Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Decaying World - Chapter 4: Remnants Of The Marble City [02]

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Chapter 4: Remnants Of The Marble City

When Drake awoke all signs of the attack had disappeared, although he could have sworn that the wardrobe stood in a different place last night. Glenn was already up and about, once again sitting in a chair by the wall and staring at him.

Is something wrong?”

What happened tonight?”

What do you mean? I walked around the city for a while and got lost in the process. When I finally found my way back I...went to sleep, I suppose. I might have visited the pub beforehand though. That would explain the blackout and why my head is pounding.”

You went to sleep?” asked his father incredulously.

Yes? Is something wrong with that?”

I...guess not,” he sighed and picked up a piece of parchment. “Anyway, we've got our audience. The king expects us at 3 P.M. so don't be late! The castle should be hard to miss, seeing as it's the only building that isn't ugly.”

Just wait a moment, I'll come—” Glenn stormed out of the room before Drake could finish the sentence.

Did I do something wrong?

No, you didn't. It's all my fault!”

Wait...can we talk through telepathy too?

Yes. It's one of the few skills that doesn't require us to...drink blood. With enough training we could even control the actions of others, but we don't want that, do we?”

No...I suppose we don't...

You suppose?”

Well, it could be useful under certain circumstances...

Don't be stupid! You have to hold on to the remnants of your humanity instead of giving in to the beast!”

Why are so you mad?

It doesn't matter! Just meet me at the castle in a few hours! Oh, but visit the armor shop beforehand and get yourself a new set. Keep the leather armor though. I doubt anything in Pagan could match it's enchantment, at least anything you could actually afford.”

Silence returned and Drake went to the bathroom to freshen up. He would never choose to live in Pagan instead of Arlin but they had a nifty system in place where you only needed to turn a few knobs to get all the water you needed. You could even heat it up on the way! Drake assumed it to be some kind of magic whereas it was actually an invention created by the dwarves during the Golden Age. They never managed to distribute the system to any human settlements though as the war broke out soon after. It wasn't until hundreds of years later that an expedition led by the Adventurers Guild stumbled upon the plans in an abandoned dwarven outpost. That's one of the reasons they could afford to built such extraordinary guild halls all over the globe.

Drake noticed his blood-shot eyes in the mirror as he dried his face but assumed it to be nothing more than a side effect of his transformation. He was actually more surprised that he had a reflection to begin with but seeing as nearly everything he knew about vampires seemed to be wrong it shouldn't have been much of a surprise. If Modera could have listened in she would have ridiculed him for assuming that an inanimate object would care if he was dead or alive. Isn't there something like a vampire's handbook? Certainly couldn't hurt. With that in mind he left the room.

Drake stepped into the sunlight and although he didn't turn into ash he still felt his powers weaken, as if some strange fatigue was catching up to him. The armor shop was located somewhere behind the Inn but he chose to leave the city instead. There was a commotion at the plaza as a merchant had tried to drive through one of the smaller gates where only his horses fitted through whereas his cart did not. For some reason he didn't want the soldiers to touch his vehicle, lashing out at them every time they got too close.

Drake tried to ignore the clamor and passed the city's threshold. He could have remained there but decided that it would be better to walk a few more steps where he could lean against a tree. As soon as he entered its shadow he felt his powers return.

Huh, seems like I don't have to talk to Modera after all.

Talk to me about what?”

Dammit. Don't you have something better to do than to listen to my thoughts?

I've wasted 10 years waiting for you to grow up! Of course I don't have anything better to do!”

What's so special about me?

Deliver Maximilian and I might tell you! How is the plan proceeding?”

We have an audience with the King later today.

Good. Try to get it done tonight, we don't have too much time left!”

Till what?

Till he makes his move! Now stop chatting and get to work! And try to refrain from killing anyone in the castle! I don't want bounties on your heads just yet!”

Why would I kill anyone?

Why wouldn't you?” these words were followed by a bout of laughter before she cut the connection.

Drake remained in the shadows a little bit longer, breathing in the fresh morning air and enjoying the beautiful songs of the birds. He assumed that life as a vampire would be worse but it didn't seem to be much of an impediment. Maybe he could even return to Emily when they got rid of Modera.

If you get rid of me! And don't forget that you will live forever! You might be able to adjust your age but your girlfriend will die eventually! Unless you turn her into a vampire too, of course!”

Shut up!

Please, don't go yet! I haven't had this much fu—” Drake crossed the city's threshold and cut her off.

The yelling by the cart had gotten worse but when Drake passed the gate it got quiet all of a sudden. He turned around in confusion, just in time to witness the merchant getting punched in the face by a man in his mid-thirties. He had long black hair with a tinge of blue, wore a similarly colored cape and a beautiful piece of armor with golden shoulder-pads. He jumped from the cart and the soldiers saluted him before they freed the horses and began to push the cart backwards.

Sorry for that, but I can't stand people who won't listen to reason,” he explained himself with a smile on his face as he walked past Drake. “As long as you are a nice boy and stay out of trouble you won't have to be afraid of my iron fist!” he vanished around the corner with jovial laughter.


Drake arrived at the castle half an hour before the appointed time. It was the most magnificent building he had seen in his entire life, which he concluded before ever laying eyes upon the building itself.

