Shadhaven 6

It seemed strange to both youths how they could walk right next to a Scavi, with the only result being it jumping in the opposite direction. These things were far from aggressors, which seemed contrary to what Kobix had described. In fact, it hardly seemed dangerous to be wandering through the tunnels at all.
Another thirty minutes later, Prism stopped abruptly and put his hand up to signal the others to do the same. They were at a small chamber, from which the smell of death was emanating. Around the corner they could see that a large group of Scavis appeared to be gathered around something, and were very quickly ripping into it with their sharp teeth and claws. Prism motioned for the group to move to the opposite side of the chamber and walk very quietly. to which they immediately complied.
As they continued forward, neither In nor Dak could help themselves from looking at what the Scavi’s were eating, but both immediately regretted the sight. From what was left it appeared to be human, though there wasn’t much meat remaining on the bones, and what was there hung in tatters. Tatters which the Scavi were ravenously eating. Some of the others that couldn’t get to the meat were gnawing on bone, the sickening sound of the same bone breaking filling the corridor an instant later.
Once they had left the chamber, Dak waited a moment before voicing his concerns; not only to keep the Scavi from hearing, though that was his main reason, but he also had to wait until he had stopped retching before he could speak.
“Those ones seemed different. I had the feeling they would actually harm us if they noticed us.”

Prism gave a low chuckle before responding. “Same Scavis, I assure you. When they catch the smell of rotting meat, their aggression levels begin to rise. Once they have consumed meat of any kind, their aggression level rises exponentially. Something in most meats acts as a stimulant to them, much like you’ve seen on the streets before with Kosha. Kosha causes humans to let go of all sexual inhibitions. Meat causes Scavis to let go of all of their violent inhibitions.”

“You speak about it almost as if they are like us, having inhibitions and such. Do you think they are intelligent?” In asked, a little taken back by this kind of perspective, from a man legend said was nothing but a cold-hearted bastard.
“Who’s to say they are not? What defines intelligence young Innidrek? For me, I think intelligence is what gives one capability to survive, though by this definition we can live off of others’ intelligence as well, as sometimes it is intelligent to be like a leech, and steal from someone else surviving. I think you both know that quite well, as thievery is certainly this form of survival. The Scavi survive, and even thrive down here. Something the perhaps less “intelligent” humans could learn from, if they ever took the time to observe anything.”
In nodded slowly as they resumed the march. What the older man had said made a lot of sense, though he wasn’t entirely certain how comfortable he was being compared to a leech. The more he thought though, the more it seemed he could grasp the concept that Prism was explaining.
Excitedly, In finally responded into the silence, “Life imitates life. We learn from the leech that we can survive by stealing what others have. We could learn from the Scavi too, if we desire. They scavenge, and wait for food to fall in front of them, but once we get a taste for that which we desire, we get a surge of power and want more of it, so we begin to seek it out with a lot more diligence, and we are also able to convince others that better things could be found by sharing the meal.”
“Now how can that be applied to our current situation?” Prism asked, his tone intrigued, not expecting In to have grasped the concept so quickly.
“If we can show the humans in Shadhaven that which they desire, they will want more, and provided we continue to supply them with it, they will continue to want to follow us. It is the nature of life.”
Dak turned with surprise to his friend, and saw In was practically glowing with the amount of energy, and hope, that the conversation was giving him. He felt a twang of jealousy as he considered Prism, but knew that there was nothing to be jealous of. Just because In was connecting with the assassin on a philosophical level didn’t mean he was starting to side with him. Dak knew that when it came down to it, In would side with him, but to insure that, he figured it would be best to get on the philosophical bandwagon as soon as possible.
“There are other things that the humans could learn too. Understanding the Scavi mentally would help them learn how to coexist with them, without causing any altercations. If they stopped disposing of their corpses in the tunnels for instance, or how if they captured one, knowing how it reacts to different kinds of food, they could train them and understand them better,” Dak said, a little proud that he had been able to bring a new perspective to the discussion.
His pride was hurt a little though when Prism snickered, though once he found the reason behind it, the hurt disappeared. Prism made a sharp whistling sound, and suddenly two Scavi appeared around the corner, bounding toward them. Dak drew his dagger again, while In began doing the same, until Prism motioned for them to stop. The Scavi’s pounced on Prism and began rubbing their heads against him, clearly not aggressive.

