Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chapter 8: Rumors Over Breakfast (Mark I)

Caden woke up early. He got dressed. As he pulled his shirt on, he looked at Rilyn's sleeping form. She had the covers pulled tightly around her, like it was a shield against some unforeseen danger. Caden looked at her swords. The sheaths were made from bone, and split along the top so you lifted the swords out rather then drawing them. The blades etched with a jagged pattern, so that when placed side by side, the curve formed a perfect circle with a sun etched around the rim.

Caden held the swords up and looked at Rilyn. "Where are you from?" he said. He looked at the blanket covering most of her face. "And even sleeping, you still hide your face from me." He shook his head and put the swords away. He walked out of the room. "You're one strange man."
In the common room, Cassy came over and served him a bowl with a cinnamon bread soaking in steaming milk. Caden noted how the bread lacked a distinctive cinnamon swirl when he cut it open and it absorbed the milk much too quickly.
He looked up at Cassy. "Cinnamon?" he asked. "Isn't that a bit extravagant for what we pay?"
"True," she said. "But I want you to come back again."
"Why?" Caden took a bite of the meal.
Cassy set down a mug of tea sweetened with steamed cinnamon spiced milk. "I heard a rumor the other day, and I think you had something to do with it."
"What was that?" Caden took a drink of tea.
Cassy sat down across from Caden. "Well, some people were saying that the local guard picked up a couple of Bandits. They were wanted for several muggings on the south highway. The guards found them with major injurys, but two were still alive. When they were brought in, they talked about a man with a holy, green and black, sword. Now everyone in town is talking about some holy knight who's purging the wicked."
Caden choked on his tea.
"When I saw you bring that stone sword into your room last night," she said. "I figured it had to be you."
"Well," Caden said. "I wouldn't put too much faith into rumors."
Cassy looked up, and said, "Where's your friend?"
"I think maybe he had too much to drink last night," Caden said. "He's still asleep."
"He's so mysterious, always covered up like that."
"You're telling me," Caden said. "At night, he even covers up with his blanket." Caden leaned over the taple and whispered, "I think he's secretly hiding some hideous scar."
Cassy laughed. Caden joined her. They sat and talked till more patrons came in looking for breakfast and Cassy went back to work.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Chapter 8: The Road Home (Mark I)

Caden rode Starlight. Rilyn walked on the left side. They crossed the hills and valleys as they returned to Tinate. They travelled an extra half day out of their way to avoid going through Sharsden a second time. The small rodent rode on Caden's shoulders. He fed it small bites of bread.

"You shouldn't feed that," Rilyn said. "It is a wild animal."
"It's okay, it's okay," Caden said waving his hand at Rilyn. "It's tame. A merchant probably carried it from the other side of the Yongsan Mountains before it escaped it's cage." Caden petted the furry creature.
"You're a strange person."
"How so?"
"You trust everybody," Rilyn said. "I don't know anyone who would go out of their way to defend someone who is accused to be a witch."
"Maybe more people should," Caden said. "How many innocent people may have suffered for a false accusation?"
Rilyn sighed. "I suppose." He walked next to Caden in silence. "You're a good person," whispered Rilyn. "I'd hate to see what you'd become if you actually join the Dragon Knights."
Caden didn't hear Rilyn, he just continued to look forward and ride back to Tinate.

When Caden and Rilyn reached Tinate, they traveled straight to the temple. Caden tied up Starlight in the temple mall. The small rodent jumped off of Caden's shoulder. Caden watched it run under a building into a sewer drain.
"I guess our friend isn't much of a temple patron," said Caden.
Rilyn sighed and shook his head. They walked over to the temple doors and Caden pulled. The door was locked. Caden furrowed his brow and pulled again.
"That's odd," Caden said.
"The temple doors shouldn't be locked."
"Tinate is a bigger place then Erdon. Maybe it's normal here."
"No," Caden said. "The book of the 3rd Sage, Chapter 18, verse 26. 'The doors of the sanctuary shall never be sealed, so that none are denied salvation.' It's a cardinal rule of the order."
"You have the sacred texts memorized?" asked Rilyn.
"Not all of them."
"Come on," Rilyn said. He grabbed Caden's shirt. "I'm hungry, and I want something other then stew bread." Rilyn dragged Caden to Starlight. "We'll get a room at the Blue Fox and come back in the morning."
"That's okay." Caden said. He continued to look back at the Temple. "We're out of Stew Bread anyway."

Caden and Rilyn sat in the common room of the Blue Fox. Caden stirred and nibbled at the stew. He looked across the table at Rilyn. Rilyn had already eaten two bowls and was attacking his third with a dinner roll smothered in butter.
"I thought you were sick of Stew and Bread?" Caden asked.
"No," Rilyn said. He held up his spoon. "I'm sick of Stew Bread. This stuff is much better."
"It's the same stuff, just the bread is a lower quality."
"Wrong, this stuff is warm." Rilyn went back to eating.
Caden picked up his mug. He frowned at the pungent smell of the brown stout, but at least it was better then the shine. He took a swig of the bitter drink, and watched Rilyn finish another mug. He drank like Sir Eric did.
A man from the other side of the common room stood up and walked over. He was a stout and overweight man. His large stomach strained the stitches on his stained cream shirt. He didn't so much walk, as he waddled over to Caden.
"You're Caden of Erdon," he said, "aren't you?"
"Yes," Caden answered. "How did you know?"
"I come here a lot. I saw you last time you passed through and overheard you talking about the Dragon Knights." He pulled up his drooping pants and stratched his shaggy beard. "So how did that go?"
"Better then expected," Caden answered. Caden looked across the table at Rilyn and raised an eyebrow.
Rilyn shrugged and shook his head.
"That's great," he said. "Next time you're in Tinate, stop by and tell me more about your journeys." The man shook Caden's hand and waddled out the door.
Caden waved Cassy over to their table. "Who was that?" Caden asked.
Cassy looked out the window and saw the man leaving the Courtyard gate. "I don't know. I've never seen him before."
Caden looked at Rilyn.
Rilyn passed a bush axe to Caden under the table. "Sleep lightly tonight."

Rilyn stayed in the common room for an hour after Caden left to sleep. She slipped into the room, being careful with the door. She closed it slowly and put the latch down. She walked over to Caden's bed and checked on him. He was sound asleep, the brush axe had fallen on the floor and was stuck in the boards. She smiled. She took off her hat and cloak, freeing her long fiery red hair. She unhooked her swords and set them at the foot of her bed. She took an ivory comb and worked it through her hair. She looked at Caden's sleeping form and smiled. She climbed into the opposite bed and went to sleep.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Chapter 7: The General (Mark I)

Rilyn sat in grass and watched the clouds drift by. Starlight grazed. Caden recounted the tale of the Dragon Queen to the general. The general listened and nodded. His brow was tight, and he kept a tight frown on his face.
When Caden finished, the general said, "That's quite the story.゛
"It's true,"Caden said.
"I believe you."
"So you'll rescue Keilee?"
"I'll send my best dragon trackers out immediately. Without fail, I promise they will find this dragon and kill it by the next new moon."

"But this isn't any ordinary dragon," Caden said. "It's the Dragon Queen."
"The great sages have left us everything we need to deal with that old lizard." The general put his hand on Caden's shoulder. "And if your friend is still alive, we'll bring her back to your village."
"I want to go with." Caden looked up at the general.
"Oh?" The general looked down into Caden's eyes.
"Please, reconsider, let me join," Caden said. "I'm stronger then I look, let me go with the dragon trackers so that I may help rescue Keilee."
The general's brow relaxed, and he smiled. "If it means that much to you."
Caden smiled.
"I'm not supposed to do this." The general leaned down and whispered to Caden. "But I will make you a deal."
Rilyn looked and watched closely as the general whispered into Caden's ear.

Caden and Rilyn walked back to where they left Su. Rilyn looked at Caden. He hadn't stopped smiling since they departed ways from the general.
"Are you going to tell me what he said, or is this another secret?"
"No, I'll tell you," said Caden. "He agreed to let me join the Dragon Knights."
"Okay, so why are you leaving?"
"I need to talk with Sir Eric. I can only join them if I prove my strength and bring them the heads of five dragons. I figure Sir Eric should know how to track down some small ones."
Rilyn shook his head and followed behind Caden. "Then we should double your training so you can defeat them with the stone sword."
Caden looked back and smiled. He raised his left hand over his shoulder and gave Rilyn a thumbs up. "Sounds like a plan."
They reached the top of the hill where they left Su. But she was no longer on the outcropping of rock. Caden dropped his knapsack and looked around, but couldn't find her anywhere.
Rilyn smiled, glad to be rid of the troublesome girl. "Well, guess she left. Let's hurry back to Tinate."
"It's late, we should camp here and continue on in the morning," Caden said. "She might come back yet tonight."
"Fine. I'll build a fire."
Caden walked over to his knapsack and saw a small furry creature trying to untie the knot. "Hey, get away from there!" Caden ran at it. It jumped away and ran away. It stopped and stood up on it's hind legs. Caden never saw anything like it before. It looked like a rodent, but had a long, slim sinewy body.
It looked at Caden like it was begging for food. Caden sighed. He opened his knapsack and took out a loaf of stew bread. He tore off a fourth of it and threw it onto the ground. The rodent thing picked it up and started to eat.
"No more," Caden said. "I need to make the rest of this last till we return home."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Chapter 7: Dragon Knights (Mark I)

Rilyn walked behind Caden and Su. She seemed normal. Her hair was the same dark brown most people had in this country. She was about a head shorter then Caden. Rilyn guessed she was around 15 harvests. Which was the oddest thing about her, traveling alone so young.

