I stared at the ball of light sitting idly in my palms. The sphere glowed happily, now emitting a soft, warm light – a contrast from the cold, dim radiance from before. My hands felt warm. For a moment, I was unsure of how to proceed. Continue reading
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The only source of light in my cell was one of the spheres of light I had seen in the council room. It floated close to the ceiling, slowly and steady, providing the space with a dim, cold light. The sphere could have shined so much brighter and instead mocked my presence by deliberately not reaching its potential. I rested my head against the heavy, stone wall and closed my eyes. But sleep didn’t come to me.
The first 26 chapters of “An Elusive Hero” can be found here.
I closed my eyes instinctively and kept them shut for a few moments. Silence spread through the room once more. I tried to pry my eyes open, now that the space had finally been illuminated. But the lights, which were radiating from the sides of the room, were too bright. It was as if concentrated sunlight had filled the chamber. In the glance I was able to take, I noticed about a dozen shapes standing close to the lights. I really hoped they were human. With my eyes closed, the familiar darkness had once again place its shroud around me. I expected to stand in silence for a while longer, when a booming laugh echoed through the room.
“I offer you light and yet you choose darkness by closing your eyes.”
I heard footsteps. The person talking to me was now pacing the room. From the sounds of it, he seemed to be about ten meters away from me. My eyes were still closed.
“Well then, as you seem to believe you are a guest at my court, I would like to welcome you to the Fort.”
A snort followed the sentence.
“You have the privilege of staying my guest as long as you please.”
Another laugh filled the room.
“Of course, that does not mean you can go whenever you’d like. It just means you can stay as long as you want.”
“Where am I?” I asked weakly.
“I’ve already told you.” The tone of the Chosen One was sharp and condescending. He did not tolerate stupid questions. “You are at my court at the Fort. From here I will conquer all of Illusio.”
The sound of footsteps drew closer.
“You should open your eyes and see the light. You shouldn’t choose darkness. Open your eyes.”
My curiosity got a hold of me. I desperately wanted to know with whom I was dealing and more importantly, how many of them I had to deal with. Only one voice had boomed through the room.
“Why don’t you introduce me to yourself and your court first?” I said. I didn’t have the courage to open my eyes just yet. Maybe I was scared it would still be too bright. Maybe I was just scared of what awaited me.
“Well, I think you know who I am. And you also know names are powerful. But well, if you open your eyes, I think we can all be properly introduced.”
The tone had now changed. It was more cheerful and inviting. I drew a deep breath and tried to open my eyes. The initial brightness had subsided and I was able to look around comfortably. The room was illuminated by dozens of spheres of lights, all floating through the air slowly and deliberately. I was stunned by the display. I had never seen anything like it before. The spheres were of many different sizes. Some resembled footballs, while others were as tiny as golf balls. The brightness of them all also differed. A few radiated with a warm light, others filled the room with a haunting white. Together however, they filled the room with the light and warmth of the particularly beautiful summer day. My eyes followed one particularly luminous sphere of light for a second before my thoughts were grounded by the voice.
“Didn’t I tell you the light was a better choice?”
I moved my look to the person standing in front of me. The man was a head taller than me with a full head of blond, curly hair and clean-shaven face. His figure was slender, but muscular. He had taken the time to sit down again. An impressive one-handed sword with a richly decorated hilt lay across his lap, but he was not wearing any armor. Instead, he was wearing dark pants and a characteristic grey shirt. His shirt had ebony buttons and I noticed it almost shimmering in the bright lights. I assumed he had put some sort of magical protection on the shirt in case I would have picked up some magic on my journey so far.
Unfortunately, I was weapon- and useless. A smile appeared on the man’s face. He seemed to be thinking of what to do next, making the unconscious gesture of brushing his button nose with his thumb. Then he made a sweeping movement with his arms to both of his sides.
