Friday, April 1, 2011

The Dark

The Dark

Erich Schudlich

667 N.O.T.B.


The Dark

©2010 667 Neighbor Of the Beast Productions

All rights reserved.

All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

Majius, Atalanxia, 667 Neighbor of the Beast Productions and associated logos are trademarks owned by 667 Neighbor of the Beast Productions.

All Majius characters, character names and the distinctive likeness thereof are trademarked by 667 Neighbor of the Beast Productions and their creative team.

All rights reserved. Made in the U.S.A.

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For as long as the young woman could remember she had lived on the filth littered back alleyways of Westheath. She had never know her father and her mother had been more interested in ‘entertaining’ drunks from the seedier taverns in town along with smoking zeifen and other, more potent substances than in caring for her daughter. When she thought about it, Camryn was truly surprised that she had ever survived such conditions. Yet, survive she had, and then somehow she had clawed her way out of the gutters and found a precarious perch among the lower class citizens of the city leaving her mother behind.

It was far from a glorious living but, her flea-bitten existence as a serving wench at least provided a roof over her head and two meager meals a day. It was more than a good many folk in the slums could hope for. Camryn ‘The Dark’ of Westheath was not most folk though. She was young, perhaps just having seen fifteen or sixteen winters, and very ambitious for one who had been downtrodden her entire life; now facing only more of the same: a life of cold, hungry, servitude until her death.

Despite her best efforts the lass could not seem to escape the slums. Although she remained a bit too thin for most, Camryn was very pleasing to the eye, having long black hair and dusky skin which always seemed to have the hue of burnished oak regardless of the current season. Being smart enough to know what her strengths were, she often played up her assets; allowing her bodice to ride almost too low over her bosom and helping the tears in her threadbare skirt which nearly exposed her round backside. When she had the spare coin she would sometimes acquire a bit of makeup to help accentuate her large, dark eyes and full lips. For all her physical charm and intelligence working to match her ambition, it was her anger and brooding, sharp tongued, schizophrenia which undid her at every turn. Because of this, Camryn was never in one place for long. As often as not she would wear out her welcome by months’ end and then it was off to find another place to lay her head.

For nearly a year Camryn made her way around the poorest sections of the city in this manner until she happened upon a run down watering hole called The Half Eagle, a name reflecting that of the copper coins minted by the city. It was a particularly rough establishment where one would generally find only trouble. It seemed to be a perfect fit for the young woman; a place where many came who were too broken by their deprived existence or too engrossed in their secret dealings, to complain about the foul temper of a serving wench.

It was this second sort who arrived one evening near the end of Anaya in the year 1012. One by one, three robed individuals trickled into The Half Eagle and occupied a table in one of the many shadowy alcoves of the taproom. All three were men who had passed their prime yet none of them had reached an advanced age. They were Camryn’s favorite targets; men who had not felt a woman’s touch in many a year and yet were virulent enough (and usually possessed enough coin) to entertain such ideas. These men often paid well to be teased by a young lass such as herself. Quickly she adjusted her old, worn, chemise to be more revealing and tousled her hair a bit then made her way over to the table.

The three huddled at the small table leaning in close to one-another and spoke in hushed tones. Before she even made it to the table one of the men glanced up and hollered for three mugs and a plate of scones. Somewhat dismayed yet not deterred, Camryn turned back to the bar to gather three tall mugs and a platter of small, buttered, biscuits before returning to the table. The men took their cups and baked treats without a second glance at the woman and turned back to their business which now seemed to center on a scrap of parchment covered in black scrawled words that she could not make out. In a bit of a huff Camryn scooped up the few silver coins which had been dropped haphazardly at the edge of the table and moved on.

The taproom was rowdy as always and several brawls broke out during the evening but the three men remained oblivious to their surroundings, talking quietly among themselves in excited tones. Despite Camryn’s best efforts to garner their attention, the men remained fixated on their own dealings. By nights end she had resigned her attempts to catch the eyes of the three and settled for refilling their mugs and collecting their coins in silence. The night was winding to a close and, just before the barkeep started throwing out patrons for the night the robed men began leaving in the same fashion as they had arrived; one at a time they rose and quietly exited The Half Eagle.

Camryn made her way across the taproom as she noticed them leaving. When she reached the table only one man remained. He was surprisingly tall and straight, garbed in a nondescript grey, hooded, cloak. His silvering hair was cut short and his aged face sported a similarly short trimmed beard and mustache that was currently in fashion. At long last the man’s steel-blue eyes focused upon the barmaid glinting in the faint light like the many rings upon his fingers. The girl froze like a deer caught in the gaze of a wolf.

