The Train: Episode 85

“One by one they’ve taken Dr. Ricer, Lucy, and now Nicole,” Michael thought. “Where are they? Are they dead?”

“You must not give up. Perhaps they can be saved,” Father Salvatore encouraged Michael.

“What?” Michael asked, struggling to think.

“There is a chance you may be able to save them,” Father Salvatore repeated.

“Yeah,” Michael responded, half listening.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen. He was part of a team. Elliot had said they would clean up things together. How was he supposed to fix anything without the others?”

Michael felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Father Salvatore looking at him through the cracked lenses of an old pair of glasses.

“It’s not too late,” he told Michael.

“I hope not,” Michael said, picking up his shotgun. “If they can be saved, I’ll do it!”

“You can,” Salvatore smiled. “They are still alive.”

“How do you know that?” Michael asked, not sure whether to listen to the priest.

“Did you see them dead?” Salvatore asked. “Did you stand over their bodies?”

“No, but I saw someone grab Dr. Ricer, a tall man inside the burning cabin. And Lucy and Nicole just disappeared.”

“Abraham,” Salvatore said.

“You think Abraham took all of them?”

“I’m afraid so,” Salvatore said. “Abraham Carver was the groundskeeper at Summerhill Medical Center. His father raised him to love that place. In the end, Abraham saw people in one of two ways. Either they were helpless and in need of protection or threats he must eliminate.”

Father Salvatore walked to the doorway, his robes sliding along the dusty floor, and looked up and down the hallway.

“I opened this place in the wake of the Summerhill tragedy hoping to cleanse the property of the evil that had consumed it,” Salvatore said as he turned and walked back into the room.

“I tried to bring Abraham back into the world, back into society, but he had been alone too long, alone with the spirits that roam the halls of Summerhill. He was innocent at heart with a birth defect that made it impossible for him to speak. Poor thing didn’t understand people at all.”

Placing a hand on Michael’s shoulder, Salvatore gave Michael his backpack and said,

“Come with me. We must find Abraham.”

Salvatore turned into the hallway with Michael at his side.

“In the end he really meant no harm to anyone, that is until Scott Morgan had his near death experience. After that, Scott had a twisted view of me, which forced him to believe I had power he could simply take. This drove him to madness and sadly, he eventually took Abraham with him. I was imprisoned before I could stop him, and soon this place fell under his control,” Salvatore explained as they moved farther and farther away from the resort.

“How does any of this save my friends?” Michael asked, growing a little impatient.

“Now that Scott is dead, I believe I can get through to Abraham and have him lead us to your friends,” Salvatore explained.

Michael began to relax a little as a cautious hope crept into his heart.

“Where are we going?” he asked. “The resort is the other way.”

“Abraham spends all of his time in Summerhill, and it is there he will have taken your friends,” Salvatore said.

“Then that’s exactly where we’re going!” Michael said, once again feeling the fighting spirit.

* * *

The hallway lead to a stairwell going down then to a door that opened up onto the grounds of what was once Summerhill Medical Center. Standing like a great monster in the moonlight, the blackened ruins cast their shadow across the grass. The cool night breeze after the rain stirred the leaves of the vines and creaking trees embracing the skeleton that once was Summerhill. As Salvatore and Michael stepped through the door and onto the wet earth, the thunder sounded in the distance as the storm moved on.

“Poor dear Serena,” Salvatore said.

“I’ll say. What exactly happened to her?” Michael asked. “She seemed like the only normal person here. To just kill yourself like that. Strange.”

“Sadly, Serena was never as you say normal. She was the only child of an abusive father. When I found her, her body and spirit were broken. I took her in and raised her as my own child. I was hoping to bring her to a safe place where she could one day go out on her own and start a new life. But the more time I spent with her, the more I realized that while she had escaped addiction to drugs, she was becoming addicted to me. She clung to me. You see, I was the father figure she always wanted. In the end, she failed to protect me. That was more than she could take,” Salvatore explained.

“But why kill Scott Morgan, I mean Suriel, if you were safe?” Michael asked.

“She saw Scott Morgan as someone who was trying to take away everything she held dear. As soon as she had the opportunity, she killed him to protect me then took her own life to punish herself for failing me. Or perhaps she did it because she could not stand the thought of losing me again.”

Salvatore wiped his hands on his robes and looked out over the grounds of Summerhill.

“Abraham is in there somewhere. Of that I have no doubt,” he asserted.

Then he took a deep breath and said,

“Let us go find him and get your friends.”

When Michael reached into his bag, he found that his revolver was missing.

“Where’s my gun?” he asked, checking all the compartments.

“The revolver?” Salvatore asked. “You must have left it back in the room. Or perhaps you lost it when we made our way through the tunnels. Do not worry. Once we have found your friends, we will go back for it. I am certain it will be safe until you return.”

Despite his uneasiness about the lost weapon, Michael decided to let it go, at least for the moment.

“What was all that stuff back there in the rooms?” he asked.

“Scott was simply trying to take for himself the power he thought I had. I told him I have no power. I am just an old man who tries to help people in whatever way I can,” Salvatore heaved a sigh of regret. “But he would not believe me.”

“No, I mean with those prisoners,” Michael said.

“I do not understand,” Salvatore said.

As Michael described what he had seen in the rooms before they found Salvatore, the old man recoiled.

After a moment, a tear glistened in Salvatore’s eye as he said,

“Sadly, I do not know what Scott was doing. This makes my failure at protecting them weigh even heavier upon my shoulders.”

“Sorry,” Michael said feeling pity for the old man.

“What Scott did is not your fault. Oh but that is not what you meant, is it? You are sympathetic because of my distress and trouble.”

Michael nodded, “Yea.”

“Do not apologize. Compassion is a rare quality in a world so consumed with itself. But I have faith that this world can still be saved. We just need to discover a way to fix the mistakes of our past.”

“Fix the past?” Michael asked confused.

“A mere figure of speech, son. I mean we must remove the emotional scars left us by the trauma in our lives.”

As Salvatore continued to talk, Michael reached out from time to time to keep the old man from slipping on the wet grass and mud of the hospital grounds. And with every step, Michael couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching him.

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Published in: on June 18, 2018 at 12:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Train: Episode 84

Michael threw his weight against the door as someone on the other side pushed, trying to force their way in.

“We need to find something to pin these doors shut, or the butcher and the baker are going to keep on following us,” Michael said as he looked around for something to use.

“The butcher and the baker?” Serena asked confused.

“You know the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker,” Michael said, waiting for Serena to catch on.

When he saw from her expression that she didn’t understand, he added,

“From the nursery rhyme ‘Rub a Dub Dub’.”

Serena just stared at him.

“What kind of childhood did you have anyway?” Michael asked, struggling to keep his feet from slipping as he held the door.

“Here. Try this,” Nicole said, running up to him with a sharpened piece of wood.

