April - last edited May
Beyond the Shadow of Doubt
Gareth awoke to the intense pain of heat and smoke filling his lungs. Blinking away the haze which obscured his vision, he noticed the entire room was ablaze. The acrid smell of burning flesh greeted his nostrils, while his eyes beheld the horror that was unfolding. Grey Warden banners hung in strands, flames licking up the walls, the desk at his side nothing but charred ash. The sudden realization of screams penetrated his thoughts, bringing him out of the shock that threatened to overpower him entirely.
“Gareth!” The voice cried out in panic. “Gareth! Get ou—“
Coughing away the fifth that dared to suffocate him, he made towards the shrieks of pain…a voice he recognized turning his blood to ice.
“Livia! Livia! I’m coming just---“the smoke shrouded his eyes, the heat of the flames so intense now his armour was buckling under the duress. Staggering his way through the engulfed doorway, he made for what seemed like a window. Grasping the hilt of his blade he battered away the glass, and now slinging the shield over his back he jumped out landing awkwardly. His legs buckling under the fall. Scrambling away from the burning building, he collapsed on the grass. Soothing night air greeted his lungs, coughing and spluttering away the vile soot. Calling upon the strength that remained in his limbs he staggered to his feet, face blackened by ash, armour singed and battered; at that moment he seemed like a figure from the fade itself. The headquarters Gareth had once commanded were now a beacon in the night for all to see. Glancing over he managed to take in what remained of the great standard that had stood as a reminder to all; The Rearing Griffon of the Wardens. Once a symbol of protection for the people of Rivain. It was now nothing more than a scorched husk.
The panicked call for help came again. Steering himself away he rounded a corner which opened up to a path leading towards the market district. His mind hammered, the smoke stinging his now reddened eyes making it hard to discern the shadowy figures that stood before him. The presence of magic filled the air. Gareth, now drawing his sword of gleaming silverite made to lunge, but before he could gather his shield a streak of light hit him square on the breastplate, sending him to the ground. The hardness of stone met his fall, knocking the air from his lungs. Gareth gritted his teeth, urging his now battered body off the paved stone.
“Get away from her you *!” he roared, now gathering his shield. He knew there was only one chance left. Whoever these sorcerers were, he needed to deal with them quickly; having learned the many forms of combat taught during his years of training, Gareth readied himself in the stance which allowed for a steady defence, while allowing for a quick step if needed. Shield raised, sword low he advanced.
Three of the four figures remained, where the other had gone Gareth had no idea. Livia was the priority, nothing else mattered. A sinister voice pierced the slow hum of magic that cut through the silence of the night.
“You see Gareth, this is what becomes of those who meddle in the affairs of others that…well…just don’t concern a man such as yourself,” the voice said coldly. Those words hit him like an arctic wind, a voice he recognized
“This whole affair could have been avoided if you’d only stuck to whatever it is you Wardens actually do. The order is no longer needed Gareth can you not see, you are obsolete now, an old relic that yet lingers in times where such things are surpassed by greater powers.” The voice said again. This time the shadowy man moved towards him holding aloft a staff that gleamed wickedly in the wan moonlight. At Gareth’s horror two others came from the shadows holding a figure, a face stricken with terror, eyes searching for his own, eyes he knew. Gareth’s blood turned to ice.
It was Livia.
“She has nothing to do with his!” he yelled with a voice which had pierced many a battlefield. Lowering his shield Gareth had drawn his blade up so it met the gaze of the man in black. His eyes just discernible under the veil that covered his features.
“Ahh Gareth…,” the man said again, matching his gaze. “Just when you will realize that all actions, no matter how noble you may think they are, demand a reaction.”
With that a flare of brilliant green energy gathered at the staffs head, projecting forth a torrent of staggering force. Gareth, seeing this, managed to react just in time so his shield met the impact of the blast. The metal protested at the unnatural energy which now consumed it, screeching as it started to warp under the immense pressure. Grunting he advanced towards them now, knowing this had to be ended swiftly; having fought with and perfected the techniques used to defeat Dark Spawn emissaries, Gareth knew there was only a small window of opportunity where one could counter-attack. But he was no Templar.
