Skip navigation.
Home
Write - Share - Read - Respond

Everman and Uriel: Segment IV

C Withey's picture

Chapter 3

The soldier’s barracks was contained within the massive castle. Past a single short corridor, built near the king’s chambers for his own protection, the barracks was a series of lengthy rooms linked together. Together they held enough cots and shelving for every soldier in the employ of the city. Massive hearths, now standing cold and empty, kept warm the entire barracks during the cold season. A hundred torches, set at intervals along the walls, lit the living area and the arching wooden ceiling above. Rugs and pelts of the local wildlife adorned the walls and flooring, providing much-needed shielding against the seeping cold of the stone floor.

Everman entered the barracks directly behind Gabriel, who strode over to his cot and sat, shedding his sheath to the floor. Everman approached his own bedding, directly beside his friend’s, and stood there, looking out the thin slit of a window to the orange and red sky outside, full of color from the evening’s sunset.

Archer stood a short distance away, tending to his own cot.

“Your mind is wandering, my friend,” Gabriel observed after watching Everman do nothing but stand there, looking out the window, for several minutes.

Everman turned aside from the brilliant sky and sat, considering Gabriel, who had already plucked off his boots and tunic. He lay back on his cot, hands folded behind his head, stripped to the waist, looking back at Everman with a half-cocked smile. The concern in his eyes belied his feigned geniality.

“I’ve been thinking,” was Everman’s reply.

“A dangerous pastime at best,” Gabriel jested. Everman was too enveloped in his thoughts to pay his comment any mind.

“Does anything seem amiss to you, Gabriel?” Everman asked, his eyebrows furled in a look of confusion. It was peculiar to see him this way, and Gabriel surmised that he was being weighed down by some serious concern.

Hearing Everman’s tone, more serious than usual, Gabriel sat upright, swinging his legs over the side of the cot. “Amiss? Not so much, no. Why do you ask?”

Everman was hesitant a moment. Then he asked, “How’s Jaina?” pulling the conversation quite suddenly down an entirely different avenue.

“Ah, ha,” Gabriel exclaimed with a smile. He clasped his friend on the shoulder, confident that he had figured out what was troubling Everman. “Is that what’s on your mind? I see. Is Caleb Everman finally thinking about putting away that tough guy attitude and settling down with a nice girl? You’re long over due, you know.”

“No,” said Everman with a slight shake of his head. It was all he said in reply, and his eyes still looked distant.

Gabriel just grunted, feeling a tad ruffled that he still had not quite figured the man out, despite being his friend for years.

Feeling surrendered, Gabriel answered his question. “She’s fine. The girls do their best to drive her crazy, like usual, and the clinic says the baby is due in a few weeks.”

“You have a wife, two girls, and a baby on the way,” Everman observed. “Why are you still in the military?”

“I like what I do,” Gabriel replied easily, without hesitation. “There’s no greater privilege then serving my king and defending my city. Besides, if I don’t do it, who else will keep those bastard Dragons at bay, or, more importantly, keep your ass out of trouble? Somebody has to baby-sit you, after all.”

“I see,” was all Everman said in reply. Still slouching on his cot, he looked over and out the window again, his expression once again distant. The colors had fled from the sky, leaving only the deep twilight of the encroaching night.

After a moment of collecting his thoughts, Everman spoke once more, his voice low. “I’m suddenly not so sure I share your views.”

“Regarding what?” asked Gabriel, concerned, his own voice lowered to match.

“This war we’ve put ourselves in,” Everman replied. He looked up suddenly, the distant look in his eyes gone, replaced instead by a purposeful look of defiance. “Can you recall why this war is even going on?”

“To crush the threat of the enemy Dragon,” Gabriel replied automatically.

“No, that’s not what I meant. Do you recall how the war started? What happened to bring each side to battle?”

“Well, the Dragon…” Gabriel began, but then his voice trailed off. He sat for a moment, tongue in cheek, eyes staring out at nothing, wracking his brain for an answer. He stuttered, “They… And then we… What point are you trying to make?”

“You can’t recall, can you?” Everman replied. “I can’t either. Why do you suppose that is?”

“Because we’re too busy looking ahead toward the future?” Gabriel proposed.
“Perhaps. But perhaps it’s something else. Tell me, how far back do you remember?”

