Header image  
DarkFire Graphics  

Escape: Chapter 1


The late afternoon light plated the upper walls of the city buildings in gold, as the shadows seemed to creep up from below the streets.  That idea seemed fitting to the woman as she walked down the main avenue of Talran, one of the largest cities in the east.  The corrupt, gold mongering people of Talran had it coming, though.  Her master's plans were perfect, and soon he and his shadows would make this town city theirs.  Make it perfect, like the darkness.

She casually turned down an alley as a carriage passed by, taking care that no one saw her or followed her movements.  She was going somewhere secret and did not want to silence any innocents on the way.  As she walked the darkness crept higher on the buildings and her eyes adapted better to the comfortable lighting.  She removed the hood of her dark brown cloak that had served to both shield her eyes and hide her form.  The black robes beneath the cloak made it difficult to say whether there was anyone underneath the cloak at all except to the most vigilant observer.  Anyone fortunate enough to actually see her face would have seen her red eyes and sinister smile just long enough to know she was not to be trifled with.

The woman noticed the movement around her with increasing curiosity.  Her path was usually uninhabited, but it seemed that one of the city gangs was bound and determined to expand its territory, because no one was here this time of day save her and her own.  These people were not of the Shadow Trust, did not move the same, did not act the same, did not smell the same. 

One of the punks stood before her, a tall man dressed in leather with short hair and wild eyes, at an intersection of back alleys.  She stopped only out of amusement.

"Hey there, pretty lady," the thug cooed.  "What do you think you're doing in this part of town?"

She had no answer for him, simply staring at the fool.

"I guess you didn't know," the man said, "but this is our part of town now.  If you want to pass through you gotta pay the toll."

She looked to her sides, where five men came out of the alley to her right and three more joined from her left.  They all wore the same leather mail, the same set of short sword and dagger, and the same stupid grin.

"I normally ask for gold, but you can give us something else instead," the punk said suggestively, eyeing her up and down.

She wanted to laugh, but she simply smiled.  She brought a hand up in front of her, fingers pointing up. 

"You going to make this hard?  Or will you just take it like a good girl?" the man said, stepping closer.

She wanted to keep this quiet, but she did so love killing punks. 

Without a word, claws of shadow sprung up from her hand, stretching out from her fingers to the length of a sword.  She backhanded the flabbergasted fool in front of her, the freezing shadows tearing at his essence.  He cried out loudly and fell backward, wounded but not defeated.  He drew his blades and so did his allies.

"I'll tell you what," she said, withdrawing her claws.  "I'll give you ten seconds to run."

"Bitch!" one of the thugs yelled, lashing out at her. 

She smiled darkly.  "I guess that means the offer's no good."

The alley erupted into shrill cries as the shadows around them exploded, tearing into each of them with ribbons of darkness.  Each man fell over as the spray of shadows cut through them and their friend next to them. 

Satisfied they were all stunned, she dropped the illusion and started running down the alley.  She could hear them yelling, and start chasing after her.  She smiled to herself again, as she ran for the abandoned lab. 

The alleys were too tight for her to dispose of them the way she wanted. 

She reached the old empty lot out in front of the abandoned alchemy lab, and turned around as the pursuing thugs approached.  They stormed in, daggers and swords held high, malice in their eyes. 

The leader charged her first.  "You're trapped now, witch," he taunted.  "You won't fool me with an illusion this time!"

"Idiot," she said, unmoving.  "I don't need illusions to kill the likes of you."

"You'll die for that, mage!"  He lashed out with his sword, only a few feet from her.

In seconds the whole of the lot was engulfed with darkness.  The leader's sword found its mark, but was met with surprising resistance, as though he had just tried to punch through plate mail.

"Not just a mage," came her voice, deeper and much more darker.  He could feel a warm breeze coming from somewhere, and backed away, wary of her spells.  The frenzied shouts of the rest of the gang as they tried to find their way in the sudden dark caused him to turn for a second, and when he turned back all the blood drained away from his face.

