Fantasy & Sci-Fi

Albinor Chronicles Chapter 25
"The Black One Falls"

By Marcus Pan

December 28, 005

The road was long, but fairly easy for the couple upon their mounts. They kept to the trails, as low level adventurers should, on their travels through Karameikos.

They began their travels from Threshold. They herald from there. Upon taking their leave they followed the Threshold Trail to Kelvin. After tarrying here they headed southward down the Specularum Trail which winds along the Kelvin River.

Who are they? They are young a unknown but to a few faces in Threshold. New faces in Albinor, but on which will ride a great importance for the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. The man is human. He is a veteran with high expectations. His companion is a woman of the elven race, grey elven to be precise, and is a practitioner of two classes a fighter and a mage. She is a veteran, but a prestidigitator as well with the power of magic and the potential of greatness.

Those familiar with the geography of Karameikos know of Krakatos Keep which lies on the trail these adventurers now travel, the Specularum Trail. This keep is of major importance to the duchy. For one, it serves as the residence of Duke Stefan Karameikos as well as Karnack Knight, his captain, and Mo-Mo, Karnack's betrothed, is currently residing here as well. Two, it is Karameikos' main muster-point for the knights for training during war time which, due to Entropia, is currently applicable. And lastly, it guards the main trade route of the country at all times. It is this structure the couple came upon in the noon-time sun.

Two castle guards clad in chain mail stand by with the Karameikos livery on their shoulders a red, pole-borne flag bearing "K III" on a sea blue field. One speaks. "G'day travelers. For times of war I must ask thee of your identity and heraldship."

"G'day to thee as well, Krakatos guardsman. Hail Karameikos and long live Stefan Karameikos III. Our heraldship is Threshold and our business is adventure. I am Saraya, veteran elf-maiden and practitioner of prestidigitory magics. And to my left is Valcor the veteran." A red-haired, bearded head moved from a vantaging window.

"I give thee passage. Hospitality of the duke is given in the common room if you wish it, but I ask thee to keep blades sheathed and evil incantations from your lips, m'lady. Welcome to Krakatos Keep."

"Thank thee, guardsman." the maiden finished. Traversing the trail as it squared around the building, they came upon the main doors to the keep. Here they tethered their mounts as they scanned the plains to the west. Two hundred shining Karameikos knights trained under the supervision of Captain Karnack Knight. Some trained with their long, composite bows, others with darts and still more fought mock battles in plate mail and shields using flashing longswords in the sun on this cold, but fair, December 28. Training was to stop soon for the celebration welcoming the sixth year of Albinor, for 'twas the eve of the new year. Valcor and Saraya found a castle guard to direct them to the common room which lies on the west side of Stefan's single-story dwelling. This large, 70' X 60' chamber was brightly lit by sconces holding torches in the walls and chandeliers hanging low with burning candles. Two score men, mostly knights of Karameikos, occupied the room. Two huge fireplaces dominated the western and southern walls, burning away the winter's chilliness. Cooks, cleaners, busboys and servers darted here and there gathering empty cups, plates, dirty utensils and serving the men with full mugs and plates of fine ale and steaming dinners. Some men were castle guards off duty, others were patrolling knights who stopped for the celebration and first degree troops from Specularum now on leave. Tables abounded with men eating, playing hands of card games and gambling on dice rolls. Even some adventurers and a few peasants ate, drank, gambles and all were having a good time of it. Valcor and Saraya couldn't help but feel the cheerfulness of the laughing soldiers seep into them. This was an ironic picture men in the livery of their liege carrying on in fun times. Fun times in a state of war that could strike them dead on their next field of battle.

Looking around, they noticed a corner of the room in shadow. Torches and an overhanging chandelier were snuffed in this corner, providing a small sanction of darkness within which sat a dark-clad, hooded figure. To this table the two adventurers gravitated after cornering a server and requesting two hot meals, a pitcher of ale for Valcor and a glass of white wine for Saraya. They sat themselves before the dark-clad man. No words passed and a millennium of silence passed, or so it seemed. Then the man spoke. "And what might it be that brings you two to a dark, silent corner in an otherwise cheerful room?" came a low voice from beneath the hood.

"Friendship and companionship." quoth Saraya. Valcor leaned in closer to the figure.

