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The Cursed Knight
"Do you think we can beat him Veldrin?" Rafe's breath came out in pants, the runes etched into his skin flashed violently as he absorbed another spell, staggering backwards from the sheer intensity of the attack. Rafe Ward, one of my oldest companions sunk down beside me, sipping what little water remained in his canteen, and checking his quiver. I gently rolled a pair of red dice across the floor, studying them intently as Rafe popped up to fire an arrow killing the spellcaster who'd attacked him and then dropped back into cover. I finished bandaging the gash in my shoulder. I shook my head as the dice landed on a pair of 3s. "I'm afraid not, but the Red Queen doesn't seem to think we'll all die either." Rafe groaned. "Any idea who will make it and who won't?" I shook my head again. "No. Any idea where Lord Kalian is?" Rafe shook his head. "None. He was with Caoimhe, and Elwin when we got split up. Syrian and Ottilie are holding the portal for Marius. I caught sight of Cameron and Theo trying to make their way up the old shipping channel with some of the knights, the only reason I could figure they'd do that is regrouping with Kalian." I nodded. Rafe flushed two more targets from cover using a fireball, then followed up with two arrows. One hit, one kill, the other went wide as I pulled him back into the trench. A boulder bigger than I was sailed over the ruined wall we were hiding behind. If he hadn't moved to shoot he would have been dead. "We need to move before that thing closes the distance!" I yelled as I raised my head just enough to stare out across the hellscape that lay before us. A large warrior, nearly two meters in height was making his way across the field. Lesser creatures parted before him, and he waded through scuffles killing both friend and foe alike as he went, fortunately he was slow. "It's a Telfahrian berserker" I said as we began moving off towards where Rafe had seen Theo and Cameron. "We can outrun that thing" Rafe said "but it would be better to shake it before we join up with the others. Assuming we find Kalian he still can't make them submit yet." I nodded. "He's at his limit, but Ottilie says he's remarkable for an eight year old." Rafe laughed. "Ottilie thinks everything Kalian does is remarkable." I sighed. There wasn't much arguing that. "You know, Rafe, if she heard you say that she'd part your head from your shoulders." Rafe shrugged. "I've lived a long time, and besides, you said we all weren't going to make it anyway." 

We were making our way slowly down the trench for a while now, between advancing waves, trying to avoid Arimus' army of thralls. Rafe and I launched countless surprise attacks as we went. We got closer than I would have liked, but he was trying to conserve his arrows. Between his swords, and my poisoned blades we made short work of most of the thralls we came across. Most were human, and even with Arimus' powers to strengthen his thralls when there were this many they only had basic intelligence. We did encounter one elf who begged us to kill her through pained whispers even as she hacked away at us. She had none of their usual graces. It was bestial sword work. She was no match for Rafe. The problem with battling Telfahrian thralls, at scale, was that the more you killed the more effective the remaining thralls became. They fought in waves, and by the time you cut most of them down the remaining thralls were the culmination of their collective skill. Arimus' powers were so vast that he could unleash entire armies of enthralled warriors, not just a handful. Then again, when even the gods feared you, what were the likes of Rafe and I to do? From what we knew Arimus hadn't appeared yet, but we knew he was descending to the field even now. How did I, a Knight of Tsern, become involved in a familial dispute between the Telfahrian royal family? My bad luck. It was Arimus' final push to lay his nephew, Kalian, low. To end him, and destroy his brother Marius' claim to the throne. I didn't understand their laws, or their world, but they had put mine to the torch in search of Marius' wayward progeny. Today we hoped to return Kalian to his father, and if we succeeded Arimus would fail. 

Tsern didn't stop me from throwing in with Kalian when Ottilie first appeared at the door to my tavern. I was his first retainer that did not owe my allegiance to his bloodline. I was a Dark Elf, born an orphan, raised in a combat pit as a slave, and escaped to the surface. I'd done various jobs, mercenary work, served on ships, fought to defend towns and then at some point, I had decided I wanted a tavern. My tavern, the Eternal Shade, was probably gone now. Arimus' thralls had likely burned it down. Would I go back there when this was all over? I didn't know. Most days were just one battle to the next. Tsern bid me to follow Kalian however. It was the first time I recalled sensing fear in her. Knowing that Arimus would be the end of everything if he won. I followed Kalian because he needed me, even if Ottilie did not trust me at first. I brought the others into the fold. Some were friends from my past, one was an enemy, and another a figure of legend. In the end though, I had come to call them all friends. This is our story.

Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: This is the ideal life.

Mark Twain
I rose with the predawn darkness on that morning, like I had every other morning for years. That morning I was alone, unsure of where Tsern had gone off to, but if I had to guess she had returned home to see to her realm. I was the last, and strongest, of her remaining Knights and so the Eternal Shade was as much an anchor point for her avatar as it was my tavern. Her worship had become extremely limited in that era, and so she was left with few places to go. She loved her games, drink, and fine food however, and so she often spent her time lazing about the tavern eating and drinking her way through any coin I might have made running the place. I owned it entirely of course, but even I had the occasional need where coin came in handy. 