Standing at the walls of the room were more shapes than I expected, about twenty. A minority of them were wearing heavy armor and the others were clothed in dark grey clothing with other colors worked into their outfit. The woman to the right of him was wearing a long, grey robe with dark green linings, while the woman to his left was wearing the exact same robe with brown linings. A few men standing motionless at the sides wore ascots in red, blue or black. They didn’t seem to have chosen their color due to the fashion of the Fort. Each color either had to signify a rank or skill valued at his court.
But while I took a close look around, no words were spoken. Not by the man sitting in his large, throne-like chair and not by the very disciplined men and women at his court. For a second I wondered if he had rendered them mute.
“Well. Have you seen enough?” He ended his question with a theatrical sigh.
I looked at him confused. Before I could answer, I heard another word being whispered sharply.
Again, we were surrounded by darkness. I felt my arms being jerked back and only heard the man speak again, his voice quiet and stern: “We will speak again tomorrow.”
Then, I was dragged away, again through the maze of the fort, through dark corridors and down countless steps until I sat there, alone and despaired, in a little, dark cell.
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You can read the first 25 chapters of “An Elusive Hero” here.
I stepped into the room expecting to finally lay my eyes on the person everyone had been telling me about since I had stepped into this world. Instead, I saw nothing.
Complete darkness surrounded me and my head started turning. It felt as if I was taken back to when I had been confined without light due to the poison. My captors held their breath. They weren’t expecting the complete darkness as well. But the leader of the group found his footing immediately and began to speak:
“We have what you were looking for.”
My eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness, but I couldn’t make out a single face. I thought I saw the silver of a blade flash, but that had been an optical illusion. The Chosen One didn’t feel like it was time to show his face just yet. I wondered if he was alone on his makeshift throne or if he had any advisors and guards by his side. Not that it mattered. I was weaponless and felt like a fish out of water. I just kept my gasping for air a lot quieter.
The person who was supposed to be in the room hadn’t said anything, leading the leader to yank me forward to present me. Still no audible reaction. I noticed a dagger hanging by the side of the officer. It was shining at me conspiratorially and wanted to take me a risk, to take a leap of faith. But behind me, my two others guards stood ready, slowly getting used to the absence of light. Their hands were holding short swords and they were ready to pounce at any disturbance.
I looked around the room, trying to find a source of light or a window, but I had no such luck. The room seemed to be completely on the inside of the fort, some sort of panic room. No windows and I couldn’t even see if the walls had mounted torches. The only sounds piercing through the darkness was the breathing of the men and women present. I could make out the breathing of my captors and there seemed to be at least three more persons in the room. But I couldn’t really tell by the rhythmic breaths all around. At least twenty people could have surrounded us.
The leading officer had enough of the uncomfortable silence and addressed the room:
“We have arrived with our prey.”
Again, silence and darkness all around. This was not how anyone had expected it to be. The guards behind me started to retreat slowly, wondering if this was one big trap they had been lured into. The leader tightened his grip on my arm and I could feel my shoulder aching under the swaying movements I was forced to take.
“Hello, is anyone here?”
The self-confidence in his voice had wavered and while his left hand didn’t let me go, his right one now went to the dagger at his side. From up close I could see the worried look on his face. What had he gotten into? He had walked into the room, fully expecting to be handsomely rewarded for a job well done. Instead, he found a discomforting darkness and no words to soothe him for his trouble. No words to commend him for his actions. And most disturbingly, no pot of gold waiting for him at the end of the rainbow. Only darkness and silence. He waited another heartbeat and then slowly, as if he thought he had led into the wrong room, he turned around.
The guards were now in front of me, opened the round red door and stepped outside, letting in a shimmer of light. But it was enough to make out any of the figures in the room. But there were definitely more than three persons present. When the leader of the group attempted to push out of the narrow opening of the door, a deep voice boomed through the room with authority. “Your prey stays here.”
The officer turned around in disbelief: “What?”