Caden wasn't saying much, but she was talking on and on. Nothing unusual either, just meaningless chatter. Rilyn couldn't understand why she hated her so much. Watching her pick wildflowers, making Caden laugh. Rilyn didn't want Su to be a witch. She just wanted a reason to get rid of her. Rilyn watched as Caden and Su talked. How she made him smile, made him laugh. Caden was talking about what happened. Rilyn gribbed her swords, imagining Su without a head.
"... and that's when the Dragon Queen took Keilee. Now I'm on a quest to save her."
"Wow," said Su. "When I asked why you needed the Dragon Knights, I didn't expect all that."
"I figure it's what they're best at, right?"
"I don't know." Su rubbed the back of her head. "I mean, I didn't even think Dragon's existed."
"Of course they exist," Caden said. "Didn't you listen to all the stories when you went to temple?"
"To tell you the truth," Su said. "My family didn't go to temple all that often."
Caden looked at Su. She looked up at him. He blushed. She laughed.
"Why?" Rilyn asked. "Too sacred for your family traditions?"
Caden looked at Rilyn, his brow tight, his mouth frowning, and his eyes looked dark. Was she bewitching him? Clouding his mind?
Su looked back over her shoulder. "What? I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were in this conversation." She sneered at Rilyn and ran ahead. She ran up the hill, and climbed onto one of the jagged outcroppings of rock. "Hey Caden," she called. "Come here and look at this."
Caden looked at Rilyn again. Then he ran up the hill to join her. Starlight snorted and trotted behind him. Even the horse hates me, thought Rilyn.
Caden let go of Starlight's reigns so he could climb up the rock after Su. She pointed out into the distance. "Look," she said. "You can see the Dragon Knight training camp from here." Caden looked out.
On top of another hill, about two hours away, Caden could see a green wall. "Still pretty far."
"Well, I showed you the way."
Caden looked at Su. "Are you leaving?"
"I only said I would show you the way," Su said. "I don't want to go there."
"Okay, well..." Caden looked at Rilyn drudging up the hill. "Thanks for your help."
Su touched Caden's cheek. "Tell you what," she said. "I'll wait here for you. If you want me to continue traveling with you, come back for me."
Caden jumped down off of the rock. Rilyn made it up the hill. Caden mounted Starlight. Rilyn looked up at Su sitting on the rock. "She's not coming," Caden said. He reached out to Rilyn. "Come on, if we both ride, we can get there sooner."
Starlight looked at Rilyn and snorted. "Can you carry us both?" Rilyn asked. Starlight pawed at the ground, snorted, and shook her head. Rilyn looked at Caden. "Was that a yes?"
"No," Caden said. "That was a, 'I can't talk, I'm just a horse.' Now hurry up."

Rilyn and Caden road up to the camp wall. As they got closer, they could see the wall was a fathom tall rose bush. It was thick too, Caden looked at it, and couldn't see through. The branches seemed to twine together tighter and tighter farther in. They rode around the camp till they reached the gate. It was a large stone and wood door, with two Dragon Knights standing guard in front. They wore metal breastplates, except the left shoulder pieces were made from wood and leather. Their left ears and eyes were missing, replaced by jagged scars.
Caden dismounted and approached the Knights. They drew their swords. "Halt," they said. "Come no closer to this holy land."
"We come to seek the aide of the Dragon Knights," Caden said.
The guard on the right sheathed his sword. "Fear not," he said. "The Dragon Knights protect all the citizens of this Kingdom. Return home, for you are safe."
"But I have urgent news," said Caden. "A general was in my town recently. He came here with three recruits from Erdon."
"It is an honor to serve the Dragon Knights," he said. "I hope you're not here to ask for their return."
"No, I'm here to ask the general for many more knights to return and protect us from a great evil."
"Then tell me what you wish to say, and I shall convey the message."
"No, I will only talk with the general," Caden said. "He must here this from me."
The two Knights looked at each other. The one on the left whistled. A falcon flew down and landed on the wooden shoulder guard. It sat there for a minute before it took off. "The general will be coming shortly," he said.
Caden and Rilyn sat and waited. Starlight grazed. Caden kept staring at the horrible scars they had. He wondered how they lost their left ears and eyes. The scars were similar, so it looked like it happened in the same way.
The gate opened and the general stepped out. He looked at Caden and smiled. "Long way from home," he said. "Aren't you boy."
Caden stood up. "I want you to know," he said. "I learned my lesson from our last meeting, and everything I say is the truth."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Chapter 7: New Path (Mark I)

Caden and Rilyn walked up a hill. They exited Sharsden on the opposite road that they came in on. Neither talked on the hike up the steep hill. At the top, they stopped next to the lone tree and looked back at the town. A few people stood at the edge of town and stared back up at them.

"Makes you wonder," Rilyn said. "Doesn't it?"
"What the Dragon Knights have done to that town to make them react like that."
"No, it doesn't," Caden said. "It's clear that the man has corrupted the town."
"What man?"
"The man with the dark shroud," said Caden. "I don't know what it means, but I know he caused this."
"Sucks doesn't it?" said a voice from the tree.
Rilyn and Caden looked up. The young woman from Tinate sat on a branch. She wore brown boots with a short dark green dress.
"What does?" Rilyn asked. He dropped his hands under his cloak and grabbed the handle of his curved swords.
"Getting chased out of town for something you didn't do." She jumped out of the tree and landed in front of Rilyn. She stuck out her hand. "Hi, I'm Suzidan."
"Hey Su," Caden said. "What are you doing out here?"
Su spun around on her toe. She faced Caden. "Hi Cady. I followed you. Thought maybe you could use my help."
"And what makes you think you can help us?" asked Rilyn.
"Well, let's see." She placed a finger on her lips. "Caden saved my life, so I guess I owe him the same." She tapped her mouth. "What else, oh that's right! I know where the Dragon Knight training camp is."
"Will you show us?" asked Caden.
"Of course I will." Su kicked the tree. It shook and a bag fell out of the branches. She caught it and slipped the strap over her shoulders. "Shall we go then?" She walked away from the town as leaves from the tree drifted down around her.
Caden followed. Rilyn grabbed his elbow, stopping him. "This is too convient," he said. "I don't trust her."
Caden shook his arm free. "Will you relax," Caden said. "She's not a witch. Trust me on this."
"Not unless you can tell me what happened in that tower."
Caden dropped his head. "It's complicated." He clicked his tongue and pulled Starlight by the reigns. He walked after Su.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Chapter 7: Shattered Dreams (Mark I)

Caden dreamt that night. In his dream, he was grown up. He was strong, his arms and chest well defined and muscular from the training Rilyn gave him. He was by the river, Keilee was safe and sleeping with her head on his lap. He stroked her hair. He heard a splash. Out in the river, another woman was bathing. Her wet skin glimmered in the orange light of the dying fire while the water sparkled under the full moon. She was the most beautiful woman Caden had ever seen. Her long red hair glistened.

That morning, they broke camp, ate the last of the wheat bread and preserves, and set off down the highway. As they walked along that morning, Rilyn saw Caden smiling like a fool.
"What are you smiling about?" He asked.
"Oh, nothing," Caden said. "I just had a really good dream last night."
"Well, stay focused on the real world. I don't understand why you like that thing." Rilyn pointed at the Stone Sword. "But until you can lift it all the time, I want you to stick to the short sword."
"It's not a sword," Caden said. "It's a brush axe."
"Still, you can actually lift it, so use that till you get stronger."
"Okay." The mention of getting stronger made Caden think about his dream again.
"From what Ramone said, we should reach Sharsden around noon," Rilyn said.

