”  Its skeletal hands came down and rested on their foreheads. The figure’s remnants of skin was mottled gray and with patches of coarse black hairs. Blue veins stood out under the thin, taught skin. Its clinging flesh writhed uncontrollably.

Both Aramon and Shasha shrieked and filled the room with tortured screams.

****

Taliah’s eyes were blind again.  A searing pain filled her. She reflexively flung herself back into reality, crashing out of the silver tub, sprawling like a wild fish upon the floor.  Her hands clutched at the sides of her head as her screams mimicked the pair over and over. Horrific images flooded her mind’s eye. 

The Etohlosii were coming and soon they would release ARa Etohl forever upon the realms. All realms!

The Bhik-sunii swept her up, trying to calm her, but it took hours for her to return to sanity.  She writhed all that time, wrestled in their arms as she cried. They eventually put a leather strip in her mouth to prevent her from biting off her tongue and chewing away her lips.  

All the while, Tal Crowan stood silently watching, pen and parchment in hand. He wrote down her every word. He listened to every muttered phrase or name. Her words began to repeat — he surmised that she was giving him a prophecy, a litany of events that may come, names of those who must live and those who must die or the Corruption of ARa Ehtol would come and end all existence.

FRESH STORY CONTENT 9/20/2022 — Derek Barton — Wyvernshield!! – 2022

As LLasher steadily made his way to the point where the soldiers had entered, he heard distant horse hooves pounding down the road.  He rotated on his saddle to look behind him.  He spotted another rider, it was Rivyen.
 
After the disastrous events in the castle and they had lost both King Taihven and Princess Letandra, LLasher had left with Letandra’s Aberrisc friends, Scars and Ama’yen.  On board his ship, the Corrta Da’Eale, they had headed out of the bay when they were intercepted by a ship owned by the Khestal Ezan Order.  On it had been Taliah the Blood Seeress and the Order’s Headmaster, Tal Crowan. A small, thin man with long white braided hair and a silvery goatee.
 
After Tal Crowan and Taliah boarded, they convinced LLasher that they would be able to help free Letandra from The Bleeding Crown and restore the balance of the land.  However, their efforts had been stymied by her Barrier of Storms which magically blocked any land and sea entrance as well as any magical efforts.
 
Plus, the new Ebon Queen’s own machinations. She outlawed the Khestal Ezan Order, labeling them a cult of traitors. Then the Beleardea Cult was reinstated and given powerful resources.
 
Rivyen was one of the Khestal Ezan’s strongest assets, a swordsman with his own collection of magical items. He had long platinum blond hair and a cropped brown beard.  Strange rumors said that the man was from another plane of existence.  LLasher only now remembered the two were to rendezvous along the Nestermaryn Forest Road about a mile outside of the port.
 
He stopped his mount and waited. The man caught up with him as LLasher was stepping off his own horse. LLasher said, “You did not have to–“
 
“–I grew concerned since neither you nor the Wyvernguards came to the meet.  Where are they?  Did they get to the courier?”  Rivyen inquired as he dismounted. He was always all business and focused. LLasher admired that the most in the warrior.
 
“Not yet. Inside Port Scescima, Temerryk met up with the Pontiff. I gave chase as did the ex-Wyvernguarrd, but we could not catch them before The Barrier. I ordered the two to follow after.”
 
Rivyen stared at him, his eyes wide as his features began to tighten.  He set his hands at his hips then turned to study the towering clouds.
 
“What is wrong?”
 
“You murdered those men? What were you thinking!” He growled, seething with emotion.
 
LLasher grabbed at his shoulder, turning him about. “What are you babbling about?  They are soldiers.  They know how to prot–“
 
“–YOU DO NOT CARE THAT THEY ARE MEN! YOU LABEL THEM SOLDIERS SO YOU CAN FEEL FREE TO ASK THEM THE IMPOSSIBLE. YOU DO NOT HAVE THE EXPERIENCE OR INSTINCTS TO LEAD MEN!”
 
Taken aback by the sudden flare of rage, LLasher gaped back at him, could not answer him. 
 
Rivyen pressed his lips tight, pulled at his cheeks with both hands and shook his head. 
 
“I…I do not believe they will die,” LLasher stated. “If they are quick and careful, they can slip in, ambush the scout and leave.  The pontiff has surely escaped, but with some luck they can get to Temerryk. Perhaps. Why do you think…What makes you think that they will die?” 
 
“If you were capable of conjuring up that storm, do you think you would stop there?  Or would you put further protection or obstacles to prevent further trespass?  She has blotted out the lands for a reason.  Whatever she–IT is doing in there, The Bleeding Crown does not want anyone to see or know.”
 
“Alright, I see your point, but that does not mean they will be killed.”
 
“No one has ever come out of there! Even as we argue about it, they are surely bleeding, you arrogant ass!”  He launched himself up to his mount and started pulling at the reins.  “Follow!”
 
He left the ex-slaver in the plumes of the canyon’s dust.
 
LLasher was in shock but numbly followed the instruction and climbed up onto his saddle.  He secured and adjusted the hatchet bandolier across his chest.
 
When he caught up with Rivyen, the man was back down on his feet again, crouching beside the boot tracks in the dirt. 
 
“How long have they been in there?” he shouted trying to be heard over the howling fury of the storm.
 
“Not that long, but…I fear you are right as I thought they would be back out by now. I am sorry that I did not think this through.”
 
Rivyen glanced up at him. He gave no words of acceptance but nodded his chin toward the storm.  He was armed in a broadsword and a short sword combination. They did not speak again as they steeled themselves and walked into the high winds.
 
For a few yards, the wind screamed in their ears and battered at their bodies nearly taking them off their feet. Each had to hunch over and walk in an angular fashion.  Bitter chill air enveloped them.  Hard rain mixed with tiny hail balls spattered at their exposed skin.
 
Abruptly, they passed into a calmer region.  It was not the same as the inside eye of a hurricane, but more like if one found a valley that dipped beneath a raging storm between two mountains.  Icy ivory fog obscured everything, but they could hear the roar and fury above and surrounding them.
 
They were in a world of only two colors now, gray and white.  Nothing had any definition or sharp lines.  The two men stepped closer together in order to not lose sight of each other. 
 
Rivyen pointed at the ground where drops of red blood pooled and dribbled along the path.  They began tracking the droplets. 
 
“How far are we from the castle do you think we are?”  LLasher asked.
 
“I cannot tell, but I am more concerned how far away we are to the Wyvernguard men.  We should hear them, no?”
 
“I would dare not to call out.  As you said before, who knows what protections or guards she has out here for any fools such as us.”
 
A shadowy mass appeared and charged out at them.  It was a black horse, wild-eyed and frothing at the mouth.  They jumped to the sides of the path as it raced past.  It was saddled, but blood ran down its left haunch from an arrow protruding from its backside.
 
“That is the courier’s ho–” A scream cut off LLasher’s words.  It was muffled by the fog and distance.  Another closer scream of agony followed then another scream joined the first.
 
“I believe they are coming from this way!”  Rivyen shouted and grabbed at LLasher’s leather vest, hauling him along after him.
 
The road wove ahead and between several piles of rocks and cut logs. The entirety of the lands before the castle appeared to have been flattened and prepped for an oncoming invasion.  Deep trenches were cut parallel to the road and lined with spikes. 
 
LLasher tried to ignore the skulls and half-rotted heads that were impaled on the spikes. His skin crawled as he sensed the dead’s eyes were tracking their steps.  
 
