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The House of Khol

By Sonny Azeez  (Nigeria)


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There was a stalled air of eagerness around the table. The food had grown cold, but none dared to comment on it as they ate in silence. King Bilphilous sat at the top of the table with his wife Elsa at the foot, while their four, present children and their three guests sat between them.

“It’s true. A presence has seen in the woods?”  The king asked, breaking the silence.

There was a sharp intake of breath from where the queen sat.

“It was hostile” he paused to give the occupants of the table a sweeping glance. “We’ve consulted the Oracle, and all has being left in the care and protection of the deities. However, if anyone of you has a hand in this strange anomaly, this is the time to speak for the throne is ever merciful”

Suspicious looks darted across the table, only the queen remained passive.

Glaphius rattled his spoon against the side of his plate in slow melodic rhythms. His bright, blue eyes glared down Herta, his sister’s white throat with a sardonic smile across his lips.

Olacer, the one after him smiled at the thought of the absurdity of his father’s comment. If only he were king too, he would have served every suspect cold chops of their feet, until a confession was made – but of course, he could not. His father was too – um – soft of the heart in such matters and Glaphius and whomever Herta would marry in the case of Glaphius’s premature death would be in his way to the throne, except an unusual miracle could be worked.

Arcius, the third son bobbed his golden curls as he suddenly coughed over his food, distorting his handsome face into an expression of disgust. What happened in that forest could be no more than a natural phenomenal and the manifestations of a mislead entity in pursuit of leaving an indelible mark in remembrance of who it was; finding the marks of the entity would reveal its identity, but why was there no mark?

But that was not his concern, she was his concern.

The only member of the family who had been absent from the table for eighteen years had now presented herself to the world from the depth of the dudgeon where she had been kept to protect the Kingdom of Khol from a curse placed on her by someone whose identity the Oracle and its Consul had kept in the dark.

Roislin, the second daughter, wondered if she really would be that beautiful  princess, pretty as blossomed spring flowers. Would her position be reverenced and rivalled in the court too? It was painful enough to have this plumy figure, which no amount of dieting could get rid of and have a slim, graceful sister, Herta, to captivate the attentions of her many would be suitors. However, with the purposed presentation of a third sister, who was no more than a stranger to them, would her position in the court be more threatened than before.

Olacer wondered what she would look like, the little toddler he played with, now a woman. Would she remember their plays, or would it have to be taught again? He cast a long look across the table to Arcius’ friend; the one called Saphagon, and sneered at the thought of the old man presenting himself as a suitor for Cartelia. He seemed to be oblivious to the glaring fact that he was old enough to be her grandfather, even if she had not seen a man before. Then, there was Zicoh-lee, the son of a noble warrior, the ruler of a mountainous kingdom, but had spent the better half of his age living as a exile from his father’s kingdom as a result of a scandalous affair, an affair that was rarely discussed. One look at someone like Zikoh-lee would make Saphagon’s image wither away. Zikoh-lee was the second quest to have arrived that evening, he rode on a tethered unicorn, a unicorn as white as snow. The third guest was a tall, dark man - a man named Iegon - from the north. A man whose birthright was plausible due to his father’s infamous flirtation across the globe; where other men hitch their chariots for conquest and grinded their blades for victory, his father would be found, sailing the seven seas towards the heart of another damsel. Yet, Bilphilous had gloriously enough to accept his proposal to contest Cartelia’s hand. Could it be that she was no longer as beautiful as she used be? Iegon had arrived with his cousin, Thenis, a lad who despise his noble upbringing seemed not to have gotten over the habit of sucking his tongue. On a closer inspection, he seemed to be the dim-witted replica of a child whose parents had gladly entrusted into the care of a matured guardian to school him in the ways of life and be rid of his boyish fantasies.

The rest of her suitors would be arriving tomorrow and then, the real competition would begin.

An uneasy silence descended amongst them, until -

“Arcius” Herta whispered in alarm, her hazel eyes wide open as she saw blood tickled down the side of her brother’s mouth.

He opened his mouth to reply and suddenly found the words choked back by a surge of vomit and blood. His skin turned pale as a crimson substance sprouted out of his mouth and splattered on the table.

They all reconciled from their plates in horror.

Herta knocked down her seat and fled up the stairs to her room, screaming and tearing at her clothes. There was no doubt what had taken over Arcius was a poison in his food!

