C.Y.O.A. Chapters

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C.Y.O.A. Chapters

Post by Darth Skywalkerbacca on Thu Mar 28, 2013 2:58 pm

Chapter I

It was dark, and it was raining; the skies had been clear when he’d set off from Squidgehollow that morning, but by early afternoon he’d watched, with mounting trepidation, as the clouds had gathered overhead. It was now, by his best approximation, about an hour after sundown – and the heavens had opened a good two hours before that. He hadn’t counted on the rain and as such had underestimated the time it would take to reach Garek, and consequently he was trudging through the mud, freezing and soaked to the bone. He could barely see the path under his feet and on more than one occasion had strayed from it, only the feel of grass underfoot warning him of his mistake. He’d begun thinking that maybe he’d read the map wrong, maybe he’d miscounted the turns and ended up in the middle of nowhere, or maybe he’d simply missed the turn in the downpour.
Whatever the reason, he’d thought he’d have reached Garek by sundown, and yet there was no sign of the town. He had been looking for a place to weather the storm since the rain had started, but this was fertile farmland; all gentle hills and grassy meadows, no caves or overhangs to shelter beneath. Although he imagined farmhouses would become more common the closer he got to town, he had not yet stumbled across one.
The path started to angle up a hill, and the rain running down the side only caused more problems – he lost his footing as he stepped on a rock that broke from the earth under him, and he fell heavily into the mud. He clambered wearily to his feet and continued, fighting off the growing despondency that had begun to niggle at the sides of his determination. He reached the top of the hill and scanned the countryside; he had resigned himself to merely trying to find a place to hunker down from the rain when he saw it – the lights of Garek glimmered faintly through the rain. They were a mile or two back the way he had come, and he cursed himself for not seeing the branch in the path as he’d passed it – his line of vision to the town had been blocked by a line of trees. Spurred on by the distant glow, he chose to cut straight as the crow flies instead of taking the longer route back along the path – and soon regretted the hasty decision. The path had been well-trodden and the pounding of feet over the ages had compacted the dirt; the grassy hills, not so well-travelled except by cows, were much softer and his boots sunk in more deeply, making it another hour before he finally stood on the outskirts of Garek.
As he came to the river that bordered the town to one side he took the time to wash some of the accumulated muck from his body and clothes – if he was going to find board in Garek for the night he’d need to be at least halfway presentable, and he was already soaked through so the icy water made little difference; though he longed to find a hot bath somewhere so as to get the feeling back in his numbed fingers. After he finished washing he made his way into town; the streets were cobbled so at least he didn’t have to worry about getting mud on his shoes. Most of the buildings in the town were darkened, but the occasional lit window pierced the blackness. That was until he reached the main square, where there was a large well-lit building; he noticed a few people running to and from, and assumed that it must be the local tavern – a likely spot to find a room for the night, and if not, at least a chance to get out of the rain.
He walked to the building, and he stepped into the cover of patio with a sense of elation mixed with relief. He decided to stay outside for a while longer, to try and dry off as best could – he stood watching from beside the door as people appeared and disappeared in the rain. After about a quarter of an hour he deemed himself as dry as he was likely to get, and was just about to enter the tavern when a man walked from out of the rain as if he didn’t notice it was raining at all. He was tall, just over six feet, with piercing ice-blue eyes that smouldered with passionate emotion – Xerias flinched away from imagining exactly which one. As the man entered the building, Xerias waited outside for a few minutes – just in case any trouble arose – though it quickly became apparent that none was going to, so he walked into the tavern. As soon as he entered the temperature rose about thirty degrees, and it wasn’t long before small wisps of steam were coming from his sodden clothes.
