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.”

The Infernal Eternal — Derek Barton – 2021

Recently I have had a lot of luck and honor in getting my story submissions printed by the gaming magazine, Gamebook Zine. They are a specialized magazine printing in England that focus on “gamebooks” and the medieval fantasy genre. They printed two of the Flight Of The Dirithi sagas so far.

Gamebooks are primarily based on a Choose Your Own Adventure style of storytelling. I wanted to pay back their generous support by submitting my own gamebook. They have already read and accepted the story which will be in print around December! Not wanting you all to wait and since most of you probably wouldn’t have heard of the magazine, I thought I’d print my submission story here for your entertainment. For anyone who enjoys this style of storytelling, please check them out on Amazon — well worth the read!!

My story is not in the fantasy realm but more of a post-apocalyptic future romp. Enjoy!!

The INFERNAL ETERNAL

RULES & PLAYER SETUP:

Hello there, dear reader. You are about to join young Zack Anders, 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! He’ll need your street-smarts, some key decision-making, and a real stroke of good luck to survive.

WHAT YOU WILL NEED 

Along with the story, you will need to have the CHARACTER SHEET (shown here), a pencil, scratch paper, and four six-sided dice. Zack has brought along some handy equipment in his duffle bag. 

The first step is to roll for your SKILL CHECKS – STRENGTH, ATTACK, AGILITY, and finally your SPEED. Roll 4d6 subtract the lowest roll, add up the number. This decides your skills modifier. The modifier will dictate battle outcomes and other experiences.

3 – 9 +0 modifier

10 – 14 +1 modifier

15 – 16 +2 modifier

17 +3 modifier

18 +4 modifier

You have a total of 100 HEALTH POINTS for the adventure. You have a small, one-time First-Aid kit that will restore 25 HEALTH POINTS.

COMBAT SITUATIONS

1# Establish INITIATIVE to see who acts first by rolling 1d6 and adding SPEED modifier. Now compare your score to the opponent’s INITIATIVE. Whoever has the highest INITIATIVE goes first.

2# Attacks are then made by ROLLING 1D6 and adding your ATTACK modifier. Roll the opponent’s AGILITY to counterattack. 

3# If your ATTACK roll is higher than your opponent’s AGILITY, your hit damage is 1d6 plus your STRENGTH modifier plus your current weapon or item modifier.

4# Subtract total damage from HEALTH POINTS. 

5# Combat stops if you fall below 0 HEALTH POINTS, or all your opponents’ scores do. Otherwise repeat Steps 2#, 3#, 4# until a victor.

Combats must be completed as the creatures will always give chase and continue to attack until they are destroyed…or you are!

RANDOM WEAPONS YOU MAY FIND

Baseball Bat +2 damage per hit

Heavy Flashlight + 1 damage per hit

Iron Crowbar + 3 damage per hit

Letter Opener + 1 damage per hit

Metal Pipe + 4 damage per hit

Pocket Knife + 1 damage per hit

***********************************

 INTRO:

The morning winter chill in the wind speeds up your pace through the deserted parking lot. Your red hoodie isn’t helping enough so you slip the hood over your head and stuff your hands deeper into its pockets. 

Your cell vibrates in your jeans pocket. Gotta be Jordyn.

The display reads, HERE. WHERE YOU AT? 

In the corner, the clock says 8:37 AM. 

You’re late. It will take another ten minutes at least to meet her at the warehouse. And that’s if you jog!

You reply, ALMOST THERE. 5 MINS.

She’s anxious. In fact, she’s been busting to explore the place, ever since she learned of it from Jasper, a mutual online contact that found possible leads for you and her. With Jordyn, you have been doing a YouTube urban explorer channel for a year and a half.

Jordyn was in love with the mysterious back history of the warehouse that sat just inside the city limits. Supposedly once owned by the government, the building was leased out by several high-tech firms and military R&D groups. Three years ago, the building was suddenly sealed up and abandoned. However, it was going to take more than the barbwire-topped fences and chained door locks to keep them out and filming the inside of the sprawling, two-story structure. 

As much as she was dying to go, you were suspicious. How many times did lame science-fiction movies start out with this very starting scenario? Urban myths always had a nugget of truth somewhere wrapped in all the fluff, right? Yet here you were jogging directly toward trouble.

1

The heavily wooded area around the warehouse has only one road leading up to the metal gate. Only twenty feet or so sat Jordyn’s baby blue VW Beetle.

What was she thinking?

They had planned to park a half-mile back then cautiously approach and scout the gate and guardhouse. They were even prepared to hike a half-mile through the surrounding woods and use bolt-cutters on the western fence in the cover of the maple trees.

However, it was all quiet. Her car and the guardhouse appeared empty.

