As she walked down the cold hallway, trailing her fingers against the cold, damp, stone walls, she remembered when both her and another arrived at the castle near the ending of night. She remembered watching him travel through the town, trying to find some answer, some clue as to where to travel next. She hoped that they would leave this castle soon. Something about being there didn't feel right.
It was early in the morning. The hallways were dark, except for the candles and the little light the clouded sky could give through the small windows. A cool breeze could be felt drifting around her body as she took each silent step across the stone floor. Stopping near a window, she leaned against the wall before wrapping her arms around her body and glancing out the window, towards the horizon.
The journey had been going on for two months now. Marina never understood why she decided to follow. Was it because he asked her to? No. Her reason was that he was her best friend, the one that she grew up with, the one that she was falling for. No, that was mainly her reason, but not the true, exact reason. The real reason was because of what had happened. She became involved when the Warlord attacked. The day that her nightmare began. The day she lost everything.
Jack was away. Marina was sitting on the wooden fence that protected the village, watching for his arrival. He was one person who was accepted into the village, but didn't live there. Instead, he always traveled farther up the path and disappeared into the forest. Marina knew the reason. His home was located deep within.
Marina remembered when she first met Jack. It happened when she was only ten years of age. Her father was called to the main castle of Imaja. He was to become a soldier in the King's army. She watched him leave, not knowing that he would never return. On the same day she found out that her father was killed in battle, she became lost in the forest that protected her village. There, crying for help, she met Jack. He came out from behind a tree holding his bow and arrow. After leading her out of the forest, he vowed to watch over her.
Ready to give up and return to her hut, Marina started to hear the sounds of hooves echoing in the distance. Thinking that it was Jack, she turned to jump down from the fence. A scream caused her to stop. A woman came running down the path, screaming about danger.Marina kept looking down the path, trying to see who was coming. It was then that the first horse made its way around the corner and her eyes went wide with fright.
It wasn't Jack. Marina knew who the leader was. Far to the south was a forest different from the one that surrounded the village she lived in. There was no sun that could be seen drifting through the trees, and there were no sounds of animals. The place was almost dead. Inside the forest, though, was a labyrinth and inside the labyrinth was the Warlord’s castle. The Warlord was a fierce leader, someone that no one stood up to. He feared the King, but nothing else. His powers were strong. No human could survive his might.
Stories were told when the Warlord first started attacking the lands of Imaja. It was over six hundred years ago during the Great War. The King was only able to stop the fighting between the elves and humans when the Warlord appeared. No one knew where he came from. His appearance was almost as if by black magic, and when he entered the land, he brought with him terrifying creatures such as dragons and trolls. Most people who ventured too close to his domain were found dead the next day or would vanish altogether.
Marina pushed back against the fence and slowly backed away. The Warlord came to a stop and brought his red eyes down upon her. No one knew what the Warlord looked like. Covering his face was always a black hooded mask. The only part that could be noticed was the blood red color of his eyes. Marina swallowed hard before coming to a halt. Time seemed to stand still as she gazed back at him. The sounds of hooves caused her to look away as she watched another horse come racing down towards the village.
It was Jack. Upon seeing the Warlord, he pulled out his sword and charged. The Warlord turned away from Marina and raised his hand. Marina stiffened with fear as she watched a ball of fire form in his palm. "Jack!" She screamed his name out before reaching for a rock and tossing it at the Warlord's head. The red ball of fire left the Warlord’s hand and missed Jack, blasting against a rock. The Warlord turned, trying to reach for Marina. She turned and started to run, only to trip over a garden rake, barely avoiding the Warlord's sword as it came swinging above her head.
"Marina!" Jack forced his horse to jump the fence. He charged towards the Warlord as Marina crawled away. The Warlord raised the sword. She covered her head, shaking in fear before hearing the crashing of swords. She watched in fright as Jack fought the Warlord off. He reached for her hand and dragged her upon the back of the horse. Snapping the reins against the horse, he forced the horse to jump the fence.Riding into the horizon, Marina looked back as the Warlord screamed a chilling, high-pitched sound and brought fire to the village. She could hear the people screaming in terror and pain as the fire came down upon their heads. Dropping her head against Jack's back, she cried as Jack spurred the horse into the distance, away from the Warlord and his army.
Marina could never forget the day the village was lost. It was never her intention to leave the village, but when the Warlord attacked, she had no choice. Marina was jolted back to the present when she heard voices outside the castle. Glancing through the window, she noticed Jack talking with Myra, the daughter of the castle. Myra was smiling as he spoke. What he was talking about, Marina couldn't hear. Jack released a laugh when Myra spoke something to him.
