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The large banquet was going as planned. It was in the large city of Corroth, Faigh. It was an enormous banquet, like most were held by upperclassmen. Thomas Ridford was among the people. He was one of the most well know cartographers in the world. For that very reason was he invited to the banquet.
Thomas walked around the giant hall, sipping his glass of wine occasionally, listening to the small orchestra play a famous song of Faigh, Clostrette.
“Good evening sir Rollen,” said most if not all people Thomas brushed by.
There was no one unparticular Thomas was there for, but a young woman that Thomas had had his eye on for years present, and for Thomas, that was all he needed to say yes to the invitation.
“Gloria,” Thomas said as he walked up to the beautiful woman. “How have you been?”
She looked up at him with her deep blue eyes, and smiled revealing dazzling white teeth.
“Thomas! It’s so good to see you! How have you been?”
Thomas smiled in return.
“I have been well, my lady, thank you.”
The orchestra suddenly struck up a new song with a fast pace and a good melody to dance to.
“I haven’t danced in forever. Would you care to join me for this dance, sir Thomas?” Said Gloria as she fluttered her eyelashes.
“Why of course!”
The two grabbed hands and moved out towards the center where everyone else was dancing. Thomas hadn’t felt this way since he was a small child. His spirit was soaring, and he was ready to burst out in hysterical laughter; he was filled with so much glee. Thomas never wanted the moment to end, but the orchestra ended its melody, and the crowd calmed back down and went back to talking.
“Thank you Thomas, that was quite enjoyable.”
“It was my pleasure my lady.”
“Please Thomas, call me Gloria. I’m no queen.”
“But to me you are more than a queen,” replied Thomas, whose smile had faded, and he now looked her in the eyes with deep affection. “There is something that I have been keeping to myself for too long. A feeling I have had for you since I first laid eyes on you most beautiful face. If I don’t tell you, I fear I will never be able to live happily…. I love you Gloria.”
Her smile had too disappeared, and she now stared up into his deep brown eyes with same look he gave her.
“I love you too,” she said, the smile slowly spreading across her face again. “I love you, sir Thomas Rollen.”
He smiled wider than he could have ever recalled.
And then suddenly they threw their arms around each other and stood in silence. The two, hand in hand walked off and sank in behind the columns to talk. Giant pillars held up the arched ceiling, and behind them sat benches and little round tables.
They sat down across from each other at one of the tables, and for a moment simply stared into each other’s deep eyes. Thomas looked down at the floor as he racked his mind for what to say next. And then he remembered about the trip he would be taking to Bascal. It would be brilliant to invite her to come with her.
“Gloria, I was just thinking that it would be great if you…”
Thomas looked up, his breathing stopped, his heart stopped, his mind stopped. Something that wasn’t human stood behind Gloria, with a long claw coming out of his fist run through her neck. Gloria’s beautiful eyes darted back and forth, blood already covering the front of her dress.
The monster pulled its claw out and she fell to the floor. The creature’s face was a solid gray, from what Thomas could see of it. It wore a brown coat that dragged on the floor, its hood drawn tight across the face. The monster suddenly jumped over the table, its claws outstretched and aimed at his neck.
Thomas dove out of the way, expecting the creature to dive at him again. But he looked back to see whatever the thing was with a knife in its back. The strangest thing Thomas found about this was that the once walking creature was now a statue.
And then he realized what the horrible thing was. It was a gargoyle! And then there was the knife in its back.
“That would be me,” said a man that looked to be a natural soldier. “I never leave my home without at least one knife. Tonight I had four.”
Thomas stared at the man.
“Haman Strith,” he said holding out his hand.
Thomas shook it with his own very shaky hand.
“It appears someone wants you dead. No one sends out gargoyles unless it’s for a good reason. And it obviously wasn’t for her,” he said motioning to Gloria.
Thomas suddenly began weeping. He doubled over and buried his face in his hands.
“There’s time for crying later.”
This voice was strange; different from the other man with the knives. Thomas looked up and saw a different man. This one more bulky and muscular. He was holding an axe. How he ever got into the banquet with an axe Thomas had no idea.
“We need to get you out of here and to Carron,” the man added.
Thomas got up and was led by the two men towards the exit. He took one last look at the beautiful girl he loved, a crowd now forming around her where she lay. He was till sniffing, and tears continued to run down his cheeks. The one named Haman patted him on the back.
“We live in an evil time, with murder around every corner. I’m sorry.”
Thomas nodded. Out in the street there was a stagecoach waiting for them.
“Take us to the Gallowith River docks,” they said to the chauffer.
The man nodded and whipped the magnificent white stallions into a trot. The ride took a fair amount of time, for the river was clear across the glorious city, which was second biggest, just to Carron.
“This is our stop. What do we owe you?”
