I am putting this story on hold for awhile, if not scrapping it completely. I've decided I dislike the plot and I will instead write a brand new story taking place in the same world as this story.

Dark Blight

A map of the world setting of this story.

Chapter One: A Dark SkyEdit

Smoky, ink-blotted clouds filled the sky. A gentle breeze cascaded across the plain of suffering. Burning villages. Screams of agony and moans of the tortured wishing for an end to their suffering. For the first time in all of history, men cried, begged for sweet release from this maddening, war-riddled land. Gandro stood on the remains of what used to be a monument of King Grandeen the Great. Gandro carefully examined the ruins, searching for for any survivors, regardless of their alliance. That was the Castle O'Thaniel's was -- Rescue any who are in need of assistance, friend or foe. The enemies, once healed, were simply thrown in jail indefinitely. It may be a foolish thing to do, but Castle O'Thaniel is a warm-hearted kingdom, and strives to save the souls of those who sinned against the holy kingdom.

It had been a long six years since this war began. A war between the five largest nations; Auckbluff, ruled by King Auckma, O'Thaniel, ruled by King Memi, Rigel, ruled by Queen Dora, Kotaria, awkwardly ruled by Princess April, and Flisbos, ruled by King Grandeen.

Grandeen "The Great" was the cause of this monumental battle. Broadcasting his foolish ideals. Turning whole nations against one another. Some say he has power over Mahj, the magical force driving life itself. There were few who could harness and master this power, and those who could were known as Mahrijs. According to the going rumors, Grandeen practiced Dharc Mahj, the dark side of the mystical force. Word has it that he can summon ravens to serve as his spies.

There was motion in the field. Gandro readied his sword and cautiously approached. The mud was difficult to walk through. The rain of ten days and the blood of countless men dampened and thickened it. Gandro glimpsed over his shoulder, as if to make sure that he was indeed alone. Step after painful step, he reached the source of the movement.

"P-please... D-d-don't... hurt me. I'm unarmed." An injured soldier lay in the muck, a large wound on his exposed chest.

"From what kingdom do you hail from?" Gandro demanded.

"Auck... Auckbluff." the soldier choked out before coughing hysterically.

"And can you walk?" Gandro asked, less forceful than before. The Castles O'Thaniel and Auckbluff once had close ties, before this war began.

The soldier sat up. After much struggling, he managed to force himself to stand before coughing once again. "And what of your name?" asked Gandro.

"Meridayve. May I ask of yours?" replied the soldier.

"Gandro. Now, come with me. We must seek shelter at once."

The soldier held no contest. He shuffled along behind Gandro as he led him to an O'Thaniel fortress. As they trudged through the ruin, a lone raven sitting on the corpse of a soldier watched them pass. Gandro tossed a stone at the eerie bird to scare it away.

"Bloody ravens. They say they are Grandeen's spies, you know." Gandro complained. "Assuming those blasted rumors are true." Meridayve chuckled.

"You mean you don't believe?" Gandro asked, clearly shocked.

"The whole thing seems a mite far-fetched." Meridayve mused.

"You sure seem talkative now. You were struggling to manage a hoarse whisper just a few minutes ago." Gandro observed suspiciously.

"Just the promise of a hot meal and a good rest sparked the life back into me." Meridayve laughed and coughed at the same time.

"I never promised that." said Gandro.

"But surely I can receive those?" begged the soldier.

"I can promise you nothing."

That was where their conversation ended, for they had reached the fort at last. It was a quaint sight. A small, square, stone building sitting solemnly. Small holes lined the upper walls, clearly used as arrow slits. There was no clear entrance to the fort, which seemed to have confused Meridayve. Gandro approached an indentation in the wall and inserted the blade of his sword into a slit in the wall and pushed the sword downward, using it as a lever of sorts. The stone indentation slid away, revealing the entrance to a stone room filled to the brim with weaponry. The room wasn't just a single room either -- A ladder extended both underground and to the top of the fort. A big crate full of arrows sat against the wall farthest from Gandro and Meridayve. A few quivers rested near the crate as well.

"Gandro Ivari? You made it back alive! May you be blessed with Gold. Who is this lad you've brought with you?" asked a soldier, a bow in hand and eying Meridayve suspiciously. Meridayve suddenly seemed less talkative.

"His name is Meridayve. He's and Auckbluff soldier and is in need of medical attention." Gandro explained. "Auckbluff?!" the soldier exclaimed, "What kind of bloody woolhead are you?! He's an enemy!"

"Have you forgotten the morals of Castle O'Thaniel? Rescue any injured, regardless of their alliance. And O'Thaniel and Auckbluff had close ties, just a few years ago." Gandro snapped.