Ever since Jack and Marina arrived at the castle, that young girl kept bothering Jack, trying to get his attention. If the journey wasn't always on Jack's mind, Marina wasn't sure what could happen. Releasing a sigh, Marina dropped her head back. Upon leaving the village, Marina was unsure what was going to happen next. Village after village was destroyed. Men were hunting them. It made no sense. Jack wasn't a problem. She was only a young woman, innocent from any danger. Why was everyone after them?
"You look tired, milady." Marina jerked her head up and turned towards the voice. A white haired elderly man stood in the hallway. He approached, holding a wool blanket. Marina smiled at him as he wrapped the blanket around her.
"No problem. Is there something wrong? You seem like there is a lot on your mind."
Marina turned her head to look out the window and towards the horizon. "I'm just confused. Why are we being pursued? Why are people trying to kill Jack? What did we do wrong?"
"I heard from the Lord that your friend, Jack, fought against the Warlord. Is this correct?" Marina nodded. "Not very many people will challenge the Warlord and live to tell about it. You know the stories regarding to this terrifying man. According to what I hear, your friend is a threat to anyone who has joined sides with the Warlord. For people who are against the Warlord, Jack is a hero."
Marina looked back at the elder man and then towards the stone wall. "So, what you are saying is that Jack is some type of hero to the people because he stood up against the Warlord?"
The elder man nodded his head. "Correct."
"That's crazy. He was just protecting me."
"To someone who was attacked by the Warlord, it would seem crazy. However, there are people who rather have the Warlord in charge than the King. What do you think the Warlord has been doing these past years? He isn't here to live under the laws of the King. He wants the King dead."
Marina just shook her head before turning around and leaning against the windowsill. "It still doesn't make any sense to me."
The elder man released a soft sigh as he turned around. "To someone as young as you, it would seem that way." With that, he walked away, leaving Marina alone.
Jack bid Myra good day as he walked back inside the castle. Looking up, he caught sight of Marina. He knew the journey wasn’t going well with her and knew that she was scared. After departing from the village, she was never happy. For the first few nights of the journey, she cried herself to sleep. He knew what she was going through. However, he knew no way of relieving her pain.
Marina glanced down and caught sight of Jack looking up. She gave him a small smile and a wave. Jack's eyes were full of concern as he walked up the stairs and towards Marina.
“Marina, are you okay?” Marina nodded slightly as Jack came to stand by her side. “You don’t seem to be all right.”
“I am just confused by everything that is happening. You are a hero to the people of the King, but an enemy to the people of the Warlord. How are we supposed to survive this?”
Jack sighed as he shook his head. “I don’t know, but I do know this. According to the Magician here in the castle, there is a powerfull Wizard towards the west. He should have some answers on what we should be able to do next.”
Marina frowned as she turned to look out the window once more. “What will you do after finding the Wizard? He might suggest that you fight the Warlord. Will you risk your life and mine?!"
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” snapped Marina as she turned. “Jack! This is about our lives. We can’t keep running. The Warlord will catch us and we will be killed.”
“What are we supposed to do then? I have no idea. I never expected the Warlord to come to your village. I never expected him to attack you or burn your village when there was no rumor of your village siding with the King. We have no other place to go. This is our only option.”
Marina heaved a sigh as she slid down the wall and brought her knees to her chest. “I’m scared, Jack.” Jack dropped to his knees and wrapped his arms around the girl. Pulling her to his chest, he let her cry as her body started to shake with her sobs.
As she cried against his chest, Jack thought about everything Marina said. It was true that there was a chance the Wizard might want him to fight the Warlord. It was true that both their lives were at risk. The only problem was that if he didn’t try to do something, anything, the Warlord would keep coming after them, and then there might be a greater chance they would be killed.
Sobbing in his arms, Marina finally passed out from exhaustion. He carried her back to her room and stayed by her side. Standing by the window, he watched as Myra talked with one of the Advisors. She glanced up towards the window of Marina’s room before looking out towards the horizon.
When Jack was talking with Myra, something just didn’t sit well with him. It seemed as if Myra wanted him to stay at the castle even though her reasons were never clear. However, when he brought up anything regarding to Marina, such as how she lost everything when the Warlord attacked, Myra would change the subject. He decided there that Myra didn’t like Marina.