They continued to walk down the highway. The terrain had few trees, but many hills dotted by giant boulders jutting out of them at odd angles. By noon, it was hotter then the day before. Caden was sweating a river. He emptied the water flask he had filled that morning by the river. He looked at Rilyn. Rilyn still wore the same cloak with the high collar covering his face up to his nose. The wide brimmed hat cast a shadow over his eyes.
"Damn, aren't you hot?" asked Caden.
"Do you ever take that cloak off?"
"The cloak is what keeps me cool," said Rilyn. "It's been blessed to protect me from the second sun."
Caden shielded his eyes and squinted at the single sun in the sky. "What are you talking about?"
Caden and Rilyn reached the top of a hill. They looked down at a valley nestled between 5 hills. In the valley, there was a town about the same size as Erdon.
"That must be Sharsden," Rilyn said.
"I doubt the Dragon Knights are still there," said Caden. "Let's go down and see if anyone knows where their training camp is."
Caden and Rilyn walked down the hill and into the town. There are very few people in the streets, and all of them were woman or small children. The buildings were old and rundown. Caden noticed many buildings looked boarded up and abandoned. The ceiling of the stables next to the smithy collapsed and hasn't been repaired. The forge inside was cold and covered in dust and cobwebs. Tools were scattered on the floor and rusted.
"What happened here?" asked Caden.
"This town looks dead."
Caden saw an old woman and young boy walk out from a side street. "Excuse me," he said.
The woman looked up at Caden and Rilyn. She grabbed the boy and ran down the street. Rilyn looked around. He saw several people close their windows. "Caden," he said, "I don't think we're going to get much help from around here."
"There has to be someone who will help us." Caden pulled on Starlight's reigns and guided her to the center of the town.
In the center of Sharden, there was a fountain with a statue of three Dragon Knights. The fountain was dry. The foundation cracked. Moss and ivy grew over the statues. One of the statues was broken, missing it's head. One was missing an arm, and the third his sword. Caden brushed off an inscription on the key stone. It read, "We honor the brave Dragon Knights who guide and protect our fair town."
Caden stood up on fountain's basin wall. "Everyone!" he yelled. "We need your help."
A few people looked out windows and doors. Rilyn watched them. His hands dropped to under his cloak.
"We are on an urgent mission," he continued. "Innocent lives are at stake. We need to know where we can find the Dragon Knights."
Woman and children walked out. Rilyn gripped the handles to both of his swords.
Caden leans down to Rilyn. "I told you there would be people willing to help us." Caden felt a cold chill run down his spine. He shivered under the hot midsummer sun.
One elderly woman stepped forward. "If you're looking for the Dragon Knights, we don't want you in our town."
"They killed our sons and husbands," she said. "Taking them off to fight losing battles, stealing what they want, leaving us with only enough to survive."
"But the Dragon Knights protect us," Caden cried.
A young boy picked up a rock and threw it at Caden. He hit Caden in the head. Caden fell into the dry fountain basin. He hit his head against the base of the statues. He looked up, the world spun in front of him. He saw two Rilyns draw four curved swords. He saw a man walk out of a building. He had a dark shroud over his shoulders. He smiled. Caden stood up and grasped the back of his head. More people picked up refuse and threw it at Rilyn and Caden. Rilyn deflected what he could with his swords.
Caden looked at the man with the dark shroud. His vision cleared. He stood up and grabbed the stone sword off of Starlight. He held it up in one hand. "By this holy sword of the temple," he shouted. "Stop your attack and we'll leave peacefully!"
The crowd stopped and stared at him holding the stone sword without any difficulty. With that, Caden nodded to Rilyn, grabbed Starlight by the reigns, and they left. They walked past the man with the dark shroud. He laughed, showing black gums receding from his teeth.
Caden looked at him. "I'll be back to deal with you."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chapter 6: Departure (Mark I)

Caden saddled and groomed Starlight while Rilyn settled with the Barkeep. Rilyn walked outside.

"Are you ready?" Caden asked. "We've wasted two nights here, and we're no closer to finding the Dragon Knights, or getting them to save Keilee."
"You were the one who spent the night with a witch."
"She's not a witch," Caden said. "I'm certain of that now."
"Then why did the towns people attack her?"
"She was found with the witch."
"And what would they have been doing together?"
"I don't know."
"I'm not from around here," Rilyn said. "But our cultures do agree on one thing. Thou shall not suffer a witch to live."
"She wasn't a witch."
"But if she had dealings with one, maybe she's on the journey to become one."
Caden looked away. He led Starlight out the courtyard gate. Rilyn followed. Cassy came out the front door to the Tavern. She ran up to Caden and handed him a loaf of bread.
"Come back again," she said. "Ok?"
Caden nodded.

Rilyn led Caden to the east gate. Identical to the first, except the vertical sign read, "出口 東Tinate."
"Father Achilleos said the Dragon Knights went west," Rilyn said. "They have a training camp they bring new recruits to."
"Don't you find it odd that they didn't know about the draft here."
"From what I've heard of the Dragon Knights, it doesn't surprise me."
"You're right," Caden said. "A city this size, they must get enough volunteers that they don't need a draft."
"Yeah," Rilyn said. He walked past Caden. "That's what I meant."
They walked in silence for the rest of the morning. By noon, they exited the forest and no longer had the canopy protecting them from the hot mid-day sun. Caden mounted Starlight, and rode her while eating lunch. He gave Rilyn a spicy stew bread, and ate the last sour seaweed. He looked in his knapsack. He had two honey stews left, four spicy stews, and the loaf Cassy gave him. Cassy's bread was a simple soft wheat dinner loaf. Dinner loafs don't last as long as the stew bread. It would only be good for today, they'd need to eat it for dinner. But that meant finding something more for dinner.
"Can you hunt or fish or anything?" Caden asked.
"I can hunt," said Rilyn, "But not in the way that you're thinking."
"I think we should have picked up some more food before we left."
"That reminds me." Rilyn stopped and turned around. "I promised Father Achilleos that we would return after you finished your errand with the Dragon Knights."
"I told him what I knew about the Dragon Queen. He said that he wanted to hear the story from you since you were there."
Caden pulled on Starlights reigns and stopped. He dismounted and put his hand on the ties for the stone sword. Rilyn turned around and looked ahead. A lone traveler walked down the road towards them. He wore simple brown jodhpurs and a white tunic. A black leather satchel hung across his chest from his left shoulder.
"I don't see any weapons," Rilyn said. "Feeling a bit paranoid."
"Just cautious."
"Then use this." Rilyn passed him a brush axe from under his cloak.
Maybe Rilyn is right, thought Caden. He looked at the man. He didn't have the dark shroud, but neither did the bandits. He didn't have any weapons, but that itself is strange to travel without protection. The highways aren't that safe. Caden stepped away from the stone sword, and put the brush axe into his knapsack. He kept his hand inside the bag on the handle.
The man stopped ten paces away. He looked at Rilyn and Caden. They looked at him. "Hail and well met, travellers."
"Good day, sir."
"I'm Ramone, a simple traveling merchant," said Ramone. "May I ask your names?"
"A merchant?" asked Caden. "Convenient, since I was just thinking about needing to buy food."
"Not convenient, my boy. Providence." Ramone opened his satchel and took out a red cloth.
"For a merchant," said Rilyn, "you're traveling without much to sell."
Ramone took off his satchel and dropped it next to the road. "If you take your hands off of your weapons, I'll show you."
Caden looked at Rilyn. What do you think?
Rilyn looked at Caden. He doesn't look dangerous.
Caden took his hand out of his knapsack. He left the brush axe inside. Rilyn moved his hands out from under his cloak.
"Talking with your eyes," said Ramone. "You must be long time travel companions." Ramone unfolded the cloth. It was thirty hands wide by 45 hands long. He whipped the cloth into the air. It floated down. As it came down, the center was supported by something that wasn't there. The edges dropped down till they touched the road. It looked like the cloth was covering a stack of boxes. Ramone grabbed the cloth and pulled it off. Underneath was several crates. He rolled up the cloth and set it down in the grass.
"How did you?" Rilyn asked.
"That wasn't wizardry or witchcraft," Caden said.
"You're right, but I can't answer your question, because I don't know. It's just a very useful tool I picked up in my travels." Ramone grabbed a pry-bar that was lying on one of the crates. "Hard to get robbed when they can't find your wares."

That night, Caden and Rilyn camped just off of the highway. The highway crossed a river. They got water and Caden built a fire on a large flat rock protruding out into the water. They sat around the fire and roasted fish. Ramone even gave them a good deal on preserves for the bread.
"Rilyn, you've travelled more then I," Caden said. "Have you ever seen a magic that could create something from nothing?"
"No, but perhaps I haven't traveled as much as you think I have." Rilyn stuffed the last of the bread into his mouth, and stood up. "Finish eating. You still need more practice with your swords."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Chapter 6: The Price of Redemption (Mark I)

Rilyn sat up all night with Father Achilleos. They talked till the sun rose and Caden descended from the tower with the young woman behind him. Rilyn watched as they walked into the temple. Caden's face looked like it was carved from wax. He stood there, staring forward, not blinking. The woman kissed him on the cheek.

"Thanks," she said. She walked out of the temple.
"Well, looks like that worked out for the best," Father Achilleos said. He stood up, and took Rilyn by the hand. "Remember what I said. And come back to see me after you've finished your errand with the Dragon Knights. May the sages guide you on your journey."
Rilyn walked over next to Caden. "What happened up there?"
"I don't want to talk about it." Caden walked to the door. "Let's depart."
Father Achilleos watched them leave. "That boy." Father Coteson walked to his study, and pulled an ancient book from the shelf.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Chapter 6: Witch (Mark I)

The crowd of people hauled two woman bound to seven foot stakes. One was an old woman, in her seventies. The other was a young brunette, barely over 17 harvest. The old woman was cackling and crying out about the crowd being tortured for a thousands years and black death reigning from above, destroying the town.