Searing pain now racked his body, a dark energy enveloped him, tendrils dancing around suffocating the air from his lungs. The strength leaving his already tired limbs as his sword dropped, clattering on the stony path, the shield now nothing more but a smoking piece of distorted metal. On his knees, Gareth saw the world buzz around him, faces and shadows, voices, calling, sneering.
His already scorched armour began to crumple under the sickly aura that now grew darker and more menacing. Staring up at the man, hands to the ground so as to not fall completely, Gareth saw the satisfaction now gleaming in his eyes, as if he’d slain some mighty beast; the eyes of a predator. Matching his gaze, Gareth had seen that look before and it chilled him to the bone.
“You always were the damnable coward, Vetrenus.” He managed, each breath shorter than the last.
“Always hiding behind your magic - never one to face up to a real danger when we fought the Dark spawn - you insult the Grey Wardens with your lies, your words of venom…the words of a snake.” He finished coldly
Gareth was now spent, he had no more left in him. Try as he might, the hex that Vetrenus had placed on him was slowly crushing the life from his bones, and it wouldn’t be long now before the end came. Grief and anger struck him, a fierce rage that set his heart ablaze, one of his own had turned their back on the Order, and Livia…oh Livia, why have you been brought into this… the thought made his mind scream with fury.
They would not take her as long as he still drew breath, he thought. They will not have her.
Vetrenus stepped back as if wounded by the words, but donned a grin that told otherwise.
“Here we go again about the Wardens… you see Gareth, this is why you’ll never understand—“but before he could finish the agonizing cries of two men cut him short.
It was Livia.
To Gareth’s utter disbelief, she’d managed to break free of the two men and was now burning them alive with one of their own staves, eyes ablaze with the fury of a High Dragon defending its young.
Vetrenus stared incredulously, but remained composed all the same.
“And here I thought this was going to be another disinteresting affair. Well, girl, you most certainly proved me wrong,” before turning to Gareth “Pretty, no?” and flared his own staff of brilliant green.
Gareth’s head swam, his eye’s shrouded by some form of veil, the scene becoming distant and twisting unto itself. It was now like he were a spectator watching some duel at the Grand Tourney, yet his body lingered, motionless. He made out bolts of fire and spectacular green light, flashes from parallel magic’s colliding, sparks flying, coiling, as each placed a ward of protection around themselves. But the fire was fading and became weaker by the minute. Vetrenus had performed some ritual now drawing power from the two corpses that lay at his feet. Blood magic.
Livia’s energy was failing.
Gareth could do nothing but watch, his eyes fogged in this distorted reality, he now witnessed the horror that he was reliving. This nightmare he tried so hard to keep away, yet it lingered, always there, buzzing at his minds edge. Vetrenus had now finished drawing whatever power remained in those corpses and had turned to her, seeing the faltering shimmer of light which now collapsed under her now depleted body. Gareth knew what happened next. No matter how much he screamed, pain gripped his mind, his heart aching, all which remained of him fled in that moment, and a moment he wished he’d ever witnessed.
Vetrenus strode over with the ample pride of one who’d tasted victory time and time again, gripping Livia by the throat. Gareth saw the flow of dark energy coalescing around him even from where he was, his own body still lying motionless on the stone. The scene lurched again, projecting images of horror, faces, screams, and the all-consuming fire that now burned within. Banners flew, high over, now torn and spattered with the blood of his comrades. Faces he’d seen, lives flashed, fleeting moments of all the things he cherished now twisted into some contorted nightmare.
The first night they’d made love. The night after their joining.
A moment so precious, so innocent, so fleeting, now flashed before him. As quickly as it passed another image pushed its way in. A face, her face, the subtle brown of her eyes, her delicate features, and the smoothness of her hair all came before him sending a grief like no other. One of loss, and desire.
His eyes protested under the scene which now came flooding back. Vetrenus had now summoned the power within draining whatever energy remained in Livia’s now lifeless body.
“Ah Livia,” the voice was distant but metallic, lost in the lurching haze.