"That's just it." he added. At the sudden movement of the man towards him, the stranger's mind flashed. Whipping a loosely-hilted knife from beneath the wide sleeves of his cloak, he slid it to his palm and pressed it harshly against Valcor's neck. Valcor's eyes hardened and Saraya quietly pulled a dagger from it's sheath and held it above the table. "If she struck at me," the figure thought to himself, "I'd surely bleed her friend and her too. She's smart." He withdrew the blade and resheathed it. Saraya did the same.

"What might your name be, friend?" Saraya asked sweetly.

"I have many names. Here, they call me the Black One." came the reply. Small talk followed until a server brought food and drink for Valcor and Saraya and another cup of herbal tea for the Black One. A little time later a knight approached the table.

"Duke Lord Stefan Karameikos III will see you now, Black One." The Black One rose.

"The council halle?" he asked.

"Aye. And Veteran Valcor, m'lady Veteran/Prestidigitator Saraya. He humbly requests your presence in his council halle at this time. Will you come?" asked the guard.

"With pleasure, guardsman." answered Saraya. The four figures walked to the council halle of Krakatos as men from the field began to come in the common room.

The red-haired, red-bearded man that sat majestically at the far end of the table reminded Saraya of the face she saw at the window when she and Valcor first rode up. Indeed, 'twas the same face. Only four people were in this room, all seated at the large, oak table. Maps, models and scribe's desks lined the walls. "And what is there to tell me, my friend?" Stefan addressed the Black One.

"The first of February, nearly a year ago, Minrothad was assaulted by a war galley of Ierendi. Two-hundred strong knights attempted the destruction of Fort Death. Fortunately, both the score and one castle knights and a large group of the people resisted them."

"Interesting," said the duke, pondering to himself. "Losses?"

"In peasants, many lives. But only a single Minrothad knight fell on the field."

"Those poor people. But good may come out of it."

"Good?" asked the Black One with a look of confusion on his face.

"Aye." Answered Stefan. "Karl knows of the alliance?"

"Aye. King Lord Karl Guildmaster of the Minrothad Guilds knows of the Deadly Alliance of the kingdoms of Ierendi and Entropia."

"Now Karl may see the threat this alliance produces. He must now knowingly admit that we must align as well to rectify and rid these threats, namely Entropia and Ierendi. I bid you to take another correspondence to the court of King Karl Guildmaster bidding for an alliance once again. Maybe he will agree after Ierendi's blatant assault."

"I shall." the Black One agreed. Stefan then turned his attention to Valcor and Saraya.

"I apologize for the conversation and hope you were not excessively bored. You came from Threshold?"

"Aye, m'lord." Saraya spoke.

"The ties are treacherous at current and it is impossible to say of the boldness of King Lord Hector Aasgard of Entropia or King Lord Zeckar Ierendi of Ierendi. I ask thee, any large movements on the roads up north?"

"No, m'lord. All is well in the north." answered Saraya. The duke breathed a sigh of relief.

"Good." he stated. "I thank you all for your time." Stefan then rose, followed by the other three. Suddenly a low twang hummed through the air followed by a dull thump. The Black One yelped and a lone arrow coated with blood burst through the front of his cloak, splattering Valcor and Saraya, who were beside him, with red droplets like foam from a warm sea. The arrow nearly hit the duke, but missed and lodged itself between the polished stones of the far wall. All heads turned to the eastern window where a figure in black darted away. Stefan yelled, "Guards!" and the door burst open. Stefan pulled a longsword from his right side, Saraya dove and Valcor pulled his own blade. When the doors burst open a half dozen chain-clad men tore into the chamber. Two ran to block their lord, two more went to support the Black One who was slumped over the table. Blood had pooled there and a red, wet spot rapidly grew on the back of his black cloak where the fatal arrow entered. The last two headed towards Valcor to smite him in their haste and confusion, but Stefan pointed to the window. They dove out, screaming for more men in the night. Valcor wiped his face, finding smears of showered blood upon his sweating brow.

The Black One was laid on a skiff and sent down the Kelvin River to the sea for his final resting place. This they did the first day of the new year, January 1, 006, with full honors. The assassin was found dead not far from Krakatos. He had committed hary-kary, suicide, to avoid interrogation. Stefan's top informant is now dead.