Written By: Lady Faelyn Rose of Chesapeake
PROLOGUE: The Ancient Warrior’s Tale
My great uncle was an old man at the time of my birth. Now that I am grown to adulthood he is older still. He says that he stopped counting the winters of his life when their number reached one hundred.
Some say my uncle is too stubborn to leave this world. Others say he is cursed with such longevity. But to me each day with him is a blessing.
Although age has stolen his strength, dimmed his sight and turned his hair to silver, my uncle’s wits remain razor sharp. The countless adventures he has experienced are fresh in his memory. His faded blue eyes sparkle with excitement when he speaks of a past filled with glory and danger.
My great uncle’s house contains mementoes of a full and prosperous life. Those items dearest to him are kept in his private chambers. Few have seen these treasures. But I have had the privilege to examine each one closely. I have tried to piece together the puzzle of their meaning through the stories I have come to love.
A wooden bow carved with ancient runic symbols, a well worn lute, a horse’s bridle, a magic sword and a large scale from a white wyrm hang upon the walls. Placed with care atop the polished wood of my uncle’s desk there rests a pair of worn archer gloves, a faded red ribbon, a blue feathered hat, a magic silver ring and a dented helmet of pure gold.
My earliest childhood memories are of the tales my great uncle told as the family gathered before the hearth. His words painted vivid scenes in my mind of a time long past. Their images capture my young heart and to this day he is my one true hero.
So it is because of this life long affection for my aged knight that I put pen to parchment and try to breathe life into the ancient warrior’s tale.
The wind rustling in the trees and the distant roar of a black bear were the only sounds in the forest. Shafts of morning sunlight filtered through a dense ceiling of colorful foliage. It scattered patches of gold across a carpet of crisp brown leaves.
A young woman emerged from the woodland shadows. She was dressed in green leather armor and a green cape. A leather pack and a crossbow were slung over her shoulder. One long braid of flame red hair swung across the woman’s back as she ran between the trees.
As nimble as a deer, the young woman darted through the woods until she came to a fallen tree. Gracefully she vaulted over the log and landed on the other side with a crunch of dried leaves. Her breath misted the cool air as she turned to look back along the path which she had just traveled.
The woman’s steady gaze searched the horizon. And then she saw them.
Barely visible in the half light of the forest, the menacing shapes of two huge creatures came into view. The dull thud of their foot steps quickly turn into an earth shaking vibration which the woman could feel though the soles of her boots. Their voices became a deep hollow drone. The words they chanted were from a language of evil. They breathed out foul flames of energy, leaving blackened tree bark and small piles of burning leaves in their wake.
As the monsters drew near there could be no doubt as to their origins. They walked upright on cloven hooves. Demoniac horns adorned their heads and giant wings beat the air at their backs. Their skin glowed silver grey, not the dull red color of their lesser cousins. These were daemons of the abyss, creatures known by many names.
Balrons…Slayers….Collectors of Souls. And they were searching the woods for the woman hiding near the fallen tree.
But the young woman did not flee. She stood calmly watching. Her green eyes narrowed. A smile curved her lips. Instead of terror, a look of anticipation settled upon her lovely face.
“Perfect” she breathed the word.
Keeping her eyes trained on the monsters as they approached, the woman reached into her pack and pulled forth a lute. Her hand shook slightly as she considered the consequences of failing at this task. But as the young bard held the instrument close to her body and let her fingers dance over the strings she felt her confidence return. She would succeed.
The sound of her music was soft at first. It drifted on the morning air, barely noticeable above the loud chanting of the daemons. But the melody grew stronger and soon it filled the forest with magic. The song conjured an ancient spell of provocation. It penetrated the minds of the creatures like a drug.
Forgetting about the woman, the monsters were driven to attack one another.
The balrons threatened each other with roars of warning. Their huge claws lashed out piercing the scales of their thick hides and drawing blood. They were trapped in a dance of death. Tearing, clawing and casting powerful spells, the battling balrons slowly murdered each other.