The young woman was shouting, "I'm not a witch."
Caden heard about witches in temple service, but had never seen one before. He didn't know if he was actually seeing one right now. What he did know was, the old crone had the same shroud of darkness as Father Coteson, the undead Dragon Knights, and the Bandit leader in the forest. Yet the young girl, she didn't have it. She looked normal, like everyone else in the crowd.
"Rilyn," said Caden. "I think that girl is telling the truth."
"What? Why?"
"Doesn't the older woman remind you of the bandit leader who vanished on the highway?"
"Well, she does have the same eyes, but that's not all that strange on someone her age."
"No, the black shroud."
"What shroud?"
"You don't see that darkness surrounding her?"
"No," Rilyn said. "And the bandit leader had the same thing?"
"Same with Father Coteson."
"And the girl doesn't?"
"Right," Caden said. "We have to save her."
"So do you want to tell the angry mob that they got the wrong person?"
"Follow me." Caden pushed through the crowd and ran down a side street.

Caden and Rilyn emerged from an alley. They were at the temple mall. Large, flat, white stones paved the ground. The mob was already there, carrying the two women into the temple.
"Damn." Caden punched the side of the alley. "I was hoping to beat them here."
Rilyn noticed the cracks left in the stone from Caden's punch. "I'm surprised we got here when we did." Rilyn walked past Caden and onto the mall. "After all, you did try to take a short cut in a city you've never been to."
"How hard is it to head towards the giant stone tower." Caden pointed at the white marble tower above the temple. It was the tallest building in Tinate.
"Apparently it is," said Rilyn. "Judging from the number of dead ends you lead us to." He looked back at Caden. "What do you want to do now?"
"Only thing we can do," Caden said. "We wait for the crowd to leave, then we speak with the Father."

The sun was setting by the time the crowd completely disbursed. The Father was walking in the garden, tending to the plants. He wore the daily vestments of plain white shirt and pants under his black and silver coat. The holy, ten-pointed star was embroidered in gold on the back of his jacket. Caden and Rilyn walked with him as he moved through the garden.
"So why don't you think she's evil?" he asked.
"It's hard to explain, Father Achilleos," Caden said. "But I feel a fire in my gut telling me that this is the right thing to do."
Father Achilleos stopped next to a flowering tree. He lifted a shriveled, rotting flower in his gloved hand. "This flower isn't evil, it'll soon be dead. Yet if left on the tree, the rot will spread to the other flowers. If left untended, the disease will consume more flowers and leaves, till the tree can no longer function. It won't die from the rot, but it will die from the loss. Do you understand what I'm saying?" Father Achilleos snipped the flower off and handed it Caden.
"I wonder if that's true."
"I will save her from the rot."
"It's not easy, they have already been placed on the top of the Shrift Tower." Father Achilleos pointed to the white marble tower. "The only thing you can do now, is stand witness to her judgment by the goddess."
Caden looked up at the tower. "Very well."
"You might get cut off with the flower you want to save."
He walked into the temple. "I know."
"Interesting boy you're traveling with." Father Achilleos turns to Rilyn. "Does he know about you?"
"He knows nothing." They turn and watch Caden enter the shadows inside the temple.
"Come, my child," Father Achilleos lead Rilyn into the temple. "I sense that you're in need of some absolution yourself."

Caden stood on top of the spire. The roof was flat, with no walls on the outside edge. He was next to the chained women. The old hag screamed like she was being burned. The young girl cried. The wind whipped through his hair and clothes. Caden watched the sunset. When the last part of the sun fell below the horizon, the sky flashed green. Caden raised his arms and shielded his eyes. The wind picked up and he felt like he was going to be blown off the edge.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Chapter 5: Tinate (Mark I)

Caden and Rilyn walked along the highway. The weapons were put away, and Caden massaged his shoulder. Rilyn moved behind Caden. When he got next to Starlight, she nipped at him. Rilyn jumped away. Caden pulled the reigns.
"I don't think she likes me," Rilyn said.

"She senses that you're afraid of her," said Caden. "That makes her in charge. With animals, it's all about who's the master."
"Yeah," said Rilyn. "But people aren't that way."
"You're not going to start up on the bandits again?"
"It was a mistake to leave them alive."
"Enough already," Caden said. "One is never going to be able to walk right again, and if infection sets in, the other is going to lose his sword arm. Even if he avoids infection, wounds like that never heal straight. We won't see them again."
"You know what they say, a wounded Kryptop is the most dangerous."
Where does he get these sayings? "Besides, you stole their bush axes," Caden said. "So I guess they're wounded and toothless Kryptops."
Caden and Rilyn walked through the southern gate of Tinate. The gate had two massive stone pillars, each almost 5 fathom's tall and 15 hands wide. They were 1 and a half fathom's apart. The pillars were connected by two cross beams, one above the other. In the center of the cross beams, a vertical sign displayed, " Tinate." Four guards, two on each side, stood at the gate.
Caden stopped under the gate. Rilyn continued to walk. The guards looked at him. The traffic moved around him. "Um? Excuse me?" asked Caden.
"What do you want, kid?"
"Have the Dragon Knights passed through here?"
"Who're they?" asked the first Guard.
"Don't know know that Dragon's don't exist, kid?" said the second guard. "Now get lost."
Caden looked at them. They started making jokes about dragons. Caden pulled on Starlight's reigns and caught up to Rilyn.
They searched the city for cheap lodging. They settled on the Blue Fox. Caden tied Starlight up in the central courtyard next to a trough. They walked into the common room. Caden looked at the barkeep. He knodded at them, so they sat at a table near the fire place.
Caden leaned next to Rilyn. "I hope it's okay for me to be here."
"Why wouldn't it?" asked Rilyn.
"In Erdon, they said I was too young."
The serving girl walked over to the table. Caden guessed that she was about 20 harvests. Caden stared, she wore only a black skirt, yellow camisole, and red bodice. She set two mugs down. "If you're hungry, we have lamb, roasted with onions, potatoes, and carrots. I can fix you up with some bread and cheese if you prefer that. We have rooms available. If you want separate chambers, it'll cost 30 swans, but only 20 if you share a room." She looked at Caden staring. "If you want company tonight, that costs more."
Rilyn kicked Caden under the table. Caden looked away from the serving girl's chest and looked at Rilyn. "We'll share a room, thanks," said Rilyn. "And bring us two plates of lamb, and some bread and cheese to share, and make the next round a pitcher of dark stout."
"Sure thing, sweetie." The serving girl walked off.
Caden stared at her leaving. "Maybe we should look for some place cheaper," he said. He turned to Rilyn. "I only have about 12 swans."
"Relax," Rilyn said. "The mayor knew you wouldn't have any money. He's covering all of this." Rilyn removed the coins from under his cloak. "Just promise not to do anything stupid and lose what money you do have."
"What's that mean?" Caden took a drink from his mug. The clear liquid felt like fire. Caden coughed.
"And go easy on the shine."
The serving girl set down the plates, a loaf of bread, a wheel of cheese with a small knife, and a pitcher. She winked at Caden. "My name's Cassy, by the way." She took Rilyn's coin and left. Caden watched her leave again.

Caden left the table shortly after eating. The shine and stout made his face feel hot, and the rest of his body feel very tired. He remembered that he'd been awake since the night before. He went out into the court yard, and brushed and fed Starlight. He took the saddle, stone sword, and his knapsack into their room. He fell asleep as soon as he hit the bed.

Caden woke up in the middle of the night. Someone was taking his boots off. He looked up and saw a figure moving in the dim light. He squinted, and in the shadows saw a woman moving around the room. He rolled over and pulled the blanket over his head.

The next morning, Caden woke up after Rilyn was already up and out of the room. He walked over to the dresser where there was a pitcher and bowl. He poured the cold water into the bowl and washed his face. Then he opened the window and dumped it outside. He put his boots on and walked out of the room into the courtyard.
Caden found Rilyn eating in the common room. "Have fun last night?" Caden sat down.
"What do you mean?" Rilyn ate a bowl of pumpkin porridge.
"I woke up last night. I saw that you brought Cassy back to our room."
"I think you are confused," Rilyn said. He took a sip from a steaming mug. "It was only us in the room last night."
"What ever, I know what I saw."
Cassy walked up and gave Caden a bowl of porridge and a steaming mug. She was dressed more conservatively that morning.
"The guards said they didn't know who the Dragon Knights were." Caden took a bite of porridge. "What's up with that," he said with his mouth full."
"Cover your mouth, you barbarian."
Caden swallowed. "Sorry."
"After you went to bed last night, I asked around. It seems they're called the King's Knights around here." Rilyn looked around the room and leaned across the table. "And I wouldn't say anything about the Dragon Queen here, either," he said in a soft whisper.
Rilyn and Caden looked out the front window. A loud commotion of people were walking past. They both heard the crowd shouting, "Witches!"