Two giant, glowing red eyes stared at him, smiling in the dark.

"What the hell are you?" he stuttered, backing away.

The darkness in the lot lifted, and before him stood a dragon of utter darkness, her scales not even reflecting light, absorbing color from all around.  From head to the tip of her tail she was well over ten feet long, and her shoulder height came to about the center of the leader's chest.  Two vermilion horns protruded from her head, and shadows came from her mouth like steamy air.

"Dragon!" one of the thugs screamed. 

It was too late.  In a flurry, her claws had already taken the leader apart.  she bounded over to the group which scattered like scared mice.  Growling laughter preceded a cloud of darkness that spread from her mouth, caught six unlucky thugs in its wake.  When the darkness lifted, they were no more than shriveled husks.

"Screw this!" One of them said, and started climbing a drain from a low roof.  His allies scrambled to follow him up, but only two of them managed it, they kicked the third back down to slow her.

"You little punks," she roared.  "You'll finish what you've started!"  She leapt into the air, powerful wings beating down once, twice.  her momentum granted her the edge, her claws reaching the top just as the second man crested the drainage pipe.  Her claws lengthened as they had before, shadowy energy lancing up and down as she extended them right into his shocked eyes.  He toppled from the pipe, knocking his ally off as he plummeted, both of them landing on the man they left at the bottom. 

The first man ran as fast as he could to the edge, never looking back, hoping to jump from one roof to the next and leaving the whole thing behind him.  As he pushed off from the edge, a lightning bolt ripped right through him in midair.  His charred remains crumpled against the edge of the roof he was aiming for, falling down into the alley below.

"Idiot." she huffed, then turned and jumped back down into the lot. 

The two remaining gang members were just collecting themselves as she landed, and before the could bolt, she charged over and pinned them to the wall with her claws.  Both young men -- barely past their sixteenth year -- froze under her gaze, dreading the inevitable.

She glared at the one in her left claw.  "You little maggot," she hissed.  "You're the one who tried to use your friend to slow me down.  What do you think I am, some kind of wild beast?"

He could only offer jumbled and frightened whines and yelps, far too afraid to answer.  She narrowed her eyes and sighed.  "Sounds like you aren't much better yourself."  She withdrew her claw and stabbed in again, this time at his leg. He screamed as her claw tore him open, and she pushed him away, sending him toppling to the ground.

She looked sincerely at the other boy, his eyes just as scared, but his heart beneath her hand much slower.  She could tell by the way he carried himself that he was a fresh face to the group, probably freshly initiated. 

She smiled softly, to the young man's surprise.  "You aren't so bad, kid." she said quietly.  "These wretches aren't going to get you anywhere in life.  As far as anyone knows, you died tonight.  Go find your future, sweetie."

She took her claw away, and he collected himself, nodding at her.  He looked over to the other boy, lying on the ground and bleeding, still whining like a whipped hound.

She followed his gaze.  "Is he your friend?"She asked.  He shook his head. 

She cocked her head curiously.  "Do you want me to spare him?"  He nodded hesitantly.

She sighed, and walked over to the wounded boy.  "You should know your friend saved your life, worm," she whispered acidly.  "Maybe next time you won't be so quick to sacrifice him, yes?"

She reverted to her human form, robes and cloak preserved by the magic within them.  "Take him and go," she said to the second boy, and he nodded, picking him up and dragging him back down the alley. 

He stopped and turned to face her.  "I'm called Kellis," he said.  "What do they call you?"

"You can call me Rose, honey," she said sweetly.

He nodded.  "Thank you, Rose," he replied, smiling.  He picked up his ally and resumed dragging him back down the alley.

She sighed again and watched him go.  Folks like them -- the young, good souls -- were hard to find in this city.

Yet they were the reason she and the Shadow Trust were fighting for its control.