"I'm unarmed. I can do you no harm. I beg of you... Trust me." Meridayve added.

"Fine. You are welcome for a short time. This war isn't over. Soon enough more troops will be charging through these tortured grounds. I must go to the forge now to craft new weapons. Gandro, you keep an eye on this lad. He can't be trusted. One more thing, you must deliver this to King Memi." the soldier said before placing a heavy leather pouch in Gandro's hand.

"What is it?" Gandro asked.

"Open it if you like." said the soldier.

Gandro did just that. In the pouch was a heavy bronze box which, upon opening, contained a turquoise gem in the shape of a star. Gandro stared in amazement at the shiny thing.

"It was taken from a Flisbos soldier. We don't know why he had it, but we know that it's imbued with Mahj." the soldier started, "It concerns us. If this were to fall into the wrong hands... You need to take this to the king. He'll know what must be done with it."

"The king?! His kingdom is all the way in Mischerna! That's over twenty miles away!" Gandro exclaimed.

"Don't complain. It could be worse. On your journey to the O'Thaniel Kingdom, you will first need to pay a visit to Merchant's Bay. We have set a deal with somebody who can shorten the trip to Mischerna. When you reach Merchant's Bay, immediately begin searching for a woman by the name of Andrim Bluecloak. She has much experience with journeying and can help you greatly. And since you rescued him, Meridayve will accompany you. Omack Dhurring will also come with you. No questions about it." the soldier was adamant about this decision and was not going to change his mind, so Gandro and Meridayve didn't complain.

Chapter Two: ConflictEdit

Omack Dhurring was a burly man, with arms as big around as most mens' waists. He may have been strong, but he had about as much sense as a shrew in a hornet's nest. He was praised as a brave warrior, but little to nothing could be said for his intelligence.

Gandro sat quietly on the second floor of the fort, staring at the glowing gem. Could it really be imbued with Mahj? Why did that Flisbos soldier have it?

"Still pondering that crystal, eh?" Omack suddenly walked in, carrying a large sack over one muscular shoulder.

"When are we leaving?" Gandro asked, ignoring what Omack had said.

"First thing tomorrow morning. That fellow you rescued has been bandaged up, given a hot meal of beef stew, and is now having a good rest. He should be fit to take leave by tomorrow." Omack explained.

"When do you think the fighting will start back up again?" Gandro questioned worriedly.

"Soon enough. That's why we have to leave as soon as possible." Omack chuckled. He didn't take the war very seriously. It seemed a game to him.

The rest of the night was a blur. The only thing that came clearly was the memory of a dream. In the dream Gandro had awakened on the shore of a large island with a ruined village. Towering trees lay on one side of the village and mountains on the other.

"The forest... represents life," Gandro began, speaking to himself, "and the mountains death. This village must be the desolation that lies in between..."

A large raven glided from somewhere in the mountains and landed on a tree in the forest. Immediately the tree turned grey, leaves turning brown and then drifting off the branches and fluttering to the ground. The raven glared down at Gandro, a terrible red glint in it's eyes. Suddenly what little color that had existed in the first place melted away, leaving nothing but a sinister flock of ravens flying through the void that was once the island. Gandro was falling. Falling through the blackness. Falling infinitely.

Gandro awoke with a start. The sun was up. It was morning. Omack stood near a table, packing food and weapons into the large sack he had been carrying the day before.

"You're up?" he began, "Quickly. Get ready. We will depart soon."

Gandro nodded before packing a few supplies of his own -- An old dagger that he picked up on the battle field, some bread, and, of course, the star shaped gem, which he tucked into his pocket. He hastily picked up his sword and sheathed it in the scabbard at his waist before heading to the main room of the fort. A fire blazed in the center of the room, warming the fort.

Meridayve sat on a bench, looking out through an arrow slit in the wall. Not knowing what else to do, Gandro went to the stables. Many of the horses were missing, and many more were injured. There were but four that remained unharmed. Redmoon, Dirva, Loo, and Kentir. These were seasoned battle horses and would do fine on the journey to Mischerna. Omack walked in.

"Are you ready to go?" he asked.

"Indeed, I am." Gandro replied.

The air was cold. A fresh rain had come and receded overnight, and some even turned to snow. Gandro rode Redmoon, Meridayve rode Loo, and Omack rode Kentir. The three horses tramped through the thick mud at a slow pace, stopping occasionally to drink from a nearby puddle. Gandro couldn't stop thinking about the nightmare. That raven... Could it have meant something? Dreaming of the ominous bird is often considered an omen of misfortune. "So what do you think this Andrim lady looks like?" Omack remarked jokingly.

