The Dark One had spent the night in the fields of Everlong. He enjoyed being underneath the stars. It was a great way to commune with nature. He still had the basket of peanut butter and banana sandwiches, but the ants had gotten to them and were enjoying themselves. He could have banished them to the AfterWorld, but he decided that ants were just following their instincts, no reason to banish them. He took it as a compliment that the ants were loving the sandwiches. They were made with love, why not share?
It was now midday and it was hot outside. The Dark One came to the conclusion that he had had enough of sitting in the fields and wanted to go home. He stood up and packed up the picnic blanket and basket, ants and all. He chanted some words in an ancient language and created a summoning circle, which caused the grass to burn a ring of fire around him. He recited a few more words and in a flash, he was gone, leaving a smoldering fire in his wake.
In an empty room in a dark castle on the North Continent, the Dark One appeared in a puff of smoke and a ring of fire. He waved the smoke out of his face and stepped over the ring. He was reminded of the mental note he made to research a way to teleport without the smoke- it was bothersome.
He set the blanket and basket on the floor and walked out of the room. He traveled through the dark corridors in silence, plotting his next move on the wizard apprentice. The boy had overcome all of the challenges the Dark One had put in his way. Either that boy was really good or the challenges were really weak. He was going to have to step it up a notch.
The Dark One finally reached his destination, the divination room. This was where he cast most of his spells. He had an idea that he was really excited about and he wanted to get to work on it right away.
In the center of the room sat a large black table that was covered in books containing the darkest spells known to man. He picked up a stack of books and set them on the floor. This revealed a crystal ball that had been covered up. He had been looking for that for a week. He grinned and picked it up. He maneuvered it around in his skeletal hands for a bit before activating it. A white light shone from it before it settled on an image of the apprentice.
The boy was laying in a bed with healers tending to a wound on his stomach. The Dark One wondered who could have given it to him- it wasn’t one of his minions. Did that mean that someone else was trying to kill him too? Who could it be? He would have to send out his crows to find out.
The Dark One waved his free hand and the image changed to a view of town, Epherma. This was what he wanted to see. This town would serve as his next checkpoint. It was here that the party would meet their end.
He chanted some words and fog began to form around the crystal ball. As it did this, a fog appeared in the town. People came out of their houses and marveled at how odd it was. It was midday and the sun was shining, why was the fog rolling in. The Dark One chuckled because their questions will be answered in a few moments and they weren’t going to like it.
Live through this, I dare you, thought the Dark One. The stage was set, all he needed were the players.
The healers worked their magic on Zeke and healed him up nicely. He had a decent scar to show for his troubles. He was impressed with it. He had earned his first battle scar. He wasn’t as good as Rafe, not by a long shot, but he learned that he could hold his own. He was proud of that accomplishment.
Simon walked over to Zeke and lifted up his shirt to gaze at the scar. “That’s pretty impressive, Zeke. I wish I had been there to see you get that.”
Zeke pulled his shirt down and said, “It’s not like it was a spectator sport, Simon. I was fighting for my life.”
Simon lifted the shirt back up to look at it again. “It’ll be a great tale to tell your children. Zeke the Bold bravely faced down a stranger bent on his destruction. He quickly smote his ruin in the woods and saved the fair maiden in distress.”
Rafe looked up from her post by Moralie’s bed and glared at Simon. “I was not in distress. I was merely unconscious.”
“Sounds like distress to me.” Simon flashed Rafe a grin. “Anyway, this scar is amazing. Not as as amazing as mine, but still good.”
“Oh, where are your scars?” Zeke asked, pulling his shirt down again.
Simon pulled up his shirt to reveal his barrel chest and tight abs. There were scars up and down his torso. He was about to explain how he had gotten each of them, but Rafe cleared her throat, signaling that now was not the time. “There you have it. One day, all this will be yours.”
Zeke wasn’t sure if he wanted to have that many scars. It hurt to get the one he had; he didn’t particularly want the pleasure of getting more than this one. He shook his head and walked over to Moralie’s bed. She was sleeping. This reminded him of how she had gotten to be that way.
So much had happened to him in the past two days. He wondered how much longer this quest was going to be. They were on South Continent in the Septia Kingdom. Mount Death was on the North Continent somewhere in the Secunda Kingdom. At the rate they were moving, it might take them a week or two to get there, that is if they survived the journey. He wondered what the Dark One had in store for them.
“When Moralie wakes up, we’re going to get our horses and travel to Epherma like we planned,” Rafe said. “I don’t want to push Moralie too hard by going as far as Tilden.” She looked at Moralie and sighed.
“Don’t worry about her,” Simon said. “She’s a tough bird; she can handle it.”
Moralie stirred and said, “Could you guys keep it down? Dying girl over here needs her beauty sleep.” She sat up and smiled at her friends. “Man, you could wake the dead with the amount of yapping you produce.” Simon and Zeke approached the bed and welcomed Moralie to the world of the waking. “So, we’re going to Epherma?”