The cutleries clattered to the table, each man suddenly aware of the possibility of been poisoned.

The queen ran to her son, soiling her body with his vomit. She called for the servants. Her cry and Roislin’s hysteria rang down the hall, while the others excluding the king ran in different directions to seek aid from a house that seem to have been deserted by those who had loyally served it.

Arcius body convulsed in his mother’s arms as she screamed and cried over him, their royal etiquettes forgotten in the moment of anguish. Had not the slave tasted the food before serving, she thought, but she had seen the servant taken two spoonfuls from his scoop and from everyone else’s too! Her mind shuffled through the images of the faces in the royal chronicles. A handful of the members of the House of Khol had died through food poisoning, but what could Arcius had done to be so horribly killed before their eyes?

Why him, why Arcius, why her must beloved, with his laughing eyes and rosy lips?

“He’s dead,” the king informed solemnly, he seemed not to have moved an inch from his seat.

She gasped at him, red eyed.

Their son could not be dead!

Yet, his body laid limp in her clutch. The once lively face was now a frozen mask of pain. Her beautiful makeup was ruined. Death has marred Cartelia’s womanhood; the festive eagerness was gone and in its place, a distributing silence descended.

And still, there was not a servant in sight


Iegon found the servants lying in an unceremonious heap in the meeting room of their quarters. The spilled contents of the wooden goblets in their cold hands and the rigid posture spoke of one thing - mass suicide.

The room was dressed in the colours of the sun with murals of their everyday activities adorning the walls, yet the furnishings of the room were laying disarray and the stuffing flew in the air, as if they had been thrown into a craze, last-minute wild frenzy.

He walked towards the corpses. Their eyes goggled at him and their opened mouths tickled a clear green fluid. Motionless flies stuck around the corners of the mouth were the fluid had been drooling from, attested the lethal potential of the fluid.

Suddenly, there was a loud slam behind him as a dark figure ran pass him. The figure was dressed in the same attire as the dead servants.

So someone was alive, he thought as he followed the direction of the figure and saw a lanky, dark skinned a man dashing down the corridor holding glittery object in his left hand.

But, why was he running? Was he a survivor or the culprit?

The man frantically tried breaking the doors along the sides of the hallowing by throwing himself simultaneously against them as he ran, but they remained unbuckled. There was a look of fear on his face as he looked behind him at Iegon.

Immediately, Iegon recognized the face. It was the face of the servant who had tasted their food.

“That’s him, Iegon!” Glaphius called emerging from a door ahead of them, “that’s the one who tasted…” the rest of the words was cut short by a blow that threw him back into the room as the servant collided into him.

Moments later, Iegon followed into the room.

Glaphius lay on the floor in a state of semi-consciousness. There was no sign of the slave, except for gapping hole in the opposite wall that was oddly shaped in the image of a man.

He walked gingerly to the hole, certain by the sight of the settling dust that the hole was freshly created, peered through and saw a small black mass lying in a awkward, spread-eagle posture on the ground fifty feet below in a growing pool of blood.


A savage wind lashed through the Kingdom rattling doors and windows, violently an air of dread had replaced the air of eagerness surrounding the castle. A message to the barracks to deploy new guards for the castle grounds and do away with corpse of the servants as quietly as possible was sent through a messenger falcon. His court’s loyal physician had gone after sedating the queen and charging Herta to watch over her.

The King had returned to his chamber to communicate with the Oracle telepathically through its guardians. His remaining sons went to bed unceremoniously without the servants to tend to them.

Without a word, the guests left to find their way to their rooms.

Iegon shot to his feet and quickly made his way to his room that stood at the end of another hallway.

The wind was an omen. Tonight was the night of the judgment of the dead. Tonight was the final night of hunting for the headless equestrians in search of fresh souls to replace the departed ones, the vengeance of the deeds of their past lives was loose on the streets. Through the windows, he could see the lights of the kingdom dying out swiftly. This was the sort of night where a man would trip over his shadow. There was so much fear in the air.

A cold gush of wind made him shuddered as he approached the door. The knob felt uncannily cold. He wondered if the origins of the curse that plague the Kingdom and caused remains of its recently deceased to reanimate every forty-nights were truly unknowns or were the Council of the Guardians trying to conceal the truth with their silence?

The door creaked open as he turned the key in the lock, before securely shutting the door behind him.

Whatever the equestrians wanted, it would not be his soul.