“That would be great if they were vampires,” Michael said, turning and pressing his back against the door.

“Wait!” Michael said. Then looking at Serena, he asked, “They’re not vampires are they?”

Nicole groaned, “No, you idiot.”

Bending down, she shoved the piece of wood under the door. When Michael cautiously released the door, the piece of wood held it in place.

“Same as a rubber ball that rolls up against a door. Acts like a wedge, holding it shut,” Nicole explained.

“Thanks,” Michael said, straightening up.

Down the hallway, they saw a faint red light. Cell doors lined the walls, and hands reached out between the bars as cries of pain and anger filled the air.

“Stick to the center,” Michael instructed, “and stay directly behind me.”

Keeping a safe distance from the bars, Michael glanced into the first cell on his right. In the corner, restrained with a straight jacket, sat a weeping woman, her dark, matted hair falling across her face. The cell on the opposite wall held a bald, toothless man, his eyes bulging as he pressed himself against the door, reaching out and mumbling incoherently.

Michael shook his head in deep pity at these miserable souls.

Spotting a bright light pouring out of one of the rooms up ahead on the left, he told Serena and Nicole,

“Let’s keep going.”

In the next set of cells, a man struggled to free himself from the metal bands that bound his hands behind him. Blood oozed from open wounds on his forehead as he banged his head against the cell door.

“Let me out!” he screamed.

The cell across from him held two men, one tied to a chair with the other standing over him. The man in the chair was writhing in pain as he stared at Michael with eyes whose light was only a flicker. Blood dripped from his mouth, and the man by him held a pair of pliers with a bloodied tooth caught in the pincers.

Serena gasped and shuddered, grabbing Michael’s arm. There was one more cell door to pass before they reached the end of the hall. Michael did not want to look, but he could not help himself. On one side of the cell was a large open furnace, its fire blazing. When Michael touched the cell door, he jerked his hand back from the hot metal. Two chains with weights stretched out from the wall were attached to shackles around a man’s wrists. In his desperation to move away from the rising flames, his strength was rapidly waning.

“Please! I am certain we can reach a peaceful arrangement,” came a voice down the hall.

“Father Salvatore!” Serena exclaimed.

“Serena! Wait!” Nicole ordered as Serena ran up ahead and disappeared into the light of the open room.

Michael and Nicole hurried after her.

The room was filled with candles, and covering the walls were odd markings, scrawled in what Michael hoped was red paint. On the right, an older man rested on his knees, his hands bound to the wall. When Michael and Nicole entered the room, he lifted his eyes, weary from a long struggle with little hope. Across the room from him stood a younger man, his short black hair pulled back into a ponytail with a bit of twine.

“Stop!” the younger man yelled to Michael and Nicole. “Drop your weapons!”

Michael dropped the shotgun, and after a pause, Nicole reluctantly dropped her pistol.

“Suriel! What are you doing?” Serena asked the younger man.

“It is time for the ascension when he must pass his power onto me. His time has ended, and he refuses to let me become what I am meant to be, to take my rightful place,” Suriel protested.

“Listen to me, Suriel,” Michael said. “I’m sure this all makes perfect sense, plenty of reasons why what you say should happen. But have you considered the reasons why it shouldn’t?”

“Quiet!” Suriel said. “You are an outsider! You know nothing of our beliefs.”

Suriel’s head twitched as though struck by sudden pain. He turned his pistol away from Salvatore and began to strike himself on the forehead as he said,

“I have to think.”

“Son, trust me. This is not the answer. Please let me help you,” Salvatore begged.

“No! You will only lie to prevent the ascension. You refuse to give up the power that is no longer yours. I am the rightful heir,” Suriel insisted, slamming his hand against his chest. “It is my place to rule our people.”

Suddenly there was a loud crash out in the hall behind them. When Nicole jerked her head in the direction of the noise, she saw the two men who had been slowly moving toward them in the other hallway.

“Michael,” she said through gritted teeth, “this situation is getting worse. We need to do things my way.”

“I can still fix this,” Michael said, desperately trying to think of an answer.

All at once, a shot rang out and Michael and Nicole dropped down. As Michael rose to his feet, he saw that Suriel’s hands hung limply by his sides as blood from a bullet wound in his chest soaked into his shirt. Serena stood next to Michael, Nicole’s gun in her hand.

“What happened?” Michael asked.

But when he turned to Nicole, she was gone. Hurrying out to the hallway, he looked up and down but could find no trace of her.

“Nicole!” he shouted.

“Are you all right, Father Salvatore?” Serena asked.

“I am, my child,” he assured her, “but you should not have killed him.”

“I am sorry, Father Salvatore, but I had to keep you safe,” Serena explained.

Then she stepped back and said,

“Everything I did, I did to make you happy. Are you happy?”

“I am, child,” Salvatore replied.

“Then I am at peace,” Serena smiled.

With that, she lifted the gun and pressed it under her chin.

“Wait!” Michael exclaimed.

But before he could stop her, Serena pulled the trigger. She dropped the pistol and fell to the floor dead. Michael looked down at Serena’s body as her blood pooled around his shoes.

“Dr. Ricer, Lucy, and now Nicole. They’re gone,” Michael said in defeat.

“Not yet,” Salvatore said. “There is still a chance to save them.”

Published in: on May 17, 2018 at 1:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 97

After the king’s meeting with the envoy of Acimeth, Princess Lillian had slipped away to the royal garden, a place where she always found peace. The sound of birds’ morning songs filled the air as Lillian moved slowly through the soft grass. Closing her eyes, she breathed in the sweetness of the lilacs’ pleasing fragrance and listened to the hum of bees, busy about their work at the brilliant purple and bluish blossoms. Lillian longed to remove her shoes and run through the grass barefoot as in the days when she and Allaster were children. But when she had grown from a child to a youth, her father posted guards with strict orders to bring her in should she do anything unbefitting a princess.

“This marriage will unite our two countries, my daughter,” the king had stressed. “You must show character and bravery as well as meekness. If this arrangement fails, King Stephanus will take us to war.”

Although Lillian knew a war would hurt her people, she could not deny her heart’s desire. She wanted only to marry Allaster, her childhood friend. Now it seemed as if disappearing, fleeing from her homeland, was the only way she could be with him.

Hearing the soft fluttering of birds’ wings, Lillian glanced up to see a male bird, carrying a bit of food in its beak, returning to a nest where patiently waited his hungry mate sitting on a clutch of eggs. As the princess watched in awe, the male fed the female then quickly flew away in search of more food. Lillian’s spirit was lifted for a moment at the wonder. But then her grief overcame her and she bowed her head to hide the tears. It seemed that the price of her happiness was war with Acimeth. Yet, she reasoned, the king was strong and wise. He would surely find a way to keep the peace. Lillian considered this for a moment as she eyed the guards and struggled with what to do.