"I don't know. What do you suppose she looks like?" said Gandro.

"With a name like Andrim, she must be beautiful. Don't you think so?" said Omack.

Before Gandro could answer, a man in black armor on horseback appeared just twenty feet from them. A hood covered his face and he wore thick leather gloves to hide his hands.

"Who are you?!" Omack demanded, raising his battle axe.

The armored man raised his sword and charged. He approached fearlessly, undeterred by Omack and his axe. He swung at Omack, but he dodged easily. Gandro charged at the man and swung his sword, but he somehow managed to counter his attack with a fierce swipe from his own sword, a mighty obsidian blade attached to a hilt of pure iron. A ruby skull was embedded in the hilt.

Meridayve was the only one who hung back from the fight, clearly still in pain from his wound. Omack his axe at the man, but only managed to reveal his face by pushing back the hood. His skin was a searing red color, with a wicked grey goatee and eyes as hateful as fire. As soon as his face was seen, he flew back, avoiding further conflict. "You have stolen what rightfully belongs to the King of the Damned, King Grandeen! Give me the Damned Star or I will take it by force!" the demon demanded, voice full of rage.

"We will not give a relic with such power to the side of evil! Take it by force if you must, but we will never surrender!" Meridayve suddenly spoke up. The demon readied his sword for another attack when Omack took him by surprise and slammed his axe into the demon's side. The demon screamed in agony.

"You are all damned! Damned by Grandeen's unholy hand! This is not the end. I, Evelmandr Kepthro, will return to reap your souls from your cold, dead bodies and escort them to Helus!" With a final scream, both he and his stallion disappeared and in their place was a flock of ravens, which then dispersed in different directions.

The trio sat in stunned silence, trying to comprehend what had just happened before trotting off again towards Merchant's Bay.

Chapter Three: An Old LegendEdit

They all rode in silence until they came to a river to rest for a bit.

"He said... We were damned?" Gandro said warily.

"Don't worry. Once we get that gem out of our hands, we should be fine." said Omack.

"The way he disappeared... Only a Dharc Mahrij could do that." Gandro squeezed out the words slowly, as if afraid something would happen when he spoke them.

"He's no Dharc Mahrij," began Meridayve, "I read once... a legend of a demon called Evelmandr Kepthro. He was once a valiant warrior for the ancient kingdom Ezp Maro. But he made a devilish deal with a Dharc Mahrij -- Eternal life. But it came at a harsh cost. He was required to murder his own wife and children. He succeeded in this gruesome task, but he was corrupted by it. Man became demon, heart turned to obsidian. He became a demon from the deepest pits of Helus."

Gandro and Omack both stared at him in awe.

"That's... what the legend says. I didn't think it to be true until today. I'm shocked." Meridayve said shyly.

"Ezp Maro... That's a name I haven't heard for a long time." Omack began, "Ezp Maro was one of the Great Kingdoms three centuries ago..."

Gandro didn't think that held much significance, but he never spoke up. It really didn't make much of a difference. The river sparkled in the sunlight. It's glow seemed comparable to that of the gem. What was it that Evelmander had called it? The Damned Star? Maybe it was cursed... Maybe it was slowly corrupting them with Dharc Mahj... Maybe -- Stop being such a worrying woolhead!

After a few minutes of rest, they took off again towards Merchant's Bay. "I think we're getting close to the town Daheim. We should stop there overnight and have a good rest." Gandro suggested.

"Do you know of a good inn we could rest in?" Meridayve asked.

"There's the Golden Tusk Inn. I stayed there for a short time before the war started." Gandro explained.

"What if the whole town was burned down because of the war?" Omack said.

"It isn't. Daheim is far from the battlefield, although I wouldn't be surprised if some damage was sustained." They were out of the battlefield now, and with no more mud to slow them down, they galloped down the twisting path at a steady pace. Wispy grey clouds filled the sky, threatening to drop more rain -- or snow -- upon them at any time. They had been riding for hours, watching the wicked, cruel battlefield morph into a serene forest, when they came to a village in a large clearing in the thick woods. People walked the unpaved streets, going about their business. A few horse-drawn carriages lumbered from building to building too. Thin patches of snow were scattered randomly throughout the village and coated the thatched roofs of cabins lightly.

Just as Gandro suspected, there were a few damaged buildings, the Golden Tusk being one of them, with two broken windows and one door smashed in. One corner of the building seemed to have been set ablaze a short time ago. Some of the cabins had sustained the same damage.

The trio approached the inn slowly, earning looks of suspicion from the villagers. They were greeted by a rather plump fellow with a face as red as a beet.