“I am way ahead of you Dakidrae, but I am glad you see things my way. These are the first two I have trained, though I intend to train more. If we continue to train them, Scavis should never be a problem. The important thing for now though, is that we have arrived. Welcome to my home,” Prism explained as he stepped around the corner his pets had arrived from.
The chamber wasn’t very large, and indeed it didn’t seem as if it would have to be. There wasn’t much in it. A small pile of cloth, which seemed to have been scrounged from old clothes, sat in one corner, while a couple smaller ones sat on the opposite side. Interestingly enough, a small desk had somehow ended up here, and a few papers were present on it’s surface, next to a nearly dry bottle of ink. The biggest surprise came from behind them as they stepped into the room, and the wall slid closed, cutting them off from the corridor.
“As soon as I found this place, I knew it was where I needed to set up camp. That door was only half open when I discovered it. It took me a week to find the control mechanism in the wall, but now that I know it is there, I can find it every time. I haven’t found any others yet, but I believe there are a lot of secrets to discover in this place. For now though, let’s eat.”
Prism tossed them both a small mushroom. It smelled like rot, and it looked like dirt. They tried not to make anything of it, but they couldn’t keep it completely off their faces. Prism just shrugged and said with as much bluntness as he could, “Sorry boys, not a lot you can do about it, unless you want to eat Scavi, which tastes terrible and just makes them mad. For now, just enjoy the simple pleasures in life when you can get them. Not being hungry would be the one to enjoy now, and we can enjoy the simple pleasure of trying to manipulate the rest of humanity when you’re done.”
In smiled and despite himself Dak did as well. He was surprised that he was actually starting to like the man. It didn’t change anything though. Prism still needed to die.

Shadhaven Chapter 5

Dak found himself slammed straight into the wall, his dagger arm bracing him against the impact as he was suddenly kicked in the back. In his rage he hadn’t even seen the assassin move, especially considering it had happened fast enough that In had barely followed it.

There was something almost inhuman about the way the man moved. He seemed to glide across the floor and bend in odd ways as he stepped around the flailing form of Dak with the same amused grin on his face. In, though concerned about his friend’s well-being, decided not to approach the battle and instead tried to analyze the imposing figure who was watching him in his peripheral vision.

His skin was dark, almost black, though that was certainly nothing to draw an issue with. Most of the desert nomads were of darker skin. His wasn’t even as dark as some that In had seen, though he certainly was nearer that end of the spectrum. The only part of his skin that was exposed was his face, though In still could not make out the man’s eyes in the darkness. That struck him as strange, considering normally eyes caught the light and stood out, but not so on this figure.

He had no visible weapons, though he seemed to be doing just fine without them as Dak spun back around and made another slash with his dagger. The man simply turned to the side at the last moment, touched his hand slightly to Dak’s wrist, then calmly guided the boy’s arm back and up, using Dak’s own momentum against him as the arm was twisted painfully behind him, causing him to drop the dagger.

Not willing to concede the victory to his sworn enemy, Dak stomped viciously behind him at the man’s booted foot, and the clank of metal told In that his friend had released the trigger mechanism on his boot, which meant that metal spikes were now protruding from Dak’s heel. The assassin, however, had anticipated the move perfectly, and while his victim’s foot was coming down, his own foot was already rising, and he let out a strong kick of his own, straight to the back of Dak’s knee, causing the boy to collapse to lose his footing and collapse, being only held up by the painfully twisted arm the man still held.

Out of nowhere a flash of metal appeared in the man’s hands as he put a short and slender blade to Dak’s throat. He began to whisper in his ear as he leaned close, “My quarrel is not with you, Dakidrae Alsinnon. Neither is it with Innidrek. In fact, if you would let go of your pesky vengeance I will let you live, and even help you. I believe that we can be mutually. . . beneficial.”

“Your words are poison assassin! Why should I trust a man who killed a noble king for a bit of coin? You ruined our lives for the sake of greed. You find my vengeance pesky? Then you’re going to love this!” Dak said triumphantly as he swung his elbow into the man’s side, a small blade sprung from the back of his arm bracer leading the way. To Dak’s horror the blade snapped as his collided with a solid piece of metal as it cut through the outer layers of the man’s clothing. He was rewarded with nothing more than a grunt from his captor. The realization of defeat settled in as he awaited his death for his treachery.

“You’ve got some nice tricks boy, but I’ve seen them all, and I am usually ready for them. If you are going to continue this foolishness, I might just have to kill you, but maybe you should take a moment and realize what Innidrek already has. My blade has still not fallen. Have you ever heard in those legends of me, of a time when I didn’t make my kill quick and efficient? If I intended to kill you, I would have done so before I even spoke to you,” the man replied as he suddenly released Dak and pushed him roughly toward the wall. He gave one last look toward the boy and then turned back to In, his smile no longer as imposing as the one he had given them before, though it still sent chills up In’s spine.

“You are the more reasonable one then? I suppose I didn’t directly kill one of your family members did I. . . No, Kesh was the only one I personally killed, and despite what you think, coin had nothing to do with it. I refused payment, but that is a story for another time I think, when Dakidrae is more open to understanding the world as it is. Do you want to get out of here Innidrek?”

In nodded slowly, though he remained very cautious in his stance as he replied, “Why do you need us? You seem far more capable than either of us in combat, as Dak is a lot better than I am. The Scavi aren’t aggressive, despite what Kobix said, so there must be something else out there, but I don’t see how we could be of any great help to you. Also, I am curious as to how you know exactly who we are.”

