Author's Note and Introduction

Hi, Everyone!

Welcome to my story, The Black Castle – Dark Version.

This story is written in two parts, the Dark version (This one) and the Normal version (With the same name but without "– Dark Version" on the end). In the beginning, there will only be some minor differences in events and character reactions between the two versions. They begin to branch off into two distinctively different stories after Will arrives at Morgarath's castle.

The two versions of this story were originally posted as a single story under the name, The Black Castle, but it became too difficult to follow the storyline, especially as I plan to have different things happen in each story.

The Normal version is written more in the style of the actual Ranger's Apprentice books and I will try to keep the characters more in line with how they would react in the series. Basically, I will try and keep them in character.

The Dark version is written, well, a lot darker that the Normal one… It involves torture and some dark thoughts and probably a lot of out of character-ness. For obvious reasons it is rated M. In this version, I will take off my restraints and let my evil side run wild. Poor Will. If you think something is too unrealistic, please let me know, either with a PM or a Review and I will either fix the problem, or explain my reasoning.

It is not necessary to read both the Normal and Dark versions of this story, as one may appeal to you more than the other. However, if you do take the time to read both (which I would really appreciate) please keep in mind that different events will happen in slightly different time frames or orders, and that the characters will act differently. I hope to make each story different enough to stop the other from being predictable.

Now for some introduction and background information before you start reading.

The Black Castle – Dark Version takes place half way through The Burning Bridge, book 2. Will and Evanlyn have been captured by Erak and the Skandians after burning Morgarath's bridge and Horace still manages to escape with Tug, Kicker, and the pack pony.

This is where the story begins.

I love hearing from readers so reviews are greatly appreciated. I will try to reply to each and every one because I get a warm fuzzy feeling every time I get an email with a review, and they mean so much to me!

I will try to not comment until the end of the chapters as I, personally, find it frustrating to read huge Author's Notes (as mine tend to be) at the start of a story as those precious seconds I spend reading them is time I could be reading the story. I'm sorry if this sounds arrogant or offends anyone but I just can't help it; I get so caught up in stories!

Also, my chapters tend to end with cliff hangers. Sorry, but I personally believe that a good chapter leaves you wanting more and wondering what could happen next, so I apologize in advance for any distress I cause you. This is probably even truer for the Dark version, it being evil and all that… XD

I will update the two versions one each week on a Monday, with alternate weeks having alternate versions updated. (If you can make sense of that) Basically, this week I'm updating the Dark version, next week I will update the Normal one, and the week after that I will update the Dark one again, etc, etc. If I get a lot of progress made in the writing and editing, I will probably update more often. It depends what happens and how busy I am.

Thankyou to my beta Alyss Mainwaring. She's amazing and thank you too to all the people who volunteered to beta as well, I was really surprised how many people said that would be happy to beta.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Ranger's Apprentice.

Thank you.

Ali Ranger51

Chapter 1

Slowly, cautiously, Will opened his eyes. If anyone had been looking at him, it was doubtful that they would have seen any movement at all. After Will had reassured himself that none of their Skandian abductors were looking his way, he inched his right hand towards an exhausted Evanlyn, and tapped her gently on the shoulder.

They were lying on the ground in a small clearing surrounded by trees. In any other company or time, the surroundings would have been serene and peaceful. However, the snores from the sleeping sea pirates were rather hard to ignore, and Will found it impossible to appreciate the beauty of the bush with the constant grating sound reminding him of the presence of his companions, or rather, his captors.

Dried blood cracked on the wound on his head as Will slowly rose to his feet. He felt a brief sense of vertigo at the movement and he silently cursed the Skandian that had thrown the rock, before cursing himself for not avoiding the rock in the first place. Will tried not to picture his mentor's face when Halt realized that his apprentice had been brought down by a rock. Will steadily ignored the part of him that defiantly insisted that it had been a big rock as he moved silently into the trees. It was time to put his plan into action. They were going to escape.

The plan was not ideal. If he had more time, Will would have liked to learn more about the Skandians, their style of fighting, the watch schedule and which men were light sleepers. Halt had always taught him to learn as much as he could about a situation before acting. As it was, all Will could do was knock out the sentry, steal his weapon and if things went south, run like hell. Considering that all the Skandians—including the sentry—were the size of large boulders, his plan wasn't very reassuring. Nevertheless, Will was smart enough to realize that sometimes all you could do was cross you fingers and hope for the best.