"Welcome to the Golden Tusk Inn! You may call me Mason. I'm the inn's welcomer and stableboy. I'll take your fine horses, if you don't mind, and you can head right in and reserve a room." the plump man said. It was funny watching him try to walk. He half waddled and half hopped, all while trying not to fall over. When they entered the inn (through the hole where a door once stood), they were greeted by a man behind a counter.

"Hello! Welcome to the Golden Tusk Inn. Would you like a room?" asked the man.

"Just for the night." Omack said.

"Very well. Allow me to show you to your room." he said.

He led them up the stairs and down a long hallway that was littered with scorch marks and holes. "What happened here?" Meridayve asked.

"Rigel soldiers came through here a few weeks ago. The bloody woolheads ravaged the place. Or at least they tried. The villagers fought them off with manure. Them Rigels are a bunch of prancies, they are. Can't stand a little manure on their armor. Well, here is your room. Enjoy your stay." the innkeeper said before walking away. "Manure." Meridayve said with a laugh.

"Now we know why the Rigels retreated from the war so quickly," Gandro began, grinning, "the mud on the battlefield was too much for them to handle."

That brought forth a quick laugh from all three of them. There were four beds in the little room, only three of which were necessary. The window allowed a great overview of the entire town. The tavern directly across the street was easily visible, as were the rows of sleepy cabins that lined the streets. A shelf sat next to the window, bare of all but four books. Luckily the cold air failed to penetrate the little room.

It was just a few hours after dark when the three finally began talking.

"What if that man came here and attacked us tonight?" Gandro said worriedly while looking over his sword carefully, as though expecting to find something worthwhile on the blade.

"He won't." said Omack. "Even if he did show up, he would have a hard time trying to find us. The town is too big to search in it's entirety in a single night."

Gandro couldn't argue with that, but he was still anxious. Anxious about what?! There was nothing to be afraid of! "Well, what do you think, Meridayve?" Gandro asked. Meridayve was already fast asleep. Gandro soon faded off to sleep too.

Omack awakened in the middle of the night for seemingly no reason. He looked out of the window and saw nothing but empty streets. A man wearing black armor riding a stallion as black as the night came into view. Behind him followed a group of fully armored soldiers, stumbling through the streets as if they hadn't walked for a year. Even from up here, he recognized their armor -- They were Rigel soldiers. But their armor was rusty and cracked. Some even had bits of mold growing on them. Omack recognized the man by the evil emanating off him. It was Evelmandr. The demon spread out his arms, motioning for the soldiers to attack. There were at least a dozen of them.

There was a crashing of glass and then panicked shouts from downstairs. Omack awakened Gandro and Meridayve.

"What's going on?!" Gandro said tiredly.

"Evelmandr. And Rigel soldiers. Attacking." that was all Omack could choke out before a huge sword plunged through the door. A smell of rot filled the room.

"We'll have to go out the window! Hurry!" Meridayve shouted.

"We're two stories up!" exclaimed Gandro.

"We have no other choice!" said Omack.

The trio gathered what they could carry -- Their weapons and a few loaves of bread. They all hesitated to jump, but the mad shrieks of the soldier breaking down the door encouraged them to jump. They went one at a time, Gandro going last. He hesitated longer than the others, but when the door came crashing down, he jumped. There was a loud clang when he landed on top of a Rigel soldier, forcing him to the ground. The impact made the soldier's helmet fly off, revealing a horrific rotting face. Gandro jumped back immediately and drew his sword. These weren't normal soldiers. They were wights, dead soldiers possessed by evil spirits. The wight stood up clumsily before collapsing again, the evil spirit leaving the soldier's body.

The trio rushed to the stables to mount their horses, but were intercepted by two more wights. The larger of the two charged with a huge axe. Meridayve retaliated with a sharp swing of his sword, which connected with the wight's shoulder, amputating it's arm. The wound didn't bleed, but instead gave off thick black smoke. The monster shrieked in agony before it collapsed. The second wight stabbed at Omack with it's sword and successfully carved a wound into his right arm. Gandro struck the top of the wight's head with the hilt of his sword, knocking it unconscious.

"Quickly! To the stables!" Gandro commanded.

They hastily mounted their horses and rode back into the village. They had nearly escaped the chaos when a familiar man rode out in front of them -- Evelmandr. He made a wild slash at Gandro's leather pouch, trying to pull the Damned Star from it, but failed when Gandro leaped back. "Run!" Omack ordered!

The three of them fled the town, Evelmandr pursuing them the whole way. Soon enough the distance between the trio and the demon grew, and grew, and grew until they couldn't see each other. Still they quickened their pace until their horses could no longer run and slowed to a walk. It was beginning to snow, obscuring the trail both ahead and behind them.

