A Bond of Ill-Fate
By Rob Chandler
Rylus stirred the pot over the camp fire watching the bubbles
form in the water as it came to a boil. He removed the salted strips
of rabbit flesh from his pouch, unwrapped them, and threw them into
the stew. The water hissed as each strip fell into the pot. After
stirring it and taking in the aroma of his evening meal, Rylus
scooted back against the nearby tree. He glanced over at the giant
of a man named Dravex who sat on tree stump sharpening his
broadsword. Dravex's eyes went from the whetstone and back over to
Rylus with each pass of the blade.
Dravex must have been 19 hands high, Rylus thought. His arms
were as big as Rylus' legs. The warrior kept his beard cropped short
and his head bald. If given the opportunity the giant could
disembowel Rylus without even breaking a sweat. Indeed, Verys
couldn't have sent a more able overseer for his mission.
After a few minutes Rylus went over to the fire and removed the
pot. He took out a small bowl from his pack and dipped some of the
rabbit stew. Sure you won't be having any of this, my friend?”
Rylus asked the warrior.
Dravex said nothing, still passing the blade over the stone in
“Suit yourself,” Rylus said, eating his concoction. He knew the
man would refuse.
The two sat in silence save for the soft ringing of the blade on
the stone, and the occasional crackle from the fire as it started to
dwindle. Over the past four days Rylus had led the two of them on a
wild goose chase through the forests and hills that surrounded the
city of Highmarch. As the two had climbed hill after hill and
paraded through the wilderness, Dravex had barely uttered more than a
couple of words. Rylus could sense the mounting brute's frustrations
with him however. Perhaps Verys should have taken the time to hire a
local rather than this bumbling southerner, Rylus pondered. But he
knew the reason behind Verys' choice to hire the giant to accompany
him; it was insurance.
Dravex was probably certain they were lost, and was likely
debating his next move, Rylus deduced. The ruse was working. Rylus
knew exactly where they were going and how long it would take to get
to the cultists' camp, but four days wandering through the wilderness
had given him plenty of time to measure up Dravex.
Despite the man's silence, Rylus had already learned a lot about
his reluctant companion. The brand on his shoulder, that of a
halberd with two roses on either side, which stayed half hidden under
the studded leather tunic gave him away as a soldier. That was the
symbol of the Lord of the Grey Moors, who had perished five years ago
fighting off the armies of the emperor.
Rylus knew this man was an expert with that blade, but he was
also a renegade. Like all who served in the armies of Coranthya,
when the emperor defeated them, they either fled and went into
hiding, or they turned their allegiance to him. Dravex had obviously
chosen the former.
Rylus also understood Dravex was a man devoted to his duty,
whatever that duty may be. He was a soldier first and foremost and
although he wouldn't fight under the banner of the emperor by choice,
he was a man who had carved out his living with the tip of his blade.
Dravex, like many other renegade soldiers, had taken up making his
way however his blade would allow, even if that meant killing a man
he barely knew for a reason which wasn't clear to him. And that was
just what Dravex was going to do when the time was right.
Rylus also knew how this would end for he believed in
controlling his own destiny. He would not be able to defeat Dravex
in single combat. No, in order to defeat the giant, he would have to
use his wits and wait for the right moment before making his move.
He smiled to himself as he savored the rabbit stew. That right
moment was about to present itself.
After a few minutes, Dravex put down his sword and whetstone.
Letting out a grunting sigh, he reached into his own pouch and pulled
out a strip of dried pork. Still staring at Rylus he tore off a
chunk of the meat and started chewing. Rylus put down his bowl and
sat up against the tree.
Dravex let out a small cough and shook his head. Rylus' smile
widened. The cough got louder, and Dravex hit his fist against his
chest. He fell from the stump to one knee and Rylus rose feigning
concern on his face. The other knee fell, and Dravex clenched his
throat. A firery rage gleamed in his eye as he reached out for Rylus
with one hand. Rylus jumped back and the brute fell face first onto
the dirt. Dravex wriggled back and forth on the ground at first, but
within seconds he was motionless. The brute moved his head to the
side unable to see Rylus and spit the dirt out of his mouth.
Rylus walked over to the warrior and flipped him over with his
foot. Dravex coughed and sputtered nearly choking on the combination
of soil and spit.
“Well, well, my giant friend,” Rylus sat down on the stump which
the giant had occupied. “It seems you've found yourself in quite a
“I'll gut you, you coward!” The giant yelled back as he fought
with his own muscles trying to force them to move. It was useless
though. The paralysis from the poisoned meat had already set in.
“I wouldn't bother with that,” Rylus smiled as he picked up the
giant's broadsword. “This is quite a blade you've got here. How
many of the emperor's men did you slay before you tucked your tail
and ran into hiding?”
The giant was slack-jawed and speechless.
“And you would call me a coward?” Rylus chuckled. “You are a
simple man, Dravex. I admire that about you, I really do. A man who
adheres to his own code. A man of duty.”
Dravex didn't remove his gaze, yet remained silent.
“So, when Verys paid you to accompany me to the camp and steal
the amulet he gave you one simple duty,” Rylus held up the blade, the
remaining glow of the campfire flickering against it's edges. “Use
this very blade to kill me and return the amulet to him yourself.”