Then she remembered Allaster’s words as he looked into her eyes, “We cannot run away, Lillian. It would break your father’s heart and put your brother Nesmoru in line for the throne.”

Cursing his logic as she paced, she began to consider how she could keep her brother from the throne and still be free.

When the answer suddenly appeared, she stopped in midstride.

“I will wait until I am queen then bring Allaster back as my personal advisor,” she said to herself.

“Once I am queen, I shall do as I wish,” she said aloud, her head lifting. “My father used to say that the most fearsome day is when the lioness first discovers her howl.”

Hearing a twig snap behind her, Lillian whirled around to see Derali standing there, his manservant just behind him.

“For it is with this voice she will establish her place and protect her family,” Derali said, finishing the proverb.

Lillian recoiled, worried about how much Derali had heard.

Derali laughed, “Do not fear, Your Highness. I have seen many arranged marriages. Some prospered, others not. This I can tell you, though. Prince Lanidus is a good man who is only concerned. . .”

Derali paused glancing back at his servant. . .”for the welfare of others.”

Lillian smiled and took one last look of longing at an open spot between the guard and the hedge surrounding the garden. Then she turned to face Derali.

“In truth, I am not at peace with this marriage, but I will respect my father’s wishes and do what I must to guard the safety of my people,” Lillian said.

“Safety?” Derali asked confused.

“It is well known that King Stephanus has his eye on Ethion. My family has ruled over this land since the days when Tobias Ashblood freed it from the children of dusk, and your idle threats of war and fear mongering will not daunt King Isembart. He will not fall into defeat.”

Derali was taken aback.

“I know not of what you speak,” Derali answered, his brow furrowed. “The only purpose of King Stephanus is the marriage of his son. Prince Lanidus is the fifth of six sons, and King Stephanus only wishes his son to wed well.”

Derali’s servant coughed suddenly.

“King Stephanus is a gentle soul,” Derali said, glancing back at his servant. “And Prince Lanidus is far more uneasy about your reputation than your father’s.”

“My reputation?” Lillian asked.

“Far and wide, word has spread of Princess Lillian’s wild heart and unmatched beauty. My king was certain that when you saw Prince Lanidus, you would flee,” Derali said.

Lillian slightly blushed, turning away to hide her guilt.

When Derali’s servant coughed again, Lillian saw a smile work its way across Derali’s face.

“That is not to say that the prince is hideous. In truth, many maidens were distraught by the news of his marriage.”

“He sounds quite spirited,” Lillian said. “But he must know that I will not be a queen who sits by waiting for his consent before I act.”

Derali laughed, “Of course, Your Highness. The prince is an honorable man of courage with a fierce loyalty to his kingdom and its people. He is the best among his brothers.”

“You know him well?” Lillian asked.

“I grew up with him,” Derali said. “Although I am merely a humble guardian, the prince is like a brother to me.”

Suddenly the joy fell from Derali’s face as he yelled,

“Step aside, Your Highness!”

Just as Lillian turned out of the way, the guard nearest her fell, a bloody wound in his back.

A man wearing colors she did not recognize walked toward her. When she looked toward the second guard, she saw that he was already down while another man in matching colors stood over him.

“Get behind me, Your Highness!” Derali warned, drawing his sword.

“I can take care of myself,” Lillian said.

“I do not doubt that, but please allow me this,” Derali said.

Before she could answer, two men ambushed Derali from behind, striking him and grabbing his servant.

“Let us be gone,” one of the two men yelled.

As Derali’s servant fought against their hold, the two men struggled to drag him out of the garden.

“Are you injured?” Lillian asked Derali.

“I am unharmed, Your Highness, but they have taken him!” Derali said in anguish.

“Your servant?” Lillian asked, confused by the messenger’s distress.

“Do not fear. My father will see that your servant is returned.”

“He is not my servant! He is Prince Lanidus!” Derali confessed.

Lillian looked up to see that the men had reached the edge of the garden. Glancing over at one of the fallen guards, Lillian quickly reached down and lifted his pike. When she threw the weapon, it arched through the air and pierced one of the escaping men, pinning him to the ground.

The other man fled, taking Prince Lanidus with them.

“Who were those men?” Lillian asked.

“They work for Riscio, a disgraced guard captain who, after failing to depose King Stephanus, fled with those loyal to him. Since his defeat, he has been searching for a way to take the throne for himself. The man you struck is Drilli, once a trusted guard before he joined Riscio’s band,” Derali said.

“My father will find those who took Prince Lanidus and see that he is released. You must not worry,” Lillian said.

“His life will be preserved, but I fear he will be held captive until King Stephanus releases all of Riscio’s men from the prisons of Acimeth,” Deralli explained.

Coming Soon to Unsettled….

The Train: Episode 83

Through the manhole cover, Michael and the others climbed down a long ladder until they reached the bottom. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, Michael saw that they were in a musty sewer of putrid waste. Searching through his bag, he pulled out a heavy flashlight and swept the beam along the walls and floor. On the surface of the foot deep water, he spotted traces of blood.

“This way,” he directed.

Bugs crawled along the slimy brick walls as an occasional rat scurried off into the darkness.

“Why would Saint Suriel bring Father Salvatore down here?” Serena asked.

“No idea,” Nicole answered, the barrel of her pistol aimed just over Michael’s shoulder.

A few yards down, the sewer opened up into an empty room with a flight of iron stairs.

Michael slowly swept the flashlight’s beam across the water’s surface, and when he found no signs of blood, he pointed to the stairs.

“He must have gone this way. It’s the only way up.”

A faint light poured down the steps.

Keeping a wary eye out, Michael slowly ascended the stairs, pausing to listen for voices. At the top of the steps was a heavy wooden door. Slowly he turned the knob and pushed the door open with his shotgun.

When he stepped through the door into a long filthy hallway, its tile floor cracked and stained, he was certain he heard a faint cry. At the end of the hall, a pale green light cast a glow onto the floor beneath a closed door, and up and down the hallway, the weak light of open rooms cast shadows on the walls.

“Where are we?” Michael asked Serena.

“I do not know,” Serena said.

Stay close,” Nicole advised, her gun raised.

Leading with his shotgun, Michael crept down the hall toward the first room.

When he reached the doorway, he took a step back and froze.

“Why did you stop?” Nicole asked.

When Michael failed to answer, Nicole took her eyes off the hallway and looked inside the room.

Hanging from the ceiling were twelve cloth bags, each six feet long. The cloth had been tightly wound to form a sort of cocoon.

“What are those things?” Serena asked.

Michael cautiously stepped closer and slowly reached out to touch one of the bags.

When the tips of his fingers brushed against the damp cloth, something inside the bag began to move and make a soft noise.

“What is that sound?” Michael asked, struggling to identify it.

“Sounds like moaning to me,” Nicole said. “Somebody’s inside that thing.”

With her free hand, Nicole removed her knife from its sheath and took a step toward the bag.