“We could have been partners, you and I. Just think about the power we could have wielded together. No need for any of this Warden business. But you just had to fall into the trap that so many do. Love and all its calamities.” The last words said as he searched for Gareth’s eyes through the convulsive light which lightened the scene.
Gareth could feel those eyes upon his own, eyes as cold as the chill which now gripped his heart.
The scene had dissolved, lurching and coiling upon itself until only what seemed like smoke remained. A new voice entered and a faint light shone through. One so distant, so lost, yet one he recognized.
“Gareth” it said, so soft, gentle were the words that now graced his ears.
“Gareth, you must return. Do not linger in a past where only sorrow lies. What has happened is but a distant memory now….this was never about me, “the voice seemed pained at those words. “The Wardens needs you now more than ever, they will need you before the end, Revasan. A great evil stirs in the shadows, figures are amassing, and the time has come for one who will stand when all others appear shattered.” The voice soothing, as if it some spirit had been sent to guide him into the beyond.
That name hit him cold.
“Livia… no it cannot be,” he hesitated, ‘What trick is this? Some foul demon no doubt. Where am I? In the Fade?’ He demanded, spinning on his heels and drawing his sword as he made to find the beast. ‘That name no longer exists. Ever since that day I have been nothing but a shell, a husk that only withers more and more by the year. All that I ever loved was taken from me and yet each day after I tried to find reason, faith, but I only come back with hatred, a fire that burns so fiercely I feel it may engulf me forever.’ He looked around aimlessly, straining to see any evidence of the woman he once loved, or the demon which he was convinced had taken her form. Was he in the Maker’s arms already? Or was he in the realm of demons and wraiths, a place where none but a few have returned.
The voice came again. “I know this is hard for you Gareth. Whatever it is you may think, I know your suffering, your hatred but do not let it consume you. What happened that night cannot be undone, cannot be altered no matter how much it hurts.’ The voice wavered at those words as Gareth stared around in dismay. Subtle green flashes were emanating above and to his left a pulsating light appeared, one so bright it almost blinded him.
‘Stay back!’ he cried, as he made to strike the being inching its way towards him. ‘I have never wanted this, this burden that I now bear. The burden of hatred and pain that has made –‘but the words escaped him. The sword dropped from his callused hands. Its handle disintegrating into ash, as the being took on its true form, the shower of gold which veiled it clearing.
‘Gareth listen to me.’ It spoke, Gareth staring in disbelief. ‘This is no trick. Your mind is caught between two worlds. Your body yet remains but your spirit has drifted. The nightmare you relived was one of those two choices. A realm where only hatred and fury lie. A place where all your troubles reside, can you not see? That is where the demon lives, it wishes to access the darkest depths of your mind and turn it against you. I am the second of those two choices.’
Gareth was transfixed, his eyes refusing to comprehend her. Livia. Her eyes of amber so intense like that of which the morning sun illuminates. The flowing hair of chestnut brown. The features of her face determined yet soft. All brought back chilling memories but not only so. Something else stirred deep within his thoughts.
‘If this is this true?’ he said softly, ‘How am I to believe all this. Would it not be easy for some demon to manifest itself into my greatest weakness?’
Livia took his hand in her own.
‘Yes… it would be. But not all who linger here wish only death and destruction upon the world Gareth. The demons of pride, of desire, of rage, and of despair. They feed upon these emotions that hide beneath us. But there are others who would not share these views.’ She gazed deeply into those eyes, those eyes that have witnessed so much agony and loss. And it was at that moment she could see the faintest of glimmers in them. One of hope.
‘My spirit is all that lingers in this place Gareth, as do many. These spirits take on many different forms and are often of those traits we deem worthy of what makes it good in this world. Justice, valour, wisdom, these are just some of the feelings that they possess.’ She gestured for him to follow, as the realm around them began to take shape. Floating islands of rock and old looking structures drifted around aimlessly, others began to piece together as the road before them paved its way.
‘The fade…’ Gareth responded, a look of astonishment growing upon him.
‘Where all our deepest thoughts and dreams lie.’ Livia replied. ‘You know this. You know the choices that threaten to tear you apart. This is where they reside. There is a demon at the edge of your mind Gareth that threatens to take you beyond reason, beyond duty, and turn you into its greatest weapon. A weapon it wishes to command once unleashed.’