"Do you think we lost him?" Meridayve said with a shiver.

Gandro shook his head doubtfully. "Maybe for now, but it won't take long for him to catch up. We should try to move a little faster, just to be safe."

"Our horses can't take much more, so it would be foolish to try to run now. We need to conserve energy, you know." Omack cautioned.

Chapter Four: The Bay of MerchantsEdit

It had gone from a light snow to a huge snowstorm in just a matter of minutes. Gandro was sure that Evelmandr had given up on the chase by now because of the heavy snowfall.

"S-so c-c-cold..." Meridayve mumbled.

"How close do you think we are to Merchant's Bay?" Omack asked. His breath was visible in the air.

"We've covered at least seven miles, which leaves just two more to go. At a steady pace, we should reach there by morning." Gandro estimated.

The snow whispered in Gandro's ears, tempting him to drift off to sleep. He fought the urge to sleep, however enticing it was. Somewhere far above them came the sound of large flapping wings.

"What... what is that?!" Meridayve cried out. The sound came closer and closer and became louder and louder.

"Get under the trees! NOW!" Omack commanded. They obeyed, and not a moment too soon. A huge beast swooped out of the sky and onto the trail the trio had been following. It had the body of a colossal bat, the wings of a terrible raven, the head of a horse, and a huge scorpion-like tail.

"What IS that?!" Gandro panicked.

"The kimaera. It's Grandeen's hunter." Omack explained calmly.

The kimaera hobbled around the path, sniffing the air, it's tail twitching slightly. "Don't even move a muscle." Omack warned. It felt like centuries before the monster grunted loudly and flew away. It felt like even longer before they left the coverage of the trees and continued on their way, but slower this time. The snow was falling harder than ever, and their horses were visibly affected. They constantly shuddered and shivered, the cold seemingly penetrating their very bones. The three men fared no better. They had to fight the incessant urge to fall asleep and ignore the cold to the best of their abilities. They stopped periodically to rest, but only for a few minutes each time.

Eventually the snow ceased, but only after a few hours.

"Bless me with gold." Meridayve said sarcastically. Even though the snow had quit falling, it was still unbearably cold. The snow on the ground was now up to their horses' knees, considerably slowing them down. Gandro peered around them carefully and saw that Meridayve was doing the same, but Omack trotted ahead of Meridayve and Gandro. He was a fool sometimes, not acknowledging what could lie ahead and foolishly approached it without fear.

Sure enough, they reached Merchant's Bay soon after sunrise. It was a huge city with towering brick buildings and long piers jutting out into the sea. The snow was thick, but it was completely packed down by all of the people walking the busy streets. Sounds of singing filled the streets and scents of a multitude of wonderful foods filled the air.

"Big city..." Meridayve trailed off in awe at the tremendous sight.

"I've seen bigger," Gandro began, "Mischerna, for example. Wait until we get there. You'll be in absolute shock at the size of that city." Meridayve was too busy staring in amazement at the city to listen to what Gandro had said.

"How are we supposed to find a single person in a city this big?!" Meridayve suddenly cried out.

"We ask around. We talk to people who might know who it is we're looking for." Gandro replied.

"Well... We aren't getting any younger. Let's go." Omack said impatiently. The trio trotted quickly down the trail, eager to enter the relative safety of a big city. The streets were obscenely crowded. People were packed in like tree maggots in a mighty oak tree. Luckily people parted out of the way at the sight of the three soldiers. They must have thought it odd that there were two O'Thaniel soldiers and one Auckbluff soldier tramping through the snowy streets on horseback.

"Who should we ask?" Omack wondered.

"I think our best bet would be a shopkeeper." Gandro said. Shops lined both sides of the streets, all filled to the brim with fruit, vegetables, herbs, medicines, and some even sold weaponry.

"Which one should we ask?" Meridayve mumbled, still awestruck at the mighty city.

"Any should do. I'm sure Andrim has visited these shops many a time." Gandro said simply. They picked their way through the crowd to the nearest shop. An elderly man sat on a bench behind a large cart packed with an array of fruits, some of which Gandro had never seen before. A weapon rack sat behind the man, lined with gleaming swords. One sword in particular stood out to Gandro -- A silver-black kind of blade, with a strange symbol carved into the hilt. The sword had two separate blades jutting out from the hilt. They were entwined with one another came to a single point at the end. The old man was nodding off to sleep when Omack began questioning him. "Has a woman named Andrim Bluecloak been through here? And if she has, do you know where we could find her?" asked Omack.