Just past three large piles of boulders, a creature roared in defiance as the two invaded its territory.  It was unlike anything he had seen before.  The winged body was scaled with white, stone-like scales. It was comprised of three heads:  a broad lion’s head surrounded by a massive snake head on its left and on the right shoulder was a horned reptilian head.  The entire beast stood at least fifteen feet at its shoulder.  Under one of its massive paws was the body of a headless soldier. LLasher immediately recognized the Wyvernguard armor, but he was not sure which of the two it belonged to. 
 
How do you send a man to his death and not even know his name? He berated himself.
 
The courier’s parchment bag was pinned under the man’s legs. The two soldiers were able to overtake them at least!
 
“Go for the parcel!  I will keep it occupied. GO!” LLasher exclaimed, charging the beast with his hatchets held high.
 
Seeing the oncoming challenge, the huge beast pounced to the ground, abandoning its victim at the top of the pile.  Its feline body arched and kept low to the earth. A barbed tail swished back and forth in the air.
 
He circled away from the body and tried to keep the beast’s eyes on him as Rivyen crept carefully on the right. 
 
The creature growled and hissed, but it focused upon the glinting steel hatchets.  As it judged him, LLasher tried to determine if the creature itself had any opening or weaknesses.  This was not going to be easy. 
 
Lifting his hatchet high into the air, he cried out and lurched forward, only to feint to the left, testing its reflexes and reactions.  Both the snake head and the lizard’s snout shot out, their jaws snapping and drooling. The beast was very quick and agile.
 
Taking another tactic, this time on the left side, he threw one hatchet at the snake head as he feinted back to the right.  It dodged it easily as LLasher anticipated, but it did not expect the handful of sand he scooped into hand right after his throw.  The particles covered the three heads in a brown shroud. All three screeched as the body reared back trying to get out of the cloud of debris. 
 
He followed and swung in low with a hatchet thrust, straight into the exposed underbelly.  It struck and sank into white skin, but the wound was not deep or even long, but it could be cut. One of the paws scraped the hatchet out as the creature leaped into the air. It was not done with the two of them, but it was taking full advantage of height. 
 
Rivyen joined him with the courier bag in hand. “We have to go now.” 
 
“I am not leaving the other man.”
 
“If you do not go now, you will never leave these men!”
 
“He could be–“
 
Shaking his head vehemently, Rivyen leaned in again.  “I saw other creatures flying in the distance.  It is not alone.”  He pointed at the beast.  “WE cannot take down one of them, let alone four or five.  The other man is not here and no doubt, he has died somewhere else.”
 
“You coward!”
 
Rivyen swirled around, striking LLasher hard in the side of his jaw, knocking him onto his back in the dirt.  He spat at the Camiyaan.  “I did not put these men in here. You did!  I am not afraid of this fight, but there is no honor in dying for no reason and I have too many people counting on me to get things done.  Done right.  Lie there then and let them eat you if your honor dictates that is the right thing, fool.”
 
He marched out of sight as he went back down the road with the parchment bag under one arm.
 
Swallowing his pride and seeing the validity of the words, LLasher quickly got to his feet and ran after him. 
 
Above hidden in the gray blanket of sky, they both heard wings flapping and screeches called out and answered from other beasts in the distance.
 
“Faster!” LLasher urged.
 
The men were near where the Barrier grew furious again when a pair of the three-headed beasts landed heavily in front of them.  Growling and mewling in defiance and anticipation for fresh meat.  Behind the men, out of sight in the fog another pair of answering thuds shook the ground.
 
“Damn thee! No help for it now,” Rivyen cursed.  He tore at his shirt sleeve and ripped it back from his wrist.  On his arm was an inscribed band of bronze.  He placed two fingers on circular patterns.
 
“We have to run off the path.”  LLasher cried out.
 
“No, leaving the path is still certain death.  Give me a moment,” he snapped and closed his eyes.  “Grab my shoulder quickly!”
 
As the first pair of creatures bolted forward, a silvery light bloomed around the men and repelled the animals.
 
“How long can that hold them off?”
 
“I am not done. Do not let go!”
 
Suddenly the scene outside their silvery bubble altered and they stood on the shoreline of the Khestal Ezan Isle. 
 
Rivyen released his fingers and the magic of the bubble dispersed. 
 
“That was a nice trick!”
 
Rivyen shrugged.  “It does not have many charges left.”
 
He wanted to apologize again for bring them into the mess of the Sea of Storms, but instinct told him his words would fall on deaf ears.  The man’s point had been made and Rivyen was not the type to dwell on what could not be changed. 
 
LLasher hoped he would find a way to make it up to him and regain his standing with the man.
 
There is no way to repay those men that he had easily sacrificed.  Whatever they might learn from the parchment’s messages would still pale to the fact that their blood was on his hand. 
 
I have never taken anyone for granted before like that.  What has gotten into me?  Am I changing or am I slipping because of all the failures? 
 
He remained quiet as he followed the planar warrior again as they headed up the beach to the compound’s entrance.  His introspection continued as he analyzed his actions and thoughts.  He wondered if he really was fit to lead anyone anymore. 
 
Look what his help had done for King Taihven, the city of Wyvenshield and the love of his life, Letandra. 
 
His touch seemed to bring ruin.

FRESH STORY CONTENT!! 9/3/2022 — Derek Barton — Wyvernshield!! – 2022



A white plume of dust trailed far behind Llasher in the chill of the air. His white and brown roan raced hard down the rocky road, its sides heaving hard from its exertion. It was a murky morning, the first rays of light unable to break through the layers of clouds overhead. He was afraid he was forcing the animal beyond its limits, but the urgency of his mission required it. 

A trio of riders ahead were outdistancing him. They were members of the Beleardea, the dangerous cult of religious fanatics, once banned from the continent. 

As one of the Camiyaan race, he was tan and lean, but he was also completely hairless.  He wore black riding clothes under an olive-green vest and hooded robe. Across his chest was a leather bandolier holstering three small, silver hatchets and attached at his belt was a coiled blue-black whip. Covering most of his face, he wore at eye level a dark blue bandana to keep out the road dust.   

One of the three riders was on a black horse and he wore brown leggings. He was  known on the streets as Temerryk, a courier. Pressed to his sides he carried a well-worn leather satchel. He was the one LLasher originally tailed in the crowds clustered on the notorious Port Ssescima Wharf.

On another horse, a gray, black-spotted mare, was LLasher’s new target: Pontiff Joman-Gregg. The afternoon before, Temerryk had met up with the pontiff and received a package, its contents meant for the new Ebon Queen. The surprise appearance of the pontiff shocked LLasher. His orders were only to subdue Temerryk in order to learn what the next moves were for the Beleardea. 

But he was not about to let the elusive pontiff escape. The unexpected opportunity was too good to pass. 

LLasher had circled around the clandestine meeting and stood among the fruit and vegetable stalls. Thus he hoped to block the pontiff’s chance to reboard his waiting ship. However, the pontiff had not been traveling alone or unprepared. Out of nowhere, a large, square-shaped man exploded from a nearby merchant stall and plowed the Camiyaan off his feet, dumping him into the waves of the Everglass Sea below.  

The brute was the third rider ahead, the muscled escort, who now rode on a brown mare next to the pontiff. 

The three were barely out of his reach. The horse chase had been ongoing all night since the docks of Port Ssescima. 

Luckily, LLasher who was familiar with the region, had been able to take shortcuts to catch up with the trio as they traveled down the Nestermaryn Forest Road. Yet the window of opportunity to catch his prize was fading as the distance to Wyvernshield grew shorter. 