Chuckling, the man replied, his voice absent of humor, but still smiling, “I have spent most of my time in the capitol since the king’s death. Believe it or not, I love the city you boys grew up in. I cherished it greatly, especially since I practically grew up there myself. I, like you, was part of the underground, the shadow works. I often heard your names, In and Dak, repeated throughout the thief networks. Unlike most people, I had studied the noble families extensively, and knew of both Dakidrae and Alsinnon, and how they had not numbered among the dead. I have known who you were since practically the day you set foot on the streets, through simple observation. Why do I need you? I am not a thief, I don’t think like one, but the two of you are among the best there are. I don’t know if a thief is what I need to accomplish getting out, but I do know that more clear heads are better than one, and once Dak’s clears we will have three. Two fresh perspectives on figuring out what the hell is going on.”

In thought for a moment before questioning, “If all you were looking for was a fresher perspective, why didn’t you seek it out there among the others? There are thousands of people in that room that could give you more perspective.”

The smile finally faded from his lips as he responded in a flat tone, “You saw them. . . Did they look like they were trying to change their fate? Did it look like they were doing anything!? They were doing nothing but sitting. Nothing but rotting. Those people are dead, and they were dead the moment they gave up and huddled together in their pathetic masses, all listening to the damned fool Kobix, who I swear is there for no reason other than to bring the people down. You are the first two people I have seen venture further than a few feet into one of these tunnels, and I have been here for a few months, if I haven’t completely lost all track of time. You are the only perspective I am going to get that is worth my time. If you don’t want to help me because I killed Kesh Alsinnon, so be it. It will simply take me longer without you, but don’t expect me to help you if I find it.”

The man turned on his heels and started heading back into the tunnel, when suddenly a dagger flew past him and clanked against the wall. Turning around quickly the assassin assumed a combat stance that neither youth had ever seen before but one that earned both of their respects. It resembled a hawk prepared to dive upon it’s prey, as soon as it’s prey made a move. The hawk’s gaze settled on Dak who was slowly rising to his feet.

“I didn’t have to miss you know, now we are even. You spared my life when you could have killed me, and now I spared yours when I had the same opportunity. If we are going to work together, I refuse to be in debt to you. I will accept your alliance on one condition. Once we are free of this place you will face me in fair combat,” Dak stated with a tone that left no room for debate.

As fluidly as he had settled into the stance, the man dropped it as he nodded slightly. “I accept your conditions, though I hope you will reconsider before things are done. I have respect for you, and wouldn’t want to kill you out of your need for vengeance. Nevertheless, these terms are acceptable by me. Now, since I know you don’t want to be calling me Kesh, I will allow you to call me what my people call me. From now on, you may call me Prism.”

In nodded slowly and went to stand by Dak, laying a reassuring hand on his shoulder as he did so. He spoke for both of them as he turned to Prism and said, “Well then, I suppose we should start by you telling us what you know, since you are months ahead of the game.”

“Indeed, young Innidrek. Please follow me, but trust that should I sense malicious intent from either of you I will guarantee your swift death,” Prism replied as he turned back to the tunnel and started walking.

With a sigh from both of them, the boys followed, Dak only stopping for a moment to pick up his dagger and sheath it, knowing that if he didn’t he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from throwing it at the man, and getting them both killed.

Shadhaven Chapter 4

In and Dak found themselves alone again. It was no surprise to either of them, given the unsettling news they had received. They did not fault Daeni for wandering into the huddled masses in search of her children, and though they were disappointed that Joden had once again lost hope, they understood, for the situation was bleaker than either of them had anticipated.

It didn’t matter though, neither of them were the kind to give up, especially since they were working together. They were the team that had successfully pulled off some of the greatest heists in the history of their city. No one beat them when they were in unison, and they were always in unison.

And so began their own journey into the crowds, on a path that would allow them to observe those that were engrossed in their depression, often staring blankly into the glow of the crystals, and rarely speaking. There was no laughter, not even smiles, just despair. On occasion they would catch simple apathy, and as that was the best they came across, they began to mark those as the ones they would approach, once they deemed the time was right.

“I don’t get how people could give up this easily,” In suddenly asked, his voice barely above a whisper. “This many people working together ought to be able to do something!”

“I can’t blame them too much after that Kobix guy,” Dak replied, then hurried and continued as In gave him an incredulous look, “Not because there isn’t hope mind you, but he was less optimistic than a kick in the face.”

In nodded solemnly as he turned his attention back to the crowds. He continued to scan until it dawned on him that they were searching incorrectly. He grabbed Dak’s arm and started running toward one of the side tunnels, his slightly startled friend in tow. When he got to the mouth of the tunnel he abruptly turned around and stared out at the people before him. about two dozen were still watching them, though more than half simply turned back as soon as they realized that the boys had stopped running. Those whose gaze lingered on the duo In made sure to remember their faces as well as he could in the dim light.

“What was that all about?” Dak finally asked, not quite catching up with In’s line of thought this time.