A gush of cold air gushed into the room and he felt the hair at the back of his neck slowly rise at the sight of the figure sitting at the edge of his bed.

It was Arcius in his blood-soiled dress.


Cartelia paced across her room, the eager pounding of her heart was more than she could bring herself to bear. The dreary, dark days spent day-dreaming beside the portrait of a couple - the perfect representation of the male and female sex, or so her nannies, the only two living beings she knew, apart from herself had claimed - would be a shadow of the past, best forgotten. It was time to mingle with the bubbling sound she always strained her ears to catch, those torturously pleasant sounds that came from the cracks of the roof above her.

One of the nurses, Prudy with her immaculate hands and ageless face, had confided in her that there was going to be a feast laid in her honour where several men – varying versions of the man in the portrait - would await to receive her and observe if she would be a true wife to them.

Her breathe came in quick, short gasps at the prospect of meeting other people than the nurses and seeing for herself that there was more than two people in the world and neither were like the portrait of her parents.

The moment the doors opened, the songs of the mountain virgins would be no more for her and for the first time in her life. There was no bitterness in her as she realized she would fail to mourn for those girls locked up in the mountain caves forever in a life of fellowship to the oracle. Silly of them, she thought.

She suddenly stopped pacing as her eyes came to rest on the shadow sitting opposite her bed. She could not recall how long they had been together, but they understood the loneliness of their confines in not so many words.

Sometimes, he (yes, it was a he with its broad, rectangular truck, massive hands and oval shaped face, just like the man in the portrait) would stand over the head of her bed and the presence would be reassuring. He seemed to know how frightened she was of the tales the nurses told her at night and understood her sense of loneliness and bereavement at a cause she could not understand. Her nightmares were less frequent with his presence.

Then one day, he went away and left her at the mercy of her nightmares. That night, the banshees had tormented her with their cries and the images of their dark mares as they rode past her window, banishing their hideous trophies on a chariot reined by a smaller shadow with no well-defined sex, who sat with palms open as if reading.

The following night, she found the child-like figure in her room, along with the shadow of the man. That night was the scariest. Her pitiful and estranged cries, feeble bangs on the door, a welling fear that seem to stick like a lump in her throat, and then, the gentle touch from a being that looked was like a shadow, a being without substance.

The contact was ecstatic. There was deep sense of calmness within her soul and longing to be cuddled tight. She felt matured and her fears seemed juveniles; that night, she was fulfilled. Later, she had understood that the smaller shadow stood to remind them of their first contact, a definition of the union of their essence.

Suddenly, a scream interrupted her thought. She spun on her heels and saw the smaller shadow fling itself to the ground with a shriek. She drew herself backwards in horror as a network of roses and thorns spreading across the floor from the spot where the shadow laid, absolutely still.

The taller shadow shot to its feet swiftly. Something changed in the air and for the first time, she saw his figure as the form of the shadow fell off like a cloak. He was crimson coloured with lustre black hair, wearing a partly buttoned overall vest and faceless. As he reached for the fallen one, its shadow fell off too in the same manner. The figure lying on the floor was no more than that of a six-year-old girl.

Cartelia gasped clutching her hands to her chest as he turned the form over.

The form was a miniature replica of her.

“You killed her,” he whispered. The voice was muffled and seemed to come from somewhere behind the featureless structure of the face.

Her heartbeat quickened; had she really done something? What had she done?

“Why did you kill her?” he confirmed rising to his feet and walking slowly towards her, “she was all I had – all we’ve got between us, like a child to me – our child!”

Panic welled up her throat, she felt like screaming but had long ago leant that the room was soundproof; it would be a waste of energy to do so now; but what was he talking about a child? What child was theirs? The shadow – their child; was this the product of her fulfilment?

He grabbed her wrist savagely. The contact was no longer pleasurable; instead, it seemed to scorch her skin.

“I could have given you everything and more today. I would have given you the keys to eternity and more. You could’ve everything that was not her life!"

She was frightened; what had she done? By the gods, she never knew it was a child. Yet, she did nothing to it, she never touched that child - what was she thinking of?

“Think of if Cartelia” he continued, his voice unexpectedly soft and cooing. “I wasn’t only lucky to have you, I was meant to have you. Destiny has bounded us together” and suddenly he was beside her, pressing her gently to his chest.

