I led Carn and Arion along the landscape. I was supposed to lead them to the Black Rock Canyon to meet two contacts, and then my part of the job was done.
The journey only took three days on foot. It would have been faster if my two companions hadn’t just escaped from a prison, but I was expecting that to happen. I couldn’t really blame them for ending up in prison.
What would have made the journey a lot better was if Carn would have stopped asking Arion questions. Arion wanted to tell the story only once. However, Carn’s curiosity wouldn’t let him wait until we made it to Black Rock. I didn’t know why Arion didn’t want to tell it more than once, and I honestly didn’t care.
When living my life, I just went about my normal business: go kill that mass murderer, break apart that slave ring operating there, go take out those thieves, and so on. Whenever I did favors for The Concealed Sun, I took out the criminals and did combat or stealth operations mostly. I really didn’t mind, especially since I did those things already. The nice part about doing favors was that I didn’t spend as much time tracking down people to go after. For the most part though, I didn’t make other creatures’ business my business unless they were harming others. Otherwise I stayed away from people.
Carn couldn’t seem to do that. He would badger Arion with questions until he got bored. Then it would be silent for about an hour, only to then start again. The hours of silence were so sweet, they made the question sessions even more annoying.
So I was rather thankful when we got to the canyon. All I had to do was wait for the other guys to get here, then I could go back to my solitude.
“This is the spot,” I announced. “Our contacts should be meeting us between dusk and midnight, so you can relax until then.”
Both of them dropped down to the ground.
“So who are these contacts?” Arion asked us. I wasn’t sure because they didn’t tell me and I didn’t ask. I just knew I would recognize them when I met them.
“Damia, Artemis, and most likely Shade,” Carn answered.
“Who are they?” Arion questioned.
Carn laid down as he said, “Damia is one of the Society’s Council Members. She’s a sorceress, kind of cute. She’s rather good unless you get on her bad side, then she’ll tear you to shreds.
“Artemis is a member who gets information and passes it along to the Society. She’s permanently stationed in Ranvier. She’s very nice, even though you wouldn’t think she is.”
“Why would you think that she wasn’t?” Arion asked.
“Well, first thing off, she’s a vampire,” Carn replied.
“Being a vampire doesn’t mean you’re a bad person,” Arion growled.
“I know it doesn’t,” Carn hastily responded. “But you have to admit that when you meet someone with retractable fangs who’s a spy, you tend not to think that she’s the most pleasant person to be around. She doesn’t even look that cheerful. She appears nineteen, but she won’t tell me her real age. She has long, dark red hair that almost looks like the color of blood. She has these narrow, golden brown eyes and crooked smile that can appear mischievous. She also has a tattoo on her right forearm of a crescent moon with vine-like black spirals seeming to grow out from behind the moon, and fang scars on her left wrist. So she looks a little scary at first glance actually. But the moment she speaks she turns into the nicest person on the planet.”
Arion paused for a moment before asking, “So, who’s Shade?”
“Shade is Artemis’s pet dog,” Carn grumbled. “Well, actually, Artemis says she doesn’t own him, but they keep each other company. Shade’s breed is Tibetan Mastiff. He was two and a half feet tall, last time I met him.”
Arion nodded in acknowledgment, then the conservation fell silent.
Carn started to twitch before long. I knew he was going to start asking questions again because that was his sign that he was going to start. I simply got up and took the water bags and my bow and quiver with me.
“Where are you going?” Arion asked quietly. Carn didn’t seem to hear him.
“To get food and water,” I told him.
“Can I come with you?” he quickly replied.
“What?” I questioned.
“Please, can I come with you?” he asked as he slightly turned in Carn’s direction. “I kind of want a break.”
I thought about it for a moment and realized that as he said “break,” he gestured towards Carn. I knew the whole time that Carn was driving me crazy, but I didn’t think that he was driving Arion crazy. I then wondered if it was obvious or not.
“Sure,” I replied.
Arion hurried up and joined.
“Wait, both of you are going?” Carn asked us.
“Yeah, we’ll be back eventually,” I told him.
We quickly left the clearing.
“You can tell what’s going on in the area, right?” Arion questioned. “Including back at camp?”
“Yes,” I answered. “I never go far enough away that I can’t tell who’s around camp. If someone else comes to the area, we’ll reach camp before they ever can. I’ve never been snuck up on before, and I don’t plan on it ever happening.”
“Impressive,” Arion murmured. “So, as long as we don’t go too far away, you can sense everything around camp and in the camp?”