“Geedes’ breath child!” The old man exclaimed as he cast his gaze over her form. “I am aware that this is not the most respectable portion of town but, please my dear, do leave something to the imagination!” Not asking for permission he began waving his hands about in intricate patterns while murmuring in barely audible tones. She watched, hypnotized by the weaving dance of his hands then changed her focus as the eyes behind those hands began glowing, showing a faint blue aura in the dim tavern light. Finally the man waved his arms toward her and whispered, “partum vestis”. The air about Camryn began to shimmer and she watched, mouth agape, as her ragged attire transformed into a fashionable skirt and blouse of green linen trimmed in white which hugged her curves tastefully, revealing her as a woman with much to offer and yet giving nothing away. The old man nodded and smiled, apparently pleased with the outcome of his work.

“Magic…” The young woman muttered as she admired the cut and quality of the conjured garment.

“So it is.” The wizard agreed.

Without another word the man brushed past Camryn intent on the door. A hot flush burned suddenly in the young woman’s face as anger filled her. Why was she standing here like some doting peasant girl? Who was this man to think he could just change her appearance without her consent?! Without thought Camryn whirled about and grabbed a fist-full of the mage’s cloak.

“Hold.” The girl commanded. Her tone carried the weight of an order from the gods.

Surprised, the man stopped and turned to meet her smoldering gaze with an upraised, quizzical eyebrow. “Is there a problem my dear?”

“Who do you think you are to traipse in here and play Solinara?” Camryn yelled drawing the full attention of the few patrons left in the room. “I see you have the skirts for the part” she said, noting the long robes beneath his grey cloak, “but, I did not ask for your charity old man!”

The man stood calmly with a bemused grin on his bearded face. “My dear, I had no intention of insulting you. I just thought-“

“Thought?” The woman cut him short with an upraised hand. “If you had thought, you old meddler, you would have paid your gratuity in coins not some silly parlor trick! What will I do with this?” She fumed as she pulled at the emerald cloth. “A pretty dress will not feed my growling stomach, nor will it please my lord when rent is due!”

At this point the burley bar tender started toward the pair. No longer amused by the young woman’s antics, he had decided that it was time to begin damage control before the place was leveled by the old man’s magic. Even if the girl was oblivious to the position she had placed herself in, the barkeep knew well how dangerous this particular old man was.

“Ah, to the point then.” The wizard said quietly. Reaching into his robes he fished about for a moment before producing five silver eagles which he presented to her upon his open palm. “Well then, this should suffice.”

Camryn’s eyes grew wide at the unexpected offer but only for a breath before they returned to venomous slits. Once anger boiled within the young woman it took a great deal to cool her wrath as the mage was about to find out. The girls small hand flashed, slapping the old man’s hand and sending silver coins to flight across the taproom.

“You continue to insult and dismiss me? I’ll not grovel for your coins you bastard!” Camryn screamed, her face now only inches from the astounded mage’s nose.

Large hands clamped down on the young woman’s arms pinning them to her sides and a man’s angry voice pierced the red haze in her head. “Apologies Master La’Trell.” The big man said through gritted teeth. “Our barmaid is most thankful for your generosity. Her new dress should keep her a bit warmer out on the street this night.” The barkeep ended with a glare at Camryn as he shoved her toward the door none-too-gently. “Go on with you now.” The big man said waving his hands dismissively at her. “We no longer require your help.” His statement ended dripping heavily with sarcasm.

The realization that she was once again without work broke through Camryn’s anger and she turned to the door numbly, leaving without turning back. For well over an hour she wandered the run down streets of Westheath, her mind racing. It was not the first time she had been cast out into the streets with no place to lay her head but it was the latest hour for such an event. No other taverns or inns remained open as Myrrdin’s Eye was now sagging low in the sky making way for the predawn.

Although she was deep in her inner turmoil her feet seemed to know where to guide her and when she stopped walking she found that she was near the outer gates of a large building constructed of white marble: the Temple of Solinara.

“The Lightmother.” Camryn muttered darkly in self loathing as she remembered the insults she had hurled at the old man which had resulted in her coming here. If any place in the entire city would accept her at this time it was the do-gooders of Solinara.

“Ironic wouldn’t you say?” An all too familiar voice remarked at her left elbow.

Without turning the young woman knew who it was. Keeping her eyes straight ahead she worked hard to refrain from lashing out at her tormentor.

“Avent you disgraced me enough?” She hissed.

“Now then lass, I have been nothing but accommodating and yet, you insist on spurning me.” The robed man said calmly.

