Servants of the Black God
All of the chapters with headings in BOLD are updated/new as of September 2013. Everything past chapter 9 is completely new. Enjoy!
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. Major Blackveil spoilers ahead. These characters belong to the lovely Kristen Britain.
"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.
"Karigan, can you hear me?" He was reluctant to touch her until she was solid again. 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.
He sighed in relief when she became solid and started to rise (too quickly in his opinion). The effort made her look faint and he had to reach out to steady her. Turning to the plump woman, he asked, "Do you have a cart?" She looked startled that he'd spoken to her, and he could feel himself growing impatient.
Eventually she said, "No sir, the wheel's broken and all we have is the horse…" She trailed off.
"Take us to the stable."
As the three hurried off, 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. Karigan looked like she might pass out and he wondered how severe her injuries were. She was unsteady on her feet and she cradled her arm as if it had been broken. There was also a lot of blood on her torn clothing, but whether it was her own or her enemy's, he did not know. When the plump woman fumbled to get the saddle, he said they'd ride bareback.
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. Karigan sat in front of him and he worried at how she slumped. Urging the horse to go faster, he aimed for the shortest route possible. The city's night life blurred as they wound through multiple alley shortcuts. The local people, accustomed to horses moving quickly through these small 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. Dismounting, they hurried to find the king. Karigan was keeping up with his trot, but he noted her obvious fatigue and the pain whenever she moved. On the way to Zachary's suite, he stopped and quietly asked Brienne to notify Healer Ben that Karigan would need his attention before the night was over. The Green Rider in question had been silent since he'd found her, but he wasn't concerned at the lack of information, he'd undoubtedly discover the pertinent details soon enough.