I nodded. Arion muttered that it was interesting, and then I got the feeling he was doing more than asking questions. He was thinking through it, although I had no idea why.
In the end, I didn’t respond as I started searching for prey I could make into dinner.
We walked around for about twenty minutes when I took out an arrow, loaded it into my longbow, and fired a shot. Arion jumped back at the shot, but I didn’t acknowledge it then. I only listened and then felt the arrow make contact. I walked over and found my prey dead.
Arion followed after me. He was doing a decent job at being quiet, but, even then, it still felt loud to me at times.
“Is there something you want to ask me?” I asked him as I started gathering our future dinner.
“What?” Arion questioned.
I stood up as I stated, “When I shot the rabbit back there, you jumped back and later took a deep breath in like you were going to speak, but then you stopped. I was wondering if I interpreted the situation correctly or if I was mistaken.”
Arion paused for a moment and slightly tilted his head. I again tried to remember what emotion that was associated with, but I couldn’t remember.
“Well, that’s kind of it,” Arion told me. “I was shocked because you weren’t even looking in the direction of the rabbit, but you shot it like it was no problem. I was a little surprised at first. But then I remembered that I read something about elves sensing things differently, so I decided that something like that must be at work.”
“So, you were going to ask a question but decided not to?” I asked as I moved forward.
“Yeah,” Arion answered. “I didn’t want to pry.”
“How is asking one question prying?” I questioned as I started walking away.
Arion walked up next to me and told me, “It only takes Carn one question.”
“He’s a special case,” I murmured. “But he asks questions about things people don’t want to answer.”
Arion grunted and commented, “You got that right.”
We walked for a few more minutes. At one point, I paused as I felt something moving in the area. I waited to see what it was. Arion almost spoke but I held up my hand as a way to tell him to be quiet. After a few seconds, I found out that it was just an animal.
“False alarm,” I told Arion. “It’s just a large dog.”
“How do you sense the world around you?” Arion asked me.
“Hearing and touch primarily,” I told him. “But a lot better than the hearing and touch you use.”
“Is that how dark elves get around in the dark?” Arion questioned me.
I nodded as I walked on.
“So, do they have night vision?” he softly asked.
“Not necessarily,” I told him. “Most dark elves have fairly normal vision. Other dark elves have even worse vision than the average person. For all of us, large amounts of light can be annoying. It hurts our eyes.”
“Huh,” he responded. “Hearing and touch is what sets them apart from the other elves. Strange how few people know about that.”
I nodded as I thought about it. It made sense that few people knew it though, since it was rare for someone to meet a dark elf. I had only ever knew one other dark elf in my life, and they died a few years back. There wasn’t much of my kind left.
There were the other elves that could do most of what the dark elves did with sensing magic and auras, talking to animals, some healing talents that varied in skill from elf to elf, and the superior physical abilities. But their touch and hearing would never be as skilled as the dark elves. It was an ability that would probably be gone soon enough.
“You’ve seemed to have done your research on elves,” I commented.
Arion turned his head in my direction, turned his head back on the road ahead of him, and then told me, “I tried to read up on the elves. Who they are, their culture, their practices, their values, and more, so I could be informed. Unfortunately, there aren’t really elves in Ranvier, and it seems like a horrible misdeed in the eyes of the human librarians to look for a book about elves written by elves. So instead, we suffer in ignorance or sometimes even false information.”
I thought through what information they would have and then pointed out, “You probably found a good amount of information for every type of elf, except dark elves.”
“Exactly right,” Arion murmured. “You would think that humans didn’t know they existed.”
“Most don’t,” I informed him as we reached a small stream. I started to get some water from the stream.
“Yes, ignorance,” Arion whispered.
Once I finished filling up the water, I started walking back. Arion followed behind me. Eventually, we started approaching camp.
“Wait, did we go in a circle around camp?” Arion inquired.
“Yes, I wanted to be away longer,” I informed him.
Arion didn’t respond as we entered the camp. Carn started asking a lot of questions, including what took us so long. I just tried to ignore his questions and focus on cooking dinner. I was only somewhat successful.
It was about two hours after dusk when I heard our contacts approaching. It only took me a few seconds before I recognized them.
“Damia, Artemis, and Shade are coming,” I announced to my two companions. Carn woke up from his light sleep. Arion didn’t.
“Get up,” Carn told Arion while shaking him. He shook him even harder for about thirty seconds.
