Happy Saturday and welcome the chapter three of “Dark Soul”. This is a serialization of a novel the Dog has written. There is a big difference between writing political commentary and writing fiction. Both have their own learning curve and the intent of posting this is to get some feed back, if anyone has any.
If you are coming to this series for the first time, you can find the previous chapters at these links:
This novel is only being posted here at Docudharma.
Dawn was breaking in the east, over the right shoulders of the riders. As the gray light crept in to the world it was clear to see that they had been riding hard all night. The riders where scratched, their clothing torn by the unseen branches that they had sped by in the long night of flight from the hunting wolves. Their horses flanks where covered with sweat, and there where flecks of foam on their mouths and noses. The tired beast’s sides moved in and out as they tried to get their wind back.
Behind them and to the west a long line of fire showed where the Shadow had been in the past few hours, though it looked as if the fire where no longer staying in the areas that he had set. To make the sight even bitterer, this gallant effort had not lured the wolves and their demon master away from Tyrone and Carlinus, for very long. Twice that night they had run in small parties of wolves and barley managed to fight them off. To their eternal gratitude neither of them had come face to face with the demon that controlled the pack.
Even with that to be grateful for, they had not escaped harm this night. Brother Carlinus had claw marks on his right arm, received while trying to keep a pair of wolves from disemboweling his horse. Tyrone had nasty puncture wounds on his left calf, the price for not being able see behind his back as he fought other wolves.
It had been some time since they had encountered any wolves, which, along with the fact that the horses could not go on without at least some rest, allowed them to stop and try to regroup. Neither man was under any illusion that the pack had gi
ven up the hunt, having heard the howl of their demonic master just moments before.
“Brother Carlinus, would you like some water?” asked Tyrone in a breathless voice, holding his water skin out to the priest.
“I’d rather a quart of brandy, but water will do. Thank you” said Carlinus, taking the half-full skin. Just as he was raising it to his lips, there was the sound of a branch breaking. Carlinus dropped the water into his lap and grabbed the handle of his Morningstar, bringing it up over his head. Tyrone reacted even faster knocking one of his dwindling supply of arrows and searching the bush for a target. His blood chilled as he saw a shape as large as him and his horse coming between the trees directly ahead of him. The creature moved nearly silently, and had curved red eyes, glowing with demonic light. Tyrone made his best estimate of where the creature’s heart was and was just about to let fly when the creature spoke.
“Sure, but you would be sorry for making you friend a pin-cushion, Tyrone Costello. And you, Brother Carlinus, we will make a really warrior of you yet” said the Shadow as he rode into the small clearing.
“Shadow!” shouted Tyrone, “It’s good to see you, man!”
“Quietly, Costello, we still have pursuers” said the Shadow as he stopped by the two others. As bad as their night had been, it was clear that the Shadows had been worse. His hair was plastered to his head by sweat, and both he and Orobasson had multiple wolf bites, some still bleeding. Carlinus took this in and with out a word handed the Shadow the water skin.
The Shadow nodded his thanks, and drank deeply, and then poured what remained over his head and chest, washing away some of the blood.
“It looks as though my distractions did not work very well, eh?” he asked.
“No,” said Tyrone, “We’ had times that we seemed to be gaining on them, but every time, they just turn back toward us.” This statement was punctuated by the sound of that dreadful howl.
The Shadow half turned in his saddle and said “Yes, Xenocox, we damn well know you are still out there.” He drew a deep breath and let it out. “Fellows, we had better start moving again. Unless you would like to be introduced to the leader of this hunt, that is” with that the Shadow handed the now empty water bottle back to Carlinus.
“Shadow, I don’t know how much more the horses can take of this, “said Tyrone in worried tone, “Do you have any more ideas on how to lose them? We have tried everything that I can think of. We’ve crossed our own trail, ridden in rivers; nothing seems to work, they just keep picking up our trail.”
