A Death Knight is Born

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Prologue

A cloaked figure, garbed in black with a hood drawn across his eyes, stared around at the cave. It was warm and dry, ideal for the Ritual. Black boots crushed the dry leaves that carpeted the cavern floor. The torrent outside continued as though even the Gods wept. His yellow eyes glinting feverishly; he beckoned to his companion, his hands almost claw-like with long dirt-brown nails. Another cloaked figure entered the cave, taller and broader than the first man. Behind him came a third figure, shorter, more youthful, eyes flickering about the cave in mistrust.

“Come, come,” said the first man, waving his arm impatiently. His frown suggested he was not a patient man. “We must hurry if we are to perform the Ritual before dawn. Darren, do not be a slouch and hurry up.”

The youth paused, anger flashing in his eyes. “Kryan, do not take that tone with me. I volunteered for this, remember.”

Kryan tried to conceal his smile. Since when did a four year old boy volunteer? That had been Darren’s age when he was snatched from his village ten years ago and since then the boy’s training had been intense. But whatever was certain, he was no volunteer.

Gallan was reverently placing candles about the cave. The big man’s frown was one of intense concentration. Soon a gentle light illuminated the interior revealing scar-ravaged walls, boulders strewn about the cavern floor and dark, sinister looking recesses where even the light seemed afraid to penetrate.

Kryan liked Gallan; he was the silent type who just got on with jobs. He hated people who blathered, especially those with nothing much to say. Kryan breathed in the dry air, scenting the years of accumulated dust. The cave was ancient, just what they needed to summon the spirits of the dead. Kryan turned just as Gallan was handing him a knife. The weapon was silver and the hilt inlaid with gold wire. An expensive item, butRyoch demanded no less. Kryan took the weapon and turned to Darren.

Darren was shaking and his brown eyes looked uncertain. His earlier bravado was gone and he now looked his fourteen years.

“Your shaol is strong, Darren. You do not need to be afraid,” Kryan said with just a hint of condemnation in his voice, deliberately bridling the younger man.

Darren’s fear vanished and anger blossomed behind his eyes. “I told you, old man,” he sneered. “Watch your tone or it will be you lying on the ground and not I.”

Inside Kryan laughed. He cast Gallan a look and saw that the other man understood. Darren’s training had been superb; arrogance would force him to do what they wanted. Arrogance and the belief inRyoch, his god.

“My apologies, Darren. You are correct, and I have overstepped myself. Now come here and kneel,” Kryan said, bowing ever so slightly in mock respect.

Darren’s eyes hardened and Kryan sensed his growing rebellion.

“Oh, do not fear. You are not kneeling to me. Do you not feel his presence, here in the cave?”

For the first time, Darren’s eyes swept the cave interior. He, too, must have sensed the antiquity and a look of reverence crossed his face.

“He is here?” he asked in child-like innocence. “Here, with us now?”

“Communicate with your shaol, and ask him what he sees. You will have a better answer from the spirit world than from me.”

Darren did not close his eyes. He had no need. In truth, Kryan was growing afraid of the younger man and the strength of his bond with his shaol. Given time he would be powerful indeed, but the experiments must go on. If Drachar was to be served, he needed an army. An army of invincible warriors, even stronger than the growing number of warrior Priests of Ryoch, a god created in name only to serve a greater god – Drachar. Until the time was ripe for the people to believe in his return, Drachar’s name must remain a preserve of the trusted. Ryoch would do, but Ryoch was a sham, nothing more, nothing less.

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