Beyond the gate, you see a rusted metal door with a thick, pad-locked chair securing it. The bottom and top floor windows of the warehouse are boarded or have rusted grating.

  • Use your bolt-cutters and sneak across the yard to the door, turn to 11
  • Investigate the warehouse guard shack, turn to 22
  • Look inside Jordyn’s car to see why she didn’t wait, turn to 2

2

The faint smell of flowery perfume wafts over you as soon as you open the door. Jordyn. 

You have known her most of your life since age five, meeting in school, hanging out at the skatepark, and making out a few times in this very car.

The two of you weren’t official yet you knew you were a couple. The “on again off again” relationship had strained things on occasion but for the present, both of you are content to be partners…friends. This time you wanted more, she was on a different page. You were patient and confident things would come around again.

Patience was your trademark. Quiet, concise with your words and a planner. It gained you respect among the small gaggle of other friends you and Jordyn shared.

You are jolted out of your thoughts when you see her black duffle bag on the passenger side floor. It was not her style to leave without her gear. You lower the driver-side visor, but nothing is stowed there – she has her keys on her.

The hair on the back of your neck raise. Your instincts are pressing you to run inside and find her. Find her NOW.

  • Go to the Guardhouse, turn to 22
  • Go to the warehouse door, turn to 11
  • Grab the duffle bag and look inside, turn to 27

3

It’s dark and dusty in the tiny room. A set of rickety metal stairs on the opposite wall leads to a metal door.

Faint light comes in from under the door. While there’s nothing in here to help you, your heart kicks up as you read the sign above the door. It says ROOFTOP ACCESS.

Your fear that it is locked is proven to be ridiculous as you step right through – it is in fact a magical portal.

Stumbling and unable to catch yourself, you fall and sprawl out on a dusty cement floor.

YOU IMMEDIATELY RECOGNIZE YOU’RE BACK IN THE WAREHOUSE STAIRWELL!! YOU’VE RETURNED TO REALITY.

  • Decide to go up or go down to find Jordyn, turn to 21
  • If you have Jordyn with you, CONGRATS you and the love of your life can escape and have a wondrous life together!

THE END, turn to 1

5

The clearing behind the cliffside quickly becomes overgrown and you soon find you have trekked into the woods off path. The thick maple tree canopy blocks out the light and it has gotten dark in this shadow-filled glade. Massive tree roots ripple below and above the ground causing you to trip and stumble.

As the hours pass and the sun sets you wander in circles and find yourself hopelessly lost!

In the cold late hours of the night, you put your back up against a tree trunk and close your eyes in exhaustion.

You never open your eyes again.

  • Try again to save Jordyn, turn to 21

6

You step into a small, tiled room. There are two elevator doors on the left.

In the corner beside a withered, dried-up plant you spot a corpse. Dust and cobwebs cover the desiccated skeletal remains, but it is clothed in a once-designer gray suit. An opened, empty suitcase remains clutched in his hands. Nothing is apparent to the man’s cause of death.

Suddenly a bell chime rings out followed by one of the elevator doors squealing as it creaks open, faint flickering light flashes from within the car.

The panel next to the door isn’t lit so you don’t know if it is going up or down.

  • If you enter the elevator, turn to 10

7

Through the dirty glass window, you can see the office is rather dark and filled with shadows. Upon entering you see that the floor is littered with paperwork overturned filing cabinets, and some thrown around desk drawers. Someone was very interested in finding something hidden within the small room.

You hear an odd popping sound coming from the floor, something under the papers. Tiny pea-green wisps of smoke rise around you. It smells like vinegar, bleach, and sulfur all mixed in big quantities.

Just as you decide to leave the room, the entire office shakes, and patches of the cement floor give way! A slow-acting acid is eating away at the floor!

Here you must roll 3d6 to determine the difficulty of avoiding falling into a hole. Then you roll 2d6 plus your AGILITY modifier to see if you successfully escape. If your AGILITY roll is higher than the difficulty score you succeed.

Success means you leaped to a ceiling brace in time as the patch of cement fell from beneath your feet. Luckily the bar holds your weight, and you swing over to land before the open door.

Failure means you weren’t fast enough and drop! You are able to grasp the sides of the hole and haul yourself back up buy your right leg was cut by a piece of cement rebar and you now have a gaping wound in your thigh. You lose 4 HEALTH POINTS and your SPEED is hampered -2 to any quick movements and combat initiative.

  • Explore the small west office, turn to 26
  • Open the door next to the west office, turn to 17
  • Investigate the stairwell, turn to 21

8

As you climb the cement steps, an electric sensation washes over you. Your skin prickles with goosebumps and the hair on your arms and head raise briefly. You spin around but don’t see any source of the odd charge in the air. Ahead of you is a door propped open with a small wooden wedge. Only a faded label saying RESEARCH mars the door’s surface.

