Originally published at: https://gemsofwar.com/lorekeeper-i-chapter-11-into-the-dark/
Why should we be afraid of the dark?
It’s where all the best secrets are kept.
-Torgan, the Lord of Darkstone
The rest of Luther, Amira, and Brian’s journey to Port Thull was long and tiring. It was also mercifully uneventful. After shipwrecks, minotaurs, elves, dragons, and weirdly self-obsessed lightning-bird-people, it felt good to spend some time where nothing exciting happened. They skirted around the southern edge of the Spine of Maraj, until Port Thull came into sight, shimmering on the horizon.
The port itself wasn’t much to look at - some broken towers, and a half-ruined wall, surrounded it like broken teeth in the mouth of an Ogre with poor dental hygiene. Actually… Ogres aren’t really big on brushing and flossing, so that may have been a slight oxymoron. But regardless, there was little in the way of decent civilization out here on the eastern coast of the Drifting Sands, so even Port Thull was a welcome sight.
They hadn’t managed to salvage much coin during the shipwreck, so they traded some of Sifu Yuan’s mysterious wafers for lodging at a disreputable-looking inn named “The Drinking Sands”, where the ale spigot was shaped like a giant tastefully-decorated Desert Worm. After they’d settled in, Luther headed down to the docks looking for a ship headed east.
There were four vessels in the harbor. Two were headed south around the coast towards the Empire, and one was headed north. The final vessel was sailing for Darkstone, carrying spices and something else requiring a lot of guards - not surprising, as the captain was a Goblin, probably into all sorts of nasty things, some of them even legal. At least it was headed east though, and once they were in Darkstone they would have more options to travel on towards Grosh-Nak and the Blighted Lands - as it seemed likely that was their ultimate destination. Darkstone wasn’t a friendly place to put ashore, but its harbor was busy, and that was what they needed right now - more options than just four ships
The Goblin captain had immediately seen Luther’s bow, Flammifer, and named it his price for passage. Luther refused to part with it though, and offered most of the gold, and the remainder of his wafers, before the captain agreed. It was an expensive voyage, but their options were limited. Luther walked back to the inn to let his companions know.
As he entered The Drinking Sands, he found Brian regaling its patrons with a tale about two drunken Gnomes, a broomhandle, and a goat. Amira was sitting in a corner keeping an eye on things.
“I’ve found us passage east,” Luther said, joining her.
“What about Khorvash though?” Amira asked, looking concerned. “I’d hoped we might find him out here… Or at least some word of him.”
“There’s no word then?” Luther asked, though he guessed the answer. Amira just shook her head.
“Perhaps you could take his place?” Luther suggested
“I’ll just go get my pet Manticore, Imperial Armor, and Crown,” Amira glared at him. “How do I take his place?”
“Honestly, I have no idea,” Luther sighed. “But I think we need to take this ship east while we have the chance. I get the impression most ships that pass through here are just going north or south.”
Amira said nothing. Darkstone would be a risk, she knew. If the Mother of Shadows caught wind of her return, she’d be killed. She doubted she’d even see the knife that did it.
She wanted more than anything else to find Emperor Khorvash. Once she’d handed off the letter to him, she could get away from this place. Even Port Thull was too close to Darkstone for her liking.
Still… She had an uncanny feeling this was important to follow through.
Eventually she nodded, got up and left.
That left Luther at the table alone. He sat for some time, deep in thought.
Brian, on the other hand, wasn’t much for thought at all. After a dozen more tall ales, and more than a dozen taller stories, he eventually passed out. The innkeeper had him carried back to his room, leaving the old Dragon Knight by himself, with just his thoughts to keep him company.
And suddenly an idea struck Luther. Everything started to make sense. The Three Dragons. The Three becoming One. He had a very profound sense that things were exactly as they were meant to be, and an even more profound sense of how things would end.
He called to the innkeeper for some paper and a quill, then began to pen a letter.
To Her Royal Highness, Queen Ysabelle, he began…--------- o ---------
The ship left Port Thull the following day, with Luther, Amira, and Brian on board. It was a merchant vessel, The Black Bulette, originally from the Leonis Empire judging by its sleek shape. It would be fast, good for outrunning pursuers no doubt. The Goblin captain - Longsails he called himself, which was odd, because he was short, even for a Goblin - was a terrifying creature with black eyes, long slender fingers, and teeth filed to needle-sharp points. Most Goblins would sell their own mother for lunch money, but Longsails had a maniacal leer on his face that hinted he’d probably give her away, along with a random assortment of siblings, just for kicks. All the crew avoided him wherever possible, and jumped to do his bidding when they couldn’t. Luther even noticed Amira never crossed his path.
