Chapter I: A Journey to the North
Raime served as a guardsman of Prince Arthur Pendragon and was his age mate, Uther the King found him at the age of six on one of the streets of the lower town, a place where ordinary people lived, not gentlefolk, knights and lords. He found the boy in a place where beggars lived, there he was, fighting huge rats only with a stick to get some bread to survive, Uther saw such fierce and courage in the eyes of the boy that many of his own knights didn’t have even though being adults and he decided that the boy had a great capability and would become a mighty warrior in the future. He took Raime to the castle, gave him clothes and food and a sword of course, therefore his training began under control of famous Sir Lionel, Uther’s chief guardsman, a noble man and a brave and mighty knight, he had curly hair about to his shoulders blonde of color and grey eyes, Sir Lionel was taller than any ordinary man, had a straight longsword as his master weapon and a rapier as an auxiliary one, all the guardsmen were dressed in silver colored metal armour with a red dragon on their chests, the Pendragon coat of arms, Raime chose a rapier as his primary weapon and a longsword as a secondary one.
Now he was about eighteen years old, he had long black hair to his chest with red in some places, eyes of the tea rose color, he was very tall and had a very aristocratic face as if his parents were some kind of noble people not common folk among whom he had spent his childhood but he never knew them, nobody did, people who did not know him thought that Raime had noble blood. King Uther was absolutely right about his talents, at his eighteen Raime’s sword skills were better than those of any other guardsman of his age only the Prince who would later become Great King Arthur Pendragon had also perfect skills in sword craft, Raime even could compete with elder guardsmen like his mentor Sir Lionel, who was very proud of his apprentice. Uther frequently sent him on different quests for example protecting a village from bandits or invaders or guarding Kamelot’s lords on royal meetings with ambassadors or other noble people from neighbour and distant countries but now a new menace appeared, a menace with which no ordinary soldier or guardsman could handle, the colorless magic. People who had such abilities had great power, they looked like ordinary humans but could cast colorless spells, their effects were almost unstoppable, for ordinary people at least, but swords and shields of Kamelot’s guardsmen were well made, Uther collected best smiths from different lands who made perfect weapons, the colorless mages were silent for many centuries but now something happened that made them show once again.
Mostly they were witches – women usually with red, brown or white hair, the color determinated a witch’s abilities and powers – red haired witches were able to control forces of nature such as fire, water, earth and storm – they could transform nature into weapons casting colorless firestorms from just fire or turning wind into colorless whirlwinds, also they were able to control wild animals turning them into almost unstoppable monsters. If a witch had brown hair, she could control the dead, she could wake them up to serve their new mistress, so these were often considered as necromancers but that was a mistake, besides wakening the dead they were also able to summons colorless monsters, these were real trouble as there was no power which could slay them, fortunately their existence in that world was limited. White haired witches were the most powerful and the rarest of all and besides being able to use abilities of the other two, they could use mind control and in full moon create colorless moonlight beams to eliminate their enemies or a starfall during a starlight night.
There were men too, these were called warlords of witch-lords or simply lords, usually a witch especially a more powerful one had her own lord, these served like husbands, bodyguards sometimes and friends if they could be called this way, mostly the witch was dominant over her warlord and he obeyed her, only few warlords were equal or dominant over their witches, these were very powerful so their witches feared and obeyed them. For ages Uther’s ancestors of Pendragon house fought these monsters but never could defeat or extinguish them completely, most of them lived in their castles on the North-West and in the woods that were dangerous because creatures not less cruel than witches or witch-lords lived there – werewolves and other were-things such as werebears and werecrows, ghosts, corrupted trees and other things children in Kamelot and other lands to the South were scared of because of the fairy tales their parents and nurses used to tell them before bedtime.
So that quest was to kill one of the witch-lords who showed near Kamelot’s borders and had already killed several people there as the herald told the King, Uther never saw a person better than Raime to handle it, right now he was riding with a troop of his loyal and brave men to the north. They left Kamelot, rode past central villages and a small town, the north began with fields and working peasants, as they saw the guardsman riding, they stopped working and greeted his with a bow.
