CORSANA: THE PHALANX SYNDICATE Copyright ÂŠ 2015, 2017 Charles Wellington II All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the authorâ€™s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published by Indigo an imprint of BHC Press Library of Congress Control Number: 2016962378 ISBN-13: 978-1-946006-39-4 ISBN-10: 1-9460-0639-4 Visit the author at: www.bhcpress.com Also available in eBook Editing by: Pypeline Editing Cover design, interior book design, and eBook design by Blue Harvest Creative www.blueharvestcreative.com Original cover illustration by: Paul Davies
elcome. You are about to take a glimpse into the world of Corsana. A world very different than the one you currently reside in now. Here there’s no technology; at least, not technology like you know it. But that’s not for lack of trying. Corsana is not a medieval world full of illiterate people. And it’s not to be looked at as a world that is behind yours—as belonging somewhere in the past— or beyond yours—existing somewhere in the future after some cataclysmic event. Corsana exists right now; in this very room. If you were to wave your hand in the air, it might just be moving through a dragon. You see; Corsana exists in a parallel dimension to ours. But on their Earth, the continents adjusted differently, and more importantly, the Earth itself evolved in ways radically dissimilar to ours. For example; their world is constantly emitting an electromagnetic pulse. It’s why technology doesn’t work there. And while people there have tried at times to bring the world into an age of industrialization, it always seems as if the world itself has spewed forth creatures to prevent this leap forward from happening. As if the world itself was working against them; keeping people from going down that path.
And it is because of this that their world skewed off down a different course, and in ways that have led them towards the mystical and alchemical arts you are about to experience. It is because of all these mysterious anomalies, and because the line between our worlds, our realities, are so thin at times, that things such as; words, phrases, and ideas, seem to float between one another, that you might feel like you could walk through a doorway and appear in a new land. To that extent: Welcome to the world of Corsana. Read. Listen. Remember, and Learn. For the next time you walk through a doorway, you might just find yourself in a world of swords, shields, and magic. ~ C. Wellington II
lood poured from the dangling, swollen lips of Christopher’s mouth. He had no idea how long he’d been there. Time had lost all meaning in the dim light of his prison cell. Pain, his only light in the darkness, reminding him that he was still alive. Hanging from chains mounted to the ceiling by his wrists and ankles. His body contorted; forced to arc in a way that kept his hips and stomach pointed to the ground. The yellow toenails of the orc standing in front of him made fists with his toes in the dirt as he rubbed the back of his hand. Caressing the thought that he would soon strike him again. Christopher, like most humans, couldn’t stand orcs. They were a nasty humanoid species who infected the world like a cancer. Though this was the first time he had ever been up-close with one, he had heard the tales of their savagery. When not raping, killing and pillaging each other, they were doing so to other creatures and communities. Like locusts they spread across the globe, consuming and destroying everything in their path. Every orc, even the females, were big, thick and muscular. As if they bred themselves from the strongest and toughest of their kind, which would make a lot of sense. From the tales he had heard, orcs—who were a barbaric race—lived in tribes. Everything from sun-up to sundown was focused on aggression, intimidation and training for war. A culture where the higher you were ranked, the more 11
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tattoos you had, and scars were marks of beauty to be sought after. They were a bastardized race. On top of having olive green skin, they had massive skulls covered in thick, black, greasy hair with foreheads that slanted back like a gorilla’s. Their noses were shaped like a pig’s snout and their ears were pointy like an elf ’s. And though he would never bring it up in the presence of an elf, lest he meant to absolutely insult them, Christopher had heard tales that alluded to elves being bred with orcs so that orcs could gain the benefit of their dexterous nature. “Once again, scum. Where are your friends?” the orc growled—his tone laced with hatred and contempt. Christopher laughed again as he had many times before. The laughing caused his stomach muscles to cramp, sending pain throughout his entire body, making it hard to breathe. This, in turn, caused him to laugh even more. “I already told you. They’re with your sister,” Christopher mumbled through swollen lips. “And she’s lovin’—” The orc’s fist pounded into Christopher’s face. The crunching sound of his cheekbone breaking echoed in the room. Barely able to see through his swollen eyes, Christopher surveyed his surroundings. The room—if you could call it that—was a hole carved into the side of a cave. The walls had been left unworked, and the hacking marks from shovels and pickaxes were still fresh along with the smell of dirt. Light trickled in from a torch that sat in its wall mount just outside the door on the other side of the hall. Christopher could feel his bottom lip hanging open. Unable to close his mouth, the blood and drool began to pool on the ground. Christopher braced himself as the orc raised his fist again, only for nothing happened. He looked at the orc whose attention had shifted down, focusing on a sharp pointed blade sticking out the breast of his chest. The orc had a look of shock as he fell face first onto the ground, barely missing Christopher. “CK! CK, we’re here.” A face came close enough to Christopher for him to make out the details through his blurred vision. Drendel, his three foot tall halfling teammate—who was the best in his group for any stealthy deed—stood there with his straight, long, razor-cut hair, forest green eyes and a debonair smile. “Don’t worry, pal. We’ll have you down in a jiffy.”
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The clink of his shackles opening gave him only a second of joy as his friends had to lift him by his arms, causing his sockets to flair in pain as the room went black.
