I should have known that we wouldn’t even make it to the manor without running into a problem. The four of us had made it about half way up the mountain when the trouble struck.

The going had been rough and between the rugged boulders and thick trees we couldn’t help but become a bit spread out. When it came, it went straight for me… figures.

It was all fangs and claws with a good measure of roar thrown in. I guess it used to be some kind of bear, but bears usually don’t leak diseased puss and I doubt there has ever been one that lashed out at anyone with a set of undulating, barbed tentacles.

Fucking Caradon!

I would say they were my least favorite Xemmoni, if I didn’t hate them all.

Luckily, if nothing else, the Darcarre had geared me up, and as the monstrosity raged toward me, I prepared my battle axe. Now this was no measly wood cutter, like I was usually stuck using, this was a medieval weapon of war with a twin edged blade big enough for eight guys to play poker on.

The tentacles lashed out and the one to my right lost half its length when I cut it in two by pinning it against a tree. The problem was that I had swung my weapon so hard that I wasn’t able to tear my axe free before the second tentacle wrapped itself around my throat.

Ethan called out, as the appendage lifted me into the air, propelling me toward the whirlwind of teeth and talons this poor beast had become. Ethan moved like a jet of red and was there hacking at it length, but it didn’t severe easily. I held onto its tearing appendage with one hand and drew my machete with the other, but even then, the last tentacle refused to stop.

Seconds later, it was all I could do to keep those massive jaws from closing down on my legs. I was pushing back against its face with my boots trying to keep myself clear, when the Darcarre began to slash at the horrid beast’s flanks.

It roared in anger and I was suddenly being flung away. I didn’t make it too far before a tree quickly ceased my flight in a most painful manner. As I slumped to the ground, trying to clear my head, the Xemmoni bear raised itself onto two legs and slashed at Ethan, but that kid was quick and danced back. The Darcarre appeared more than happy to let us Stalwart take the danger end, while they attempted to circle it giving it stab after stab in the back.

Hey, everyone is good at something.

Spying my axe, where it jutted out of the tree, I jerked to my feet and tore it free.

Ethan was now being cornered against a pile of rocks and even his dexterity wouldn’t be enough to save him. With a roar of my own, I closed the gap and brought the axe down on the side of the thing’s neck. Its whimper was almost enough to make me feel sorry for it, until its claw raked over my arm, drawing blood. Ethan took this opportunity to split its throat with his short sword and it stumbled back, nearing crushing  Void when it fell.

After gathering up our weapons, we pressed on. “Come on,” I said over my shoulder. Let’s see if we can at least make it to the manor without fighting half the forest.”

Ink’s voice was like the hiss of a cat being held over a fire. “A hidden tunnel lies not too far before us. If it is clear, we should be able to use it to enter the manor unopposed.”

“Well, led on then,” I sighed, as I let the Darcarre pass me.

This was going to be a long night.

Would you like to find out more about what happened to Jack and his journey to become a Stalwart? Then check out the book of his first adventures!!!!!!!!

I suppose one positive thing to forming an alliance with your enemy, or at least part of your enemy, is they at least know where they are going and can do a pretty good job of sneaking you in.

Whether this creepy manor sitting on the top of that tree covered mountain was bought by some Darcarre, or they just killed the guy that owned it, probably doesn’t matter much anymore. All I can tell you is that it looks colossal; the place could have 200 hundred rooms. It crouches before us like a giant beast lurking in this isolated black forest we are approaching. My Yig, lord of the wood, has no home here. It’s dark, corrupt, polluted, and you can tell that the Darcarre have been lingering here for ages.

But that isn’t all

The evidence of the Glooms and the Caradon can also be both seen and felt. A clammy fog clings to the trees like the fingers of wet corpses. While a sick putrescence has infected the forest floor with a spreading fungus the color of an infected bruise.

“This house looks lovely,” Ethan mumbled, keeping his voice low. “I can see why you want it back so badly. Are you sure we can’t just burn this whole hillside down and just call it a night?”

“Don’t be foolish,” Klich snapped. “We are keeping the house. Besides the Glooms would be able to extinguish your flames long before they reached it.”

“Yeah, yeah, so what is the game plan anyway?” I demanded.

“The allies I still possess inside of the house have set up a ruse. They are gathering as many Dark Alliance Xemmoni they can, claiming that they have located a group of Dyevils that are attempting to enter our lands. It is our hope that this will thin your opposition and make it easier to enter the manor.”

“And you are sure the Creeper isn’t going?”

“He wouldn’t sink to such a lowly level these days.” Klich spat. “He considers himself the lord of the manor, even if it belongs to the Darcarre and not the rot ridden Caradon.” Behind him, some of his men could be heard grumbling.

Klich continued. “I’ll be sending two of my best men in with you. They will be your guides and  willhelp you finish this. Their names are Ink and Void. They will be insuring you make it out in one piece and I expect you to return the favor.”

Ink was a tall thin creature, who although he looked Caucasian, had apparently dyed his entire body a pitch black. Void was a younger man that carried a bared sword, which had been painted a flat black. If nothing else, I supposed these two would be hard to see outside of a white washed room.

“So is there anything else we need to know?”

“Besides what these two can tell you, not really. The house is littered with secret passages and the like, so keep my men alive or you won’t stay that way yourselves. The Glooms and Caradon are unaware of these secrets. Even the Darcarre that betrayed our cause don’t trust them that much. But since some of our traitorous brethren still lurk above, there will be no guarantees.  Now, be off and may the Darkness protect you.”