When Michael heard a low rustling sound, he looked around the room and saw that each of the bags had begun to move.

Suddenly Michael spotted a man standing at the other side of the room. He wore a gas mask and was dressed in a long white lab coat splattered with mud and dark patches of blood.

As he turned around and looked at Michael through the mask, his black rubber boots squeaked. Then with a black rubber gloved hand, he reached out and stopped one of the bags from moving.

His eyes focused on the tall man, Michael put his arm out to keep Nicole from cutting into the bag.

“What?” she asked.

When Michael pointed to the man standing motionless as he watched them, Nicole slipped her knife back in its sheath and aimed her pistol.

Michael’s instincts told him to shoot, but the unarmed man didn’t seem aggressive as he kept staring at them.

“He’s not in here. Please. Let’s keep moving,” Serena pleaded, pulling on Michael’s sleeve.

Michael hesitated but then said,

“We’ll be back for them.”

He stepped out of the room and slowly continued down the hallway, uneasy at turning his back on the man in the gas mask and dirty coat.

Nicole took a quick glance backward but the man didn’t seem to be following them. A few feet farther down the hall, she glanced back again and saw that now the man was standing still in the hall watching them.

“That room must be for those guests who need extra help relaxing,” Michael joked, trying to calm his nerves.

“I do not know what purpose this place serves,” Serena insisted.

When Nicole looked back and saw that the man was standing even closer, she insisted,

“Michael, we need to find a way out of here!”

Turning away for just a moment, she looked back and saw that he was closer still.

As they approached another room, Michael could feel cold air wafting from inside. A pale white light poured out from the room as he turned slowly into the doorway, afraid of what he might see.

For a moment, Michael felt as though his heart would stop. The room was filled with gurneys, each gurney holding a sheet-draped body. Crates marked with different numbers had been stacked at the back of the room, and blood dripped from some of the crates. Fluorescent lights flickered overhead as a man entered the room wearing black rubber gloves and boots, welding goggles and a breath mask. Carrying a saw caked in blood, he stopped and wiped it across his blood soaked apron then looked at Michael in silence.

“Michael, we need to get out of here now! Every time I take my eyes off that man back there, he moves closer,” Nicole informed.

“Not much better in here,” Michael said, staring at the man with the saw.

“Either we get out of here or I start shooting,” Nicole warned.

“Please don’t,” Serena begged. “If Saint Suriel knows we are here, he might kill Father Salvatore.”

Michael saw another door less than 15 feet away. Glancing back into the room with the bodies, he saw that the goggled man had exchanged his saw for a large hammer and was coming closer.

“Okay. Run for that door up ahead,” Michael motioned. “I’ll keep an eye on these two.”

Nicole took Serena’s sleeve and hurried her toward the door while Michael shifted his gaze from one man to the other. Each man came closer every time Michael looked at the other.

“Come on!” Nicole snapped.

Michael turned and bolted for the door. When he reached the door, he spun around to watch the hallway. Reaching behind him, he pulled the door open and slipped through, leaving the two men standing in the hall watching.

As he quickly pulled the door closed, he looked for a bolt to lock it. There was none.

Turning around to Nicole and Serena, he saw that they were in a hallway twice as long as the one they had just left. The hall was dark except for the faint light that streamed from each of the open rooms. Michael quickly flipped on his flashlight and was searching the hallway when suddenly he heard the door behind him begin to open.

Dragon Fire: Episode 95

As High Priest Zephryses quickly descended the stairs, two of his guards stepped forward and slipped a chain around the stunned Allaster.

“I do not understand. The potion was to have worked only once,” Zephryses cursed, pacing across the courtyard as the wind lifted his robes.

“What shall we do, sir?” one of Zephryses’s trusted priests asked.

“As yet, I have no answer. I could spend the rest of my life killing him, but he will keep rising from the earth,” Zephryses complained.

“King Isembart expects a report on the prisoner,” the loyal priest said.

“Precisely. I was to find a way to kill him and send a report to the king. Now, that is not possible. I cannot leave him alive in the dungeon for fear someone might free him or listen to his account of what happened. He must die once and for all!” the High Priest fumed.

As Zephryses continued to pace, a giant of a man bearing dual swords at his sides and another strapped to his back strode through the doorframe.

“How have you ever tasted victory?” the man asked.

The towering man was known as Riscio, the leader of the mercenary group Zephryses had engaged to compliment his small army of loyal soldiers. An outlaw in his own land, he moved freely in the kingdom of Ethion, safe from all but the bounty hunters.

“What is this you say?” Zephryses asked enraged.

“You have been given the perfect opportunity to win the king’s favor yet you waste time whining like a woman. Lock the prisoner away in a deep dark hole—,” Riscio began.

“I cannot do this for the king will want proof of death,” Zephryses interrupted.

“Then you must tell the king that the prisoner has escaped and assure him that you will faithfully search to the ends of the earth until he is found,” Riscio answered with a dramatic wave of his arm.

“But of course I cannot make this adventurous journey but must remain in Ethion to protect the kingdom,” Zephryses responded, considering the plan. “Perfect.”

“Of course,” Riscio said with great self-satisfaction.

High Priest Zephryses leaned toward Allaster and peered into his eyes.

“These men will take you to a place where no one will find you,” Zephryses explained, smiling as his eyes grew wide with delight, “and there I want you to stay. Never forget that I will always be within reach of the princess. If I hear of your escape or attempted escape, she will be dead long before you can save her. Do you understand?”

Weakened by his helplessness, Allastar bent his head and slowly nodded.

As Zephryses turned, he gave instructions to Riscio.

“Far out in the sea is an island where no one goes. Legend has that it is haunted. Take him to the prison there and lock him away. Once you have secured his chains, you and your men are free to go. If I have need of you, I will send word.”

“What of my people? I have men locked in the dungeons of Acimeth, imprisoned by King Stephanus,” Riscio said.

“After the marriage ceremony of King Isembart’s daughter, I will see to it that your men are released. Until then, stay out of my way,” Zephryses said turning.

“You are in error. We will take this prisoner to the island after my men have been released. They will not be freed at your pleasure.”

 

 

*          *          *

 

As the horses pulled the wood and iron carriage down the narrow, well-worn road that cut through the king’s forest, Prince Lanidus rested his throbbing head against the soft cushions. The fragrance of wild flowers filled the air as the birds greeted the new day.

“You know, your majesty, if you had slept last night instead of gambling and drinking, you would be in better spirits,” Derali the Captain of the Guard pointed out.

“I am to wed soon,” Lanidus reminded him, “so why not have fun before then?”

“Marriage is not something you should resign yourself to. It represents the union of two souls, two travelers who will forever journey together,” Derali said.

“What would you know of this?” Lanidus remarked.

Derali’s expression grew somber and he lowered his eyes, aimlessly adjusting the ring on his finger. As soon as Lanidus realized what he had said, his heart sank.