“You see the people that watched us? Those are the ones we keep in mind for later. They are the ones that are awake.”

Dak nodded slowly and then clapped his friend on the shoulder and said, “You are smarter than I give you credit for, and I usually give you a lot. Way to go.”

“Thanks, but I was just following instinct, a trait I learned from you I believe. Now, I think I have another plan though, and this one is probably even crazier,” In replied, a smile slowly growing on his face.

“If it’s what I was thinking, then I am right there with you. Let’s find us a Scavi.” Dak had a smile of his own when he responded, and, knowing his guess was on the mark as he could see it in his friend’s eyes, he started down the tunnel.

In followed right behind, and both he and Dak drew their daggers as soon as they were outside of range of the glowpits. The wall crystals were still present, though the light was certainly dimmer, but it took the boys barely an instant for their eyes to adjust. They were used to stalking targets in varying degrees of shadow, and this was an easy setting for their skills.

They came to a crossroads of sorts, where three tunnels branched off of the initial one. Deciding to take the rightmost one, they continued only until they hit another fork before doubling back. Neither could hear each other move, and both were sure they knew how the other’s footfalls sounded, so when the sound of skittering feet was heard in front of them, it was doubtful it was anything but their prey.

Dak moved first, which was common for the pair, as he settled into a crouch before heading toward the sound. In was careful to keep a slight distance behind his partner, in case the older youth found it necessary to tumble away from whatever was ahead of them. It wasn’t but a few seconds later that they caught sight of what they assumed was a Scavi.

The creature was not much longer than In’s arm from shoulder to wrist, and seemed to have little bulk as well, as it’s entire structure seemed bony and thin, with it’s thickest section being the main body near the forelegs, which was only about as big around as In’s slender thighs. The ribs of the creature were quite visible, almost as if it were starving, though it didn’t appear to be weak due to it if that were the case. It’s hind legs seemed perfectly structured for jumping, and was in a position to do so when they first caught sight of it, though it did not appear to be aware of them yet. The head resembled something between a rat and a crocodile, though neither youth could tell which was a closer cousin, for though it was hairless like a reptile. it didn’t seem to have scales, and seemed to be moving with the energy that mammals were more commonly known for.

It didn’t look menacing at all to either of the youth’s. though they had spent some of their early years hunting sewer rats larger than this, just to survive. The only thing that even seemed threatening at all were the teeth, which definitely fit more with the crocodile theory. The sharp points certainly appeared as if they were perfect for rending flesh from bones.

Dak slowly approached it, and got within a few feet before it suddenly pushed off with it’s hind legs and jumped through the air, right toward his face. On pure instinct Dak ducked and dodged to the side, though the creature simply landed a few feet behind where Dak had been standing, which was right in front of In. It began to sniff the air, as In stood perfectly still, his dagger ready in case the Scavi made any aggressive moves. Neither knew what it was sniffing for, but it apparently didn’t find it as it made to jump again and headed beyond In into the tunnel.

Both boys waited a minute before they moved again and they began heading back the way they came. They didn’t speak, as both was taking the time to analyze their encounter. It had not gone the way they had expected, at least not based off of what Kobix had said.

“You are an interesting pair,” said a voice suddenly from behind them, back toward the Scavi, startling them as they turned, weapons bared. A humanoid form stood leaning against the wall, arms crossed over it’s chest. Most of it’s features were hard to make out, as it was wrapped in layers of cloth that resembled the desert nomads that had sometimes come to the city as merchants. The voice had been male, though they had been fooled before, so no assumptions were made as they made and kept eye contact with the newcomer.

“You are no less interesting yourself,” Dak finally replied, after making sure the man understood through his eyes that they were not afraid of him. “Who are you to sneak up on us? A very impressive feat.”

The newcomer sighed and replied, “Indeed, I was fairly careful with the two of you, though I have yet to see if your skills are impressive yet. You move well though, so at least I have a compliment for you. My name is irrelevant, I am a simple man, with very simple goals. I believe you share these goals, and so I have approached you.”

“What do you know of our goals sir? We have just met you?” In asked incredulously. He was starting to get irritated by the cryptic people he seemed drawn to today.

“I believe you wish to get out. I think that is simple enough. And I learned from observation. You haven’t exactly been keeping your voice down you know,” the man chastised as he stepped away from the wall and bowed toward the two. “For the time being, you may refer to me as Kesh. That was the name a person I once killed, so I might as well use his identity. He’s not using it.”

Recognition crossed both boy’s minds and suddenly fear crept through the cracks in their emotional walls. They only knew of one Kesh, and they knew the legend that surrounded the one that killed him. They had practically lived in the wake of that legend. Kesh Alsinnon was Dakidrae Alsinnon’s uncle, the former High King.

“Bastard!” Dak shouted before he pounced toward the man who had caused the revolution that had left he and In destitute. The revolution that had led to the deaths of everyone he had loved. In almost dove in right beside him, but something stopped him dead in his tracks.