CHRISTOPHER FELT HIS HEAD being raised, and was very relieved to feel the cold of a glass vial being put to his lips. As he drank the strawberry tasting liquid, he knew it was a healing potion as the warmth enveloped his body from within and his aches began to subside. As the puffy sensation around his eyes began to recede he could make out Chloe, their group’s cleric. She had taken off her helmet, which allowed her long dark, chocolate brown hair to hang gently down her round face. As she knelt beside him deliver the potion, the ends of her hair tickling his nose. As his eyes adjusted and she came into focus, he saw her prominent, round eyes close briefly as she breathed a sigh of relief. The rest of the team gathered in a semi-circle: Rannstein, their dwarven fighter; Rory, their elven wizard and of course, Drendel, their halfling striker. “How you feelin’?” asked Rannstein. Though it was a question that should have been asked with true concern for a comrade, Rannstein’s tone was laced with disdain. “You know—” Christopher began to say, sitting up. “The next time you have a great idea, such as allowing yourself to get captured to find the hidden base, you do it.” All except Rannstein laughed at the verbal jab as Christopher and Chloe stood up. Christopher was in his late teens and was already just a couple inches short of two yards. He had a chiseled rectangular shape to his face, with thick brown hair that was cut in a medium length layered style, a longer version of the classic tapered haircut, and hazel eyes. To any normal person he looked the part of the beginner, rebellious adventurer. His chain shirt—a tunic of tiny linked steel rings, fashioned to fit the body, was worn over his explorer’s outfit that consisted of sturdy boots, brown leather jeans, a belt, an off-white tunic and a dark brown cloak. His Parma shield—a three foot wide concave steel shield—was latched to his left arm, and in his right hand, his bastard sword—a straight double-edged blade, almost 5 feet long, ending at the cross guard; he gave it a little confident flourish. Rory nodded, “Glad to have you back.” 13
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“Glad to be back.” Christopher finished adjusting his gear. “So... Where are we?” “The mine of Morgh.” Chloe said. Christopher shook his head; the name being unfamiliar. “About two days ride from Asic.” Chloe said pulling out a map and pointing to their rough location. “After we followed you here, we alerted the city guards. They’ve taken a position at the bottom of the road leading up the hill to this mine’s entrance.” “So then, how’d you guys get in?” Drendel was quick with the dramatics. With his thumb and forefinger ever so slightly apart, as if he was holding a tiny human around the waist, he began whistling a pitch from high to low, simulating a person falling from a great height, splashing into water, which he emphasized with gurgling sounds. As Chloe attempted to stifle a giggle, Rory’s head flicked towards Rannstein. “We came in the back door.” she said. “And now that you’re caught up...” Rannstein said with irritation in his voice. He unsheathed his dwarven battleax, testing his grip on the haft with a few quick chops. “It’s time to kill some orcs.” “And save the damsel,” Drendel pointed out. “Of course,” Rannstein said with a slight nod and a loud sigh.
THEY MADE THEIR WAY towards the entrance of the mine, occasionally stopping to check the map the miners had crudely drawn from memory. Drendel led the way through, being thorough to check for traps or any signs of orc presence. Eventually, the roughly mined-out tunnels turned into worked stone. Besides making it easier to walk and move silently, torches—lit and standing in wall mounts—alerted them to a presence. “I thought orcs could see in the dark?” Chloe asked Rory. “They can,” she replied in a whispered voice. “Study has taught me that all creatures with the ability to see in total darkness—like dwarves—need to have their eyes exposed to some type of light every few days or atrophy will begin to set in. Most of the time this need is met through the use fires used to cook food.”
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As she held her conversation with Chloe, Rory was busy pulling out her spellbook and thumbing through it. She wasn’t trying to be rude to Chloe, as if the conversation wasn’t important; that’s just who Rory was. There was always something on her mind. This habit caused some to think her absentminded or naive, but it was funny to see her have a look of total concentration on her face while she dove through her book, absorbing all the information; yet still be able to interject an intelligent comment while seemingly not paying attention. Rory was almost a head shorter than Christopher and Chloe—who were the same height—with a head of full-bodied, blond hair and big, blue, almond-shaped eyes. Currently she was keeping her hair up, held there by an intricate gold-layered bun-pick. The look accentuated her neck and oval-shaped face. Unlike most in her field of study, she didn’t wear the standard wizard attire, which was a body length wool robe, and a pointy, cone-shaped hat with a wide brim. Though it seemed narcissistic, wizards usually chose their robe colors either based on what color looked best on them, or on the energy type they loved to channel. Wizards who used the fireball spell were very well known for wearing red robes. Instead, she wore a red mandarin gown with a formfitting black bodysuit underneath. The thigh-high slits up the side allowed for ease of movement. Rory felt that the standard style seemed to suit the older, more experienced wizards. She felt it was an antiquated look that seemed to be adopted with age, and the assumption that you were so skilled with your abilities and spells, that it didn’t matter who knew your profession (or focus) and what you were capable of. “So then why are all the halls lit?” Chloe asked. Rory looked up from her book, an inquisitive expression on her face, as she looked back down the hall. “Good question.” It was then that the sounds of laughing and cajoling permeated the air from a room down an adjacent hall to the right. “Yes!” Rannstein said through gritted teeth. “Sounds like some orcs who’d like to meet my ax.” Rannstein looked to the others, his face lit with excitement. “We should just pass unnoticed,” Chloe said. “The map shows we are close to the stairs that will lead to the main level.” 15