“I am sorry, my friend. How long as it been since she passed?”

“The last full moon,” Derali said.

“I forgot. I was not thinking of your loss. I am just concerned about my upcoming marriage. How can I be joyful?” Lanidus asked. “This marriage is merely a union of the kingdoms Acimeth and Ethion. I wish to wed for love.”

“I hear the Princess Lillian is quite beautiful,” Derali said, trying to encourage him.

“Surely you know that the bride of an arranged marriage is never beautiful,” Lanidus said, “only convenient.”

Derali shook his head in laughter. “I wish to be there when you meet her so that I can see your surprise and delight.”

“I have heard that until recently the kingdom of Ethion was beset upon by a demon of some sort,” Lanidus said.

“Not a demon,” Derali corrected. “A priest of Authrax who was immune to death. They burned him alive yet he rose from the ashes. The townsfolk call him the burned priest. But truly such things are but legend.”

Lanidus laughed and said, “And I suppose it is also legend that giant plants grow in Ethion that can consume a full grown man? My favorite story is the one about a large pantherlike creature with the wings of a bat.”

“All legends,” Derali assured him. “Ethion has been thriving since Tobias Ashblood drove out the Children of Dusk.”

“I was taught about Valkovians in my youth,” Lanidus said, “but I never saw one. My teacher said some of them were kind and honorable.”

“That may be so, but many who have been seen have tried to kill anyone who is not a Valkovian,” Derali informed.

“So I am to be king of a perilous land,” Lanidus said. “Wonderful.”

Prince Lanidus did not realize the truth of his words for unbeknownst to him, Riscio and his soldiers were hiding in Ethion, and Riscio would do anything to free his men locked away as prisoners of the kingdom. Hearing of this threat, King Stephanus had commanded Derali to accompany his son the prince.

“Well I am not a weak man,” Lanidus continued. “I was one of the greatest soldiers in the last war. I can defend myself and no demon priest will stop me. I will marry King Isembart’s hideous daughter and make this cursed land my own!”

Derali could not help but laugh at the prince’s words for he had seen drawings of Princess Lillian and knew Lanidus would be at a loss for words when he saw her beauty.

Dragon Fire: Episode 94

As Allaster rose from the ashes, the villagers who had lingered until the fire burned itself out began to scream, fleeing in their terror. For just a moment, Allaster stood then collapsed to the charred ground.

“Authrax gives him power,” one hysterical woman cried out.

When King Isembart turned toward the chaos, he saw Allaster and commanded, “Seize him.”

Weak and confused, Allaster struggled to stand but was hindered when the strong arm of the guards restrained him.

While they held him, Allaster watched as King Isembart approached.

“I do not understand this power you hold,” Isembart roared, “but know this. I will see you locked away for the rest of your days. In the deepest, darkest dungeon, you will remain until the world has long forgotten you.”

“Father, please,” Lillian pleaded. “Have you no mercy?”

Exhausted and bewildered, Allaster cast his eyes upon the suffering princess, and his heart broke.

But when King Isembart saw the glance, he shouted,

“Do not look upon her! You will never see her nor daylight again!”

“My liege, if I may put forth a proposal,” High Priest Zephryses said as he came closer.

“What do you suggest?” King Isembart asked.

“I think it unwise to keep the prisoner here in Ethion. There may be those who would seek to free him. Perhaps, if your majesty agrees, I could take him to Copperhead Camp where he will be safely locked away, under the watchful eyes of my most trusted guards, while I discover how to reverse this power Authrax has given him.”

King Isembart considered for a moment then said,

“I do not favor this plan, but I must keep my people safe.”

King Isembart looked at Princess Lillian, her hands trembling as she covered her tearful eyes.

“Do so at once. Get him out of here!”

“But, Father, you—,” Lillian began.

“I will hear no more!”

“Take her back to her room!” the king ordered as he turned and headed to the palace.

As the king’s guards escorted Princess Lillian away, High Priest Zephryses turned to Allaster and said,

“Now you will stay locked away where no one can help you.”

With a nod of the priest’s head, Allaster lost consciousness.

* * *

When Allaster awoke, he found himself in a carriage, his hands and feet bound tightly with ropes. On either side of him sat a guard, staring straight ahead as the carriage rumbled down the winding dusty road. In the distance on a small island in the middle of a lake rested Copperhead Camp. Once a large towering castle, its true name had been lost in time long ago and it became known as Copperhead Camp. The lower levels of the castle had been sealed to constrain the countless nests of snakes that covered the dungeon floors, offering no hope of escape.

When the driver reached the lake’s shore, he brought the carriage to a rolling stop. The two guards slipped out of the carriage and waited as Allaster slowly worked himself to the ground. Positioning themselves at Allaster’s sides, the guards led him to the boat then tied his ropes to a great iron ring just before the boatman steered the craft to the island. When they reached the shore, the guards took Allaster through the castle’s two large doors and into a courtyard.

Allaster noticed that none of the soldiers in formation wore the uniforms of the Kingdom of Ethion. As they walked through the courtyard toward a door in the wall ahead, a voice from atop the wall called out,

“Wait!”

Allaster looked up and saw High Priest Zephryses.

“Bring him to me,” the priest ordered.

At that, the guards turned and took Allaster toward a flight of stairs leading up to where the High Priest Zephryses waited.

“My boy,” Zephryses said, taking in a deep breath.

“You will not escape the penalty for what you have done,” Allaster warned.

“Then tell them,” Zephryses sneered. “But you must realize that no one here cares what I have done. Every man is loyal to me.”

Zephryses put his arm around Allaster and said,

“Now if you were willing to keep what you saw to yourself and swear loyalty to me, I might be able to arrange for circumstances to work in your favor. I know of your love for the princess, and I know that she professes her love in return. I could quite easily arrange for the two of you to be together.”

Zephryses turned Allaster around and looked into his eyes.

“Even now, King Isembart arranges the wedding of Princess Lillian to Prince Lanidus, the son of King Stephanus.”

Zephryses laughed and said,

“But that is of no consequence for I can easily remove Lanidus and put you in his place. Sadly the change will not be permanent, so you will have to return to me to reestablish your mask, shall we say. Getting the princess to fall in love with you will not be difficult. After all, she loves you.”

“No!” Allaster refused.

Zephryses quickly removed his hands from Allaster and stepped back in surprise.

“Really? No? I just offered you everything you desire, and you slap my hand away?”

“I will not do this to Lillian no matter what you offer me. You are wicked, vile. I will never give you what you want,” Allaster insisted.

“You seem to forget that you do not have any power here. That trick that brought you back from death worked only once. Give me what I want or stay dead,” Zephryses demanded.

“No!” Allaster shouted, straightening up as he glared at the priest.

“You always were a stubborn child. I see nothing has changed. No matter. I will still get what I want. You cannot stop me. No one can stop me.”