Unbeknownst to his quarry, LLasher had some reinforcements placed ahead by happenstance. Ex-Wyvernguards he had placed as scouts were keeping tabs on the outskirts of Wyvernshield. He hoped they were alert enough to spot the horse chase as they approached.

He stared ahead and focused on the darkening gray skies. A ferocious funnel of clouds loomed. It spanned a distance of several miles wide and towered up from the ground into the sky almost out of sight.  Lightning flashed sporadically and large debris whirled within it. The massive tempest was called by the locals the Sea of Storms, or The Barrier, encapsulated the entire region and even by sea no one had been able to get close.  And the Barrier seemed to grow daily.

Miniature, red bird-like creatures were fixated on the unnatural phenomenon and flocked around it.  No one was sure if they only watched or if they attacked intruders as well. Since LLasher and the others lost Castle Adventdawn, months before, most of the city residents had never been seen again. Many atrocities were being accredited to Ebon Queen Letandra.  Vile crucifixions and hangings were reported the first few days after her dark reign began. The bodies had decorated the courtyards and the walls of the castle itself.  

Much like the city of Wyvernshield, LLasher’s life had changed considerably in the last couple years. He lost most of his arm during a violent encounter with the infamous Pale Mage, Auste Cros’seau. Afterwards, Princess Letandra found him lying near death and used her Mending spells to keep him alive. This had been the catalyst for his own personal transformation.  

Through her one act of mercy, she showed him how his life had been selfish and utterly meaningless.   He gave up the slave trade after his recuperation from the attack.  Later when he learned of her abduction, he became obsessed with finding a way to rescue her. He wanted her to know what she meant to him and that he was becoming a man worthy of her show of mercy.

The new queen still resided as far as everyone knew in Adventdawn Castle. Only a handful outside the Khestal Ezan Order knew it was The Bleeding Crown entity controlling everything.  

The mammoth tempest then exploded into existence on the fourth day.  

Movement broke his dreary reverie and he focused on two new riders, his posted scouts giving chase! The three Beleardea members doubled their efforts and made straight for the Barrier. Temerryk continued to clutch at his side the package. 

Suddenly the two scouts’ horses broke off pursuit, one horse rearing up, nearly throwing the rider. The other angled to the left, running in a zigzag pattern as the rider batted at something unseen in the air. 

As Llasher feared, a spot of the curtain slid aside as if brushed away by an unseen giant’s hand and a roadway could be seen inside the storm clouds.  They charged right through the fierce, swirling fog.  It did not surprise him that the evil cult had a way in unhampered. The opening sealed up immediately behind him. Dark protective sorcery in play. 

Damn! What happened? It should have been an easy ambush. 

Ahead the pair of chasing riders regrouped, then pulled up short in front of the hidden opening.  They were in an obvious debate about what to do next.

LLasher whistled and waved his arm trying to get their attention. They were too involved in their discussion.

He gave up on the idea that they would see him.  He brought the roan to a stop, rummaged frantically inside his backpack and located a small mirror.  

Angling it to catch the light, he flashed it over and over at the men. When he was about to give up on the idea, one saw him and waved back.  He immediately thrust his hand in a forward motion. The riders acknowledged him with a salute, dismounted and plunged into it by foot.  The horses were too panicked to be guided inside.  The animals by instinct knew it was beyond dangerous inside the magical disturbance.

This mission had gone south quickly, but failing would be too high of a price. This was too important to let the parcel slip through their hands as well as losing Pontiff Joman-Gregg!  He needed them to risk the Sea of Storms. Bringing up his spyglass, he watched them hesitantly creep into the whirling winds.  The expressions of dread and fear were evident on the two.  

He used the bandana to wipe away sweat and dust from his smooth face and neck. Shaking his head, his gut told him this was a bad idea.  “It is a risk we have to take!  Her horror has gone on too long already.”  His words echoed back at him. They sounded weak, petty and desperate. 

No one had ever come out of the Sea of Storms. 

Yet… No one yet

Blogs, Blogs & More Blogs! — Derek Barton – 2022

This blog will be my 195th blog posting since I created this site back in July of 2016. I am really proud of the body of work. But there’s a big problem with having this many.

How can you know what I’ve written in the past or where to even look? This ARCHIVES section gives you only the amount of blog posts I’ve written in that particular month.

So it took some research, some digging into WordPress’s Help section, followed up with some very quick responses from their Customer Service agents to finally find a way to organize my posts and to provide simple categories for you to read my posts and posts I’ve written years ago.

Here is the new MENU for my blogs and some of the topics you may find interesting. Of course a lot of the posts have #tags for you to search for, but this also gives you a specific place to find blogs you may have interests in.

LATEST Blog — This of course is where you’ll still find my latest, most current blog posts. For instance this months are: * Frest Content 8/11/22 (A new chapter for Wyvernshield) * New Release – The Infernal Eternal (Release notice about my new gamebook)

BLOGS: General — These are blogs about Appearances, Book Releases, Book Giveaways or General Announcements, etc. Examples: * A Humbling Sight (Post about Hometown Library showcase) * New Author Interview (An Interview I did in 2020) * New Avenues To Me (Post about Patreon & Pinterest)

BLOGS: New Content — This category is especially good if you are looking to read any new work – rough drafts for upcoming novels. Examples: * First Sneak Peek of Evade II (Chapter excerpt) * Writing Prompt #4 – Max the Most (A horror short story) * Sneak Preview Chapter from Evade (Chapter excerpt)

BLOGS: Writing Tips — Blogs for other writers who may be interested in learning more about my style and view on word craft. Examples: * Repel the Resistance (How to fight Procrastination) * Immerse Or Die (How to keep readers involved)

BLOGS: Self-publishing — Posts that give insight into Self-publishing manuscripts and what you can anticipate in the complex process. Examples: * Essential Elements to Book Covers * The Art of The Juggle (Tips on Organizing)

BLOGS: Goal Setting — Category describing some methods for making goals and how I did or did not achieve them. Examples: * 2017 Bi-monthly Goals for July & August * 2017 Nanowrimo November & December Bi-monthly Goals (Post about making goals around Nanowrimo Challenge)

BLOGS: Personal — Personal posts that give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse of my life. Examples: * Stroke — My Internal/External Ordeal * 2020 Bio Blog (Things about me & who I am)

BLOGS: Book Review — Mostly audiobook reviews and/or occasional movie reviews… Examples: * Audible Book Review of Robert Jordan’s “Eye of the World” * Audible Book Review of Stephen KIng’s “The Outsider”

BLOGS: Guest Posts — A few guest blogs from writer Adam C. Mitchell, crime noir author. * Chandler’s Ten Commandments

I hope this helps you find some old posts you may have liked before and want to reread. Or maybe you’ll find posts you may have missed or posts made before you found my site. Either way, you will discover so many posts on here that have very little views, but I hope you will find very beneficial, enlightening or entertaining!

FRESH STORY CONTENT!! 8/11/2022 — Derek Barton — Wyvernshield!! – 2022

Yes, it’s true! After nearly five years, I am revisiting and writing new Wyvernshield material for all of you! I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it. 🙂


“It is this way, but we must hurry before this…”

A deafening clap of thunder above our heads shook the very earth we stood upon. Dark rolling banks of the storm swelled, threatened. It signaled how fast our luck had changed.

“Yes! Yes, it is this way, but we must hurry before this infernal storm worsens,” the old farmer said, waving his hand for us to hasten. He had a floppy straw hat on and a long, brown wrap-around robe with well-worn work boots of some type of leather. Stitched all over his face were deep wrinkles and frown lines.