I practiced with rapier, knife, and spear. My footwork, and finally with my shield. Then as the sun rose I found myself soaking in the small pond near the tavern, not minding the chill near as much as I did the sunrise. Even after all these years I still couldn't look straight into it. Time outdoors during the day gave me headaches, but that was the worst of it by this point. The sunrise did not last long on that day, however, as the clouds and rain quickly rolled in. It would be slow, I knew, and yet I made my preparations all the same. It was a fine day for a stew, something to shake away the chill of the road and I had traded for some produce that wasn't going to last too much longer. Traders would come again in a few days, and so I did not worry too much. What staple produce I grew behind the tavern would keep me going until they returned. 

As the midday approached Elwin, a Warden from Nique Taure, arrived from the north. He would pay coin for information, and even provide some of his own in trade for a room if he desired it along with whatever food and drink I could spare. At least that is how others saw our relationship. The truth was Elwin and I went back about a decade. As a Dark Elf, his people saw us as cousins at least in recent years. I was not surface born, but an escapee, and one criminal to another we'd always had an understanding even when our people were at odds. My crime was slipping my bonds for a life on the surface, his was murder, at least by Elven standards. They did not believe in putting their people to death, and so their most hated criminals lived a life of exile destined to defend Nique Taure's borders. Wardens, as they were called, would not be allowed to return to the city proper. Instead they made their home in a singular fortress that guarded the entrance to Nique Taure and they came and went from it. Like us Dark Elves, surface Elves lived a long time. There weren't more than a few score Wardens at any one time but their skill in battle and mastery of the lands they traveled made them worthwhile allies and merciless foes. Only a fool, or someone supremely confident in their victory, would battle Elves in a forest.

Elwin was my senior by at least a century, though my battlefield experience far outstripped his own. That is not to say he lacked skill, far from it, but most of his life had been lived within the confines of Nique Taure. It was only within the last century or so that he had been banished. Certainly compared to a human he'd had plenty of time to master his skills, but time passed differently for us. In contrast, I had been raised as a gladiatorial slave. Everyday since my ninth year well into part of my first century had been fighting. I'd been above ground for near on fifty years by this point, and the Eternal Shade hadn't become mine until a decade ago. Elwin had been opposed to trading information with me at first, but in time he came to see me as a trusted acquaintance. I'm not sure we were friends, but at least he no longer camped by the lake and treated my tavern like he'd catch fire if he entered it.

With Tsern off doing whatever suited her vast fancies Elwin and I traded news. I learned that Beatrice 'Hellfire' Vanelis had returned to Estvale. Absent yet another ship, which was normal. She hadn't ever captained a ship she didn't put to the torch eventually. At least, this time, I wasn't on borad. In time I am sure she'd make her way here, and attempt to talk me into another voyage at sea. She knew I wasn't interested, but that never stopped her from plying her charms. She was a Tsernite, like me, and an Elf like Elwin. She was raised by humans, however, and so she was as aggressive as they were. Not necessarily hostile, but humans lived relatively short lives and so they tended to pursue anything they saw as worthwhile with what we often deemed as reckless abandon. I often wondered if Beatrice put out to sea so often, and for so long, so that she did not make too many friends in Estvale. It was home, and yet it changed constantly. Many of its inhabitants died of age and yet Beatrice was by Elven standards still quite young. That wasn't to say she couldn't get along with other Elves, but she preferred humans as she often found her own brethren 'insufferably long winded, and slower then a laden treasure ship', or so she'd once said. Elwin didn't care for her, but then, she was loud, dressed immodestly, wasn't the least bit bothered by promiscuity, and didn't hesitate when it came to fighting. For all that, she was fiercely loyal to those she cared about, and I owed her my life. When I first arrived on the surface I knew full well it was unlikely I would be pursued at sea. I had no interest in bribes, or treasure, and so she hired me to guard the hold of her ship where I could live below deck away from the glaring sun. She never even asked if I could fight. No one on that ship, no matter how experienced, or how many their number got into the hold. The same went for those who boarded us. As she often did with those she liked, I was given the nickname, Mighty Mini. 

I talked with Elwin for a while longer, but as he got up to depart, the door gently opened. On the other side of the door frame stood a massive figure, undeniably a woman, and she followed a young male, and probably adolescent female through the door. She didn't quite duck as she passed through, but she was close. Despite the imposing figure she cut, she still looked to two chairs by the fire, and then to me. I motioned with a hand, and she gave a nod before sending both of her charges in that direction. Satisfied that they were settled she glanced about the room, not as a curiosity, but noting it as only a warrior might. Finally she began to make her way towards the counter. This fateful day would see me removed from retirement, for on this day I would meet Otillie, Caoimhe, and Lord Kalian. Shortly thereafter I would become involved in the battle for Telfahria's throne.

Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: This is the ideal life.

Mark Twain
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