The man sat quietly for a moment, stroking his beard. "Andrim who?" the man grunted. "Bluecloak." Omack said impatiently.

The old man sat a little longer, still thinking. A look of focus was plastered on his face.

"Yes," he began, "I believe she was here a few weeks ago. She's well known 'round these parts. An adventurer, you know. And a something of a drunk. She owns a small trading business from her ship, the Blessed Solstice. Travels the world, she does. Her ship is over on Pier 53. It'd be hard to miss. The ship is made from the golden-brown wood of an eagle oak and has a big eye painted on the side. I know nothing beyond that though. Is there anything you want to buy?"

Gandro pointed at the greyish sword and asked, "How much for that sword?"
Black sword

The sword.

The old man gave Gandro an unusual look and said, "Just twelve bronze coins." Gandro pulled out a pouch and withdrew twelve bronzes and laid them in the old man's hands. The old man nodded and handed Gandro the sword.

"G'luck with that sword, lad," the shopkeeper said, "You'll need it with that one."

"What do you mean?" Gandro asked, frowning.

"I just mean to say that swords like that one ain't well-liked 'round here. 'Tis all." the old man explained.

Gandro nodded crookedly and said, "We'll be on our way then."

The trio rode awkwardly to the piers, trying to understand what the man meant.

"What do you suppose he meant by 'not well-liked'?" Omack said.

"I don't know." Gandro shook his head. He took a closer look at the symbol on the sword. "I wonder what this is?" Meridayve was suddenly quieter than usual.

"Meridayve, have you seen this symbol?" Omack asked. Meridayve took one look at it and jumped slightly.

"What?" Gandro said when he saw Meridayve jump.

"N-nothing. I'm just on edge from the cold, alright?!" Meridayve snapped. Gandro and Omack gave him a strange look and continued on their way. They finally made it to the piers and discovered that the crowds weren't nearly as thick here as they were in the rest of the city. The largest of the piers had a tavern at the end of it. A golden-brown ship sat in the sea, a huge green eye painted on the hull. A worn sign at the foot of the pier read, "Pier 53".

"Here it is. Let's go." said Gandro. The wooden planks they walked on creaked and groaned as if they could give way and break at any time. There wasn't an inch of snow on the pier for it was carefully tended to with salt. They finally reached the ship at the end of the pier. It was tied to the pier with huge, thick ropes and a flimsy wooden walkway was tied crudely to both the ship and the dock. It was barely wide enough for a single horse to walk across and didn't look like it could even support the weight of one. A sign was nailed to a post on the wooden walk which said "DO NOT ENTER UNLESS GIVEN PERMISSION."

"Maybe we should check the tavern. The old shopkeeper said that Andrim was a bit of a drunk." Meridayve suggested. The tavern was packed full of people and the sound emitted from it was unbearable. Gandro looked back at the ship and met the stare of a thin little girl, who then quickly darted belowdeck.

"Are you coming?" Omack said impatiently. Omack and Meridayve had already begun heading toward the tavern.

"Yes... I'm coming." Gandro replied.

They tied their horses to poles outside the tavern and entered. They approached the bartender.

"Do you know of someone called Andrim Bluecloak?" Gandro asked.

The bartender nodded and then said, "She's a frequent here. In fact, she's here right now." He pointed with a chubby finger to a slender woman sitting farther down the bar, a bottle of whiskey in her hand. "Thanks for your assistance." Omack said. They then walked over to her.

"You're Andrim Bluecloak, correct?" asked Gandro. She looked up quickly, clearly startled.

"Yes, I am. Are you the soldier I was informed would meet me here? My, my, I wasn't expecting three of you. The note I received from that homing pigeon implied there would just be one of you," she rambled, "So you need my help reaching Mischerna faster? I know a number of shortcuts, all of them dangerous. I think we should reach there by-" "We're being pursued." Omack cut in.

Andrim squinted her green eyes and said with an odd accent, "What?"

"On our way here we were attacked by a man on horseback. He wanted this gem." Gandro said, holding out the star-shaped gem for Andrim to see. Her face went pale, but her eyes sparkled.

"So beautiful... I could make lots of money off of something so pretty..." she said.

Gandro pulled back quickly. "It's not for selling. This can't end up in the wrong hands. We can't risk it. It has to be delivered to King Memi immediately."

"This man pursuing you... Did you catch his name?" Andrim questioned.

"He said his name was Evelmandr Kepthro." Meridayve answered.

Andrim appeared to be dizzy. "We must leave by ship. We'll follow along the coast until we reach the mouth of the Arancione River. We will continue on horseback from there." Andrim explained. She stood up, left a silver coin on the counter, and motioned for the others to follow.