“Why’re you shadowing me?” The woman asked tiredly.

“I assure you I’ve not been ‘shadowing’, you as you put it. It has taken me this long just to find you. You are not an easy one to follow you kn-“ He was cut off abruptly by the woman’s upheld hand.

“Out with it man; what do you want?” Camryn snapped.

“Ahem, yes, well, to the point then. You know as well as I that nobody will accept you tonight. I doubt even the generosity of the priests within those walls will rouse them from their slumber this night.”

Brown eyes smoldered dangerously again and Camryn held a tenuous hold over her temper. “So what are you saying? You want to take this poor lass home with you perhaps? A roll in the sheets before you retire Master La’Trell?” Disdain was thick in her voice as she spoke the title used by the barkeep when addressing the mage. Without giving an opportunity for the man to reply she continued. “I assure you I’m not some street whore sir, and I’ll not be treated as such!”

This would prove to be the end of the woman’s tirade that night. Her internal struggle to contain her anger had let her guard down and she broke one of the first rules of the street: never take your eyes off your surroundings.

The mage finished his spell by tossing a pinch of sand at Camryn and speaking. “somnus pacis.”

The young woman became suddenly exhausted and found that she could no longer hold her eyes open. Within seconds she sagged forward and her world went black. Deceptively strong hands caught her before she could fall to the dirty street and lifted her up. The wizard quickly surveyed the quiet streets for gawkers then, satisfied that there were none, began another spell.

“Partum a prodigium hinc ut meus domus.” He spoke with practiced ease. Small stars seemed to sparkle before him and, as they fell away a shimmering black gateway appeared. Without hesitation the man stepped through with Camryn slung over his shoulder disappearing from the filthy streets of the city. As the gate dissipated behind the mage the lane was again empty.

* * * * *

Deep within the wizard’s magic induced slumber Camryn slept fully and carefree for the first time in a very long while. When she woke many hours later she found herself in a small yet, well appointed room. She was lying on a soft bead stuffed with down and covered in clean sheets which smelled faintly of lavender. The room held a wardrobe made of dark stained cherry as well as a matching table and a single chair. Thick rugs covered the polished wood planks on the floor and the walls were dotted with paintings of exotic creatures and serene landscapes. In an alcove on the far end of the room rested a tub which wafted fragrant steam up into the soft light that filtered in through a tall window above it. A single oak door set with an ornate brass knob and, complete with a lock seemed to be the only way out of the room.

At first the woman thought to herself that this was quite an extravagant room for the priests of Solinara to put her up in. Then, as she surveyed the room, she began to remember. The hurled curses and the man; the man who wielded magic! Gods what had she done? What had happened? She could not remember, the last thing she could recall was standing in the street telling the old man to leave her alone, then- Then, she could recollect nothing; just a blank emptiness in her memory. This was highly unusual and unsettling as her memory was quite sharp and she rarely forgot any detail.

Sitting up in the bed with a start she took another look about the room. It seemed to be a guest room. She remained in the conjured gown from the previous night and she noted that another dress, this one being cut from blue cloth, was laid across the back of the chair as well as a large towel. Resting on the table was a shiny silver brush and a hand mirror.

Rising from the sheets, she crossed the room to the table noting the plush red rug which insulated her bare feet from the polished oak planks. Almost timidly Camryn lifted the small mirror; a luxury generally afforded to only those of nobility and wealth, and gazed at her own image for the first time. She was struck by the image which peered back at her from the mirror. Despite her tangled obsidian locks, and the greasy smudges on her face, she found her features to be quite delicate and attractive. She could see why men were so easily manipulated by her. Well, most men. The remembrance of the old man and his companions soured her amiable thoughts.

“Pleasant morn to you Miss.” Came a bell-like voice from the doorway. “Is there aught I can do for you?”

In a flash Camryn whirled to see who had entered while hiding the mirror guiltily behind her back. A young woman, probably close to Camryn’s age, stood in the open doorway holding a stack of sheets in her arms.

“Oh, my apologies Miss, I did not mean to startle you.” The girl said, her voice lowering to an embarrassed tone. “Master La’Trell said you would be awake and wanted me to get the bedclothes changed. May I?” She asked, lifting the sheets before her and nodding toward the bed.

With a slight sigh Camryn nodded. “Of course.” She replied.

Without hesitation the girl closed the door and went to work. “I readied a bath for you not long ago.” The girl mentioned as she began to spread the crisp white linen over the bed. “He thought you might like to freshen up before midday meal.”

Remembering this luxury as well, Camryn carefully placed the mirror back on the table and drifted near the alcove that held the wooden tub. A thick steam hung over the water and the scent of hollyhock & chamomile greeted her nose.