“Yeah, I noticed. I could distract them for a little while, but soon they would turn away, I assumed in your direction. I even tried a frontal assault on them, to try to stir them up, but as soon as I was out of sight they just lost interest. I don’t understand it.
“Well, it is not as though we are that hard to find,” said Brother Carlinus, “after all you did not have any difficulty finding us, and we have been riding hither and yon all night”
The Shadow shook his head and said “No mystery there Brother Carlinus. I told you that good and evil each had their…own … Smell!” The Shadow knocked himself in the head with heal of his palm. “Damn me for an altar boy! That’s what has been drawing them to you, the smell of Good!”
“You mean they are following Carlinus’s smell?” asked Tyrone incredulously
“Yes, probably yours and the horse’s as well. This damn forest is so tainted that anything that was not actively evil would stand out to me, let alone a pack of Hell. I should have thought of this sooner.”
“Beat your breast later Shadow!” said Carlinus sharply, “What can we do about it?” The Shadow glared at the priest, but this was clearly not the time to argue.
“I have a thought, but first we have to put some distance between us and the pack. After that we need to find a good size stream or better a river. But for now we ride, and fast! Ty, you take the lead and I will take the rear, now go!” Tyrone turned his somewhat recovered horse back to face north, and spurred it to a gallop. Brother Carlinus followed suit, and with renewed purpose followed the Shadow on his enormous charger.
The day outside the forest continued to brighten, but in this place of lurking evil, a dim twilight was the best that could be expected. The riders had succeeded in getting further ahead of the pack, but had not had any luck finding stream. Their horses where once again nearing the point of gasping exhaustion. In the not too far away distance, the howls of Xenocox and his pack could be hear form time to time.
Just as there seemed to be no more hope, a small stream appeared before them. The Shadow allowed the horses to pause just long enough to slack their thirst in the stream and then urged the party to ride in the stream, riding upstream along its northwesterly path. After riding for a good ten minutes, he had the two other men stop in the middle of the stream as he rode up onto the bank.
“Well, we have found your stream, what is the rest of your plan?” asked Carlinus.
“You won’t like it any better than I will,” said the Shadow as he dismounted. He drew a dagger out of his boot and walked to the edge of the stream. Holding his right arm out over the stream he made a deep cut in his forearm. The blood welled quickly and spattered into the water, making lines of pink in the clear water.
“Do you think that will be enough?” asked Tyrone, as he understood what the Shadow was doing.
“No,” was the taciturn reply. The Shadow looked up to his horse, and with a toss of his head called the animal to him. “How about it old boy, are you willing to bleed to protect these two horses? I will cover their riders, but it won’t smell right to those wolves if the horses have human blood on them.” Orobasson turned his head to the two animals standing in the stream and gave them a calculating look. After a moment he nodded his head and pawed the ground with his left foot. “Thank you, I knew I could count on you,” the Shadow said.
Carlinus finally caught up with the conversation, “You mean to cover us you’re your blood?” he asked incredulous, “Absolutely not! You will not work your foul magic on me!” The Shadow stood on the edge of the stream not saying anything, just steadily looking at the little priest.
The night, the forest, and the interminable chase had taken its toll on Tyrone. The best that could be said is that he lost his composure, at worst; he was in a near murderous rage. His horse moved shoulder to shoulder with Carlinus’s mare and he grabbed the smaller man by his collar and pulled him forward, until only a few inches separated their noses, “Are you that fucking stupid? Do you understand that this is our only choice?” he asked in a dangerously low voice.
“Tyrone, you don’t understand,” said Carlinus, “if we have his blood all over us, we are but a step away form being in his thrall. He could easily posses our very souls! You know what kind of evil he is, the evil that he has done!”
Tyrone face got redder and he shook the priest back and forth a couple of times, “You damn fool! The only other choice is to end up as a wolf’s dinner, is that what you would prefer?” Tyrone let go with one hand and forced Carlinus around so that he was looking at the Shadow again. “Does this look like someone trying to posses you? What makes you think he would want your soul, anyway?”
