She reached over to the other side of the bed and found he was not there.
Penelope lifted her head from the pillow, shielding her eyes from the morning sun streaming through the open curtains. "Gry?" Her mouth had that cottony taste of a long, cozy sleep.
A clatter of dishes came back in answer.
"The kitchen," said Penelope, swinging her feet off the bed and easing into a long stretch. "Where else."
She pulled on one of his shirts and walked into the kitchen.
He stood by the stove working his magic on breakfast and did not hear her come into the room. She tiptoed up behind him, thinking to put a little scare into the big bad knight.
When she saw what he was doing, she froze, the hairs on her neck standing on edge.
The ranger held a tiny vial above the batter he was stirring. He tilted the vial slightly, allowing two drops of a thick green liquid to fall into the mix. Penelope thought she caught a faint scent of mothballs before Gryffon stirred the drops into the mix.
Gryffon spun to her voice, the vial still in his hand. When he saw her, an instant of anger and fear flashed across his face. Just as quickly his natural calm returned. He looked at the vial in his hand and shrugged as if to say, 'You would have found out sooner or later.'
"Poison," he replied to the question she could not find the breath to ask. "Not deadly but dangerous nonetheless. It steals all control of the body, leaving the imbiber fully aware but unable to defend himself."
He slipped the vial into a hidden pocket in his robe and went back to stirring the batter.
"Once mixed, it is virtually undetectable," he continued. "No odor, no taste. The victim's first warning is the last."
"Why?" she asked.
"There's no antidote," he answered. He lifted a spoonful of the batter to his mouth for a taste. By instinct, she grabbed for his hand, but he stopped her with a look.
"With enough exposure to small doses," he said, "an immunity develops. That's the only defense. We didn't know that until too late."
"You mean the Black Rose…?" Penelope left the rest of the question unspoken.
Gryffon nodded. "How could we know? Through their own black arts, they created it. And kept it secret until they saw the chance for its greatest use. And they used it to perfection."
Gryffon's face took on a dark anger as he spoke. Penelope knew he was reliving the memories of his past. She tried to bring him back to the present.
"And now I'm immune, in case they try to use it against me?" she said.
"Not 'in case'. They will use it. They take extreme pleasure in its use. And yes, you are immune."
"Why didn't you just tell me about the poison?"
He started spooning the batter onto the skillet. "How does someone react when they're told the food they eat is laced with poison? Perhaps you would have tried to avoid it somehow. That would have meant your death. No, of all the secrets I kept, this one I do not regret."
Penelope grabbed two plates from the cupboard. What a strange person I've become, she thought as she fished some silverware from the cupboard drawer. Here we are talking about assassins trying to poison me and I'm setting the table for breakfast.
"Do they know you're immune?" she asked as she rinsed a juice glass in the sink.
"They know. But they don't know I possess a quantity of the poison so they'll not guess the same of you. That will be your only advantage when the time comes."
"Will you tell me what happened to the Knights?" she asked, figuring he would just tell her to read the book.
Gryffon said nothing as he piled pancakes onto her plate. Finally he said, "To what end? Nothing can change the past."
They ate breakfast in silence.
After leaving Gryffon's, Penelope ran some long overdue errands. Spending so
much time with the Knight meant putting the rest of her life on hold. No big
loss there. Before Gry and the Knight thing, there wasn't much to her life anyway.
By mid-afternoon, she made it back to the dorm. Leaving a note for Laurie promising to be back in time for their usual Thursday TV night, she grabbed the book and headed for the campus library.
She settled into her favorite table on the library's second floor and began on the next story.
* * *
It has been some time since Wildboy has walked the streets of Moonglow. Surprisingly little has changed since he was a boy. He walked majestically through the streets giving a polite nod the gentlemen and a tip of his hat to the ladies. It mattered not to him if they were of noble blood or mere common folk. He treated them all as equals. As he walked down the main street the city bustled with activity. The sounds drowned into a sort of melody as he walked past each shop. As Wildboy took in the sights memories flooded his brain like the raging rivers after a heavy rain.
Wildboy rounded the corner and found himself standing in front of Moonglow's Central School. He stood there and watched as the children played so innocently. Standing in the shadows of a great oak tree, Wildboy noticed a group of children on the side of the schoolhouse. A group of boys had a small boy corned and was taunting him.
"Look at him crying like a girl." One child yelled.
"Maybe you should go home you lil'e baby," another laughed. But in Wildboy's ears hear heard different taunts.
"Look here comes the boy that doesn't even know his own name."
"Look at the cloths he wears." Laughter filled the young boys ears. As unpleasant and rude comments assaulted him, the boy stood unmoving as the insults bombarded him from all sides. "Why don't you go home…oh yea, you cant, you have no home just like you have no name."
"He has a name." Garrath, a local magician's son and rather well off and respected family said. All the other boys stopped their taunts and looked at Garrath in surprise. "His name is…err…Wildboy…yea that is it…it's Wildboy." All the other kids laughed and started chanting Wildboy at the small child. "He has a home too. He lives in the south woods." Little did Garrath know how close to the truth he actually was. At night the boy would leave town and head into the woods, find a pile of leaves or a hole in a dead tree that he could fit in and sleep there. One day he found an old bedroll left behind by one of the nobles. Quickly the boy scooped it up and ran to his favorite sleeping area. He set up the bedroll. It was his first possession and he treated it as if the finest cloth made it.