At first he came to a covered wooden bridge with beautifully designed carvings on the underside of its roof. They told the entire history of Pagan up until the Golden Age. Below the bridge was the castle moat which could have served nothing but practical purposes but instead it was designed to look like a river flowing through paradise as it was lined by hundreds of flowers and a few giant trees. After crossing over the bridge Drake entered the outer ring which was nothing but a giant park that even normal citizens had access to all throughout the day. Only after passing through one more gate did he finally reach the castle itself. Its marble walls seemed to glitter upon reflecting the sunlight and every single window was made out of stained glass. At the corners of the keep were four giant towers that seemed to stretch all the way towards the sky.

You're not a child anymore, Drake. They might be really big but not that big,, responded his father's voice inside his mind. Drake finally tore himself away from the sight, noticed Glenn waiting for him in front of the entrance gates and hurried towards him.

You're looking good, son,” he said with a smile upon his face as he noticed Drake's new clothes. His old ones had been completely drenched so he replaced them entirely, apart from his enchanted armor. Now he was wearing thick brown leather boots, a matching pair of gloves, black trousers with chainmail chausses under them as well as a black cloak. He was even bearing a new sword after Modera had destroyed his old one.

Is this suitable for a fight, though? Maybe it would have been better to choose protection over agility.”

You'll be fine, especially with that armor of yours. It can't hurt to be agile. My armor might look nice but it's more of a hindrance when I have to evade an attack.”

Their conversation was cut short as the doors opened and a servant flanked by two guards stepped outside. He looked around for a moment before he approached them.

Are you the spice merchant?”

That I am!” responded Glenn with a charming smile.

And who is this?”

My brother Drake. He's serving”—Drake raised an eyebrow— “Protecting me! I'm not much of a fighter, you see.”

Huh, I'd hire someone who looks more intimidating but what do I know? Anyway, follow me. The king is waiting. Just stay away from the throne or Maximilian might cut you down. He's a bit hot blooded.”

The servant led them through corridors lined with rows upon rows of tapestries depicting former royal families as well as historical and mythological events, like the slaying of the mighty dragon Kraka-Sha by Duncan, first king of Pagan. Where the space didn't suffice stood golden suits of armor or replicas of exotic plants surrounded by fake grass.

And now you're just showing off, thought Drake when they entered the throne room and noticed the giant fountain in the middle. It was split into multiple layers and every single one of them contained a number of golden statues depicting one of the former rulers of the city. That's not all though: the walls surrounding the throne's pedestal looked like miniature waterfalls even though the water didn't seem to come from anywhere nor did it flow into anything.

That's magic, right?

I suppose. It wasn't here the last time I was inside the castle.”

Milord, I present to you the spice merchant Glenn Maldovar van Raschasa and his guardian, Drake Maldovar van Raschasa,” announced the servant before he left the room and closed the doors behind him, which were then blocked by the guards who had been escorting them. If they found out what manner of creature Glenn and Drake were they wouldn't allow them to leave without a fight.

Van Raschasa?

Sounded suitable enough.”

Isn't that located in the desert?

I...suppose it is...”

The king was a corpulent old men with whitening hair dressed in crimson robes with golden threads. He leaned forward and stared at them from head to toe, lingering especially long on their faces, before he whispered something into the ear of a knight who stood next to him.

You don't look like a spice merchant to me,” proclaimed the knight moments later with his hand resting on the hilt of his sword.

Sorry Milord, I didn't know that spice merchants had to follow a certain dress code. Or should I have chosen another diet?” Glenn responded with a devilish grin.

Touché!”, replied the knight after receiving new instructions. “But there's still the fact that you claim to be from Raschasa whereas you look as pale as a ghost. How do you explain that discrepancy?”

Told you.

It might seem like a discrepancy but it's quite easy to explain. Our ancestors lived in Raschasa, that much is true, but eventually they decided that the harsh life of the desert wasn't worth it anymore so they moved into a more comfortable area. However, just because we relocated doesn't mean that we have to abandon our name!”

Sounds logical enough but I'm still not convinced that you aren't a liar,” responded the knight without awaiting further instructions. The king sighed and leaned back.

I could offer you a free sample,” replied Glenn as he opened the box he had been carrying with him all this time. “Then you'll see that these spices are quite genuine.”

The knight descended from the pedestal and glanced at the spices before he took the box and dug a finger into it, letting it wander from one corner of the box to the next till he seemed to be satisfied. Then he closed the box and shook it as hard as possible, all the while listening to potential rattling noises.

I don't know what you're hoping to find. We certainly didn't come here to murder the king with some kind of hidden knife in the spice box.”

Of course you didn't. That would be stupid. It might be poisoned though.”

Why don't you try it for yourself? Then you'll know if it's poisoned or not,” interjected Drake for the first time since the conversation had started, causing the knight to look at him strangely. That's when he realized that he had seen this person somewhere before. Right, he was the one who punched the merchant this morning!

Well, if your plan was to poison me instead you just blew it! You there,” he gestured towards one of the guards by the door.

Yes, sir?”

You're going to eat some of those spices!”

But what if they're really poisoned?” the guard seemed flabbergasted to be chosen as a guinea pig.

Then you'll die for the sake of your king if we fail to save your life!”

As if that makes it better!