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Rannstein was immediately flustered and visibly irked. “Since when do you have a problem killing orcs?” Rannstein, who was all of four and a half feet of metal and dwarven muscle, looked up at Chloe—literally. He had a triangular face, mildly deep-set black eyes, and his thick, red, braided beard did nothing to hide his strong, prominent chin. Chloe calmly met the dwarf ’s irritation. “Killing out of self-defense is one thing. Looking for a confrontation is just an excuse to murder. My goddess will not condone that, and neither will I.” The others waited for Rannstein to make a smart reply, but instead he grunted and allowed the haft of his ax to slide through his hand until it was at the head of his weapon, apparently conceding the argument. Christopher thought he was smart to do so. He wasn’t sure yet what path Chloe would take; a healing cleric or a battle cleric. But with a cleric’s ability to magically heal injuries, it was none too wise to get on the bad side of your healer. Clerics were holy warriors, or crusaders, that had given their lives in devotion to their god or goddess. They spent their time spreading their doctrine and showing people the path. While they were very preachy, most clerics believed that it was their job to show you the path, but it was your job to choose that path. Almost all humans worshiped the pantheon of gods known as the Otivians. It was through worship that the gods granted the clerics some of their divine energy to further their goals. There were seventeen gods in all, which gave people many gods to worship, and many paths to follow. Chloe was as tall as Christopher, with dark, stormy blue eyes that contrasted elegantly with the tint of green in her skin, and eyebrows that slanted sharply downward from the inner half, always giving her look an air of mystery. Her dark hair was pulled up and tucked in her helmet. Christopher asked once if it was uncomfortable having all that hair bunched up in there; but the clerics had thought of everything. For their female members, they had created helmets with a space for their hair so it would be out of the way and provide comfort. Unlike Rory who had a very athletic, pear shaped body, Chloe had a topheavy hourglass body type, where her bust was larger than her hips, and her waist was very well defined. She wore chainmail armor crafted in the shape of a tunic. It was a popular armor for clerics as it formed a mesh that helped against slashing weapons, which were commonly used by all creatures. She carried a heater shield 16
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that she kept polished to a mirror finish, and on the front of it was a bronzed symbol of her goddess. For her this item—this shield—was not just a shield; it was the holy symbol for which she channeled her divine magic energy through. It was the physical representation of the connection to her goddess. Heater shields looked like an upside down acute triangle, but curved on the sides as it came down to the point at the bottom. Lastly, she wielded a morningstar; the most common weapon for a cleric. It allowed the wielder to inflict damage with the spikes, and increase that damage with the force of the ball they stuck out from. Morningstars worked well against undead creatures, which clerics considered to be horrid abominations—second only to the evil cleric that raised it. Just ahead, the hall forked. If the map was correct, to the left were supposed to be stairs leading up, and to the right were unexplored natural caverns, yet to be mined. As they neared the stairs, Drendel began to move a little faster; more assured that the orcs wouldn’t trap their own walkways. “We’re doing good,” Drendel said. Rory shook her head. “What have I told you about saying stuff like that?” They turned the corner to climb the stairs and came face to face with a group of orcs. The second it took both groups to acknowledge the presence of an enemy, seemed to span an eternity. And then all hell broke loose! As Rannstein bellowed a war cry and charged into battle—Chloe at his side—Drendel somersaulted back through his group. Metal rang as weapons clashed or found armor and shield. Rannstein bashed an orc’s falchion away and cleaved into his skull. “Ha!” he cheered, as blood splattered across the metal of his ax. Chloe ducked, an orc’s sword missing her head by inches. Bolts flew over their shoulders from Drendel, accompanied by Rory’s magic missiles, into the orcs. Dodging and weaving, Rannstein and Chloe created a flowing wall of armor and shields that the orcs could not pass. Christopher was about to swap out a bow for a bastardsword when he heard it—the sound grew louder like the roar of a wave. From around the corner of the adjacent hall they had passed charged the group of orcs who’d once been laughing and cajoling. “Behind us!” Christopher bellowed. 17
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Christopher and Drendel engaged this new force of orcs in combat. They were now facing a battle on two fronts. Drendel bobbed and weaved, barely escaping slashes. Lucky for him, his rapier was quicker than his wit. Rays of fire flew left and right from Rory’s hands. As one orc would die, another would move in quickly to take his place. “And this is why you clear out everything as you go!” Rannstein said as he fell another foe. Chloe scowled at the comment, her sword chopping into an orc’s neck. Drendel rotated, avoiding another hit as he put his rapier away. Drawing a couple of daggers he stepped forward toward the orc who threatened his life. His hands moved deftly as they swirled and twisted back and forth across his body. The light glistening off the blades created a weaving infinity sign across his torso. For a moment the orc looked dumbfounded until Drendel lost hold of his own dagger and the blade went spinning through the air, nearly striking Rory. “Hey!” she yelled. “Sorry,” Drendel replied with a shrug. It was then that Drendel was hit hard over the head. Christopher watched as his helmet deflected the blow enough for him to avoid death, but he was clearly stunned from the impact. The orc reared back his arm, ready to plunge his sword through Drendel’s chest. “No!” Christopher shouted, as he thrust out his arm, palm out to the enemy. The orcs in front were blasted back, cartwheeling over their allies, slammed by a force of telekinetic energy. The moment’s reprieve from fighting was enough for Rannstein to kill the last orc on his side and move to form a wall with Christopher. As the orcs charged in again, Chloe was able to summon a healing blast that pulsed through all of her allies and into the front enemy orcs. Christopher felt one of his wounds heal and as he did, he witnessed one of the orcs being healed by Chloe’s spell as well. “You just healed them!” CK yelled back to Chloe. Chloe grimaced. “I forgot. Sorry!” The two forces slammed into each other with a thundering collision. Swords clashed, blood squirted, and the blades of Rannstein’s and Christopher’s weapons met in the middle of an orc’s head, sending another to the great beyond. 18
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The orcs, whether braver than any ballad had ever stated or mad as hatters, fought until their last breath. However, moments later, Drendel finished off the last orc with a bolt to the head. The silence after a battle was always deafening. “We better be moving,” Rory said. “That group,” motioning to the one that came from the adjacent hall, “came from, what I would surmise is the mess hall. But the other is probably a patrol.” Christopher nodded. “Meaning they will be expected back soon…” “…or their replacements.” Rory finished. “Then let’s get moving!” Rannstein said, having enjoyed the battle. He was in his element when it came to killing orcs, and was eager to lead the way up the stairs. Christopher laughed inwardly, thinking back to how this—adventuring, training, and working as an effective group accepting dangerous missions—all started only a few months ago…