Gareth stopped suddenly, a look of doubt strewn across his face.
‘Just what are you saying exactly? That a demon wishes to use me to what – further its own ends?’ Gareth retorted. Livia gave him a serious look, to which he took a step back. ‘You must understand, I’m finding this all very unnerving.’
‘I can see that. But in order for me to make you see Gareth, I need you to have confidence in me. That I am me and no other. That is where your greatest fault lies. You don’t trust anyone…’ Gareth thought for a moment. Could all of this really be possible? That the spirit of Livia yet lives and a demon threatens to overpower him? He had no answers. But he had no choice. If he was to ever regain his true self again and re-enter the world where his body yet lies he needed to co-operate, whether that meant it was Livia or not. Although part of him somewhere whispered it to be true.
‘Yes.’ He eventually said, ‘Yes I do believe you are here. But tell me something. Just what are you?’ Livia’s back remained turned as a subtle aura illuminated her, green waves coalesced in the air above as a slow twisting hum reverberated.
‘I am a spirit of hope. When my life ended that night, an apparition appeared before the dark consumed me. It was so beautiful and yet when it happened I felt changed.’ She turned to face him now, her eyes glowing a brilliant gold.
‘I am not the same as I once was Gareth. A burning desire for revenge threatened to take me on that cusp of life and death. That was my choice, to become one of them, or to still try and make a difference in this world. The spirit embodied my soul and here I stand now. In a world dreams and nightmares.’ Gareth felt the world go still around him, this world, whatever it was.
‘I think I am beginning to understand now.’ He said, bending down and picking up a blackened stone. ‘This world, the fade. You know I never did believe the stories… or those mages.’ He walked closer to her now, until he was standing directly beside her, the aura that had first engulfed Livia began to diminish. ‘When that night happened, all that filled my heart was rage. I opened myself up and promised to never rest, to never forget, to never let myself feel again. And now you say a demon is on the brink of possessing me. Out of all this I…‘he hesitated momentarily, his face dejected.
‘You do not believe it possible?’ Livia broke in, ‘and yet here you stand before me, at this point of all places. At the crossroads of a life that you never managed would lead you to such decisions, to such anguish.’ She faced him, and pressed her hand upon his chest plate. A warmth began to course throughout his body as Gareth looked up suddenly, his dark beard prickling his face, this foreign energy engulfing him.
‘Livia?’ he said suddenly. Panic began to grip him as visions began to manifest themselves before his eyes.
‘Do not fear, Revasan.’ She responded, ‘you will soon see.’ Tendrils of light began to dance throughout the air. Livia’s eyes shone with such an intense light as Gareth watched his feet leave the ground. Spectres appeared, their forms distorted and their voices inaudible. But it was then a new being emerged, darkness began to overtake the light and Gareth saw in that moment the shadow that lay within. But only a shadow it remained, inching closer and more menacing from the air above. An unspeakable horror it seemed to Gareth, as eyes began to form; cold black beads.
‘Revasan…’ a sinister voice reverberated within his conscious. ‘So that is it. Is this what all the whispers were? And her…’ the shadow peered down thoughtfully,’ ah yes, of course, it all makes sense now…’ Gareth felt the rage he had kept so concealed begin to emerge. His hand instinctively went to draw the sword he only remembered no longer existed. And in that moment the shadow withdrew, fading back into the air as those cold beads gazed menacingly at him before it vanished entirely, the light returning and the warmth pulsating throughout him again. It was then he began to descend back towards the ground, his boots once again meeting the crunch of loose rock.
‘Now do you see?’ Livia said, seeing his darkened look as the light disappeared entirely. ‘This demon saw its opportunity in that precise moment so many years ago and acted upon it. Saw your heart torn open. In that moment it changed you, it lingered in the depths, waiting for its time to strike.’
Gareth’s mind was filled with torment. He had wanted so much to not believe those stories; the mages he had encountered often telling him of such encounters. Something they had to deal with on a daily basis…but him? No, he had never thought it possible, a warrior with no connection to magic and all its machinations. Only what he beheld with his own eyes spoke truth, and of one only.