They exited the tavern and began towards Andrim's ship.

"What about our horses?" Gandro asked.

"Go get them. Quickly though." Andrim replied.

Somehow the wooden plank miraculously held up the weight of all four of them and their horses. When they boarded the ship, Gandro saw the girl who had run below deck before.

"This is my little sister, Avery. She's fifteen." Andrim introduced them to her. "This is Gandro, Meridayve, and Omack."

Avery eyed them shyly before nodding her head in approval.

"She... doesn't talk much," Andrim began, "She's really shy.."

Avery's green eyes and red hair stood out from the rest of her pale, thin body. Andrim hastily untied the ropes binding the ship to the pier and pushed away the flimsy wooden bridge, letting them fall into the water. A hooded man on horseback rode to the end of the pier and shook his fist angrily at the departing ship. He shouted something, but they were too far away to hear. Avery shuddered and closed her eyes tightly.

"That was Evelmandr..." Gandro mumbled. Andrim didn't see what had happened. She was too busy steering the ship out of the bay and into the open sea. When Gandro looked back at the pier, Evelmandr was gone. A single raven flew over the ship. Gandro felt ill. Those bastardly ravens seemed to be everywhere now. Suddenly a huge column of flame engulfed Pier 53 back in the city, and then engulfed the two piers next to it. Then another, and another, until all of the piers were reduced to rubble.

"Save my soul..." Meridayve trailed off at the sight of the destruction. Even Andrim stopped momentarily to gaze at the ruins. She shed a single teardrop before focusing once again on the ship.

Chapter Five: TraitorEdit

The ship creaked and groaned as it moved faster and faster. It had begun to snow again and a cool breeze whipped through the air. Avery stood silently at the front of the ship, staring into the sea. Every now and then Andrim glanced at her worriedly. Gandro sat below deck, warming himself with a lantern. Meridayve was doing the same, and Omack was conversing one of the ship's crewmen who was just as muscular as him. When he was warm enough, Gandro returned to the top deck to have a look around. Snow was already starting to pile up, and the crewmen were busily shoveling as much of it as they could into the sea. Andrim called for Gandro and motioned for him to come to her.

"Can you give me anymore information?" Andrim asked.

Gandro took a few seconds to think before bringing up the kimaera. "Just before we reached Merchant's Bay, we were nearly attacked by a monster called a kimaera," Gandro began, "But we avoided it by hiding under a tree until it flew away."

Andrim nodded and was then quiet for awhile. She was probably thinking. She looked around nervously and ordered that they head below deck. As soon as they did, a horrific screeching sound filled the air, followed by a loud thud of something heavy landing on the deck. It was the kimaera. The ship rocked heavily when the beast landed, and the boards of the deck above splintered slightly. The sound of the monster walking could be heard below deck by the loud creaking of the boards. It screeched horribly again before it broke through the upper deck and fell into the lower deck.

"Attack it while it's still dazed!" Omack commanded. He readied his axe and charged at the kimaera. It did no good, for the creature's scorpion-like tail knocked Omack away before he could land a single hit.

"For O'Thaniel!" Gandro shouted as he sprinted towards the dreaded monster, sword held in front of him. It's tail swung at Gandro, but he dodged out of the way skillfully and counterattacked with his new sword and successfully slashed a wound into the kimaera's back. Immediately Gandro jumped back, the kimaera swung it's scorpion tail at him, but missed and instead struck the floor. The beast's tail was then entrapped in the floor. Seeing an opportunity to attack, Meridayve impaled his sword through the evil monster's chest. It flapped it's wings furiously and screamed before breaking free of the floor and flying away, sword still stuck in it's chest.

"The bastard took off with my sword." Meridayve muttered unhappily. Water began flowing in through the hole in the floor.

"Cover that hole! This ship ain't sinking today!" Andrim ordered. She pointed to a huge box and said, "Push that over the hole!"

Gandro was the first to try, but he failed to push it himself. Suddenly Omack pushed him out of the way and effortlessly shoved the crate over the hole with one hand.

He grinned at Gandro and said, "Easy."

Gandro frowned and looked around. Andrim was looking over the damage to her ship while wiping her forehead with an old rag. Meridayve was staring through the gaping hole, hoping to see the beast that escaped with his sword. Avery sat in a corner shaking slightly both from fear and from the cold.

Andrim shook her head doubtfully. "The ship will never reach the Arancione River in this condition," she began, "We'll have to dock at Ombatn instead."

"Ombatn? That's the heart of the Kotaria kingdom! They won't be happy to see two O'Thaniel soldiers and an Auckbluff soldier." Meridayve suddenly said.