“We are sorry to disturb you on a night as this,” Kaydaa said. Draped over her own shoulders was a thick, tattered quilt over a hooded jacket and purplish scarf at her neck. In her arms, swaddled in several furs, she tightly cradled a small bundle.

I held a dented bulls-eye lantern over my head to light the wet path ahead. My steps were sluggish, weary with the weight of my long bow, quiver and over-stuffed backpack.

Waving his hands, he dismissed her concerns. “Nah, nah, do not fret, young lassie. I am happy to shelter you and yours from this horrible rain. I do so wish the barn was in better conditions. Since my wife’s death, I have not tilled the land. My boys have taken on some of the land to support and feed me, but they have their own tools and barns so this one has fallen on some hard times I am afraid.”

We walked around the ramshackle ranch house, following a trail of partially buried, quartz stones. They led to a short stack of descending steps. My lantern illuminated a set of wide, double doors, an entrance to the horse barn at the end of the gravelly path.  I saw indeed the structure was worse for wear as it had a few, wide holes in its thatched roof from past lightning strikes.

I held my hand to my forehead blocking the rain and squinted in at the holes. “Is there a spot inside where there will not be leaks? Perhaps a stable square or an underground feed well?”

“Rhenden!” Kaydaa scolded.

The old man laughed and held his hands up showing he took no offense. He nodded his head. “Oh, yes. There is a warm stable square. And I promise I will come back soon with some dry blankets and a kettle of hot poor-boar’s soup.”

I handed him a pouch with the last pennies we had. The farmer looked pained to take them, but he dropped them inside his side jacket pocket all the same.

“You go to the east side, near the back. You will not have any leaks there. And there is plenty of loose hay and some bales you can build as a nest around your family.” He winked and nodded at the bundle in Kaydaa’s arms.

As the downpour intensified, we bid him goodbye and stood awkwardly in the gloom of the musty, empty barn.

“Family?” Kaydaa whispered then giggled softly.

“He will sell us out,” I said. “Seriously. He is desperate. This is the most logical place to head to in the area with the coming of this storm. They are sure to find us.”

She shrugged. “Not tonight. Besides, it is not his fault. He has to do what he can to survive. We will leave before the first morn light and set out a false trail.”

I grunted in response.

While I was not happy with her answer, the sudden storm had left us little options. I followed her into the shadows of the barn where we found the east corner and its promised hay. She laid her bundle down gently near her legs and the lantern. I propped our backpack at the base of a wooden support pole as I went to work on building a small stone fire pit. I could not help but watch her as she prepared for sleep.

Shaking out her long ebony hair, she untied the cloth bands keeping it braided and used her quilt to dry some of the locks. Next, she unbuttoned her jacket and removed her scarf, exposing patches of dark brown spots dotting the side of her neck and along her shoulders. Her simple beauty was compelling and captivating to me.

She was a Duradramyn. The first of her kind I had ever met.  Breathtaking even among the others of her kind. She was several years older than my eighteen years. Once a Fayalyte, a village healer. Then a slave. Now a fugitive in the eyes of the Law and Founder.

We both were.

Kaydaa laid her bedroll down, rolled up the quilt for a makeshift pillow. She glanced at me, her smile all warmth. “Peace and dreams among dreams, Rhenden.”

I smiled back at her. “Rest. I will take to bed in a few. Then before the first rays, we will head out. We dare not push it beyond that. You promise?”

“As you advise.”

She wrapped her right arm around the bundle at her side, snuggled it closer to her.

It was six months ago when everything faded to black for me. When my world evaporated like morning dew on a summer morn.

Every filament of my life washed away when the terse currents of the Leostoy River pulled me deep into its frigid depths. I remember only the way I sank deeper and deeper. It was as if the hands of the lost souls who had drowned before, were committed to bringing me into their fold. Another water-bloated corpse to join their ranks.

A numbness flooded my chest as the river water ballooned my lungs inside my ribcage. The periphery of my vision clouded and collapsed upon itself into a tightening tunnel.

Only I did not die…

My breath gone, but my consciousness sparked awake and alert. My arms and legs spasmed on their own accord, my chest heaving and straining for air. Helpless in its grip. I floated like driftwood near the gritty silt bottom of the river when I heard the roar of a mighty splash. Then a vortex of bubbles washed over me as I saw a dark shadow plunge frantically into the water coming straight at me. Upon reaching me, the swimmer clasped my shoulders in his hands, hauling with all his strength to bring me to the rushing surface.

Upon landing on the muddy riverbank, I was rolled onto my left side, and he pounded mightily on my back. Finally, a series of gasps and choking sputters cleared my lungs and throat. My vision broadened and cleared. Hot, moist air streamed back into me as life bloomed once more in me.

Exhausted and on my back, I stared straight up into the bright, cloudless sky above me. Relief and joy overtook me!

However, I had no idea at that point, my descent had not been stopped, it had only begun! My life was about to go in a drastic, downward spiral.

At least, until I found Kaydaa.

NEW RELEASE – The Eternal Infernal – Derek Barton – 2022

Hot off the press, this fun, action-packed gamebook is now on sale on Amazon! Paperback version soon to come.

You are about to join young Zack Lyons, a budding YouTube Video Blogger on a unique adventure!

What starts as a usual day of urban exploring on the outskirts of the city, quickly turns into a bizarre, dangerous nightmare in an abandoned ex-government lab. He’ll need your street-smarts, some key decision-making, and a real stroke of good luck to survive.

Enjoy this fun, action-packed tale — part story, part game! You decide what rooms to explore, what to keep on hand, and who to fight or flee!

GRAB YOUR COPY TODAY! CLICK HERE

FRESH STORY CONTENT!! 7/21/2022 — Derek Barton – 2022

This will be the last installment of the Dirithi story line for now. I am confident I will be adding several more chapters and adventures in this first novel and publishing it by the end of the year. Thank you all for your support and great feedback so far!

Speaking of feedback — IT IS NOT TOO LATE TO ENTER MY AMAZON GIFT CARD CONTEST!!

In gratitude for all you do for ME, I want to reward you loyal readers with a chance at winning a $25 Amazon Gift Card. Send me a quick email to Rivyenphx@yahoo.com and share with me your thoughts on this and or other Fresh Content Blogs. All email responders will be entered in a drawing. I will announce the winner at the end of July. Thank you again!!


8

Brutally cold minutes collected, then turned into endless, frigid hours which stretched into the hardest night of Jueneva’s life. The Abdi leatra da had chased the tribe from their mountain home out into its violent winds and pounding rains. As the night wore on, the temperatures dropped, the mighty storm’s torrents became showers of sleet and brief periods of hail.

Kei-orah, the tall, fierce warrior that had originally captured her only days ago, wrapped a thick, black fur shawl over her head and shoulders and personally led her the last steps to a wooden lean-to shelter. Since she had stepped out of the tribe’s flooded chamber and led Mealli back to them, she had gained some sort of new status.

it appeared the hasty lean-to had been a part of their backup plan or at least a backup plan to their backup plan! A slender woman, older than most of the tribe members, bent over a stone fire pit in the center of the shelter. She was working hard to strike a slick purple crystal in one hand against a white quartz-like rock in the other. A pile of pine branches sitting beneath her efforts was eventually rewarded a single spark. The tiny ember blossomed into life and a flower of flames soon followed.

Jueneva wearily scanned the group of storm survivors standing in a huddle around the pit. She counted eleven female warriors, two elderly women and three children, two were twin boys. None of the older males had made it through. Abdi leatra da had exacted a heavy toll on the tribe.