Suddenly, Zephryses slipped one of the guard’s swords from its sheath. Turning to Allaster, he said,

“You cheated death once, but now you will stay dead.”

As Zephryses drew back the blade, Allaster closed his eyes.

“Goodbye, Allaster,” Zephryses said as he ran him through.

When Allaster fell to his knees, Zephryses raised the sword and with one clean pass, removed Allaster’s head. Then he pushed Allaster over the side of the wall, his body and head smashing to the ground below.

“Let the animals have their fill of his flesh. I will be in my chambers.”

Zephryses handed the bloodied sword to the guard and walked away.

When one of the guards peered over the wall, he called out,

“Sir? The body is gone.”

“What?” Zephryses replied.

Storming to the edge of the castle wall, Zephryses looked to see that Allaster’s body had vanished.

“The predators of this place must be quite bold. Find what is left,” he ordered.

But before the guard could respond, Zephryses noticed movement in the soil where Allaster’s body had fallen.

“Impossible!” Zephryses responded. “The potion was to have worked only once.”

All of a sudden, the ground began to shake and swell as something pushed through its surface.

“No!” Zephryses roared.

In an instant, a hand had emerged from the ground and Allaster had pulled himself out of the earth just as he had at his execution.

Horrified Zephryses screamed,

“Seize him!”

The Train: Episode 80

As Michael shielded Dr. Ricer and Lucy, Nicole slipped her pistol out of its holster and took aim. When the doorknob completed its rotation and the door slowly opened to reveal Serena, Michael relaxed and Nicole quickly put away her pistol.

Wearing a soft smile, Serena said,

“Sorry I had to lie about your place here, but I did not want the staff asking too many questions. If they feel we are the ones who made the mistake, they will treat you like four-star members.”

“No problem,” Michael said. “We’re used to thinking on our feet.”

Once Serena closed the door behind her, Michael continued,

“I spoke with some of the guests, but they didn’t say much about Morgan or Saint Suriel.”

“That is because most of the guests are new. Morgan adopted the name Suriel weeks ago,” Serena explained.

“If he is hiding Salvatore,” Nicole said, “we’ll need access to both his quarters and his office if we want to find out what he knows.”

“That should not be a problem,” Serena said. “Under the guise of a making new friends event, I have arranged a night of games under the stars. The staff as well as Morgan will be there,” Serena said.

“Great idea. That should provide us with the opportunity to search his place,” Michael said.

“I need to get back. Come find me if you have a problem,” Serena said.

“Will you be safe?” Nicole asked. “What about the people who tried to hurt you?’

“I will take care of them. I have already convinced the others that I was stricken with a high fever at the time and did not know what I was saying,” Serena said.

Once Serena had left, closing the door behind her, Michael turned to Nicole.

“You mind checking Morgan’s place by yourself? I don’t think taking my eyes off that bag of crazy,” Michael said, pointing in the direction of Serena’s exit, “is such a good idea.”

“No problem,” Nicole assured him. “Keep your eyes open.”

Michael smiled and replied, “I always do.”

 

*          *          *

 

The event under the stars gave Michael the perfect chance to meet with the staff. He soon discovered that they all had the same answers to the same questions. Over and over, he introduced himself and apologized for asking the same questions, claiming that he suffered from a faulty memory. Most of what he learned about Morgan and Salvatore was the same thing Serena had said. After a while, he excused himself and headed over to Ricer and Lucy.

“It’s probably just me, but these people seem awfully friendly,” Michael said.

“Oh I imagine that’s just so the guests will feel welcome,” Ricer offered.

“Not the staff. I mean the guests,” Michael clarified. “I’ve had the same two girls try to pick me up, first separately then together. Hey, I’d be flattered if this place didn’t have that let’s all drink the Kool-Aid vibe.”

“I haven’t received any new information about this place since we first arrived. I don’t know anything more about Suriel than you do at this point. I just hope we aren’t too late,” Ricer said.

After a few minutes, Nicole showed up.

“I didn’t find anything,” she replied.

“Nothing?” Michael asked.

Nicole nodded, “Whoever this guy is, he’s doing a good job of hiding it. No info in Salvatore’s room about his location, and his office is locked up tight. We may have to interrogate the employees.”

“I’ve got a couple of ideas we can try before drawing weapons and doing things the hard way,” Michael said.

Just then Marvin Clark walked up wearing a smile that stretched from ear to ear. Right behind him was his wife Susan with the same grin plastered across her face.

“Having fun?” Marvin asked.

“I certainly am,” Michael said mimicking Marvin’s enthusiastic smile.

“You never told us what you did for a living?” Susan said.

“Yes, they did, sweetie,” Marvin corrected.

“I did?” Michael asked, a little confused. “I don’t recall saying anything.”

Marvin let out a chuckle and said,

“I’m sorry. I meant to say Serena told us. She told us you worked in law enforcement as a detective.”

“That’s correct,” Michael quickly responded.

“She also said that you have a wonderful singing voice,” Susan shared, pointing to Nicole.

Nicole smiled but said nothing.

“Now I don’t quite recall what she said you do,” Marvin admitted to Ricer. “I know you’re retired, but I want to say it had something to do with books.”

Ricer smiled and said,

“I used to be a college professor.”

“Really?” Marvin responded. “What college? I may need help getting my little boy Gordon into college one of these days. He’s got a big heart, but he’s not that bright.”

“Marvin!” Susan snapped.

“Oh they know I’m just teasing,” Marvin laughed.

Suddenly there was a loud explosion from one of the cabins, shattering the windows and sending flames shooting up the walls.

“Oh dear,” Susan said. “I hope no one was in there.”

“It’s okay, sweetie. Remember that cabin’s empty. Thank goodness they haven’t filled it yet!” Marvin said.

Then looking around he added, “We probably better get back and let them deal with this. Most likely it’s just a gas leak or something. Look at it this way. We have a bonfire to go with this wonderful night out,” Marvin said with a laugh.

“Marvin!” Susan fussed.

“Am I right?” Marvin asked, slapping Michael’s back.

Michael didn’t respond. His full attention was on Ricer’s face.

“What is it, doc?” Michael asked.

“I can’t find Lucy!” Richer said in a panic.

“It’s okay, doc. She probably just ran off with the other kids. We’ll find her,” Michael assured him.

“No! She never runs off!” Ricer said.

As he stared at the burning cabin, he felt a shiver run down his spine.

Suddenly Ricer started running toward the fire, calling Lucy’s name. Michael raced after him, catching him before he could open the cabin door.

“Doc, wait! She wouldn’t have gone inside there. Just let me look while you go back and check the crowd,” Michael suggested.

“We have to find her!” Ricer said, looking at Michael with fear in his eyes.

All at once the door opened to reveal a man standing just inside the burning cabin. Michael saw by his silhouette that he was tall and wore a long coat and straw hat.