He scanned the room; it was well-lit and warm, and so the patrons were in good cheer. The place was packed with boisterous and noisy people, most more than a little tipsy; the bar was crowded so Xerias decided to find a seat and wait for the crowd to die down before approaching for a room. He saw a few empty tables in the back behind some support pillars; they were not as brightly lit as the other tables, which afforded Xerias a measure of privacy – something he strongly desired in this strange new town. He made his way over to the table and sat down; it wasn’t long before a servant came and asked him if he’d like a drink, and fearing he’d get kicked out if he didn’t order anything he requested a glass of spiced qova juice, and then set about taking in his surroundings more carefully.
He couldn’t see the man that had come in before him, though he wasn’t sure if that was a relief or cause for concern; most of the other patrons it seemed were just here to stay warm and have a good time, although some others seemed to be trying to drown their sorrows in drink. Determining that the general mood was jovial, Xerias relaxed a bit and enjoyed the warmth of the tavern, enhanced still more by the spiced qova. He kept one eye on the bar, waiting until enough people had cleared off for him to enquire about a room, and the other eye on the door to observe the comings and goings. Mostly these were simple farmer types, not used to being couped up like the chickens they would wander down to the bar for a drink; some were probably out-of-towners like himself; a man, shrouded in a light cloak, walked in at one point, which piqued Xerias’ interest. He tried to get a look at his face, but couldn’t see anything under the cloak; at least not before the newcomer disappeared into one of the back rooms and subsequently from Xerias’s mind.
He had been sitting there for about two hours, and was onto his third glass of spiced qova; he’d been eyeing the bar for the past few minutes, and intended on making his move after he finished his drink, when suddenly a stranger pulled up a chair beside him.
“You look like you’ve had a rough night, friend.”
Xerias stared at the man; he was older then Xerias by a good few years, but it was hard to tell by exactly how many. He had a knowing gleam in his eyes, one of which was green, the other gold, with correspondingly opposite flecks in each.
“Pardon me?”
The stranger smiled and talked to Xerias as if they were already familiar friends. “Hope you’re not planning on staying the night?”
Xerias just looked at him quizzically, not sure what to make of the man.
“You do, and you won’t make it to morning.”
The words themselves were ominous, coming as they did from an obviously crazed lunatic, though Xerias had yet to decide if he was a dangerous crazed lunatic or just the innocent local nut.
“You think I’m a nut job – that’s easy to understand. I come and sit next to you, and without a word of introduction start prophesising doom. I’d be confused too, I guess, but you have to listen to me, Xerias.”
The casual mention of his name shocked Xerias out of his confused stupor
“They’re coming for you, and for those like you; you have to understand what you did was just dumb, they’re onto you now so you have to come with me.”
“Wait a minute – who the hell are you?”
“My name is Rewind and you cannot stay here; within the hour the king’s men will break down that door, and by then you have to be as far away from here as possible.”
“What the hell are you going on about? I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“Stay calm, Xerias.”
“And how the hell do you know my name?”
“We don’t have time for this.” With that, Rewind raised his hand and gripped Xerias by the shoulder; Xerias made to break his grip, but he was overwhelmed by sudden darkness.