Don't worry, it's not poisoned. Not in any recognizable way, that is...”

The guard left his post hesitantly, walking towards the knight at snail's pace.

Get a move on!”

Yes, sir!” he hurried towards the box., took a few spice grains out of the box and was about to consume them when he noticed the knights glare on him.

Is something wrong, sir?”

We don't have the time to test if a few grains will kill you in a couple of hours! Open your hand!” the soldier did so with a horrified expression on his face as the knight poured enough spices into his hand to fill out his palm. “Go on then, swallow them!”

Do I really have to?” but the knights gaze was enough of an answer and he swallowed all the spices in his hand. It didn't take long for tears to form in his eyes. “Ugh, can I have some water please? My throat feels like it's burning.”

No, the water could neutralize the poison! Just bear with it. And you,” he gestured towards the other guard standing by the door. “Get our visitors some chairs, will you?”

Yes, sir!”

An hour passed while everyone in the room stared at the unfortunate guard. Only the king didn't care at all as he had gotten himself comfy with his feet on a footstool and a good book in his hands. He was even humming a cheerful melody while the knight paced back and forth, only pausing to stare at the guard once in a while.

How long are you planning to draw this out? He's not going to drop dead!” complained Drake after a few more minutes.

Why, are you in a hurry to leave?”

No, I'm just bored out of my mind!”

Drake, please! Have a little patience!” interjected Glenn with a calming tone in his voice.

No, I think he's got a point,” exclaimed the king as he put his book away. “We've wasted more than enough time, Maximilian,” Drake's eyes widened upon hearing their target's name. “He would have collapsed long ago if the spices were poisoned!”

The royal knight, Maximilian, grumbled but obliged his command.

Well, it seems like you've convinced the king, but if you do anything suspicious I will cut you down!”

Maximilian!” the king's voice boomed throughout the room, causing Maximilian to flinch.

Okay, we're done here. Soldier!” he gestured towards his guinea pig. “You can take a week off.”

Thank you, sir,” he responded with a hoarse voice and left the room while resting on the shoulder of his comrade.

Thank you, Maximilian. I'm going to have a talk with Glenn. Why don't you show his brother around in the meantime?”

I'm not really interested in—” but Drake couldn't even finish the sentence as Maximilian had already grabbed onto his arm and began to pull him out of the room.

They walked around in silence for a while, only broken up once or twice when Maximilian told him about the history of a tapestry he really liked. Drake didn't really care though as he was more worried about all the guards he hadn't even noticed during their way to the throne room. Whatever poison Modera has prepared, it can't possibly take out the entire castle, he thought, expecting a reply from Glenn, but he was too busy talking to the king.

Hey, are you even listening to me?” exclaimed Maximilian in frustration after he had explained the entire history behind the founding of Pagan only to realize that Drake wasn't even looking at him.

What? Sorry, I was just thinking about something.”

And what could have been so important?”

Well, don't you think that you've been a bit too harsh to your subordinate?”

No, not at all! I don't expect someone of your age to understand but sometimes all the choices you have left are bad choices. We could have let you go, which might have prompted you to create a new plan to assassinate our king.”

We don't plan to kill him!”

Hypothetically speaking! We could have tested the spices by letting you eat it but if it was poisoned you might have prepared an antidote in advance, so I had to give it to one of my subordinates. Of course we could have believed your every word and risked the life of our king.”

Okay, I get it. You had to make a tough call!”

Exactly! Remember that for the future. It could save your life! Come now, I'm going to show you a few relics. Should be more interesting than a simple history lesson.”

They ascended to the next floor, rounded a few corners and arrived in front of a room whose doors had a green gleam to it, but it remained stationary even when Maximilian pushed them open.

What's with this glow?”

You can see that? I thought only mages could. Maybe you've chosen the wrong profession.”

I never tried to use magic. How could I even access such powers?”

Don't ask me, I'm a sword-fighter through and through!” Drake stared at him with a doubtful expression. “Okay and sometimes I punch people in the face, but there's a certain elegance to fighting with a sword. Mastering the blade will turn it into an extension of your arm, allowing you to accomplish feats that seem impossible to a novice! After that the only thing left to do is to find a sword that suits you. This here,” he patted the sword in his scabbard, “Might be one of the finest blades ever forged in Pagan, but it's nothing compared to some of the ancient weapons said to be scattered around the globe. Sadly the king depends on me so I don't have the time to go on a journey to retrieve them, even though one of the blades should be quite close,” he stared longingly into the distance, “But enough of that! Let me show you those relics.”

Wait! What does this...barrier do?”

You've already chosen a suitable word. It prevents people from entering the room if they intend to steal one of the relics. So you better hope that it doesn't block your path or I might have to throw you into prison for a while!” he chuckled and entered the room, Drake following tentatively behind.

The room beyond looked even more extravagant than the throne room. Its walls were entirely made of gold whereas the display cases lining the walls were made out of crystal and behind every display case was a giant wall mural that told the story of the relic it contained. Drake took the sight in with his mouth agape.

Beautiful, isn't it? Over there,” he gestured to a display case containing a sword, “Is one of the finest blades in the world. King Duncan used it to slay Kraka-Sha, whose blood hasn't come off even after hundreds of attempts to get rid of it. If I remember correctly we even had a statue of the dragon a long time ago. Don't ask me what happened to it, though.”