Everywhere the boy went people called him Wildboy. A childish joke suddenly turned into the name that the whole town called him. Wildboy didn't mind, it was better then being called hey you or kid with no name. He finally had a name.
Wildboy suddenly realized what the child was holding and it snapped him out of his recollection of his past. The boy was holding a small animal of some sort. Slowly, Wildboy began to approach the young lad. As soon as the children noticed the lone knight approaching them they stopped their taunting. Wildboy paid them no mind as he walked steadily towards the young lad clutching the hurt animal. His gold cape fluttering gently in the wind. Wildboy knelt beside the small child.
"What has happened here young one?" Wildboy asked compassionately.
"He…got loose from me." The small child sobbed. "He ran into the street…a rider…on a horse…"
"I see, may I see the cat please?" Reluctantly the child handed the knight the small animal. "What is its name?"
"His name is whiskers sir."
"Don't call me sir, my name is Wildboy." The knight said gently caressing the kitten. Mumbling a few words of an old text a mystical glow shown from Wildboy's hands and surrounded the kitten. In moments the kitten was on his back pawing at Wildboy's fingers as he wriggled them back and forth to complete the spell. The knight handed the animal back to the small child.
"What is your name young one?"
"I am called Dusty, short for Dustin."
"Well Lord Dustin, keep a close eye on whiskers. We wouldn't wish this to happen again" Dustin nodded his vigorously in agreement. Wildboy stood gave the child a slight smile. "Valor surrounds you always" Wildboy said then walked away.
All the children circled Dustin and anxiously waited their turn to pet the now healed kitten. Wildboy spared one glance over his shoulder and smiled. "Walk in Valor young Dustin." He whispered then turned his attention to where he was heading. This block looked familiar to him. He was now out of the mainstream of the city and into the private housing section. As Wildboy walked a bit further he knew why it looked so familiar. Wildboy's pace quickened as he moved around the housing section. Soon he stood in front of an old run down house that seemed as if it has not been lived in for years.
"Excuse me son, should you not be in school?" Young Wildboy looked up. There in front of him was an elder man dressed in plate mail. The seal of the Moonglow Knights embedded proudly on his chest plate. Stray strands of gray hair invaded his goatee and his long white hair was tied into a ponytail. The old knight smiled at the boy. Shamefully Wildboy bowed his head.
"I am not allowed in school sir. I have no family and no records of birth. Only people born of Moonglow are allowed to attend."
"Where is your family young one? And please, call me Sedrick."
"I don't know Sir Sedrick. They took me to this house told me to wait there and never returned. When the owners of the house showed up they shooed me away."
"Then where do you live young one? And what is your name?"
"They call me Wildboy and I live in the south forest."
"Well, not any more my young Wildboy. I am Sedrick Silvermane and you will be staying with me. If they will not allow you in school then I will teach you." Wildboy looked up with hope in his eyes but held back his feelings. He has heard this before and it was usually the beginning of a cruel joke. Sedrick placed out his hand with his palm facing upward. Reluctantly Wildboy reached for his hand. When their hands were just about to meet he stopped waiting for it to be jerked away from him. When the knight's hand didn't move Wildboy grabbed hold with a tight grip.
Through the on coming months Wildboy became stronger and faster then he ever was. Sedrick taught him how to read and write. He ate well and grew to love the old knight and accept him as father. Sedrick began to teach him of the virtues. He started with Compassion. The one Wildboy experienced the least. Wildboy's heart grew to love all the peoples in the realm even the ones that showed no compassion at all. He fought only in self-defense and never raised a fist in anger. He became loyal and honest to a fault. The other virtues followed. Wildboy took them all to heart. Followed each the best he could.
One night when Wildboy boy was around the age of thirteen the warning bell in the towns chapel sounded. Sedrick jumped up and donned his armor quickly. Wildboy followed suit wishing to help defend his town and the man he called father. Sedrick gave Wildboy a loving smile.
"And where do you think you are going young one?" Sedrick asked as he snapped his chest plate into place.
"I am coming to help." Wildboy said with pride as he dressed in his armor.
"Oh, no you're not. You are staying here where you will be safe." Sedrick turned and rushed out of the room joining the other knights from the area as they rushed towards the chapel. Wildboy waited till the knights were out of sight. Then crept out of the house and followed in the general direction that the knights headed. By the time Wildboy reached the chapel the battle was already going on. The Brigands from Buccaneers Den have landed and were attacking the city.
