Blind Mans Road. It is a name that was given to one of the perilous mountain paths that leads to Amberfall, the golden city of the Summerpeak Mountains famed for its glorious, if a bit rain-ridden weather, magnificent architecture and the infamous Aeon Citadel. Most of the time, travellers are able to navigate this road with ease, often stopping as they do to observe the breath-taking views that accompany such a journey. Every now and then though, a mist descends upon the road that makes navigating its singular pathway treacherous. This was one of those times, only much worse.
‘I can’t see a bloody thing in this fog’ harked a disgruntled man holding the reins of two strong, well-bred grey horses connected to a large carriage built of oak and laced with silver.
‘Keep your voice down’ responds his companion sitting next to him hesitantly.
‘I’ve heard stories of people getting lost on these roads, so keep your eyes focused on the path ahead’.
‘Do you think she knows where she is? Or where she’s going?’ asks the rider.
He is referring to a young girl, a King’s daughter that they are bringing to the city.
‘You would have thought they would have told her something about why she’s being taken from her home, and from her family.’
‘Will you be quiet!’ his companion remarks sharply.
‘Do you want her to hear you?’
His eyes glance behind him to the compartment of the carriage holding the girl.
‘Nobody knows what really happened, but to have most of your family murdered, and then to be torn away from your remaining kin. It’s too much for anyone to deal with, let alone a seven year old girl, do you think she even wants to know what has happened?’
‘I heard her sister was being moved somewhere else, why aren’t they together?’ asks the rider.
‘I don’t know, but it isn’t our place to ask questions. We just have to get her to Amberfall, she should be safe there.’
The companion glances around once more, as curiosity sweeps his thoughts. He looks toward the side of the carriage to reassure himself. They are being accompanied by five heavily armed soldiers clad from head to toe in silver plated steel armour, and carrying the finest silver steel from the forges of Covenraen. They are escorting the young princess Dawn to her new home by the orders of the Silver Legion’s general. This was a journey that, at first was swift and hurried, but has since slowed after entering the Blind Man’s Road. The commander of this contingent is a noted war hero tasked with this immense responsibility. His most notable accomplishments involved spearheading numerous successful operations in the long war with the Dothylfar. His four accompanying guardsmen are from the same company that fought alongside him during the war. Two of them are noted as some of the finest archers known in the kingdom, the third and fourth being particularly skilled with both sword and shield. Princess Dawn couldn’t really ask for safer company.
Commander Damon leers at the guards riding the carriage, beckoning them to hush their voices so as not to attract attention to the group. At that time he also notices that the white curtains that adorn the carriage windows are slightly ajar, he smiles to himself as he realises that the young princess could not contain her curiosity any longer. He moves closer to the carriage window to inspect, at the same time his hammer wielding subordinate instinctively takes position at the head of the group.
‘How is the journey faring you princess?’ he speaks assertively as any commander in his position after years of battle would.
She hurriedly removes herself from the position near the window. At this time she does not fully understand why she has had to leave her home in the capital city, what happened to her family or where her beloved sister is. Her demeanour since leaving the capital has been that of a scared and confused little girl. Upon realising this, the commander speaks again, only softer.
‘It is okay child, you are safe with me. It is my duty to protect you, and protect you I shall.’
‘I want to go home’ speaks the princess with a whimper.
‘As do I child’ responds the commander reluctantly.
‘Maybe one day, when everything is settled, I will have the honour of escorting you back home to Covenraen. Until then, Amberfall will be your home. I hear that the Baroness is looking forward to seeing you, and that the city is particularly splendid this time of year’ he says enthusiastically.
‘If we can get past this bloody fog’ quips the rider.
The commander again notices the demeanour of the child in his care has saddened even more so. For a child who has never left her home, a city that until recently enjoyed a great many prosperous and peaceful days, the sudden exposure to her current environment of dense fog hiding a barely visible pathway that is sheltered with questionable shadows is maybe a bit much for the little princess to bear.
‘Did you ever hear the story of the warrior queen Isabelle and her defeat of the dragon Draegoth?’ asks the commander.
‘My father said that there was no such thing as dragons’ she replies, now at full attention.