“Far enough,” Gabriel said, perplexed. “Why?”

“Do you remember your own wedding?” Everman insisted, pushing the interrogation further.

“I most certainly do!” Gabriel said, defensively. “I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a clear summer day, and Jaina looked magnificent wearing her… umm…”

Gabriel did not continue speaking, but worked his mouth as if trying to. Then after a moment, he just sat there, slumped, looking baffled.

“Or the birth of your own children?” Everman persisted. He waited a moment, but, like his prior question, received no answer.

“As I suspected,” Everman said a moment later, seeing the confusion in his friend’s face. “I’ve been trying to find the point in fighting a pointless war which nobody can even remember why it began.”

“Now hold on just one moment.” Gabriel looked rather irked, and had difficulty keeping his voice low. “I know you, Everman. You’ve been my good friend since childhood, and I know you better than anyone else. I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately, but I do know that you’re as dedicated to the king as anyone else here. I don’t know what you’re trying to prove, but it’s nonsense!”

“Is it?” Everman replied. His nonchalant attitude about such a serious subject wore on Gabriel’s nerves. “Consider your daughters a moment, Gabriel. And your child on the way. To what kind of future do you intend to raise them? When they go off to war, and ask you what they’re fighting for, why they’re even fighting in the first place, what will you tell them?”

“Consider this, also,” Everman continued, cutting short Gabriel’s retort. “With neither side fighting for a cause more noble than victory, and with both sides appearing equal in arms and numbers, one can equate that any resolution to this conflict will come about from the spilt blood of many generations to come. If indeed it ever ends.”

“Then we shall have to execute ourselves more efficiently than our enemy!” Gabriel responded boldly, sitting upright.

“You fail to see my meaning,”

“No, you fail to see my meaning!” Gabriel spat out, cutting off Everman’s words. “If any of the other soldiers were to hear you talking like this, you’d suddenly find yourself a lot shorter. A head shorter, if you take my meaning! I don’t recall you ever speaking like this before. You are one of the king’s most loyal soldiers.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately. First you nearly ream one of the townsfolk in the marketplace, and now your questioning our very way of life. What’s wrong with you? It’s as if you’ve become a different person in the last few days. This isn’t like you at all.

“And to answer your last question, should our child in Jaina’s belly be a boy, then I would be honored to see him off to war, to fight for our cause. As far as the girls, I could wish no better life for them than to marry a good soldier and support his family when he’s off to battle. Which is no different than Jaina does for me.”

“But of course you should know all that already,” Gabriel concluded. “It’s not the first time we’ve discussed them. Or have you forgotten that, too, along with your loyalties?”

To this, Everman had no reply. The thoughts, the doubts, he had been having recently he could not recall having before. Perhaps Gabriel was right, and he was afflicted by some ailment. Perhaps he was overly stressed about the war.

But, even as he told himself that, his doubts persisted. Why was the war going on at all? What were we fighting for? And, perhaps most important, what right did the king have to send others to their deaths in battle? Human or no, why was he so superior to make those kinds of decisions?

But to keep himself from the gallows, he would have to keep his doubts from all others, including his own friend.

“You are right,” Everman admitted, lying easily. “The stress of battle is getting to me. Maybe I need a vacation.”

Gabriel’s over-sized grin reappeared, transforming his face as dramatically as the rising sun to a starry night.

“You need some ladies, my friend!” Gabriel exclaimed enthusiastically. “That’s what I’ve been telling you from the beginning. After a few nights tossing the sheets with some beautiful, big-breasted girls, you’ll feel like a new man and not have another care in the world. Am I right?”

To this, the other soldiers in the barracks cheered loudly.

Only partially amused by the chorus of hails from the other men in the room, Everman laid back on his cot and stayed that way until the moon rose high in the night sky and most of the others were asleep. Gabriel’s deep, reverberating snores echoed around the high ceiling.

Preoccupied by his thoughts, Everman didn’t find sleep until late that night.

----

The next day, Everman and a select squadron of Unicorn soldiers breached the walls of Arrik, the city of the Dragon, in the late hours of the night. Using ropes and hooks, they ascended the outer stone walls, the uneven protrusions of rock providing ample foot and hand grips. Once atop, they overtook the few guards on night watch and adorned their armor as disguise.