“Morning, dear sir! What important matter happened?” one of them asked.
“Morning!” he answered. “A colorless mage showed on the north, the King tells he casts a terrible mist killing everything living.”
“Exactly!” said an old man. “Village on North, dead, everyone there – people, cattle, watchdogs… even plants and harvest, people are scared, hope you will handle!”
“I’ll do my best, please, tell me more, you see, we don’t know much about him, some rumours, maybe…”
“There are some!” he continued. “They say his face looks like a skull, a hat and crows dead like himself around him and the mist I told you before.”
“Thank you!” Raime said to the peasants then he turned to his men and said “We must stay focused!”
“How lives the King?”
“He is fine but worried about the situation!”
“And the Prince?”
“Mays the gods bless them both!”
“We have to leave!” Raime told them, he took out his money-bag and gave a gold coin to each of the peasant, there were ten.
“Thank you, may the gods bless you on that terrible quest!” said the old man.
“Thank you for your help!” he answered.
“You don’t have to do it, won’t you be punished?” another peasant asked.
“I know how hard your life is, besides it is my own money, no royal, consider it as a gift for your assistance!”
“We don’t know how to thank you!”
“You don’t have to, you already did what you could!”
“I think people in the villages to the north can help you, they may know more!”
They left the field, then hills began and behind them a field woodlands spread, they reached another village by midday but people there could not tell much about the hexer, neither could in several villages after, including the one on the far north where they had to make a stop. People there were welcoming and friendly but it seemed to Raime they were also scared and tried to hide smiling by asking different questions about the King, the Prince and other royal matters, he did not like it but he could not get any information though he tried asking them in different ways – through rewards and playing on their loyalty, no treats of course, not such of a nature he was.
It was late evening when they reached one of the last northern villages but found not a soul there, only corpses, a slaughter was here, it was almost sunset but Raime knew they could not return until they find and eliminated the witch-lord who had already killed a lot of people, animals and made so much damage to Kamelot’s farms and agriculture. All bodies in the village were damaged – they had burnt faces and skin as if from some aggressive liquid, it seemed to be the effect of the colorless fog they were told about, but it happened today, Raime could determine it by the corpses, the nature around was also damaged – leaves were burnt and the ground was corroded, it seemed colorless fragments appeared on it.
“What will we do, sir?” one of the guardsmen asked.
“Stay focused, bodies are still fresh, he maybe near!”
“But where?” they asked and now Raime could see horror in their eyes.
“Please, calm down, all of you! I don’t want him to catch us at a weak moment!” Raime said in a calm tone he always spoke, he was very focused like never before, he already fought some colorless mages before but this one was really dangerous and he understood it, it was silent, too silent and now the mist was rising, ordinary mist, no colorless magic but a figure could be seen in it and then several more behind. Peasants, they though first but later understood that they were wrong, these were peasants but now dead ones, they had no burns, instead they had black marks on their faces and skin most of which reminded crescent moons, some were holding their pickaxes, forks and other agriculture devices, some had stones but all were heading towards only one direction – toward them.
“What’s going on?” one of the guardsmen asked.
“He awoke the dead!” Raime said.
“These are no ordinary dead men!” another said. “We have seen them, and these are… the black marks, never seen something like that!”
And he was right, colorless mages, especially brown-haired witches and some others were able to wake the dead, but these were completely different, usual dead men or zombies as everyone called them had only colorless eyes but their bodies were in the same condition as when they died or even in a worse one if they were buried and awoken after. These had black marks all over their bodies like it replaced the burns, maybe it was the true effect of the mist, maybe it did not kill people but turned them into some kind of new zombies no one had ever seen before – such a thought came in Raime’s mind. But right now he did not care much about that as one of them attacked – the one nearest to them holding a pickaxe, Raime dodged his attack by stepping to the left, he was slow and the guardsman had a perfect reaction, so that was quite easy, as he did, he cut of the dead man’s head, usually it worked, at least with ordinary zombies but the body still moved striking with its weapon and the head just laid and watched with its empty black eyes.