  • Go through the door, turn to 20
  • Go to the lower level, turn to 13

9

Your eyes squeeze shut as you convulse and writhe from the burns. Pain wracks your body, your breath is taken away. All is slipping away fast.

Your throat chokes on the smoke as you scream out in denial.

Yet, you know this is the end and you have failed to save yourself and Jordyn.

THE END

  • Try again to save Jordyn, turn to 21

10

Finally! I’m getting out of here, you think to yourself as you rush inside.

The rusted floorboards crack and fall apart beneath your feet as your body bores through and plunges down the shaft.

Darkness swallows you up. The humid air in the shaft rushes past you. You feel the closeness of the shaft’s wall and you pull your arms in close to your sides to avoid bashing them as you descend.

The fall goes and on, you continue into the pitch black… It never ends.

THE END

  • Try again to save Jordyn, turn to 21

11

You squeeze through the twin fence gates that block the warehouse road’s entrance. No guards patrol the grounds, nor do you spot any dogs. Yet you feel eyes all over you, dread washes over you.

Jordyn.

Your feet answer the inner voice inside your head. She’s somewhere inside the ugly warehouse and she’s in trouble. Every nerve in your body feels raw and you feel a true fear of what she’s gotten herself into.

But I can’t leave you alone to fight this.

You cross the empty lot to the chained door. The links are too thick for your bolt-cutters. Luckily there’s a large bay of windows that only have a metal grate protecting them. They cut the metal like butter and in minutes you are able to snake your small frame inside.

A faint light illuminates the massive room. Blankets of dust and cobwebs cover everything. You spot a fresh set of footprints leading from another door along the west wall. The doorknob has been punched out. Must’ve been Jordyn’s point of entry. Her prints travel to a small office and then to another closed door.

There’s another office in the southern corner with a large glass window. Opposite it, you see the start to two sets of stairs, one going up and another into a basement level.

In the center sits banks of tables, desks, and wooden benches. Stacks of cardboard boxes rest against the eastern wall. An odd wispy cloud of smoke lazily wafts in the air, but you cannot see its source. The smoky air, the tomblike emptiness, and the muffled silence again heighten your fear for what might have happened to Jordyn.

  • Cross to the western office, turn to 26
  • Go inside the southern corner office, turn to 7
  • Look in the room where Jordyn’s footprints end, turn to 17
  • Go to the stairwell, turn to 21

12

The narrow path is surrounded on both sides by high brush, their branches are layered in vines keeping it nearly impossible to see around you. A series of chittering sounds and a chorus of humming insect trills fill your ears. The skies darken the further you travel the path.

Finally, you enter a large, manicured clearing. The grounds swell up and down with little mounds of grass, the path continues to a massive center fountain. All about the clearing are white statues of various characters from all sorts of historical time periods. Under each of the statues, you can see small metal tablets displaying details and facts of the statue personas. 

You rest on the edge of the peaceful fountain, trying to get your bearings and figure out where you are and how to get back. However, your thoughts are interrupted when you smell smoke. Behind you at the other exit to the clearing stands another smoldering creature much taller than the other before and there are two doglike ones crouched at his feet. These two have much smaller bodies, darker, and less fiery mass. Their jaws, however, bristle with nasty spikey fangs.

“INTRUDER! TRESSPASSERS DIE!” The giant roars and charges.

 Special After round 2 of combat you lose an extra point each round due to the heat from his body. 

  •  If you beat the Embergiant and his wolves, turn to 24
  • If you succumbed to their attacks, turn to 9

13

Squaring your shoulders and stiffening your back, you gather your resolve and walk down into the gloom of the lower-level stairs. There was a definite haunted, paranormal vibe resonating from the door at the bottom. A stenciled word BIOMETRICS LAB labeled the door. A black electrical box hung ominously over the top of the door.

It doesn’t appear to be operational…

  • Brave the shadows and open the lower-level door, turn to 28
  • Maybe up and into the light is better, turn to 8

15

Consciousness is a faint sliver, and you can barely breathe. Webs secure you tight and blind you to your surroundings.

It really doesn’t matter long for you soon feel a sharp pair of painful jolts in the back of your neck. The pain soon spreads down your back as the spider’s acidic bite destroys the nerves along your spine. You’re grateful for the quick numbing sensation as your nerves die and your muscles dissolve.

Your last thoughts are spewing curses at the spiders.

THE END

  • Try again to save Jordyn, turn to 21

16

The sound of splashing water grows stronger as you travel down a dirt path. The clusters of trees spread out as you enter a small park area, and the path winds its way up a hill. The sky is a faint baby blue color with few clouds. The tranquil area is the very definition of sanctuary.

On the top of the hill, you discover a massive fountain of blue and gray marble stone. The crystal-like water cascades out from a tall angel statue. Her eyes cry twin streams into the pool below her feet.