Everman, newly dressed in rusting chain mail overtop a thick woolen tunic, descended the wooden stairs to the village within the walls. The tunic, heavy underneath the mail, was dyed red, much to his distaste. He felt as a traitor to the crown by only wearing the shameful color of the Dragon.

Everman, putting aside his distaste for the new wardrobe, advanced into the city, taking to the dirt paths and side streets instead of the main cobbled roads. In the fleeting moonlight, the mud bricks of every house turned gray, and the wooden and thatch roofs became like ash. The large quarter moon and the entourage of heavenly stars above were his only light and guide through this foreign city. Stray clusters of weeds grew between the lanes and the building walls. Vines choked the mud bricks. Everywhere he walked, Everman saw dead-looking foliage trying to reclaim the city, ghastly under the partial light of the moon.

Traversing down a narrow muddy lane, Everman passed by a small window with the shutters ajar. Stopping to peer through the dirty glass frame, Everman saw a young woman in a simple dress sleeping beside a crib, inside of which slept a baby. The baby was clothed in rags; the woman was wearing little better.

What intrigued Everman was that he had viewed a scene exactly like this in the houses of his home city. The common people here appeared no different than in Anrene. They were no wealthier here, and likely lived their lives in exactly the same manner as his own people.

These people are no different than my own, Everman realized.

Just then, Everman heard a noise, and saw light around the corner of the building. Everman turned to leave, cursing himself for letting a distraction lower his guard, but it was already too late. The advancing stranger turned the corner and saw him standing there. Everman was revealed in the light of the stranger’s lantern. Everman reflexively reached down for his sword.

“You, there!” hailed the stranger. Everman could see him well from this short distance. He a younger man, short and skinny, his arms naught but sharp angles and straight lines. His attire was the simple brown of a common man, both tunic and breeches. He lifted the lantern he was carrying, allowing each to see the other’s face more clearly. What Everman saw was an unshaven lad of no more than fifteen summers with dark eyes and a sharp nose.

“Hold my light a moment?” asked the lad, thrusting the lantern toward Everman. He took it gingerly, still unsure whether this new arrival would run to alert the guards.

Free of the lantern, the lad leaned up against a wall and pulled off one of his black boots, turning it upside down to dump out a surprising quantity of mud and rocks. Once satisfied, he repeated the process for his other one.

Finished, he stood upright and took back the lantern, offering his thanks.

“So, they stuck you on patrol tonight.”
Everman was unsure whether it was intended to be a question or not, but he nodded his silent agreement.

“My condolences,” offered the lad. “The nights grow long for those unaccustomed to it. Me, I’m used to it. The rats only come out at night.”

“Rat catcher,” Everman observed. That would explain the mud in his boots, and his nocturnal stroll.

“Don’t say that like it’s an insult!” retorted the rat catcher. “It’s an honest living. It’s not as glamorous as guard duty, no, but to each their own.”

It was evident at this point that this rat catcher, this young lad, didn’t see Everman for what he truly was. The rat catcher did not, in fact, see past the red of his tunic, seeing only another faceless member of the city guard.

Which suited Everman perfectly, and also allowed him a unique opportunity, giving him the advantage over the other Unicorn invaders scattered throughout the city.

“What do you know about the Traveler?” Everman asked directly.

“You must be bored tonight,” observed the rat catcher in reply. “Usually you guards never even come down off those walls to talk to the people you’re supposed to be guarding.”

“Yes,” Everman agreed instantly. “Bored.”

“Don’t blame ya. That’s boring work. You sit in one spot and stare at the forest. Or, for a bit of excitement, you get up, and take a walk.”

“The Traveler?” Everman persisted.

“Not much of a talker are you?” said the rat catcher. He began to annoy Everman greatly. “Must not have much of a home life. You couldn’t, not working nights like you do. Guess I don’t blame you. I know the feeling. But, as far as the Traveler is concerned, I don’t like him. Nobody in town does. If you were ever to leave your home during the day, you’d see that right away.”