Hours later, she was awakened by sudden gusts of chill wind. Someone had pulled back the furs covering the opening and had left the enclosure of the lean-to. She stretched and rubbed at her sore cheeks. Time had been lost to her, she had no idea how long she’d been asleep. It was unsettling – she could not even recall lying down or falling asleep.

Outside, she heard the winds still blowing through the trees, however, they had lost much of their bluster as well as their rain.

“Appe ad Los reqas,” a voice called out from outside.

“Dominos soas peo prepa. Cafade!” Kei-orah commanded, her voice booming and stern.

Another voice, instantly familiar, called out, “Princess Jueneva, are you in there? Are you among these women?”

It was Boure! Her new-found friend and courtesan had somehow found them.

She leaped to her feet, wobbled a second, then bolted to the lean-to’s opening. 

The morning light was minimal and shrouded deeply by Abdi leatra da’s blanketing storm clouds overhead, but the sight before her hit her hard and fast. Four of the female warriors surrounded a tall, skeletal figure with their long spears. The skeleton had little left of its form but on it’s old bones it wore a spiked iron helmet, a dented chest plate and a pair of rusted iron studded boots. It did, however, appear unarmed.

The creature rotated its head at the sound of her sudden appearance and stared with eyeless sockets.

“Ah, good! Good, you found shelter too! I was so sure you had perished in the storm,” it chattered at her. Its lower jawbone did not quite match up with the rest of the skull and the neck sat at an awkward angle. The voice though was definitely Boure.

“What- What happened to you?” she stammered and gawked back at the bony figure.

“Oh! Yes, sorry. Remember, before you left the ruins, I told you I would not be able to leave the compound to help you. That was not quite true. As you can see,” he spread out his thin arms, shrugging. “I can move freely and affect items within the castle in my normal spectral form. Out here, I can only do so by borrowing a form and manipulating it like a marionette on strings. It is rather confusing and took some time to find remains that were intact enough to survive out in these conditions. I don’t quite know why or how it all is supposed to work. Nonetheless, I am here. You are here. So, what happened to you, how did you come to find the Truevo?”

“You mean, them? The Revie-ati?”

The skull shook its head. “Revie-ati? That means ‘the foresaken’ in their tongue,” Boure corrected her. “Did they say that was their name?”

By this time, all of the surviving Truevo tribe members had joined them, standing quietly in the soft rain, watching the exchange. The armed guards around him had lowered their weapons.

Boure turned about slowly as he scanned them. He said, “Keos braya mo. Dafve leana don Jueneva Krayhn dosde mea Madde.”

Gasps and confusion as the tribe reacted to his words.

“You can speak their language? What did you say?”

“I thanked them, of course, for saving you, your highness.”

Jueneva paused a moment as an idea came to her. She glanced at Kei-orah, locking eyes with her. “Thank you, Buore. Please tell this one – I believe she’s their acting leader at this point – that I have truly appreciated her generosity. Thank them for saving me in the forest.”

Kei-orah snapped her gaze down to her feet upon hearing his translation. Her face twisted into a grimace of disbelief and shame.  

“They did not know who I was, but had still taken me in,” Jueneva explained, embellishing the truth a bit.

“Is this Chaos or is it Fate? You managed to find one of the few existing allies to your family’s throne somehow in the middle of a horrific storm.” Boure then extended her words and wishes.

More gasps and confusion came from the tribe.

Kei-orah swallowed hard, shook her head then came to an obvious decision. She bowed, stepped forward, still keeping her eyes averted as she knelt before the young princess. “Omni dos va prima kel dor tima Truevo kon Couervere Domaica. Prestax losmo attcha meye.”

“She is re-establishing her tribe’s allegiance to the Coueryere family and their rightful rule. She is also willing to take full responsibility and any consequence you deem fit for any offense they may have caused since they did not recognize you.”

Jueneva extended her hand, lifting up the woman’s chin so she could look into her face. “Tell her, there is no offense or apology needed. It would be an honor to have their alliance. They are no longer to be Revie-ati. Indeed, Boure, they have lost almost everything in the storm. I want to invite the Truevo to live in the castle ruins with us if they would be approving.”

Even before he could finish her offer, the tribe members cheered and some broke into tears of relief or dances of joy.

“All I would ask is that with their fealty and servitude to the Throne, Kei-orah to act as my personal bodyguard and combat trainer.”

The fierce woman too proud for tears like her kin, briskly nodded her head in agreement.

“It would appear, your highness, that your hunt did in the end proved most beneficial.”

Jueneva couldn’t make out whether or not the skeleton was smiling, but she loved the sound of pride she heard in his words.

FRESH STORY CONTENT!! 7/3//2022 — Derek Barton – 2022

7

Abdi leatra da came for the tribe in the late hours of the night. Or it was the early dawn hours, Jueneva could not tell as it was nearly pitch dark. Outside rain pelted down in sheets of gray rain. While emerald green lightning flashed non-stop in the underbelly of the massive storm.

Abdi leatra da she concluded meant lightning storm or a type of hurricane to the Revie-ati.

The howling winds shook the compound foundations, and the thunder clashes made the walls quake and tremble horribly.

Her wooden cage swung precariously from the ceiling. She clutched at the boards, her over-extended fingers ached unnoticed.  Her stomach grew queasy from fear and worry.

“Merrera def tollas!”

The hoarse shout came from below the wooden trapdoor of her cage. Then she felt a knock and the sound of sliding metal. The heavyset guard had returned and popped her head in to shout again, “Merrera def tollas!” Followed with a frantic wave of her hand. This time the short, javelin spear did not leave the scabbard upon her back.

There was no time to be concerned with a prisoner escape.

Through the opening of the trapdoor, she could see the chaos the storm was having upon the tribe members and the compound. Wide cracks along the floor and even up some of the walls had formed. Water flooded everywhere, flowing in from the three openings at least a foot deep.

The strong warrior women had formed a short line, tied to each other and standing nearly hip to hip. They passed food and gear along, trying to empty the compound and make thier escape. Abdi leatra da was taking their home away, if not destroying it completely.

Jueneva hurried to the opening and climbed quickly down.

Without a word, the guard pushed her at the shoulder into a small group of elderly huddled at one side of the floor trench. She felt as helpless as the tribe had deemed her to be. She was overwhelmed by the ferocity of the storm and had no experience with such weather or events.

Rain dripped from the ceiling in several waterfalls and the mud along the floor trench crumbled away several inches every minute. It was apparent their hope that the water runoff would simply go to the inner mountain river had been underestimated. The sides and the span of the trench had widened from five feet to over a dozen feet, which threatened the integrity of the stone bases along the walls.

The Revie-ati female, the hardened warrior who had captured her days before marched over to Jueneva. The woman stood tall and walked with a square-shouldered determination and purpose. She pointed a long finger into Jueneva’s chest then at another woman she happened to be standing close to. “Bfed bera don taskea, Shealda!”

Shealda nodded, did a small bow toward the woman, then she began to knot a thick loop of rope about Jueneva’s waist. She was her new apparent “caretaker”.

“!Beaaska Ket ma dos Cha!” the warrior woman screamed while pumping both fists into the air.

The others answered similarly. Then the line of tied women commenced its march out of one of the exits into the storm.

Jueneva scanned the large amount of possessions and items that were being left behind. They were giving up almost all they had for a desperate hope that they can find safer shelter while the incredible storm frenzied all about them. They even were leaving the memorial to their former leader. She marveled at their bravery. Or was simply their tenacity for survival in a deadly land?  

For the Revie-ati this appeared to be their final ditch effort to outlast the Abdi leatra da.