She felt suffocated by the intimate closeness of his presence and puzzled by the sudden change of character. Was she under some form of hallucination or was he running her out of her mind? She could not get the horrifying of the smaller shadow falling; it was all too sudden for what she felt she knew, but could not comprehend -

Suddenly, the room quaked, and a bright light lit up the room. She looked over his shoulder and saw the shadow of the girl levitated into the air.

He was still saying something when the girl hurled through him like a projectile, piercing through his form.

Cartelia let out a high-pitched scream as the girls projected body made contact with hers and everything exploded into a bright light.


Arcius’ ghost shifted off the bed, rising to his feet slowly.

Iegon merged himself with the darkness between the corners of the door. He looked around and saw a crack between the door and the hinge, a space large enough to contain his shape-shifting powers by beaming across as an element of the darkness of the night, but his grandfather had warned him about

Suddenly, Arcius stood in front of him, staring at him. There seemed to be a plea in his eyes for a moment, then with a silent nod he passed through the door, leaving a cold chill in the air and a badly shaken Iegon. The spirit was restless, he thought, but why had he returned to haunt without waiting for the 40 days of purgation?

He turned to settle down on one of the four small stools at the foot of the bed and his eyes caught a soft glitter on the floor. He looked down and saw a pool of blood where the spirit had stood. A soft gasp escaped his mouth, as he looked further. There was blood everywhere trailing the spirit right through the door.

Could the dead bleed?

He peered through the keyhole and caught a glimpse of the spirit disappearing through Thenis’ door.

He felt a heaving in the descent of the Night. it was disturbed. The screams of the unfortunate ones caught in the path of the equestrians reached up to the heavens as their souls were brutally snatched. Some locals had made it a tradition to watch over the lifeless bodies of their beloved, hoping they would return back to their bodies as the equestrians’ rejected. Yet, there was something disturbing about the cries. It was as if the equestrians and their horses were joining in the frightful cries.

The Night’s disturbance was great. The stars would fail to shine tonight, the moon would hide it face away.

He felt the urge to quieten the disturbance without crossing the path of the equestrians.


He stopped to listen, what was the spirit of Arcius doing in his cousin’s room, replacing souls? He slide through the crack in the form of a darkish fluid. The tranquil image of his cousin sleeping peacefully in his bed was no longer tranquil as he thought of the presence of the ghost.

A muffled scream shattered the silence in the hallway. He quickly assumed his normal form and smashed through the door.

Thenis was struggling on his bed, overpowered by an invisible force holding a pillow to his face, trying to suffocate him.

He ran swiftly and snatched the pillow away from his face. The pillows ripped to shreds, throwing feathers into the air.

There was a spluttering noise and a blood stained humanoid impression appeared on the wall.


King Bilphilous stood still in the middle of his chamber, decorated with landscape relieves on gold plates marble statuettes and gold plated chandeliers. The large bed placed in the centre of the room had its posts made from ivory, while the sturdy chairs and table were made from oak trees.

His face was set in a frown at the reflection of himself in the gold-framed mirror.

The door opened, and a frail looking man carrying a silver bowl stepped into the room in a sliding motion. The man moved to the table and set the bowl down.

“Does my lord need music?” the man inquired with his head bowed.

“No thank you, Pris. That will be all for tonight” the king replied without taking his eyes off his reflection.

Pris bowed and carried himself out of the room across the gleaming tiled floor with light, graceful steps. His sobriety and quiet footsteps in respect of the spirits of the elements abound the palace, had made him a favourite of the king. Instead of retaining him in the army to continue his service, Bilphilous had brought his service to the court and made him his personal assistant, promoting him from a mere service boy to the foot soldiers to the King’s valet. He became one of the most powerful men in the kingdom whose audience must be sought first in order to see the king and his favours.

“Secure the door Pris” he called after him, “I shall not be disturbed…”

Pris stopped in his track. This was an unusual command, he mused to himself. Why would the king want no audience, especially after the tragedy of his son and a day before the mysterious Cartelia would be presented to the world? His wife might need the consolation of his presence, arriving guests may need to pay their homage to him or present themselves before his presence, while others may come to mourn the death.

“…Not by my family nor the guardians, I wish to be alone” he concluded

Pris’ forehead furrowed as he turned to leave. ‘Yes my Lord” he replied noting a disturbing cord in the king’s voice. As the large doors began to slide shut, he saw Bilphilous’ hand trembled as he opened the lid of the bowl. Was he disturbed by the tragic death of his son?