“Me, I wonder where he came from,” continued the rat catcher as he leaned against a brick wall, clearly grateful for the company. It seemed apparent that he, himself, didn’t commune much with the daylight world. “Are we supposed to believe that he just appeared in the middle of the night? Or perhaps born fully grown? He hasn’t told anybody what he’s actually doing here, or where he came from. Which has everyone worried. And then there’s this rumor going around that he dabbles in the dark arts. Black magic. Nasty stuff, I’m sure; twenty-one kinds of bad. Which as you can imagine has everyone all aflutter. As far as anybody’s concerned, he may come down from that tower and start turning people into frogs. What a mess that would be.”

“Tower?” Everman asked, suddenly intrigued after having to suffer through the man’s dribble.

“Aye,” agreed the rat catcher. “Tower. You do know what a tower is, right? I’m starting to think they work you too hard. You’re not right. I think you might need a woman. But, then again, so do I.”

Everman was rather annoyed to be reminded of Gabriel just then.

“Where is this tower?” asked Everman.

“You’re kind of slow, aren’t you? But that’s alright. I like you. We could play cards some time. Can’t get anyone else to sit down and play with me. Must be the late hours I keep. Or the fact that I have nine pet mice.”

Everman began to rub his temples, closing his eyes as he did so. This rat catcher was beginning to give him a headache. Perhaps he had been better off not running into the lad at all.

“Where is the tower?” Everman repeated, his patience all but exhausted.

The rat catcher looked at him curiously, his head cocked to one side. Everman swore that if he said anything other than directions to the tower, he was going to hit him.

The rat catcher must have picked up on that, much to Everman’s disappointment.

“Two blocks north, following the main road. It’s opposite the marketplace, and directly east of the castle’s entrance. It stands immediately next to the thing you're supposed to be guarding, remember? Or did you forget why you were up on that wall in the first place?”

“Temporary amnesia,” Everman replied after a moment’s thought. He became worried that, seeing his behavior as suspicious, the rat catcher may decide to report him after all.

“In other words, drunk?” asked the rat catcher.

“You caught me,” Everman submitted, letting the lad assume what he wanted.
“Ah, so that’s what you’re really doing up on those walls,” the rat catcher concluded.

“Don’t tell anybody,” Everman mused as he slipped past the rat catcher, heading north.

Turning a corner to get out of ear shot of the lad, Everman proceeded with his new route. He approached, then passed through, the marketplace. A multitude of cloths and draperies, their bright colors dimmed by moonlight, hung over the entire courtyard. Wagons were parked around the circular yard, forlorn and abandoned at this hour.

Everman marveled once again at how similar this place was to the marketplace in Anrene, except for being empty and dark. In fact, as Everman stood in the center of the marketplace and looked about him, he observed that the two market stands were not only similar, but identical. They bore the same proportions and the same circular design of the cobblestones underfoot. Under closer inspection, he noticed that even the carts of the sleeping vendors were parked in exactly the same positions around the circle.

Feeling greatly disturbed by his discoveries, Everman quickened his pace down the streets. He had to remember his duties. He was here to find the Traveler, not wonder about the many coincidences between their cities.

Hurrying through the streets, Everman soon arrived at the front gates of the castle. Seeing the two guards standing out front of the massive gates, each of them dressed in red, quickly reminded him of where he was, and he ducked behind one of the houses. Taking a detour through a skinny, winding avenue, he soon arrived at the foot of the tower. It wasn’t hard to find. The tower was wide and squat, constructed of stone so dark it was black in the partial light. And the air around the entire structure sizzled with an unnatural energy that made Everman’s skin crawl and the hair of his nape stand on end.

Finding the door unguarded, Everman ventured inside the tower.

----

Atop a circular stairway, through a heavy door of steel, Everman found himself in an enormous circular room. The room was as wide as the whole tower, and perhaps three stories high, covered by a roof of tightly-pressed wooden planks. A multitude of windows spanned the room around, all of them vertical slits that reached over ten feet tall. Wide columns were spread throughout the room, columns as dark as the exterior. Before each of these columns stood a guard, and Everman took his place among them. He watched the proceedings along with them.

What would happen over the next few minutes would scar Everman’s memory so deeply that he would never forget it over his unnaturally long life.