When the girl did talk, however, he learned that most of the information he knew on the Warlord was true. Six hundred years ago, a Great War broke out over the lands of Imaja. Three races, humans, warlocks, and elves, fought for freedom. The King was able to stop most of the fighting with a treaty between the elves and humans. The Warlord, however, was another problem. Jack remembered hearing frightning stories about people disappearing in the dead of night. He wanted to ignore the threat posed by the Warlord. However, when the fighting came close to home, he knew he couldn't.
There was only one thing that made Jack curious. Why did no one stand up against the Warlord? Why was the fighting, the terror allowed to go this far? He finally understood why. After his battle against the Warlord, he knew that people feared him, and this fear gave the Warlord the power that he held. If Jack stood up against the Warlord and defeated him, then peace would come to the people of Imaja.Jack knew he had to try. He knew his only option was to head to the Wizard and find out any information on stopping this evil.
Moaning caused Jack to turn away from the window. Marina tossed in her sleep and suddenly sat up, gasping for air. “Marina?”
Tears were flowing down her face as she sat, holding her knees to her chest. “I dreamt about the day the Warlord attacked. It still frightens me to this day.”
“I can understand why. You know as much as I do that the Warlord has to be stopped. If I am the only one who is able to do it, don’t you think I should try?”
Marina nodded. “I am scared, though. He is so powerful.”
“I know. That is the reason we need to travel to the Wizard and find any information that can help us.”
Marina dropped her head to rest against her knees. After a few moments of silence, she finally gave a nod to Jack. Jack gave her a gentle smile as he placed a soft kiss upon her hair and left the room. After watching him close the door, Marina turned her head to glance out the window towards the mid-afternoon sky.
“I know you want to do this, Jack, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.” She whispered as she watched a single cloud cover the sun and as a single tear ran down the side of her cheek.
It had been a total of three days since Jack and Marina left the castle. Right after Marina woke up, Jack told her that he made sure to tell the Lord and his daughter that he and Marina were leaving. Myra wanted to travel along, but Jack prevented it by telling her the horrible stories of the Warord’s victims..The Lord approved of what Jack was going to do and offered food, clothing, and another horse for the journey.
The weather was clear and warm as Jack and Marina traveled across the land of Imaja. The western land where the Wizard was said to be found was mainly desert. On the outskirt before the desert, though, was a small village. If they were to find any information, their best hope came from stopping there.
Rumors regarding the Warlord were not shy around the area. Occasionally, as Jack and Marina traveled down the dirt roads, they would hear people talking about how the Warlord traveled across the land looking for a young boy and girl that escaped him. Some were not happy that someone had survived an attack by the Warlord, while others were glad. The ones that supported the King kept mentioning how Jack was a hero to the land. Marina just smiled at those comments as she looked over at Jack. Jack just shook his head as a small chuckle escaped his lips.
“Pydro should be only half a day away. We should arrive by mid-afternoon.. If we are lucky, our journey might be over.” Marina gave a nod as she rolled out her bedding and sat upon it. Jack dropped another log upon the fire as he turned to look towards the south. They were stopping for the night near a huge rock before continuing on the rest of the way to the village.
“Are you worried?”
Jack glanced over his shoulder and tried to give her a comforting smile. Moving to her side, he took a seat. “I really don’t know what to be worried about. I mean there might not be a chance that I will be forced to battle the Warlord, but that all depends on the Wizard.”
Marina gave a nod. “I guess all we can do now is hope for the best.” Jack’s only response was a small nod in return.
Morning soon came for both Jack and Marina. As both were gathering their things, a faint rumbling could be heard in the distance. Jack looked towards the horizon, hoping to see the source of the noise. Fear gripped his body as he saw the black horses and the riders on the hills in the distance. Quickly grabbing his things and tossing them on his horse, he forced Marina to climb hers. She tried to question what was going on, but there seemed to be no answer coming from him.
“Jack! What’s wrong? Why the rush?” He did not answer her, but kept piling everything on his saddle before jumping on his horse.
“Listen to me carefully, Marina. Pydro is only a half a day away from here. Keep riding west. You will see a large desert in the background before seeing the village. Don’t look back. Don’t stop. Just keep riding. Understand?”
Marina gave a quick nod. “Why? You will be by my side to help me out, right?”
“Yes, however, if we should get separated, I want you to find the Wizard.” Marina was starting to get scared from everything Jack was saying. She tried looking back to see what frighten him so much. He prevented it and kept pulling the reins of the horse.