THREE MONTHS EARLIER.... It is the year 12,013. The earth has long since entered its quaternary period and “The Age of Venēficus”—or magic. A topic which has often started many arguments, as the elves have always stated that magic was never conjured, but a part of the living core and has always been. Due to the magical energy infused within every atom, technology is non-existent. The world has continued to move along in its current state. Scientists—or alchemists as they are more commonly known in this world—have tried to expand their current way of life, attempting to bridge the gap between an age of ropes and pulleys; hoping to thrust them forward into a world of a steam-powered monstrosities; a new industrial state. But the earth itself has rebelled; enormous explosions, deaths and catastrophes surround any attempt or experiment. As such, the world had moved forward with new construction techniques, plumbing and more, but with the power of a man’s hands, and the assistance of those with the will to channel the magical energies that flow through this existence. Progress has been slow, as the cost of using such energy has always been very physically taxing on the individual channeling that power. Not excluding the 19
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cost of gems—in time and energy to possess them—and worse yet, opposing dark forces sought to use the same tools for death and destruction. And so our story begins in the town of Asic. A good sized town, whose size and demographics have placed it somewhere between a large town and a small city. Located on the east coast of the Corsana continent; the town quickly established itself as a thriving harbor due largely to their geographic location in the center of the coastal trade route; this making it the main port of call for ships bearing cargo from Constantine—the main seaport town on the west coast of Alteese, the continent across the sea. Asic was the largest town on the east coast of Corsana with over 1,500 buildings of varying types—from warehouses, to shops and residential homes. When men first sailed across the ocean looking to colonize land of their own, leaving the elven continent of Alteese behind, Asic was the first city settled; the mountains, forests and plains giving the settlers an abundance of resources. Beyond the mountains and forests to the west spanned miles of lush rolling hills. Eventually the human settlers of Asic, led by Adam Corsana, moved west, colonizing the continent. In doing so they also found themselves in the company of dwarves. But the dwarves didn’t care for the rolling hills, or the forests of the surface land, as their hearts lay within the earth. Peace allowed for a treaty between humans, elves and dwarves, giving everyone supervision to specific features. The dwarves ruled within the mountains and underground, the elves ruled the forests and the humans ruled over the surface. Human men and women of Asic were a diverse lot. Most men stood, on average, a couple inches short of two yards, though they varied in height from five feet, to six and a half feet tall. Their builds, hair, eyes, weight and body type fluctuated from man to man. And while these features differed greatly, the majority of the men were Caucasian. Women, just like men, were varied, but they stood, on average, a head shorter of the average male. The city of Asic sits surrounded by a city wall almost as tall as a three story house, in the form of a “C” that goes from the ocean—which bordered the eastern side of the city—around the city, and back to the ocean again. Three gates, half as tall as the walls, allow traveler’s access to Asic while city guards patrolled from atop the wall. A barracks building was just inside and to the left of each city gate, allowing the guards a place to go when on break, and to eat or sleep when they had split night-duty shifts. And just in case of attack, the city officials finally 20
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gave ordnance for a distance, equal to that of the wall between the wall and the city buildings, allowing for ease of guard movement. Upon entering the southern gates, shops, small inns and horse boarding stables were instantly present. These two-story buildings were well kept, with gabled roofs covered with wood shingles. Each house was privately owned, allowing for the residence to live behind, and above, their shops that occupied the bottom floors. Beyond the shops that lined the main throughway, stood luxurious homes owned by wealthy merchants, lords, nobles and the heads of the city-state. As the road curved and led towards the center of town where the middle class lived, the style of homes began to visibly change. Each home was no longer guaranteed to be two stories. The height of homes varied from owner to owner. The consistent qualities were that each house had a gable roof with wooden shingles. Some of the nicer homes had an extra attic room with a dormer for light; this was a nice treat for the homes whose families were growing. The quality of goods could be seen to diminish as well. Where on the south end of town you could enjoy fine quality restaurants and see the latest fashions from across the sea, in the middle of town, goods started being aimed at the middle class; such as clothes that might be considered “last season” but that were still very stylish. A few south-end style homes could be seen to the east nearer the wharf. These homes were used by the women of the red-light district. As you neared the north of Asic you began to enter the “wrong side of town.” Here the poor found places of residence. The better of the poor lived in small, one-bedroom houses. The roofs, though gable style, were layered with planks instead of shingles. The poorest of the poor, the scrags, lived in one-room gables, or shed-style shacks, with thatched roofs. Here homes were butted up next to each other due to the lack of space. As the city was separated horizontally from north to south by wealth, so was the city separated vertically from east to west by quality. To the east near the wharf were all of the warehouses. As you headed west, towards the middle of town, you arrived at the craftsman and merchants shops. The further west you went led you into residential areas. Having lived here all his life, Christopher knew Asic very well. He wasn’t ashamed to say he came from the wrong side of town, or that he wasn’t one of the privileged. In fact, he was a bastard child; born to his mother, Belinda, who for a short time, worked as a prostitute in Asic’s red-light district. 21