Surrounded by free standing torches and candles for lighting, six figures stood in the very center of the room. Four of them bore flowing white robes and long white hair, which Everman quickly identified as mages. These were the select few Sorcerers that the king used to predict storms, harvesting time, the outcomes of battles, and suchlike. They were most renowned for, but certainly not limited to, their ability to forecast events with uncanny accuracy, such is why King Elwyn kept a cabinet of mage advisors with him. Everman thought a moment, then realized with a gnawing dread that the number of mages King Elwyn kept with him was also four.

The fifth one of the group was even more a surprise than the number of mages. From his long, flowing blond hair to his even longer velvet cape, along with his delicately pointed ears and pale skin, Everman for a moment thought that King Elwyn had followed him here. Everman looked again, in shock, and realized that there were only slight variations between this man and his king. This was not King Elwyn of the Unicorn, but King Sherbourne of the Dragons!

And standing there in person was stringent proof that the tales Everman had been told of the king of the Dragons were all false.

As all of them were taught since childhood, King Elwyn was appointed by the gods themselves to rule over the people of Anrene. He was their chosen, their one and only son, sent to the world of mortals to lead them. The gods did not have a second son. More so, as the stories went, King Sherbourne was a horrible demon, a malevolent dwarf bent on the destruction of everything good and holy. He was supposed to be a shadowy figure, cast in darkness, with burning red eyes that could flay a man’s soul.

And here he stood, before Everman’s own eyes, an elf, exactly like his own king in every way! The king of the Dragons was actually an elf!

Was he fed naught but lies since childbirth? Were the townspeople of Arrik fed similar lies about his people? And if he could explain the truth to his own people, as well as to the people of this city, could he end this war and stop the slaughter?

“Behold, your majesty, my power over the demons themselves!”

This cry was uttered by the sixth figure, whom Everman could not identify. He reasoned that this person must be the Traveler, the wielder of dark magicks. The Traveler was dressed in a robe of vile green, the color of poison or some debilitating magic potion. From atop his head sprouted a forest of crazily growing white hair. He had a chin and nose that both stretched out impossibly far and sinister, beady little eyes like a diabolical bird.

“Watch as I bring forth the creatures of nightmare!”

Everman, the king, and the entire room watched as the Traveler wove his hands into the air, performing his strange ritual. Soon a light of purple, emanating from some unseen force, appeared before him. It grew, and lit the chamber whole in its otherworldly glow. Then, popping into existence like a sprite from childhood stories, a sphere of bright light appeared. The sphere held within it a storm of purple and blue, churning and swirling like fog, with miniature streaks of lightning dancing within. The sphere grew and stretched, becoming oblong, growing tall and thin, then at length resolving itself into a doorway. The frame of the doorway was the same purple and blue storms as the sphere, but within that frame appeared a portal reflecting an image of the night sky, complete with dazzling stars and majestic galaxies. And the entire image of the night sky rippled endlessly as if a reflection upon flowing water.

Smiling a twisted smile upon his creation, the Traveler circled about his magical doorway. “Have you ever seen anything as grand as this, your majesty?”

King Sherbourne simply shook his head, too captivated and amazed to even speak.

“This is but a parlor trick, your majesty!” exclaimed the Traveler excitedly. “It is the creatures that I can pull from this doorway that is the real excitement. Behold! A fearsome creature, under my control!”

At the Traveler's command, a creature emerged from the magical gateway. The otherworldly beast loosely resembled an overgrown cat, standing upwards of three feet in height. It was covered in scales of a blood red that shimmered brightly in the unworldly light of the magically infused purple glow. It bore long whiskers, much like a large feline, with triangle ears that twitched about endlessly. A long tail of crimson swayed gently and gracefully behind it.

Complimenting its feline appearance, massive retractable razors protruded from the creature's enormous claws, and when it yawned it revealed two sets of dangerous looking fangs.

“Behold! I have pulled forth from the void a great parademon! Kin to the very dragons themselves! A fearsome beast from distant worlds!”

So the rat catcher was right, Everman observed. He and the others of this city had every right to mistrust the Traveler. Here he was showing off his power over demonic forces to the king, the elven king, of Arrik. Any man who controls the powers of demons could not be trusted.