Drake glanced around the room, taking in every single mural before something inexplicably caught his eye. He walked over to another display case which contained nothing but a book with a black and white binding.

What, you'd rather stare at a book than at Duncan's sword? You're weird,” but Drake didn't listen as he was busy reading the inscription.

This is the cursed book Extimescere.

It contains the glimmer of hope that will lead to a better future.

Anyone who tries to open it will be confronted by his worst nightmares!

Anyone who defeats them and opens the first page will die instantly!

Only you, who has been born during the brightest moment of the darkest day...

Only you, who has destroyed the balance between good and evil...

Only you will be able to read it!

Boring, isn't it? The only reason we store the book in here is to prevent others from going mad. We tried burning it once but it didn't even get singed,” explained Maximilian while yawning.

I don't know. I can't put my finger on it but I have the feeling that its calling out to me.”

Really?” Maximilian stretched that word as long as he could. “Don't tell me you think you're the one the inscription is talking about! Should I open the case and let you try? You won't die unless you actually manage to open it,” he took out a key but Drake beckoned him to stop, even though he was tempted to try it out.

I'd rather not risk it. Maybe later...”

Or maybe never. Anyway, anything else you're interested in?”

Hm...what about this armor? It has to be really special, seeing as its the only object in the center of the room.“

Maximilian's face lit up with a smile before he led Drake towards the display case.

That, my lad, is the armor of the greatest general Pagan has ever seen!”

Drake began to read the inscription and stopped after the first line.

General Garland? That's the one my father served under!” he exclaimed excitedly only to be scoffed at by Maximilian.

I'm sorry to say this but your father seems to be a lying bastard! General Garland has been dead for ages, not that is has stopped him from serving numerous kings.”

What do you mean?”

Just read the damn inscription!”

He did as he was asked.

This is the armor of general Garland, one of the most accomplished generals in Pagan's history. Aeons ago he was killed by a necromancer who bound his soul to the armor he was wearing before he threw it into the ocean. It was recovered hundreds of years later but it wasn't until someone tried to steal it that the curse was discovered.

Garland lives on in a dormant state till someone dons his armor, upon which the wearer's mind will be pushed into the deepest depths of his consciousness while Garland takes over his body. Previous hosts claim that it wasn't a painful experience, more like a vivid dream from which they couldn't wake up.

No one has been able to free Garland from his imprisonment but he was called upon in times of trouble to lead the armies of Pagan to victory. He has never expressed discomfort with his situation and is glad to be able to serve his country even after his demise.

That sounds horrible...” exclaimed Drake aghast.

I'm sure he feels the same way but chose not to show it. No one has been able to free him from his imprisonment and I doubt that will ever change unless the necromancer is still alive and someone manages to kill him. And the chances for that are nil.”

Poor guy...but couldn't my father have served him if he can be called upon at every moment?”

He could but I know of no such case in the past hundred years. Sorry, but parents tend to exaggerate when they try to impress their children.”

Father, have you been— Drake's thoughts were cut off as a bell began to chime somewhere in the distance.

Sorry, but I've got urgent business to attend to.”

Don't worry, I'll just look around a little bit longer.”

No you won't! Your spices might not be poisoned but that's no reason to let you walk around unhindered. Follow me, you can spend some quality time in my room till I'm done.”

Maximilian's room was located on the next floor and stretched nearly all the way across the southern part of the keep, which seemed more suitable for a member of the royal family than for a mere knight. But Drake didn't have time to ask for an explanation as he was locked in the room moments after entering.

Now what?” he asked himself as he began his exploration. At first it didn't look like a room anyone would actually live in as as the entire center area was devoid of furniture. It had more of a resemblance to a training hall as it was filled with wooden dummies spread out on a stone square. Along the wall were an assortment of crates with spare swords, leather gear, blindfolds, different kinds of boots and so on. The only piece of furniture that made it seem like the room wasn't solely used for training was a sofa in front of a fireplace. Huh, is he actually using broken dummies as firewood?

As Drake took another step he heard a clicking sound coming from the floor, followed by a giant spear emerging from the ground. His hands shot forward reflexively, shattering the shaft and catapulting the pointy tip into the wall. What the hell was that? He scanned the floor with his improved senses and noticed more than a dozen pressure plates, which where nearly indistinguishable from the stone floor surrounding it.

Who are you?” asked a soft but cautious voice from a doorway in the back. Drake switched his attention and saw a petite woman with flawless skin and long golden hair peeking at him from behind the door frame that led into a bedroom. He could even smell the sweet scent of her sweat through the flowery fragrance of the perfume she was wearing. But all that really mattered was the ecstatic beating of her heart followed by the sound of her blood rushing through her veins. “Hello? Didn't you hear me?” The world came crashing down as Drake's senses returned to normal and the beast returned to it's slumber.

Sorry, I was a bit out of it,” he scratched his head in embarrassment, “I'm Drake. Me and my are here on a business trip.”

Inside Maximilian's room?” she seemed to be shaking, not because she was afraid but due to the fact that she was wearing nothing but a woolen blanket.

No, but he doesn't seem to trust us, even after erroneously assuming that our spices were poisoned. So he locked me in here while attending to some urgent business,” Drake felt uncomfortable standing around in the middle of the room and wanted to take another step as she screamed at him.

