The DarkeningBy Triad in Dark Ages
Dedicated To Angelic, who is always worthy of praise, and Bentic, who is her wonderful compliment.
The bard pulls up his barstool and seats himself squarely upon it. All the tables turn to face him. Today, he will tell a tale, and the people love to hear his tales. Without so much as a clearing of his throat as warning, he began his yarn…
"Thank you sir, thank you. It’s wonderful to have your support, I’ll remember you when I have my position!"
"Aye, Pentarian, it’s good to support you. T’aint a better man in Temular to hold the job. Good luck on your way up, and don’t forget the little people!" Colm shouted his kind words backwards as he trotted out of the tavern. Pentarian smiled his trademark warm smile, the smile that could, and usually did, put anyone at ease. Pentarian was what most people that knew him very well called "Overly Charismatic." He could charm anyone out of anything in an instant. Usually, though, he didn’t have to, years upon years of hunting had made Pentarian not only an unparalleled fighter, but also richer than most aislings or mundanes would ever be. He didn’t keep his gold and his prized possessions in the bank, it wasn’t enough security for him. He built his own storage place and had it guarded with enchantments and magical bonds that would up a dragon to shame. Of course, most of the bonds were done for free, just little favors he picked up from wizards now and then.
Everyone knew Pentarian, and he knew everyone, he was usually their friend. That’s why, when the mundanes decided that they would allow people to run for positions of leadership, he leaped at the opportunity. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he would win. It was just a matter of organizing himself enough to get the support. Pentarian sized up his chosen meeting place, a corner of the tavern in Abel that he had staked out to hold little "meetings" with influential people, but it usually didn’t take much convincing to get support from anyone. He had charisma on his side.
Slowly, Pentarian turned around, facing a pile of old, dirty, brown sacks in the corner. "Alright Matriana, you can stop holding back your laughter now." The pile of sacks complied, immediately bursting out into roaring laughter. Slowly, a beautiful woman in rogue garments emerged from the mess and dusted herself off.
"Sir," she spoke in mock seriousness, "it is your support that I need, you are the one that I want to see behind me when I stand before the council of mundanes to request a political position." She resumed her laughter again. "It wouldn’t be so funny if you didn’t say it to every single person that you meet!
Pentarian sighed. "Matriana, I’m not trying to be false with these people, but it’s the thing that they like to hear. Everyone considers me their friend, and they want to know that I return that belief. And I do. It’s just a bit hard to come up with something new to say every time I meet one of them."
Matriana collected herself, "I understand, I understand…it’s just…geez, do you really have to be so noble?"
Pentarian spoke softly. "This world needs more noblemen. We are in a time of great crisis, of unending strife. It’s just individuals like me that stand up and…"
Matriana shook her head. "Alright, alright, I get it…you know what needs to be done…" She walked out of the tavern, still shaking her head and mumbling about being too noble at times.
"Hey!" Pentarian yelled, "Come by and see me tonight, I could get bored!"
Matriana turned on her heels. "Why do you always spend full moons indoors? Are you some sort of were-beast?" She flashed a sideways smirk at Pentarian.
Pentarian smiled. His warm, soothing smile. "I just like it better indoors sometime. Come on, keep me company?"
Matriana smiled. "Alright, I’ll come by later!" She spun around, slipped through the door and was gone.
Pentarian breathed out a sigh of relief. Matriana probably was his one true confidant. He would tell her anything. And of all the women that wanted him, the only one that he wanted was Matriana. Someday, he would step up his advances on her. But not today, not this night. It was a full moon, and Pentarian knew what that meant. It meant he had to get home. Pentarian started toward the door and opened it slowly to peek outside. The sun was slowly setting, he had to get a move on or he wouldn’t make it back in time.
* * *
A few minutes later, only the forest was around to see Pentarian running through the trees to his secure abode. He looked over the mountains in fear. The sun would set soon, and then it would be too late, but he could see his little fortress ahead, a few more steps and he would make it. Pentarian broke out into a sprint for the last few yards, and then stopped to open up the door. He looked up, but found that he was still far away from his house. He ran forward again, but found himself in the same place, or was it a little farther away this time. Pentarian began to sweat. He hadn’t allotted himself enough time to get back, and night was falling, he had to get inside, NOW. Using his powerful warrior legs, he sprinted as quickly as he could toward the large wooden doors with their magical wards and intricate enchanted carvings, but as he ran, he only got farther away. The path stretched itself longer and longer. Pentarian became more and more anxious, he was in trouble.