Lying in the wild grass blades, you see your angel, Jordyn. She is on her back, laying with her head propped up by her windbreaker, her arm thrown over her face. She’s seen her own troubles. Her hair is singed on one side of her head and her black concert shirt and jeans have multiple scorch marks.

You want to rush and sweep her in your arms, but you don’t want to scare her. You softly whistle a piece of a Def Tones song, you both love.

She immediately sits up and stares at you in shock and relief.

“Babe, I’ll get us home now,” you whisper to her.

Now, it’s her that rushes into your waiting arms and you hold her as she sobs. You promise aloud to her and yourself that you’ll never let her go again.

  • There’s no other entry to Fountain Hill, turn around, turn to 24

17

As you approach the door, an acrid smell stings your nose. When you pull it open the full power of the smell almost knocks you from your feet. This was once a simple bathroom but now the majority of the room has a massive, gaping hole. Gray-green clouds plume from the hole and you can see spots on the cement floor where the acidic vapor has caused the stone to bubble and crack.

You quickly shut the door, your eyes have already started to sting.

What the hell did they do here? And where was Jordyn? Could she have fallen through the floor?

  • Explore the southern corner office, turn to 7
  • Investigate the small west office, turn to 26
  • Climb up or down the stairs, turn to 21

18

You pull on the center drawer finding only more papers and a few partially written in notebooks. They must’ve belonged to the man, J.C. Carver. None of the notes and scribbles made much sense or even explaining what really happened in this warehouse. A sharp gold-plated letter opener has been shoved to the back of the drawer.

When you tug on the handle of the bottom drawer you discover it is locked. Now that’s interesting…

You open your backpack to retrieve a crowbar you carry just for this reason or to open locked doors. The drawer popped relatively easily.

At the bottom, a small metal box sat next to a slender bottle of whiskey. Inside the box, you find a square digital tablet. Under it was a coil of black charger cable with a USB adapter. The tablet wouldn’t turn on but who knows how long the thing had been there or even if it would operate.

Instinctively you pocket the item certain you’d gleam information later.

  • Go to the door next to the office, turn to 17
  • Explore the southern office, turn to 7
  • Cross to the stairwell, turn to 21

19

The room is pitch black, so you retrieve your cell phone to use its flashlight feature. Ahead are several large tables and metal chairs. Along one wall are vending machines and a counter with several microwaves. 

You hear a raspy movement in the shadows at the back of the obvious cafeteria. Inside a walled-off kitchen area, low, gurgling moans echo out to you. A thin metal door pushes open as two forms come through. A man severed at the waist stalks forward on his arms. His gory entrails slide along behind leaving a bloody smear. Right next to him a woman sheared in half from head to groin pulls herself along the kitchen’s tiles. A sick toothy half-smile stretches across her half face. 

Two other disgusting butchered torsos follow the first two!

  •  If you go below 0 HEALTHPOINTS, turn to 29

20

When you push the upper floor door aside you are dumbstruck by what you find laid out before you. A circular cement court encircles an overgrown patch of grass with a brown stagnant pond. Six stone benches line up on one side of the pond. A cloudy gray sky with rolling clouds of low-hanging smoke presses down over you.

Where the hell did the roof go? Your mind shouts.

Leaving the stairwell, you walk around the corner and find you are not inside the warehouse any longer. There are still maple trees clustered about the property but no roads, no parking lots, no city backgrounds at all along the horizon.

“I’m in a park,” you mutter to yourself.

As you pass a stone column that holds a glass orb, you spot a man, sitting slightly hunched over on another of the stone benches, this one facing an engraved mural wall. He’s smoldering, his body glowing like charcoal embers inside a barbecue grill. An aura of faint wispy smoke surrounds him.

His head turns towards you. The eyes are small fiery pits, and he has no tongue as he roars and hisses upon seeing you. He…or it…leaps to its feet. The body has a molten mass of embers attached to a skeletal frame with hands and feet ending in nasty claws.

It races and bounds over several other benches, showing it is not limited in its physical skills, and swipes a heavy-handed claw at your head.

 Special — After round 2 of combat, you lose an extra point due to the heat from his body.

  • If you fall below 0 with your injuries, turn to 9
  • If you beat the Emberman, turn to 12

21

Twin sets of gray stone stairs are here, one going to the upper level, the other to a lower, darker level. The overhead lights are burnt out for the lower level, but you see a door with a tiny window slot at the bottom. It’s pitch black on the other side of that door.

Laying against the first step to the upper level you see a rusty steel bar. There’s also an overturned trashcan in the corner, but nothing else catches your attention.

Grab the metal bar.