Haman pulled out four coins from a purse that was tied to his belt. Seasons were the money used in Faigh. They were easily the oddest-looking coins, painted red to look as if they rubies.
“We best be getting on a boat. There has to be at least one leaving tonight. By the way, my name is Zao.”
“Nice to meet you. I appreciate you guys saving me tonight. But if I may ask, how did you guys know to save me?”
“It is too long of a story to tell it now, but on the boat, we will explain. You may not like it. You have become a pawn in the game of life.”
“What is the game of life?” Asked Thomas.
“I told you there is no time to explain, and it was for a reason; not enough time. Lapenon is after you, and if you remain here for more than a night, you will die.”
“I don’t understand. Who is Lapenon. What the bloody hell is the game of life, and why am I suddenly wanted as a dead man?” Thomas was nearly shouting.
His fists were clenched, anger making him wanting to rip any man he saw apart.
“For God’s sakes! Hold your tongue or you will have none!” Zao said in a quite, stern voice through clenched teeth.
Thomas stopped, although he would have screamed at the top of his lungs to anger them further, but he knew Zao’s words would be kept true. Zao and Haman motioned to follow them. They walked over to the dock’s edge, peering into the fog that the cold waters gave off.
“Good. There is a boat available.”
They walked to the boarding plank that led from the deck to the dock.
“Captain? Anyone on the deck?”
“Aye!” Came a call from somewhere on board.
The three climbed on to see fifteen or so men walking aimlessly around the deck. A large, gruff man walked around murmuring things to his fellow sailors. It was a grizzly looking bunch of men.
“Is there room on the vessel?”
“Aye,” replied the captain-or at least the man they assumed to be the captain.
“Where are you headed? Are you headed anywhere?”
“Well…where is that?” Asked Zao.
“It be Ezencarr for now. Then probably up to Ilvandore. Then Mondea, and maybe so far north as Lythian be my honest guess,” the captain replied with a very thick and strange accent.
“That will do fine. How much would it be to get to Ilvandore?”
“It’ll cost ya maybe forty crippes.”
“I have never heard of that form of money, where is it from?”
“Then I take it you’re from there as well?” Asked Zao.
“Aye. Born an’ raised.”
“So when will this ship be leaving?”
“In about a half an hour.”
“Good, we’d like to be out of here quick.”
“Aye, we feel the same. Now let Corence here show ya to yer rooms.”
A short bony man hobbled up to them.
“Follow me please.”
He led them down a ladder and to a small cabin. There were two cots against the far walls.
“S’pose one o’ yas is gonna be sleepin’ on the floor,” said Corence as he gave a short laugh, bearing his jagged yellow teeth.
“We’ll work it out between us.”
“Well, if yer in trouble with the city ya can just be stayin’ down here. “I’ll be comin’ down and tellin’ ya when we be leavin’ the port, aye?”
“Good, thank you.”
Corence left and so the three talked out who would sleep where.
“Me and Zao saved your life, we take the beds and so thereafter we’re even.”
Thomas shrugged. He knew there was no point in arguing, so he agreed. Rather than a half an hour, it was five minutes until the ship’s deck began rocking.
“We be a’leavin’!” Said Corence as he burst open the door.
“I thought that the captain said it would be at least a half an hour?”
“Well, would you like me to go and tell Captain Coelvel that he need to turn this ship around and anchor in?”
“No, this is just fine,” replied Haman.
“You be welcome to join the crew up on deck. They be a lot more friendly than they do appear ter be.”
“I believe I shall,” said Zao.
“Then I will join you. Thomas, for a while you are not to leave our sight. Thus you must join us on deck.”
“That’s fine with me. The last thing I want is to be attacked by another gargoyle.”
Corence’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. Haman laughed.
“You must excuse our friend here; he has had a little too much to drink tonight. A large man fell on him, and for some odd reason he assumes it to have been a gargoyle.”
Corence laughed and patted Thomas on the shoulder.
“Same thing happened to me once,” he said as he burst out into another wheezing laugh.
Thomas smiled, and then gave Haman a look of confusion.
“We will join you in a moment, now we must speak to Thomas here. You know, make sure he doesn’t get too out of line up there.”
Corence waved a hand.
“Oh it’s not any trouble. Remember, we’re amongst sailors. He could the most stupidest thing thinkable and we’d prolly take as normal!”
“Well this one here’s more wild than a Harpy.”
Corence laughed again, even though what Haman had said wasn’t even remotely funny.
“Well, I’ll leave you alone fer the lecturin’.”
“Thank you Corence,” said Zao.
As soon as he’d shut the door, Haman grabbed Thomas by the collar.
“Listen to me!” He said through clenched teeth and narrowed eyes. “We hadn’t told you not to speak of tonight’s events yet so we’re not too mad. But if you ever speak of them again, we’ll make saving your life a whole waste of time by ending it. Understand?”