The man called Kesh was smiling at them, and it was the most frightening thing In had ever seen.

Shadhaven Chapter 3

A cold draft blew down the corridor, carrying with it an unidentifiable stench. It seemed almost like the smell of rotting fruit, though older, and with a hint of dust thrown in. None of the four paid much mind to it though, as it had not seemed to indicate anything particularly ominous. In fact, much to their surprise by the stories they had heard of the Valaeyn’s workings, they had not encountered anything particularly dangerous at all.

After leaving the light barrier, they had found themselves in a large chamber, barely lit by crystals similar to those in the glow pits, but much smaller. The walls were finely worked, and were constructed of some metal that none of them had seen before. It was dark, possibly black, though with color nearly disappearing in the dim light, it was hard to tell. They had followed the walls out until they found a selection of corridors heading off in different directions. Deciding which one to take had been fairly easy. They took the one with the draft. Air flow increased the chances of finding a way out.

Only one true enemy had found them. Hunger. They had been walking for nearly eight hours by In’s reckoning, and In was often right where his internal clock was involved. They had not encountered anything but metal walls, and though the draft had gotten stronger, the corridor seemed to only be leading them downward.

Dak had taken the lead, with In watching the rear as Joden followed closely behind Dak, leaving Daeni protected in the middle. They were still being cautious, despite the lack of seen danger, but their mood had relaxed some, and the group had gotten to know each other better. Neither In nor Dak let slip any of the details of their former life among the nobility, but they spoke candidly about their adventures on the streets, even about their lawlessness. To their great comfort, Joden, though of an order of very strict law-abiding monks, seemed to respect their survival capabilities, and never once gave them a judging remark. Daeni also seemed to have little problem with their lifestyle, simply mentioning often that they reminded her of her own boys, of which she had several, though she explained with sadness that she had not seen them in quite some time, as they had been separated when the Valaeyn had rounded them up.

Joden was the only one who remained silent about his past, though he did often interject with his feelings of concern about Daeni’s life or with some sage comment about what one of them had said. He had a strange sense of strength that the others admired as he glided through the corridor, and neither In nor Dak would have thought he was the same person they had seen in Shadhaven. Hope did strange things to a man.

At length the corridor finally began to widen, so that they could walk two abreast instead of single file. It continued in this manner until suddenly the corridor widened to a large chamber. The stench was stronger here, though a direct source could still not be established. They could make out little of what was in the chamber, but they could see faint glowing points in the distance that they assumed were the crystals embedded in the walls of the room, allowing them to gauge that the chamber was approximately the same size as the chamber Shadhaven had been in.

The thing that made this chamber truly different though, was that there were other people here, huddled around glowpits near the corridor’s entrance to the chamber. The nearest ones looked up as they saw the group and stood. Seven people, four men and three women, stood up and began walking toward them.

“Perhaps this is one of the other havens they spoke of? It seemed fairly easy to reach this point,” Dak remarked as he cautiously laid his hand on his dagger and stopped his advance to wait for the people to reach them.

“I don’t know, it’s not like the survivors like speaking about this place much. Most of them are half mad, if not all the way mad. We opened a makeshift hospital for survivors just a year ago in Noven City. None of them really spoke much of what the havens were like, only Shadhaven,” Joden replied, as he stopped at Dak’s right.

“I’s be thinkin’ that they be the friendly sort Dak, I thinkin’ you can’a rest yourself easy,” Daeni interjected as she popped up on Dak’s left and eyed his hand on his dagger.

“He’s always like that Daeni,” In said as he came up on her other side, “Don’t mind him, he’s only being cautious, not suspicious. If he wasn’t that way we would have died a long time ago. I certainly wouldn’t have kept us alive with that mentality. He always says I am too trusting.”

“You are too trusting, but don’t worry, I am sure we will find out out what they want soon enough,” Dak replied, a slight smile crossing his face as he eyed his younger friend. In smiled back and rolled his eyes.

The seven finally reached them and stopped fifteen feet away, where the man in the middle, and  older gentleman from what they could make out of his features in the low-light, spoke up almost as soon as they had stopped.

“Are you fresh here from the Valaeyn then?”

Dak nodded and replied, “Yes. We left Shadhaven a number of hours ago. I am Dak from Ivinsgard. Are you the leader here?”

The old man chuckled, though it was clearly without mirth as he replied, “I suppose I lead a few of us, though we haven’t much of a true organization here. We eat and we survive, and we drag the dead out into the tunnels to be devoured by Scavis. My name is Kobix, originally from Nathu.”

“Nathu? Wasn’t that one of the first nations to be invaded by the Valaeyn? How long have you been here?” In asked incredulously. Nathu had been invaded over fifty years prior.

Again the dry and mirthless chuckle passed the old man’s lips as he replied, “I have been here since the fall of Taer Nathu Magra. I was one of the last defenders captured. I was a young man then, not much older than you I’d bet. Then they brought us to this complex, and I have been here ever since. I have seen many people come here over the years, but most of us die.”