The sounds of battle filled the night air. A war cry sounded behind Wildboy. He turned and quickly dodged a sloppy attack made by one of the pirates. In one quick motion Wildboy drew his sword and plunged it into the man's chest. Piercing the pirate's heart he quickly died. Stunned Wildboy just stared at the man he just slain. He could not believe he had just ended another life. Quickly he dropped the sword and gazed at the blood that was now dripping off his gauntlets. After a few seconds he managed to focus back to the battle. There in the corner by the schoolhouse was Sedrick surrounded by three men. Wildboy stared right into the eyes of the man he has known as father for the past 7 years. A look of sadness and resignation filled Sedrick's eyes. Wildboy wanted to rush to his side, but fear froze him in place. He could only sit there and watch in horror.
All three men charged Sedrick. With lightning reflexes he blocked one of the pirate's blows and thrusted his blade into the man's stomach. Quickly withdrawing, but not quick enough. The second man impaled Sedrick with his katana as the third took off his leg with one mighty swing of his battle-axe. Sedrick fell quickly. Wildboy screamed and charged to the fallen knight's side as the pirates looked for their next target.
"Father!" Wildboy panted as he fell to Sedrick's side. "You can't die."
"Aye but I can my son." Sedrick coughed as spittle and blood trickled down the side of his face. "But I can…Listen young…one…Valor surrounds you always…Walk with Valor…" Sedrick died in Wildboy's arms. Letting out a scream he vowed to himself that fear for his own safety would never stop him from possibly saving someone he loved.
As the scream burned its way back into his memory, Wildboy stared at the first home he ever knew. He dared not enter the shambled remains for fear of breaking down. A lone tear flowed down his cheek. Wildboy was tempted to wipe away the tear but stopped himself before he did. He owed the old knight at least one tear.
Mumbling a few words of old Wildboy casted a spell of transportation and found himself within the walls of the Castle of the Sunset Knights. He walked slowly down the cherished hallways. Every so often stopping to admire some of the blue and gold tapestries and paintings of old and present knights from various artists. He stopped, as he always did, in front of the painting of Lady Samantha.
"Thank you" he whispered. He then kissed his finger and touched it to her cheek. Just then a cool breeze swept through the castle, sending a chill down the length of his back. Wildboy closed the shutters on the window behind him. "A cold day for this late in the spring," he said to the painting. "At least it's not snowing. Do you remember that day in Vesper, Lady?" He laughed. Who would have guessed snow so close to spring planting?
Wildboy walked across the square, the fresh snow crunching under his boots. The trio of Knights stood under the eaves of The Gadget Corners shop in Vesper, watching him approach. Whoever they are, thought Wildboy, at least they have sense enough to take shelter from this hellish weather.
He bowed to each in turn. "Excuse me milady," he said, "but I noticed you all are dressed in the same uniforms are ye a guild of knights?"
"Aye fine sir, we are the Sunset Knights." The lady replied. "I am Samantha. This is Sargon our guild master and that young man over there is Octal." The men nodded a hello to the young man.
"I am known as Wildboy, from Moonglow. I was wondering are you looking for a knight?"
"We are always looking for good knights to join our ranks, but answer me this young Wildboy why would you want to?" Wildboy stared blankly at the lady. He was not expecting a question of such bluntness but yet of such importance. He thought, pondering the question and Lady Samantha noticed that she caught the young man off guard.
"Think about it then return here to vesper tomorrow and I will ask you again." Lady Samantha said.
Wildboy bowed to the group. "I will milady, until the morrow then." He replied then departed quickly trying to come up with a suitable answer. Lady Samantha allowed a smile to cross her lips. It wouldn't matter much what the young knight said, unless completely against the virtues. As far she was concerned he will be starting his trial period tomorrow if he shows up. It has been awhile since she has seen such enthusiasm and compassion.
The following day arrived to slowly for Wildboy. He rushed through Vesper to where he last met Lady Samantha. And just as she said she would be she was standing there patiently.
"So tell me young man, why do you wish to join the Sunset Knights."
Wildboy thought about the answer he that was going to give. Running it through his mind one last time before speaking.
"Well milady, I want to be apart of something that holds the virtues dear. I have asked around after I left you last night and found you are noted for being virtuous. I want to fight for what is right and help those that cannot help themselves. I wish to be pure in heart and soul and vanquish those who aren't. I don't want to let what…to have people suffer."
The lady caught Wildboy's little slip but let it be. She knew in time that when he was ready he would tell his tale. "Congratulations young Wildboy, you will begin your trial period immediately. If you pass the trials and prove yourself virtuous and true to your words you will be accepted among the Sunset Knights."
Wildboy leaned against the castle wall and looked at the painting. Has it been that long? I have yet to tell the lady of my past. I will do it the next time I see her. A sense of well being filled his soul. He was once again apart of a family. And he will not let one of them suffer the same fate as Sedrick Silvermane, this he swore. Wildboy continued his journey down the hallway till he reached his chambers. He went to his dresser and pulled out an old scroll box. Carefully he undid its rusty latch and pulled from it the tattered parchment that was contained there in.
"In the year nineteen hundred and seventy two of our lord and king, Lord British. In the land of Moonglow was born M'Drake Bloodhammer. Born of Drantwall and Gloria Bloodhammer…"
The door burst open and excited look filled Sedrick's eyes. He clutched in his hands a small scroll box its latch was of polished brass.
