Servants of the Black God
Chapters 10-25 have been removed because I'm incorporating the political and socio-economic problems into my new fantasy series. ;) This way the plot twists will actually make sense with the world and characters they revolve around, instead of them being thrown into the GR world. In a world where an innocent girl can get easily caught in the schemes of those in power, no one survives unscathed. A woman grown, with a haunting past to run away from, we shall see how this country-raised girl can fare in an old and intricate city whose shadows hide whimsical creatures and dangerous intentions. For this, another story must be told. My original fantasy series will be at least 4 books, but I am still in the process of writing them. If you would like to read more of my original writing, then please private message me.
Now I know you all love Karigan as much as me, so without further adieu, this is my version of her post-Blackveil story...
Photograph Courtesy of: The Louvre Museum, Paris. "Odysseus blinding sleeping Polyphemus 500 B.C."
Disclaimer(s): Please forgive my bad grammar and muddled sentence structure, I am without a Beta. With the exception of Addison and Lily, the characters within this story belong to the lovely Kristen Britain. She and so many other great writers have inspired me to start writing fantasy of my own.
"The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom."—Art of War, Sun Tzu
A man walked the dim streets, his passage earning barely a glance from the late night merchants. His clothes were dark and he kept to the shadows, a habit developed in his youth and only enhanced by the past few years.
His life had been dramatically changed when he'd been recruited to the Black Shields. Fastion smiled at the memory. He had been a tall lad, but skinny for the lack of reliable meals. Anyone could enlist in the Shields. Most didn't make it, but it was their lack of skill, not lack of fortune or family connections that was the determining factor. Poor and underfed, Fastion couldn't pass up the opportunity to better his life. Now he had all the food he could want and a small house at the edge of the city. His monthly pay could afford something much better, but he spent so little time out of the castle, it wasn't worth buying a bigger home. Plus, he couldn't stomach the thought of living next to one of the pompous nobles, some of whom don't think twice about kicking child-beggars out of their way. He had once been one of those children.
It was a very dark night; low visibility masking the city's dirtiness and making it appear like something out of a children's faery tale. Most of the taverns had been built with their windows to the King's Way and they offered scant light for such smaller streets that he now traversed. Even from these relatively peaceful streets, he could hear the noise made by some of the rowdier taverns. As he left the market district, he neared two women talking. He was about to pass them when he heard what the plump one was saying, "I swear it's the ghost of an ex-soldier, she keeps calling out for the king. Once she even said Zachary, like she knew the man personally!"
This made him pause. Many strange things had happened recently. He remembered the ghosts of the records room and how they had been trying to warn of the Second Empire's activity within the castle. Stepping out of the shadows, Fastion stopped in front of the woman. "Where did you hear this?" It was more demand than question and the woman looked paralyzed at his threatening appearance. He gentled his voice a little and explained, "I'm in service to King Zachary, you must take me to this place." The woman's eyes were wide, but she nodded slightly and with his hand on her arm to move her into motion, the woman walked towards the backdoor of a shoddy inn. From the looks, there were no patrons this night. Once inside, they walked down a dark hall and into a private room. It looked fancier than the rest of the building and Fastion thought it must be for higher paying guests. Then he heard the moaning. It seemed to be coming from the floor. Hand outstretched, he bent down to examine the stone work. He knocked in several places and found that one piece of granite sounded oddly hollow. After another moment, a faint "please…" emanated from beneath his hand.
"Get a long piece of strong wood." The woman looked at him like he was mad. "NOW!" No doubt she thought him crazy for chasing a ghost. Pulling his sword, he began to hit the edges of the stone with the hilt to loosen the heavy thing from its position. When the woman returned, he used the wood and his knee to lever and lift the weight. Once the granite was lifted, he easily slid it across the floor to reveal the space beneath. Fastion peered through the dust and saw the faint figure of a woman. He wasn't sure what he expected to find, a corpse perhaps or a magical artifact, but he hadn't expected to recognize it. There lay the Knight Karigan G'ladheon, features foggily transparent. Fastion had seen her like this once before, yet it was still disconcerting to see his friend as a ghost of herself. Her eyes were shut and again she moaned. Grabbing the crude oil lamp from the woman's quaking fingers, he held put it closer and watched the Knight become more solid with every inch. Even with it right above her head, the stones could still be seen beneath her.
Was she dead? If he reached out, would his hand meet warm flesh or pass to the cold stone? He didn't want to find out.
Unsure of what he was doing, he reluctantly asked, "Karigan, can you hear me?" Her head turned towards him and she croaked out his name in response. He continued, "You're alright, but you have to stop using your ability." Puzzling her brow in confusion, she looked down, then in understanding she brushed her hand across her broach.
The woman behind them screetched and would have bolted had he not grabbed her arm. As if he were giving the King's life into someone's hands, he commanded, "Hold this."