Stop! You'll end up getting killed if you walk over the stone floor!”

Oh, right. The traps. I've already survived one of them... Who came up with the bright idea to build those into the floor?”

Maximilian,” she chuckled. “He gets bored quickly if the only exercise he gets is against training dummies so he added a bit of an extra thrill. It's very dangerous but he got nary a scratch after the first year, which is when he added blindfolds to the mix...” she sighed. “He's already mastered the art of sword-fighting. I wish he would just stop.”

She finally left the bedroom and walked towards the wall at the other end of the stone square, where she pushed a a brick to the side and pressed a hidden switch behind it, followed by a series of clicking sounds reverberating throughout the floor. The moment she turned around Drake caught a glimpse of the side of her breasts and the beast inside of him roared, ready to sink its fangs into her soft skin.

It's safe now,” she exclaimed, blushing when she noticed his gaze. “I think I'd better get dressed now...” she hurried away, pressing the blanket as close to her body as possible.

Come on, get a grip on yourself! Drake chastised himself as he realized that his whole body was shaking with excitement. I won't drink her blood! It would ruin our entire plan! … No, that's not what I meant! he hit himself on the head, walked towards the sofa and plopped down on it.

What's wrong with me?

You know what's wrong, Drake. You've been cursed and you'll never be able to get rid of the blood lust. If only you had killed me...”

Stop saying that! but his father didn't respond.

Do you want something to drink?”


Are you out of it again?” the woman looked at him apprehensively.

Kinda...but yeah, I'd like something to drink,” he sighed as he watched her leave. She didn't show as much skin as before but her dress was very form-fitting, which didn't leave too much to the imagination. I hope it doesn't get worse. Who knows how I might have reacted if she had been standing directly in front of me...

Here's your drink.”


Are you serious? Three times in a row? I don't mean to pry, but is something wrong?” she asked as she pressed a glass of lemonade into his hands.

Well, yeah. However, it's not exactly something I'm allowed to talk about,” he drank the entire glass at once and a soothing chill spread throughout his body, putting the beast to sleep. “Who are you anyway?”

Oh, did I forget to introduce myself? I'm Jessica—” the entrance door was flung wide open and Maximilian stormed into the room just in time to hear her finish the sentence, “—the Princess of Pagan.”

No!” Maximilian's desperate scream echoed through the chamber while Drake looked at him in confusing. And then it dawned upon.

Oh, I see...”

Why are we fighting again?” Drake had put on some of the training gear lying around the room before he even knew what was happening. Maximilian did the same and gave him one of the spare swords before he positioned himself on the opposite side of the stone square while Jessica stared at them over the back of the sofa, sniggering to herself.

We are fighting for my dignity!” the princess pouted upon hearing these words. “If I win you won't tell anyone about what you saw here today!”

I don't know what you mean! The room was completely deserted!” Drake responded nervously.

No no no! You have to swear upon your masculinity that you won't tell a soul about us if I beat you. There's no running away!”

Would it be so bad if father found out?” Jessica asked quietly.

I'm not fit to lead Pagan! And you're too young to be a Queen!”

You know, I could just tell him!” she replied with a devious smile which made her look like a child.

You wouldn't!” he screamed indignantly, followed by a surprised yell as his sword clattered to the ground, it's blade shattering into a dozen pieces. “What the hell?” silence descended upon the room as they stared at Drake incredulously. “Gosh, I didn't know they sold such useless blades. Seems like I've been scammed,” Maximilian laughed Drake's feat off and grabbed another sword. “That's the last time you'll ever land a surprise attack! Come then!”

Sure thing!” Drake smiled as his heart pounded with excitement.

Don't forget your vow!”

My what?”

You have to swear upon your masculinity,” repeated Jessica with a childish voice.

You've got to be kidding me!”

Don't be such a pansy!”

What does that have to do with any—”

Are you a man or not?” Maximilian bellowed.

Fine! I swear upon my masculinity that I won't tell anyone about your relationship!” he had barely finished the sentence when Maximilian rammed his hilt into Drake's guts, snatched his sword away and held both blades in front of his throat.

You're dead!” proclaimed Maximilian while Jessica fell from the sofa in a laughing fit.

How did you cross the gap so quickly?”

I'm just that good,” Maximilian replied with a radiant smile upon his face. “And you're full of openings. Who taught you to fight?”

My father.”

Oh, the guy who served under Garland,” replied Maximilian mockingly and gagged when Drake's fist connected with his stomach. The swords clattered onto the floor as Drake grabbed his opponent by the arms and flung him over his head. He hit the stone with a loud thud and was pushed against the wall before he ever hit the ground. Drake's left hand was pressing onto his ribcage with such force that he could feel his bones creaking. The other hand held a sword to his throat.

You're dea—” Maximilian rammed a knee into Drake's privates, followed by a kick to the chest before he twisted his opponent's arm and threw the sword away.

Nice try, but brute force alone won't get you very far! I don't know how you expect to protect your brother like that.”

Why don't you teach him a lesson or two?” asked Jessica, who had stared at them in amazement during their little struggle.

As if I don't have anything better to do.”

Do you?” she smiled at him like an angel.

There's still a few places I could show him. Salazaar's tower for instance.”