“You heard me.” The tone was friendly and encouraging, but at the same time full of force and authority. My arm was released immediately. The captor kept a curse to himself at the last moment and mumbled through his gritted teeth: “I’ll be waiting outside.”
“That won’t be necessary.” And just like that, I stood in the room alone.
It seemed that the presence of my initial captors had given me some kind of security. After all, they couldn’t kill me because they needed to deliver me to the Chosen One. Now I was here, standing in the middle of the windowless room of a massive fort, surrounding my unknown persons (were they really persons?) who were definitely not on my side.
Another familiar wave of despair washed over me, but the words of the officer stuck with me. “Stand up straight and show some respect”. Respect for whom? Respect for myself. Two nights ago I had made the decision to stand up for Sophia, Seraphina, Laurenar and everyone who had brought me along on this journey. I was not about to crumble due to the creepy show effects. I took in the stale air and felt my confidence growing on the inside. Another breath later I was ready to address my unseen opponents.
“Is this how you treat all your guests?”
One quiet and lonely chuckle was the only reaction. Nobody in the room had acknowledged what I had said except for the stranger with the deep voice.
“What makes you think you’re a guest?”
I stretched my arm as well as possible. A moment passed before I answered. The theatrical breaks made it seem like I knew what was I doing.
“Well, our mutual friend gave me an exhausting tour of the fort while making sure my companions were shown their quarters. You seem to be the host as you’ve excused him to discuss our business, leaving me free from shackles or guards.”
My short speech was again met by a chuckle and the disturbing silence. My eyes had gotten used to the darkness, but it was such an utter and complete darkness that I still couldn’t make out anybody in the room. The voice had a soft echo, when it spoke in that calm tone. However, I wasn’t skilled enough to find out if that meant the room was tiny or large. I heard someone standing up. I braced myself for an impact, but no further movements were audible.
“I think I can take care of you by myself just fine.”
Just as he finished his sentence, I heard him whisper a word forcefully.
A second later, I was blinded by lights.
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You can read the first 24 chapters of “An Elusive Hero” here.
They didn’t let me out of their sight now that Tyler had managed to escape. Two guards were at my side at all times, even when I needed to relieve myself. Our captors didn’t want to take any chances at all. Drake and Michelle were still struggling with every step along the way, with their breathing short and irregular. My thoughts wandered to their pain often, but I kept my gaze straightforward most of the time. There was no need to let our enemies think we were up to any more shenanigans.
We traversed the forest surprisingly quickly, but because the sun was still hidden behind a thick wall of grey clouds, I couldn’t tell how close we were to the night. The only hints of how much time had passed were the frequent breaks we took to drink or eat. Most of our captors were not used to be away from civilization for such a long time. Their stamina left much to be desired. Drake coughed quietly. His eyes were barely open, but his wounds weren’t infected and he was able to keep up with our speed. Michelle was quiet, saving what remained of her considerable strength for the small steps she took.
Now, the landscape around us was filled with fields of growing wheat and corn. It didn’t match the beauty of the field of tulips, but then again, that hadn’t brought us any luck. The fields were far prettier than the depressing barren stretch of land we had passed earlier. Our captors still didn’t speak much, as especially the two guards on night duty still seemed to be very disturbed by their failure.
My thoughts wandered to Tyler. Where was he headed? Had he understood my subtle hints? Were my hints subtle enough? A wave of fear and despair washed over my body. What if he hadn’t made out of the forest? I tried to think positively and to channel some of the self-help wisdoms adored by one of my teachers back in the real world. It was no use. My brain refused to remember and so I couldn’t do anything but let the image of a lost and broken Tyler pass.
Just when I had succeeded in diverting my thoughts to the yellow colorof the corn, a massive structure came into sight. I squinted, trying to find out what we were looking at, when I heard the relieved sigh of one of my close guards.
“Finally, we’ve reached the fort.”