‘Really, then how do you explain that peculiar looking rock formation in Harrowtown?’
‘I have been told tales of Harrowtown by my older sister, but I had no idea that the stone monster in there was actually a dragon!’ she responds inquisitively.
‘Most people, like yourself, have no idea how that stone form came to be’, he continues.
‘But the libraries in the Citadel in Amberfall hold a great many secrets, long forgotten to many, and this particular legend took place a long time ago, when Ayrlaston was so young she had not even been blessed with her name yet. Apparently at this time, dragons were no mere myth. In fact they were said to be so commonplace; it would be surprising if a month went by without a sighting. The young Queen Isabelle was on her way home with her most trusted companions when word reached her that a nearby town was suddenly beset by a large, black winged creature that seemed to breathe a magickal breath of pure lightning. Since dragon hunters were so few at the time, she took it upon herself as a sense of duty and honour to deal with the beast personally.’
Damon pauses to see young Dawns attention is now completely fixed to his well-rehearsed tale that he had recited to his own son as a bed time story many years ago. She leans in closer, her head almost out of the carriage window so she can absorb every word. The commander has succeeded in his plan to put the young princess at ease, but still with every intention of finishing his story.
‘Isabelle was a mere two days away from Harrowtown and marched forth with her allies in tow. One of her companions was a mage by the name of Aldric. Have you heard of him?’
‘Aldric? Was he the mage who accidentally froze his own foot to the floor when he tried to fend off a mob with ice magicks?’ asks the princess excitedly.
The commander chuckles to himself.
‘No my dear, that was Cecilbor, the infamous oaf mage of Westbrook. Aldric was a mighty sorcerer who commanded powerful magiks and was a close friend of Queen Isabelle. His skills were many, but one in particular would prove very useful. After two days passage through Cairnwood Forest, Isabelle, Aldric and her small contingent of loyal guards began looking for the beast as they moved closer to the town that was overlooked by high steeples of old stone. It wasn’t long before the blackened creature made an appearance. By the time the queen arrived, night had fallen and so they struggled to see the dragon clearly. This made the battle very difficult indeed until the beast resorted to using its deadliest weapon, his dragon breath. Draegoth’s breath was legendary and the lightning that spewed from his mouth was so fierce and so bright that it set the night sky alight. Isabelle took advantage of this opportunity to strike at the creature. She lunged with her sword into the throat of Draegoth as the beast kept his attention firmly fixed on the queen whilst trying to strike her down with his breath, but because she had her blade in his throat, Draegoth could do nothing but thrash around violently.’
Damon pauses again to see the eager princess hanging on his every word; he smiles to himself before continuing with the story.
‘It was then that the queen signalled to Aldric to unleash his mightiest spell, a powerful ability he called molten petrification. He summoned the forces of fire and earth and combined them to envelope Draegoth in a thick layer of liquid flame and rock. Isabelle took this as an opportunity to dive out of harm’s way, but she left her sword embedded in the throat of the beast so he could not strike back. Aldric then immediately cast a powerful frost rune upon the dragon that petrified the rock surrounding Draegoth completely still and solid. Isabelle and Aldric would be the only survivors of that battle, but the town they saved would endure for centuries. This is how Harrowtown acquired its name after such a ‘harrowing’ event and the legend of the dragon slayer queen would live on throughout the ages.’
‘That was a wonderful story’, says the princess with a gleeful smile.
‘I wish I could be a powerful sorceress or a great fighter and use my power to help people and become a legend like Queen Isabelle and Aldric.’
The commander is pleased the young princess’ attentions were now entirely focused on him and not the ever darkening road.
‘It would take years of study in the Citadel to be able to wield magicks powerful enough to take down something as strong as a dragon, and just as many to steel yourself as a warrior capable of striding into combat. I assure you, you do not need to follow these paths to become someone special to the people. And there are actually no dragons left in this world, thankfully.’
He then turns his head towards Dawn and speaks in a confident manner.
‘The day may come when you will be able to forge your own destiny, be it as a scholar, commander, priestess or whatever the stars hold for your future. But I have no doubt that your role in this kingdoms future will be great.’