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Belinda Corrigan was born into a noble family. When her father, Dominick Corrigan, received an inheritance from his father—a very well-known and successful merchant, instead of doing as his friends had done, and blow his inheritance on a week’s worth of fun, he quickly and quietly invested his money into a fleet of ships. Practically overnight, he surpassed his father in wealth and status. But in the years that followed, he lost everything. A hurricane, the likes no one alive had ever witnessed, hit just off Asic’s shore. The storm destroyed his fleet of ships and all the merchandise within, which he was held monetarily responsible for. This blow, combined with a vicious string of piracy after the storm, destroyed their family’s stability. After a night of drowning his sorrows, Mr. Corrigan was found murdered in an alley only two blocks from his home. Belinda’s mother had to sell the house, and all their belongings, to pay off their debt. After which, her mother died in her sleep from a broken heart. Belinda had no money, no home and her “friends” turned their backs on her—not even decent enough to spare her a passing glance. She was forced to get money any way she could, which led her to making a living as a working girl. It was during this momentary profession that she became pregnant with Christopher. Normally a mother’s past is not something a child should know, but she had to explain this to him early on, as some of the other kids in town would bully and pick on him for her past. And while most of the privileged, who frequently watched the Christopher running around the city, often said that he had no reason to dream big, that never stopped him. His mother found a job at one of the best local taverns in the area; the Raging Centaur. Though it was in the north-end of town, it was probably one of the most frequented taverns in the entire city. When sailors came into port and had some shore leave, you would most certainly find them there. The Centaur was three stories tall with a gabled roof and many windows on the second floor. The bottom floors’ windows had been boarded up, which was a common practice for taverns. The lack of sunlight made it really easy to lose track of time. Meaning more drinks sold, which added up to much more profit. Unlike the surrounding buildings, Charlie Hail—the owner—had invested in wooden shingles which, in this neighborhood, made The Centaur stand out. 22
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The second and third floors were filled with single bedchambers for rent. Most of the third floor rooms didn’t have windows, but a pair on each side sported dormers. A small two-story addition had been added as living quarters for Charlie onto the rear of the building, giving it a backwards “L” shape. Just above and to the right of the entrance hung an encased oil lamp, its light illuminating the signboard hanging above the entrance. The sign had an engraved head of a centaur, smoke rising menacingly from his nostrils, his eyes painted red and the words “Raging Centaur” in a rainbow arch over his head and between his horns. Other than the signboard, the place looked pleasant from the outside. Upon entering, the main floor was occupied by the tavern. The bar, with stools in front of it for customers, ran along the opposite wall. To the right were half a dozen round tables with four chairs spaced evenly apart. On the wall just to the left of the entrance there was a big, long fireplace, which provided most of the light. Above, hung three chandeliers made of deer antlers with four small torch bowls on each that provided dim illumination, casting most of the place, and its customers, into shadows. The entrance was the dividing line between the private round tables to the right and the two communal dining tables on the left, with a bench on either side for people to sit. Just beyond the tables, and raised about a foot off the floor, was a small stage—big enough for about four or five people to occupy, where a group of bards could entertain the guests. On a public notice post, just to the right of the door, you could find jobs and fliers posted, such as, “Fighter Wanted.” Or more common were the “Wanted” posters put up by the city guard of fugitives, fiends and brigands on the loose, and in need of “bringing in” for various reasons. Christopher loved looking at the drawings of the wanted posters. Such terms as fighter, cleric and wizard were general terms used worldwide as titles of profession. The title, combined with a corresponding degree and ledger of expertise, indicated expertise in the field. These markers of advancement were often given by a licensed trainer, which, depending on your field of study, could be found at any clergy, guild or place of training. Adventurers of considerable advanced training always carried a medallion or writ to keep for their own personal record, should they be called into question. How one found their way to following a specific path was never known. Everyone 23
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had their own tale to tell and they were as numerous as the grains of sand near the shore. On any given day, Charlie—who ran his tavern/inn as the barkeep—heard many tales over an open mug of ale. Charlie’s place was often rowdy, and the sounds of laughter, music and the clinking of mugs could be heard long into the night. On a slow day, one would normally find no less than eight people in there at any time enjoying themselves. Charlie was like a big brother to Christopher. He was also the one to give him his nickname, CK—as CK’s first name was Christopher and his last name was Knight in honor of one of his great-grandfathers; a nickname quickly adopted by his close friends. Even with the brotherly affection Charlie bathed over him, his mother didn’t approve of Christopher hanging around the bar. She was always looking for a reason to send him home saying, “The tavern is no place for a child, especially a six-year-old boy,” as she’s chased him out, sending him away. But CK had a deal with Charlie; as long as he didn’t accept any alcoholic drinks, went straight home if a fight broke out, and didn’t move from the stool, he was able to sit at the end of the bar. And that was exactly where CK wanted to be. Nobody ever wanted to sit there because it was too hard to get the attention of the barkeep from that spot, and it was too close to the toilet. But if you wanted to hear the local bards, it was perfect. About three nights a week Charlie would pay a bard to come in to play a lively tune; and it was here that CK got his education on the outside world. Through their poems and stories put to music, he heard fantastic tales of adventurers charging into battle against tremendous odds, or escaping a deathtrap— the walls closing in to crush them with seconds to spare. Wizard battles were complete with spells, summoned creatures from other dimensions, fireballs exploding and rays disintegrating innocent bystanders. Nightmarish tales about bloodthirsty creatures of the Underdark, hideous demons, soul-craving devils, dark entities with long fangs waiting to tear a hero to pieces, as well as fierce, colossal, fire-breathing dragons, standing fourteen stories tall, with razor sharp claws as big as a man’s house, and wingspans the length of cities. It was also here that CK heard for the first time, what people would refer to him as if they knew his secret: the fact that he was a psionic. If the stories were true, to be a psionic, and worst yet to have it found out by townsfolk, would lead 24
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to nothing more than suffering a fate worse than death at the hands of the very people you would call friends and neighbors.