The woman returned the lute to her pack and drew her crossbow from its resting place. She loaded a bolt and fired at one of the balrons, doing little damage. The woman began to circle the fighting monsters, firing bolts at them while keeping a safe distance away from their dangerous claws. She was so totally engrossed in her sport that she did not notice the tall man in dark clothing approaching her.
“SHANA ROSE!!” The sound of her name being shouted into her ear startled the young woman.
Shana pivoted around to discover her brother-in-law, Seamus, standing at her side. He was dressed in a pure black robe and wore a golden helmet on his head. His bright red hair and red mustache were a sharp contrast to his clothes.
“Kindly leave some guardians for the rest of us, lass!” Seamus said gruffly. But a smile showed beneath his mustache “You are going to render Og obsolete!”
At the sound of his name the huge white wyrm, who followed Seamus, roared loudly.
Shana Rose laughed. “I beg your pardon, Seamus. I could not resist the opportunity to test my skills”
Seamus had invited Shana to join his hunting party for a level six treasure map. As the chest had been dug up, two balrons, a blood elemental and a titan appeared as the guardians. Shana had fired her crossbow at each of the balron, drawing their attention and luring them away from the chest. Although she could have easily been killed, the chance to provoke such high level prey was worth the risk. To succeed at provocation with them was a sure test of her education. Shana had passed the test. She smiled with pride as she watched the fight.
“Let us speed things up a bit.” Seamus said as he move closer to the balrons.
“OG ATTACK!!” he sent his pet to kill one of the battling monsters.
“My lady?” Seamus turned to his wife, Amanda Rose, who was making her way along the blackened path that the balrons had left.
Dressed in a royal blue hunting gown and matching hat, Amanda Rose looked as if she were accompanying her husband on a ride to the markets of Luna instead of a perilous adventure. Her silver blonde hair was caught up in a ribbon of the same rich hue as her dress. Amanda’s white wyrm, Mist, trailed along behind her.
“A little help here, if you please, my dear.” Seamus motioned towards the balrons.
“With pleasure, my lord” Amanda replied with a smile “Mist Kill!!” she commanded, and her wyrm obeyed.
Seamus and Amanda moved beside their pets, healing them with bandages as they fought. The battle raged on for several minutes until finally the monsters lay dead. Once again silence fell over the forest. The rustle of the leaves and the rumbling purr of the wyrms were the only sounds now.
After looting the kills, Seamus bellowed “ALL FOLLOW ME!!” and led the party back through the woods.
The trio and their pets returned to the dig site. Seamus took his place near the treasure chest and after picking the lock and untrapping the lid, commanded “ALL HIDE NOW!!”
Amanda and Shana quickly cast the spell of invisibility upon themselves. Seamus began to loot the treasure chest.
Almost immediately an ancient wyrm appeared. It attacked Mist, killing her with ease. Then the ancient wyrm turned its attention on Og. Shana used her lute to calm the ancient wyrm until the rest of the party could position themselves for the attack. Seamus rushed forward to heal Og as the white wyrm charged the guardian. Amanda summoned her nightmare, Noir, to help with the battle. But the ancient wyrm was very powerful and it took the constant use of bandages on Og by both Seamus and Amanda to finally defeat the creature. Amanda resurrected Mist and restored her to complete health.
Another balron was the next guardian. Both wyrms and the nightmare attacked while Amanda and Seamus used their veterinary skills to keep the pets alive. Shana fired bolt after bolt into the monster. It too perished.
Seamus pulled a light green leather bag from the chest. Inside the bag there were several large bars of gold. Seamus chuckled with glee at his good fortune and place the gold bars in his loot bag beside the chest.
Two poison elementals appeared, one after the other. Shana Rose wove her magic provocation spell around the monsters, causing them to fight. Then the pets were ordered to finish the task of turning the poison elementals into piles of glowing slime.
“You are doing a good job, lass” Seamus said to Shana as he looted the corpses “Having a bard in the family is going to be very useful.”
“Aye, we are both proud of you, Shana” Amanda beamed at her younger sister. Shana had trained for years to learn the ways of a bard, practicing music for hours each day. She was attending classes at Lord British’s Conservatory of Music in Britain. But her training at school was nearly finished and she needed to learn how to apply that knowledge.