Boring!” she yammered and pouted.

I'm not your personal entertainer!”

You're not? Okay, then!”—she jumped from the sofa and walked towards the door—“I'm going to talk to daddy!” but Maximilian grabbed onto the collar of her dress, whirled her around and pulled her so close that their lips nearly touched. She blushed.

Fine! I'm gonna teach him!”

Don't I get a say in this?

The sun had already set when Drake was finally freed from Maximilian's harsh training by a message from the king. He staggered into the grand dining hall on the ground floor and slumped into the chair next to his father.

What happened to you?” asked Glenn with an amused smile on his face.

Maximilian”—he stared at the royal knight with an empty glare—“Your training is a joke compared to his...”

I never claimed to be a master swordsman.”

Ahem!” the king's voice silenced the entire room. He was sitting at the far end of the table, his daughter on his left side and Maximilian on his right. The rest of the chairs were occupied by generals, high-ranking servants as well as city officials. Only the chair at the other end of the table was empty. “I'm glad most of you had time to appear on such short notice. We're here to celebrate a meal seasoned with spices of our new business associate Glenn Maldovar van Raschasa!”

Glenn rose from his chair as a wave of applause swept throughout the room. Only the guards stationed along the walls remained silent.

I hope you'll savor the taste of our spices so that we can build up a long-standing relationship!”

I didn't know they could grow spices in Raschasa,” exclaimed a plump woman on the other side of the table as he was about to sit down.

We don't live in Raschasa anymore. We just kept the name.”

Then where are you growing them?” her insistent voice sounded like a croaking raven.

On the fields surrounding Arlin.”

I didn't know Arlin was growing any spices.”

And what exactly do you know about Arlin?” Glenn asked and finally sat down when he didn't receive an answer.

Yes, who would have known that this small village was growing such delicious spices? If you manage to ship it around the country your hometown might flourish in the coming years!” the king exclaimed and was about to grab a chicken drumstick when his daughter slapped his hand away.

Don't forget to mention his brother!” she whispered to him.

What did his brother do?”

He managed to fling Maximilian into a wall!” she exclaimed loudly and a murmur went around the room, all eyes focusing on Drake.

And then I kicked his ass!” said Maximilian with a smile on his face and laughter echoed through the chamber. Even the guards chimed in.

It would have been somewhat upsetting if a whippersnapper like him could have bested you. Now let's eat!” the king bellowed and stared at his daughter for approval before he grabbed his chicken drumsticks. As soon as he bit into it the room was engulfed by the clamor of dinner and Drake had a hard time keeping his senses in check after exhausting all of his reserves.

Is it safe to eat this?

Yes, the poison is entirely harmless to us. But it's doubtful that you'll be able to satisfy your hunger no matter how much you eat,” replied his father but Drake didn't care. He filled his plate to the brim and dug in as if he hadn't eaten in years.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened for the next hour. Loud conversations swept back and force, the servants brought in one dish after another and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves when it all stopped from one second to the next. People tumbled to the floor or fell onto the table and within seconds silence had descended upon the room.

Are they all dead?” asked Drake terrified as he stood up.

No, that would draw too much attention. They've fallen into a deep slumber and won't wake up for a whole day.”

But how were the guards affected? They didn't eat anything.”

The spices are harmless upon mere ingestion, as you've seen this afternoon. However, if you heat them up they emit a substance invisible to the human eye that will spread all across the area and put everyone to sleep after a couple hours. That's all Modera told me.”

Drake stood behind Jessica, who fell asleep while leaning back in her chair, swiped her hair away and stared at her exposed neck for a moment before Glenn grabbed a hold of him and pulled him away.

What are you doing?” he was barely able to contain his rage.

I...I don't know. There's just something about her...”

Forget her! If you need to think about a woman, then think about Emily! I'm sure she misses you!” his voice calmed down at the end and Drake looked at the floor in shame. “Anyway, grab Maximilian and let us go! There might still be a few people who weren't affected,” with these words Glenn went towards the door and held it ajar till he was certain that the corridor behind it was deserted. Then he stepped outside and gestured towards his son. “Come on! What are you waiting for?”

Drake pulled himself together and walked towards Maximilian, who had fallen to the ground and barely avoided a laceration by cushioning his fall with his arms. Drake kneeled down, grabbed him under his armpits and was about to pull when his ears picked up a single word being uttered from below.

Father, something is—” a shock wave engulfed the entire room as someone grabbed Drake by his neck and tossed him to the floor.

Drake!” Glenn screamed and tried to come to his son's aid but an invisible barrier had sprung up between him and the doorway, causing him to bounce backwards. He heard an audible pop right in front of him as the air contracted and spit out an old hairless man who wore brown robes and was holding onto a staff that had dozens of tiny crystals embedded in its wood.

You can go now, vampire. We'll take care of your son!”

No!” Glenn yelled and hit the wall with all of his might but it didn't so much as budge.

Don't waste your time! I can keep a vampire of your level busy for days.”

Enraged shouting could be heard from inside the room as nearly everyone demanded to know what the hell was going on. The king ignored them though, only sitting in his chair and staring at Drake who had been pinned down on the floor by Maximilian.

Father, what is going on?” he ignored that question too.