Dawn smiles at the commander, grateful that she is guarded by such a fine soldier. Whilst commander Damon was satisfied that he had succeeded in his task to calm the princess, he himself has become uneasy with the predicament he and his men are in. The pass, which at first was fairly easy to navigate, is becoming more troublesome by the minute as an ever darkening, thicker fog continues to forge a strong grip on their journey. He had traversed Blind Man’s Road many times before, but his experience of such a pathway is becoming quickly unfamiliar.
‘What is that over there?’ points Dawn in the distance as she glances over toward the tree line.
Commander Damon’s eyes dart around in the same direction as he is almost desperate to try and see what the princess is referring to.
‘I see nothing, but I must advise caution my dear; your eyes may play tricks upon you in such conditions as this.’
The soldiers, which at first were spaced a distance part from each other, have moved closer to the carriage to remain visible to each other. The pace of the carriage and its accompanying riders has slowed down almost to a crawl.
‘There it is again.’ said Dawn sharply as if to stress her case.
She points to a strange looking shadow hanging from an ancient formation of Dvergan architecture that has fallen into ruin after millennia of neglect that is only visible because of its darkened colouration. The commander has spotted the same stone pillars Dawn had pointed to and carefully considers the area in as much detail as his eyes will allow.
‘I’m sorry my dear, but I don’t see anything.’
His eyes turn back to the princess.
‘Perhaps you should take this chance to rest; we shall be stopping to make camp as soon as nightfall approaches.’
Dawn retreats inside the carriage and closes the draw curtains on her window, still confused about what she thought she saw. After a moment’s contemplation she reluctantly lies down upon the cushioned seats within, a rare extravagance afforded only to royalty and nobility. Her eyes close. The commander and his contingent can afford no such luxury as they press on. Commander Damon looks to the carriage driver and notices that fear has gripped him; the once aggravating and overly talkative man is now silent. The carriage driver’s companion turns to the driver and speaks quietly.
‘Strange shadows in a blinded mist are bad omens.’
He then pauses momentarily to observe his surroundings. The driver says nothing in reply; his eyes are unwavering and fixed on the road ahead.
‘I heard that if you see one on this road, all manner of ill luck will rain down as if the gods themselves have cursed you for daring to tread upon such a path.’
‘And I heard that if you flip a gold coin and it lands directly between the bosoms of a beautiful woman, you will be showered with riches and she will fall in love with you right where you stand!’ jokes one of the soldiers sarcastically as he rides to the left hand side of the carriage almost directly in front of the commander.
The other soldiers and the commander share an all too brief moment of hushed laughter. He speaks to the drivers to try to calm their prattle.
‘When you start to believe such fantasies, every little misconception that your feeble mind cannot perceive suddenly becomes a threat. A rock becomes a vicious creature. A twig becomes a claw grasping at your throat. Pay no attention to what your imagination is telling you. Believe only what your eyes can see.’
‘Sorry sir’ says the driver’s companion to the commander.
‘I’ll try to keep my nerves intact.’
Half an hour passes without incident save for the occasional rustling of the rats in the trees. The group leading Dawn to her new home proceed watchfully down the road. At this point the young princess is fast asleep much to the relief of Commander Damon, who can now focus entirely on the journey ahead even if just briefly. As they continue through the fog, a shadow begins to appear on the road, when the group approaches it became less a shadow and more of a tall figure in the mist.
‘Halt!’ commands Damon to his escort.
At once the soldiers stop in their tracks, still maintaining their strict formation surrounding the carriage. The carriage driver takes a second to respond as he pulls sharply on the reins of the horses, he is startled and a tad confused.
‘You there, what is your business?’ asks Damon sharply to the figure standing before them.
Without a response the figure moves slowly a few steps closer to the group. Commander Damon grasps the hilt of his sword instinctively; he recognises, at least partially, the spectre that stands before them.
‘Answer me?’ demands the commander now very agitated as the memories of recent battles fought mere months ago come flooding back to him.