“Thirty more minutes, Zurex, it’s not like the kingdom is going to go to war if I don’t wake up right now,” Arion murmured rolling over in his sleep. I then took out my water pouch and poured cold water on his face. He jerked up all the sudden and became alert. It took him a few seconds to get his bearings.
“Sorry,” Arion murmured. “I’ve been told I’m a deep sleeper.”
“I won’t argue with you there,” I replied.
Right after that moment, our contacts entered the clearing.
“Greetings, fellow travelers,” Artemis called to us in a cheerful voice. Her aura had the usual hard, cold feeling that was common in all vampires, but with her it didn’t seem as hard.
We called back our greetings to her and exchanged the code to let us know it was actually them, and not doppelgangers or something along those lines.
Shade ran up to us barking his greetings. He always gave rather cheerful greetings. Arion actually reached down and petted Shade, which Shade seemed to enjoy. Carn ignored Shade. I, meanwhile, whispered hello, which Shade accepted. I could tell that Shade knew that we could understand each other, but I didn’t know if Shade understood anyone else.
“Who’s the new guy?” asked Damia lastly. Her head was tilted to the right, as it always was when she had a question. Her aura radiated a strong, forceful power that could spring up at any moment.
I knew these people and the dog from meetings before and exchanging information. I was slightly relieved it was these people because they were the type of people to get right down to business instead of putting it off. It meant I could get back to my solitude faster.
“I’m Arion,” Arion answered.
“You mean the Arion that died about a year ago, which allowed the tyrant Tark to take control?” Damia asked.
“No, I mean the Arion that was betrayed by Tark, thrown into prison, and had his death faked, so no one would look for him,” he replied.
“That would make sense why he’s a secret prisoner,” Artemis piped in.
“Maybe we should just hear the story and decide at the end of it whether or not to believe it,” I told them. They all nodded in agreement. We all then sat down. We decided to report what went on in the prison first, so Carn told them, while I only mentioned a few details. We then gestured for Arion to start telling his story. Part of me wanted to leave since my job was complete, but my curiosity actually won out that time.
“I will try my best to explain what happened,” Arion announced. “We’ll see how I do.
“As I already stated, I’m Arion, King of Ranvier. I became king six years ago, when my parents died in a landslide while returning from signing a treaty with Tardon. So at age eleven, I took the throne.
“A lot of people thought they could try manipulating me, since I was a young political leader. I soon proved them wrong and showed them that I would not be easily messed with. Because of those early attempts, I decided to only really trust two people: a familiar named Zurex, who was assigned to be my bodyguard at birth, and the steward of the kingdom, Tark, who basically looked after me better than my own parents ever did.
“We got to work on trying to make a better kingdom. One where there would be less idiots hurting each other and causing damage. One that was more fair and equal than before. It seemed to go well. There were prejudiced idiots and conservatives that opposed things such as trial by jury, laws demanding that everyone is allowed to live in Ranvier no matter what type of creature they were, and more. However, in the end, we dealt with them.
“Things seemed to be going as well as they could for the first few years. The laws were being taken into effect and seemed to have a positive effect on the people. Tark met Eva and got married. I was slowly having to deal with fewer idiots. It was going well.
“Then about two years ago, Tark started acting a little strange. He was spacing out and having more disagreements with Zurex and I. They seemed rather stupid at the time. I would think that we should use taxes to fix some highways in the southern part of the kingdom, while Tark wanted to use them in the parts surrounding the capital. Zurex thought some guards should be promoted, while Tark thought some different guards should be promoted. It was small things that usually got resolved rather quickly. I didn’t think much about it until later.
“During that time, Eva was expecting. She and Tark had their son, Argi. I became the godfather. I didn’t think anything was off.
“Then about a year ago, I was going with Tark and Zurex to inspect the Monarchical Guards. It was just something we did every once in a while, and I didn’t think anything of it.
“We were walking down one of the hallways when a group of about eight guards intersected us. I didn’t think anything about it until they pulled their weapons out on us and told us to surrender.
“I think they were a little surprised when Zurex wasted absolutely no time attacking them. He just went at them, and took out two before they could even react.
“I was going to join after them, but, all the sudden, Tark tackled me to the ground. He knocked my weapon out of my hand and tossed it to the side. Tark’s an expert fighter, so he had me pinned before long.
“Once I was out of the fight, Tark started yelling at Zurex to stop fighting. Zurex didn’t listen to him and kept fighting on. At that point, it was five to one, even with Zurex’s surprise start.