“But didn’t the Valaeyn say we could fight our way out of here and gain our freedom?” In replied,  not understanding what the man was getting at, but feeling like he was being treated as a child from how the older man was speaking.

“Are you always so willing to trust your captors that invaded your lands and stole your homes from you? This is a prison. You thought you left from Shadhaven? This is Shadhaven. This is the place the Valaeyn spoke of where you are fed, where you either rot, or venture into the dark. That place you left where the people sat huddled around their glowpits? Those people will all die. They will not be fed, and they will die the slow death of starvation, locked in that room with nothing but their fellow man. You think you have begun some sort of adventure, that you have escaped their tortures? No. You have simply walked to the outer boundaries of the prison. Only the Scavis have freedom, and they certainly seem to enjoy doing what they are good at, and that’s killing us.”

“But what about the survivors? The ones who escaped?” I have met dozens who have managed to escaped this place!” Joden exclaimed with a great deal more emotion than they had seen from him since he had joined them. Dak and In shared a worried glance as they noticed a definite change in his posture. He was slipping back into hopelessness.

“An’a what t’bout my sons? Are they here?” Daeni asked, finally bringing her voice into the conversation.

Kobix looked sadly between the two and shook his head, then began to explain, “I don’t know about your sons, many come here, of differing ages. They could be here, but they also may not be. They could have died in the antechamber for all I know, or they may have not even been brought here yet. They won’t start a new group off until they have made sure the last one is dead. As for the survivors. . . I don’t know. I don’t believe anyone could make it out of the tunnels with the Scavis in their way, but maybe their is a way that I haven’t seen. I do know that the Valaeyn occasionally abduct one of us from here, and they are never returned. Perhaps those are your survivors? All we know down here is that death awaits us, whether from sickness or Scavi. I know this probably won’t mean much,  but you are welcome to join us as we try to survive together. We always need more people who can help farm the fungus that grows down here. It’s what we survive off of. That’s how we are ‘fed’.”

“No! This can’t be the end! Why have you forsaken us Kalthos!” Joden screamed as he sank to his knees. Dak gave him his space and simply looked Kobix in the eye, hoping his determination would show through, and that his message would get across.

Again, like they knew each others thoughts, In spoke the words that Dak’s eyes could not as he said to the old man, “while we appreciate your offer, we are not quite ready to give up hope yet, however, I am willing to lend a hand when I can, and I am sure Dak is as well, if you are willing to share in your substance in exchange for that work.”

Kobix nodded slowly, though his gaze never left Dak’s face as he replied to In, “Yes. If you work, you will share in our subsistence, and for now we will simply feed you. We know that you have already worked today to get here. Though I find your hope foolish, I also find it expected, and I will not try to dissuade you further from your attempts, though do not expect any here to lend you a hand in attempting to escape either. Most of us have accepted our fate.”

“I thank you for that, and you have my word that we will earn our place among you. You have said something to brighten this conversation though, and I am feeling more hopeful now than before,” In said with a smile, a rare sight to Kobix’s eyes and one that finally brought his stare to In’s eyes instead.

“And what, what could I have possibly said to have given you that impression?”

“You said most of you have accepted your fate. That means that there are some that haven’t. That means that there are still some people here who remember what it is to be human.”

Shadhaven Chapter 2

Something seemed to tug at every piece of his skin simultaneously. Each step grew more difficult as Dak trudged through the strange barrier he had run into. The doors had opened to reveal only light, and it was as if he was stuck in the light itself. He couldn’t see anything at all except brightness. If this was just some cruel trick by the Valaeyn he wouldn’t put it past them. They were known to give people hope and then rudely rip it away from them. Nevertheless, he knew that he had to keep pressing forward, for stopping the momentum he had now would surely mean his death.

All of a sudden he burst through the outer edge of the wall and darkness overtook him. It wasn’t total darkness, he found after a moment to adjust, but the bright light from the wall seemed to only be traveling in the opposite direction. Looking behind him he saw only a dark mass. He was about to call out for his friend when he felt a tap on his shoulder and turned to see the younger boy grinning at him.

“I am assuming you fought your way through the whole way?” In stated more than asked, shaking his head as he continued, “Didn’t you remember what the old man advised us in Camiway? Don’t fight the light. Fighting the light just makes you tired. and doesn’t help you get through at all, in fact it slows you down.”

“Well aren’t you smart In? Listening to your elders. . . You’re a good kid,” Dak retorted, a hint of venom in his voice. In bristled at his words and turned away from him, fists clenching as he tried to resist hitting his older friend. His focus was suddenly brought away from the insult as another form stumbled out of the wall and into the dark chamber.

A smile overtook In as he turned back to Dak and replied, “Looks like you still get an opportunity to try on that dress after all.”

Turning, Dak shook his head in disbelief as he saw the noblewoman stand up from where she had stumbled. She brushed her dress off, which did little to remove the dirt, and in fact made it worse, as her dirty hands simply rubbed more of it in. She didn’t seem to care or notice though, and instead turned and eye toward the two boys and gave them a haughty glare, before resuming a slow walk deeper into their new chamber.