Looking once over my shoulder as we entered the foul woods, something in my gut told me I was going to seriously regret all this.

Would you like to find out more about what happened to Jack and his journey to become a Stalwart? Then check out the book of his first adventures!!!!!!!!

So after a few more threats, bargaining, and maybe a little pleading (on their part, of course) I was led into an underground room and a few minutes later Ethan was dragged in as well.

I took in the room, while they pulled a coarse bag from his head. It appeared to be an earthen cave, perhaps dug from the ground itself. It reminded me of the forts kids used to play in, other than the stacks of oddly shaped bones. When I saw the piles of discarded clothing, that most likely came from these Darcarre’s victims, it was all I could do to keep it from being ‘go time,’ but I held my hand. I would learn what they had to tell me. I could always kill them later.

“Jack!” Ethan yelled, once his face was free. I just nodded and he calmed down once the Xemmoni forced him into his seat.

For a moment, the darkly robed men stared at each other and shuffled their feet in the dirt. “Can we get on with this?”

The man known as Klich took a seat at the rotting table, while the rest of his men remained standing. Ethan looked around before saying, “quite a head quarters you guys have here. Pretty slick,” Smiling, he continued, “Maybe we’ve been on the wrong side all this time, Jack. I mean I’ve always wanted to live in a filthy pit, you know, just scoop up a few handfuls of dirt and you’ve got a great pillow.”

Klich growled. “This isn’t our headquarters you fool! The Darcarre are of two minds. One seeking to follow Vile and his Dark Alliance of Xemmoni-”

“While the other just kills innocents on their own,” I finished for him.

“Not all Xemmoni kill, Mr Primus. I have an ally in Portland that gains his Baal by showing the public his artwork.”

“His pieces must be lovely,” Ethan said, rolling his eyes.

“If I have to say, let’s get on with this one more time, someone is going to start bleeding.”

Holding up his hands, Klich said, “Okay okay. So obviously we have issues within even our own race and this is bad enough, but now this monster The Creeper thinks that just because he is the size of a mountain he should be boss.”

“Yeah,” one of the Darklings spoke up, “and this is Darcarre territory.”

“Shut up, Ob,” Kilch said with a sigh. “I think the bigger problem is that he is about as bright as the bottom of a thousand foot pit, on the dark side of the moon, after the sun has gone dead.”

“Uh huh,” Jack said. “So basically this giant meathead is so sick that even you Xemmoni are scared of him and he also wants to take over, so you want us to do the work you are too scared to do yourself.”

“It isn’t that we are scared,” Klich said, in a manner which was less than completely convincing, “it’s also that we don’t really want the eyes of the Dark Alliance to brand us as traitors. If they were to do so, The Creeper would be the least of our problems.”

“I understand, but I also understand that you are asking us to do a job that we weren’t able to do before and you are expecting us to do it when we are shy a third of our members.” Even as I said this, part of me was happy to not have Hannah involved for no matter how tough she was the Creeper could easily put an end to her days, but these thoughts led me to the next issue.

“Also, say that we do the impossible and fight through whatever hordes lurks around this puke and then axe this bastard, how do I know you’ll release Hannah?”

“Or not come at us with knives in the back when we are weakened,” Ethan added.

“I guess you’ll just have to trust me,” Klich smiled.

Would you like to find out more about what happened to Jack and his journey to become a Stalwart? Then check out the book of his first adventures!!!!!!!!

A boot to the face is one of my least favorite ways to be woken up, right behind being tossed into a vat of acid.

“Wake up you muscle headed bastard,” a gruff voice said. Of course wherever I was remained completely stygian, but from the sounds of things, there were three or four Xemmoni with me, happily bathing me with their harsh garlic breath.

“So why are you pukes keeping me alive, haven’t been beat up enough latterly?”

That earned me a kick in the ribs.

“So what?” a said, spitting out a mouthful of blood. “Are you guys gonna ask me some questions or are you just going to try to annoy me to death?”

“What is it with you Stalwarts? Are you all required to take wise cracks 101?”

“Yeah, but it’s only half the price of the Xemmoni lengthy pre-death spech class.” One of the men chuckled and then yelped when he got slapped.

I started to try to gather my feet under me, when the same voice said, “don’t try anything Stalwart, at least not until you hear us out, because we have a bargain for you.”

“Oh, I can’t wait to hear it. Do I get to pick how I’ll be tortured to death?” There was no extra laughing this time.

“Mind yourself, or we might figure you aren’t worth it.”

“Okay, I’m listening. Worth what?” A match flickered to life and two black candles were lit. Oh… I was so shocked to find out they were Darcarre.

Fours dark shapes mixed with the shadows. One drew nearer, his pale face contrasting sharply with the controlling darkness. “It’s quite simple really. We want you to kill someone. If you do it, we’ll let both you and your bitch go. If you don’t, she dies, the other big mouth dies, and obviously you die too.”

Looking around, I said, “don’t you think you should have brought more men if you plan to make that last part stick?”

He growled. “Just shut the hell up and listen or I’ll start having a few ears removed. My name is Klich and-”

My hand moved like a striking snake and wrapped itself around his throat. “Threaten me again and you all die, period. Give me a reason I shouldn’t kill you all, rescue my friends, and burn this place to the ground in about eight seconds or you’ll be the first to go.”

“I can think of two,” he wheezed. “Firstly, if anything happened to me, your Hannah dies. Second, the person I want you to kill is The Creeper.”

Would you like to find out more about what happened to Jack and his journey to become a Stalwart? Then check out the book of his first adventures!!!!!!!!