Rafe nodded her head. “Do you feel you’re able to ride?”
“Sure. I feel 200% better than I did last night.” Moralie slowly got out of bed and saw that she was in a hospital gown, complete with the gap in the back. “Where are my clothes?”
Rafe held up a bag and tossed it to her. “Get dressed and we’ll meet you in the lobby.” She stood up and walked to the door. As she opened the door, she noticed that Zeke and Simon were still looking at Moralie. “Boys, come on. Let a girl change in peace.” Simon and Zeke tried to hide their disappointment and finally left the room. “Lechers.” She closed the door behind them, allowing Moralie some room.
The party departed from Pimeria in a hurry to put the bread village behind them. They doubted that they would stop there again based on what had happened to them there. They rode through the woods cautiously, being aware of everything that was around them. They didn’t want to be surprised by Shadow Walkers again.
Zeke felt that he was ready for anything now that he had two battles under his belt. He had his sword strapped to his back within easy access should he need it. He had thought briefly about finding the swordsmith and returning the sword to him. He didn’t like the idea that Duncan could possibly come back for it at any moment. As he held the sword in his hands, he felt that the sword somehow knew of his intentions. He felt its energy and it soothed his doubts and assured him that things were going to be just fine. He ultimately decided that he would keep the sword. He had fought so hard to retain it that it would be a shame if he gave it away. It was better off with him than some poor unsuspecting person. He would gladly bear the burden the sword came with.
It took most of the day for them to reach Epherma. When they reached the border, the sun was setting. They had ridden nonstop for fear that they would be jumped by unknown forces. They all breathed a sigh of relief when they arrived.
The border watchmen stopped them at the town gates and asked them to identify themselves. Rafe told them that they were on a journey and needed to stop here for the night. She said that they would be leaving in the morning. This seemed to please the watchmen and they allowed the party to enter.
Zeke marveled at how Rafe was able to talk to people. She was forceful, yet polite. She wasn’t nervous at all. He knew that if it had been left to him, he would stutter and feel guilty, like he was trying to get away with something. He would probably end up in a holding cell due to appearing suspicious.
Rafe asked the townspeople where their best inn was located. Once she received the directions, she led them to the Apple Orchard Inn. There was a sign that hung from the wall that depicted two apple trees and a goat. They weren’t sure where the goat came into the equation, but it was cute enough that it didn’t matter. There was a place to hitch their horses outside. They dismounted and tied their horses to the poles before entering the inn.
The lobby was decorated like it was an orchard. There were pictures of trees and apples hung around the room. The check in desk had a small tree figurine that served as a bell. There were chairs lining the small room and they had pictures of happy goats on them. Zeke wanted to know what goats had to do with apple trees. No one else seemed to care.
Moralie approached the desk and rang the bell. “Hello?” she called. She waited for a few minutes before she rang the bell again. She leaned over the counter and saw that there were a set of keys resting on the desk. She was tempted to just take them and give them to her friends. Her thief mentality was showing. She was going to give it another ten seconds before she took them. At the seventh second, an older woman came in and greeted them.
“Welcome to the Apple Orchard Inn. My name is Greta, how can I help you?” She smiled at Moralie and company. She had soft tan skin, her face was slightly wrinkled, but not enough to suggest that she was someone’s grandmother. Her shoulder length brown hair had some streaks of gray in it. She wore a blue dress with a white apron that had some stains on it. She had just come from the kitchen where she was preparing dinner for the guests.
“Hi, we’d like two rooms, please,” Moralie said, looking back at Rafe to see if she had done a good job. Rafe nodded.
“One bed?” Greta asked, looking at Simon and Rafe, and then Moralie and Zeke.
Moralie shook her head. “Two beds, please. One room for the gentlemen and one for the ladies.”
Greta felt embarrassed by her assumptions and nodded her head. “Oh, yes, of course.” She looked down at the desk and found the keys. She picked them up and handed them to Moralie. “This is for room 202 and this one if for 215. They are both on the second floor.” She patted Moralie’s hand. “If you need anything, come find me. My sons are about the inn tidying things.” Greta started to walk away before she stopped and turned to them. “How long will you be staying?”
“Just a night,” Rafe said.
“That’s perfect.” Greta clapped her hands. “Then you must venture out and see the town. We’re got a lot of entertainment here. We have a bathhouse two streets down, dinner theatre down the way, great food downtown.” She looked at the gentlemen and grinned. “There’s even a place for the men that enjoy the company of women, if you know what I mean.” She giggled and blushed. “If you need help finding your way around, there are some maps on that table over there. Please enjoy your stay.” She bowed and then left them for the kitchen.
Moralie turned to her friends and shrugged her shoulders. “Let’s get to our rooms and then have a great night!” They all agreed and made their way to their rooms, not knowing that trap had sprung.