Thomas found it hard to swallow, but one he had, he managed to say yes in a squeaky voice.
“Good, then lets go up to the deck.”
On board, half the crew was working, and the other half seemed to still just be wondering around aimlessly.
“Ah, tis be a fine evenin’!” Captain Coelvel nearly shouted.
“It is,” replied Thomas.
He half expected to see Zao and Haman standing akimbo, glaring at him like a wife glaring at her husband when he had said something stupid or made a fool of himself. But they had wondered away a little bit, and were talking to some of the other sailors. Thomas was about to walk over when suddenly a hand grabbed his shoulder and whipped him around.
“What say you?”
An old man was staring him straight in the eye very seriously.
“Oh don’t mind ol’ Smith, he be nearly sixty years of age and don’t know half the things he says. Most of the time that just be, ‘what say you’ and ‘it’s time for a drinkin’. And then most of the other things are just whisky related.”
“It’s time for a drinkin’! Yeehaa! Say boy, when you stare at the sun, does it make you see spots?”
Thomas stared at him for a few seconds before he even realized what he had just asked.
“Yes, actually it does.”
“Phew, I was thinkin’ I had some sort of disease. I was getting’ kinda, it’s time for a drinkin’!” He said, completely interrupting what he was previously saying.
“Okay. I’m going to go talk to that man over there. I’ll talk to you…” But Smith cut him off.
“What say you?”
“I say I go to talk to another person now.”
Before the old man could get another word in, Thomas had quickly walked away. He found himself heading for his two guards, Zao and Haman.
“So when will you explain what is happening to me, and who the two of you are?”
“Whenever you want us to. But it will require us to go back down to our cabin.”
“Then let us return to the cabin,” replied Thomas.
“The story is long,” said Haman once inside the small room. “It all started one night, when our leader came to me and Zao. He said that Lepenon was after a new man. Lepenon only goes after people he fears will cause his downfall. For some reason that for the moment remains unknown to us, he fears that you are one of those people.
“He began hunting for two months ago, as did we. He found you two weeks earlier than us. The reason that you’re not dead is because he used those to weeks to go to Ramoth Plains and find himself a Gargoyle. He’s a man that has the ability to control animals. He can make them do as he pleases. For this situation, it pleased him to make that gargoyle hunt you down and kill you.
“But we found you just in the nick of time to stop the creature. By now Lepenon is sure to know. He sensed his death, and then found you. But since you live on, the sense of death remains with him, so he knows.
The reason or leader cares for you so much is because of the fact that for five hundred years he has secretly wanted Lepenon dead. And now with war breaking out in every country, he has made up his mind that it would not be so bad to bring war on Dargon, which is where we came from.
“We are Southern Shadow Men, they call us. Zao and I have many abilities that no other race of shadow men has. We can turn to shadow when ever we want as long as there is a shadow to hide in. We can disappear and reappear wherever we want. That’s how we got into the banquet with our weapons unseen. And we also have a small bit of magic too.”
Thomas sighed. Life yesterday couldn’t have been going better, and now it seemed until this Lepenon person was dead, he live his life on the run?
“It seems complicated, but I believe I get the concept. All but the part where I supposedly come in and kill Lepenon.”
“There hasn’t been a single time where Lepenon’s sense of death from someone didn’t seem entirely bizarre and complete nonsense. For instance, there was once a man living in North Lythian. He was a farmer. One day he grew deathly ill, The local healer said he had never seen anything like it. The farmer’s father, whom he hadn’t seen in a while decided to visit him. He was very rich, and when he saw that his son was dying, he sent him to the best healer in the world, who lived in Dargon. It was also the same city Lepenon lives in. The farmer stayed in Lepenon’s favorite inn, where at the same time, the two both had rooms.
“The man recovered, and was on his way down the stairs with a knife he had borrowed from the kitchen to help him cut the meat of his dinner, which he had eaten in his room. At the same time, Lepenon was returning to his room to go to sleep. As the two nearly met half way, the farmer slipped and by accident, plunged the knife into Lepenon’s heart.
“Lepenon had foreseen all of this. So he sent someone up, who killed the poor farmer before he ever became sick.”
Thomas’s heart was beating at an incredible speed.
“So somehow, someway, I’m going to end up killing Lepenon as long as he doesn’t kill me first?”
Thomas? Thomas we’re about to land in Mondea. The voice was faint, but it forced Thomas to snap out of his thoughts. He had replayed that night over and over in his mind while he had been on the ship.
“Thomas, did you hear me? We’re about to drop the anchor in a harbor on the outskirts of Mondea.”
It was a man that Thomas had become good friends with. His name was Captain Micah Rollen. His companion Feldherst Strassen was also a good man, who had a good sense of humor.
“That’s fantastic!” Thomas said.
He hadn’t really noticed it before, but he was quite ready to walk on land again.