  • Climb to the upper level of the warehouse, turn to 8
  • Make your way down the stairs to the basement level, turn to 13

22

The short, stubby rectangle that pretends to be the wooden guardhouse, leans slightly, pressed by some of the intense thunderstorms that rage sometimes through the region. It has a faint musty smell, and everything is layered in thick dust and cobwebs. One corner has been repeatedly drenched by a leak in the roof and the boards and rotted mostly away.

There’s nothing of any use here and no one has used this guard shack in some time. In the only drawer in a gray metal cabinet near the door, you see a small ring of keys and a long-handle flashlight.

You sweep up the keys and flashlight.

  • Go to the Warehouse, turn to 11
  • Explore Jordyn’s car, turn to 2

23

From the EXIT door, you walk along a dusty bare hallway that leads into the center aisle of a massive room. On both sides of the room are clusters of office cubicles.

The room isn’t lit well, but it seems some of the cubicles must have monitors still powered on. A faint bluish glow illuminates from these monitors. You thought for sure all power had been cut.

Nothing else about the cubicle farm seems familiar as everything is covered in white sheets or perhaps paint drop clothes you suppose. The ceiling is a mass of party streamers. On the other end of the massive room, you see a closed set of double doors and on the right side of the room, another hallway continues further into the business skyscraper. On the left wall, broken windows allow chill flurries to blow in.

As you pass along the center aisle you spot movement, shadowy forms moving fast in and out of the cubicles. In fact, you now realize the monitors are themselves moving. Loud hisses echo about the office all around you.

Five massive blue glowing spiders leap over the walls of the cubicles in front of you. Their bulging black eyes have reddish ichor leaking in gooey streams. Their fangs glisten as the spiders hiss and approach!

 Special — six successful hits means you are bound in webs!

  • Take the double doors on the left, turn to 33
  • Take the hallway on the northside, turn to 25
  • Fall unconscious or bound in web, turn to 15

24

You crest a short knoll and enter a shallow valley. At the bottom is a cement oval stage with a massive mural carved out a rock cliffside. Several cement benches are placed in a semi-circle around the stage.

The now unused concert area is peaceful enough, but you don’t find anything of value or use either.

The mural depicts a sprawling modern city in the throes of a battle and unusual lightning storms in the skies. The very fabric of reality in the carving depicts tears and massive rifts.

You wonder what the meaning of the mural is and if somehow it depicts some of the dark secrets of the warehouse.

At the edge of the left side of the stage, you see a thin gravel path. And as you continue to study the mural you swear you can hear the sound of a creek or at least the sound of water splashing somewhere.

  • Take the gravel path, turn to 34
  • Climbing to the top of the cliffside, you find a clearing heading eastward, turn to 5
  • Follow the splashing sound, turn to 16

25

Another set of double doors open slowly, but you have to work hard to shove them open as a pile of garbage has barricaded the entrance. To your left is an archway opening to a small elevator lobby. 

All around the room the walls have a massive mound of desks, computers, chairs, monitors, and even headphones. You surmise it was once a call center setup. The only thing not piled along the square room’s wall is a steel grate with wall-to-floor monitors. 

Partially buried on the opposite wall of this large room is another door with a small sliver of a window. It’s too dark in the other room to see anything.

Glowing firelight beams down from the ceiling behind the monitor grating. This light moves like the glowing blue light from the spiders! This light surrounds the thick bodies of bat-like creatures. They share the same physiology as the Embermen and you duck as they fly over your head. Globs of ember plop down in little emberballs of fire.

 Special — Roll 1d6 to determine how many Fireglobs fall during combat. Next roll 2d6 to know the AGILITY difficulty score needed to avoid them. Failure means losing 3 HEALTH POINTS each.

  • Go to the elevator lobby, turn to 6
  • If your burns and claw attacks make you fall unconscious, turn to 9
  • Dig out the door buried by trash, turn to 19

26

You crack open the wooden door to the office. A large desk sits in front of three massive file cabinets. On the desk sits a scribbled-on desk blotter and calendar next to a tiny crystalline trophy engraved with the name J. C. CARVER, Director’s Award.

This office is cramped and poorly lit with a series of fluorescent bulbs. There are no windows.

The cabinet drawers are open but hold only empty folders. A center drawer remains open and holds only pencils, pens, and a pile of paperclips. On one edge you note the dust has been wiped off. You smirk at the small butt cheek prints in the dust. Jordyn must have explored in here, sat on the desk when she texted me.

  • Go to the next room where her trail ends, turn to 17
  • Trek over to the southern corner office, turn to 7
  • Explore the stairwell, turn to 21
  • Look inside the desk, turn to 18

27

You lean inside and sweep up the duffle bag from the floor. It’s slightly heavy with the equipment she was responsible to bring. Unzipping it, you see as expected her extra Samsung video camera, the Veckta Spirit Box, a coil of extension cord, several packs of batteries, and a backup cell phone battery. You also spot a crumpled pack of smokes and a lighter.