"Hey young'n where you at? I have a surprise for you." Wildboy walked out of the study greeting the old man with a smile and a hug.
"What you got there ol'man?" Wildboy said teasing.
"Why young'n this here be your future…err…should I say your past." Wildboy just looked at the old knight as if he had just grown a second head.
"Father your talking gibberish what is in the box?"
"Wildboy…err…should I say M'Drake Bloodhammer. I had a friend of mine, a magistrate, do a little digging for me. He came across these records which match your age and speak of the two birth marks under your arms."
"What birth marks? I have not birth marks." Wildboy looked under his arms to discover he did in fact have two birthmarks under his arms. Under his left arm was a birthmark in the shape of the initials "SK". Under his right arm was a birthmark in the shape of a "V".
"I noticed these two birthmarks when I cleaned you up the first day but said nothing of them. I thought at first that you drew them there. Then when we went swimming by the docks I noticed them again and that is when I had my friend do some searching. Now for the bad part, both your parents are dead. They died in a fire a few years back."
Sedrick walked with Wildboy to where his parents were buried in the Moonglow Cemetery. They both stood silently staring at the tombstones of Wildboy's parents. Wildboy looked up at the old man that took him in.
"Sedrick…father, these are not my parents and my name is not M'Drake. It is Wildboy. These stones and that parchment you hold are of a past nobody wanted. You are my family and my parent. I love you as a child should love a father. I will not take the name of people who did not want me. If I ever choose a last name, it will be Silvermane."
The old knight grabbed the young one and ruffled his hair. Then gave him a large bear hug. Wildboy playfully tried to swat away Sedrick's hands. No matter how many times he tried the old man got through his defenses. Sedrick and Wildboy walked back to the house together laughing and joking. It felt good to be alive and wanted.
Smiling at the memory, Wildboy placed the parchment back in its container. Glancing out the chamber window he saw a small bird sitting on the windowsill.
"You seem sad Lord Wildboy, shall I sing for you?"
"No thank you Mrs. Robin. I am just thinking of thoughts that I have long forgotten yet need to be thought of. I didn't realize it has been so long. Times are changing and I can feel a chill on winds. They cut through me like a sword."
"I am glad you still understand me Lord Wildboy, it has been awhile since you have talked to the life that lives in the forest."
"I am sorry Mrs. Robin. I assure you it was not intentional."
"I understand completely. Sometimes life can become overwhelming to the senses. Remember we may not always answer back. But we do always listen. You are a friend of the forest Lord Wildboy and you respect all life. Hold true to you feelings. They seem to server you well. Well I have young'ins to feed. Take care Lord Wildboy."
"Fare thee well Lady Robin." The robin fluttered quickly away. Wildboy stared after her for a bit, then scanned the rest of the surroundings. Memories of his adventures, victories and failures with the Sunset Knights seemed to rush by. Knight's faces came to mind then as quickly as they appeared disappeared into a foggy mist. Events unfolded before his eyes, battles were fought, casualties taken. Yet the Sunset Knights still remain. But not all times were bad, Gryffon at the dinner table with his seemingly unquenchable hunger, times spent at taverns sharing drink and fable.
Wildboy propped himself up onto his bed and tucked one knee to his chest. Gently he rested his head upon the one knee. The jumbled mess of his memories started to take order. He concentrated on the good times with the knights and a tavern slowly took shape.
The cheers could be heard a good half mile from the Serpents Cross-Tavern. It has been awhile since the Sunset Knights have stopped at the tavern. Friends and family stopped by to wish them warm welcomes. The tavern filled with music and the patio was cleared to make a quaint little dance floor. Liquor and food was being passed throughout the tavern. The townspeople that didn't know the knights first hand were still glad when they visited the tavern. More often then not the drinks were free and the food was good. Gryffon who was always eager to help out with the food preparations was moving quickly back and forth by the stove. Adding a few spices here and some herbs there. Checking to make sure everything came out just right. All the while keeping idle chit chat with Lady Samantha, who was seated at the corner of the bar not too far from the stove, so she would not consume herself with the thoughts of leadership.
Wildboy, as usual, was also seated at the bar. Half-paying attention to the conversation and half keeping an eye on the beautiful women that passed by here and there. Following a beautiful woman with his eyes, Wildboy's view rested upon Ar-Kane sitting alone in the corner. Wildboy thought to leave his friend to himself, figuring the mage was working out some new spell or potion. But too much liquid courage was coursing through his veins blocking out most of his common sense. Wildboy stood up from his barstool. After waiting for the room to stop moving he made his way cautiously over to his old friend.
"How you doing ol' Friend." Wildboy said as he slapped Ar-Kane's shoulder and sat heavily into the chair across the old mage.
Rubbing his shoulder Ar-Kane gave a glance at his fellow knight. "Greetings Wildboy, and to what do I owe this honor. Shouldn't you be chasing some damsel?"
"Well under normal circumstances, yes. But…awwwwee." Wildboy turned and looked over his shoulder at the bar. "I left my drink on the bar, I will be but a moment."