Shana smiled and bowed to Amanda and Seamus. “I am at your service whenever you need my skills.”
“Well now, it just so happens that Bronson, Patrick and I are going to hunt the Champion in Felucca tomorrow” Seamus said as he made his way back to the chest “Perhaps our young bard would like to join us?”
“I would love to go on a Felucca hunt for the Champion!” Shana said with genuine excitement.
“Champion in Felucca!” Amanda exclaimed “Oh my! That is the dirtiest of all dungeon crawls, Shana. I completely ruined my gown the last time I attended one of those hunts.” She wrinkled her nose “And the smell! Nothing in the world is as foul as the odor from a Felucca dungeon”
“I don’t mind…” Shana began, her eyes were bright with interest.
“Not to mention the danger with all those murderers lurking about.” Amanda continued with a frown of concern “No dear, I think that you should stay in Trammel until you have gained a little more experience.”
Seamus looked over at his wife’s worried face and said “Well, perhaps Amanda is right, lass…”
“I care not a wit about pretty gowns or murderers, Amanda.” Shana protested “But the chance to use my skills against a Champion’s minions is far too tempting an offer for me to pass up.” She reached over and tugged on the ribbon in Amanda’s perfectly arranged hair until it came loose “Besides, I am not a child anymore, you know.”
Amanda sighed as she retied the bow “Alright. Do as you please then. What is the worse that can happen?”
“She will be fine” Seamus assured his wife.
“I will be fine” Shana agreed with a smile.
The next morning Shana Rose was awake at dawn. Keeping Amanda’s warning in mind, she quickly dressed in her oldest leather leggings and tunic. She decided to leave her cape behind and brave the weather rather than ruin it. She worked her hair into one long braid, tying the end with a green ribbon. Shana was too excited to eat breakfast so she paced in her room until she heard the rest of the household moving about in the rooms below.
Shana carried her leather pack down the stairs of the Journey’s End Inn. The Inn was her home now. It belonged to Seamus’ youngest brother, Bronson, and his wife, Shana’s cousin, Jeanne Rose. They had bought the building and its adjoining stable shortly before their marriage six years ago.
Although the original plan had been to use the building as an Inn, it wasn’t long before most of the rooms were occupied by members of the couple’s family. Shana’s sister Katie Rose, her husband Patrick and their infant daughter, Molly Rose, were also residents of Journey’s End. Shana enjoyed being surrounded by her family.
“Good morrow, Bronson” Shana greeted the proprietor in the entry hall at the bottom of the stairs. Bronson was herding his five year old son, Angus, out of the dining room. The child was dressed in leather armor and carried a small wooden sword and shield. Upon seeing Shana, young Angus took up a fighting stance.
“Halt!” the boy ordered her “in the name of Lord British!”
“Oh please do not slay me sir knight” Shana playfully pleaded.
“Fear not, my lady” Angus said. He tapped his miniature shield with his sword “My weapons are just pretend” he told her with a grin “Kayla made them for me.”
Shana laughed and ruffled Angus’ soft red hair. “They are fearful looking weapons indeed.”
“What are your orders, my lady?” the child asked as he stood at attention.
“Patrol the yard for monsters” she commanded him “but stay close to the fortress, sir knight”
“Aye, my lady. It shall be done” Angus saluted her and charged out the front door.
Bronson had been watching the exchange between Shana and his son.
“Good morrow to you, Shana.” he said as he opened door leading out to the stable, “I understand you will be joining us on our Felucca hunt today”.
“Aye, Seamus was kind enough to invite me along” Shana told Bronson as she followed him out the door “I have never been to a Felucca dungeon. Nor have I been on a Champion hunt.”
“We will help you. Stay close to the pets and you should do well” Bronson said as he led his nightmare, Nox, from her stall. The mare danced with energy and tossed her head. Bronson fed Nox a chunk of raw meat, in an attempt to calm his pet.