‘What is it must I do?’ he asked, facing Livia.
‘Out there lies the hatred’ she replied, ‘the fury, this demon which lies inside you but never reveals itself completely.’
‘It spoke to me, within my mind.’ He said, ‘I can no longer deny it. It seemed to repeat the name Revasan, almost as though it answered a long hidden truth for it. But why the name, you know the last one to carry it vanished decades ago.’
‘And it is the reason why it fears you…that is why I said it. Now it knows why.’
‘Fears me?’ Gareth retorted, ‘why in the makers name would it fear a dead title. One that lost all meaning years ago.’ Livia’s face became troubled.
‘And do you honestly believe that?’ she replied, shooting him an accusing look. ‘Did you not once believe in freedom for all? That name still carries weight in certain parts of this world.’ Gareth took a deep breath, composing himself as the anger within threatened yet again.
‘It fears that if it came to possessing you wholly it would never have the control it desired.’ She continued, pacing towards him. ‘It doubts. Just as you have doubted this place, my spirit and all other things.’ a fiery determination was in her eyes. ‘It fears what you will become if tested. There is a fate for you Gareth that only some here have whispered. But that whisper has grown. The demon knows this, but you mustn’t doubt any longer.’ and as if by some illusion she generated a sword, one of the purest craftsmanship. Gareth looked up, his eyes alight awe.
‘End it Gareth. End the rage, the doubt. You must do this in order to take the step to become what is destined for you. Thedas lies on the brink of devastation. Although it may not seem that way now you know it in your heart to be true…’ she paused, as she strode towards him and presented the blade. ‘As you know I am true. It must be ended now.’
Gareth. The Lone Warden, the outcast, the man who had lost all stood in silence as those words pulsated throughout him. Those determined eyes, of hope, of love gazing at him now with such intensity. Slowly, he brought up his arm, his rough fingers were slow, as they graced the razor sharp blade. So cold and yet so comforting; runes were carved upon it in a dialect he had never seen. He moved down towards the hilt, its grip warm and sturdy and the pommel of polished Ironbark? Or was it some other unknown material? But at its end it was missing something, a blank socket no larger than a pebble. Livia noticed his curiosity.
‘Yes.’ she said, watching Gareth with interest, ‘it is missing a final ingredient, but do not doubt its keenness. That is something you will have to recover for yourself in due time.’ he then brought his hand up towards the handle again and clutched it, holding the blade aloft.
‘Maker!’ he exclaimed, testing its reach and swinging it abroad, the metals sheen reflecting the un-natural light. ‘Incredible…it’s like I’m wielding nothing at all.’ Gareth thought for a second, seeing that majestic blade within his grasp. At that moment he believed, and belief is a powerful weapon. ‘Will it be enough?’ He questioned suddenly.
‘Enough to end the doubt and the shadow which lurks within?’ She smiled, as they both made towards a mysterious staircase which opened up onto the murky plains below. ‘Yes, and much more than that.’ Livia now produced a large rounded shield. The trim was clad in gold whilst the targe itself gleamed of polished silverite. Gareth stood back in awe, the embossment it carried bringing back fond memories as the rearing Griffon, its wings unfurled and clad in silver flashed before eyes.
‘How?’ he whispered, almost to himself, ‘By the maker, how did you retrieve it?’ his voice was full of sentiment as Livia strapped it upon his arm.
‘It does not matter Gareth. It is yours once again. A gift from the First Warden does not so easily vanish, no matter how dark these depths may be.’ Her eyes contemplated him for a moment. ‘Look after it.’ She stood back now and admired the sight she saw; A man. Battered, shaken, perhaps even on the brink of collapse…but not broken. His heavy armour bore the many trials that were thrown upon him, but the sword he now grasped, and the shield he had thought lost were now in his hands, and Gareth knew this to be true. He sheathed the blade, threw the strap of his shield over his back and began to descend into the plains further down before Livia gave him one final message.