“Doc,” Michael warned. Something about the man made the hairs on Michael’s neck stand up.

Suddenly the man lashed out, grabbing Ricer’s coat and pulling him into the cabin. Before Michael could react, the door slammed shut.

“Doc!” Michael yelled as he kicked at the door, trying to force it open.

Published in: on January 22, 2018 at 6:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 93

Late that night in the palace dungeon, Allaster sat on the floor of his cell, chained to the wall as he watched the rats scurry back and forth across the cold stone patiently waiting for the prisoner to surrender to death. Allaster considered all he had lost as he thought back over his life. First, wolves killed his mother as she gathered firewood at the edge of the forest. Then his father died on the battlefield of Ethion. The only light in his dismal childhood was Princess Lillian, and in a matter of hours, he would lose her as well. His father used to tell him there was a time and place for everything. Soldiers did not cry on the battlefield, and Allaster knew he was in a fight for his life. He had fixed his heart on hope, determined not to yield to despair, but as the hours passed, his resolve weakened and he broke down and wept until his tears were spent and he slipped into a troubled sleep.

 

*          *          *

 

Allaster woke suddenly to a rapping on his cell door. When he lifted his head, he saw through the bars of the cell door High Priest Zephryses flanked by two of his personal guards.

“You were having a nightmare it seems,” Zephryses said.

“Oh sir, have you come to help?” Allaster asked, knowing the answer the moment the question escaped his lips.

Zephryses laughed, “Dear me no. I have come for another reason.”

With a wave of his hand, the cell door unlocked and opened.

Giving orders for his men to stand guard, Zephryses stepped inside the cell and stood over Allaster.

“The king is convinced of your heresy. Easily done. However, not everyone is convinced. Tomorrow when you die, I fear the princess will use her influence to plead your innocence. So to guarantee my legacy, you must appear guilty.”

“What do you mean?” Allaster asked.

“I will simply see to it that your alliance with Authrax manifests itself,” Zephryses said.

Zephryses took a step back and from his robe removed a small vial. Black flecks whirled through the deep purple liquid.

“What is that?” Allaster asked recoiling.

“A potion I have been working on. It is not as yet perfected, but its power will serve my purpose,” Zephryses boasted.

Allaster drew back against the wall in fear, struggling to distance himself from the mysterious liquid. But with a wave of his hand and snap of his fingers, Zephryses lifted the helpless Allaster into the air then opened his mouth.

He uncorked the vial, releasing a strange, unpleasant odor, then drew near Allaster and poured the foul mixture down his throat.

“Do not worry, my boy. Tomorrow you will die, but it will not be the last time.”

Allaster choked as the purple liquid made its way down his throat. When the vial was emptied, Zephryses stepped back and Allaster fell to the floor.

Slipping the bottle back into the folds of his robe, Zephryses turned to leave but stopped when he heard Allaster cry out in pain. Looking over his shoulder, he watched as the young man he had once called his son clawed at his stomach and writhed in agony.

“Oh yes. I neglected to tell you about the painful effects of the potion. But have no fear. The pain will soon subside and then you will die,” Zephryses smiled.

As Allaster’s cries grew louder, Zephryses moved his hand in a circle then closed his fingers, sending Allaster into a deep sleep.

“Much better,” Zephryses said. “We must not have your cries disturbing the palace guards.”

Zephryses stepped out of the cell and ordered his guards,

“Stay here until dawn. No one is to see him, especially a wayward princess with illusions of liberation.”

 

*          *          *

 

 

Princess Lillian begged her father to show mercy to Allaster.

“He is innocent, Father. He did not do this!”

At last the king shouted,

“Enough!”

Her heart broken, Princess Lillian fled to her chambers. All through the night, she paced the floor, planning how she would free Allaster. She would summon help with the reward of a rich purse. Her mother’s jewelry should buy some loyalty. Once Allaster was free, they would leave the country forever. But Allaster had been accused of joining the Children of Dusk. Would anyone dare to help him? Would they oppose the High Priest? As the sun’s crimson light appeared on the horizon, Lillian knew she had no choice but to charge the pyre and free Allaster herself. She cared not what happened to her nor what her father wished. She would gladly die to save her true love.

She quickly dressed in her hunting clothes and waited in the shadows until she saw the guards leading Allaster out of the dungeon. His hands were bound and his eyes wore a look of hopelessness. With bowed shoulders, he stumbled along, turning his head away as the villagers cursed and threw rotten food at him. Lillian steeled herself as they tied him to the stake. As the guards poured oil over the pyre, King Isembart rose and said,

“On this day, it is with great sorrow that I put to death Allaster—.”

Overcome with grief, the king suddenly stopped to compose himself.

“As a boy, he was like a son to me, but when he grew into a man, he joined the Children of Dusk, lost to the darkness that once poisoned this kingdom. I will not let my people suffer that evil again, so by the law set down by Tobias Ashblood the Great, I decree that Allaster a priest of Authrax will be burned at the stake until dead.”

Turning to Allaster, the king said,

“If you wish forgiveness, now is the time to ask for it.”

Overcome by sorrow, Lillian watched as Allaster struggled to speak, to lift his head and once again plead his innocence.

“You have nothing to say?” King Isembart asked. “No defense to offer?”

When Allaster remained silent, the king nodded toward the executioner then walked away, his chin pressed against his chest.

“This is my chance!” Lillian thought.

But when she tried to race forward, she found that her body was frozen. As though bound with rope, her arms and legs would not move.

One by one, the guards lit the torches then turned toward the pyre and lit the wood.

Lillian tried to scream but found she could not speak.

The only sound that filled the air were the cries for mercy as the fire consumed the helpless Allaster.

Suddenly the mysterious hold on her disappeared and Lillian fell to the ground unconscious.

The fire climbed higher and raged until it had finished its work. As the flames died and smoke filled the air, the satisfied villagers began to return to their homes. Lillian slowly awoke but had no will to rise. She heard footsteps approaching her and a man’s voice say,

“Your Majesty.”

“What do you want?” Princess Lillian asked.

“My name is Genfyre, and I believe he was innocent.”

Lillian looked up to see Genfyre extending a hand of help.

Reaching up, she took his hand and fought to stand on her trembling legs.

“You do?” the princess asked.

“He was my friend, ma’am,” Genfyre said.

“Look!” someone screamed. “Something stirs!”

Lillian and Genfyre whirled around and saw movement in the ashes of Allaster’s death.

“What sort of magic is this?” Genfyre asked, his eyes widened.

Suddenly a hand covered in soot exploded out of the remains and the form of a man stepped forth from the ashes.

“Who is that?” Genfyre asked

“It is he!” Lillian said, her heart overjoyed. “My one true love!”

