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1408 DERAGAN - The Canyon

Everything has a beginning. But not everything has an ending. You and I, my Forever Knights. We're all things with a beginning that has no end written yet.

It's unto us to find out how it will all unfold. But I don't intend to be any pacifist in my own fate. Will you?

~Captain Deragan to his mate one wintry evening.

Billar Canyon, Europe in the Upper Lands

I was only Captain Deragan Black then.

I knew nothing of shapeshifting. Nothing of magic, or dragons or wolves.

I knew only that doomed moment in the canyon. The moment I'd discover if I could get my troupe of Templar Knights through the Pass or if the Pope's men would finish what they'd already begun.

Right here with us.

We're the last. I knew. All that was left of the Templars was here with me.

Ready to enter this canyon.

The armor of a hundred knights grated as their mounts pranced restlessly at the bend before the canyon. Meager wisps of sunlight caught the silver metal in occasional bursts.

Captain Deragan Black observed the men surrounding him. Knowing them well-enough to sense their unease.

The desolate quiet offered little warning of their fate on such an average June day.

Yet the threat of an ambush is here. It hung in the air. Dense as the fog hazing across the rising sun.

The canyon bottom was a long stretch of sand separated only by the clumps of grass. Still dripping dew and smelling of moist dirt.

A long stretch where we’ll be exposed. Enhancing the likelihood of an attack. Deragan recognized the familiar scenario.

It’s no wonder we’re apprehensive.

It was odd to see battle-worn knights fearfully eying the high rims above.

Men who’d been bloodied in war without blinking.

He heard the discussions of those he knew best. Dark, worried conversations.

He looked up. Shrewd blue eyes catching the approach of Christophe Rhyers, their tracker, rounding the rocky bank.

Sand and dirt smudged Rhyers’ face from the many times he’d slid from his mount to inspect the ground.

Scouting our path.

“No tracks ahead.” Rhyers advised tossing dark hair from pale eyes. Such an odd shade, they distracted from how keen that green gaze was. Rhyers’ ability to catch every nuance in detail made him an apt tracker. Powerfully adaptable, he was steady in most situations.

But right nowhe’s shifting uneasily.

If he’s nervous than I’m not imagining the intensity vibrating through the gorge.

“They’re there.” Lucien Sabias, their tactician, looked down the dusty passage. “It’s ideal ambush country.”

Deragan gave him a sideways look. Not what I want to hear just now.

Lucien's brown hair glinted in the rising light. Burnishing his dark eyes nearly amber as they assessed the banks above. Before returning Deragan's look with a helpless shrug.

“Dismount.” Deragan directed. “Walk them.”

If Lucien’s right, we don’t need to alert them of our presence by our armor clanging because we're mounted.

He and Lucien as his Second in Command, led the way. They and the eight just behind were the closest of the troupe.

The leadersThe warriors.

Still Deragan shared Lucien’s apprehension. It’s ominous not knowing what’s lurking atop those rims.

Dewy sand blessedly muffled the clop of their horse’s hooves.

“There’s a creek ahead. With slight bushes for cover.” Rhyers whispered before falling back.

Deragan cast him a displeased look. Watching him soundly retreat. Knowing I'd be annoyed.

Slight cover isn’t going to be enough.

“water is good. The horses need drink.” Lucien moved into Rhyers’ place, flanking the Captain.

And trying to distract me from my irritation with Rhyers' news.

But he is right. Deragan glanced at his black stallion, noting the bit of froth at his mouth. They are thirsty.

It was an unnerving trek into the canyon. Alarm rising with each step. Thus, it was a great relief when the sand broke for the burbling brook. Deragan forced himself calm to keep from disquieting his men.

The horses pawed eagerly.

Acel Mardichi joined them. His behemoth frame grating heavily in minimal armor. His burr readily apparent. "Glad me had a sweet lass las' nigh'. This doesna look promisin' in the least."

Deragan had noticed over the years that the accent accentuated when Mardichi had a desire to be intimidating. But when he's of a mood to, he can enunciate very well.

Deragan eyed the scrap of leather over the barbarian's tunic, askance. Doesn't look like much.

Deragan sighed. But it's the way of his people.

They often wore only leather armor with metal plates. Cinched with a leather belt.

Lightweight so he can maneuver, he’d say. Deragan had heard it enough to know.

“The birds quieted.” Mardichi’s red hair blew around his face, blue eyes piercing on Raese Merlinus, next to him.

“Using your Devil Magic?” Raese teased.

“’Tis not funny what they say about me.” Mardichi snarled. Short temper surging at the familiar teasing.

A match to that hair.

Mardichi was always a hairsbreadth from fury.

Raese chuckled. “It’s not surprising they’d think someone of your size a sorcerer. Look at you.” He gestured to Mardichi’s length. “You’re a hulking tree.”

True. Deragan continued leading his mount, staring forward to pretend he didn’t hear every word.

Mardichi glowered. “As I stated…” He said sullenly. “The birds…A sure sign someone’s close.”

“We know they’re there!” Lucien gestured ahead. “You’re not dropping any great secret, Friend!” He tossed over his shoulder at them.

“We just don’t know where.” Chavias Derenoe injected. Stepping next to Mardichi, as he thoughtfully stroked his coal black beard.

He flourishes in battle. While others fear what’s to come, he’s patiently anticipating.

“You look like an animal ready to bite.” Mardichi eyed the dark knight, apparently thinking something similar.

“More than bite.” Chavias glanced over his shoulder at the dual swords crossing his back. Pulling out a tether, he tugged black hair from his face. Cinching it tight. Gaze darkening to match his armor, he assessed the high ledges.

Christophe Rhyers, the tracker, drew close. “I think for this battle, Friend. We unleash your ferocious nature…”

Chavias smiled tightly at him. “I fear it emerges either way.”

We’ll need it. Deragan kept his thoughts to himself.

“Just make sure it gets stamped back down.” Teverius, snapped from several men over.

Earning a quick glance from Deragan.

“If any of us live through this I’d rather not have our own turning on us.” Teverius gave Chavias a distrustful look.

He’s been threatened at the end of Chavias’ curved blades before.

“Don’t worry, Little Brother. You’re hard to miss.” Chavias’ smile was cold.

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