Rose took one last look around the lot, surveying the remnants of her slaughter.  Eight scum bags out of nine and altering the fate of an innocent sat well with her, a good exercise to get her blood moving.  She regretted getting carried away, she had promised Anatair she would never reveal her true form in the presence of others.  Only a select few in their chapter of the Trust were aware of one of the top secrets in their cabal; the second shadowmage of the Talran Chapter was a shadow dragon.

She dismissed the thought with a shrug.  The only men who had seen her shame were mostly dead now.  Out of the two that had survived, she was confident one would keep his trap shut, and the other could be trusted not to speak.

The clap of heavy footsteps on the flagstones alerted her to the possibility that her lightning bolt earlier may have alerted the city watch.  She did not hold the corrupt police force of Talran much higher in esteem than the thugs she just annihilated, but she could not risk being seen this close to the chapter hall.  She had no qualms about them seeing her handiwork; after all, the mystery of how eight thugs died vastly different deaths all in the same place at about the same time would make for interesting rumors the next day.

She quickly stepped under the archway leading into the old lab and turned to the right hand wall, waving a hand over an invisible sensor. The nearby wall opened to reveal a secret compartment in the wall, where a small chamber awaited her.  She stepped in, closing the sliding stone door behind her.  A runic circle glowed on the floor as she stepped into it, turning as it magically ascertained her identity. 

Once the ward was satisfied, the floor began to hum, sinking down into the belowground cavern that was the chapter hall central chamber.
The enormous lobby was a converted old storage facility for the aboveground lab which was nearly two hundred feet across and almost half as much tall.  It served as the hub that connected all the stations and barracks of the cabal, and -- in Rose's mind -- was a taste of what was to come for the city above.  The decrepit storehouse had been ultimately forgotten by the city, and now it housed the instrument of its cataclysm.  The Trust had given shining purpose to what once had been an utter waste of space. 

The fact that it had necessary magical components for their plans by the crate full Rose thought of as only a bonus.

The platform landed at the floor, ceasing its magical drone.  She stepped off, and it began its return ascent, the hum becoming a fading echo in the giant room.  Many of her associates were gathered in the central chamber, and she smirked inwardly.  She could not help but feel pride as she walked down the aisle that lead to her lieges chamber, as her comrades scurried out of her path in respect and gave humble bows as she passed.  She acknowledged many, smiled at some, and even gave some the pleasure of a verbal greeting. 

She was important here, a figure of authority and fear.  She had come so far.

She strode confidently toward the huge double doors that marked the lord's hall, the room where High Shadowmage Anatair held all his dealings, and where few could enter freely.  Being his second in command, it was practically her whims that decided whether or not she could enter.  She knew that was only because her master trusted her beyond anything she had ever known.  That by itself elicited her devotion, but she owed more than her trust to that man.

When she had first arrived in Talran two years ago, she was an outcast from the shadow plane and stranded without direction.  Months in the dangerous wilderness had made her skittish and lonely all at once.  Anatair had seen her in an alleyway, wrapped in rags and fear in her eyes. 

'I know your secret, child,' he had told her, smiling.  She had wondered how he could ever have known without seeing, but she had come to understand the depth of his insight over the last two years.  His forethought and ability to read others was absolutely uncanny, without any magical aid he could anticipate and prepare for anything, no secret could hide from his aged gaze.

Without hesitation, he initiated the sorceress dragon into the Trust as his personal assistant.  Under his tutelage her gift for magic had burgeoned into much more than she could have developed on her own.  As a shadow dragon, she was innately limited to immaterial incantations, charms, glammers, and novice level necromancy at most.  with his help, she was finally able to harness raw energy in the form of lightning, and her ability to wield necromancy was increased tenfold.  Her power over others minds could make men cry on command, and her illusions could trick even the most careful observer.

On top of all that, he had made it clear to the rest of the guild that she was under his protection; if her presence was ever questioned, he would deal with the questioner personally.  He procured for her private quarters from her very first day, a coveted privilege that only the highest ranking members could ever request, due to space being scarce.  He had gone out of his way to make her feel safe.