Damn. She swore she quit.

You take out the cigarettes and throw them in the brush next to the car. You zip up the bag and take it with you. It’s time to get moving!

  • Go to the warehouse, turn to 11
  • Explore the guard shack, turn to 22

28

You hold your breath as you walk under the black box. Nothing happened. Obviously, electricity no longer powered the building. You smirk at your paranoia as you shove open the door.

From the pitch dark, an earthy cool breeze swept over you. You raise your cell phone flashlight to burn away the darkness. Office desks are before you, covered with dust, debris, and broken glass. On the far side of the room, you see a series of broken windows where wind gusts inside. Your eyes bulge as you spot a wall of mirrored windows. It’s a close skyscraper with a broken bank logo and electric sign which hangs partially off the side of the building. Other city buildings stand silhouetted against the early dawn horizon.

What in the Nine Hells? Your mind screams.

Spinning around, you see what you already somehow knew, the Biometrics door was gone, and you are standing in the center of a long-ago abandoned business. This was as far from a science lab as you could get.

In the gloom ahead you find a metal door marked EXIT.

  • Run to the EXIT, turn to 23

29

You fall unconscious onto the floor. 

When you next wake, you feel many hands lift you and place your naked body onto a cold steel table. 

You begin to scream in pure terror when you hear a mechanical sawing sound start up and echo off the kitchen walls.

You are to become the newest torso zombie! 

THE END

  • Try again to save Jordyn, turn to 21

33

Icy rain pelts you and several inches of murky water cover your tennis shoes. Overturned desks, metal pails of office garbage, and rotting softback computer chairs float around a massive wooden table. A terrible thunderstorm rages outside and floods the once elaborate meeting room through more broken windows.

Just as you decide to turn around you spot a set of curved scimitar swords with a tower shield decorating the back wall. This could definitely help you in any encounters. Next to the shield is a single door standing partially open.

Halfway across the room, your trek is rudely interrupted as a murder of massive man-size crows land on the broken window sills. Their hollow eye sockets seem to stare ominously at you, their raging ember-bodies glow with the inner fires.

The flock fly as one, claws raised to cut you in ribbons as short tongues of fire erupt from their beaks.

 When each bird is brought below 0 HEALTH POINTS they fly into their attacker and explode causing an extra 7 points of damage.

  • Take the door near the shield, turn to 3
  • The crows get the best of you and your HEALTH POINTS go below 0, turn to 9

34

A hunger pang strikes you as you make your way out from around a cluster of maples. Ahead you are amazed to encounter a wide tunnel opening. Thick emerald moss and purple vines carpet the exterior and drape down from the ceiling. No light breaches the tunnel’s murky interior. An occasional chittering sound echoes from inside but otherwise, it’s as silent as a tomb.

A familiar Avenged Sevenfold ring tone blares to life from inside! That’s Jordyn’s cell phone!

Without hesitation, you pluck out your own phone and use the flashlight as you plunge into the dark confines of the tunnel.

Thirty or so yards inside, everything changes. Faint light of unknown origin displays how the ground is layered in soft white pillowy webs, the walls are now covered in blankets of hanging webs, and the back exit is hidden under an extensive nest of human shape lumps, piles of garbage, animal carcasses, and the rushing swarm of angry, bluish glowing spiders.

As you prepare for the fight of your life, your eyes dart around trying to see where her cell might be and you pray she isn’t here with it!

 Special — six successful hits means you are bound in webs!

  • If you do not escape the spiders, turn to 15
  • If you escape, head back, turn to 24

I hope you enjoyed this little off-the-path fiction!

Flight Of The Dirithi #5 — Derek Barton – 2021

The world before Jueneva was awe-inspiring but horrific at the same time. Her breath caught in her throat in a gasp. The skies overhead was a mottled gray with dark blue patches between the storm clouds. A charcoal blanket of ice and drifts of black snow covered the entire forest surrounding the immense castle ruins. Thin icy strands formed by wind-driven flurries resembled macabre spider webs. They stretched out from tree branch to tree branch snaring everything. The forest tree lines were more shadowy walls than landscape.

Straightening her shoulders and stiffening her back, she pulled the fur-lined jacket hood over her head. She then marched with purpose through the double doors. On her back the ivory long bow gave her some confidence and determination to find real food for her night’s dinner.

A hollow thrumming filled the air as more wind rushed among the bare tree branches. The sound was an eerie, flat whistle and set the hairs on the back of her neck on end. Instinctively, she crouched and planted her boots firmly into the snow, ready for flight.  

Silvery lightning flashed high above as the whistling raced to a crescendo. As it faded a rolling rumble of deafening thunder vibrated everything, even the ground she stood upon.