“But if you are killed remember that your spirit will be transported to a healer by the Gods.” he continued “After you are resurrected you must find your way back to the dungeon. You may wish to look around for another warrior heading back to this Felucca dungeon and use his gate to return to the hunt.”
“I will remember that.” Shana said thoughtfully. She had never considered that she might actually die today.
“Don’t look so worried” Bronson laughed “A Champion hunt is dangerous but the rewards can be great. Besides, if you are going to hunt with Seamus you had best resign yourself to dying often.”
“Oh dear!” Shana gasped. This was not what she wanted to hear.
Bronson laughed as he took out a crystal ball of pet summoning and transported his dragon, Bront, into the front yard. He fed the enormous beast and commanded it to stay.
“Today you will become a real warrior, Shana. Smile!” Bronson said. He opened his pack and started to arrange his belongings.
Shana sat down on the stone steps of the stable while Bronson continued to prepare for the hunt. She felt the sudden urge to run back to the safety of her room. She looked out over the green expanse of grass where Angus was playing.
She could not help laughing as she watched young Angus practicing his swordsmanship on a skittering hopper. He approached the harmless creature as if it were a dragon. Then the boy began to block imaginary attacks and thrust out with his sword, purposely missing the grazing hopper. The ‘would be monster’ ignored him completely.
“Your son shows great promise as a warrior, Bronson” Shana said with a smile.
“Aye, he is much like his mother” Bronson agreed as he swung himself up onto his nightmare “Jeanne Rose has already started his training.”
At that moment there was a hum of magic and a blue moongate opened near the front steps of the Inn. Seamus emerged with Og following close behind.
“ALL STAY!!” he commanded the white wyrm. Seamus guided his nightmare to the stable steps, where Shana and Bronson were waiting.
“Are you ready, lass?” Seamus asked, placing his golden helmet on his head.
“Aye, as ready as I will ever be” Shana replied with a weak smile. She stood up and slung her pack over her shoulder.
Seamus pulled his watch out of his oversized sleeve and squinted at it.
“Well then all we need is that rascal Patrick and we can be off to Felucca!” Seamus said looking up towards the second floor of the Inn.
He waited a few seconds and then said in a much louder voice “I SAID ALL WE NEED NOW IS THAT SLAYER OF MONGBATS, PATRICK...”
“I HEARD YOU THE FIRST TIME!!” came an equally booming voice from the front porch of the Inn. Seamus chuckled as Patrick came bounding down the steps with his crossbow in hand. He trotted over to the group by the stable.
“Can’t expect a man to go off hunting Champions without a big breakfast” Patrick told them as he patted his stomach “never die hungry, I say.”
The men laughed loudly, but once again Shana found herself feeling a moment of dread. Death was new to her. And certainly not something to joke about!
“Now that everyone is ready and properly fed” Seamus said, pulling a worn leather rune book from his pack “we will proceed to the dungeon Despise in Felucca.” he flipped through the pages until he found the correct rune “May this day bring us all fame, glory and GOLD!!” he proclaimed with a grin.
Seamus cast a red moongate and ordered “ALL FOLLOW ME!!”
One by one the men and their pets disappeared into the moongate. Shana hesitated for a moment. Fear of the unknown seemed to paralyze her.
“Have courage” she said softly to herself. But Shana Rose felt her knees shaking as she stepped into the glowing red portal.
The entrance to the Felucca dungeon Despise was well guarded by murderers. As Seamus and his party emerged from the moongate they were immediately attacked by brigands. Shana felt the piercing pain of an arrow as it slammed into the back of her left shoulder. The impact knocked Shana to her knees, where she remained stunned and groaning until Patrick helped her to her feet. As Seamus and Bronson drove off the attackers with their pets, Shana was led into the mouth of the cave where she collapsed. Patrick took a firm hold on the protruding arrow and yanked it out, causing Shana to whimper.
“Sorry, lassie” he told her as he applied a bandage to the wound. Within seconds the flesh was completely healed, leaving only a small tear in the back of Shana’s leather armor. Patrick helped her stand up “There’s no time to rest. We must reach the altar of the Barracoon before the murderers find us.” he explained “Are you ready, child?”