“I guess we were wrong about her, at least for now. Well there is a first time for everything I suppose. I guess the old saying is right, ‘Desperation is the best motivator’,” Dak said with a shrug and rested his hand on his younger friend’s shoulder. He made sure In turned to look at him before he said with sincerity, “I am sorry about the kid comment. I know you’re not a kid, you haven’t been in a long time. We didn’t have much of an opportunity for it. You’re my best friend, and neither of us would have made it this far without each other. Lets get moving and put it behind us.”

Nodding his agreement as his smile widened In replied, “Apology accepted. Consider it forgotten. However, weren’t we going to wait and see about expanding our group to increase our ability to survive?”

Before Dak could reply. another form walked slowly out of the wall. Again both boys were taken back by surprise as the old monk nodded casually to both of them. He seemed much more composed than he had been only minutes before, and didn’t even show an ounce of worry on his face. He walked straight up to them and looked them both in the eye until his gaze lingered on In’s face. In was starting to get unnerved and opened his mouth to speak when the monk said, “Nujai monks are burned when they die, and the clothes they die in are burned with them. I expect you to observe that ritual instead of carrying out your jest. Since we are certainly headed toward our doom out here, I know you will probably get the opportunity. Do I make myself clear?”

In nodded solemnly as he maintained the older man’s stare. He had forgotten that the Nujai monks trained explicitly for the purpose of improving their senses. The fact that the old man had heard his jest at the glowpit worried him. In didn’t like the thought of a trained martial artist having him on a watch list.

The old man nodded in acceptance and regarded both of them as he continued, “Now, I believe you are planning on looking for traveling companions no? Well I think that is a good plan, and I am happy to add my skills to your endeavor to survive. In fact, it seems to be the only reasonable plan anyone has had in a long time. Most people with good plans died trying to carry them out when the Valaeyn first showed up, but I think the two of you are worth following, if you’ll have me.”

The two boys didn’t even have to speak in order to know they were in agreement about the issue. They didn’t have to look at each other at all to sense the subtle shift in the air that meant they both wanted the old man along. It was true that they had both doubted him before, but the simple fact that he had ventured out from Shadhaven proved that he was worth their time, and his skills would be very useful indeed. Both nodded enthusiastically and Dak extended his arm toward the monk in introduction.

“I am Dak and this is In, my chief associate. We are certainly pleased to have you along.”

The old man smiled and clasped arms with the older boy, then gestured toward the dark mass behind them, where more people were exiting. There wasn’t a large portion of the group in Shadhaven that had actually chosen to come through, though there were at least several dozen. Turning back to the boys the monk said, “For now I will not tell you my name, for the Nujai protect them and only give names to those they trust. You have not earned my trust yet, but perhaps in the future you can. For now, you may call me Joden, which is simply a name for a student of the Nujai. Now, however, we must set about your plan and see how many will join with us.”

The trio set about their task and after only a few minutes returned with only one other willing participant, a middle-aged woman dressed in a country style dress that had been cut for purposes of riding. It had been further modified at some point, most likely during the long trek to Shadhaven, so that the skirt was tightened further around her legs to interfere less with walking. She had the look of a farmer, or at least a villager. Her face was plain and dirty, yet her eyes bore the strength of one who knew hard work and was willing to put forth the effort to survive. Both In and Dak instantly liked her, and introduced themselves when Joden brought her over to them.

“My nem’ is Daeni, from ol’ Ondel country. It be a pleasure t’ meet everybody. I dun’t know much ’bout fightin’, but I’s a baker by trade, an I can cook for everybody.”

In smiled at her accent as he clasped arms with her and said calmly, “I think that is a very useful talent for us to have with us, and I am sure we are all happy to have you along. Welcome to the group Daeni.”

“I am definitely in agreement with In,” Dak interjected as soon as his friend finished, “But I think it would be best if we get on our way. We won’t survive by just standing still.”

As the group all nodded their agreement, they began to walk deeper into the darkness, still unaware of what survival would mean. They were all more optimistic than they had been earlier that day, but each still knew that death was just around the corner.

That’s just the way the Valeyn worked.

Long Day of Work and Shadhaven Chapter 1

Well work today was exceptionally long. I had an eleven hour shift where I was nearly left alone to run a concessions stand for hundreds of people who were all hungry. That may not seem like a lot to people who don’t understand where I work, but I have been in the food industry for quite some time, and I haven’t had many days that were equal in work load.

That being said I am still going to update my blog with something more substantial than a rant about my work, as I said I was going to update it every day. So to show my commitment I am going to supply you with chapter 1 of my new story, which shall be written right now and the first draft presented to you. I hope you enjoy.