The presence of the one before them stands at six feet tall and wears a black cloak that covers all but his face. His piercing red eyes glare at the commander revealing a powerful hatred reminiscent of the battlegrounds of the recent Crimson War. The cloaked figure is Dothylfar, a member of a species of beings known for their vicious natures and cannibalistic tendencies. This bloodthirsty and notoriously fearsome race stand at equal height to man, their faces usually scarred or marked with symbols as tribute to their lust for war. Their eyes are the colour of black and blood, their skin possesses an ashen grey hue and their hair is usually as dark as the night. This particular Dothylfar though bears no facial scars or markings, indicating a high standing in the ranks of his species hordes. His appearance on this road at this time means only one thing to Commander Damon. The spectre of ash and blood slowly raises his hand toward the caravan until all of his fingers are outstretched facing the direction of the carriage. He then whispers something quietly to himself. Immediately the commander unsheathes his blade.
‘Take him down men, NOW!’ shouts Damon.
The two soldiers at the front of the formation charge forward, grasping the reigns of their horses tightly in one hand, clutching their swords in the other whilst the two soldiers at the back of the convoy move in formation to join them. The commander keeps his strict vigil at the side of the caravan as he notices the princess begins to wake amidst the commotion. The Dothylfar’s hand moves to face the soldiers charging towards him. The ground trembles and suddenly the legs of the horses are grasped by black-green vines that appear from the ground too quickly to anticipate. These vines are coated in knife sharp thorns that bore deeply into the legs of the horses and after a brief struggle, the soldiers are flung hard onto the ground. The horses are released, upon being freed from their torment; they immediately take flight as they struggle and stumble from their wounds away from the group. The soldiers quickly attempt to regroup to a standing base but as soon as they can get their bearings, they are immediately beset by the same vines that dismounted them. One by one they are enveloped by these thorn laden plants as they tear into their flesh through the gaps between their armour. Their screams echo loudly through the forest as their skin is deeply penetrated, each creeping vine ripping its way through their bodies with little effort, until they are held suspended in the air. This is an amusing sight to the Dothylfar watching from afar. At once and in one fell move, they are all torn asunder. Their flesh is flung across the road, blood drips from the trees whose twisted and corrupted roots unintentionally played their part in the death of these men at the behest of this monstrous creature. The carriage rider and his companion freeze as they are gripped by fear. They stare at their attacker, scared and motionless; they are unable to fathom what is happening.
The commander steps down from his horse with his sword now sheathed once more. He runs his hand over the nose of his horse for what he believes to be one final embrace to his trusted steed before he commands it to flee in the opposite direction. Damon looks into the open door of the caravan to see a trembling girl in the corner of her seat, unaware of what was going on, but terrified by the sounds of screaming and horrified at the smell of viscera that has splattered across her carriage windows.
‘It’s going to be alright my dear’ whispers the commander softly to Dawn, even managing a reassuring smile.
The princess stops shaking and moves toward the commander. She grasps his hand and desperately urges him to stay with her. Her naive blue eyes are barely able to hold back the tears. Damon embraces the frightened girl by grasping her hands with his own and holds them tight before turning his head to see the murderous Dothylfar leering at him from a distance.
‘It is my duty to protect you with my life, and I shall.’
With these words he turns his body and starts walking towards his enemy, still uncertain as to why the one standing before them was here, but sure in the knowledge that he was all that was standing between the princess and him. He doesn’t hesitate to put himself directly between them as he stands now within full sight of his surroundings. The vines are still moving menacingly behind him as if they are searching and thirsting for more blood.
‘When I engage him, take the princess and flee’ demands Damon of the carriage driver.
‘Fail in this task and I will spend all of eternity in the afterlife hunting you down.’
The driver nods reluctantly though he is unable to remove his gaze from the fearsome spectre.
‘How dare you infect my homeland with your presence you vile, disgusting creature. Have we not suffered enough at the hands of your war mongering race?’ says the commander in a scathing tone.
He takes another step closer towards his foe.
‘Have you no honour?’ he says intent on driving his sword into the heart of the Dothylfar, one who took the lives of his closest companions who fought with him on countless occasions throughout many campaigns as they defended their homeland.
‘Withdraw your magicks and fight me as an equal, or do you fear me?’