So that was our destination. From the distance, I could only make out a wooden palisade, which was at least four times my height tall, and two stone towers flanking it. The leader of the group was elated at having succeeded in getting me so close to their destination and our speed picked up considerably. The gasps of Michelle and Drake made me shiver.
I could tell that the evening was near. Temperatures were dropping and torches were being lit on the palisade. I counted ten of them and hoped that they wouldn’t be guarded by anyone. But as we got closer, I could tell that a soldier stood between each of the torches, each one equipped with a massive crossbow. If Seraphina and Tyler wanted to free us with force, they would need an army.
The shining torches finally let me see what was the palisade was guarding. In the background, I could make out a stone wall, which was once again higher than the palisade. The structure wasn’t flanked by towers, so for me, it just seemed like another wall which needed to be walked through.
We finally reached the palisade before I could give the wall another thought. Two soldiers clad in grey chain armor from head to toe guarded the gate. They were holding pikes and opened the gate with a nod as soon as we approached. We passed through the gates and I immediately saw why they called it the fort. A scattering of wooden huts lay between us and the stonewall. But the wall was just the hull of a massive, impenetrable pentagon building. No towers flanked the structure, but that wasn’t necessary. Should attackers be able to overcome the palisade with its four towers, the pentagon on the inside would be strong enough to withstand an assault without siege weapons.
My heart fell as we were led inside the stone building. The walls of the pentagon were adorned with shields and sigils of powerful houses, torches provided the light and tiny slits tailor-made for crossbows provided the fresh air. It was nowhere as near as elegant as the Lion’s Den. This was a castle made for battle and not for living. Our captors lead us along a corridor, but made sure to obscure our path as often as possible, sometimes backtracking on purpose or using shortcuts through different rooms. They took no chances anymore. After a while, two of the our captors led Drake and Michelle in a away from me. I wanted to protest and just as I wanted to speak up, one of the guards struck the hilt of his sword across my face. It was clear that my opinion didn’t count on the inside of the fort and that I needed to face the next challenge alone.
Three of the guards remained with me: the leader, the sleepy guard from the night before and a woman with a black ponytail. The leader of the pack had short, scrappy brown hair and a clean-shaven face. He didn’t seem to be much older than 30, but judging by his movements and self-confidence this wasn’t his first mission. His colleagues on the other hand grew visibly nervous as we approached our destination. They tensed up, straightened their backs and made the effort of trying to fix up their hair. We came to a halt in front of a round, red door. The leader turned around and stared at me intently.
“You’re about to meet the Chosen One. Stand straight and show some respect.”
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You can find the first 23 chapters under “An Elusive Hero“.
I stared at the stick for a few seconds. If only I could my hands on it. It was still a few meters away from me. The guards were sitting drowsily around the remnants of our campfire. They were not paying much attention to my friends, who were all sound asleep or I. But the ground was covered with twigs and leaves. Every movement of mine pierced through the silence of the night. A false move would alert them right away, robbing me from my element of surprise. Either I had to be extra careful, or my plan needed to be thought through more thoroughly.
While I could take out one or two guards with the large branch capturing my imagination so vividly, what would happen next? Michelle and Drake were still injured and would be unable to flee. And without it, they didn’t seem to be of much use to our captors. Nothing would prevent them to be disposed of in a fit of rage. Tyler would be able to fight with me, but he looked fatigued and out of breathes. His will had been sapped by all our recent setbacks. My eyes moved to the stick again and I sighed, barely audible.
I had to look at this situation more like a game of chess. Moves would be countered and figures needed to be secured. I had loved the game as a teenager, spending countless hours replaying the games of the great players like Kasparov, Fisher or Spasski. So I tried to calculate the reaction of our enemies after acquiring the club and knocking two of the guards out. Even if I would manage such a feat, three of the captors would still be able to overwhelm me while I tried to get Tyler to follow me. I could, however, ignore Tyler and get away from them on my own. But I wouldn’t get far alone. If I’d manage to flee, I couldn’t guarantee what would happen to Drake, Michelle and Tyler.