She took the lamp, her eyes were wide and frightened, but she didn't run. He turned back to see Karigan struggle up and once she was halfway out of her prison, she collapsed on the great stones supporting the granite floor. He was reluctant to touch her, but when she tried to stand again and tetered back, there was little he could do but help her.
"I-," She stopped. Her voice sounded rough and broken, "I've been in there for weeks."
Gently, he told her, "That's impossible."
Karigan tightened her hold on him, then steadied herself and pushed away from him, "The King," she gulped, "There is little time. I need to see him."
Under his breath, he stated, "Not here." The inn worker was spooked and taking in every word they said. Come morning she wouldn't remember their faces, but would have a wild story to tell her friends and any of the customers willing to listen. He stared at the floor. Granite was expensive and heavy. Fastion knew those big stones beneath their feet required something to carry them from the masonry cutters. Being on the border of Sacor's Southern Fringes as they were, this was a nicer establishment than most. They would have somewhat to carry the goods and fresh food stocks. With a fair inkling he was correct, he asked, "You have a cart?"
She mulled his question over. He could feel himself growing impatient, but eventually the city woman said said, "No sir." Her eyes wandered down, continuing, "I'll tell you straight, the wheel's broken and all we have is the horse…" She trailed off. The look of fearful dawn came across her face. He knew the look well. Too many times he had seen city people glimpse the uniform under his cloak and realize the person they were speaking with was one of the King's Weapons. This one was slower than most.
Knowing the woman had shut her mouth for good, he didn't waste extra words on her, "Take us to the stable."
The woman jumped and bustled off. Karigan walked in front of him, silent as the inn's walls. In the dim light he inspected her. The arm she cradled was all wrong. There was nothing poking through the skin, but the angle was unnatural. He suspected it was broken above the wrist. Dried blood marred the back of her shirt.
His mind rushed to think of all the possibilities surrounding Karigan's sudden appearance. Since the equinox, they'd had no news of the expedition's progress. Now that she was here, he needed to get her to the king as soon as possible.
The plump woman was frustratingly slow while preparing the horse's bridle. When she fumbled to explain there was no saddle, he said they'd ride bareback. Karigan insisted on mounting without assistance. She accomplished her goal, but her stubbornness was costing her. She slumped on the saddle in front of him. The hooves thundered against the cobblestones as they tore out onto the street. Old, but surprisingly strong, the horse didn't have a problem with their combined weight. Urging the aged beast faster, he aimed for the shortest route possible. Fastion knew if the day came when his duty took his sight, that he would be the richest of blind men. Even now, hardly thinking about it, the streets came to him naturally. These twisting corridors had raised him. He knew nothing better. The city's night life blurred as they wound through multiple alley shortcuts. The local people, accustomed to horses moving quickly through these tight areas, got out of Fastion's way when they heard the horseshoes clattering on the cobblestones.
Galloping through the main gate, he didn't slow the borrowed horse until they reached the entrance of the Palace. It was just after dinner and Zachary would be taking his nightly tea with Captain Mapstone. The entry halls were full of people, but they scattered as he came barreling their way. One plump Lady of Arey stood in the middle of the hall, lazily swinging a fan to cool her face. The rest of the Arey family shifted uncomfortably, but not this matron. Her eyes catalogued their hurried approach, automatically dismissing Fastion and locking onto the Rider. Whatever she saw did not please her. Fluttering her fan in anticipation of their proximity and crinkling her nose in distaste, Fastion saw her mouth to her cousin, "Why I never!" The rest of the words were lost from sight behind the feathered fan.
On his left he heard one of the grey uniformed cleaning staff ask, "Tis there a twig in her hair?" More murmurs followed and he hurried on so Karigan would not have to deal with them. His kind often witnessed the castle's harsh whispers, but he didn't want this one subjected to them. She had suffered enough. Fastion flicked his gaze back to the Rider. In the full light, the extent of her torn and soiled clothing became evident. Her eyes looked haunted. Mercifully, she seemed unaware of what was happening around them. He maneuvered her through the crowd.
Had Rider Lynx and the others returned with her, perhaps things would be different. As the only member of the expedition, and to be found in such an obvious post-battle state, he could do little but deliver her to the King's doorstep for report. Other riders might have complained, but she determinedly followed. There was a fine line between stupidity and devotion—Karigan G'ladheon walked it well. This is what he liked about her, she knew the worth of her sacrifice. Still, the fatigue was making her slow and stiff. On the way to Zachary's suite, he stopped and quietly asked Brienne's sister Ester to notify Healer Ben. He had little doubt Karigan would need his attention before the night was over. Despite the Green Rider's silence since he'd found her, Fastion would undoubtedly discover the pertinent details soon enough. There was very little happening within these walls which were hidden from his kind. News like Karigan was carrying was bound to make ripples. Before he left for the night, his chain of command would likely be sending down the more general details of her journey.