His foe smiles a devious smile. With a whisper, the blood laden vines withdraw back into the earth. The commander once again unsheathes his sword and stands with a stance that represents his experience and technique as one of the finest veterans of the Kings forces. The Dothylfarian pulls out a dull, crescent dagger from beneath his cloak and points it directly at Commander Damon. In response the commander takes one more step forward. But his foe vanishes before his eyes leaving behind a thick black mist that dissipates into the fog. Before he can think about what he has just witnessed, Damon notices blood pouring from his chest. As he looks down he can see the hilt of the dagger sticking out through his armour and into his flesh, with the entire blade having pierced his bones effortlessly. There was never any intention of a fair fight. It is at this point he knows that he has failed in his duty, but it was just as he had expected as he knew from past experience that he was to be no match for a Dothylfar skilled enough to have gone his entire life, through a war torn country and a lust for ceaseless conquest without a single scratch or scar. As the blood pours and his life slips away, he hears the whimpering cries of Princess Dawn. The Dothylfar grasps the pinnacle of his helm and turns Damon’s head to face her and whispers softly into his ear.
‘You have failed and now you will die, and so too will she.’
The Dothylfar then pulls his blade out of the commander’s chest, presses it against his exposed neck and slowly cuts his throat, smiling as blood pours out onto the ground. With the commander’s life extinguished, the Dothylfar turns his attention towards the carriage. He looks upon the princess as a wolf would gaze upon a lamb. His eyes are now frenzied with a sickening blood-lust from the death of his foes and they are fixed on her. At this point the rider of the carriage is still frozen and his companion has long since fled into the mist. He snaps out of his stupor and realises his life was now also in danger. He yanks ferociously upon the reins of the horses attached to the carriage and he flees with as much speed as they can muster, with the carriage holding the princess still in tow whether he would care for it to be or not. As they flee through the dense fog with only the sight of the path at their feet to guide them, he can hear threatening whispers in a language unknown to him, accompanied by an impending sense of dread. The Dothylfar is somehow still with them. The driver then notices a black mist is careering alongside them as it wails with a screeching howl as if the screams of the dead are accompanying it. The carriages wheels are grasped suddenly sending the driver flying through the air and crashing onto the hard, gritty road, breaking his legs as he lands. The carriage itself is then torn apart by thorn encrusted vines now far greater in number than they were before. As the caravan crumbles into wooden shards, the princess is flung almost out of harm’s way into a nearby patch of grass, covered in scratches and cuts suffered at the behest of their attackers dark magicks. As she clamours to her feet, she watches the horrifying sight of the driver dangling in the air, with sharp twisted vines grasping his broken leg as he cries out in agony.
‘RUN!’ he screams.
Their stalker materialises out of the fog near the driver, seeing this she turns and runs in the opposite direction. She doesn’t look back; she is too afraid to witness the fate of the driver. She stumbles and scarpers away as fast as she is able. In the distance she hears the gargled screams of the man being ripped apart into nothing but blood stains and bone shards. Unaware of her surroundings as she goes, she trips and falls down an embankment, hitting her head hard with a crunch to her skull on a large stone. Her eyes waver as her vision fades and her breaths become shallow, she begins to lose consciousness. After a moment she has passed out, unable to see, hear or feel anything.
Several days would pass before reports of a decimated, secret convoy of soldiers would make their way to the people of Amberfall as passing merchants mentioned their accounts of stained blood, uprooted trees and a destroyed wooden carriage that looks to have been almost completely swallowed by the earth. These rumours would become stories that would catch the attention of the young princesses surviving family as they sent search parties far and wide that would cover the entire Westervale of the country to try to find any sign of their lost child. As the years passed, some would tell of a young woman who bore an odd resemblance to their fallen King in a far flung town, from a desolate and sparse corner of the land. These tales would be quickly quashed and swept aside as a new King would rise that would tolerate no competition to his rule.
Decades later, others would speak of a crazed, old woman who would move around from village to village. She was never welcomed and never stepped foot into a major city or port for fear of some ‘deadly reprisal’, and that she would endlessly drone on, within a drink addled state, about her fallen hero and lost lineage. The life of the little girl Dawn may have passed into something meaningful or meaningless, or it may have been snuffed by the edge of a blade. The only certainty was that there would not be another dawn for the forgotten men who gave their lives to protect a royal girl on her journey to a new home.