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Chapter 5: Highway Robbery (Mark I)

Caden rode Starlight for a while, then dismounted. "Would you like to rest for a while?" asked Caden.

"No thanks," Rilyn said. "I'm fine just walking."
"Come on." Caden handed him the reigns. "Your training routine this morning put us behind schedule. I don't want to stop for another break."
Rilyn stared at the horse.
"What are you waiting for?"
Rilyn grabbed the horse's mane and the saddle. He tried to pull himself up. The horse cried out and bit Rilyn on the arm. "Ow, you stupid beast!" He let go of Starlight and she trotted ahead 20 paces.
Caden fetched Starlight and walked her back. "What was that?" He looked at Rilyn rubbing his arm. "You would think you've never seen a horse."
"Actually, I haven't," Rilyn said. "We don't have them where I come from."
"Where are you from?"
"Doesn't matter. I can't return."
Caden stared at Rilyn rubbing his arm. "That's going to bruise, but it's better then if she had kicked you." Caden tied Starlight to a low tree branch. "Come here, I'll teach you some basics so you can play nice with the old girl."

Rilyn rode on Starlight, but didn't feel comfortable with the commands. So he just sat on her back while Caden led the horse on foot. Caden saw something dark moving in the woods. "You know," he said. "We need to be careful. If someone saw me leading your horse, they might think your royalty."
"Why? Nobles don't know how to ride either?"
Caden watched the dark movement. "I'm sure they do," he said. "But Sir Eric says that actual riding is considered below them. So they either ride in Carriages or have some one lead the horse on foot."
"In that case," said Rilyn. "I think I'll get off for now."
Caden stopped the horse. "That's a good idea." The dark shape in the forest stopped too. Caden helped Rilyn climb down. The horse snorted and stamped it's foot. "In fact, why don't we resume our training from earlier?"
"I thought you wanted keep moving?"
"I did." Caden looked Rilyn in the eyes. "But you can never be too careful."
Rilyn looked out the corner of his eyes. He nodded and moved his arms under his cloak. Caden untied the stone sword and let it drop. He bent over to pick it up.
Clink, clink! Rilyn had a curved sword out and deflected two daggers. The landed at Caden's feet. Caden knelt on the ground and rested the stone sword on his shoulder. He never saw a sword like Rilyn's before. It was six hands long and curved to form a half circle. It had a single edge on the inside curve. The outside was etched to resemble a ring of flames.
Caden watched the black shape move again. Laughter came from the woods, and three men came out. The each held up a black steel brush axe.
"I'm impressed you saw them," Rilyn said.
"I didn't." Caden watched the black shape. "I saw him."
Rilyn looked at where Caden was looking, but didn't see anyone.
"Looks like we have quite the pair here," said one of the men.
"They got lucky with the knives," said another. "But what are they planning on doing with a bent sword and stone log."
"This is a half sun blade," Rilyn said. "Pray the full sun never rises." He raised the blade over his head, and held it to the side. It looked like a sun rising over the horizon.
Caden looked at Rilyn, he stood up, keeping the stone sword propped on his shoulder. "I'll have you know," he said, "this sword is a Sacred Artifact of the Five Sages."
The three men rushed forward. Caden flipped his sword over his shoulder and crashed it into the lead man's sword arm. His arm shattered, bone splitting and protruding from the skin. Rilyn sidestepped the second man's attack and hit him in the throat with the inner curve of her blade. She pulled him off his feet and dropped him to the ground. He hit the ground dead. Blood gushed from the deep cut in his neck. Caden turned and spun the sword in a circle. He hit the third man in the knee. The man's knee gave out with a crunch. He fell to the ground, his leg bent in the wrong direction.
Caden lifted the stone sword in one hand, and pointed it into the woods. "Why don't you come out too."
The men with shattered bones screamed, vomited, and passed out.
Rilyn stared at Caden holding the massive sword so easily. He followed the sword's blade to where it pointed into the woods. He saw a man there, young, and extremely strong. But his eyes were sunken. The skin around his eyes were black, and had more wrinkles then anyone Rilyn had ever seen before. He smiled, his gums were black and purple, his tongue was swollen and gray.
"Impressive," he said. "I'll be looking forward to meeting you again." He backed away into the woods. Caden saw the darkness vanish like smoke.
"We should go after him," Rilyn said.
Caden turned his sword and grabbed the blade in his free hand. "I don't think we'll be able to catch him."
"I guess you weren't lying." Rilyn looked at the sword. "But a Sacred Artifact?"
"Well." Caden laughed. He let go of the blade and rubbed his head. "I did find it in the crypt of a temple."
Rilyn giggled. Caden looked at Rilyn, his laugh sounded very girly.
Caden dropped the stone sword and grabbed his arm. "Ow!"
"What's wrong?"
"I don't know," Caden said. "The sword just got too heavy." Caden lifted his arm. "Ow, I think I pulled my shoulder."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Chapter 5: Buried in the Sand (Mark I)

Caden and Rilyn walked for the rest of the night. Caden never rode Starlight. They reached the highway by sunrise. The road to Erdon was marked by an old well next to a log lean-to and trough. Caden drew water from the well and filled the trough. He let Starlight drink while he sat in the lean-to.

"Planning on taking a break already?"
"No," Caden said.
"Just asking," said Rilyn. "Because when I ran away from home, I went more then a couple of hours away."
"This is the farthest I've ever traveled from my home."
"So what?" Rilyn dropped the bucket into the well. "Eric told me you wanted to leave that town."
"Hey! Do you even remember what it was like to leave your home for the first time?"
"Yeah." Rilyn pulled the rope and hauled the full bucket out. "It was a month ago. And I haven't looked back." He carried the bucket to Caden. "Like you, staying home meant death."
"I'm not going die if I stay in Erdon."
"You're not?"
"No!" Caden yelled.
"Staying put, delivering bread every morning, getting married and raising a home," said Rilyn. "While every year, the Dragon Knights come, and choose people, but never you? Watching the people you know, leave you behind and live the life you dream of?"
Caden looked at the bucket in Rilyn's hands.
"There are ways of dying that don't leave you buried in the sand."
"I will join the Dragon Knights," Caden said. He looked Rilyn in the eyes.
"Not like that you won't." Rilyn set the bucket down. "Unless you want to be buried in the sand, get that sword of yours off the horse."
Caden looked down the road, back to Erdon. Rilyn picked up the bucket and threw the water on Caden. "What?" Caden shook his head.
"I said, get your sword and..."
Caden ran at Rilyn. He threw a punch with all of his strength. Rilyn stepped to the side. Caden's punch missed. It passed by Rilyn's ear. Rilyn's elbow hit Caden in the solar plexus while he drew a dirk. He put the tip against Caden's neck.
"As I said, you'll be buried in the sand." Rilyn put his dagger away. "Your Mayor charged me with making sure that doesn't happen."

When they started, Caden couldn't lift the stone sword. When they finished, Caden couldn't lift his own arms. He laid on his back in front of the lean-to. He stared at the light filtering through the trees.
Rilyn looked at his stone sword. "I could break this thing," he said. "Then you'll have a better chance of clubbing someone with it."
"No. I can use it. I saved the children."
"From a grumpy, moldy old man," Rilyn said, "in robes. That's hardly proof of your prowess against a trained fighter. This thing is going to get you killed."
Caden sat up. "Don't doubt me. I was able to lift it in one hand."
Rilyn looked at Caden's skinny arms. "I doubt that." Rilyn opened Caden's knapsack and took out two loaves. He tossed one to Caden. "Eat, drink, then we need to get moving." Rilyn broke the hard outer crust.
"Wait." Rilyn looked at Caden. "Switch loaves."
Rilyn looked at the two loaves. His was darker. He thought it was over cooked and burnt a little. He shrugged and swapped loaves with Caden. He broke the lighter loaf in half and bit into the meaty filling. He cringed and puckered at the taste. It was the most sour thing he ever put into his mouth. And there was a lingering taste of something he never had before. He looked at the bread, it was dotted with green specks.
Caden laughed. "You're really not from around here," he said. "Don't worry, I don't care for the sour seaweed stew either." He broke open his bread and took a big bite. "Now the sweet honey stew is to die for." Bits of food flew from his mouth as he talked. He picked up his knapsack. "Next time, don't take my food without asking."
Rilyn smiled. He watched Caden untie the horse and lead it out onto the highway. He looked down at the disgusting bread. He took another bite and forced himself to eat it while following Caden.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Chapter 5: The road to Tinate (Mark I)

A week passed, and the Dragon Queen had not returned. It seemed like the old stories were true. A sacrificed daughter would appease the queen and she would not return for a year and a day. The stories did not say why she wanted the sacrifice.