The Shadow stood there looking at the two men, no expression on his face, except exhaustion. “Brother Carlinus,” said the Shadow quietly, “if there was another way, don’t doubt that I would take it. But we are out of options and very shortly we will be out of time. ”
“And how can I know what spells you might still be able to cast? I can’t even say for sure that this would not qualify as a mortal sin!”
“So is suicide, Brother” the Shadow replied mildly, “If you choose not to do this, you will be choosing certain death at the hands of the enemy of your Lord. This is the only way that you will have a chance to achieve your mission.”
Carlinus was clearly torn, he knew what the stakes were, but the thought of any kind of blood rite preformed by the Shadow scared him, maybe worse than the wolves. “What would this entail?” he asked with a quavering voice.
“I can show you with the horses, if that is what it will take,” replied the Shadow, “Tyrone, bring Julius to the edge of the stream, but don’t let him step up just yet.” The Shadow brought Orobasson to near the edge and bade him stand still. He brought the dagger up the shoulder that was closest to the water. Glancing into the black war-horses eye, he cut a deep line in the beasts shoulder. Orobasson did not flinch or look away, as hot red blood welled up and began to run down his leg. The Shadow sheathed his dagger and cupped his hands to gather the welling blood.
Once he had a hand full, he knelt near Tyrone’s horse, Julius, and spread the blood in a patch of grass. He repeated this procedure three more times until he had a fair size puddle of blood in the grass.
“Okay, Ty,” said the Shadow leading Orobasson a few steps back from the waters edge, “bring Julius up, but make sure that all four hooves hit his patch. We need to make sure that there is as little trace of non-evil smell in this area as possible.” Tyrone carefully rode up the bank stopping his horse with the rear two hooves still in the puddle of blood. The Shadow brought his horse to stand near Tyrone’s and made another cut a little above and to the back of the first one. This time he cupped a small amount of blood in each hand. Starting at the shoulder closest to him he smeared the blood down Julius’s front leg. Working quickly, he covered one side, then the other, returning to get more blood anytime that the blood on his hands began to run out.
After he had covered both sides of the horse, the Shadow refreshed the blood on his hands and walked to the front of the horse. He grabbed the bridle and looked at the horse. Julius had stood still through the whole process, but it was clear from the white around his eyes and the set of his ears, that this would rank dead last on the list of things the charger would want to do again.
“Julius, you’re a good man, you are,” said the Shadow and Julius responded by flicking his ears forward and back once, as if to say, ‘Just get on with it, will you?’. The Shadow ran his hands from the point of the horse’s jaw down to its mouth. If Julius was going to show his displeasure by trying to take a few fingers off, this was the time, but the big horse just let the Shadow rub the blood into his coat. The final step was a long line of blood on the top of the horses head leading down to his nose.
The Shadow stepped back to look over his work, the formerly chestnut stallion was now the patchy rust brown of drying blood. The Shadow looked over at Brother Carlinus, cocked an eyebrow and said, “Well, what do you think?”
“I don’t know,” said Carlinus clearly wanting to think it was all right, “How can I know that you won’t do some kind of spell on me? After all, why steal the soul of a horse?”
“Brother Carlinus,” said the Shadow with real pain in his eyes,” can you not even trust me enough to save my own life? You would rather have us all die?”
“Shadow, you are evil, what would you expect of me? To trust a servant of the Father of Lies?” asked Carlinus
“Then we are doomed,” said the Shadow, “Doomed because a fool will not let me touch him.” He turned away and collapsed to a sitting position on the ground.
“Wait a minute,” said Tyrone, “Shadow, do you have to put the blood on us yourself? What I mean is could I take your blood and put it on Carlinus?”
The Shadow lifted his head. “That might work, if you make sure not to wipe your hand dry at any point. If you do it could leave your smell on top of the blood. I don’t know that the wolves’ noses would be able to pick that up, but I know that Xenocox’s would be able to.” The Shadow turned to Carlinus and asked, “Will that satisfy you?” Before Carlinus could answer Xenocox’s hunting call peeled through the forest. It was not close, but there was no doubt that the pack would find them shortly.