At this time of year, the winds blew west to east down in this part of the world, so they made good time as they sailed across the western channel of Geheron’s Bite towards Darkstone.
On the third day,not long after the shores of Darkstone had come into view, they noticed a set of black sails headed towards them. Longsails, the Goblin, didn’t seem perturbed, so Luther figured it was normal. One glance at Amira though, told him otherwise.
“Is something wrong?” he whispered, remembering that Amira had spent much of her life in Darkstone.
“Black sails,” Amira replied under her breath. “Slavers.”
They both glanced over at Longsails, and found him staring at them. His crazy grin was about twenty percent crazier than normal.
Amira reached for one of the daggers at her waist, but Luther put a hand on her arm. She hesitated and looked around. Four crewmen on the deck, and one up in the crow’s nest had crossbows trained on them.
“Very wise,” Longsails said. “If I have to kill you, you’re worth nothing to me.”
“We had a deal,” Luther growled.
“I have lots of deals,” Longsails cackled. “Deals here, deals there, deals everywhere! But right now, all I want is that fancy bow of yours. Here’s my new deal… You hand it over, and I’ll make sure it gets looked after.”
“That’s not much of a deal.” Luther started forward, and it was Amira’s turn to restrain him.
“You’re not in much of a position to make a better one,” the Gooblin cackled.
“You want it?” Luther asked, holding it up. “Then it’s yours. Right after I do…”
In one smooth motion, he quickly grabbed an arrow, drew it back, and fired it into the air.
The arrow streaked up, and burst into bright flame.
On the deck there was the sound of crossbows firing.--------- o ---------
Torgan. the Lord of Darkstone, lay in his bed.
Moving was difficult. There was poison in his body, and poison in his mind.
But he was the Lord of Darkstone, curse it. The island was his, with all its pleasures and delights; drugs to heighten the senses, candles to change the passage of time, or potions to make you feel like a God. You could take your choice.
And it was all denied to him.
He’d been this way for over two years now, and only one thing made it tolerable - the promise of recovery.
“Lord…” A soft voice whispered from the shadows.
“Umbraxis?” Torgan asked.
“Yes, Lord,: the voice hissed. “Are you well today?”
“Of course I’m not,” Torgan rasped, then caught himself. He paused and took a breath. “I’m not, my friend, I can feel the poison in my heart.”
“I understand, my Lord.” A shadowy shape moved closer to the bed. “But you will be well again soon. Very soon. My Master promises it.”
“How go the plans?” Torgan asked, then broke out in a fit of coughing.
“They go well, my Lord,” Umbraxis answered smoothly. He seemed pleased with himself. “The Slavers brought in more men today, and there is something you must see.”
“See?” Torgan was confused. “Where? Why?”
“The prisoners we received today are… special. Sit up. I will walk with you.”
Lord Torgan slowly pushed himself upright. His head swam. After another fit of coughing, he felt stronger, and noticed his shadow had changed. It was shaped like a Daemon. Umbraxis had joined him.
“Stand, my Lord,” his shadow spoke. “I will help you.”
Torgan made it over to the door, with Umbraxis lending him a measure of his strength. It felt like a cold arm around his shoulders.
“Where are we going?” Torgan asked.
“To the Dungeons, my Lord.”
Seeing the Lord of Darkstone up and about was a rare sight in the Palace these days. Many nobles - at least those not too drugged to notice - stared as Torgan walked by. When they reached the dungeon, two Executioners fell into step beside him. With their hoods on, and axes held over their shoulders, they made Torgan’s skin crawl, even though they were his servants to command.
Finally, after passing down a half-dozen damp passageways, lined with dirty cells, they reached the one Umbraxis had been searching for, Torgan felt his shadow pull him to a stop. It pointed inside.
“See these two?” it hissed excitedly.
“I see an old man with three bolts in him, and a fox girl,” Torgan snorted.
“The Wargare - the fox girl as you say - is a Sister of Shadow,” Umbraxis replied patiently. “And the man is a General of Sword’s Edge. Heroes both. They are what we needed.”
“Then we’re… ready?” Torgan seemed surprised.
“We are,” his shadow hissed.”With the blood of heroes, and the sacrifice of all the men in these prisons, we will open a Portal for my Master and his legions. And you, my Lord, you will have your life back. Your old life. My Master will see to it.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” the Lord of Darkstone smiled, but that exertion was almost too much - he doubled over coughing. Finally he straightened back up. “Summon all the Executioners. We begin at sunset!”