“My lord is everything alright?” he asked gently.

“I wish not be disturbed” The king’s voice was thick, with a sharpness he could liken to a double-edged blade. There was urgency in his statement and his hand continued to tremble holding the lid.

“So it shall be, my lord” he replied with a slight bow.

The door swung shut

He turned to leave, but his sharp ears caught a muffled sound from the chamber. What could it be, a secret Bilphilous was not sharing? It was his ability to keep the king’s intimate secrets away from his subjects and family made him invaluable to the throne, yet what was this that Bilphilous was keeping away from him. Something that should not be talked about even in whispers or transcript on the mysterious dew papyrus that sublimes into thin air as soon as its content was read? What could that secret be?

He listened for any other sound apart from his heartbeat. He scanned the long hallways and built up a force field within the surrounding walls in case the watcher watched by any who possessed the powers of night, someone like Iegon.


The intensity of the heat force increased, turning the bricks red hot. There was something about the light in the eyes of the man he found discomforting, something about his powers that was disquieting, something about his origins that was unclear but not as tattered as the duke of seven sea, late Arcius best companion, Saphagon was. He wondered about Iegon’s legitimacy, after all, his father never accepted his mother into the court and was unwilling to acknowledge her as even one of his concubines, not to mention a wife. Was he truly a worthy suitor for Cartelia’s hand or so he seemed to boast? Could it be that one of the guests was responsible for the death?

The Oracle would know, they would surely know

He turned to listen for the sound again. It was like a sob, a muffled sob followed by the sound of water dribbling into a pool.

Water, he thought alarmed, it was forbidden on the night of the equestrians! What was the king doing, calling on the spirit of his dead son?

He pressed his ears against the door.

Water. Sobbing, was the king moaning his loss?

Then, as he listened carefully, it dawned on him that the sound he thought was a suppressed sob was not it at all. It was a hiccupping laughter. The dribbling water became a splash and the stranger laughter grew louder


The eavesdropper whirled around shocked by the mention of his name and by the form that had uttered it.

It was Bilphilous led away on a black mare rode by a cloaked figure.

“Pris!” he called, a desperate plea in his eyes as the mare picked up speed “Pris, lay me out tonight! Let me rest this night! Don’t let me see dawn…”

The mare broke through the force field and shot through the wall. A disquieting hush descended within the section.

Pris hugged himself, unable to comprehend what had just happened. One moment, he was eavesdropping on the king, the next moment, the king was being carried captive on a mare he could barely understand how it got into the stronghold in the first place. His heartbeat was so faint he could barely hear it. There could only be one answer to the unasked question, the mare belonged to an equestrian. Yet, it made no sense. How could an otherworldly being pass through the Oracle’s fortification of the tower? How could it have snatched the king’s soul?

Suddenly, there was a long howl from the chamber.

He cast an apprehensive glance around and took to his heels - howling.


The high wind rustling through the treetops suddenly dropped bringing a premature stillness amongst the disturbed leaves.

Olacer listened, squatting on the sturdy root of an oak tree. He knew his power of speed would keep him out of the reach of whatever was prowling the night or anybody tailing him, but he had to be sure nobody or their familiars did not notice the sudden disturbance amongst the treetop.

There was no sound or anybody in sight. It was as if the creatures of the wood had hidden themselves from the equestrians, whose distant prowling came to his ears faintly followed by the screams of the unfortunate ones.

After waiting a couple of minutes, he continued his speedy run through the treetops and across the air as easily as if he was running a hurdled race on land. Finally, he found himself standing in front of the ruins of the temple of the lost guardians. The temple was built five thousand years ago to honour the memories of a group of seven priestly guardians who had sacrificed their lives so that the ancestors of the land of Khol could migrate from the evil tyranny of the last king of the dragons. However, like the bodies of the guardians, the temple was in a state of neglect and decay life had found other uses for their memories.

He had discovered the temple almost by accident three summers ago. The tracks leading to it had been carefully covered as if someone wanted to deliberately hide the whereabouts of the temple. The screeching of the monkeys had led him to the forgotten beauty – whoever hid the tracks had underestimated the intelligence of resident community.

But tonight, the monkeys were no where in sight. The poor things must have gone in hiding, he thought, climbing swiftly over a section of the wall with the words “FORBIDDEN! Thou shall not cross” itched across one of the mammoth pillars; the wrath of the equestrians must be terrible tonight.

