"... No one knows how it got there. Even the most ancient maps and history books have nothing to say about the place. For as far as we all know Morturbem has always been there. Some say that maybe it was a plague that infected them all and they were either too far from help or too contagious to risk helping. Some say that something caused a civil war and they fought amongst themselves until every last one of them was dead. But whatever it was, the fact still remains that Morturbem, the city ruled by the dead, still stands today. The buildings are unharmed but from the weather and age. And when the night is blackest you can hear the spirits in the city wailing and some have even seem them wondering about as if they are lost and still searching for something. But nobody dares to look too closely because once you enter the city of the dead you become their citizen and you never return. Nobody who has entered has ever been seen alive again."
Marin left the story there and Xaine pondered the meaning behind his words. Did he add the word 'alive' on purpose? He thought he did, if nothing more than to give the idea that maybe they had been seen again but among the dead. Xaine almost gave himself a shudder at the thought. He looked up again as Marin began to speak once more.
"I don't know if I have anything else to talk about tonight. It's starting to get late anyway maybe we should all head back." then he smiled as the crowd let out an audible sigh of disappointment. Nobody really thought he was finished, he always gave a false end just before he got to his best story. But it was almost part of an unspoken contract that the crowd had to show how interested they were in the story to get the really good one at the end of the day.
"Well I'm just not so sure all I have left to talk about," he tested. And everyone practically held their breath not wanting to interrupt his next words. "I suppose there is that rumor that's been going around, but you all wouldn't be interested in that now would you?" they all leaned in a little, listening, knowing he was about to continue. "Well one more couldn't hurt I guess." He jumped into his story quickly, excited to tell it.
"As I've been moving from town to town, there's a dark rumor that has been going around. And the scary part actually, is that I've heard it more than once. You see there"s a new beast being talked about, a vicious and intelligent creature, and one man"s story seems pretty compelling. A traveler I met on my journey who claims he"s actually seen one, and that it almost took his life. Most call it a Darkgon, and from what this man told me you never want to meet one. On a seemingly normal day, the man was traveling in search for a good place to trade goods he"d acquired from another town. His next destination was on the far side of a long stretch of woods.
"When he came upon the edge it was about midday but there was something wrong that day, something eerie about those woods. He didn"t know what but he knew he would lose too much time cutting around them and decided to push on anyway. As the day stretched on he just became more and more uneasy, searching around him constantly. He couldn"t shake the feeling that something or someone was watching him. Little did he know, that something, was a Darkgon. The hours pressed on and he heard nothing, saw nothing- not even the occasional small animal scurrying to clear his path. It was as if the creatures had already evacuated, it made his skin crawl. And it wasn"t just him, his horse became exceedingly uncomfortable in the woods. Sometimes refusing to take his commands, other times almost dashing straight through seemingly unprovoked.
"The day continued and he knew he needed to make camp before it was too dark. He found a spot with old dry wood close to it and made a small clearing for himself and his horse. As he set the fire the light from the sun was steadily falling and the feelings of fear only got worse. His horse continually started at nothing and occasionally would tug against his ropes. He tried to convince himself that he was just letting the situation get the better of him and his uneasiness was causing his horse to be on edge, and continued to make his fire and set up camp. He cooked a small meal and ate what he could with his stomach churning at the thought that something was in the darkness beyond the fires light.
"After his meal he spread out his bedroll and, just in case, wrapped some oil soaked cloth around a thick torch stick and turned to lay down. It was then that he"d heard a twig snap in the dark behind him and knew he wasn"t alone. Whatever was out there must have been stalking him all day, and was waiting for him to drop his guard. Fear gripped him stronger than it ever had that night and somehow he knew the fire would not keep this predator at bay. He slowly stood and lit his torch, meaning to continue the act of being calm and collected so as not to incite the drive of a predator. His horse whinnied and strained against his ropes again. Without packing up his bedroll, or even repacking his cookware, he simply eased his way to his four legged companion.