The servant girl rambled on from the bedside. “I took the liberty of adding some herbs and oil to it; thought you might like it.”

* * * * *

After nearly an hour soaking in the bath which never seemed to cool, Camryn finally pried herself from its comforting embrace and dressed herself in the blue gown which had been left for her. The servant girl, Vera by name, had taken the green dress to be cleaned along with the night’s bedclothes. Camryn was glad to be alone again as she sat in the plush chair at the dressing table brushing out her long, black hair. She relished the comfort that the room brought her and was relieved to have been left alone to contemplate what opportunities lay before her.

For nearly another hour the young woman remained within the room readying herself.

Why had La’Trell brought her here? Where, exactly, was here? What had he done to her last night? All these questions and more ran through her mind but, as she rose from the chair and looked at herself in the mirror again all these questions fled her mind. For the first time in her life Camryn felt like a woman. Not just a girl in a dingy servants dress pretending to be a grown up. The image she looked back on was that of a strong and beautiful woman who belonged in a place like this.

Tears brimmed in her eyes as she realized that this would probably be the only time she would ever experience this. With a heavy heart, she placed the mirror back on the table and made her way to the door. She had already been here too long. It was time for her to find this La’Trell and figure out why she was here. Better to get moving again as soon as possible, she would need to find a place to sleep before night fell. Taking a deep breath the young woman blinked back her tears and wrapped herself back into the steely cloak which had protected her from the world so many times before. Then, before she could change her mind, she fled the room.

* * * * *

Renier La’Trell or, Master La’Trell as most knew him, had done much in his life. He had been a laborer, an apprentice to a baker, an author of some renown, a student, teacher, a builder, a merchant, a wizard of average ability, and presently, a Senator of Westheath. Although he had accomplished much in his time, the man continued to work hard. Thus was currently the case as he sat with several representatives of the Trades Council in his humble estate.

Sitting at the old oaken dining table, the men were pouring over great lists of numbers and charts and debating over a proposed tax on imports from Arcadia. One young senator in particular opposed an additional tariff on their neighbor to the east. Guise of Wade was often against anything which may hamper the prosperity of Arcadia even as that kingdom continued to absorb Westheath’s outlying boarder lands. Master La’Trell found himself wondering how this man, who was often proudly open about his Arcadian roots, had been voted into council. Guises’ sympathies for Arcadia were likewise wearing on the other three members of council attending the meeting which only seemed to spur on the brash young man.

“Any kind of tariff placed on Arcadian goods will surely stall our own trade.” Guise was saying. “The effects could quickly turn our tenuous relationship with our neighbors into open hostility.”

“You just fear that you’ll not be able to feed your kin back home!” Roared Samon, the man sitting immediately right of Guise. He was a senior member of council and long time advocate of such a tax.

Guise turned a hard stare on the man who returned the scowl in kind. The tension rose in the room prompting La’Trell to rise up from his chair while patting the air before him. “Gentlemen-“

A knock came from the large double doors which led into the dining hall and, without waiting for a response from the occupants the latches turned and the oaken slabs parted. All occupants held their statements and turned as one to regard the servant who entered. Vera stepped through the door, undaunted by the harsh looks etched upon the men’s faces, and moved up before La’Trell.

“Master La’Trell, your guest awaits you.” The servant announced.

A smile brightened upon Renier’s face as he seemed to forget the current struggle he was engaged in. “Wonderful news my dear!” The master beamed. “Please do let our guest in and see that the cook starts preparing a midday meal presently.”

With a nod, the young woman turned about and left the room closing the door softly behind her.

“Have you gone mad?” Samon asked as the doors closed. “We are not yet done with this meeting and you invite a guest in?”

La’Trell turned his smile upon his fellow senator. “She is harmless I assure you old man.”

“S- she?!” The senior man stuttered a look of pure horror splayed upon his face. “You know that women are not allowed to participate in politics!”

“Who said anything about participating?” Renier asked innocently. “I simply want her to join us for a meal.”

The three senators in his company regarded La’Trell with skepticism but, he refused to be persuaded. The man often bent the formal rules of the senate which he considered archaic or less than purposeful. As often as not he had been reprimanded for his perceived lack of respect but, La’Trell had been elected to his position without solicitation and his popularity among those he represented often protected him. Essentially, the Senate of Westheath needed him more than he needed them and they knew it.

Within minutes a knock sounded again at the door. Once more the portal opened and Vera walked in. “Master La’Trell, I present Maiden Camryn of Westheath.”

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