"No need old friend. I will get it for you. It didn't look as if you were going to make it here on your way over." What Ar-Kane really wanted to say was 'I think you don't really need to have that drink.' But knowing Wildboy for the past year and a half taught him better then to get between this man and his alcohol and women. With a mumbling of a few words and a waving of his fingers Wildboy's goblet floated with ease over to the table. Gently resting in front of it's owner.
Wildboy stared at the glass a moment and then looked up with a roguish smirk. "Well now that's a pretty schlick trick. Ye know I have been becomin' a learned man meself. I have study and bit of magic and can now cast 7th circle with pretty good consistency. Wanna see?"
"Wildboy as a man of magic I must warn you. You should never practice magic under the influence of any type of stimulant. Magic requires the utmost concentration and…"
"Awe hog posh, I can do it, watch." Wildboy said as he raised his hands and prepared to cast. Ar-Kane quickly reached across the table and grabbed his hands.
"Look! If you wish to continue this fracas to its final stupidity then at least let us go outside. I don't want an errant spell taking out one of the citizens of Yew." Ar-Kane said harshly. Hearing the tone of Ar-Kane's voice raised Wildboy's temper to almost a boil. With lightning speed Wildboy stood up and reached across the table grabbing the mage by the scruff of his robes. Then as quickly as it came Wildboy's anger swelled and was gone. He allowed himself a sideways smile at the mage and stormed out the door. By this time a few patrons noticed the conversation between the mage and the warrior and were already taking bets. Ar-Kane shook his head and slowly followed the warrior outside.
It seemed as if Wildboy gained a little sense from his conversation with Ar-Kane as he removed his armor metal armor and stacked it neatly next to him. Wildboy was known for showboating and, with the small group that formed in the square, he was putting on quite a show. With exaggerated hand movements and slurred speech Wildboy chanted the magic phrase.
"Kalas Vasa Flamss Messas"
"Wild, NOOOO!" Ar-Kane yelled as he realized that last word meaning self was not suppose to be added to the incantation. But it was too late, flames engulfed Wildboy's body. The young warrior-mage let out a quick scream as his system shut down from shock. Wildboy fell into a crumpled ball as the smell of burnt hair filled the courtyard. Ar-Kane dropped too his fallen friend's side and quickly removed the charred pieces of clothing. He quickly applied clean cloth to the wounds and mumbled a few words of healing to cure the internal wounds. He healed the third degree burns to second degree so not to leave scarring but to leave enough pain that hopefully the knight would learn his lesson and not take magic so lightly.
Wildboy flinched from the pain of the memory. He had to lie in bandages for 3 weeks because no one would allow him to heal himself. He learned a valuable lesson that day and has not had a drop except to be sociable. Thinking back on it a small smile crossed his lips. It was funny though. He got up from his bed and walked to the terrace and sat in one of the thrones overlooking the plains. It was a calm night. Wild animals flittered from treetop to treetop. It has been awhile since he just sat down and enjoyed the wonders of land and of the creatures that dwelled there.
A faint red glowed shimmered off in the distance. Wildboy paid it little mind as it looked as if a person was carrying a torch. His vision scanned the horizon only to keep returning to this speck of light. It appeared as if it was growing as, as if getting larger with each passing second. Within moments Wildboy's vision was engulfed with the red illuminating glow. All color drained from Wildboy's vision leaving the world in different shades of red.
"Who are you?" a voice boomed through the terrace. Wildboy looked around for the owner of the voice but was only greeted with the emptiness of the castle.
"Who are you?" the voice bellowed again.
"I am Wildboy, warrior mage of the Sunset Knights and the Sage of Valor" Wildboy replied with out hesitation.
"Oh really" Boomed the voice with a sarcastic laugh. "And how did you get this title…Sage?"
"Lord Jackdeth asked me to succeed his posi….."
"What, a human?!?. What makes ye think ye deserved such a title? What makes you think you have any right to claim to be of virtue at all, least of all valor?" Interrupted the harsh voice.
Confused and surprised by the sudden change of his surroundings Wildboy's defense's became alert. Anger began to boil in him like the bubbling broth of a witch's brew. His head looked around for some kind of target but saw nothing but the illuminating red glow around him.
"Who are you?" yelled Wildboy. "What gives you the right to judge my virtue? I have lived with nothing but Valor in my heart. I have followed each of the virtues to the best of my ability. Granted some with more success then others but still to the best that I could."
"Peace knight." Replied the voice from behind him in a calmer tone. "Name these virtues that you say you adorn to so much then."
"Is this a quiz?" Wildboy asked with a touch of sarcasm while turning to face the sound of the voice that no longer appeared to envelop him. His gaze fells upon a battle hardened knight standing easily seven-foot tall. The knight's face had a gentle expression but the eyes held the look of a warrior that has seen many battles. His agapite armor had nicks and dents from previous battles. The hilt of a large battle-axe could be seen from under his red cloak. It was strapped to the back of his armor by a sash that encircled at an angle across his broad chest. Recognition crossed Wildboy's face as he dropped to one knee. "I beg your forgiveness milord. Spirituality, Honor, Honesty, Valor, Compa…"
"Arise knight. I am well aware of you knowledge of the virtues. But you abandoned the virtue you claim to hold most dear and the virtue of honor."