“There is nothing that I would rather do less,” said Carlinus, “with the exception of dieing without completing the mission that the Lord has given me.”
“Is that a yes?” said Tyrone.
Brother Carlinus frowned but nodded. The Shadow wasted no time refreshing the puddle of blood for Carlinus’s horse to step in. Tyrone started to dismount to help, but the Shadow stopped him saying, “No! Ty, you cannot get your feet on the ground yet, and having Orobasson’s blood on you might or might not work. Stay there, I will do this.” The Shadow worded quickly, happy that the priest rode a much smaller horse. The job was quickly done then it was time for Carlinus.
“Okay, Ty, ride up close to Carlinus. We will do him first, that way the will be no chance of me using you as a conduit to claim his immortal soul,” said the Shadow in an ironic voice. Once the men where side by side the Shadow climbed back on Orobasson and rode up to the side of Tyrone opposite of Carlinus. “Give me your knife, Tyrone, why take any chances, eh?” he said giving Carlinus a tight smile.
Tyrone pulled out his belt knife and handed it hilt first to the Shadow. The Shadow held out his right arm and placed the edge of the blade against his forearm, above the cut that he had made to taint the stream. “Tyrone, cup your hands under my arm, I would rather not share any more of my blood than I absolutely must,” said the Shadow. Once Tyrone’s hand were in position, the Shadow pressed the knife deep in to his arm.
Tyrone waited until he had two handfuls of blood, then turned to Brother Carlinus and wiped both hands down the priest’s chain mail shirt, leaving a wide red swath on the metal. Working quickly, Tyrone covered the priest from the shoulders down. The Shadow said nothing during this process, except to remind Tyrone to have Carlinus raise his arms to be sure that no spot was missed. This lack of comment, combined with the fact that the Shadow had to make several cuts to get enough blood, was all that was allowing Brother Carlinus to continue. His face had gone from red, to white and was now a greenish color, as he contemplated having the Shadow’s blood smeared on his head and face.
“Take off your helm, Brother Carlinus, “said Tyrone as he gathered another double handful of blood, “We need to get this all over your head. Now lean over so I can get the top of your head and the back of your neck.”
If one could look into Brother Carlinus’s eyes at this point they would have resembled Julius’s, with the whites clearly seen all around. As Tyrone rubbed the blood into the sides of the priest’s neck, he noticed Carlinus’s lips moving ever so slightly. He quickly slapped the smaller man across his cheek and said “Here now! None of that!”
“What’s going on?” asked the Shadow.
“Ach, he was starting to pray, under his breath. Weren’t you Brother?” It did not seem possible that Brother Carlinus could look more miserable, but the hang dog look that came over his face was one that would elicit sympathy from the most jaded heart. He did not answer but merely nodded his head and looked away.
“Brother Carlinus,” said the Shadow, “you are showing amazing restraint with this, you would not want to through it all away, now would you? If you pray, you might not only completely undo what has been done already, but you will most certainly bring Xenocox down on us in a hurry.” Tyrone snapped his head around to see if the Shadow was being sarcastic, since this understanding tone was not what he would expect from the Shadow. What he saw worried him. The Shadow’s normal swarthy skin tone had turned a more sickly shade of green and the man looked to be on his last legs.
“Not to mention that you do not have that enough blood to do me and him again,” said Tyrone. This got him a tiered smile from the Shadow for his troubles. “What do you think?” Tyrone asked. “Is he done?” Both men looked the little priest over for uncovered spots, but none were apparent.
“I think you have,” said the Shadow,” Now it is your turn, and we need to hurry. Carlinus, if you would ride over there for a few minutes. I will finish with Ty here.” Carlinus looked as though he wanted to argue or at the very least stay close, but the whole process had taken the fight out of the priest, for now. He and his blood covered mare rode moved to where the trees crowed toward the water and sat watching.