“Aye, let us be on our way” she told him. Shana hurried after Seamus and Bronson as they disappeared into the murky bowels of the dungeon Despise.
Trailing Bronson’s dragon and with Patrick following a few paces behind, Shana felt somewhat safer as the group made their way through the dank tunnel. Her sister, Amanda Rose, had been right about at least one thing. The strong odor of this dungeon was disgusting indeed! Her eyes began to tear up. It took several minutes for Shana to adjust to the rank smell and begin to breathe normally.
The wyrm attacked most of the monsters that they encountered, leaving a trail of corpses for the rest of the party to follow. Shana heard the occasional hiss of a bolt from Patrick’s crossbow as it shot past her head and into an ettin. In the distance she could hear many human voices echoing off the stone walls of the dungeon. She wondered if they were friend or foe.
Shana tripped in the dark over the body of a dead warrior. When she realized what she had nearly trod upon, Shana covered her mouth with her hand to stifle a scream of horror.
“Steady, child, don’t let this distract you” Patrick said calmly as he gripped her upper arm and steered her around the corpse “always stay focused on what lies ahead.” he instructed her.
As his words penetrated her terrified mind Shana realized that she was not even carrying her crossbow. Feeling a little embarrassed for acting like a frightened child, she pulled out her bow and loaded it.
Finally the party entered a large cavern which contained an underground lake. A wooden bridge crossed the dark waters to a small island in the middle of the lake. There on the island Shana could see a burning skull candle. She knew the meaning of this light. It marked the altar of the Barracoon. The battle had begun.
Dozens of warriors were already fighting the first wave of the Barracoon’s minions. Giant rats and crawling slimes covered the ground in every direction. A giant rat charged at Shana and sank its teeth into her boot. She screamed and fell back into the mud, dropping her bow.
Patrick fired a bolt into the head of the crazed beast, killing it instantly. Again, he pulled a stunned Shana onto her feet. “Stay alert!” he ordered as he placed the crossbow back into her shaking hands.
“Don’t worry about me” Shana told him, brushing the loose tendrils of hair out of her eyes. Her soiled glove smeared mud across her cheek “I am ready now.”
Patrick looked unconvinced as he fired at an advancing slime.
Shana followed Patrick like a shadow at high noon. Turning wildly and firing at every noise. She walked into his broad back several times before she got her bearings. After a few nerve racking minutes Shana finally took aim and killed her first slime. She loaded another bolt and fired at a giant rat. It too dropped like a stone.
“Huzzah!” Patrick cheered her with a grin “that’s the way of it! You’re a true warrior now, lassie!”
A proud smile lit Shana’s mud streaked face.
Seamus and Bronson positioned themselves in the northwest corner of the cavern. This would be the spot that they would defend for most of the battle. The brothers would destroy as many of the guardians as they could in order to advance the progress of the hunt. Once the last battle of the guardians began the party would move across the wooden bridge and join in the attack on the Barracoon at the altar.
The pets killed the feeble slimes and rats two at a time. Patrick moved onto a small cliff overlooking the shoreline of the lake. From this position he was able to kill off the minions below like fish in a barrel. Shana followed Patrick’s lead, killing the slimes with her crossbow in rapid succession.
Soon the number of candles on the altar increased. The low growls of dire wolves and the chatter of ratmen filled the dungeon. The next wave of monsters were attacking.
More warriors entered the dungeon to join the battle. Throughout the cavern mages were casting energy vortex. The purple tornadoes shrieked and blasted everything evil in their path. Warriors on horseback rode their steeds along the shoreline of the underground lake cutting down the ratmen with ease.
When Shana felt the fireball from a dire wolf hit her, she instinctively fled back to the safety of Seamus and his wyrm. Og smashed the wolf into a bloody pulp with his foot.
Shana beat her smoldering sleeve with her hand to put out the flames and cast greater heal on herself. Peering out from behind Og’s wing Shana heard Seamus’ amused voice asking “Is this the same lass who only yesterday taunted not one but TWO balrons?”
Shana had to laugh “I know not where I found the courage to act so boldly. Today I am jumping at shadows.”