A puzzled look formed across Wildboy's face. He was about to ask the Manifestation of Valor a question when an image of a woman formed in his mind's eye. Quickly Wildboy turned from the manifestation.
"What about her abandonment of the virtue of honesty?"
"She asked for your help. A person who asks for help, no matter what they have done in the past, should receive it from a person of virtue. By turning you back on her you turned your back on the virtues of honor and valor."
The vision of Ana Blackrain burned into his memory. He could still remember that in Rivendell when the ancient wyrm returned to its hold hunting grounds.
The sun was setting quickly over the mountains to the south. The reddish pink sky cast eerie shadows on the building that made up the quiet town of Rivendell. The Town Square was quite and a few people were passing about here and there. Most of the towns people were gathered in the Hungry Halfling Tavern located to the left of the town square. They were sharing their tales and enjoying their drinks of choice.
Wildboy walked between the Town Square and The Hungry Halfling to the courtyard in back where the town's folk gathered to train in the studies of combat and magery. When he arrived there was a female named Ana Blackrain and an Elf clad in black named Gromph. They were speaking or the virtues a topic wild often liked to listen to. He was about to join in on their conversation when a slight tremor in the ground took his attention away. He knelt low to the ground and sniffed the air. He stood and looked about the horizon only be greeted by the normal sights of the town. Wildboy's sight rested on the two in the courtyard; they were looking at him as if he had sprouted a third eye.
"What?" Wildboy asked nonchalantly.
"What are you doing?" asked Ana
"Do you not feel that?" Wildboy asked looking into the forest.
Ana followed his gaze onto the forest. "Feel what?" Again the ground shook lightly and both Ana and Gromph felt it that time. In unison they both asked, "What is that?"
Before Wildboy could answer an ancient wyrm stepped out of the forest. Its massive form reflecting the light of the setting sun off its scales. It's head swung from side to side as its nostrils took in the scents around it. Drool dripped from her fangs and puffs of smoke came from her mouth with each breath. The beast steadily walked toward the three.
Ana let out a scream and ran to the corner of the nearest building. Wildboy wanted to follow but knew other lives were at stake so held his ground unsteadily. Wildboy glanced over at Gromph who backed up a few steps as the beast approached but also stood strong. His face was set firmly but you could see the panic in his as well as Wildboy's eyes.
The beast stopped directly in front of Wildboy and lowered its head. The stench of her breath almost made Wildboy have a second showing of his lunch. The ancient wyrm sniffed at his hair then backed way. Wildboy fumbled with the hilt of his sword but keeping it sheathed. He did not want to provoke the beast for he knew the blade of his well-crafted katana could not penetrate her armored body.
"What are you?" hissed the creature.
"I am what they call a human." Answered a stunned Wildboy. He has run into many of these creatures but not a one ever spoke common. Wildboy's fear began to subside with the thought of this creature being intelligent.
"Are ye food?" asked the wyrm. Fear again rose in Wildboy's chest and Ana took better cover behind the mayor's office building.
"Mayhap in some food chains." Wildboy answered carefully. "But I would like to think as a general rule that we are not."
The creature lowered his head again, touching his nostrils to Wildboy's clothing and flesh. "Ye do not smell that appetizing nor do you have enough meat on ye bones to satisfy me, so ye will not be food this day."
Wildboy let out a breath he didn't even realize he was holding. "Thank ye ancient one. What, by chance are ye called?"
"You may call me as you wish, I have gone by many names. You could nay possibly pronounce my name should I even tell you" Replied the ancient wyrm.
"Try me great one." Wildboy insisted. With that the beast let out a booming growl and high pitch squelches. "I see you point ancient one. I could nay pronounce it. Tell me why are you hear?"
"I have awakened from my slumber to resume my hunting only to find my old hunting grounds surrounded by this strange structures. Seems hunting is not as abundant as it was a century ago."
A bolt of lightning flashed across the sky followed by a deafening crack of thunder jarring Wildboy from his recollection. He gave the spirit of valor a painful look. "We became very close after our first meeting. You could almost say I was in love with her." Wildboy turned his back to the spirit trying to control the anger that was rising in him at the thought of Ana Blackrain's betrayal to him. "She was a spy for the Cult of Infernal Necromancy. She betrayed my trust…and my heart. She used me." Wildboy lowered his head in shame for being deceived as he was.
"But do not our enemies also deserve compassion?" the spirit of valor asked in a melancholy tone.
Wildboy lifted his head and looked into the eyes of valor. He began to feel faint as the world around him swirled with all shades of red. With a sudden brilliant flash of light Wildboy's surroundings returned too their normal colors. A small drop of rain splashed against his cheek. He looked up watching as the storm was closing in fast and the last minutes of light were fading just as quickly.
Quickly Wildboy dashed to his quarters and donned his battle gear. He burst out through the castle doors and into the clearing in front of the castle just as the rain began to steadily fall. With on last inhale of fresh air Wildboy pulled from his pouch a handful of reagents. He mumbled a few words and was gone leaving the castle as another memory to be shared at a later date.