As the Shadow moved in to begin covering Tyrone with his blood, Tyrone gave him an appraising look.
“Are you sure you have enough blood to spare to cover me?” he asked in a low voice, “I am not very holy, you know, I might get away without?”
The Shadow visibly rallied his resources, and a fierce look came back into his eyes.
“I will do what I have to, Tyrone, and live through it to boot. Besides, if you did not go through with this, I doubt all the forces of Hell could keep Carli from diving in the stream here for a good wash up, you know?” A trace of the Shadows usual sardonic smile crossed his face, showing Tyrone that this man had more will then sense.
“Well, then, lets get on with it,” said Tyrone leaning forward. The job was quickly done and the three men moved into the forest as quickly as they could.
It was a long tense few hours, listening for Xenocox’s hunting cry, and hearing it from time to time, but there were no more wolf attacks and from the sound of the demons howl, the pack had lost the scent. Once it seemed clear that they had, at the least, put some breathing room between them and the hell wolves, all three men slipped from their horses and walk along side. They could not stop, just yet, but it was clear that if they needed their horse’s strength to run, they had to give the beasts some kind of break. Tyrone insisted on taking the rear, in the hopes that the Shadow would also be able to recover somewhat. This did not work out very well, as the Shadow seemed determined to prove that even wounded and bled, he could walk them all to the ground.
As they walked the character of the land changed. They found themselves walking up hill more than down and even the horrible walnut trees gave way to more normal looking pines. Sunset found them at the crest of one of the foothills and it was decided that they would rest and take a meal, in a spot that commanded a long view back the way they came.
Brother Carlinus was just about all in. He plopped himself down on the ground and said,” Well, I’m for a fire, a big meal and about two days of sleep”
“Too bad,” said the Shadow, “You are not going to get any of those things, well maybe the big meal”
“What do you mean?” asked the exhausted priest with a slight whine in his voice.
“We can’t risk a fire,” answered Tyrone, “not this close to those damn wolves. And we should move on as soon as we can too, for the same reason. After all, no rest for the wicked, like you said, Brother”
“Will we at least get to eat?” asked the smaller man
“That can be arranged,” said Tyrone pointing to where the Shadow was pulling a large chunk of cheese and dried meat from his saddle bag. He carried the food in one arm and on the other he had a wine skin.
“Is that what I think it is?” Asked Tyrone with hopeful grin
“Aye,” said the Shadow, “This is wine from my home county, I have been saving it for a time of need, and I think you will both agree that this qualifies.” He sat on the ground and handed Carlinus the meat, Tyrone the cheese and took a big swig of the wine for himself. “If we cannot, sleep, then eating and drinking will have to suffice”
The three men fell on the food, like the wolves that they had only lately escaped. It would be hard to say what was the most desired item, of the provisions, as each man would consume what he had in front of his like it was the most perfect food in the world, until offered something else by one of his companions. There was no talking until all of the meat, most of the wine and all but a rind of the cheese were gone.
Brother Carlinus let out a contented belch, and still nibbling on the cheese rind, said “I have sat at the Abbots own table many times, but I can say that I have not enjoyed a meal this much in my whole life” Both of the other men laughed, and nodded.
“Well, there you are Brother,” said Tyrone, “this is one of the reasons that men become warriors, it makes the simple pleasures of life that much sweeter”
“I can see the attraction, indeed I can. And I have to say how that I can now see why, the Lord lead me to you Shadow. Two demons defeated in the span of a single day, what a force for good you are!” It must be said that Brother Carlinus was genuinely trying to express his approval to the Shadow, needless to say, it did not get the response that he expected.
The Shadow looked over at Carlinus, and rose to his feet. “I had better see if the horses need anything” he said in a cool voice and walked away. Carlinus looked shocked and turned to Tyrone.
“There is just no getting close to that man!” he complained sotto voce.