I looked up, hoping to see another shooting star, but large, fluffy clouds covered the stars. No help would come from above. I also had to keep the mission in mind. We wanted to find Laurenar. And we still didn’t have a clue where the knight was held captive.
Again, my thoughts wandered to Seraphina for a brief moment. But she was nowhere to be seen or heard. Had she gone on to get help? Or had other henchmen of our enemy captured her? After all, I assumed we were riding in territory not necessarily loyal to the Queen anymore.
The safe move was to stay put and be brought before “The Chosen One”. Laurenar must have been in his custody. But how would we get him out if we were captured on our own? Should we get to their lair, I didn’t believe we would get the chance to get in touch with each other. Even worse, since Laurenar was probably the most dangerous combatant of my acquaintances, he would lose his purpose as bait as soon as we’d arrive.
I looked around once more. One of the guards was slipped in and out of consciousness, visibly exhausted by the travels of the last few days. The other one was awake, but was sitting with his back to Tyler. My eyes locked in on Tyler, only to notice that he was only pretending to sleep and instead keeping a close watch on the two captors.
A plan started to form in my head. I couldn’t do anything with the club, because if I left, the others would be endangered. But if Tyler would get away, someone could get in touch with Seraphina. I managed to catch his attention by sighing again. The alert guard glanced at me with a look of disdain, but Tyler stared at me curiously. My eyes shifted to the branch and with a slight nod I signaled for him to make an effort to get to it.
His eyes widened and brief smirk appeared on his face. But how could I tell him what to do? Did I have to trust his instincts? Or was there a possibility of giving him a clue without tipping our enemies off?
“Hey.” I spoke quietly, hoping that the second guard wouldn’t snap out of his sleep-like state. Again, only the man sitting with the back to Tyler reacted.
“It’s freezing. It seems like that fire needs a branch or two.”
I emphasized the words fire and branch more than I should have, but the oblivious guard did not pick up on it. Tyler nodded, while sneaking towards the stick.
“I find it very cozy the way it is.” The guard scanned me from top to bottom.
While I was talking, Tyler was getting closer and closer to his goal. His ability to move quietly was definitely better than mine. But he still needed a few centimeters to grasp the weapon.
I launched into a coughing fit, even though it woke the other guard up. The one I had been talking to attempted to get up to check on me. But he didn’t get very far. My coughing had drowned out the movements of Tyler, who had grabbed the stick and gotten to his feet. His hands were still bound, but he was still able hold the stick. He connected with a powerful blow to the back of the head of our captor. And then he ran.
The sleepy guard jerked to attention by the sounds of the commotion. But by the time he had loaded his crossbow, Tyler had vanished into the woods. I rested my head against the tree and closed my eyes, feigning to be sound asleep.
The guard frantically woke up his companions. They grabbed their weapons at once and looked around nervously. They were insecure about what to do next. But after notcing that I was still there, they didn’t place much importance on Tyler. The leader sent the guard to look for Tyler, while he and the two ladies of the group remained at the camp.
After about an hour, when the birds had woken up and filled the air with the sounds of their songs, he returned without having found Tyler.
The leader of the group remarked dryly. “He isn’t important. But it can’t happen again. Let’s get a move on.”
Thank you very much for reading. Chapter 25 will be released next Friday.
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The first 22 chapters of “An Elusive Hero” can be found here.
Our horses were being used by the opponents who had been responsible for the barricade, while our three followers remained on their own horses. Tyler, Drake, Michelle and I were forced to walk. The injuries to Drake and Michelle were severe. In an act of mercy, the riders had bandaged their wounds, seemingly intent on keeping them alive until we reached our destination. A whole host of questions entered my mind. Where were we headed? And would we find Laurenar there? Most importantly, what did they want of me?