‘It will test you.’ She announced, watching him stop. ‘It will use whatever tricks and lies it can to deceive you Gareth. To turn you upon yourself…upon us all. Remember this. I will await your return.’ Livia then nodded as Gareth turned and with one last fleeting glance towards her, headed down the road, uncertain at what he was about to encounter. Livia watched on, the crunching of loose rocks from his boots fading as he disappeared into the murky air.
The unforgiving winds, dry and harsh they blew from the desolate plains of the Anderfels. They continually battered the ageless fortifications which had stood for many a century. It was the height of summer and the sun with all its potency scorched the already baked land which surrounded it. There it was - Weisshaupt fortress - its walls of dense stone standing upon the precipice that overlooked the surroundings - the pride of the Wardens. A rider appeared on the dust covered road which led to the mighty gates of hardened oak; Built by hands that no longer grace these lands anymore, if ever again. A sentry spotted the figure winding its way up the narrow pass and with an acute whistle, alerted the men at the gates. Immediately they began to heave the mammoth planks that barred them from the outside, three in total, and with a mighty swing the doors parted with a resounding boom.
The rider appeared at the entrance, their black steed pawing at the hardened dirt before they dismounted, took their companion by the halter and lead them through. The two guards gave a sceptic look towards the arrival as they wandered by; only being told to allow the one whom wandered upon a dark stallion to enter without delay. The figure remained hooded as they hitched their mount to a post within the stables, gaining odd looks from the hands who cleaned them. They continued their way towards the fortress itself, the few trees that dotted the interior gave little shade as they approached the main entrance, the leaves blowing listlessly along the stone. The figure removed the dust covered cowl which obscured their features, revealing long hair the colour of late autumn walnuts which immediately caught in the breeze, covering their delicate face and eyes as green as the purest emeralds. The two Wardens at the entrance were immediately entranced by this sudden apparition as they opened the doors within the mighty structure.
‘We have orders to accompany you to the First Wardens quarters.’ Said one whose voice was muffled beneath their heavy helm.
‘That won’t be necessary,’ a voice broke in suddenly as they both turned towards the hall beyond. A man was approaching, his strides sure and long as his weighty boots resounded with a distinct authority, the cape which adorned his armour trailing in his wake.
‘You may leave us now,’ he gestured to the men as he approached the woman in the entrance. ‘You have arrived quicker than we expected, although I’m sure you may think otherwise.’ He gestured for her to follow him, his long greying hair was tied to the nape of his neck and his beard was well kept. Certainly someone of higher ranking here, she thought.
‘I certainly seemed expected, if that’s what you mean. But my business is with the First Warden alone,’ the woman eventually replied, as they made their way through the hallway which soon led to a staircase. She looked around, admiring the many frescoes and paintings which dotted the walls, armoires holding ancient swords and polished chest plates stood.
‘The First Warden is currently away on business’, he responded, noticing her blank look, ‘but he has left me with the charge of Weisshaupt in his stead. He informed me that a rider would be approaching on the eve of the next full moon baring some rather important information.’ They continued up the stairwell before they reached a solid looking door. The man took a large grey key from his belt and unlocked it, they both entered. The room was furnished with many tables holding all matter of messages and manuscripts. But apart from the odd drape and cup, it was quite sparse. The Warden gestured for her to sit as he began to pour himself some wine.
‘So to the information at hand then. What is it that you have brought us?’ he asked, retrieving a second cup and offering it to her, but she politely refused.
‘To the information at hand.’ She said incredulously,’ yes, but before we get to that, you have not even told me who you are. All’s I know is that you are filling in for the First Warden.’
The man gave an amusing look. ‘No I haven’t.’ he smiled, ‘my apologies. You may call me Danath. I am the Chamberlain here. And while we’re talking names,’ Danath added, a frown creasing his brow, ‘you have yet to tell me yours?’
‘Telana’ she replied after a long silence. ‘I’m sure you already knew that and this was just some security procedure you must follow, but now I know you, can we just get to what’s important here?’
‘Of course,’ said Danath, now leaning back in his chair.