Shana Rose put away her crossbow and pulled a lute from the leather pack on her shoulder. Taking a few steps away from the wyrm, she began to provoke a dire wolf to attack a nearby ratman. At her immediate success she ventured further away from Seamus. Forgetting the mayhem around her, Shana began to use her bard skills against the guardians of the Barracoon.
Within minutes groups of ratmen were fighting like drunks in a bar room brawl. Shana walked between them playing her magical tunes. This was easier than she had thought it would be. Shana felt very powerful as she sent a dire wolf into the fray.
She was concentrating so hard on her music that she didn’t hear Seamus calling her.
“SHANA ROSE!!” his voice finally boomed above the din of the battle “DO NOT STRAY TOO FAR!!” Shana realized then that she had wandered to the southwestern side of the cavern, quite a distance away from her family.
As she began to trudge back across the dungeon she heard a hissing voice echoing from a small passageway to the west.
“Sssshaaana Rooooosse” the voice called “Ssshaaana Rooossse!!”
Shana stopped and stared into the passageway as cold fingers of fear began to crawl up her spine. “Who calls me?” she questioned in an anxious voice. Was her mind playing tricks on her?
“Sshaana Rooosse thissss waaaay” the voice enticed her “Ssshaaanaa Rooossse.” Beyond any doubt, someone or something was trying to lure her into the dark passageway.
With a small squeak of fright Shana started to run back towards Seamus and Bronson. But her path was blocked by two snarling hell hounds. Quickly Shana Rose began to play a magical tune provoking the hell hounds to fight. But one of the hell hounds hit her with blast of magic energy and the spell failed.
The failed attempt to provoke enraged the hell hounds and they immediately charged at Shana. She pivoted around and ran in the opposite direction still clutching her lute. To avoid the deadly beasts she was forced to enter a dark tunnel in the northwest corner of the cavern.
Shana saw a light glowing ahead and raced towards it. The light turned out to be twin moongates of sparkling magic energy. Shana had never seen moongates such as these before. But at this moment they appeared to be her only salvation.
One of the hell hounds caught the back of Shana’s leggings in its jaws and hung on. The extra weight slowed her down. The other hell hound leapt forward and sunk his teeth into Shana forearm, tearing flesh as well as leather. Blood poured from the wound as she dragged the two snarling creatures with her towards the moongates.
Shana smashed the head of the hell hound ripping at her arm with the lute. The beast released her with a yelp. Quickly she backhanded the lute into the jaws of the other hell hound as it tore the flesh from her leg. The wooden lute shattered with a loud twang. The hell hound let go and backed away.
Shana whimpered with pain as she limped the remaining few feet to a sparkling moongate and fell into it. She tumbled out of the gate like an acrobat and landed on her back in the mud.
Groaning, Shana rolled over.
Amanda was right. She should have stayed in Trammel. She wasn’t ready for this much adventure.
Lying on her stomach, Shana lifted her head out of the muck and looked around. She had escape from one dungeon only to end up in another. And this one smelled worse than the last.
“Daemon Dung!” she cursed in frustration. Shana had heard Bronson say this many times. But this was the first time she had felt the need to curse.
Bleeding profusely and moaning with pain, Shana used her uninjured arm to push herself upright. She slowly stood up on unsteady legs and surveyed the area for a way out. There was a path going up a small hill and disappearing into the rock wall. In the dim light Shana thought she saw an opening in the rocks above. Could it be a tunnel?
Rummaging in her pack, Shana retrieved the bottle of yellow liquid which Amanda had given her. She removed the stopper and took a sip. It tasted sweet. She drank the entire bottle in three gulps. Within seconds her wounds were nearly healed. Tossing the empty bottle onto the ground Shana proceeded to climb the path she hoped would take her to safety.
Shana was about half way up the hill when she heard a heart stopping noise echoing off the stone walls of the cave. It was the roar of something very large and so close by that the vibration from the creature’s bellow rattled her teeth. She looked over her shoulder and saw an ancient wyrm lumbering towards her.
Squealing with fright Shana scrambled further up the path. She could feel the monster’s fiery breath upon her back.