“What’s the matter?” asked another guardsman doing the same with an undead holding a hammer. “Why did not that work?” but he was confused and never noticed another one with a club behind him.
“Watch out!” the third one cried out but it was too late, the undead stroke him on the head with his club and the headless one with the hammer finished him.
“No! Ed!” the other one shouted.
Now they were surrounded, there were ten guardsmen including Raime and now with one gone only nine remained, most of them were confused as they faced monsters they could not kill for the first time, their weapons were infused with special materials and blessed by priest of nature but even that was not enough to kill these. Due to that fact things even worse started happening – another guardsman fell in a panic and was instantly killed by three undead, some of them tried fire but their flesh seemed to change and they almost did not burn and of course did not care about being set on fire. His men were falling down one by one and in several minutes he was left alone surrounded by the undead, there were several dozens of them, Raime knew he would never make it through yet he knew that he must warn the King and Kamelot about what was really going on, so he was thinking about how he could get out of here, luckily the horses were still untouched as they had hitched them at the entrance to the village, but now he was surrounded and that was the problem, in several seconds he was on the floor and saw one of the undead trying to squash his head with a hammer but it stopped instantly as if by one’s command, all of them stopped and now stood still as statues. He liked it less that the undead themselves, only a really very powerful colorless mage could perform such magic and that meant, he was here, the witch-lord they were searching for.
“Well, the last one left!” said a dead emotionless voice.
Now Raime could see the witch-lord, he looked much like the peasants had described him – black clothes with a mantle, a wide hat, high boots, he was very tall, even taller than Raime, more than two meters high but not so muscular, rather slim like a dead man, his face did really look like a skull, black empty eyes watching him and a smile on his face that never seemed to change, his hair was grey like of an old man, long and matted and dry like straw, in his right hand the hexer was holding a staff with a skull on top of it, the skull had black eyes like his own, on the other hand metal claws were attached, he used them to kill the ones who got near him. And the crows, they did not mistake either, about twelve crows were flying around him, dead like himself with black empty eyes and black marks like his dead army had.
“It’s you, you did all of this?!”
“Aye! Thou art right!”
“What kind of magic is this?”
“Deep, dark one, it comes from the dawn of space and time!”
“And what will you do, you will kill me?”
“Course, not, either I would have not stopped my undead, I prepared something special for thee! Thou wilt not die at least now!” he laughed.
“You better kill me now, or I swear…”
“Thou wilt not be able to do anything! Thou wilt lose thine mind!”
“All of my people are dead!” he said looking around.
Raime rushed at him, maybe of anger maybe or of despair, but the hexer stood still and casted the colorless fog, it looked like and ordinary one but was ghostlike and had no color or shade, as it reached him, the guardsman fell down in pain feeling his face being burnt by the mist, he could do nothing for now and soon the shock and the pain made him faint. Losing his conscious he could hear the last words: “Thou shouldst not fight, accept thine fate!” Then the hexer stepped on Raime’s sword and broke it into two but that the guardsman did now hear it.
When he awoke, it was almost dark, there were neither undead nor anyone else around him, he felt terrible pain around his right eye, he picked up his sword or rather what was left of it and used it like a mirror, as the still of which it was made was shining like glass, neither dirt nor blood stayed there for long, he saw that the wound had shape of a crescent moon black of color and it hurt so much. His head was aching too, he felt like it could explode but nevertheless tried to concentrate, a soldier he was after all, he had to warn Kamelot, to warn everybody about the incoming danger, so he collected all his powers and moved on, repeating to himself: “I have to warn them! I have to warn them!” again and again, knowing not that he was going to the opposite direction, knowing not what was waiting for him there. Raime passed about half a kilometer and was on an edge, the place was not very high, more a hill than a mountain, he looked ahead and saw a large field, it was completely empty and beautiful, no monsters or blood, just green grass, he could not think about it of course but he smiled and fell of the edge right on the ground below.