Shadhaven Chapter 1

The glowpit shone with a light that barely illuminated the small group of people huddled around it. Each of them felt like little more than refugees, having been thrust into a new role against their choice. Admittedly, each knew that they were there from the results of their own actions, but they nevertheless felt they had somehow been slighted by the powers they deemed to have influence over their lives.

For some of these, it was the gods they worshiped. An older man, dressed in the traditional garb of the Nujai monks, the ancient order of martial artists that lived high in the mountains of T’kar, habitually moved his hands through the traditional prayer forms as he silently begged to be released from his fate. His meditation had lost its ability to grant him focus what seemed ages ago, and now he simply wanted the nightmare to end.

For others, it seemed more that it was the fault of their neighbors, such as the middle-aged woman who continued to narrow her stare at anyone who even glanced her way. Though her dress was now stained by travel and persecution, it bore the cut and manner of a noblewoman, straight from the court of the Grand Empress herself. Her shoulders seemed possessed of a nervous twitch as she stared down those she considered beneath her, the rabble that had led her to this predicament.

There was however, a third group. Those that believed that there were only two people to blame, themselves and the Valaeyn, the enemy that had destroyed their lives and brought them here. Dakidrae Alsinnon was one of these, and he spent most of his time looking between the monk and the noblewoman, a knowing smirk on his sixteen-year-old face.

Neither of them are going to last long, he thought to himself, and then returned to fidgeting with the small dagger he had managed to smuggle with him. He knew the look of a survivor, and though the noblewoman was used to having others follow her orders, he knew that she had little chance of getting the same results here. The old monk may even be an expert at his martial arts, and though he stood a better chance of surviving than the woman did, Dak could read the hopelessness in the man’s posture and movements. The man had given up long ago.

“I am laying claim on his outfit when the old man croaks,” said a youthful voice to Dak’s left side. Dak turned his braided blonde-haired head toward his best friend, a youth less than a year his junior, who was grinning mischievously at the monk, his green eyes twinkling in the glow of the heated red crystals from the pit. He placed his hand on Dak’s shoulder and nodded toward the woman as he continued, “And you can have her dress.”

Dak shrugged the hand off his shoulder abruptly and cuffed Innidrek Cobrath on the back of his black-haired head. In just laughed it off and pulled his own dagger from his belt and began cleaning the dirt from his fingernails. In had always been more conscious of his hygiene than most of the street urchins they knew. Of course, Dak wasn’t bad himself, but they shared something in common that most street urchins didn’t. Both Dakidrae and Innidrek were of noble birth, but during the revolution that had occurred in their childhood, both the Alsinnon and Cobrath families had been all but wiped out. All but Dak and In that was.

They had shortened their first names to match the general populace, and had abandoned their family names in order to survive. They had learned the hard way what survival really was, first they learned to beg, then when that didn’t work at all, they learned to steal. They were now much better at it than any of the other street boys they knew, but there was a reason for that. No one else worked as a partnership. No one else had teamwork down to a science.

“So, do you think it’s going to be as bad as everyone claims? Or do you think they just make it up to scare the kids?” Dak asked his friend as he nodded toward the two they had been talking about. The monk was now not even making the hand motions he had been making before, and was instead almost curled up in the fetal position as well as he could be while maintaining his seat.

“I think we’re going to experience a little bit of both. I anticipate that we are going to find that some things are better, and some are worse. That tends to be the way things work in life from my experience,” In replied with a slight nod of his head that hardly seemed to move the knotted and wild mass of his black hair. It was normally a lot cleaner, but they hadn’t been near enough water to wash in several weeks.

“The smell is certainly worse than I expected, but I don’t think we are going to face much in the way of competition for survival. Then again, we are only evaluating a small group of people. There must be hundreds of them here. Perhaps we should consider expanding our partnership to include some of the more capable ones.”

In nodded slowly and then started to reply, but was interrupted when a loud voice echoed through the giant room.

“Welcome guests, to your new home, unless you wish to venture out into the great unknown. This is Shadhaven, the first of many havens within the complex. Now that you have arrived, you have only two choices; play the game, or don’t. You are by no means obligated to continue forward and attempt to reach the next haven. If you choose to stay however, you will be treated like nothing better than the miserable humans you are. You will  be fed nothing but slop, you will be given enough water to drink, but not to wash. You will be left in darkness save the light you see before you now. This is the alternative to moving forward. Stagnant, rotten death. You may now make your choice.”

“That’s the Valaeyn for you,” Dak muttered with a strong note of disgust in his voice, “Straight to the point as usual. Now comes the part where we have to make our choice right?”

A blinding white light suddenly began to pierce the darkness, as a giant set of doors opened up not far behind them, and though with the blindness the light caused Dak could not see his friend nod, he knew him well enough to anticipate the action as In said, “I suppose that’s your answer. Shall we then?”

Without even bothering to answer with words, he let his actions speak instead, and Dak began a full sprint for the door, his laughter leading the way.

In came close on his heels as they headed into the light, knowing full well they were probably headed toward their deaths.

At least they wouldn’t be rotting.