Evanlyn, like Will, had only been pretending to sleep. Well, mostly anyway. Evanlyn wasn't sure, but she thought that she might have drifted off slightly for an hour or so earlier.

Shaking her head to clear the last bit of sleep, Evanlyn looked around for Will and saw him already moving towards the guard that was keeping watch. She couldn't help but admire the way that Will was able to glide soundlessly from one scarce patch of cover to another. Perhaps once they were back in Araluen she would ask him to teach her. Evanlyn blushed slightly at the impossibility of the thought.

Moving slowly to keep the Skandians from realizing that she was awake, Evanlyn gathered up the raggedy old blankets that she and Will had been given before wrapping them around the food she had pilfered from dinner and a small wineskin filled with water. The supplies wouldn't last more than a day between the two of them, but Will had said that they were better than nothing. After spending several weeks hiding out in the forest around the Araluen-Celtica border, Evanlyn didn't doubt that.

Gathering up the small bundle, Evanlyn set off quietly into the trees on a path parallel to the one Will was traveling nearly 30 feet to her left.

Will observed the watchman from the cover of an overgrown oak and wished that he had his saxe knife. The Skandian Jarl, Erak, had taken it, along with his small throwing knife, his bow, and his cloak; he didn't want to risk trying to retrieve his weapons. As beneficial as being armed would be, the risk of being caught before they could even leave the camp was too high. He would just have to take the sentry's large dagger and make do with that, as he doubted that he could even lift one of the massive battleaxes that the Skandians carried, let alone use one.

As Will edged closer to the sentry, he remembered what Gilan had told him about fighting an axe man. It wasn't very reassuring. He distinctly recalled Gilan telling him that he would be better off committing suicide than facing a mad axe man with only the two small knives that rangers carried. In fact, if Will remembered correctly, "Jump off the cliff. It'll be less messy that way" were the precise words that Gilan had used in response to his hypothetical question. Gilan would probably strangle him if he knew Will was planning to take out a massive Skandian without even a small knife to back him up. He didn't even want to think about what Halt would do if he knew. Whatever it would be, it would be painful for both him and Gilan.

Here goes nothing, Will thought desperately as he brought the thick branch he had picked up earlier down on top of the Skandian sentry's head.

Evanlyn looked around, startled, as a huge 'crack' sounded around the small campground. She froze and peered through the trees at Will in shock. The young apprentice was now holding half of a rather dead looking branch, and looking at it in shock as an angry Skandian with a freshly dented helmet shouted the alarm. All around her Skandians were waking and reaching for their battleaxes. The watchman looked especially pissed. Skandians were rather fond of their helmets after all.

She barely had enough time to hear Will screaming at her to run as his common sense overcame his shock, before the massive Skandian Jarl stood up and began shouting at his men. Evanlyn didn't hesitate. She ran faster than she ever had before, muttering some very unladylike words under her breath as she went. Her father would probably be disappointed to know that some of his men had used such foul language within earshot of his 'little princess', but Evanlyn was rather grateful that she was able to sum up the situation with a few well chosen words.

Will was stunned. He couldn't believe it. The branch had just split in two when it had collided with the Skandian's head, doing no more damage than a slight dent and a very loud crack. Unfortunately, it was the crack that he had to worry about.

The campground was in uproar as his common sense, honed from his lessons with Halt, kicked in and he shouted at Evanlyn to run before dashing off deeper into the forest himself. He blundered through the trees, making as much noise as possible in an attempt to draw attention away from Evanlyn. With any luck he would be able to loose his pursuers in the dense woodland later, but for now he needed to give Evanlyn time to get away.

"After them! Don't let them escape!" Jarl Erak was angry. He grabbed his battleaxe as he leapt after the two prisoners. Nordel was going to be on the oars for a year after this. He had obviously fallen asleep on watch again.

Erak may have just woken up, but he reasoned that the prisoners would be tired and disorientated too. They had probably had even less sleep than himself or any of his men so he doubted that they would get very far.

Despite his large size and the massive horned helmet he wore, Erak ran swiftly through the trees, shouting angrily to his men as he followed a well-used game trail. Years of experience during various raids up and down the Araluen coast had taught him to be able to run when he had to.

As he ran deeper into the trees, he heard a solid grunt and as he rounded the next bend in the rugged path, he caught sight of the boy, Will. A pale glint of light reflected in the moonlight showed Erak that Will had somehow managed to take a dagger from one of his men. The apprentice ranger was holding the vicious knife in front of him and for a moment, the battle-hardened Jarl found himself admiring the young boy's courage. Will's eyes flickered at something off to Erak's right and his expression rapidly turned briefly into one of shock and horror, before fixing on Erak again, grim determination shining in his eyes.