“Asshole,” replied Tyrone, “It was you that chased him off.
“I chased him off? With a compliment? Well if that is how he takes praise, then he’ll get very little of it from me!”
“You are so thick sometimes Brother” Tyrone said with a sigh
“What?!?” squawked Carlinus
“It is not that you gave him a compliment, it was what you said with it. Look, I know you do not want to see his side of things, but this once try, huh? You tell him that you can see why God sent him too you, right? Well to him that sounds like his whole life, his betrayal by his father, and his possession were all set up so you could have a protector. It cheapens his whole life up to now. Then you brag on him defeating two demons, even though one of them was his teacher. How would you feel if someone congratulated you for killing your Abbot? Or said that you where put on the Earth to be a spear carrier for an army you hate? Does not feel very good does it?”
“I see what you are saying, Tyrone, but really, how can you compare my life to his? He is a thing of evil; I am a man of God. It would never be possible for me to be in a situation where I would have to kill my Abbot, but him? By the very nature of his life and the nature of his teacher there is more than an even chance that it would end as it did. He must know that, so why be maudlin about something that was likely from the time.”
“I find it really sad, Brother Carlinus,” said Tyrone
“I do too my son,” said Carlinus, “but each of makes our own bed and must lie in it.”
“That is true, but not who I meant,” said Tyrone with a wry smile, “It’s you that think is sad, Brother. Here is a man that not only risks his life, but literally sheds his blood to keep you safe, and you can’t see him as human, but only as a ‘creature of evil’. That is very, very sad to me.” Without waiting for a reply, Tyrone climbed to his feet, said,” I think I’ll see how the Shadow is doing with the horses”, and then walked away.
Brother Carlinus just sat there, experiencing a whirlwind of emotions, shock, anger, frustration, and embarrassment and finally recognition. Why was it that he could not seem to convince men, such as Tyrone, of what was clearly obvious? To have to have some kind of special concerns for the Shadows feelings? Absurd! Why couldn’t Tyrone see that the Shadow was a hell bound facilitator of evil? Carlinus would as soon worry about Elys’s feelings, at least she reminded him of his mother, not scared him to death with tales of his hellion youth!
Carlinus took a deep breath and as he had his whole life, put aside any doubts about the correctness of his view and decided to see if he could catch a short nap before his warrior companions forced them to start again.
Tyrone walked away from Brother Carlinus, with a slightly wicked smile creasing his lips. It was not that often that he struck a blow with words alone and it pleased him that Carli had walked right into his verbal trap. Too be sure, he would have to confess it as sin, perhaps pride, or maybe lack of charity, but at this point it would be worth any penance that might be assigned. If fact he was beginning to feel the need to confess in general, having been a life long Catholic he was used to unburdening himself of his sins every week or so. But on this trip that had not been an option. Carlinus would hear his sins and absolve him, but given that most of his sins against charity were at the expense of the little monk, there was no way that Tyrone would want to discuss them with him. He would just have to wait until this quest was over and then find some other priest. Besides, he thought to himself, there is always the Extreme Unction if he were to fall in battle, that would get him off the hook, without having to go through the whole confession process.
As he moved toward the horses he could see from the set of the Shadow’s shoulders, and his tense, sharp movements that his friend was still upset by Carlinus’s callus complements.
After taking a deep breath he said, “Shadow, Carli, you know, he really does not think before his speaks.”
Without turning the Shadow said, “Don’t. Don’t try to smooth things over Ty. That little prick, he is a prime example of why I fight against Yahweh. That sanctimonious sureness, the feeling that because someone wrote in their current version of the gospel that there is only one way to be, well, that must be the way! And as long as you don’t break those rules, then you are a fine fellow indeed! No need to think for yourself, to decide on the evidence of your own eyes who is friend and who is foe, who your loyalty should belong to and who you should shun! Oh, no! Why think when the rules are in front of you? Just be content to be led, be one of the flock! At least until it is time for the slaughter.”