Well well well, so you're telling me the lunatic Modera is still alive and wants to kidnap my royal knight?”

I'm not telling you any—” Maximilian stomped upon his head.

I'm sure you didn't want to end up like that. Just tell us everything you know and we will end your suffering,” his voice was calm but threatening at the same time. Drake didn't respond, however. ”Don't tell me you actually prefer this cursed existence!”

It's better than being dead!” Drake muttered with clenched teeth.

Drake, you have to get out of there!”

Could you please send him away?”

Of course, Milord!” responded the court mage as he grabbed his staff with both hands and began to pound it on the floor rhythmically. The air around him began to swirl while Glenn hit the barrier over and over again but neither his fists nor his sword were of any use. “Eprow thoef iwihl, nishba het pavreim!” the mage uttered words of power which were burned into the very fabric of reality itself and reverberated throughout all instances of the castle in the multiverse. A sphere of energy popped into existence, trapping Glenn within it before it shot through one of the windows and disappeared into the night sky. The mage snapped his fingers and the shattered glass repaired itself.

Thank you,” the king focused his attention upon Drake once more. “Are you going to talk or do we have to torture you? Believe me, I'd rather abstain from such practices but I'll have no choice if you don't start spilling your guts!”

Please, just tell them everything you know!” Jessica screamed desperately, kneeling in front of Drake before anyone could stop her.

What are you doing? Get away from him!” the king and Maximilian yelled in unison but she didn't budge.

Drake gazed into her honest amethyst-colored eyes whereas the beast lusted for her pearly-skin and the blood flowing beneath it. Just a few drops! We don't have to kill her! No, I could never hurt her! Don't lie to yourself! We need power and her blood is full of it! Consume it and we can escape this mess!

No!” Drake roared and a wave of pure darkness catapulted Maximilian onto the table. Jessica fled in panic as Drake unsheathed his sword but he didn't need to look around to realize that he was severely outnumbered. What now?

Seize him!” the king screamed but at that exact moment the world froze and all the colors were sapped out of it. Drake heard a loud crack as a tear was ripped into the fabric of reality, not big enough to let him through but sufficient enough to send him a message from the Void.

Concentrate your power...your sword! You need to reach...tower! You'll—” the Alp's voice vanished as the tear snapped shut, sending a ripple through the world and returning it to normal. Maximilian rolled from the table while Drake stared at his sword, trying to follow the advice he had been given. The beast inside him stirred as he accessed the sinister powers he had been given, channeling them into his sword till it was surrounded by pure darkness.

An icicle smashed into his head, he tumbled towards the wall and the energy dissipated. Great idea! Focus on your sword and ignore everything around you! Just shut up! Drake tried to focus once more when he saw Maximilian running towards him with his sword drawn. He also noticed that the mage was preparing another spell while the king and his daughter had taken cover behind him. And most of the guards seemed to be too busy keeping the guests in check who couldn't leave the room either.

Drop your blade or I'll cut you down!” demanded the royal knight when he finally reached him.

Nice offer but I'll dec—” the sword was aimed directly at his head but Drake's senses were heightened enough to escape him this time, even if only by a hair's breadth. And then he fled towards the other side of the room, gathering energy along the way.

Are you really such a coward?”

You've showed me your prowess, Maximilian. Only an idiot would fight you head on!”

One of the guards was brave enough to block his path but the moment he swung his sword Drake grabbed onto his arm and flung him directly at Maximilian, who simply jumped over him.

Stop running! You can't leave the room anyway!”

The sword was once again surrounded by shadows and the blade was filled with so much energy that it began to vibrate. If he hadn't chosen that moment to unleash its power the sword might have burst into a million pieces as normal weapons aren't designed to be imbued with so much magic. He swung the sword at the wall and a wave of pure energy shot from its tip. It grew bigger the farther it went, as if it was consuming every ounce of magic along the way, ripped through the floor itself and when it finally reached its target the wall was pulverized, leaving a gaping hole behind. A shadowy figure burst through it seconds later.

All the exits are blocked! We won't be able to hold them off for long!” Drake nodded as Modera's knight ran past him to confront Maximilian.

How nice of you”—their swords clashed—“to bring me something to play with! And what the hell”—a bolt of lightning missed Drake's head as he finally fled the room—“are you guys doing! Go after him, goddammit!” yells of consent followed Maximilian's demand and a dozen soldiers stormed through the hole.

Drake had ascended two floors before he even realized that he had no idea which tower the Alp had been talking about and his pursuers were already closing in on him. Should I just guess which one he could have meant? Doesn't seem like a good tactic but what other choice...

I need some help here! Modera would certainly prefer me instead of you!”

We've already lost half of our men,” one of Modera's knights popped into existence as if he had been waiting to be summoned.

I don't care how many of you die! I just need to know if there's anything in the vicinity that might be able to get me out of here. It's supposed to be in one of the towers.”

The knight vanished in the blink of an eye, followed by two guards ascending the stairs. As soon as they saw the darkness forming around Drake's sword they made a quick getaway. The stairs were vaporized soon after and Modera's servant returned.

There's nothing of interest in the northern towers but the southern ones house magical artifacts. Both might contain items that could warp you out of here—

Better than nothing, I guess.”

“—and if I had to compare them I would say that the ones in the southeastern tower seem much more potent.