“That’s when one of the people Zurex took out earlier got up before he expected. With the element of surprise on his side, he managed to stab Zurex in the back before he realized that he was there.”
Arion paused for a moment here. No one said anything at this point.
Arion then quietly continued, “Zurex was dead by the time he hit the ground.
“Tark screamed at his soldiers that they weren’t supposed to kill us yet. The soldiers shrugged it off as if nothing happened.
“Tark told them to change plans then and drag Zurex’s body up to my chambers and then set them on fire.
“After that, him and the other guards had me dragged off, chained in the back of a wagon, and then brought to that island prison. I was immediately put in the bottom level with guards placed around me with the orders not to talk to me under any circumstances. And I was there until you broke me out a few days ago.
“So, there you go. That’s my version of the story of how a man with everything can lose it all in a rather easy and painful way.”
We all sat in silence for a little while, digesting what Arion told us. I decided that he probably didn’t talk about it because it was too painful.
I couldn’t tell exactly what the others were thinking. Carn leaned down over his shoes and started scraping the dirt off them. Artemis was tracing her tattoo with her left pointer finger. Shade was lying down. I tried to figure out if he was sleeping or not. I wasn’t sure. Damia felt stiff as if she were calculating or trying to figure out a problem.
Arion just sat there. He always seemed to have burdens with him. His head faced down, his shoulders were hunched forward, and his aura gave off a heavy feel. I wondered if he was always like that, or if that was simply something that started overtime.
All the while, I just sat there. It sounded like a plausible story to me, but I didn’t really make it my job to figure out if it was absolutely true.
After a while, Damia spoke up, “Arion, will you excuse us for a few minutes? We have to discuss this amongst ourselves.”
“Wouldn’t expect it to be any different,” he answered as he got up. He walked away from us. When he was out of the limits of his hearing range from us, he started pacing. Although I could hear him, as he moved back and forth.
“So what are your thoughts on his story?” Carn asked.
“His story seems to make sense,” Damia started. “Arion supposedly died in a fire that was started in his chambers. The body was burnt beyond recognition. Few people know that the fire was actually started on purpose, and I believe Artemis heard a rumor that it appears that ‘Arion’ was dead before the fire started. That would also explain why Zurex had disappeared on the day it happened. Tark is powerful enough to do it and to find ways around the magic protecting the throne. The only thing that doesn’t make sense to me is why would Tark leave Arion alive? While Arion is alive, he’s always going to be a threat, so why let him live?”
“I was thinking along the same lines,” Artemis answered. “Then I thought about how Tark basically helped raise Arion. Maybe he just couldn’t bring himself to kill him. Or there’s the fact that he said ‘don’t kill them yet.’ Maybe he had plans on how he wanted to kill them.”
“Yes,” Shade barked, but everyone else just heard a bark. I wondered then if he woke up, or if he was awake the entire time. I then wondered how much Shade understood of what we did.
Artemis started rubbing him behind the ears. Sometimes I wondered how much she understood him.
“I find myself believing his story too,” Carn spoke. “Raven, what do you think?”
I was aware that all of the faces all the sudden turned to look at me.
“Well,” I said as I tried to put my thoughts into words. “I also believe that it is very possible that Arion is telling us the truth. The problem here is not just getting us to believe it, but getting a lot of people, if not everyone, to believe it. Once the people know, they’ll support Arion because most people hate Tark. Even those opposed to Arion like him better than Tark. If we get proof not only for us, but also for them, then Arion will instantly have support getting back his kingdom.”
I was surprised when the others nodded in agreement.
“First, the Society should learn for sure,” Artemis told us.
“Agreed, so how do we make it so the whole society knows for sure?” Damia asked.
There was a bit of a pause then. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t really know how to find out this type of information. I was an expert at killing criminals, not fact checking rumors or bizarre stories.
Eventually, Artemis weakly responded, “We can ask Night. He’ll know.”
Everyone was silent as they thought about it for a moment. After thinking about it, we all nodded in agreement.
“Raven, will you fetch Arion?” Damia asked. “We have plans to discuss.”
I got up and walked towards him. He jumped when he noticed me. I stood there for a moment after that, trying to figure out why he jumped.
“Did I scare you?” I asked after a longer pause.
“I didn’t hear you coming,” he told me.
“That’s because you’re basically deaf,” I told him as I turned around. “By the way, they’re ready for you to come back.”
“Okay then,” Arion replied as he started to head back, following right behind me.