“You know, Shadow,” said Tyrone in a drawling voice, “I am getting the feeling that you might be a little, um, upset? What is bothering you my friend, come, you can confide in me”
The Shadow spun around, his breath quickening and the fire starting to blaze in his eyes. He glared at Tyrone, who stood in front of his with the guileless open expression of a child asking for yet another biscuit. Looking at his friend he could not maintain the self-pitying rage he had been stoking.
“You damn Irish peasant,” he said in a voice full of affection, ” as if my life was not hard enough, without having to turn to a potato eater for perspective.” He shook his head and walked around to rub down the other sided of Carlinus’s horse, checking the fit of the saddle strap.
“Shadow, I know that he is a fool, but you can’t let it eat at you, it will kill you, as sure as those wolves would have. Carlinus, he actually is as gormless as he seems.”
The Shadow stood and leaned his arms on the mare. “Ach, Ty, it not Brother Simpleton and what he thinks so much, as it is that he can lord it over me, and I can’t do a damn thing about it. I have faced plenty of enemies in my life, men and creatures that were truly formidable, and defeated them all. But now this piss-ant of a monk says ‘Frog’ and I jump. It is worse then the actual possession, at least Michael is an Archangel, and we did fight. Brother Carlinus just sweeps in and assumes that since he can dominate me, why, that is his right. It galls, Tyrone, and I do not loose well, or at all, for that matter.”
Tyrone could see that the Shadows fury was gone, and so he had accomplished his goal, but now this man of fearsome evil just looked tiered. He did not think that he had ever seen the Shadow this beaten down.
“So what will you do?” Tyrone asked
“Honor my given word, take Brother Carlinus to meet this lost people, and wait for my chance to finish my fight with Michael.”
“And Carlinus?” Tyrone prompted
“He would have been beneath my notice before my possession. After my battle with giant sparrow, I will either be dead, or free again. Either way, why would I care about a fool of a priest?”
“Well, you must be getting mellow in your old age, Shadow. I seem to remember stories of you slaughtering any priest that you met. You could see how I might be concerned for Carli’s safety, if you beat Michael.
“Oh, I’ve killed a padre or two, but mostly I talked that story up. You can not believe the number of people that want to try you, when you are a paragon of evil. My grandsire must have spent a third of his life killing off would be champions of Yahweh. It was just easier to start a few horrible rumors and keep those that did not really have a chance of defeating me at home. Not that I was worried, in the least, but my time is worth more then having to slaughter Carli’s spiritual siblings.”
Tyrone snorted at the pun and seeing the slight lift of the left side of the Shadow’s mouth, knew that his friend had said it with full intent and malice.
“So, basically, you perpetrated this big lie about killing every priest you met, just to save yourself the work of doing exactly that?” asked Tyrone.
“Why shouldn’t I? I am the Evil one, if they hear a story that confirms what they already think about me and believe it, and it saves me a lot of boring fights, sure I’ll lie,” the Shadow said with an almost grin on his face. Tyrone laughed at the thought of all the people that he had heard that story from, and wondered just how much it had grown in the telling. As his head tilted back with the laugh, he saw something that cut his mirth to the bone.
There in west, covering half of the setting sun, was a large bank of clouds. In the center of this black three thunderheads rose from the cloud bank. The ones to the left and right of the center were high enough that any farmer seeing them would worry for the future of his crop, but it was the middle thunderhead that was the true threat. It towered over the other two, dwarfing their strength with it’s power. It rose in a hard straight line, up and up to the huge flat head that leaned of the cloud deck like the head of an anvil. Below and between the towering clouds lightning flashed and flickered. Multi-pronged blasts stabbed the ground again and again, as if the Earth were Cesar and the Roman senate used purple lights to kill the Emperor.
Dirty vales moved across the land, from this distance they looked soft and wavering, but in reality they where lines of intense rain. This was the kind of storm that washed everything in it’s path with buckets and barrels of water. The farmers in the lands below would be worrying about more than there crops tonight. There very homes might be crushed, washed away by such a storm.