Every fiber in her begged her to rush back inside, to wait another day for the snows to pass. Nothing in the foreign landscape gave her any comfort, it stared back at her defiant with teeth bared. A dread enveloped her and she wondered if this was a sign or a premonition.

“No! I will not delay my fight one more hour, “ Her voice carrying out, building. “Backing down is not in my nature!” It didn’t matter that no one was present to hear her or witness. Jueneva needed to hear and believe in the statement. Needed to feel the promise in her words.

She pressed on after a moment and found a thin animal path twisting to and fro beneath the forest canopy. With effort she avoided touching the webbed limbs as much as possible. Other than the storm and its bizarre winds, the forest seemed devoid of life. Her frustration grew as she followed the trail. Finally, her trek came to a large mountainside with a series of tunnel mouths. The openings spanned nearly a dozen or so handwidths and spotted the mountain rock somewhat in a beehive fashion.

Jueneva crouched and peered down into the nearest hole, her eyes trying to adjust to the shadows inside. Her eyes didn’t spy any movement, but her ears picked up the soft scraping of stone. Something was approaching and it was coming fast!  She sprang to the side, laying flat against the wall.

A beast, long and low, erupted from its hive and rushed out onto the path oblivious to her presence. In her own realm, they referred to these creatures as centipedes. However the one before her had to be hundreds of pounds and its head was bestowed with a series of red antlers that grew along its back. More unusual was the appearance of a black lattice-work streaming from the antlers to the middle of its oily black body.

A harness! Who, by the Fates, would ever dare to ride such a monster?

Another shot out of its opening further left of her position and followed after the first on its multitude of tiny, clawed feet. She heard the second beast hiss and chatter seeming to call after the other. Both of the mammoth insects skidded to a sudden stop in the dirty snow and curled back to face her.

Without a thought she had the bow in her hands with twin arrows notched. Upon seeing the weapon, the first centipede hissed in obvious anger at her. It charged closer and reared up to tower over her. The second moved to its right also rising and boxing her in against the rocks.

A gray-skinned arm, heavily tattooed with red dyes, swept in and around her shoulders pressing a serrated bone blade under her chin and flat against her neck. Hot breath warmed her ear as a husky, gruff voice spoke to her ear, “Doshe mi lees tonva dess.”

She had no inkling of the words meaning as there wasn’t any emotion or inflection in the statement. Her only reaction was to let the bow and arrows drop into the snow and keep her empty hands out before her. “Easy… Easy now,” she cooed to the blade owner standing behind her in the tunnel. “We can talk this over.” She hoped diplomacy would work as she was obviously outmaneuvered and outmanned.

Her hood was yanked back suddenly, and a cold metal loop snapped shut around her neck!

Jueneva screeched, her hands clawing wildly at the manacle. She was thrust forward, but her legs buckled and she crashed to her knees. A long spear handle was fastened to the neck manacle.

Now desperate she lunged and crawled for one of her arrows on the path. As her fingers curled around it, a sandaled foot pinned her arm down. The other sandal kicked her between the shoulder blades, blasting the air from her chest.

The blade owner jerked her up by the manacle to then lean down and smile with malice in her face. Her captor was a thin but muscular woman. She had jet black braids on one side of her shaven head. The blood red tattoos ran down the whole left side of her gray body. “Doshe esca roto pemma diem.” Again no emotion in the words.

Jueneva with tears of fury and a bloody nose could do nothing but meet the woman’s stare with a gaze of fiery defiance. Another woman rode up to them on the back of a matching, giant centipede. The newcomer studied the scene before her but then gasped. She shot her hand out, pointing at the bow laying partially buried in the black snow.

Her captor kneeled and dug out the ivory bow. Her slender fingers traced along the silvery runes and patterns etched in the wood. She kept Jueneva painfully hung suspended by her neck over the trail.

Again the blade owner’s hot breath washed over her face. “Doshe modta bri freyes Coueryere.” The monotone sound of her words hadn’t changed, but the look of outrage in her eyes spoke volumes.

The Flight Of The Dirithi #4 — Derek Barton – 2021

Jueneva woke, covered in thick orange and red animal furs, a glowing fire warming her new room. She could not even remember coming to the chamber, or climbing inside the bed, but here she was. Sighing loudly, she let the last few days events roll across her mind, weighing her down. It was so hard to let go.

In a sense she was relieved to finally understand why she was different, why her family always ran, why the world always seemed to teeter on a finite edge. Her true family were murdered when she was but an infant. Now her adopted family were also murdered. Those responsible she only knew by a broad name:  the Kreszecs. Other than that she had no real information on who they were or what reasons they had for wanting her and for destroying her family’s rule here in Akkei Maliss.

A soft rap at the door cut into her thoughts. “It is Executor Buore, miss. May I enter?” His muffled voice came through the door.