Why would not it be forbidden, he mused. The wealth within the godforsaken ruins was mind bogging; the powers would make the guardians look like idiots. Someone knew of them and decided to shut everyone out of it by relocating the guardians to a new temple in the heart of the kingdom allowing this one to fall to ruins, and covering the tracks, probably. He wondered what his father would make of it when he gets to find out - if he ever finds out in his lifetime. It would make the powers of the Oracle look like child power! With such a possession, he could ascend the throne when Bilphilous dies or he could rival Glaphius if the gods so choose to favour him with the throne. Yet, a quiet voice at the back of his mind kept asking him why everyone seemed to have forgotten about the temple or was it meant to be that way?

A light clutter across the stony floor caught his attention.

He smiled.

They were waiting for his return in the dark confines of their solitude.

In their midst, he found a rest for his mind. They accepted him for who he was - those fair-haired, pale skinned, child-like creatures with burning red eyes and grey, folded wings.

He found the glamour and glitz of the court too superficial. The endless balls, dinners, classes, and baths were the most annoying events, not to mention those perky little girls and washed-out women with their painted faces. They had everything, yet they wanted their suitors to fight head-over-heels for their hands, but they would used more then rosy checks, painted lips and lined eyes to make him look twice their direction. He would never think of them as long as Cartelia’s image remained in his head and the pain of her scar remains fresh in his mind.

He looked down the black, gagged scar running down the length of his sleeveless right arm.

The Oracle had said she burns. Little toddler Cartelia had shot a blast of heat energy from her eyes as they sat playing. She had been two years old then and the guardians immediately isolate her, securing the young, badly hurt Olacer in the room of the living wonders to recuperate and “make sure to forget about the incident” in their words. His recovery had been slow and painful, growing a new flesh over the charred ones, an experience that was burned into the back of his head like the heat from her blast.

The king had pleaded to have his little daughter back, his sweet Cartelia, and had even threatened to defile the Oracle’s order by keeping her in his chamber. That night during the feast of the new moon when the kingdom was alive with fireworks, balls and the royal parade, the equestrians had suddenly appeared and left the feasting in a tragic state with the king’s life hanging on a thread and thousand of lives lost.

Admitting the folly of his error to the Oracle, the king commanded the guardians to return Cartelia to the dudgeon, after which the equestrians returned a thousand souls from those they had taken and a promise never to hunt for souls prematurely except summoned as the king had unwittingly done by defiling the Oracle’s order.

Nevertheless, it still puzzled him who was the Oracle, a man, a bird, a stone?

There was no claim from anybody alive who seen the Oracle. Its unknown identity had only helped strengthen its revered sacredness. Sometimes, he saw a dangerous light in his father’s eyes whenever the words of the Oracle were delivered by the guardians’ spokespersons, a group of 6 elderly men with mysteriously youthful vigour. His father despised them; he hated the Oracle for taking his beloved Cartelia and secretly for being the most important personality in the kingdom.

Why was the Oracle so much reverend, a being nobody alive could recognize? What were the guardians to say to the people now that the equestrians had returned to hunt prematurely? The throne would have to be eliminated to ride the land of the plague of the equestrians? How readily would the subjects heed their call to save themselves and their loved ones from further calamities? He shuddered at the image of a crudely dug, shallow grave with only the shrubs growing over it and a piece of coloured stick indicating the burial site of Prince Olacer (if they would be that gracious enough to recognize his titles).

No, he chided himself, he must not think as such. The Oracle was properly some toothless, wizened old man shivering around a small fire in the depth of a dank cave feasting on mosses and rats like those fanged gnomes wizard in those fable pamphlets him mother use to read to him as a child. Besides his newfound friends must not read his dark thoughts again less it scared them.

Suddenly, a shadow crossed his path. He looked up and saw a room filled with mutilated elfin bodies and innards spew all over the walls and the floor and the sole survivor standing in front of him, bloodied.

There was a strong smell of death in the air and he was suddenly aware of the likelihood of instantaneous death, far away from the reach of anyone. His survival and the last of his friends survival was less predictable standing in the open. The only option left was to flee with the other survivor and hide him in the castle, where he prayed the magic of the Oracle would not discover such an abomination beneath the roof of the throne.

He shuddered.

The night had never been this cold before.


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