The Shadow saw the change in manner on Tyrone’s face and turned to see what would frighten a warrior this much. The storm looked to be far away, but it was, without a doubt moving in their direction. It was not the kind of weather that any sane man would try to brave in the open, but that was not the biggest problem.
“The blood…,” said Tyrone jumping to the heart of the problem.
“Aye, “replied the Shadow succinctly. He began digging in the saddle bag of Carlinus’s horse. Quickly he found the map and walked around to stand by Tyrone.
“How long do you think we have?” Tyrone asked without looking away from the approaching storm.
“A few hours, less than eight, more than two, it is hard to judge a storm this big. Who would stand around and time it?” replied the Shadow and then began studying the map in his hands. He looked at the map, then slowly turned in a circle gazing at the horizon in all directions. Once his circle was complete, he paused and thought for a moment.
“I think that, just maybe, our luck has changed, Ty. Look here on the map, see the twisted pass that leads to Celesta’s valley?” he said, pointing our the feature on the map, “Doesn’t that look like this formation over here?” and pointed to the Northeast.
Tyrone looked back and forth between the map and the cleft in the mountains, then said “I think you might be right, Shadow. If we keep to a steady pace, we might beat the storm there. If not the pass itself might have some shelter for us.”
“Or it could be the worst place to be, but it is not as if we have a choice. Wake the good brother; I will get our cloaks out. Even if we beat the storm, it will be damn chilly up there at night.” Their course decided, Tyrone and the Shadow set about their tasks.
Tyrone strode over to where Brother Carlinus was snoozing. Carlinus looked horrible. The Shadow’s blood had dried, turning his hair into matted clumps, colored a brown shading on to black. On his face and arms the blood had solidified and cracked. It gave his skin the image of small, thick, square scales. The scales were black in color with Carlinus’s pale white skin showing through the cracks. All in all it made him look as though he was part man, part lizard. He gave a small kick to the bottom of the priest’s boots and was rewarded with a snort, and a bleary eyed look.
“Time to go Brother,” Tyrone said. He then turned and began to gather the remains of their meal. Carlinus sat up and rubbed his face.
“Surely, we could stay just a little longer, or have you heard the wolves?” he asked looking from side to side.
“No. No wolves, just a hell of a storm,” said Tyrone without looking at him. “We need to try to get ahead of it, or we will waste all of this blood that the Shadow donated” This had Brother Carlinus quickly looking more alert. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the line of clouds moving toward them.
“You mean, if this all gets washed off, we would have to do it all again?” he asked
“No, if this gets washed off our skin before we get out of this poisoned forest, we will die. The Shadow does not have any more blood to spare, so if we loose this, well, I would only give us a short chance of not getting found by those hell-hounds again,” replied Tyrone as he picked up his now full saddle bags.
Brother Carlinus all but popped to his feet. “Then we have no time to waste, let us away!” He screwed his iron cap as tightly as he could on to his head and waddled purposely toward the horses.
“It is not as if we would not have to tie you down to reapply the blood, anyway,” muttered Tyrone under his breath as he followed. But at least Carlinus saw a pressing need for haste, and that was all that was needed of the priest for now.
As the two men walked up to the horses, the Shadow handed them each their long over cloak, which they quickly put on. All three climbed up on their horses and pointed them toward the mountains.
The Shadow looked over at Brother Carlinus and said, “I hope you rested well, priest, because this is going to be a hard ride. The good news is that if we are right, then sometime before the dawn we will cross into the Celesta’s valley.”
“Well, I won’t thank the Lord for that, but as soon as we see the valley and the last of this damned forest rest assured, I will,” said Carlinus.
“Save your breath, and your blessing priest. The one you’ll need for this ride, the other, well, I think you’re sending your thanks to one that did not help. As that may be, it is time to ride. Follow me!” said the Shadow as he urged Orobasson toward the east and the encroaching night.