“Yes, please.”

She rose and stretched, pretending to not be emotional and tussling with her feelings. Her body ached and the desire for more sleep made it even harder to pull out from under the furs, yet she had other more pressing concerns.

The specter floated in and crossed the barely lit chamber. Only a small, mirrored vanity occupied one corner of her new quarters opposite the fireplace. In the other corner stood a tall dress cabinet. There were no real decorations like thick rugs or elaborate tapestries on the walls. Yet she was alright with the modest accommodations and often lived like this with few personal possessions.

“Good morn, Boure.” Today she found she could look him in the face and not feel the reflexive fear of the dead. He was good-natured and surely had been a great asset to her late family. He would be needed further in the future of Coueryere Castle.

“It is sure to be, your majesty.”

She jumped. The word majesty jolted her as if he splashed cold water suddenly in her face. Majesty? Hmmm. I guess he is right. And I suppose it would be better to start acting in that fashion.

“Executor, I have a few requests of you today.”

“I would be honored to fulfill those for you.”

“First, can you find me a weapon?  I will be leaving the castle for a short spell. A bow would be my choice if you can make that happen.”

He frowned but nodded and bowed.

“I sense your disapproval. You often show your emotions openly.”

“It is only that I do not see the need to risk your safety. The ruins are dangerous inside and outside, but in here I can give you some protection.”

She found comfort in his overprotective sense of responsibility for her. He was like a long-lost uncle trying to step up and make up for lost time.

“The meat in the pantry I am afraid is too far gone for me. I want to hunt and restock the meat pantry. My father showed me how to track and hunt at an early age. Even said I had a unique talent for it. Perhaps that is another aspect of my Dirithi heritage?” She chuckled to herself and tried to not dwell on her pang of grief for him.

“You had other requests, miss?”

“Yes.” She sighed aloud and was unsure how to proceed. “When I came her two nights ago, I… I encountered… Well, you were not the first spirit I found here in the ruins. What or who is that Flaming Skeleton?”

Again, his face crinkled as he disapproved of the content of the conversation. “That Flaming Skeleton is not to be taken lightly, miss. He is not one of ours and not from this realm. He was one of the Krezsec Generals that invaded. Few of their invading army were stopped, he was among those few. Now, General Loas Toc haunts these hallways at certain nights and always he relieves his final hours. You saw the hanging men?”

She nodded, her face paled at the memory of the bloodied uniforms, spotted with flaming hand prints from the general’s touch.

“This is my family’s seat of power. He will not be tolerated much longer. I am going to have to find a way to expell his presence.”

The Executor only lowered his head to stare at the floor. He had no answers for her.

“Tonight, when I return I want you to take me to the Throne Room.”

Boure straightened and a smile cracked his face, he beamed with pride. “Indeed, your majesty. I will see to its preparations for your audience myself.”

That statement brought a strange thought to her mind. “There are others? Other court members or staff?”

He nodded. “Not as many as before – remember only the restless spirits remain here. Some have made peace and moved on.”

Before she could ask more, he bowed again and backed out of the room through the closed door.

Jueneva dressed and prepped herself as best as she could. There were several dresses hanging inside the cabinet but were not warm enough or proper for the cold elements outside. She found only one riding pantsuit. It would have to do. She could not be weighed down or wear anything restrictive if she was to hunt and chase prey. At the back on a hook, she did discover a thick deer skin coat with buttons and laces down the front. It was exactly what she needed for the wintery elements outside.

Another soft rap announced Boure’s return. He entered with no invitation this time. In his hands he carried a silver and ivory bone longbow and a matching white quiver filled with over a dozen arrows. Symbols were etched all along the exquisitely crafted weapon. She took it in awe and hefted it in her hands.

“This is wondrous. It feels like I am barely lifting anything!”

“Indeed. This came from within the Vault. I believed it was forged with guiding magics, but I cannot remember for sure. Either way, I am certain it will be of great use and affect in your hunting.”

As she lifted the quiver’s strap over her head and down onto her shoulder, he said, “I really do not like this idea. I feel I may be inadequate as your Court Advisor, but, your majesty, as there are no other formal Courtesans left, you will have to settle for me. You see, as I stated before, in the castle domain I can protect you, but I cannot leave the compound to help you outside. You will be all on your own. This is not a wise excursion. We will find another way to find you proper meals.”

Jueneva shook her head. “No. I will not be stuck inside nor will I hide here. The Restoration cannot happen to my family’s rule if I do not take risks or fight back. What happened here must be avenged. I appreciate your words, I do. And I do not step out lightly and without caution.”

Boure dropped his gaze again to the floor.

“Executor, please escort me now to the best entrance to begin my Hunt.”

The Flight Of The Dirithi #3 — Derek Barton – 2021

“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.”