Pentarian pulled to a halt. A short, old man in a dark cloak stood right beside him. The color instantly drained from Pentarians face, rendering his charismatic visage as repulsing a gargoyle’s grimace. "It’s…It’s YOU!" He managed to get past his quivering vocal chords.
"Now, now, is that any way to talk to a priest?" The old man cackled, I am a holy man of the cloth, I think you’d show a bit more respect than that.
"No…No…not again…I won’t be turned by you. Do you understand? I won’t!"
The sheer volume of the old man’s laugh brought dead leaves down from the trees. Pentarian cowered in fear. "Listen boy, my master has charged me with bringing you toward our way. And what my master desires, he receives. Each night that I get to visit you, I pull you closer and closer. I think tonight, you might just step over the line."
"NEVER!" Pentarian drew his sword. It had been forged from the strongest steel in all the kingdom in forges that drew their heat from the center of a raging volcano. It had been adorned with jewels of enchantment and spells of strength. And Pentarian swung it with all of his mighty muscles, it cleaved through the tall grass surrounding the old man and passed cleanly through his chest, cleaving still more grass on the other side. Pentarian stepped back, expecting to see the old man fall. The old man did not fall.
"It won’t work boy. You already have one foot in our land. That sword has been blessed by Cleanlaidir. One of my masters good friends. It was forged in the fires that rage from my master’s kingdom. You cannot hurt me with a weapon of…."
"No! Don’t say his name…" Pentarian fell to the ground and started to scuttle away.
"…Sgrios" The mere mention of the name caused Pentarians heart to stop. Only his quickly fading strength of will kept him alive. The wind stopped moving through the trees. The crickets stopped chirping. Everything was quiet except for the beating of a single heart.
"Now, boy, this is my favorite part…this is where I show you what is really in your soul…why you must turn to our side…" The old man spread his arms, and the world faded away. Slowly, from Pentarian’s left side, came a dim light, it slowly grew brighter until Pentarian finally recognized it as dragon fire, and the dragon was feeding…
Pentarian retched, he vomited blood and tar and bile on his well-tailored armor. The dragon pulled at arms and legs, it sunk it’s teeth into the bodies of a hundred thousand children. It swallowed them whole and crushed them beneath his feet.
"Please…don’t show me this…make it stop…"
"Dear lad, I’m only showing you what you already know. You don’t have to change your ways to become a minion of Sgrios. Just accept what you already know." He stooped low and scooped up a cup of the blood that flowed from the gruesome scene. "Here, my boy…drink."
"NEVER!" Pentarian turned to run…but didn’t get three steps before running into the old man again.
The old one spoke again "But I have so much to show you…like this…"
Suddenly, Pentarian’s skin began to crawl. He looked over the horizon to see a most gruesome scene. An army of the undead clashed with an army of the living. The hordes of skeletons slashed through unprotected human flesh. Blood flowed across the field as wave after wave of the humans were cut down. The old man brought Pentarian up to see it all, and Pentarian felt every cut and stab. He held himself on all fours, covered in his own blood and tears.
"Listen to me boy, all of this terror and hatred can be yours, all of this power over all of this evil. You just have to do one thing…"
Pentarian looked up for a moment. His eyes locked with the stitches across the old mans face where old man eyes should have been.
"You have to kill...her" his wrinkled hand came up and pointed into the darkness. Slowly, Matriana emerged.
Pentarian tried to open his eyes through the vomit and blood that caked his body. He saw her…saw her body…saw her delicious…neck…
And then…Pentarian woke up, back on the path.
The sun was rising, the full moon was fading. Pentarian drew a sight of relief. The nightmare was over. He stood on the path, facing the west. And he looked down.
Matriana lied there. Her outfit soaked in her own blood. Her neck had been chewed, her stomach maimed. Her entire body was covered in slashes from his sword. And Pentarian was covered in her blood.
He didn’t remember if he had killed her or not. He didn’t remember the last few hours. But…it somehow didn’t feel important… Pentarian buried her in a shallow unmarked grave off the side of the path. He told no one. As soon as the last shovel full of dirt landed on her body. He turned on his heels and began to walk to the tavern. He had a meeting to attend. There was always more power to be had, always more power.
…Somewhere, deep in the heart of Dubhaim castle, a deep voice spoke to an old man…
The bard lowered his head and stepped down off the stool. The crowd waited for a few seconds, then collectively sighed.
One of the more unshaven men spoke up. "You are sick, boy, do you know that? Eating children? Where do you come up with this stuff?"
"Oh, here and there," the bard replied, "it takes an imagination."
The man replied, "Triad, I guess I don’t want to know…"
Triad spoke too, "Yeah, you’re right, you don’t…"