Wildboy appeared at the foot of the path that led up to the abode of the Cult. An ominous shadow was cast across the land surrounding the dark tower. The tower itself seemed to suck dry the energy from the lightning bolts flashing overhead. The fierce winds threw the rain droplets around in a swirling motion as the stormed gained in strength. Gritting his teeth and pushing aside his personal dislike for Ana, Wildboy pressed forward against the storm, which seemed to be trying to hinder his quest, because he knew it was the valorous thing to do.
"Hold Lady Ana, you will be free shortly." Wildboy whispered to himself as he tried to see through the darkness. Suddenly his surrounding illuminated with a glowing red, clearing his vision.
"Walk with valor…Sage."
* * *
Penelope closed the book and stretched her arms above her head. She caught
the wall clock out of the corner of her eye and stopped in mid-yawn.
It was already after nine o'clock. She'd be lucky to catch the last half of ER.
Penelope jumped up, sweeping everything into her backpack. Laurie was going to kill her.
Outside, she started down the causeway to the dorm. Then she remembered the back path that cut through the park behind her building. About a week ago, campus security had issued some warnings about using the path after dark. Some co-eds had complained they saw someone lurking around in the bushes. Security checked it out and found nothing but they were advising the female students to be cautious and stick to the main streets.
Penelope turned down the wooded path. It would cut a good ten minutes off her walk. And she was not the typical female student.
Despite her bravado, the impenetrable darkness of the trees lining the path gave her the chills. She could feel herself ready to jump at the slightest flicker of a shadow. She wanted to break into a jog but she kept a tight rein on her stride. She would not allow fear to push her around. Instead, she refocused it as Gryffon had taught her, channeling the energy into her defenses and lengthening the reach of her senses into the woods around her.
That was how she felt them.
They were hidden just ahead. Two, no three, waiting for her behind a large clump of bushes on her right.
Keeping a steady stride so they would not guess she spotted them, Penelope slightly angled to her left, giving herself more room to move.
She reached the spot abreast of the bushes and they came for her.
They were coming for him.
Which could only mean they had Penelope.
Gryffon stood and set the book he was reading on the lampstand. He could feel them in the house. He counted six, using less caution than he expected. They must be sure of themselves.
They would want to take him alive. So he could witness their final victory. A last humiliation before they slit his throat.
He could run. Perhaps Penelope was not the one the legends spoke of. Perhaps the true Blood still waited out there for him to find.
Gryffon cursed his weakness. Of course Penelope was the one. Once he saw her face, there was no mistaking her.
He would not run. Whatever story was told, at least this time the Rose would suffer some cost.
Gryffon slid open the closet door. He considered his bow a moment. The fight would be close and fast. He could not count on more than one shot. But if this were to be his end, he wanted to hear the familiar twang of the string one last time.
He strapped two daggers onto his waist. The room had no space for swinging a sword. He went back to the lampstand and unscrewed the lamp's bulb, barely feeling the hot glass.
When he pulled the heavy curtain across the window, the room was thrown into complete darkness. He knew every inch of the room. Let them stumble around in the dark.
He planted himself in the middle of the room. He would strike first, then move to a wall, cutting off their angles of attack.
The door opened. With bow raised, Gryffon counted as the assassins slid across the doorway, each backlit by the dim light of the hallway. When the sixth stepped to the threshold, Gryffon put an arrow right into the bastard's chest.
He smiled. Not many sounds pleased him more than the hum of a bowstring.
The ranger padded backwards around his reading chair and put his back against the wall. Then he waited.
"Well done, false knight", one of the Rose hissed in the darkness. "Predictable but well-"
Gryffon let fly an arrow in the direction of the voice. The yelp of pain meant his aim was true. He ducked and moved just as a dagger hit the wall with a loud thunk.
He inched along the wall until he found the open closet. He stepped in, carefully sliding the door half-closed without making a sound. He set down the bow with a twinge of regret and pulled his daggers free.
The whisper of a scrape told him a hand was feeling its way across the door. Gryffon waited for the jerk of surprise when fingers found empty space. Then he pushed the door all the way open and slammed a dagger into the assassin's back.
No doubt they knew his position now. Time for his next play. Using the assassin's body as a shield he ran across the room toward the doorway.
Something slammed into his shoulder with enough force to knock him off his feet. Luckily, his momentum carried him out into the hall.
Throwing off the dead body, Gryffon rolled away from the door and scrambled to his feet. With his dagger gripped tight in his good hand, he waited for the first bastard to walk through the-.
Surprised enough to forget the danger about to rush into the hall, Gryffon looked behind him.
Penelope stood in the entrance hall, the book of Virtues in one hand and a Dunkin Donut bag in the other.
At first Gryffon thought she must be a trick by the Rose to throw him off balance. But the assassin coming out of the room stopped in mid-stride and gaped at Penelope, just as amazed to see her as he was.