Caden was there. He saw the Dragon Queen take Keilee. It didn't kill her, it took her. He knew she was still alive. No one else believed him. Even if it took her alive, it would have eaten her by now. She was dead, the town held a memorial for her, and thanked her for saving the town.
Yet no one thanked Harron.
The town did not mention the role he played in the sacrifice of his daughter. He saved them, they knew that. But no one approved. Harron returned to his homestead with the remainder of his family. No one went out to check on them. No one would consider talking with him.
In that week, the people were busy rebuilding their town. Sir Eric eventually recovered, but moped around worse then before. No one ever saw him sober anymore. He just walked around the town with a bottle of shine in his left hand. His right arm and shoulder were gone.
The stranger, Rilyn, even helped out with the rebuilding. He had recovered and was only using a cane instead of a crutch.
Caden fought a different battle. He tried to convince his father to let him go after the Dragon Knights. To get them to mobilize and hunt down the Dragon Queen, and save Keilee. His father refused. He told his father that someone had to notify the church of Father Coteson's actions. His father refused.

Caden crept into the kitchen late at night. He carried a knapsack with a change of clothes. His father had been baking a lot of stew rolls lately. Giving them to the workers around the town. It was a good bread, hard outer crust allowed it to last for days. Inside was a soft bread stuffed with meat, vegetables, gravy, and potatoes. Caden preferred the spicy and sweet flavors, but couldn't tell which were which in the dark. So he opened his knapsack and filled it with loaves from all three trays.
He moved a bench over to the ovens and climbed up. On top was a small lock box. Caden grabbed the box and brought it down. Inside was a handful of coins. He took about half. Right now, neighbors were helping neighbors. His father received free ingredients as long as he gave free bread to the people working. But it wouldn't last, and Caden wanted to leave him with enough to buy what he would need.
His father's mare, Starlight, was old, past 10 harvests. Caden walked her out of his father's back yard and through town. He wasn't going to ride her until they were past the hollows left by the dragon's attack. Instead he carefully lead her down each one and back up the other side.
He passed the temple, and saw the stone sword laying in the garden where he left it. He walked over and picked it up. He could barely lift it. He tried to swing it, but failed. He didn't understand why he couldn't lift it anymore.
"What are you planning on doing with that?" Rylin stepped out from under a tree. In the moonlight, his hat cast a shadow over his eyes.
"Protection," Caden said. "Bandits are on the highway, and I've heard people talk about the gremlins attacking at night."
"And what good will it do you if you can't lift it?"
"Hey, I can lift it." Caden strapped the sword to Starlight. "I saved the kids using this sword. And I'm going to save it Keilee with it."
"You're going to get yourself killed."
"Why are you here, Rilyn?"
"The mayor said you were going to be leaving tonight," said Rilyn. He picked up a sack, threw it over his shoulder, and tied it in place. "Asked me to go with you."
"How could he have known that?"
"I don't know, kid. So where are we going?"
"The Dragon Knights left town, heading north. So I'm going to check Fort Tinate first."
"Lead the way."
Rilyn wasn't stopping him, so Caden didn't care what he did. Rilyn followed Caden as they walked out of town. They exited the northern gate and followed the road till they reached the highway.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Chapter 4: Save Erdon? (Mark I)

Thadeus Silverthorn took Caden aside. "Caden, you're father doesn't want you to go, but I think you are the best choice."

"Why?" asked Caden.
"Do you have to ask? Or are happy that it gets you what you want."
"I guess so." Caden looked around for Keilee. She had disappeared while he was talking to the mothers. "It just seems like no one else in this town thinks so."
"I've been around long enough to see things most people miss." Thadeus put his hand on Caden's shoulder. "Now, tell me about how you saved the children."

Harron held his daughter by the arm. She followed him, but continued to look up at the sky. Harron used the time that Thadeus was distracted by Caden to leave the temple unnoticed. They walked out to the town square. There was a large pole in the center of the town square, and Harron was glad that it still stood. Ropes with broken lanterns hung from the top.
Harron tied Keilee to the pole. "Why are you doing this?" she cried.
"I'm sorry, but the scriptures are clear." He pulled the ropes tighter. "Before the Queen was sealed, we appealed her with female sacrifices. You are going to save the town."
Rilyn was helping Sir Eric through town. He survived the dragon attack, but his right arm was caught in the blast. It vanished with the rest of the Tavern. Rilyn heard the screams and pulled Sir Eric out the backdoor as the building was destroyed by the dragon's attack.
Sir Eric was lucky, he was already passed out from drinking too much. Yet Rilyn did not envy him waking up to finding his right arm missing. Rilyn watched Harron tie the girl up. He adjusted Sir Eric and left the square.
Harron lit two fires, one on each side of Keilee. She just hung her head and cried.

Rilyn carried Sir Eric into the temple. He placed him with the rest of the injured. Only a handful of people managed to survive being hit by the Dragon Queen's attack. Caden walked over to them.
"It's good to see that you survived," said Caden. "I'd heard that Sir Eric died."
"Not dead," said Rilyn. "But he's not lucky either." Rilyn laid a blanket over Sir Eric. "Who was that girl you were with last night?"
Caden looked at Rilyn. "At the town social?"
"Her name's Keilee. I didn't think you would have noticed us."
"Hmm... Well, Keilee is being tied to a post in town square right now."
"What?" Caden looked around the room. He didn't see Keilee anywhere. Outside the Dragon Queen roared. Caden ran out of the temple.

Caden reached the town square in time to see the Dragon Queen land. It crushed several buildings that were still standing. It's tail swept through the half destroyed remains of other houses. Keilee screamed. The Dragon Queen reached forward and grabbed her and the pole she was tied to. It snapped the pole.
Caden ran at the dragon. It spread it's wings and flapped them. The wings sent gusts of wind down that blew Caden down. A few more flaps and it was airborne. The gusts knocked houses over. Caden stood back up and watched the Dragon Queen carry Keilee away.
Keilee screamed Caden's name. He ran after her and the dragon till they disappeared into sky. He fell to the ground. Tears running down his face.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Chapter 4: The Death of Erdon (Mark I)

The town of Erdon was gone. Some buildings remained, and parts of other buildings still stood. But most of the buildings were gone, replaced by deep holes and long hollows. Caden walked into town along the main road. The children huddled around him. The streets were deserted.

Caden couldn't figure out what happened. There was no smoke, no fire. The buildings were just gone. Long deep hollows cut through the ground, and when they passed through a building, that part of the building was gone. There was no debris or anything else left.
The Dragon Queen roared in the distance. The children cried and grabbed Caden. Caden lifted the stone sword, it was getting heavy again. "Don't worry," he told the children. "We'll just go to the temple. The Five Sages will protect us there." Caden said a silent prayer for the temple to still be there.

The temple still stood. Caden and the children walked towards the sacred gate. The deep hollows lead up to the temple, then stopped. The gardens around the temple were untouched.
The Dragon Queen roared. Caden looked back. It was flying straight for them. It's massive black wings blocking out the midmorning sun. It's mouth opened, and a ball of black darkness formed. Everything around it was stretched and distorted, like it was consuming the very light around it. The ball stretched into a streak. It struck the ground and the ground vanished, leaving a deep hollow as it approached.
Caden and the children ran for the sacred gate. One child tripped and fell. Caden heard him crying. "Keep running!" He told the children. He stopped and looked back. The black streak hit the child, and the crying stopped. The child was gone, and the black streak closed in on Caden.

The town was huddled inside the temple. Mother's cried over their missing children. The men were gathered at the entrance. They held tools and poles, anything that would pass for a weapon. Mayor Silverthorn stood in the middle of them.
"Have you found anymore survivors?" asked Thadeus.
Max, the barber, closed his razors. "No, everyone seems to be here already, or they're missing."
Caden's father didn't have anything for a weapon. "I saw what that darkness does to people," he said. "Anyone not in here, is dead."
"Your son hasn't been seen since last night," Thadeus said. "Maybe he wasn't in town."
"What about Sir Eric?" Max asked. "He was trained to slay dragons."
Caden's father shook his head. "I asked around. He was in the tavern when it got hit."
"Then we only have one choice," said Harron. "We have to bring back the old ways."
"No, we are not going back to that," said Thadeus. "Who would we sacrifice?"
"A lottery. Just like they did back then." The old men looked at each other.
"I'll never approve of such a thing," said Thadeus. "The Dragon Knights were here yesterday. They couldn't have gone far. If someone can fetch them, they'll return with an army." Thadeus looked at each man, daring them to disagree with him. "We're safe inside the temple."
"But who will we send?" asked Harron.
The doors opened. Everyone in the temple looked.
"I'll go," said Caden. He was dirty and bloody. His green tunic was torn and stained. The children huddled behind him.
The crying children ran to their mothers. Keilee saw Caden and ran to him. "Caden!" she called. He walked past her. She stopped and watched him pass to some mothers who were looking for their kids in the group.
Caden dropped his head. "I'm sorry."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Chapter 3: The Dragon Queen (Mark I)

Caden climbed the rough cut stairs. The passage narrowed. Caden turned to his side, and squeezed through. The torch heated up the tight space. Caden sweated. His shirt caught on the rock and ripped. He saw the light outside. Light outside, how long was he in those tunnels? Vines and ivy covered the exit. Caden dropped the torch and pushed through the plants.