‘As you may already know,’ Telana started,’ The First Warden hired me personally to track down a certain individual. This individual was one of your own, a Warden by the name of Gareth.’ Telana saw his grey eyes widen slightly at the name, clearly he didn’t know all the details, she thought. ‘I was not told of the reasoning behind this, and I didn’t need to. My only objective was to find this man and report his whereabouts to the First Warden.’
‘And so you have his location?’ Danath asked uncertainly, ’you know exactly where this man’s residing? The late evening light began to seep through the drapes, igniting his worn features.
‘Well I was only informed to report his last known location. Of where he his right at this moment could be anyone’s guess. But from what I gathered, this Gareth was last seen travelling through Rivain, and he wasn’t alone. There was another accompanying him, or so I have been informed. And that is all I know.’ She answered tentatively, watching Danaths expression darken.
‘Gareth…’ he murmured, ‘and another you say? Do you have a description them, anything at all?’ Telana felt uneasy. Danath now stood over her, his unforgiving eyes seemed to be boring holes right through her. It was though he was trying to will the information he wanted from her mind, but she held firm and didn’t give in to his unprecedented intimidation.
‘No, as I have told you. That is all I know.’ She replied coolly, holding his gaze. He studied her for a brief moment, trying to catch any hint of a lie before he turned and walked towards a drawer, took out a small pouch of coins and tossed it at Telana.
‘I assume this is what the First Warden promised you?’ Danath said sternly as he watched her counting the coin within. Telana simply nodded and made for the door, but there was one last thing she needed to know. Turning she saw the chamberlain preparing some documents, his mood seemed changed ever since the mention of that name.
‘I know this shouldn’t worry me,’ she said,’ but may I ask where the First Warden has gone?’ Danath looked up with a glowering look.
‘What happens here is none of your concern, you’ve been paid. Now leave.’ His harsh tone left no room for argument. Telana held his gaze for a brief moment before stepping out the door, a sudden apprehension seized her as she trudged down the stairwell. Whatever it was, something here wasn’t right. His reaction to Gareth’s name, albeit subtle was evidence enough to her that things were not quite as they seemed, his obvious intimidation… and whomever this Gareth was. The First Wardens disappearance? Well that was another cause for alarm. Were the two linked perhaps? A thousand different plots ran through her mind, not only because she thought something was amiss, but she was trained to watch emotions, reactions, any sort of subtle movement that may betray a person’s real reasoning. And in that meeting she saw all that she needed to witness…but why? She thought again, making her way through the large hall as guards nodded their respects. Why should she be at all concerned about what happens here? Her objective was complete and she had been paid, but why the doubt, the need to intervene? The air at long last had cooled when she exited the fortress and made for the stables. Her lovely stallion, as black as the darkest of nights greeted her warmly, nudging its head in an affectionate gesture. She caressed its combed mane, staring into those large thoughtful eyes.
‘Banal’ras my friend,’ Telana whispered. The horses’ ears pricked up in acknowledgement, ‘where do our paths lead now? Of what road should I follow? You are all that I have and with this coin, opportunity awaits us both, only…’ she trailed off, staring into the setting sun through the planks of wood as it fell beneath the mountains, its last rays filtering past the thatched roof. After a moment’s thought, she decided it was time to leave. Unfastening the bridle from the post and leading her companion out into the dusty path towards the gate. But the apprehension came again, like a gnawing hunger that only grew in immensity the more she moved. It was then, as she was about to alert the gate guards of her departure did a voice appear. Telana kept walking, thinking it was only the sentries rotating their shifts but it came again, sharper this time.
‘You.’ The voice whispered. Telana turned abruptly and noticed a man standing in the shadows of an old portico, an urgent expression was evidently upon him. Telana was only a few strides from the gate as the guards began to remove the planks. In that moment she knew she had a choice. A choice to change her life, to perhaps have some meaningful purpose in this place or world which didn’t only consist of dubious odd jobs for even more questionable clients. As the last beam began to lift she immediately signalled for the guards to stop, her stallion stamping impatiently, lifting clouds of dust into the chilled air.
‘Leave that.’ She burst out, ‘but it seems I’ll have no need of leaving tonight. I’m sorry for the sudden change of heart.’ She added, noticing the confused and irritated looks of the men before leading her steed in the direction of the shrouded man.