Everman became worried that his plan to bring peace to the land might be undone by this loose variable. The Traveler would tip the scales in favor of the Dragon, and using his black magicks, crush their opposition before Everman could preach the truth to either side. In his conversation with Gabriel the day prior, he had addressed his fears that two powers of equal arms and men would drag this war out infinitely long. That at least would give him the time to speak with both sides.

But this Traveler would ruin all of that. With the Dragons’ newfound unnatural magicks, they might wash over his home city before Everman could even begin to unravel his plan.

His thoughts cast aside at the moment, Everman missed the vanishing of the great demon from the center of the room. The Traveler’s next statement, however, quickly returned his train of thought.

“As great and mighty a beast as that was, there are yet many greater monstrosities waiting in the Nexus! Behold now, as I call forth a demon from the very depths of Hell itself!”

And before Everman’s eyes, and the eyes of all its future victims, a great demon stepped forth from the gate.

The mages cried out in terror, throwing their arms up in panic and cowering. The king stepped back, fearfully grasping for the ornamental dagger that hung from his side. The guards to either side of Everman quivered in place, trembling.

Everman himself stepped back into the shadow of the pillar, peering out from darkness at a sight that he could not pry his eyes away from.

This demon was not like the other. This demon stood upright at nine foot tall and was covered in short fur as dark as a starless night, with blood-red eyes that glowed menacingly. Great horns sprouted from the creature’s head, curving back around its head then spreading outwards. Down its back flowed a mane of long, coarse hair, as black as the rest of its fur. And on either side of that mane, folded tightly against its back were a pair of enormous wings.

The demon stood upon giant bovine-like hooves, and a lengthy tail swung from its hindquarters. It growled, revealing a short, ugly snout filled with razor-sharp teeth. The demon’s arms were as large fully-grown men and bulged with enormous muscles. Worse yet, each of the creature’s fingers were tipped with long, dangerous talons.

The creature stepped out of the doorway, each heavy footstep echoing loudly and shaking the floorboards beneath. It stood with legs bent not only at the knee, but also bent backwards at a second joint near the creature’s ankles. It swung its massive head around, its lengthy midnight-black mane swirling almost gracefully around him with each movement. It cast its fearsome red eyes at each body in the room, as if deciding which would be the appetizer.

“Worry not, your majesty!” called the Traveler, his voice unshaken. He appeared to be the only one unafraid of the gigantic beast. He stepped up beside it, his putrid green cape swinging behind his graceful stride. “This fearsome beast is under my complete control! And with my aid, and your coin, you will be commanding an army of demons like this to conquer your enemies!”

Everman, standing in shadow, looked from the Traveler to the king, suddenly more fearful than ever before. The Traveler is selling these demons to the Dragons? This is disastrous! Everman knew that the Traveler and his demon-gate had to be stopped, but what good was he against such powers?

As the king and Traveler haggled, the creature slowly turned around in place. Its hellish eyes were taking in the entire room, and all those that occupied it. At length, the beast’s gaze fell upon Everman, hiding in shadow, and it stopped turning. The beast stared intently at Everman’s hiding spot for a long moment. Everman drew a sharp breath and willed his heart to stop beating, fearful that the creature might hear it as loudly as it pumped in his own ears.

Than it growled so deeply that the floorboards reverberated below them. Short plumes of dust danced up, covering the entire floor in a dirty brown fog. The other guards whimpered, shying away.

Everman slowly inched backward until he was pressed against the cold stone wall. He could go no further, yet the beast still appeared to be looking directly at him.

Then the demon took a step forward.

The king and the Traveler were haggling over price, oblivious, as the demon strode toward Everman, its lumbering hooves cracking and splintering the wood beneath.

Everman looked around at the guards nearest him, wondering why they had not done anything by now. But what he saw were fully armored men cowering in the distant corners of the room, shivering underneath their mail. They were too afraid to even move.

The horrendous beast slowly stepped closer to Everman, salivating out of its gaping mouth. Its hellfire eyes were locked onto Everman without even blinking.

Several long seconds later, the Traveler finally took notice.

“What’s gotten into you?” asked the Traveler, his voice no longer high and showy like an over-energetic salesman. At that moment he sounded suddenly as human as the rest of them.

The beast paid his words no mind, so the Traveler rashly advanced upon it and grasped one of its immense arms.