“Jack, what’s wrong? This isn’t like you.”
“Just keep riding.”
“I will. Just answer the question. What is wrong?” Her voice was filled with terror when she saw the fear upon his face.
Jack sighed before letting the reins of her horse go and slowing to ride by her side. “I saw some of the Warlord’s men in the distance upon one of the hills. If we don’t arrive at the village by nightfall, he will reach us.”
Marina gasped sharply as she turned to look back were Jack had been looking. Nothing was in sight. Her heart started to race as she looked forward, backwards, and then finally at Jack. Jack gave her a nod and soon both were racing towards the village of Pydro.
Hills, streams, and forests, kept getting in their path. Pushing the horses, Marina and Jack kept riding, not once stopping to see if they were safe. The village was beginning to be visible in the distance. Marina smiled, and then her relief turned to horror.
“Jack!” Jack turned his head to the side and noticed a great winged creature covered in glittering black scales flying towards them. Right away, Jack recognized it to be a dragon.
“We need to find cover. It's a dragon. Head for the cover of those trees. We should be safe there."
Marina looked to her left. The trees were quite a distance away. She snapped her reins against the horse, trying to make the animal race faster. She watched as Jack reached for his bow and held it towards his side. Her heart started to beat rapidly once more as she thought that Jack might stop to fight the beast.
The trees came near as a breath of flame shot forward, barely skimming over their heads. The horses neighed frantically before coming to a stop. Marina turned the animal around, looking for a way to escape. She watched as Jack waved his hand to her right. She gave a nod and followed. Jack kept pointing to the village. Again, she forced the animal to move quicker.
Glancing over her shoulder, she screamed, causing Jack to look behind. Three warlocks dressed in black armor riding upon black horses were riding towards them. “Marina, keep riding! Don’t stop.”
The dragon flew by, releasing a ball of flame. It shot out behind them before engulfing the dry grass in flames. Marina watched as the warlocks came to a stop behind the flame. Arrows whizzed through the air, but were too short to hit either Jack or Marina. Marina relaxed as she watched Pydro come into sight.
“Follow me.” Marina obediently followed as Jack led her to some stables. Tying the horses up, she ran towards Jack and threw her arms around his neck. He held her close as both tried to slow their shaky breathing.
After a few minutes, Jack broke away to look around at the village. Tent-like houses surrounded the village while carts full of goods circled the place. Taking Marina’s hand, he started to walk through the dirt streets, looking for any sign that might help them.
The village was full of voices: people spreading rumors of the Warlord and the Hero swirled amidst the voices of usual marketplace chatter. Jack stopped at a couple of the carts to buy food and ask about a wizard. Every person he came to always gave the same reply. No one knew anything about a wizard living towards the west.
Stopping by a well, he helped Marina get some water before sitting down. “There seems to be no word upon the Wizard. Could it all been just a lie?" asked Marina as she took a
sip of her water and then handed the small cup to Jack.
Jack took a sip also before shaking his head. “I can't be a lie. We just have to keep trying. Heading anywhere else could be far more dangerous than finding this Wizard.”
“Did you say ‘Wizard?’”
Marina turned to see two older men dressed in a red robes and a young woman dressed in a white robe. The young woman gave a nod to one of the men before walking over to where Jack and Marina were sitting.
"Why are you searching for the Wizard?"
“A castle about three days away told us to seek him out,” replied Marina.
The young woman eyed both Jack and Marina carefully as she crossed her arms over her chest. “What is your reason? No one sees the Wizard without an invitation from him.”
“A Magician sent us here. We are being chased by the Warlord, and we were told that the Wizard might have a solution for us.”
The young woman’s eyes became round as she glanced down at Jack. He wasn’t looking up at her but out towards the edge of the village and the grassy land they just came from. “Are you saying that he is the boy who survived against the Warlord?” Marina nodded. “Then why didn’t you say so? My name is Areya, apprentice to the Wizard. Those two are Eric and Lucas, my guards."
“So, you know where the Wizard is then?” Areya tilted her head towards Jack when he stood up. “Tell us then. Where is he?”
“On the south side of this village. I will lead you there.” Marina looked back at Jack. Jack nodded his assent before he grabbed their things and started to follow the two men and the woman.
The village was a lot bigger than what both Jack and Marina thought. Stone houses surrounded the tent-like houses. This marketplace was different from the earlier one. It was bigger and busy with people, who were standing in line by doorways to buy supplies instead of buying their supplies from a tent or cart. Marina watched as Areya talked with Eric and Lucas. Both of the men looked back, shocked on something that Areya said. She figured that Areya just told them that Jack was the Hero.