You think broken stairs will stop me?” Maximilian's voice resounded from below and the knight jumped over the railing. “Another one? How many of you are there?” their swords clashed while Drake ran towards the southeastern tower.

He reached the tower's entrance in less than a minute and was perplexed when he noticed that there were neither stairs nor ladders leading up to the hatch above. Huh, I might be able to climb up there if I can get rid of the hatch. He gathered his energy once more, the blade began to vibrate and then it fell apart, having pulverized itself from the inside out. He stared at it with his mouth agape, which is when he noticed that an arrow had been painted on the wall and was pointing to a star-like symbol above it. Curious he threw the useless sword away and held his hand above the symbol. The hatch sprang open and a beam of light engulfed his entire body. It took a second at most but when the hatch snapped shut again he was gone.

When the light vanished Drake found himself standing in a dark and empty room, which didn't even seem to have a floor. He tried to move forward but his muscles didn't respond.

What do you want in my tower?” the voice of an old man echoed throughout the room, it's volume slowly intensifying.

I came here to look for an exit!” the moment Drake responded the echoes stopped.

You are standing on the exit. Do you want to leave again?”

No! I'm looking for a way out of the castle!”

Why would you assume to find an exit inside a tower?”

Because someone told me! He didn't have the chance to tell me how, though...”

An unpleasant silence filled the air when another presence appeared inside the chamber, followed by the sound of footsteps that seemed to be everywhere at once. And then he felt invisible hands reaching out towards his skull but before he could ask what was going on he fell to his knees with clenched teeth as waves of pain shot through his body.

You are a vampire! What is your real objective!”

I already...told you!” Drake screamed when the pain intensified and his blood started to boil.

What is your name?” pure malice was audible in the voice and it began to echo throughout the chamber once more.


What is your name?”

What...does that matter?” he fell forward, his hands clutched around his shaking body.

What is your name?” the volume had increased so much that I threatened to burst Drake's eardrums, especially because his senses were completely going haywire.

I don't want...from m—“ he chocked and vomited hot blood onto the floor.

What is your name?”” Salvation and destruction! “My...” Bringer of salvation! “Name is...Leska!”

The echoes ceased, the pain subsided and a soothing warmth spread throughout his body at the same time as the darkness vanished, revealing the pentagram he had been lying in as well as the small room he was transported to. It had four exits, each with a jewel embedded above it. There were also dozens of crates, books, vials, bottles and much more scattered across the room, as if it hadn't been used in ages.

You can leave through the southwestern chamber,” responded the voice once more before it faded away.

What...just happened?” Drake got to his feet and realized that all the pain was gone. He actually felt much better than before, which might be the reason he managed to evade the attack coming from behind him.

There you are! I wondered were you disappeared to, but your escape ends now! Are you still intent on fight...on running away, I mean? Just so you know, there's no other exit!”

I certainly don't intend to give up now!”

Then you leave me no choice!” Maximilian raised his sword.

Wait, before you strike me down: How did you find out about the spices?”

I told you I had business to att—” a crate was thrown at his face as Drake jumped over a handrail. He landed on a bed covered in spider-webs and ran towards the southwestern door, his pursuer hard on his heels.

The room beyond the doorway was even smaller than the one before it and looked more like a storage room as it was packed to the brim with crates and barrels. There was only a small corridor that lead to the other end, where Drake saw a golden mirror, a crystal embedded in it's frame, with a bright silvery surface, through which he could see a forest.

Where did that portal come from?” Maximilian was confused but conscious enough to throw himself at Drake before he was out of reach, barely managing to catch his feet, causing both of them to fall to the ground.

Let go of me!” Drake yelled and kicked him in the face over and over again. Maximilian hollered and released his opponent as he felt his nose fracturing, spilling blood all over the floor. Drake scrambled to his feet, knocking over a the barrel in the process. He was only a few inches away from the mirror when a sword flew directly over his head and shattered the crystal.

No!” he screamed in desperation and jumped towards the rapidly receding portal

Drake, what is going o— Modera's voice was cut off when the world shifted. The tower's walls were pulled back into the ground, the mirror disappeared as the crystal shards fell to the ground and all the objects in the room began to deform, taking on a bluish black tinge in the process.

What are you doing?” screamed Maximilian, fear audible in his voice.

What am I doing? You're the one who shattered the crystal!”

The walls had completely vanished at that point, revealing a rapidly changing city. Buildings vanished while others grew hundreds of meters into the air, entire districts popped out of the ground and somewhere in the distance they could even see a vast park appearing out of nowhere. It looked strangely alive though, as if the trees were moving all by themselves. Beyond the perimeter of the city, however, was nothing but an endless wasteland surrounded by an emerald ocean. The only other object worth noticing was a giant storm cloud in the distance. No,not a cloud. More like a sphere made up of pure darkness. The darkness stretched all the way across the horizon and giant tendrils connected it to the world below. Where they touched the ground they produced a sound very similar to rolling thunder.

What's happening?” asked Maximilian and gestured towards the crystal. Its shattered remains were floating, slowly realigning themselves till it was whole again. It flew even higher, shock waves of pure light emanating from it in the rhythm of a heartbeat.

You don't belong here!” uttered a distant voice and the world exploded in a brilliant flash of light.

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