"That's why you'll be in disguise." Andrim began, "There are some spare clothes that you can wear. They're a little worn, but they will do." She opened up a nearby chest and pulled out three leather tunics. She was right, they were worn. The stitchings were beginning to come apart and the colors were faded.

Meridayve grimaced and said, "You expect me to wear that? The clothes are in shambles!"

"Are you suddenly a Rigel? Don't complain! There is no other option." Andrim shouted.

Gandro watched them argue and laughed to himself. With everything that had happened, they certainly needed some comic relief, and this was doing just fine. He eventually quit paying attention to their bickering and went above deck, or at least what was left of it. The hole was bigger than it looked at first. One of the masts was somehow pulverized so badly that it looked like it could fall over at any second, and with the strong wind, that could easily happen.

Gandro took a closer look at the strange sword he had bought at Merchant's Bay. He found that it was now warm to the touch after the battle. He looked at the symbol on the hilt more carefully. It was a circle with a smaller circle within and a swirled design inside.

He couldn't quite place the symbol. The way Meridayve had reacted to it back at Merchant's Bay was unusual. He must have known something about it. He looked around and saw Meridayve peering at him. Peering at the sword in his hand. Meridayve looked away quickly when Gandro looked at him. It was already beginning to get dark, so Gandro went below deck to rest on a thick clump hay that was woven into a rough mat. It was uncomfortable, with hay jabbing Gandro's neck and arms, but it was better than laying on the hard wooden floor.

Soon he managed to fall asleep. As far as he knew, he hadn't had a single dream through the cold night. He sat up slowly and looked around. Nobody else was below deck, so he went up top to see where everyone was. Omack and a few of the crewmen stood and casually chatted near the destroyed mast, which had since been moved. Andrim was still steering the ship, of course, and when Gandro looked into the distance, he saw a familiar sight - the island from his dream. Except it wasn't an island, he realized. It was part of the mainland. He recognized the forest and mountains on the sides of the village, and even the village itself, even from this distance. Gandro gasped.

"That's... it can't be!" he whispered to himself, just quiet enough for no one else to be ale to hear, or so he thought.

"What?" Meridayve suddenly appeared and spoke to Gandro.

"N-nothing." Gandro stammered. Changing the subject, he said, "What do you know about the symbol on this sword?"

Meridayve sighe before speaking. "It is an ancient symbol. That larger circle represents our world. The inner, smaller circle shows a smaller kingdom. No kingdom in particular, just a strong one. That crescent represents Mahj, and the spiral pattern shows the cycle in which darkness grows and retreats. The very center of the spiral shows the point of The End, a time when the god of Dharc Mahj, Malfundius, makes his way to the mortal world to corrupt the most powerful of kings and destroy the world." "How do you know all this?!" Gandro gasped.

"That symbol is all over the place in Amidtark, center of the Flisbos-" Meridayve stopped suddenly.

"Flisbos kingdom?! Have you been there?!" Gandro asked. Meridayve just stared.

"I shouldn't have told you that. I wanted to wait until we were closer to Amidtark, or at least Mischerna to do this, but I let it slip out, and now you know too much!" Meridayve shouted before kicking down Gandro, taking him by surprise. He wasted no time and quickly pulled the leather pouch containing the Damned Star out of Gandro's pocket.

"What do you think you're doing?!" Gandro cried out as he drew his sword. Meridayve had timed the attack nearly perfectly, since the ship was nearly at the dock of Ombatn. He bolted to the side of the ship and leaped over the side towards the dock.

"Where are you going?! Are you some kind of fool?!" Omack yelled. Meridayve misjudged the distance between the ship and the dock and went plummeting to the water below. He swam quickly to the shore.

"After him!!" Gandro yelled dizzily.

"What's going on?!" Andrim shouted.

"Meridayve is a traitor! He stole the star and fled into town!" Gandro explained.

"What?!" Omack yelled in disbelief, "Don't just stand there! Let's go after the bastard!" Without hesitation, Omack jumped over the side of the ship and landed perfectly on the dock, which was now closer. "COME ON!" he urged. "There he is!" Gandro shouted. He began chasing after the traitor, bumping into people in the process. Looks of astonishment and some of anger fell upon him as he shoved townspeople aside.

"That's an O'Thaniel soldier! He's an enemy!" someone yelled out. Cries of shock and fear and rage rang out through the crowd. A single raven flew about in the sky above. Gandro still had his sight on Meridayve, who glanced back frequently to see if he was out of Gandro's view. He eventually lost sight of Meridayve in the thick crowd.

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