As her group headed to the exit, a colossal clap of thunder hit so loud, all of them pressed their hands to their ears to protect against the heavy impact. A crack expanded more along the eastern side of the cave, boulders and parts of the ceiling cascaded down in a hellish torrent. Several of the tribe had been under that portion. Rumblings all about the chamber warned of more collapses. Water and rain had doused all remaining torches and fires.

Everyone now ran blind in a panicked rush for any exit.

In a daze, Jueneva watched the whole scene play out in her newfound darkvision of gray lights. The rope around her waist grew painfully taught, someone was urgently pulling her to get out of the cavern. She stood rooted. With hardly a conscious effort, she yanked the loop up and over her head freeing herself as well as the other person, who was most likely Shealda.

She delved deeper into the cave going against the tides of flooding water and mudslides toward the new mound of collapsed ceiling stones. A hand protruded from the mud, and it clawed for purchase, trying to pull its owner out of the thick earth.

Jueneva grasped the hand and pulled with all the strength she could muster, her feet sinking into the ground. More of the ceiling gave way behind her, splashing water and rocks into her back and legs.

Finally, a loud sucking sound followed by a loud pop! marked the escape of the poor Revie-ati woman.

It was as Jueneva guessed. It was Mealli who beamed in gratitude up at her as she laid exhausted at her feet.


Thank you for reading my writing and supporting this site! In gratitude, I want to reward you loyal readers with a chance at winning a $25 Amazon Gift Card. Send me a quick email to Rivyenphx@yahoo.com and share with me your thoughts on this and or other Fresh Content Blogs. All email responders will be entered in a drawing. I will announce the winner at the end of July. Thank you again!!

FRESH STORY CONTENT!! 5/23/2022 — Derek Barton – 2022

As promised in my last post, I am reposting this story (this week the first three chapters) for you — I hope to add new content next week for it.

Enjoy!!


THE FLIGHT OF THE DIRITHI

1

Jueneva shook awake but didn’t raise her head off the cottony bed pillow. Another shrill scream pierced the early morning hours. She didn’t recognize the source, but guessed it came from Yabina’s hut. A second child from another hut farther away joined the first, ending in sobs. 

More shouts, deeper in bass, came from guards near the southern wall.

Cries of alarm sprang out all over the village. Jueneva squeezed her eyes shut, praying to wake from this sudden nightmare. Her breath burst from her. She hadn’t even realized she was holding it in. Her chest hurt from the effort.

“Jueneva!! Come. Come, child!” The last shred of hope she had faded as her eyes opened to see her mother, Ckala standing in the doorway to her room, her arms out and beckoning to her. In one hand, she gripped a thin, leathery pouch. A backpack straddled her shoulders, filled with their travel clothes and road rations.

“We know what this means. It’s over, nothing can be done now but hide. We must hurry,” her mother pleaded over the crash and clatter of men battling near by. Horses pounded the dirt paths near the front of their stone home.

“Kampen-yans! Kampen-yans! Run. They have found us.” Other shouts echoed the call. The horses went deeper into the village, their riders warning others in the bare light of dawn.

Jueneva grabbed her blanket and wrapped it tightly over her shoulders and head. Silent tears traveled down her cheeks. She thrust her feet into her leather thong sandals at the foot of her bed.

They’re gone? Father, brother…lost?

“Hurry up, we’ve got to go to the bridge,” her mother said as she grabbed Jueneva’s hand and hauled her down the hallway. “If we should get separated, head there and wait for me in that bed of tanglevines. If I haven’t come by sunrise, go under the bridge and find the three black stones. You’ll recognize them on sight. Dig through.”

“Where are we going, mum?” Jueneva grew even more scared at the sound of her own voice. It somehow diminished in the night, shrunken to the frightened pleas of a toddler.

“It’s not important where we are going, only that we get away from here. Please, run!”

Outside the door to their stone house, the shouts for help and the screams for mercy mixed and filled the air. The sounds of battle echoed in from the wood gate house along Harner Road. Horses whinnied in fright, metal clashed with metal, wood cracked and splintered. Women begged while children shrieked. Thick and gravelly voices answered  in foreign, violent tongues.

Others ran alongside the pair, making for the bridge at the back of the village which crossed over a minor rivulet of the Corafin River to the other side, bracketed by heavy pine tree woods.

The trek there was an eternity. Other villagers were bolting over the river when they arrived. They bypassed the bridge entrance and climbed down the short but deep embankment. Surefooted, her mother made a direct run at a pile of three, smooth black river stones. She let free Jueneva’s hand, used both hands to part the rocks. Underneath was a strong fishnet, covered in wet leaves and mud. “Help, Juel. Grab the other end so we can drag it away.”

When they did so, the shallow mouth to a tunnel appeared. However, the only way to go inside was to crawl on hands and knees.

Her mother rummaged through the backpack and removed a silver box. It popped open revealing a smooth gold stone, glowing with an amber aura. The stone barely gave more light than a wax candle, but it was enough.

“Let’s go.” She plopped down on her belly and began to squeeze inside.

Not one to be squeamish about mud or dirt, Jueneva did balk going in the pitch black after her mother. It felt wrong, dread coiling around her neck like a hangman’s noose. She willed herself to enter the earthen grave, defying her instincts.

Inside the light illuminated enough only for her to see the soles of Ckala’s sandals as she crawled ahead. Moments went by without a word between them. Her brother’s face appeared in her mind’s eye. Fresh tears and sobs choked her, stopping her from trailing after.

“Shhh. Shhh. Juel, we’ll be alright. Shhhh.” Her mother tried to calm her.

Juel shook from cold as much as from her emotions. Water dripped from the tunnel’s ceiling as foul stenches burned her nose and made her gag. This was not a proper life. Nothing was ever resolved.

When the sudden grief faded, she had to ask,”Mum, why?”

“What?”

“Why? Why are we always hunted?” Jueneva was nearing her twelfth  moon cycle. All her memories revolved around them being on the run. It wasn’t normal. She noted by her fifth moon that other families could put down roots and live in seeming peace.

Her mother stopped and twisted to look down the tunnel at Jueneva. The pain in her eyes spoke volumes.

“I never wanted this type of life for you, sweet-tears. There is a curse lying in your veins.”

“What does that mean? Did Da and Je’steo–“

Her mother shook her head violently. “No! Not now. We grieve another sunrise. Not today! We must run so their sacrifice won’t be for nothing. They won’t stop hunting us.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Some day it will be clearer to you, but for now, we don’t have time to work it out.”

“No!  Tell me the true reason we are different. Please!”

 The words came slowly and whispered in the dark like all dangerous secrets. “You are Dirithi.”

Dirithi? Dirithi! A half-dragon offspring. The last heirs of dragon blood. Not human, not dragon. Shapeshifters.

“No more talk. Come!”

The single word consumed her and bellowed like a tempest inside her skull. It explained so much and yet conjured so many more questions.

They took up the hike again under the river. The winding tunnel went deep underground and paralleled the rapid stream.

Finally, faint dawn light shined through the exit. As her mother crawled out, she graced Juel with a broad, relieved smile. Seeing it light up Ckala’s face, her own smile crept out as she stood on her feet, covered in grime.

An arrow whistled through the air, catching her mother in the shoulder, throwing her to the ground. Another arrow hit the ground between Jueneva’s sandals.

“Svaklan, I told ye they were predictable. Right where I said, right when I said. No?” A man spoke with robust confidence as he came down the embankment on the back of a brown horse. He had a crossbow in his arms, an arrow already loaded and trained on her.