He emerged from a crevice in a large rock. The morning sun shone through the forest canopy. He blinked as he looked around. The forest was quiet. Not a single bird sang. The people in town had to have noticed the missing children by now. What will they do when they find the stairs behind the altar? What will they do if they find the bodies of the Dragon Knights?
Caden hefted the stone sword in one hand. It didn't feel heavy anymore. He guessed that it had to be over a stone in weight. He lifted the stone sword. Before, it was too heavy for him to lift with two hands, now he held it in one hand. It was carved imathia green marble, and over 20 hands in length.
He took the time to figure out where he was. He saw a large tree above the stone he climbed out of. It had a thick twine rope tied around it, with white and red ribbons. Caden recognized the tree, and the rock he climbed out of. It was the heart of the Dragon Queen. It was said the Five Great sages sealed the Dragon Queen's heart, a diamond the size of a human head, inside the stone. He never knew the stone was split in half before.
He walked down the path to the Dragon's Maw. Father Coteson stood in the clearing. Surrouned by the rows of sharp jagged boulders. The Queen's half buried teeth. The children stood next to the boulders, not moving.
Father Coteson's staff burned with green fire. He held up the Queen's heart. He chanted in the ancient temple language. Caden could only make out a few words. "δράκος βάσιλισσα," meant Dragon Queen, and "επιστροφή," meant the return.
The giant diamond pulsed. It started beating to the rhythm of his chant. With every pulse, red flowed through it, until it looked like a real heart. Father Coteson dropped the heart and it sank into the ground. Caden saw the black darkness around Father Coteson. It was the same darkness that let him see his attackers in the tunnel.
The ground shook, and split open. Flames errupted from the depth. The green fire on Father Coteson's staff flashed. The ground crumbled away, leaving a fiery ring around Father Coteson. The children's eyes flashed with the green fire. "Come my children," he said. "Step into the pit, feed the Queen, and we shall purify the world."
Caden ran into the clearing. The children stepped forward. Caden jumped over the pit and brought the stone sword down on Father Coteson's wrist. The bones shattered. He dropped the staff. The children stopped.
"You fool," said Father Coteson. "You have no idea what's going on here." He waved his good hand at Caden. The green flame shot up from the staff and into Caden's eyes. "Now, step into the pit with the children." Father Coteson smiled and looked into Caden's eyes.
The tip of the stone sword hit the ground. Caden turned towards the pit. He stepped forward. The children stepped forward. Father Coteson picked up his staff. "Good boy," he said.
Caden grabbed the sword in both hands and swung it around. It dragged a circle around Caden. He lifted it up as he swung it into Father Coteson. The stone sword snapped the staff in half. He cleaved through into Father Coteson. Caden heard Father's ribs crack.
Father Coteson stumbled back. "How?" He fell backwards into the pit.

Caden and the children ran back to the village. The ground continued to shake and tremble. An earthquake shook the ground. Caden and the children fell to the ground. Trees snapped and fell around them.
They looked up, and saw the Dragon Queen rising from beneath the ground. Trees, rocks, and dirt fell from her scales. Her black body sparkled in the morning sunlight. It spread it's wings, and blocked out the sun. It looked to be almost four furlongs tall. It raised it's massive head and let out a roar. The ground shook, and Caden felt the sound in his bones. The children cried.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Chapter 3: Darkness (Mark I)

Caden squinted, then blinked. He stood in absolute darkness. He couldn't see his own hands. Yet he saw three shapes coming at him. Somehow, they looked darker then total darkness. Caden watched them move. They took slow and steady steps.

The first one moved faster. It closed the ten foot gap in an instant. Caden stepped back. A line of fire was drawn across his stomach. He touched the hole in his tunic and felt the warm wetness spreading.
It moved again. Caden ducked. The steel sword rang when it hit against stone. Crack. A large object fell on Caden. The shape moved again. Caden smelled herbs and dried flowers. Clank. The steel sword bounced off the heavy object on Caden's back.
He touched it. The stone was rough. It had ridges carved into it's round surface. Lower, the round shape became flat. It was a statue's stone sword.
Clank. The steel sword bounced off of the stone one. The other two shapes where standing back. They waited for the first to move. Caden grabbed the stone sword in both hands. He screamed as he lifted the sword onto his shoulder, then flipped it over.
The sword came down at the dark shape. It moved. The stone sword hit the steel sword. The weight was too great and knocked the steel sword to the ground. The black shape fell under the sword and disappeared.
Caden couldn't see it anymore. The next shape rushed at him. Caden spun around, dragging the stone sword in a circle. The stone sword scrapped against the floor. Caden lifted the sword up and spun it around in time to catch the second dark shape in the midsection. It hit the wall and disappeared.
Before he could recover, the third shape was on top of him. It moved, and Caden brought the sword up. The steel sword bounced off of the stone one. The tip was caught in the corner between the floor and the wall. Caden held the handle up, and knelt under the blade.
The third one attacked faster then the first. Caden's arm was tired from the weight of the stone and the force of the impact. But the attacks were too fast. He didn't have time to do anything between strikes.
Clank. "One, two, three," Caden counted. Clank. "One, two, three." Clank. "One, two, three." Clank.
"One, two." Caden rolled back. He lowered the handle, but held onto it. The shape struck, missed, and fell forward. Caden lifted the sword up and smashed it in the face. It stumbled back. Caden ran forward and put his shoulder into it. It fell down. He used his shoulder for leverage and flipped the sword onto the dark shape on the floor.
It disappeared. Caden dropped the stone sword.

He couldn't see anything. He felt along the wall until he found a torch bracket. He fumbled with a flint and small knife. Eventually, he got the sparks to land on the oil drenched rag, and the torch burned. He turned to look for his attackers. When he saw them, he fell to the ground and vomited.
He knew these men. One was Max the Barber's son, his head was crushed down the middle. The one against the wall, almost cut in half, was the woodcutter's brother. And the third, laying on it's back with the stone sword on top of him, was the blacksmith's only son.
Only, they were already dead. They were the three dead Dragon Knights which Father Coteson honored at the the funeral earlier that day. Straw and preservative herbs had fallen from their bodies and was scattered across the floor.
Caden stood up. He grabbed the stone sword. It didn't feel as heavy as it did before. The torch flickered. Caden looked at it. It flickered again, moving the way he had come from. He took the torch from the bracket, and held it up in front of the first two passages. It burned steady. But when he held it before the third passage, it flickered again.
Caden walked down the third passage. He carried the stone sword over his shoulder. He followed the draft till he got outside.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Chapter 3: A splitting headache (Mark I)

Sam beat the dough with her spoon. "How could you do that?"

"I know," Caden said. "I'll apologize to her in the morning."
"Apologize to who?"
"Keilee, I shouldn't have just left her like that."
Sam cracked the spoon against the table. Splinters flew at Caden. He turned away, the splinters stuck into his hair. "That's not what I'm talking about."
"What are you talking about?"
"You are so clueless."
"Caden!" cried Keilee. "Caden! Come back."
"Keilee!" Caden ran out the kitchen door, and was standing in the middle of the town social. Some of the splinters in his hair caught fire. He brushed them away. "Keilee!"
Caden saw Keilee, sitting on the bench where he left her. She was crying. The fire remained in his hair. The heat was getting hotter, but it wasn't spreading, it was shrinking, growing more intense. Caden walked to Keilee. He pushed past the people in his way. "Keilee!"
Keilee was picked up and drawn away. "Caden!"
The fire got hotter, and thinner. Like a knife pressing into his skull. "Keilee!" The crowd disappeared, the town fell away. Leaving only Caden and Keilee. Yet Keilee was being pulled farther and farther away. Caden ran, but couldn't keep up. A bright light blinded him.

When he opened his eyes, he was looking straight up the circular stair case. His vision was blurry and doubled. The fire from his dream was still in his hair. He touched his head. The blood was matted into his hair. It was sticky and clotted.
He pushed against the stairs with his feet until he was lying flat on the floor. He heard his shirt rip. He looked straight up at a lit torch above his head. He grabbed at the wall and pulled himself up. He stood as the tunnel spun until the floor came up to meet his face.
He laid on the floor, just breathing. He waited for his vision to clear, everything return to one image, and his heart slow back down. Then he pushed himself up with his arms. He was sweating. He waited for the wave of nausea to pass. Then he slid his knees under himself and lifted his head. He leaned against the stone wall. The cool stone felt good against his burning face.