Published in: on January 22, 2018 at 6:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 92

The next morning, Zephryn woke to the rumble of distant thunder. For just a moment, he indulged himself, letting his mind drift back to Lillian’s night visit, her soft kiss before she stole away. With a heavy sigh, he rose to his feet and walked over to the window. Looking up into the heavens, he saw that the sky was filled with dark clouds. An approaching storm. He quickly said his morning prayers then left his chambers, heading for the castle and the meeting with King Isembart.

As Zephryn crossed the courtyard, an unseasonably cold wind struck him, stirring leaves and dust in its path.

“Good morning, Priest Zephryn. Unusual weather for this morning, is it not?” Caulder, a local fruit vendor, said to Zephryn as he passed.

“Good morning, Caulder. Yes, it is, but nothing to fear,” Zephryn smiled.

“Thank you,” Caulder sighed with relief.

“Blessings upon you,” Zephryn replied.

Zephryn’s thoughts were filled with the beautiful Lillian as he hurried to his meeting. Nothing could dampen his spirits. When his father died, leaving him an orphan, Zephryn had no hope, his only future begging on the streets. But in his mercy, the high priest Zephryses found him and raised him as his own son. Now he held a high seat in the church and every day could see the woman who won his heart. Truly the gods were favoring him.

“You are looking well,” Genfyre said catching up with Zephryn.

“Yes. I enjoyed a good rest and was blessed with a dreamless sleep,” Zephryn smiled.

“Alas, I did not get to my bed until quite late,” Genfyre said.

“Something troubles you?” Zephryn asked.

“No, no. When we reached the home of Hannable, we discovered that his daughter Ahnkaret had been awakened by a frightful dream and would not close her eyes again in sleep. Hannable insisted on staying up with her, convincing his wife Anastas to let them play hide and seek out in the front yard. I, of course, was pulled into the game,” Genfyre laughed. “I can deny my niece nothing.”

“My brother may be skilled in hunting and combat, but he cannot hide. Everything he chose as a hiding place was much smaller than he,” Genfyre said.

“Perhaps he was hiding poorly for the sake of his daughter,” Zephryn suggested.

“Perhaps,” Genfyre said. “I am just on my way to his house. Enjoy this glorious day, my friend.”

“You as well,” Zephryn said.

The market was coming to life as Zephryn ascended the steps of the castle. Just as he reached out for the front doors, they opened.

Standing in the doorway was the Princess Lillian, her eyes bright with merriment. She wore a sky blue gown, and her gleaming hair was pulled back with matching ribbons. Zephryn’s gaze traveled the length of her graceful neck. If only he could touch her, kiss her as his heart commanded.

Instead, he said,

“Good morning, Princess Lillian. I have come to speak with King Isembart.”

Lillian smiled and responded,

“He is expecting you.”

As she escorted Zephryn through the passageways, she repeatedly brushed against him, touching his hand. And with each touch, she politely excused herself.

When they finally entered the king’s court, Lillian announced,

“Father, I found Priest Zephryn at the door. He says he is here to speak with you.”

With a jolly smile, King Isembart reached out and hugged Zephryn.

“Greetings, my boy. What brings you here this morning?”

Trying to recover from the king’s crushing embrace, Zephryn took a deep breath and said,

“High Priest Zephryses regrets that he cannot attend the meeting with King Stephanus. He is in his private sanctum conducting his morning prayers and cannot be disturbed. He sent me in his stead.”

At this announcement, King Isembart’s posture quickly shifted from cheerful to restrained anger.

“Peace between Ethion and Acimeth is delicate, and a union of marriage would ease tension between our two countries as well as heal old wounds. The importance of today’s meeting is beyond mere words! You have done well, my boy, to come here as the high priest’s representative, but I will have the high priest himself in attendance today! His far-reaching reputation is one of the reasons King Stephanus agreed to meet. I do not care that Zephryses is otherwise engaged. Return to him and tell him that his king demands his presence now!” Isembart shouted.

“Yes, your majesty,” Zephryn replied, bowing.

Lillian protested, “But, Father, Zephryn is more than capable of—”.

“No!” Isembart snapped.

Zephryn hurried out of the castle and rushed to the church to retrieve the high priest Zephryses.

Racing through the halls of the church, Zephryn pushed past the high priest’s assistants until he made his way to the private sanctum of Zephryses. Taking a deep breath for courage, Zephryn pushed open the door and stepped inside.

“My apologies, High Priest, but King Isembart insists on your presence at once,” Zephryn explained.

As soon as the words were spoken, Zephryn’s eyes grew wide as he seemed paralyzed by what he saw before him. His chest bared, Zephryses stood in the center of a pool of blood encircled by a ring of fire. His skin was covered with cuts and markings Zephryn had never seen before. With his left hand, he held a woman by a rope tied around her neck, and with his right palm open towards her face, he drew a blackish energy from her eyes and mouth. Zephryn could hear the woman trying to scream, but only a low gurgle escaped her mouth. Behind her, suspended in midair, hung the emaciated body of a man, blood trickling down his arms and legs. From his mouth poured a black fluid, running down his chin and dripping to the floor. The high priest Zephryses turned and with oil black eyes, screeched,

“Get out!”

Zephryn managed to turn and flee from the room in a state of shock. His blood rushed through his veins, his heart raced, and he felt as though he might fall to the stone floor senseless. He could neither fathom the horror he had seen nor speak a word of it to anyone.

Behind him he heard the high priest screaming,

“Guards! Find Priest Zephryn and bring him to me at once!”

Fleeing from the church, Zephryn stumbled out into the courtyard, gulping the fresh air. His head was spinning.

“What should I do? Where can I go?. . .Lillian!”

Now seized with desperation, Zephryn ran for the castle, pushing aside vendors and knocking over stalls as he scrambled to get away. Once he reached the castle, he bounded up the stone steps, pulled open the doors and ran inside, hurrying to King Isembart. But when he reached the king’s quarters, he slid to a stop. Standing beside the king was Zephryses the high priest.

“Seize him!” the king commanded.

“No!” Lillian screamed as the guards descended upon Zephryn.

“What has he done?” Lillian demanded. “What crime has he committed to receive such treatment?”

“He came to my chambers, and when he saw that I was not there, he engaged in unspeakable acts of heresy. When I returned to my chambers a moment later, I saw him offering up a prayer to Authrax. I am sorry, my king, but it seems Zephryn has joined the children of dusk,” the high priest accused.

Turning toward Zephryn, the king said,

“You will no longer bear a holy name,” King Isembart commanded. “Henceforth, you will take up the name of your birth Allaster. You will be thrown into the dungeon, and at the first rays of dawn will be burned at the stake for heresy.”

“But, Father, he is innocent!” Lillian cried. “You will see this truth when the gods deliver him.”

“Take him away!” King Isembart ordered.

As the guards dragged Zephryn away, Lillian dropped to her knees heartbroken, her tears splashing against the stone floor.

Published in: on December 16, 2017 at 8:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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