SINCE HE WAS LITTLE, CK knew he was different. Any time he wanted something it would come to him—literally. He could make his toys dance, bounce and float around in the air through telekinesis. It was fun. His mother would always smile, as she watched the toys dance and play at his whim. But he would never forget the fear in his mother’s eyes when one day while playing, there was a knock at the door. She told him to stop it. But he didn’t know what she meant. He wasn’t doing anything, but sitting in the middle of the room playing with his toys, which were floating three feet off the ground. The knocks came again; more aggressively this time. It wasn’t until she hit one of the toys, sending it flying across the room where it slammed into the wall breaking in pieces, that he realized what he was doing wrong and all the toys crashed to the floor. His mother rushed to the front door to find the tax collector there with two city guards. She paid her taxes promptly and shut the door as quickly and softly as she could. The collectors finally gone, she leaned up against the door, letting out a long, airy sigh. As she approached CK, he thought he was in deep trouble. He leaned back expecting to be spanked for being a bad boy. She picked him up gently in her arms; sat down, placing him on her lap, and explained to him, “You know how you can play and make things fly?” She asked. CK nodded his head. “Well, for us, it’s fun. But we must keep it a secret. People are afraid of people who can make things fly.” CK gave a perplexed look as he tilted his head in question. “People can fly with magic?” he asked. To a child there wasn’t a difference. He just didn’t need to say funny words, wiggle his fingers or glow with energy. “They can; yes. But to them, it’s different.” CK furrowed his brow not understanding, and his mother smiled. “We just have to keep it secret. Otherwise, we’ll lose our home.” “Like if we don’t pay taxes.” CK said with pride for thinking he fully understood. He knew what it meant to lose his home. He had seen one of his friends, and their family, have to move because they didn’t pay their taxes. His mother smiled. 25
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“Yes. Like that.” “OK Mama.”
THIS WAS JUST ONE example, one memory, of the fear CK would experience in his life—real and imagined. The stories from the bards told of creatures in the Underdark with mental abilities, very much like his own, that not only allowed them to throw objects with their minds, but who were able to crush a persons will, and control them like a puppet for the rest of their lives. The Underdark was a region below the crust of the earth. A place so deep, that dwarves feared to venture there. Most dwarven kingdoms existed inside the hills, mountains or into the earth up to a half mile deep. Beyond that lived the abyssal dwarves… They almost never interacted with non-dwarven outsiders due to the depth of which they lived. Their homes went down to a depth of up to one and one-quarter mile. These dwarves were skinnier than average dwarves, and much more standoffish. This is believed to be due to their constant battle for existence. Down in the deep, in the Underdark, lived the foulest of creatures. Down there, there were things that crawled across the floors and ceilings as easy as a man walks down a deserted road. Creatures that could sense your movement through the ground, hear your heart beat within your chest, and taste your fear. Those were the “easy” creatures to defeat. Down there bred abominations with powers of the mind; beings that possessed the ability to make one’s nightmares a reality that you could never be woken from. When they weren’t manipulating another being’s reality, they were tinkered on other creatures, splicing entities and trying to create even more sinister beings. And these creatures lived side-by-side with, or in servitude, to the worst of them all: The Dökkálfar. The Dökkálfar were a race of elves that were born with souls as black as a moonless night. They had been known to raid cities; not for resources or territory, but to enslave the population, taking any creature they did not kill as servants— but that was only the beginning. Once captured and put in prisoner transport restraints, they cut off the prisoner’s hands, then the tongue and then finally gouged
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out the eyes. The restraints were made so short that prisoners couldn’t help but walk hunched over, turning into nothing more than a pack mule. At least, that’s how Jared’s tales described it.