A few minutes later, Artemis informed Arion of our conversation and told him that he was going to be taken to see Night. He asked who Night was, and we told him it was night. He gave up asking rather quickly.
“Well, I believe it’s evident that we should split up,” Damia stated. “Carn here needs to relax and recover. Someone needs to alert the leaders of the Society what went on with the mission and what our plan of action is. But at the same time, someone has to go see Night.”
This part perked my interest because it was when I could go slip back into solitude and my regular life. The rest of the situation was their mess. I thought about how I would probably make some plans to mess with Tark, but that would be just me with no one else around.
My thoughts were interrupted by Carn arguing, “I don’t need more time to recover. I can keep moving.”
“No, you can’t, and you won’t,” Damia told him.
That was shortly followed by me hearing Arion quietly sigh in relief.
Damia continued, “I’m part of the leadership and know where the leadership is, so I’ll head there. I’ll take Carn with me. in order for him to rest and recover.”
Carn started to groan and grumble at this statement. I simply thought that I would have hated to have been in Damia’s place.
“Artemis, you know how to reach Night, right?” Damia questioned.
“Yes,” Artemis replied. Shade also barked in agreement.
“Good. You’ll take Arion to meet Night. It will take us nine days to reach the leaders, so have the standard signal go off on the tenth night just to make sure. If it’s cloudy, have him continue to give the signal each night.” Shade growled. “Of course, Shade will come with you. Any questions?”
“What should we do if Night answers yes?” Artemis inquired with her voice slightly unsteady. I couldn’t pinpoint what emotion was tied in with an unsteady voice.
“If you see a plan of action that can work, then take it. If not, join up with the leadership, and we’ll come up with a plan then.”
“Wouldn’t they need help?” Carn asked.
“If Arion is who he says he is, then people are going to be looking for him,” Damia replied. “A smaller group will be harder to detect, so, the fewer people that go, the better.”
“Then maybe someone else other than Artemis should go if they are in a hurry, because isn’t sunlight deadly to vampires?” Carn asked.
“I have a charm to prevent the sunlight from hurting me,” Artemis answered. She held up her necklace that had what seemed to be a vampire fang on it. “As long as I wear it, I’ll be fine to go out in the sunlight.”
“Any other questions?” Damia asked.
“Well, if it’s just the three of us it won’t be very good if we run into trouble,” Artemis stated. “I only know basic combat, Shade doesn’t know any, and, from what I heard about Arion, he’s only above average.”
Arion nodded in agreement about his skill level.
Artemis finished by saying, “I think we need more help.”
“Raven?” Damia asked.
“Yes, you probably need more help,” I responded. “Someone who’s an expert in combat.”
“Maybe someone with skills in concealed movement. Someone who knows how to get around unseen,” Damia commented.
I nodded. “Yes, that ability would come in handy.”
“Maybe someone who can move well in the dark, just in case the team needs to go around in the dark to escape some foes, or something to that extent.” Artemis said.
“That could be helpful,” I agreed.
“Maybe someone who can fight at both a distance and in close proximity,” Carn pitched in.
I nodded. These all sounded like handy qualities for the person that their plus one ended up being.
“Raven, do you know we’re talking about you?” Arion asked.
“WHAT?” I shouted.
My immediate thoughts were no. I never worked with people. I never had. I was convinced it would not end well at all. I couldn’t let them.
I found myself just saying, “No, no, no, no, no—”
“Raven, you fit all the requirements we just discussed,” Damia told me with a voice as hard as rocks.
“I work ALONE!” I screamed in response.
“Well, in this case, you won’t,” Carn told me.
“It will not end well,” I promised.
“Not with that attitude,” Artemis replied.
“Oh great,” Arion murmured. “I’m being helped by a vampire that doesn’t like combat, a dog, and an elf that doesn’t like people.”
Artemis turned to Arion and stated, “I thought princes were supposed to be charming.”
Arion immediately murmured, “I’m a king, not a prince.”
“Well, send someone else then,” I told them.
“Raven, there is no one else,” Damia told me. “Where are we going to find someone else by morning before their trip?”
I actually took some time to consider it, and I found that it did make sense. I just didn’t want it to. I started to hope that maybe it would end quickly, that they wouldn’t have the time to figure out . . . things about me.
“Right now, I hate you all,” I announced while getting up. “But we’re leaving at dawn, so you better get some sleep.” I went off to my own corner to get some sleep then, ignoring the fact I was travelling with them for at least a little longer.