*

When Xerias awoke it was cold and dark once more; but at least this time he remained dry. He lay cautiously still, and listened carefully for any hints as to his surroundings. He was obviously in a house somewhere; that much he could tell from the sound of the rain beating down on the roof. The house wasn’t big; perhaps just a small farmer’s cottage. The floor was made of rough hard dry clay, and from the smell of the room the roof or walls were probably made from hay. He considered the facts, and revised his position; he was in one of the small houses built by farmers in case they ever got caught out in a storm. They were usually equipped with a fireplace and small storage area for food, though it was obvious that whoever had brought him here had taken advantage of neither.
He was just about to get up when suddenly his ears picked up the faint sound of breathing over the pounding of the rain.
“I’m sorry I had to do that, I should have expected your reaction in the tavern, but my sense of urgency overcame me.”
Xerias didn’t move
“Come, come now; we both know you’re awake. There’s no use pretending you aren’t.”
With a grunt of pain and resignation, Xerias pushed himself into a sitting position; the floor had not been the most comfortable place to take a nap and his muscles were aching for the cold had seeped from the floor and caused them to cramp. “So. Who are you?”
“As I said in the tavern my name is Rewind; how I got it is a long story for another time. Anyway, I’ve been looking for you, Xerias. I tracked you to Squidgehollow, only to find that you’d recently left and were heading towards Garek. I made as much haste as possible, knowing that the king’s men would also be on your trail; I may have my little birdies, but the king has a whole lot more, and you can bet that he heard what happened well before me.”
Xerias couldn’t quite comprehend what he was hearing; he put up his hand to stop Rewind “You were looking for me? Why? And why would the king’s men be after me?”
“Quite the performance you gave in Squidgehollow – I wasn’t there personally, but again, little birdies. I heard it was rather spectacular.”
A smile tugged at the corners of Xerias’s lips, but he quickly suppressed it. “So?”
If ever there was an expression of calm exasperation, it sprang to Rewind’s face at that moment. “You don’t get much traffic through Squidgehollow way, do you?”
Xerias didn’t reply.
“The king is hunting down magic-born.”
Xerias flinched, almost imperceptibly.
“Immediate execution on sight. The mage-guilds in Holland and Jareeth were burnt to the ground in the night; those who didn’t perish in the flames met the end of a sword or the tip of an arrow. The training camp at Aserdam met a similar fate, and I’ve seen firsthand the carnage left behind after a league of the king’s men butchered a troupe of gypsy mages. You can’t tell me you really didn’t know? I guess that would explain why you decided to make a show of it”
Xerias found his voice. “Squidgehollow may be a backwater farming village, but we had a gypsy troupe pass through not three months ago; they would have given news of such happenings.”
“All this has taken place in the time since the setting of the last wolf-moon.”
“The last wolf-moon was barely three weeks ago; you cannot expect me to believe that within that time the king had executed half the mages in Ridica!”
“Your disbelief doesn’t make it any less the truth. King Thane has deployed his armies over all of Ridica; only the Palace of the High Mage is left standing and that is only because The Nine protect it. I have personally been tasked by Fallea of The Nine to locate all the magic-born I can, though everywhere I go I find the king’s assassins have already done their job – you’re one of the few I’ve found alive.”
Xerias tried to gain some control of the situation, and injected a note of scorn into his voice. “Well, I thank you for the warning, good sir, but I can handle myself.”
“Don’t be a fool, boy,” Rewind said gruffly, “you’ve only just discovered your powers. Now you may think you’re all that, but it takes years of training to master the arcane arts, the guild masters spent their entire life training and look what happened to them, you haven’t a chance against the king’s assassins. I know; I’ve met some of them in the past few weeks, those were some close scrapes I’ll tell you.”
Xerias could feel his ire rising, this man hadn’t even met him as of a few hours ago; who was he to question his abilities? Xerias was just about ready to explode – when the door burst open, and in strode the blue eyed man he’d seen at the tavern.
Xerias reacted instantly; he dodged to one side, aiming to get behind the table where Rewind sat to gain some measure of cover while he looked for a more defensible position.
Rewind gave a small laugh at Xerias’ reaction. “Relax, Xerias,” he said. “He’s one of us. This is Eggs; he’s a battle mage who’s currently working as a mercenary. I’ve hired him to take you to the Palace of the High Mage, whilst I continue carrying out the orders given me.”
Eggs gave Xerias a cursory glance, and Xerias could tell by the look in his eyes that he wasn’t impressed by what he saw. It only served to stir up more anger towards these strangers who presumed to give him orders and treat him like some stupid defenseless cur they’d picked up on the street. With a supreme effort Xerias suppressed the anger and indignation, and returned to a state of semi-calm.
“As it happens I was heading for the mage’s guild in Jareeth,” he said icily and between clenched teeth. “If what you say is true, Jareeth no longer seems an option, so I will change my destination to Milestan. I do plan to visit the Palace eventually but on that occasion it will not be necessary to have a babysitter in tow. You may think you know me, but I will be perfectly fine on my own; thank you for your concern.”
With that he made to leave; despite the rain still falling outside, he couldn’t bear to be around these pretentious meddlers any longer – only to find that a long-bladed knife had suddenly materialised in Eggs’ hand and was pressed lightly against his throat. The blade felt cold, and when Xerias looked down at it he realised it was made of ice. He stepped back hurriedly; Eggs and Rewind exchanged a glance before Rewind settled his gaze back on Xerias.
They stared at each other for a few seconds more, then – “Fine,’ Xerias said; “you’ve made your point. I’ll go with you.”
Rewind smiled, but didn’t say anything. Xerias was still unsure about these two, but Eggs’ display of magic had intrigued him, and he begun to question exactly how powerful these two really were or at that who they really were.
After a few moments had passed, Eggs turned on his heel and opened the door, “Right. We’d best be off then.”
“What, now?” asked Xeria. “Shouldn’t we wait for the rain to stop, or at least for daylight?”
“Trust me, son; you don’t want to do that. What’s after us ain’t pretty; right now the rain and the night are covering our tracks, and you don’t want to leave a single trace to follow or this one’ll be after you, and he won’t stop ‘till you’re dead at his feet.”
A flicker of emotion crossed Rewind’s face. “Kryptas?” he asked, in a way that strongly implied he didn’t really want to hear the answer.
Frustrated, but now resigned to the events unfolding before him, Xerias asked, “Who’s Kryptas?”