The landscape we trudged through had changed remarkably. The field of tulips and its beautiful flowers seemed to belong to another world entirely. The path we were on was lined by barren fields, with only two or three lonely trees showing signs of life. It was below one of these trees we made camp for the night. The branches and twigs were used for a fire, where our captors huddled around. Nothing seemed to happen during the quiet hours of darkness. The silence was only broken by occasional groans and sighs by Drake and Michelle, who both seemed to be in a world of pain.
We were fed with stale bread and water and were seated as far as possible from each other. It was clear that they did not want us to talk. But then again, none of us seemed to possess enough strength to begin communication. I stared blankly into the fire, hoping to bend it to my will as Seraphina had done.
The sorceress stayed on my mind. She had gotten away. But what was she going to do? A part of me hoped she was watching from somewhere nearby, plotting to rescue us from our captivity. But I knew quite well that she would not stand a chance against the five foes still around us.
Their voices were full of relief and glee. I overheard them talking about possible rewards ranging from purses filled with gold to more mundane pleasures such as a massive dinner in their honor. But the chase and fight had also cost them a lot of energy, so three of them drifted off into sleep easily. The man and woman still awake just sat there, taking turns sipping from a flask presumably filled with a whisky-like substance.
My eyes moved up to observe the stars. They were shining beacons of light so far away. As a kid, I had wished to travel to them, to explore space and planets and the great unknown. Now I had been transported to a world totally different from the place I was born in. The stars I admired with a childlike curiosity had no resemblance to the ones visible from Earth. I couldn’t find a single constellation that looked familiar.
But suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I could see an object travelling through space, leaving a burning trail behind it. A shooting star. A smile appeared on my face and quietly voiced a wish in my head. Hopefully shooting stars worked the same way on Illusio as they did on Earth.
A groan brought my thoughts back to my immediate surroundings. Michelle was wincing in pain, a few meters away from me. It pained me not to be able to do anything for her. But she had willingly joined our mission, to ensure that her friends had no died in vain. Now we we were failing miserably and all their sacrifice had been for naught.
Tyler, who sat a distance to my right, had closed his eyes. But he was moving his fingers tirelessly. To me it seemed as if he was playing on an invisible piano. I wondered what was going on in his head before my eyes focused on Michelle again.
She had helped me so much during my recovery and the ride. I felt a surge of sadness and despair rush through my body. A single tear rolled down my cheek. She coughed weakly.
Time passed slowly during the night. I didn’t sleep a single second. I was looking forward to seeing the sun rise in the morning, but during the early morning hours, grey clouds appeared from nowhere. So when the sun had taken its place on the firmament, it was hidden by a great wall of clouds.
We ate a small breakfast again consisting of water and bread before resuming our journey through these dark parts of Illusio. I kept looking for a village or city, but the next miles were just a barren landscape. It was a sharp contrast to the places I had encountered so far.
Our captors still did not talk to us and also didn’t talk much to each other. When they did, they were careful to speak in a low voice, preventing Tyler or me from eavesdropping. Drake and Michelle were to weak to understand anything anyway.
We walked through the whole day and towards the end of the evening, another forest appeared to be approaching. Our enemies talked about setting up camp at the edge of the woods. I wondered if the Chosen One had hidden in these forests or if he had taken up residence in one of the larger towns in Illusio.
Again, Drake was seated to my left, Michelle straight ahead of me and Tyler to my right. Their faces were drawn out and exhausted. Our journey together was coming to an end.
But this was not how it should end. They had given up a lot to help me and to save the kingdom they believed in. I felt my desperation rise in me again. During this whole trip, I had been following someone, first Sophia, then Laurenar and Seraphina, now our captors. It was then and there I decided that I need to take matters in my own hands. After all, I was supposedly the hero they had called. My mind was racing. I looked around, surveying the ground for anything I would be able to use as a weapon.
And I got lucky. A short distance away from me, hidden by the stumped of a fallen tree was a stick large enough to knock one or two guards out. Now all I needed to do was get my hands on it.
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