Will had been trying to lead the Skandians away from the direction he thought that Evanlyn was heading in, causing as much chaos as he could. He had gotten lucky with a Skandian that had his back towards him, staring into the trees in the opposite direction, and he had been able to knock the man out with a rather large rock. Halt had taught him to be able to adapt at a moments notice, so it wasn't too hard for Will to figure out that a piece of wood wasn't nearly hard enough to knock out a bull-headed sea pirate. It seems that a rock works nicely though, Will had thought with a satisfied smile as he unsheathed the Skandian's large dagger.

When he had first held the dagger, he had felt the smallest glimmer of hope, as if his farfetched plan might actually work. Now though, as he stared into the enraged gaze of the Jarl, Will felt his hope leave him. He had spotted Evanlyn watching him not 20 feet away, and he knew that if he didn't act in the next few seconds, she would be caught too. Clutching the dagger tightly, Will realized what he had to do; he needed to draw the Skandian's attention to stop him from finding Evanlyn. Taking a deep breath, Will threw himself at the large man in front of him, the dagger in his right hand aimed at the barrel shaped chest.

Erak watched in shock as the young apprentice lunged at him, dagger held outstretched. He hesitated for a moment before realizing that if he didn't so something in the next second, he was going to end up with the dagger in his chest. As soon as he realized this, his hands moved as if of their own accord, a practiced movement used in a lifetime of raids. The battleaxe swung towards Will, aimed for the joint where Will's right arm met his shoulder, before Will lunged slightly to the side, causing the blow to miss slightly and collide with the young ranger's collarbone instead.

Erak watched Will fall to the ground and shook his head slightly. He had admired the boy's courage; it was a pity that he was forced to axe him, but he couldn't take the chance of leaving the boy alive. The relationship between Skandia and Araluen was rocky at best and after their role as machineries for Morgarath was revealed, things were likely to get worse. The boy would make a powerful enemy, one he couldn't risk leaving alive to come after him in the future.

Will lay on the ground, not moving, and feeling blood dribbling from his shoulder and oozing onto the ground beside him, pooling around him. As the deep blackness of unconsciousness crept into vision, Will thought he could hear Halt in the distance, berating him for his completely stupid heroics.

Evanlyn watched the scene in front of her in shock. She had been running through the trees, trying to find Will, and time seemed to halt as she finally caught sight of her friend. He was standing in front of the Skandian Jarl, holding nothing but a knife as he looked desperately into the trees for an escape route. She watched his eyes widen with shock and horror as he caught sight of her, before focusing once more on the Skandian in front of him. She watched in terror as he launched himself forward, straight at the armed Jarl. Before she could even scream, it was all over. Will fell to the ground, lying awkwardly on his back, unmoving. As she watched, blood seeped from the wound onto the forest floor, staining the browning leaves a vivid red. Tears filled her eyes as she turned and ran once more into the forest.

The young girl didn't stop running until long after the sounds of pursuit had faded into the night and she had collided with a low hanging branch that, through her tears, she hadn't been able to see.

Evanlyn couldn't believe it. Will was dead, and as she desperately picked herself up and continued on, she realized that he hadn't even known her true name. He had given his life to save her and he thought of her as no more than Evanlyn, lady's maid.

Wiping her eyes once more, Evanlyn promised herself that all of Araluen would know that Will no-name had died a hero. That he was brave, courageous, smart, and one of the best archers that she had ever seen; that he had died to save the life of Crown Princess Cassandra.


So, what did you think? Please leave me a review and let me know what you liked, either in the old version or this one, and what you would like to see. I have the plot mostly sorted out, but it couldn't hurt to have more suggestions!

I know that there isn't much difference between the dark and normal versions at the moment, but as the stories continue I promise that they will branch off more until the stories are obviously separate.

Hehehe, there is a hint of what could happen sometime in the future somewhere in this chapter, did you spot it? It's one of the only things different between this chapter and the normal one.

I know I said that I would update two days from now (aprox), but I have a science camp from tomorrow for 6 days and I'm not sure if I would be able to update on time so I decided that It would be better to update earlier than later. I was going to have a friend log into my account an post it for me on the right date, but I decided that it would be too compicated as she would have to create the whole new story.

Ali Ranger51.