Shana Rose had almost reached the top of the hill when the flames from the monster enveloped her, cooking her flesh. With one final cry of agony she fell into the mud and slid back down the hill.
So this was death.
Shana’s spirit felt no pain. It floated through a black soundless space.
In an instant she was standing on a cobblestone street, somewhere in Felucca. It was hard for her to recognize which city she had been transported to. Shana had never seen the world without any color before.
Unsure of what to do next she walked a short distance down the street then turned and scurried back to her original spot.
“You’re a true warrior now, lassie” she mimicked Patrick’s praise as she walked in a circle.
The sound of laughter made her stop and glance around. Standing in the middle of the street was another ghost and it was laughing at her.
“Is this your first death, friend?” asked the spirit.
“Aye, it is” she answered.
“I thought so.” the spirit started to walk along the cobblestone street heading north “The healer is this way. Follow me.”
“Thank you!!” Shana said as she hurried to keep up with the helpful spirit.
“And in case you are wondering” the spirit added “this is Britain.”
Shana and her companion left the healer’s shop wearing grey robes. Now that he was resurrected she could see that her new friend was a young man. His dark hair was cut short and he wore a thin mustache. He smiled pleasantly at her. She smiled back.
“Hail fair lady” he said extending his hand to her “I am Dominic. By what name are you called?”
“Shana Rose” she replied, shaking his hand.
“Nice to meet you” they said in unison.
They both laughed.
Suddenly Shana felt dizzy. “I must rest” she said as she swayed slightly. Dominic gripped her elbow and lowered her onto a bench just outside the healer shop.
“It takes awhile to regain your stamina” Dominic said “Which dungeon were you in?”
“Ahh” he said, smiling “killed by the vermin horde, were you?”
“Actually, I was killed by an ancient wrym” she replied sadly.
Dominic shook his head “Didn’t anyone warn you never to go through a Felucca moongate unless you know its destination?”
Shana smiled again “No. I wish that someone had told me that an hour ago!”
Dominic laughed “Had I known you an hour ago I would have gladly shared my vast knowledge on the fine art of dying, Lady Shana.”
Shana laughed out loud. She liked this man very much.
“Don’t tell me that you went through that gate and were killed by an ancient wyrm?” Shana asked.
“Aye, lady, that I did. It is a mistake most warriors make only once.” Dominic grinned.
“Well then, I don’t feel so badly for I am in very good company” Shana replied.
Dominic bowed, acknowledging the compliment “I thank you, my lady.”
“It is I who must thank you. I might still be wandering the streets as a ghost had you not come to my rescue.” Shana told him.
Dominic laughed at the thought. “Wandering in circles and talking to yourself?”
Shana rolled her eyes. “A true warrior.”
Dominic smiled down at her “Aye, a true warrior. Everyone learns to be a warrior this way, Shana. Take heart.”
“Well, I’m off to the bank to replenish my supplies” Dominic said, changing the subject “Perhaps I will see you in Despise.”
“Perhaps you will” Shana smiled.
“Remember what I told you about mystery Felucca moongates!” he called to her as he made his way down the road.
“I will, my lord. And thank you again” she answered.
Shana smiled as she watched Dominic walking away. He headed south towards the west bank of Britain. But Shana felt too tired to walk anywhere. She leaned her head back against the outer wall of the healer shop and closed her eyes. She would just rest for a moment. Just for a moment.
“Excuse me Miss” said a male voice.
Shana opened her eyes and blinked. She must have fallen asleep. She was still sitting on the bench in front of the healer shop dressed in a grey robe.
“Beggin’ yer pardon, Miss” said a different male voice.
Shana lifted her head and saw two men dressed in black robes standing a few feet away from her. One man had a shaved head and a crooked nose which looked as if it had once been broken. The other man wore his neon blue hair in a topknot.
“Would you be Mistress Shana Rose?” asked the man with the topknot.
Shana frowned at the stranger “Perhaps. And you would be?” she asked suspiciously.