"He made a show of comforting the animal in an attempt to calm his own nerves and untied it from his restraint. He knew it was now or never. He grabbed the reins with one hand and torch in the other. In one fluid movement, he mounted the horse and kicked as hard as he could. The terrified horse needed no further encouragement from his master and sprinted back to the trail. Instantly, they heard the movements in the bush behind them and knew their stalker had set out after them. The man urged the horse forward with all he had in him and nervously looked around him to see what was out there. As they galloped through the dark forest, they could hear the rhythmic hoof beats matched by another softer pounding, getting louder every moment. He was finally able to discern that was coming from his right side, opposite of his torch hand. He quickly turned his head to see, moving the torch in an arc as not to burn the horse. What he saw nearly knocked him from his saddle. There it was, the Darkgon, keeping stride with the horse easily. The beast was jet black and as large if not larger than the man"s horse. It ran on all four legs with huge clawed hand-like paws. The creature was covered in scales and had sharp looking spines following down it"s back to a nasty looking tail. As they ran, it would jump closer and snap his razor sharp teeth at the rider and his horse. The man told me he thought the beast was only toying with him as he could have jumped the horse at any moment. One of the times the beast snapped at him, he saw that the creature had large wings like a dragon. In all aspects the beast was terrifying and seemed to be a creature of nightmares. What happened next probably saved the man"s life. Boom! There was a huge crack and suddenly the beast was no longer next to him. The traveler looked over his shoulder to see what had happened. The Darkgon was so focused on him and his horse, he had miscalculated his path, and crashed right into a copse of trees that the horse and rider were far enough to the side to clear. The creature didn"t stop for long though, he untangled himself from branches, snapping the air in anger, and doubled back. It leapt back into a hard gait, trying to catch up.
"The creature was incredibly fast and was closing the distance between them quickly, even though it had lost a lot of ground. The man finally cleared the trees hoping the beast wouldn"t follow, but it did and with all the vigor it had before. It was a predator going after his prey and it would not stop for anything. But soon after they had left the clearing something seemed to take hold of the Darkgon. It stumbled just before its jaws closed on the horse"s back leg, and struggled as if fighting some unseen thing, snapping at the air, scratching at it"s head, and making terrible and threatening noises. Then for the second time that night the man was frightened nearly off his horse by a horrible sound. A scream filled the air from the forest that shook him to the very soul. It was a sound so chilling he still hears it in his nightmares.
"However, whatever that scream was, it finally stopped the creature in it"s path. It slowed to a halt and reluctantly turned back to the woods. The man was finally safe, but just in case he didn"t stop, he rode on until they made it to the next town. He felt bad that his horse had worked so hard but he told me at that point it seemed like it would have been more of a struggle to get his horse to stop." Marin looked around, after those final words, at the faces around the fire glued to his every word. Satisfied he had delivered it well, he slapped his legs, stood, and began giving his farewells. The younger members of the audience began to whisper to each other when someone next to Xaine spoke up above the crowd.
"What was his name? ; you know the traveler."
Marin cringed a little at the question and then responded. " I was hoping you wouldn"t pick up on that part, as it is a matter of some embarrassment for me. You see we only traveled together for a night or two and it was the same night we met that he told me his story. And I was so enthralled by his tale I had completely forgotten his name. And by the time it was over I felt a little out of place to ask it then. So I simply avoided the topic altogether after that. Just called him friend or something of the like. It was something with a "˜J" though I think." the story teller drifted off, continuing to make his way from the crowd. Xaine and Maez shook his hand and thanked him for the good story. The two then headed down the street and toward their homes.
"So what do you think?" Xaine asked his friend.
Maez looked at him with somewhat of a confused look on his face. "What do I think about what? What are you talking about?"
"The story, do you think it"s true or he was just making it all up?" Xaine replied a little annoyed since the topic seemed obvious given the situation.
"Oh, I don"t know, seems a little crazy, I mean you know how your mind can play tricks on you in the dark especially if that guy was already spooked. Plus I feel like after being told a story like that I would remember the guys name." Maez replied apparently unfazed by his friends mild annoyance.
"Yeah I guess but I don"t know, I kind of feel like if he was honest enough to tell us he forgot the man"s name that maybe it was really a true story. Or at least Marin thought the story was true, I guess. But you do have a point about the traveler already being scared in a dark forest. But if he"s anything like Marin, he"d hate to lose all the gear he left behind at the camp site."
"I guess so but why are you thinking about it so much? It"s not like it happened anywhere near here, " Maez replied with a questioning look.
"I don"t know, sometimes I"m just curious what"s out there and what we don"t know about this world. And things like that might be problems I have to solve if I get to become a warrior. I will have to protect people from danger, possibly, even those things."
Maez chuckled a little at his friends response. "Has your dad ever come home and said he"s had to fight off a Darkgon off and almost died? Besides, like I said, it"s not like it happened anywhere around here the chances of you running into one of those things, if they are real, are probably non-existent. If you get to be a warrior you"ll be trained by a veteran anyway, probably your dad no less."
"I guess so, in any case it won"t stop me from trying to be what I want to, I just want to be prepared." Xaine replied then was lost in thought again and the two reached the fork that divided the more direct paths to their homes and said farewell for the night. After a meal with his father, Xaine went to his room and made preparations for going to bed but he didn"t drift off for a while still. The day was a long one and tomorrow was going to be just as long if not longer, the trials would start soon and he was nervous about where he would be placed. Choosing to believe in his father's words earlier in the day, he decided he would probably be able to get where he wanted to go and finally drifted off.