It was that single action that spawned the insuing chaos.

The beast turned, swinging a massive arm around and knocking the Traveler across the room. With a gigantic roar that shook the spines of every man in that tower, the beast hunkered down on all fours and sprinted toward the gathering of mages. As the others could only watch horrified, the demon’s massive jaws sank into the forearm of one of the mages, soiling red his white robe. Tasting the fresh blood still upon its muzzle, the demon became enraged, slashing and hacking without abandon. The poor mages, even with their powers, became the first unfortunate victims of the demon’s fury.

“No!” cried the Traveler, his voice a frantic shrill. “No! What are you doing! You are under my control!”

The beast, giving him not even a moment’s glance, left his four tangled victims behind, turning his bloodlust now upon the king himself. The elf, in his fair skinned and white robed splendor, could do nothing but hold his ornamental dagger out before him. The demon, while the Traveler raved at the top of his lungs, lunged at the king, casting aside his flimsy dagger, the hilt of which streaked with fresh blood.

Everman cast his eyes away, shutting them tightly, but his ears told the dreadful story. The king’s blood-curdling screams ended with the letting of blood and the cracking of bones.
Its thirst insatiable, the demon turned on the guards, one by one, each too fearful to assist their endangered comrade. Their mail cracked easily in the demon's powerful jaws like a lobster’s shell covering the meat inside.

The lumber of the floor became stained with the blood of many. The demon did not seem interested in consuming their bodies whole, but desired only to lap up the warm blood of the fallen as a cat would lap up warm milk.

The Traveler, finally understanding that he no longer had control of the beast (if indeed he ever had it at all), gathered his cloak about him and ran for the magical doorway. The demon, lunging at another fresh victim, took no notice of him. But Everman saw him, from the relative safety of the shadows, and watched as he leapt through the starlight doorway at the center of the room. His form disappeared, where he presumably emerged safe and sound elsewhere.

Everman, seeing this, took his idea. He ran alongside the stone wall to the heavy steel door and shoved against it, hoping to make his escape. At first the heavy steel door slid open easily. But then, after opening only a few inches, it stopped abruptly, causing Everman to crash into it shoulder first. He pushed again, straining with all of his might, and the door budged only another inch.

Afterward, the door began to push back.

Everman strained, bracing his feet against the wooden planks of the floor and pushing with his legs, but he had lost the few inches he had gained.

Someone was on the other side of the door pushing it back!

“Open this door!” Everman cried frantically. “Open this door at once!”

But it did no good. His aggressor did not give, but continued to push the door closed.

Suddenly remembering his guise, he yelled once more. “I am a member of the king’s royal guard! The king has been slain! You will open this door immediately!”

Still it did no good. The unseen figure relentlessly pushed against Everman, keeping the door shut.

But the figure on the other side of the steel door was not Everman’s only concern. He glanced back, keeping a nervous eye on the demon, to see that his shouts had attracted the demon’s attention.

With the beast once more staring intently at him, it dropped the mangle of its latest victim upon the ground. Everman pushed once more in vain before the monster charged him. Narrowly leaping clear of its path, the demon collided into the steel door, knocking aside both it and the mysterious stranger hidden behind.

Everman quickly stood and looked back, seeing the demon rise onto all fours and assault the door itself. The creature sliced its claws through the steel, deforming it viciously. As it did so, Everman noticed a figure, dark and shadowy at this distance, flee from the demon, descending down the stairway and out of sight.

Enraged that someone had purposely locked him in here with that demon, Everman had no time to dwell on it at the present. He frantically cast his eyes about him, trying not to notice the broken and mutilated bodies all around him. The single exit was blocked by the demon, who had just finished turning a thick steel door into a ball of scrap.

The only option left to him was to escape by the same magical doorway that the Traveler had just fled through. Everman approached, feeling sickened by the unnatural purple glow that the unholy gateway emitted. His distrust for magic was strong, emanating back during the days of his youth when the chosen few deemed to be mages lorded over the remainder.

Everman hesitated, considering this magical abomination before him. During that time, the demon returned its attention back to him, and raced toward him on all fours.

Left without options, Everman leapt blindly into the twisting gateway of the Nexus.