JARED WAS CK’S FAVORITE bard. Bards were musical entertainers who traveled from town to town performing in any venue they could find. Most of their songs were original, but they were known to trade their songs, or musical stories, with other bards. To most people they were just songs of fanciful tales and legends. But to a bard, they were much more than that. They were the life’s blood of knowledge and power; the very tip of the iceberg to the source of wealth and information that kept them alive. Most bards were part of, or had previously been an associate, of an adventuring group. Through their music they could lift their party’s spirits and embolden an ally to greatness; or tear an enemy’s soul apart in the heat of battle, dragging them down into the pits of despair. Jared was half a head shorter than the average man and stick thin. CK had seen him eat two full plates of food at one sitting, but the man never gained weight. His blue eyes contrasted with his blond hair, which was always unkempt and messy as if he’d just rolled out of bed. Jared’s attire always looked out of place. But as it turned out, it was just because he was always one step ahead in the latest fashion. CK had learned to expect, that when Jared showed up in his rockstar attire, you would soon see that style everywhere within the next few months. Jared had once been part of an adventuring group long ago. He very rarely spoke of it. But one night, CK heard Jared was in town. He wasn’t playing any venues, but was apparently just passing through and had stopped at The Raging Centaur. When CK arrived, Jared was beyond drunk. CK had never seen him like this and it made him feel a little uncomfortable. Before he could leave, Jared had spotted him and called him over patting the top of the stool next to him. Apparently it was his group’s anniversary, and it was the first time Jared opened up to CK about them. He spoke of his group, and how they’d been doing very well for themselves, moving up the chain of success. Then they took a mission—their last mission—entering The Dungeon of Heroes.
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The Dungeon of Heroes was a place everyone knew of, though most would never see. Near the east coast of Corsana there was the Devjacil Gorge. Centuries ago when humans came to this continent they had established that place as a quarry. As they dug deeper they uncovered ruins, and an entrance to an ancient site. Soon it began to claim adventurers who thought they were skilled enough to enter. Jared’s group had done their research. They learned that it was more than just your standard dungeon. Mages had infused this site with so much magical energy that it had become a living dungeon; almost sentient. It could sense all creatures, mercenaries and adventurers entering its halls, and would summon monsters appropriate to their skill level to challenge them. And as luck would have it, Jared was the only one of his group to survive. As he recounted his last steps out from the gorge, Jared looked at CK, his eyes glazed over with sadness, grief and alcohol. “Before that day, I’d always made light of everything. Even in the midst of battle you would find me laughing or smirking, making fun of the entire situation, even as blades bathed themselves in our own blood.” Jared said. “I made a vow that night to help rid the world of evil. Maybe I’m not part of a team, and maybe I can’t do much, but I’ll find a way to help…” he said, before passing out.
AFTER HIS PERFORMANCES, JARED would accept the gratitude of any patron who came up and talked to him, but he never accepted any of their offers to join them. Instead, he’d always thank them politely and join CK at the end of the bar. He’d buy himself a mug of ale, and CK a stormcloud—a nonalcoholic drink that Charlie invented especially for CK; very heavy on the syrup—and they’d sit there while Jared shared the new tales he’d collected on his travels. One of those evenings, Jared shared a story that CK would never forget. “Have I got a story for you!” Jared started. “A story so hot, I’m not even supposed to tell you.” “OK…” CK had seen that gleam in Jared’s eye before. Usually it was when he was making a story up of his own. “Well if you don’t want to hear it…” Jared said with a cocky smile, taking a swig of his drink and began to stand up. CK quickly placed his hand on his forearm. 28
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“Wait. I didn’t say that. Of course I want to hear it.” Jared sat back down while CK drank some of his stormcloud and leaned in close. Instantly CK’s attention was perked, as Jared had never been one to tell a story so only he could hear it. “So on my way back here, I stopped in the town of Alcid. I’m mindin’ my own business,” which to CK meant he was picking someone’s pocket, “when I meet up with some old acquaintances. Long story short, I get to hang out with their bard’s guild for a few days.” Jared wet his whistle before continuing. “Well, one night I’m sitting in the back of their pub, and this drunk old man tells me about this guy who went crazy in that town about ten years back, killing an entire group of the city guards and their captain as well.” “How?” CK said, stunned that a man from a simple town could do such an act. He had seen some things, but that was extreme for one person to be able to do; unless he was some kind of hero-gone-villain. “This is the kicker. They say he did it with his mind.” Jared took another drink and when he looked back into CK’s eyes he looked worried. “CK? You OK?” The color had drained out of CK’s face and it wasn’t until Jared expressed concern that CK that he realized he was gripping the counter so tight his knuckles had gone white. He loosened his grip and breathed, not even remembering when he began holding his breath. “Yeah; I can tell you a different story.” “No,” CK said quickly. “It wasn’t the story. It was…uh…” CK wracked his brain quickly. “I thought I saw a big spider coming down on you.” Jared quickly ducked and jerked around. “A spider?!” He stood up brushing himself off. “I hate spiders.” “Exactly.” CK breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Feeling assured that whatever it was CK thought he saw was now gone, Jared sat back down and resumed his tale. “Anyways...” Jared continued. “So, yeah... This guy went nuts.” “Who was he?” “The town nut. This guy was crazy; saying he was hearing people talking in his head all the time.” Jared grabbed some nuts out of the basket on the counter. “So one day, one of the nobles is just done with the complaints about the town nut and asks the captain to have him dealt with. The guards arrest him and were apparently going to take him to one of the homes ran by their clerics for the insane and the guy goes ballistic. He starts throwing city guards around like they 29
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were rag dolls. Hitting groups of them with his…” Jared pauses looking for a good descriptive. “Mental force?” CK offered up. “Exactly! Even some of the townsfolk got caught in the blast. And then it gets gruesome.” Jared leaned in closer. “He lifts the captain of the guard in the air and starts torturing him. People close by could hear his bones being broken, making that snapping sound like when you walk on a twig. Apparently, you could hear him screaming bloody-murder for nine city blocks.” CK’s jaw dropped. “So what happened?” “Craig, a striker who lived in that town—apparently he was a retired adventurer—snuck up and ran him through the back of the skull with a dagger of electricity.” He made a jabbing motion with his hand, as if he was holding the weapon. “Came out his mouth they say.” CK shook his head in disbelief. “And you know what the kicker is? I can never do anything with that tale.” “Why?” “’Cause apparently, the bard’s guild has been paid handsomely for that story to never be shared. Something about tourism or some bloody thing. All comes down to money.” Outwardly, CK expressed annoyance at Jared having a great tale that he could never use. Inwardly, he thanked the bard’s guild with all of his heart for their silence.