Ckala didn’t answer the man’s taunts, only shook her head in stubborn defiance. Her lips pressed into a thin line.

Another man with a pair of long ponytails gliding down the back of his head, nodded and grinned through his thick black beard. “Aye, m’lord. Ye do have the sight.” He strode over and placed a thick, gray-furred boot on Ckala’s chest as she remained prone and panting from the pain.

“Indeed,” the Kampen-yan Lord said as he rode his horse up a few feet in front of Jueneva. He then followed up with a mock bow. “All these wasted years, but here we are, the end of our storied chase. The Gryatt is mine and will be returned after all.”

The Lord looked over Jueneva, meeting her wide and terror-filled stare. “Aye, ye do have but good reason for fear. The deep darkness ye will bring to the land will be of legend. The power I’ll have will be even more.”

Ckala slapped the ground at her side, getting Juel’s attention. “No! No! Jueneva, remember above all else, you must survive and grow stronger!”

Before the bearded Svaklan could react, her mother thrust the small leather pouch into the air and striking it hard against a pine sapling along the muddy river bank. As a gold and silver talisman slipped from the pouch, Ckala screamed, “Akkei Maliss!”

A blast of fire and wind erupted, the magical pulse throwing all apart from each other. Jueneva laid on her back inside the tunnel, her breath stolen.

What was that? Was it from the talisman? 

“…remember above all else, you must survive and grow ever stronger!” Ckala’s words repeated to her.

After several moments, she could breathe normally and she struggled back to the cave entrance.

She was ill-prepared for the sight before her.

The horseman lay pinned and struggling weakly under his beast, while Svaklan laid motionless on his stomach partially in the water. The stream pulled and nudged at him, trying to take his body away downstream. Her mother’s form was twisted and wrapped around the base of another larger pine. Motionless.

But at the spot where the talisman had been appeared a mammoth watery circle. The talisman had been invoked and a portal now stood towering over her.

It had to lead to one place…

“Akkei Maliss!”

 In the distance, breaking branches and baying hounds could be heard. Other Kampen-yans must’ve followed after the sounds of the magical explosion.

More words repeated softly inside her mind. We must run so their sacrifice won’t be for nothing.

To herself, she whispered, “I’ll go where my enemies will fear to follow.”

Per the legends passed down by the tribal elders, the world of Akkei Maliss was a world where the vilest creatures came to roost. In the past, even her mother, always so brave, wouldn’t dare to utter its name. This was a world where the snow fell black…

This was a world where alone as a Dirithi, she’d learn to survive and grow ever stronger.

She nodded to her mother’s form and whispered final words of love. It was time to act. She marched slowly but with determination and resolve into the portal to Akkei Maliss.

And she’d return to reign supreme once and for all.


2

This new harsh reality, the brutal truth of who she really was did bring the unwanted tears. Jueneva sunk back to the ground, hugging her knees into her chest and buried her face. Never had she felt so naked, desperate and alone. She wept, finally releasing the wracking sobs bottled up inside. For a long time, she wrestled with the feeling of loss and grief for her mother and the rest of her family.

The storm gained strength outside. Gusts of icy rain and snow flurries whistled in through the large hole in the roof. The gloomy daylight had also dimmed significantly. She had no provisions, only mud-soaked clothes on her small frame and no real sense of where she was. It left little doubt that the time had come for action and decisions. Trying to recapture the grim resolve she had before entering the portal, she picked herself up and took a more concerted effort at looking around.

However, there was nothing new of the indoor courtyard than what she noted before, so she walked hesitantly to the pair of barred doors. She considered the rusted metal brackets that held twin thick wooden boards, but she could not guess to what its true purpose was. It was a flimsy barrier at best and could not pose any serious obstacle to anyone wanting to get into the courtyard. With little effort, she lifted the boards off and inched the doors barely open.

A knock, soft and from beyond the door, froze her to the spot. It was not done with force, but with purpose.

Another knock floated to her ears, this time echoing from much deeper inside the building. Another pair of similar knocks followed close behind the first. A burst of wind howled through the hole again, the sound deafening as she stood in the prior silence. Then all grew quiet once again.

On the other side, she could not see much detail or form past a few feet. Soft twilight filtered in from snow-capped skylights on the roof and barely outlined what appeared to be a long rectangular room.

Stay in the courtyard, freeze to death in the chill or walk into the gloom and die in the pitch dark?

She moaned internally at her dilemma, determined to not voice her fear aloud, not allowing the terror to become real. A sudden burst of wind coiled around her like a snake, forcing her decision. Slipping in, she snapped the pair of doors tight behind her.

To her shock, as she blinked her eyes rapidly, the room brightened. Yet the light source was not external.  The chamber remained unlit except for the skylights along the borders of the room. The features inside were dotted in tiny gray beads. The chamber mostly empty remained shrouded by night, yet the beads outlined everything. Her new darksight had to stem from her Dirithi heritage!

Coming to Akkei Maliss must have unlocked the fierce beast within her blood. Jueneva hoped she could find other advantages. Her instincts told her she would need every ounce of human and dragon strength she had to survive here.

Ten feet into the room, she ran her hands along an ornate banister and realized that the empty center of the rectangular room was an open floor. She could make out at least three more floors below her. These ruins were immense and were once elaborate.

Do I dare hope for food somewhere secured away? I need to at least find a place to lay down and rest, she thought. Her strength waned as her stomach growled.

She walked along the passage bordering the open floor, finding a total of three passages. The one leading to the doorway, the other two in opposite west and east directions. The air remained chill in the hall but at least it was free of the outside elements. When she stepped into the eastern passage, the knock came to her again. It floated down the hall towards her. The hall ended ahead in a t-section. The knock repeated from the right hallway.

The knocks repeated. Light rapping against hollow wood. Knock… Knock… Knock….

She crept slowly in the shadows, making her way toward the source. If she were to stay inside, she had to be sure the area was safe before allowing herself to close her eyes and rest. Kneeling down close to the corner, she peeked around the wall. Hanging on thick cords of rope, several men’s corpses were swinging slowly from side to side, their boots occasionally taping against the hallway. Her hand shot up to seal her squeals from escaping. The men were all in ragged and bloody uniforms, their hands bound behind their backs, their heads lolling to one side. As she studied them, a growing orange light grew at the other end of the hall. It was approaching her from the other side of the line of bodies. In the bright light now, more than a dozen victims were swinging from a square ceiling beam.

Jueneva heard heavy boots now, foot thuds heavy and marching towards her. She ducked back around the corner, bracing her back against the wall. Her hands still pressing tight against her lips.

What fresh hell have I plunged myself into?

The march of the lone pair of boots came to a sudden stop, less than a dozen feet away. The orange light flickered and waved, casting irregular shadows along the hall. Above the crackle and popping sounds of a fire, she made out the creaks of rope, the tapping of more boots. Whoever had the fire had walked through the hanging forms and intentionally forced more of them to swing.

Her terror caused massive trembles up and down her limbs but still, she had to know, had to see what was happening right beside her. She again knelt slowly to get as close to the ground as possible to dip down and catch a glimpse.

A disembodied pair of legs, shrouded in glowing orange and white flames, stood before the swinging men. The boots were facing the victims. Spots on their uniforms were burning where they were pushed.

Her jaw dropped as her hands fell to her sides. Her eyesight started to tunnel as she was about to swoon, when a floating, rotting skull wreathed with more fire appeared above the legs. It twisted to face her. Its jaws were opened in a permanent scream. It roared, “YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE!”