Safe!  For the first time in her life, she was safe from harm, from fear, from hate.  Only two other beings had even come close to giving her this.  Her brother had always looked out for her, and even made it possible to escape from their father.  She wondered at night sometimes if he escaped himself, but tried not to think on him often, as dreams of his sad smile, the last she had seen of him, followed soon after. 

The other... was still something of a mystery to her.  While staying in the tower of a distant guildmage, he had appeared one night on her balcony.  He claimed that he had smelled her tears on the wind, and wanted only to wash them away.  His eyes had enraptured her, green as emeralds, soft as down, and bright as daylight.  When she had to leave the city, she tried to explain that she could not see him again.  He was persistent, saying that he would always find her again.  In a desperate attempt to scare him away, she revealed her true self, a dragon of shadow.

Arithar just smiled as he transformed himself, a dragon the silver color of his hair, almost platinum. 

She paused with her hand on the handle of the door to the Lord's Hall, her mind trapped in the memory of her midnight flight with him over the city to the outskirts, watching the moonlight dance over the waterfall outside of town until she fell asleep cradled up against him, shadow and silver entwining in her dreams.

Collecting herself, she shook her head.  How she longed to feel that safe again, cuddled up next to the mysterious silver.

Rose entered the Hall of Dusk, ready to give her reports of business that evening to Anatair.  She did not intend on seeing the blonde haired, white robed Halvek and his retainer standing at the dais, apparently in another argument with the High Shadowmage.  She could see from across the hall Anatair's wrinkled face crumpled in a disapproving glower. 

"You cannot be blind to progress, my lord," Halvek said, his back still turned to the shadow dragon standing at the doorway.  "Nihilus is the path to power now, and will open doors for the Trust that we never thought possible."

Rose backed up out of the hall and left the door ajar so as not to interrupt.  She thought she saw Halvek's retainer, an ashen skinned man Rose had always suspected had fiendish blood, glance toward her, but if he did he made no move.

"It is dangerous and has never been thoroughly tested," Anatair protested, his voice rumbling through the hall.  "I know this has not stopped you from practicing it yourself, First Shadowmage, but I have only allowed it as long as your trust in the shadows has not wavered.  Now that you have been corrupted, it may be beyond my power to stop the council from casting you out."

Halvek hung his head, seeming to be disappointed.  "You know, that is too bad," he said, striding forward up the dais.  "You were always so good with me, I hoped that you would see the truth."

Anatair's expression scrunched further.  "Are you threatening me?"

"That would be rude," Halvek said, opening a palm forward.  "I'm simply going to kill you."

Before Anatair or Rose could do anything, the mage unleashed a bolt of utter blackness at the High Shadowmage.  The spell was unlike anything rose had ever seen before, emanating no kind of power at all, like a void of energy.  The shadow dragon almost jumped out of her hiding spot to save her lord, but Anatair was not unprepared.  His scepter glowed with silvery light, and the projectile halted, stopped by a shimmering shield.  The spell wavered as the bolt seemed to feed on its energy, and eventually both were consumed.

"Insolence!" Anatair cried, preparing a spell to strike down the First Shadowmage.  However, when the words of magic were spoken, Halvek simply appeared behind the old man, grasping his shoulder.

"This is what happens to the ones left behind by progress," he said.  Rose could only watch helplessly and her mentor was drawn into what looked like a black gap in Halvek's hand, his scepter clattering to the floor and down the stairs of the dais as the only proof he ever existed. 
Rose wanted to vomit.  She wanted to throttle the bastard with her bare hands.  she wanted to tear him to shreds with her claws.  She wanted to invite upon him horrors born of his darkest nightmares.  Instead all she could do was stare and shake uncontrollably.

"What should we do with our audience," the ashen man said, glancing at the door.

Her heart leaped.

"She's much too powerful to tame," Halvek said.  "Bring her in so I can kill her myself.

This story is the property of Tyler Clapp, Author (AKA "Cael") Copyright DarkFireGraphics.com