He didn't know how long he was unconscious. He didn't know how long he sat there, waiting to be able to walk again. But he was able to walk, and he followed the corridor. The corridor was long, and every twenty feet, there was a burning torch in a bracket. There were turn offs, multiple passages, but only the main one was lit. So he followed the light.
Caden looked at his tunic. It was ripped, stained with blood and dirt. He looked at where it shredded against the stone, and the bruises and scrapes underneath. Every part of his body ached and cried with each step.
Next to every torch bracket were two statues of Dragon Knights. They were huge, each was carved and fitted stone, and held a stone sword taller then Caden.
He stopped. He couldn't see where the next torch was. The path split into three tunnels, but none of them showed any light. He looked back the way he came. It'd be a long walk, and he didn't want to climb the stairs, but what choice did he have? He turned around and walked back. The tunnel ahead looked darker then before.
Then he saw it. The torch 200 feet ahead went out. Then the next one, and the next. Caden stood there and watched the darkness approach. He backed up till he got to the last lit torch.
One by one, the torches went out, bringing the darkness closer. They weren't burning out, they weren't dimming. The flames turned blue, then stopped.
Caden could hear his own heart beating. The torch only sixty feet away flashed blue and went out. With every beat of his heart, Caden heard another footstep. The torch forty feet away went out. Something was coming, and Caden didn't know what to do. The torch twenty feet away went out. He stood between two giant statues of Dragon Knights and spoke a prayer for protection.
The torch next to Caden flashed blue and went out. Shnick... Caden heard the slow sound. It sounded like when the barber drew his razors across his leather strip to keep them sharp. "Max?" Caden called. "Is that you?" Caden heard two more people following the first one.
Shnick... Shnick...

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Chapter 3: The plan (Mark I)

Caden walked through the empty streets. He kicked a loose stone and it clicked down the cobble stone road. He didn't want to leave the party. But he didn't want to stay either. He didn't want to stay in Erdon anymore. The quiet town, in the corner of the Kingdom. The only view of the outside world he had were Sir Eric's stories of the Dragon Knights.

Harron seemed to understand it. Why didn't anyone else in town? Maybe he could get Father Coteson on his side. Next time the Dragon Knights came through, he could talk to them. They would hardly turn down a direct request from the church. They served the church even before the king.
Caden stopped by a horse trough. He could see himself in the dark water. He would be a great Knight, and honored by the King above all others. Earning a seat in the royal court. Captain General of all the Dragon Knights, standing atop the bodies of countless slain dragons who attempted to return and free their Dragon Queen.
Yes, that was his plan. He walked to the temple. Father Coteson wasn't at the party, so he had to be the temple.

He reached the temple, and it was glowing in the night. Every window was lit up with a green glow from inside. The doors were open, and dozens of kids, all under ten harvests, were walking into the temple. Their eyes glowed with the same strange green fire.
Caden ran back to the town square. He was halfway there when he stopped. Something strange was going on. If he wanted to prove to Keilee, to all of them, that he had what it took to be a Dragon Knight, he knew that he could not run away.
So he returned to the temple.

Inside, there was no one. The dead still rested in the side alter, so that everyone could pay their respects for the next three days. The temple was quiet. A cold draft of night air blew through the open doors. The green fire was gone.
Caden walked down the long center aisle, past the rows of stone benches. He listened for any movement, but only heard the soft footsteps of his boots on the slate floor.
Clack. Caden stopped. He looked around the temple. Nothing changed, yet the shadows seemed deeper. As the wind blew a tree outside, Caden saw shapes moving from shadow to shadow.
He stepped up onto the first step. "Father Coteson?" he called. "Are you here?" Skrr... Caden ran up the last three steps. He moved behind the altar so he could see all parts of the temple.
He tripped as his foot failed to meet the floor. He fell down a hole behind the altar, and tumbled down a circular stair well. His head hit the stone stairs. As pain shot through his body, everything went black.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Chapter 3: And a party (Mark I)

Lanterns hung on ropes, illuminating the town square. Musicians played while people gathered. Caden's father set out his donation of meat pies and honey rolls. Thadeus Silverhorn, Erdon's elven mayor, walked up to the table and selected a honey roll. "Evening Caden, how's that boy of yours?"

"Absent minded as ever." Caden's father sighed. "All he ever thinks about are the Dragon Knights. I wish he was more dedicated like your daughter."
"Ha! Samaelus isn't dedicated to anything." Thadeus shakes his heads. "You know how kids are, last decade, she wanted to be a tailor, this decade she wants to be a baker. Next she'll want to be a painter or musician."
"Well, she can stay my apprentice as long as she likes. I might even give her the bakery someday."
"Remember, she may look like an adult." Thadeus put a hand on Caden's father's shoulder. "But she's more of a kid then your boy."

"Sam!" Caden called into her room. "What do you think looks better?" Caden walked into Sam's room holding a red tunic and a blue one.
Sam looked up from her dresser. She's half dressed, yet neither of them notice. "I was thinking that maybe you could wear this one." She pulled out a deep green tunic with silver dragons embroidered on the shoulders.
"Wow, that's perfect, Sam." Caden took the shirt from her. "Where did you get it?"
"I made it." She selected a dress from her wardrobe. "It matches the dress I made for my self."
"I guess I'm lucky you had the extra fabric." Caden walked out the door.
"Caden!" He stopped. "I've been living off the kitchen, and working for your father for a while now."
"Yeah, like 7 harvests."
"Actually, it's been nine," she said. "But that's not important! I was thinking, it's almost your 16th harvest, maybe we don't have to go alone tonight."
"Oh, I won't. Keilee agreed to go with me." Caden holds up the green shirt. "Thanks for your help." Caden heads back to his room.

Caden arrived at the town square with Keilee at his side. She wore a dusty orange dress. They walked to the tables of food and drink. Sir Eric stumbled past them, and drew another mug of shine. Caden looked around and saw the stranger. He was sitting off to the side, watching the party.
"What do you think his problem is?"
"Who?" Keilee asked.
"Sir Eric! All he does is drink and talk bad about his fellow Dragon Knights."
"Dad says he's lucky to be alive."
"Why is that?"
"He was discharged from the Dragon Knights for some injury. He came back here to die, but when he recovered, the king honored his service by granting him some of our land."
"That's what I mean. He should be more grateful."
"Maybe it's what the Dragon Knights do."
"What's that mean?"
"Look around you."
Caden looked around at the gathered people. There were women every where. But the men were older then his father, or his age and younger. Most of the apprentices in the town were women, even the blacksmith was training his own daughter to take over the forge in a few years.
"If the Dragon Knights keep taking away the men," Keilee said, "only to bring them back in boxes..." She shook her head. "This town is going to die soon."
"You starting to sound like Sir Eric. It's an honor when they choose us to join them."
"Maybe, but this town needs more people like you." A tear ran down her cheek. "They want strong men like my brother."
"Hey, I'm strong, and I get stronger everyday."
"The Dragon Knights aren't going to choose you. Everyone sees it, you're the one person we can rely on always coming home."
"You know what, forget it." Caden walked away.
"Caden, wait!" Keilee stood. "I didn't mean it like that."
"I'm going to become one of them, and I'll return a hero."

Friday, February 1, 2008

Chapter 3: Funeral (Mark I)

"And let us praise the heavenly Goddess," Father Coteson of Blackwood raised his hands to the ceiling of the temple. "For while the Dragon Knights lost three of their own, they were able to find three new Knights to join their most holy of quests." Father Coteson dropped his hands in a sweeping motion toward the Stained glass windows depicting the five sages sealing away the Dragon Queen. The cloth of his vestments flowed around him. "Let them be honored and praised, for these are great tidings."

The crowd repeats, "Honored and praised."
"Yet one does not honor the sacrifice of the great sages," Father Coteson said as he folded his hands, "who died on this very spot." He looked out at the gathered faced. "The man who should honor this sacred hour above everyone else, can be found at the bottom of a mug." Father Coteson struck his hand out fast enough for his sleave to snap. It echoed in the silent temple. "Fear not! For I say this now! The heavenly goddess is sending forth a sword this very night! And she shall cut down the wicked and purge our town."
A murmur spread through the crowd.
Father Coteson folded his hands. "Show your devotion. Don't follow in his example. Stay home with your family tonight." He bowed his head. "So is the will of the gentle and merciful goddess."
Everyone in the crowd looked around. A few scattered voices called out, "So is the will."
"Now, let us pray for the dead."

As the temple bells rang, Caden ran to the temple doors. He was the first one there, and held them open for Father Coteson. He smiled. "The goddess will reward you, my son."
Caden continued to hold the door open as the townsfolk drifted out. Father Coteson bid people fair well in the temple garden. Caden watched as everyone left. He grabbed Keilee by the elbow as she walked out with her father.
Harron looked at Caden, and smiled. "Don't worry, m'boy. In two harvests, you'll be able to make this town proud."
Keilee rolled her eyes and looked away.
"I'll do my best, Sir."
Harron mussed Caden's hair. He walked over to speak with Father Coteson. His wife and other four daughters followed him.
"Cay--Den," Keilee smiled, "what do you want?"
"Um." Caden looked at the crowd filing out of the church. "You see. I was wondering."
"Do you want to go to the town social with me tonight?!" A couple people stopped as they left the temple, they laughed and walked away. Caden's cheeks burned red.
"I don't know." Keilee looked at her sisters. "I think there are a couple of girls who saw you first."
Caden looked at her sisters next to their father. They saw him looking, so turned away and giggled. "They're too young for me."
"The twins are the same age as you."
"I don't want to go with them, I want to go with you."
Keilee smiled. "Why is that?"
"Because. You know... You're the prettiest, and stuff."
"Really?" Caden looked straight into her eyes. She just smiled and nodded.