Instead of collapsing, her legs snapped tight and her body launched forward, her feet instinctively beating a mad dash away down the other hallway. She dared not to look behind her to see if it gave chase.

The frantic girl did not stop until her breath rasped in and out of her chest in burning gulps of air. She was heaving and weeping again resting on her hands and knees. The darkness in this area was reassuring though as she knew the Burning Man was not near. She tried to control her tears but could not help the squeals and moans she made.

Now hopelessly lost in these haunted ruins, she despaired if she would be safe ever again.

Her darksight revealed she was in an open, sparse room. It was furnished with only a wobbly wooden square table and one stone bench. The concrete walls were marked with more of the miniature runes but nothing else.

Completely exhausted, surrendering to whatever might find her, Jueneva climbed onto the table. She chose to sleep here versus the cold stone floor. Her ankles and feet hung over the end, but she slipped regardless into dreamless sleep immediately.


3

“YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE!”

The intense words floated in Jueneva’s mind as she drifted between nightmare and awareness. The flaming skull growing and looming over her in her dream, casting her in its fiery red glow. Its heated breath roasting her skin.

“You do not belong here.” The spoken statement, less intense, was repeated in more of a concern or inquiring tone. And it was not said by the leering skull.

She felt a hand upon her shoulder, shaking her. “I say, this is no place anymore for the living.”

Her eyes popped open wide, startled from the touch. An older man, heavily wrinkled around the eyes and mouth, stood near her table bed, floating a few inches above the floor. He had a similar gray and blue uniform as the hung men she had seen earlier. His long white hair was pulled back in a single braid. Other than being semi-transparent and having a faint luminescence, she would not have immediately realized he was a spirit of some type.

The room around them remained pitch dark except for the faint outlines presented by her darkvision. His arms were folded across his chest as he patiently waited for her to respond.

His black eyes perplexed and frightened her. There was a depth and a high intelligence in them. This was not a simple aberration or manifestation.

She scrambled down from the table and crab-walked back into the farthest corner from him. Her arms wrapped reflexively around her knees and pulled her body into a tight ball.

The spirit rubbed at the side of his face and paused with his mouth slightly open in mid-statement.

“I see. Well, perhaps if you have some answers you will feel more at ease, no?” He bowed low, dropping his elbow before his face in an odd gesture or salute. He rose and tapped his boot heels together. “I am Court Executor Boure of the Coueryere Castle, once the ruling regime and residents here. And you are?”

He waited again for her to participate in the conversation. Jueneva was not in the frame of mind of conversing with a ghost. The multitude of stories told to her as a child flooded her brain with superstitions and fears. She could only hope the spirit would leave her alone soon.

“Alright. Well, this simply will not do, young lady. We cannot have you unattended in the labyrinth of the castle. There are… There are things that would not be pleasant for you to see or encounter. No more of such chatter on that. For now, I do observe that you are not properly dressed to be here, nor do you have any provisions or food it does appear. If you allow me to escort you, I can lead you to a proper bedding.”

Jueneva looked up slowly from her huddled knees but did not answer him.

He took it as a sign. “And while our Rule ended abruptly here many eons before, there are sealed food jars in our kitchen and the guard noshery. This endless winter is certain to keep most of it from rotting. Would you like to explore it, young lady?”

His polite form of speech and attention to decorum eased her tension some and the idea of eating broke down her guarded walls. She nodded as she rose to her feet.

“Then please follow me.”

It did not take long for them to reach the large kitchen area, which had four stone tables lined with black oak benches and shelving crowded with wax-sealed pottery jars. She kept quiet behind Boure, but took in the sights of the decorations. Most of it remained untouched, only dusted in fine gray and black powders.

He stood in the hall leading to the kitchen, barely inside the double-door entrance. Again, he crossed his arms over his chest as he kept his vigilance.

At the back of the kitchen hall, she discovered an inset fireplace nearly two body lengths wide and several feet deep. A wooden door partially open showcased a meat pantry and a stack of small water barrels.

After finding a box filled with cut wood, she made a cozy fire and set about prying open some of the jars. In moments, she had a plate of tough leathery jerky, two piles of cashew nuts and two more handfuls of strange green and red berries. The spicy meat did not sit well but the berries and nuts filled her up fine.

As she wiped her sticky hands on the sides of her stained blouse, she called out with a slight tremble in her words. “Thank you, Sir Boure. I am…I truly appreciate your assistance.”

He floated across the stone floor and hovered near her bench seat. “You are most welcome. Can we discuss your situation now?”

She nodded again, keeping her eyes on the floor. To stare into his focused, lucid eyes was too overwhelming. “My name is Jueneva Emaya.”

“As there are no easy passages through the DesCantan Mountains now, am I correct to guess you came via the Glass Mirror in the Shrine?”

“I think so.”

He rubbed again at the side of his temple, lost in his contemplation. He must have had that habit during his life and carried it forward into death.

“And by your garb and lack of supplies, you were not expecting to come to the castle?”

“I do not even know where I am exactly. Except… except that I have come to Akkei Maliss.”

“Ah, indeed.”

He scratched at a spot between his bushy eyebrows, then folded his arms behind his back. “Anyone coming to Akkei Maliss and via sorcery at that, surely had to be in a dire emergency. Do you think you will be pursued?”

She hugged her arms to her body, cold shivers traversing her small form. “My family…” She choked with emotion. “Our enemies were stopped before I came here. No one witnessed my crossing.”

“Yet you really do not know what Akkei Maliss is, child,” he said matter-of-factly. “You were ill-advised to come to this haunted, cursed land. As I said earlier, this is no place for the living. You have come to one of the five Blackened Realms. Only Restless Dead reside in the Ruins of Castle Coueryere!” His voice had risen and gained volume. He shook with emotion and rage.

Jueneva stood her ground, somehow sensing his anger was not directed towards her but the cruel fate given to him.

“You cannot even fathom the dangers of the other four realms. Nothing can be saved in these lands — The Unformed, The Living Towers, the Land of the Bloodless. And even the dead cannot speak of what exists in The Swath. There is no hope to be found here. In truth, you came here to die!”

“NO! I may have come unprepared, but there was no other option but to return home.”

His jaw dropped, the words faltered before leaving his mouth.

“This castle was suddenly lost right?”

“Yes. One night as a mighty blizzard gathered outside, we were set upon by an unknown enemy who used the storm to hide within. They breached all our security, used magic to overtake all preparations. Within the night, it fell to a swift blade and all of us including the Coueryere noble family were wiped out. Our enemy stripped everything of value and left these rotting ruins. They robbed us of everything, including hope. Now the dead come here attracted by its well of misery and doomed souls.”

Jueneva stood up from the bench and crossed to the heat of the fireplace. She then knelt in front of it. The flames lit up her face and features.

“No, Boure. Not all hope. Not everyone died that night. The family of Coueryere held dominion here due to their powerful bloodlines and true heritage. My mother and father — my adoptive parents used to tell me bedtime stories. Told me of a faraway land governed by a family of mystical beings.”

He floated closer to her, trepidation in his eyes. He hoped and yet feared at the same time what he was about to witness. 

“Dirithi…” he moaned in awe as he took in the sight of her illuminated features. Her true heritage of blackened eyes and ivory, spiky skin.

He sank to the ground, collapsing upon his knees and prostrated before her with his hands clenched over his head. “So long!  So long without a light to cling to.” His words were muffled and mashed together as he said them like a chant over and over.

She put her hand upon his shoulder. Softly she spoke into his ear.

“I will, I swear before you, regain our power over this realm. Fate has bound me with this charge. I must bring about The Restoration.”