*

The door to the tavern swung open; it was late at night, and the last of the patrons had long since wandered home. The barman was just finishing a last few chores before heading up to his room, and as he saw the man walk in he said, “The bar’s closed for the night sir, but if you’re ‘ere for a room we’ve got a couple spare.”
The man slowly turned his head and looked at him, he had long blonde hair, and skin barely darker than a scrap of parchment – but he had vivid violet eyes that seemed somewhat out of focus, as if the man was looking at something behind the barman, and not the barman himself. “Had any newcomers in tonight?” he asked. “Possibly they lent a room from you?”
“Not no one that I can remember, though it was pretty packed tonight what with the rain and all. Who you looking for anyway; there’s a guy what got ‘ere a couple of days ago staying in room six.”
“No, the one I’m after couldn’t have got here by then. Is there anyone, I may ask, who might know if a stranger came in tonight?”
“Well there’s William, he serves the drinks; he might ‘ave seen someone.”
“Where is this William, exactly?”
“Well I let ‘im stay here in the tavern in exchange for ‘is services, he’d be upstairs sleeping at the moment but if you’d like to stay the night I’ll send ‘im to ya in the morning.”
“I don’t have that long; the person I’m tracking has been declared a fugitive, and has been sentenced to death by the king himself.”
“Ooh, one of them magic types is he? Never did like them folk, always lording over everybody thinking they’re so special just ‘cause they got magic blood in ‘em. I’ll go wake ‘im up for you, shall I?”
A minute or two later the barman dragged a groggy and still half-asleep William down the stairs, almost tumbling at one point when he missed a step, but managing to right himself just in time.
“William, I presume?” He got no response, “Alright, tell me, William: during the course of your duties did you see any new faces in the crowd tonight?” Still no response, the barman nudged him in the ribs, which seemed to bring him back to reality.
“Uuuuh, no, not really … Uum, th-there was this one guy, came in and sat down at one of the tables in the back; ‘bout my age and a right royal mess he was too, looked like he’d been rolling ‘round in the mud, his face and everything was clean but his clothes were covered in it.”
A smirk slowly spread across the stranger face “Did you see him leave?”
“I saw some old guy carrying him out of the bar, I guess he’d had a few too many to drink – didn’t really pay that much attention … though now that I come to think of it he’d only had a couple of spiced qovas since he’d come in; there’s no way he’d ‘ave passed out from that.”
“Who was the old man he was with? Does he live in the town?”
“Now that you mention it I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him round ‘ere either, though I didn’t get a good look at him I know most the people ‘round these parts and probably would ‘ave recognised ‘im if I’d known ‘im.”
The man frowned at this then thanked them for their time and walked outside into the rain. The barman followed him, intent on asking if he was sure he didn’t wish to stay the night, but when he got outside the sight that greeted him caused him to flee back inside in terror.
Kryptas walked up to and mounted the Skorkooma that waited outside. It was a large animal, with a body not unlike that of a scorpion’s; six legs ending in sharp points, a hard armoured body, and a long tail tipped with a venomous stinger. On its back were a pair of scaly wings, and it possessed a long neck and large flat head similar to a salamander’s from which it was capable of spraying a fine mist of concentrated acid from glands under the tongue. It was a beast that struck abject terror into the hearts of men, but to Kryptas it was no more than a tool, a thing to be bound by his will. He had warped its animalistic mind with a dark magic, conquering it completely and utterly until its entire life was his to command. With a word from Kryptas, the Skorkooma gave a high-pitched screech and reared back onto its four hind legs, before scuttling off into the night.
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