TIME FLEW ON BY, and soon CK grew into a strapping young man. A lot had changed for him over the years. He got a job from Charlie working part-time as a bar back. And when he wasn’t working, he spent his time focusing on his psionics and was now, with concentration, able to control it. The biggest change came on May 18th—the day of his seventeenth birthday—when his mother presented him with a gift. “This is from your father.” “My…father?” Heat began to rise in CK’s chest and throat. “What do you mean my father?!” The anger and hatred began to swell within CK’s chest. He’d always been told that his father had left him. There had been hundreds of nights over the years where all he wanted, was for his dad to come home. For him to just walk up, knock on the door and say, “Sorry guys.” He’d explain how his leaving had all 30
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been a big mistake. Mother would forgive him, and they’d be a happy family again. But that never happened. So CK wrote him off as dead. And here he was, after leaving them for dead, sending him a gift as if that would fix everything?! Around them the world began to tremble. The table, chairs, dishes cups all began to shake, as if they were going to fly from their position and go crashing into the walls. Belinda looked around. Her heart stopping and skipping a beat as she watched the items begin to lift and the muscles in CK’s jaw begin to twitch. “Christopher. Christopher, control!” his mother said soft but sternly. CK came back to reality. His skin was on fire; the hairs on his arms standing on end, almost crackling with energy. He closed his eyes and took a slow, deep inhale of breath. He hadn’t even realized his voice was rising. He imagined his body and watched the red (the color he imagined to represent anger) flow out of him, leaving him a clear glowing, golden color. And then the fear and worry hit him. What if he’d hurt his mother. “Mom, I’m... I’m sorry.” His mother breathed, smiled warmly and shook her head. “No. I’m sorry. I should have thought better of how to tell you. And I should have told you long ago. But I knew if I did, that you would seek him out.” “Of course I would. Why would that be wrong?” “Because if you lost control, or approached it without delicacy, it would not only put us in potential danger, but end his career as well.” CK sat down and listened. “Your father wasn’t just some seafaring sailor as I made him out to be. Your father was... Is... Erik Miles.” CK’s lips compressed and he nodded without realizing it. He understood instantly why she had kept it secret. Mr. Miles was a tall man, an inch taller than two yards. He had thick brown hair that was always kept in a businessman’s style and brown eyes. He was in very good shape, not overly cut, with some defined mass. But more importantly; he was the main slumlord around this part of Asic. More specifically, Mr. Miles owned their home. CK’s mind flashed over all the years he’d interacted with the man. How growing up, he always seemed to take a moment in passing to stop and say hi to him. The many times he’d seen his mother and him talking in the market while his guard kept watch. And it made sense now, how his mother could pay the tax, pay the rent and yet still have enough money for them to have a decent life. 31
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“There’s a lot more,” she continued, “but I feel that you, and he, will have to talk about that one day.” CK wanted to protest, but stilled his tongue. There was so much to say. But all CK could feel were words that only wanted to leave his lips in a yelling tone of voice. So he said nothing. Seeing his resolve, Belinda said “Thank you.” She reached behind a stack of firewood and began to pull out a package. “It is your birthday,” she said. “How ’bout you open your present, and then you can go have fun with your friends. Normally we celebrate together, but I know your friends want to take you out. They asked me already. So I took an extra shift at The Centaur.” “OK,” was all CK could manage to say. He ripped off the parchment with ferocity and what he unwrapped washed all his anger away. Lying there on the kitchen table was a brand new Parma shield—three foot wide, concave with a quick release forearm leather strap—and a masterwork cutlass. “Wow!” As mad as he wanted to be, he couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear. This was the best present he had ever received. And for many cultures, getting a sword and shield from one’s father wasn’t just a present, but a sign of a male’s transition from adolescence into manhood. “I gotta show the guys.” “Go on.” Belinda said with a giggle. CK kissed his mom on the cheek. “I love you, Mom.” Her smile beamed at him as he ran out of the house.
about the author Born in San Diego, California, Charles moved around for many years throughout northern California, Oregon, Oklahoma, and Nevada until he finally decided to settle down. With over twenty-two years of participating in tabletop role playing games where he developed all his own original storylines (along with a fully fleshed-out world) and degrees in Art, Fine Arts and General Studies, he finally succumbed to the wishes of his friends and family to put his stories and world into a novel for the world to enjoy. With Corsanaâ€”The Phalanx Syndicate now published, he continues the series with plans for at least four books (if not more), which he plans on putting out yearly until finished. He currently resides in the city of Reno, Nevada with his long-time girlfriend and their two sons.