After following Areya through three dirt roads and down two whitewashed allies, Jack and Marina stood standing before a tall stone tower. Areya gave a smile as she pushed the door open and walked in. The smells of rotten eggs caused by the potions quickly made Marina start to cough and her eyes to water. She tripped over a pot and a loud smashing sound echoed through the room.
“Enough!” A loud voice echoed from a side room and soon the smell disappeared. Areya gave another smile as she lead Jack and Marina around dusty bookshelves and a table before entering a small room.
A wrinkled old man with a long white beard, blue robes, and a pointed hat sat in a chair next to a cauldron boiling with a green liquid and giving off red smoke. Areya approached the old man and bowed before walking forward and whispering into his ear. His eyebrows went up as he glanced over at Jack, who stood behind Marina with his arms crossed over his chest. After looking at Jack for a few seconds he turned back to Areya. She nodded and gave a small smile back towards Jack and Marina.
“Areya explained that you were looking for me, and that you are the hero who escaped the Warlord. Is this correct?” asked the Wizard as he glanced towards Jack.
Jack just grunted as he glanced away. “I am no hero. I just fought off the Warlord to save Marina and escaped.”
“That is still something far better than any other human or elf has done. What can I do for you?”
Marina gave off a soft sigh along with a gentle smile as she glanced back at Jack before turning to face the Wizard. “A Magician in a castle about three days away told us to seek you out. We have no place to go since the Warlord destroyed my village. We were hoping that you might have an answer."
The Wizard reached for his twisted white cane and stood up. “I have none at the moment for you. However, that doesn't mean I will send you away. You fought against the Warlord and survived, something that no one else has done. I can give you protection and a safe haven until everything is safe for you to travel where ever you may be going."
Jack just rolled his eyes. “Is that all?"
The Wizard looked surprised upon Jack's question. "What else were you expecting, young man? Did you want to fight against the Warlord? He has been around far longer than you have been alive. I have seen the destruction that this Warlord can do. You are not skilled enough to fight him. Going against the Warlord will only kill you both."
The Wizard just shook his head as he turned away. “I am sorry, but there isn't much you can do. You have become a threat to the Warlord. He is going to want you dead at any cost. Staying here, protected by us, is your best option," said the Wizard as he left the room followed by Areya.
Marina slid down against the wall before dragging her knees to her chest. A few tears ran down her face as she glanced towards the foggy window. "I can't do this, Jack. I can't live in fear."
"I know, but what other choice do we have. At least here, we will be safe. The Warlord will not be able to find us."
"What does that give us? Our freedom was taken away and all because of that Warlord. Nothing is fair anymore." She dropped her head against her knees and allowed the tears to roll. Jack dropped down beside her and wrapped his arms around her. She turned in his arms and rested her head against his lap.
Hearing the door open, Jack turned to see Areya peeking in. "We have a room set for you. I am sorry for everything you lost, but there isn't any other option for you." Jack just thanked her as he stood up with Marina in his arms.
Following Areya through a pair of doors, he glanced down at the girl, who had fallen asleep moments ago. Marina was right about everything she said. Their freedom was taken away. She used to be a peaceful young woman, living in a protected village with friends that loved her. He was even there to watch over her after her father was killed. So much was taken away. So much was lost. It didn't seem fair to either of them, but what choice did they have? The Warlord was a lot stronger than any of them. Jack couldn't run out there with his sword and defeat the Warlord. He was just lucky when he saved Marina.
Climbing the spiral stair case, he knew what he had to do. This might be their home for the time being. At least here, no one would be able to find them. The rumor of the hero who stood up against the Warlord could disappear into the wind. The Warlord could become something of a silent nightmare, leaving Imaja in peace for some time. Jack never wanted to be ahero. He didn't want to fight for anything. He lost so much when he was young. He just couldn't risk it again, not with Marina at his side.
He walked into the room that Areya opened. He saw the curtains moving against the wind next to the bed. Lying Marina down, he covered her with a soft blanket before taking a seat. Tracing his fingers against the side of her cheek, he made a silent vow to not let anything happen to her. Leaning down, he placed a soft, chaste kiss upon her forehead before rising and walking to the window. Glancing out, he knew this was their only option, their only choice. The Wizard's tower has become their new home, their safe haven in Imaja.