The man with the topknot took a step closer “I am Charlie and this here is Ivan, Miss.” he pointed towards the man with the crooked nose “Are you Shana Rose?”
“Aye, that is my name” she answered cautiously.
The two men looked at each other and grinned. Ivan slapped Charlie on the back “I knowed it was her!!” he exclaimed.
“We’ve been lookin’ for you Miss, that we have” said Charlie.
“Looking for me?” Shana asked as she stood up.
“Yer brother-in-law sent us to fetch you, Miss” answered Ivan “he seen you die in the wyrm’s lair and he told us to search the healer shops for you. And here ya be sleepin’ like a baby!”
“My brother-in-law sent you?” Shana asked. This was a little confusing. Why would Seamus send these strangers to bring her back to the dungeon? “Are you sure that I am the woman you are looking for?”
“Aye, Miss, if you are Shana Rose than you’re the one we seek” insisted Charlie.
He pulled a rune book out of his pack and cast a red moongate.
“His lordship is waitin’ for you” Charlie stood beside the moongate motioning for Shana to enter first “After you, Miss.”
There was no mistaking the fact that Charlie and Ivan carried on their person the distinctive odor of a dungeon. Shana covered her nose with the long sleeve of her grey robe. Aye, these two had been in Despise recently. Hadn’t Bronson said something about returning to the dungeon with other warriors? She should have asked Dominic for help.
Oh well, Shana thought, Seamus must have a good reason for sending these men to bring her back. Who was she to second guess the wisdom of Lord Seamus?
With that thought in mind, Shana stepped into the moongate and disappeared.
Ivan and Charlie followed close behind.
Inside the large sandstone home known as Mountain View Amanda Rose couldn’t sleep. She was always restless when Seamus didn’t come home from a dungeon crawl on time. After all these years she should be used to his late night arrivals, but Amanda found herself feeling slightly annoyed tonight.
Upon hearing footsteps on the stairs, Amanda glanced at the clock. It was half past three in the morning. Seamus and his party had left to battle the Barracoon in Despise at eight yesterday morning. Even if he had gone to celebrate at the Tree Fellow Pub afterwards he should have been home hours ago.
Amanda sat up in bed as Seamus appeared in the doorway. He stood perfectly still, his face hidden in shadow. The stench of a dungeon filled the room and Amanda covered her nose and mouth with a small decorative pillow. Seamus continued to silently stand in the doorway.
The words of reprimand melted on Amanda’s tongue. Something was terribly wrong. A sudden feeling of dread chilled her to the bone “Seamus what has happened?” she asked, her voice muffled in the fabric of the pillow “Why are you so late?”
Seamus said nothing for a few seconds more. Then he drew a shaky breath and said “I am sorry, my love. I did my best to find her” he walked a few steps into the room and the light from the bedside candle illuminated his tired face “This has never happened before...I can not explain it” he seemed dazed “We searched everywhere…not a trace...not so much as a trace did we find” he moved to stand beside the bed.
“You have been searching all this time? Who is missing?” Amanda asked, but in her heart she knew the answer “Is it Shana Rose? Is my sister missing?”
Instead of answering, Seamus dropped a filthy leather pack onto the middle of the bed. Amanda leaned forward to cautiously examine its contents. The backpack overflowed with the items Shana had taken with her on the hunt. The burnt, torn leather armor was encrusted with dried mud and blood. Her crossbow had been cracked and twisted beyond repair by some great force. But as Amanda gently pulled the remains of a shattered wooden lute from the pack, she felt her heart breaking. It too was covered in blood. Amanda began to weep.
“She died in the ancient wryms’ lair” Seamus said in a strained voice “She must have thought to escape some predator by running into the moongate which leads there.”
Amanda gasped “Oh no!”
“We searched all of the healer’s shops.” Seamus slumped into a sitting position on the edge of the bed, exhausted. He put his arms around his wife and held her as she wept “We waited for hours in the dungeon, fighting off the murderers, hoping she would return. But she never did. Young Shana seems to have vanished into thin air.”
Outside the large sandstone house the early morning quiet was broken by the agonized wail of a woman’s voice.
[TO BE CONTINUED]