Gryffon threw off his stupor first. He dashed his blade across the assassin's throat and pushed the dying man back into the room, buying another moment before the others could follow. He grabbed Penelope by the wrist and together they fled out into the street.
"What the hell was that?" asked Penelope as they ran toward the park, dodging through the trees as quickly as the moonlight allowed.
Gryffon did not answer until they were deep within the woods. He pulled her to a stop behind a tree thick enough to hide them both.
"I don't understand this," he said between gasps for breath. "Why attack me when they didn't have you?"
"Gry, what's going on? Was that the Black Rose? Ohmigod, are you hurt?" She began searching him for wounds.
He stopped her. "Enough of that. We must figure this out. Did you have trouble tonight?"
"Trouble? No, I was at the library all night. Well, I ran into some frat goons in the woods. They thought it'd be cool to jump out of the bushes and scare me. Nothing I couldn't handle. By then it was way late to catch up with Laurie at the room. So I headed to your place instead."
"But those assassins believed the Rose already had you. Wait, Laurie, she's nearly your height and has the same color hair."
"Yea, some people say we could be sisters. But what…Oh Gry, not Laurie. Gry, no."
She would have run all the way to her dorm room if he had not grabbed her.
He hugged her tight. "It's too late," he whispered in her ear. "You can't help her. Not in this age."
Her sobs quieted. "What do you mean, 'in this age'?"
Gryffon let her go. He had said too much. But what did it matter? The Rose had gone too far to slink back into the shadows now. He and Pen would be pursued until they were run into the ground or turned to fight. Either way spelled disaster. Only one chance remained. He hoped she was ready.
"The Knights uncovered an artifact," he began, "one to shake the world to its core. The decision was made to destroy it lest the power fall into the wrong hands.
"But the artifact proved beyond our limits. So we cursed it instead. So that only a true Knight could call forth its magic. In that way we thought to be safe. We hid the artifact deep within the castle. No one outside of the guild was to know it existed."
Gryffon led her deeper into the woods. The Rose was sure to be hunting them and he needed a few more minutes.
"The Rose uncovered our secret and won away the artifact. Fortunately, they underestimated the stricture of the curse and the artifact remained closed to them.
"They have been waiting all these years, generation after generation, for another chance to defeat the curse.
"For good or ill, it fell to me to wait with them. For the true blood to rise again in the world. For you. They believe you to be the key to unlocking the artifact's power. I trust you to be the method of their defeat."
"But what about you, Gry? If they need a Knight to use the artifact, why not you? Why do they need me?"
They reached a small clearing. Gryffon ignored her questions as he maneuvered her into the middle of the clearing. He began scraping the symbols taught to him so long ago into the dirt and dried leaves around her feet. As he worked, he continued his story.
"The book was written to teach you the ways of a Knight. At the same time, to guide you in the Virtues to wield such power.
"I had hoped to complete the training before setting you to the task your lineage promised. But what you've read must suffice. You'll need to learn the rest on your own."
He lifted the Knight's Pendant from around his neck. The blue-gold gem shone in the moonlight.
"I don't understand any of this," she said. "What do you want me to do?"
"There was a traitor. That was how the Rose breached the castle. Many Knights fell that night to treachery, unable to even lift a hand in their own defense. It took years for the guild to recover from the loss. By that time, the Rose had disappeared underground with the artifact like the rodents they are."
Gryffon slipped the pendant over her head. The chain settled around her neck, the gem disappearing under her shirt.
"You must go back and stop them."
"Go back? What are you talking about?"
But Gryffon was not listening. In a low guttural voice he chanted words from a language forgotten ages in the past.
Blue and Gold lines wrapped around Penelope, spinning faster with every word the ranger spoke.
"Gry?!? What are you doing?"
"Giving you the chance to save the world." He smiled at her. "Welcome to the knighthood."
Penelope tried to see through the haze enveloping her but with each moment the world became less solid. Gryffon was nothing but a gray shadow.
"Gry, who was the traitor?"
The shadow's mouth moved but the magic swallowed the words. Then her world was gone.
Just as suddenly, she felt sun upon her face and a cool breeze raising goosebumps on her arms and legs.
Penelope opened her eyes.
She stood in a field of cabbage rows underneath the bluest sky she had ever seen. Across the field a man walked behind a plow horse, oblivious to anything but tilling the dirt. In the distance, a house sat on a slight rise. Smoke rose from the chimney in the thatch roof.
This can't be real.
Penelope spun around, looking for a sign, just one, of the modern world. A car, power lines, a tv antenna. For god sakes, just a freaking soda can. Anything.
But she saw nothing. He really did it. He sent her back.
She noticed a boy standing behind a fence of rough-hewn posts. The boy did not say a word. He just stared at…Penelope followed the boy's eyes.
She was totally naked.
Trying to cover up the important parts, Penelope started to curse at the boy when his eyes looked past her and went wide with horror. The boy dropped the shovel he was carrying and ran screaming toward the house.
Careful to maintain the slight grip she had on her self-respect, she turned to see what had so scared the boy.
A greenish creature, larger than a man by half, broke from the trees at the edge of the field. The thing waved an axe above its head as it rushed straight at her.