After a pause, Dravex spit. “Well, I guess you've got it all
“I do, I suppose,” Rylus hesitated. “All except the part where
you kill Verys yourself and flee Highmarch with the amulet.”
Dravex looked dumbfounded.
“No, that wasn't in your plans?” Rylus mocked. “You didn't
really think Verys would allow you to walk away so easily did you?
If he was so willing to have me disposed after my part of this was
complete, what makes you think you'd be any different?”
Dravex grimaced realizing he'd been made out to be a fool by
everyone involved in this endeavor.
“Yes, a simple man indeed,” Rylus smiled. “Receive task,
complete task, receive payment. That's how it works isn't it? At
least, that's how it worked when you served the lord of Rivermeet.”
Rylus moved with a blur holding the blade's tip to the giant's
throat. “Unfortunately for you, simple men don't last very long when
dealing with the underworld of Highmarch.”
“You've got it all figured,” the giant muttered between clenched
teeth. “Get it over with already.”
“What did I tell you about being simple?” Rylus withdrew the
blade. “The poison flowing through your veins will keep you
paralyzed for another few hours. That's plenty long enough for the
wolves to tear you apart slowly while you watch...and scream.”
Horror overcame Dravex's face.
“But I can make this quick and as painless as possible if you
simply tell me what I need to know,” Rylus tapped the blade back and
forth in his gloved hand.
“What then?” The warrior asked.
“When and where were you to meet Verys upon your return to the
“Y-you're a bargaining man aren't you?” Dravex pleaded. “We
can work something out. You don't have to do this.”
Rylus moved the blade over his gut. “You can either die as
painless as possible or be fodder for wolves, makes no difference to
me, but make no mistake, you are going to die tonight, Dravex. The
choice is yours, but I warn you, my patience is thin.”
“I suppose I shoulda seen this coming,” Dravex coughed and
started to laugh. “All I've ever been is a soldier. I fought other
men on the field of battle face-to-face, blade against blade. This
back-alley dealing ain't really my arena. Guess I got in too deep.”
“Yes, I guess you did,” Rylus almost felt pity for the man.
“I shouldn't have to die like this. I should have died by Lord
Halfort's side all those years ago. Instead I die at the hands of a
petty rogue who don't know the first thing about honor and duty.”
“Honor and duty have no place in the world in which I live,
Dravex,” Rylus spat. “They exist only in the tales of old maids and
“I was a knight you know?” Dravex laughed.
“A knight? Well,” Rylus tilted his head and scratched his black
goatee. “Can't say I've ever killed a knight before.”
“Yeah well, first time for everything right?”
“Indeed,” Rylus snapped back realizing the brute was trying to
play his emotions. “Now, back to the question. Where were you going
to meet Verys and when?”
“Under the Spotted Wyvern Tavern,” Dravex coughed again. “In
the catacombs, three nights from now. Two hours after dusk.”
“You wouldn't be lying to me now would you?”
“Why would I lie?” Dravex raised his head.
Rylus nodded. “Well then, a promise is a promise.” He said as
he raised the blade over Dravex's chest.
“Wait!” Dravex yelled, but it was too late. Rylus plunged the
sword into the man's heart. He sputtered for a few seconds before a
tiny bit of blood trickled down from the corner of his mouth. The
life faded from his eyes as he gave up the ghost.
Rylus threw down the broadsword on top of the giant's lifeless
body. He grabbed the pot of stew and threw it on the fire, dousing
it. Taking only the necessities, he prepared to leave. The
cultists' camp was only a few hours away. He could make it in and
out and be halfway back to Highmarch before they ever knew he'd been
there. He gave one last look at the dead warrior behind him. May
the gods be with you, Dravex. He turned and headed off through the
forest, and into the night.
Moonlight filtered through the canopy above as Rylus moved
through the forest. The woods were silent save for the occasional
call of an owl, or howl of a wolf. The quiet gave Rylus ample
opportunity to think as he moved along towards the cultists' camp.
His mind wandered to Dravex and the path that led him to die at the
hands of, as he had put it, a petty rogue. Dravex had claimed to be
a knight. He imagined the man adorned in armor fighting alongside a
highborn lord. That was a far cry from traveling as a mercenary
warrior with a thief through the wilderness in a foreign land. The
paths that life takes are often unpredictable, he thought.
Rylus didn't want to kill the man, but he knew it was his only
choice. He couldn't risk his own life by letting the man walk away.
In his mind he saw Dravex riding away back to the southlands to
redeem himself as the knight he once was. The reality was far
different. He would have come after Rylus because that's what he was
paid to do. A man of duty until the end.
The glow of a campfire a mere two hundred yards away nearly
caught the shrewd rogue off his guard. Get yourself together, he
thought. There was much work yet to be done and the night was still
Rylus approached the glow of the camp without making a sound.
Darting from tree to tree to avoid being seen, he made his way to the
edge of the campsite. He got down on his belly and edged his way
closer to the ridge line. The camp itself was some twenty feet below
in a small clearing. This gave Rylus an advantageous position to
view the entire camp.
There were eight tents in all. The largest was near the middle
of the camp. It was ornate in its design; adorned with various
prints like some sort of majestic tapestry. It was like something
one might find in the hall of a king, or lord's keep. He saw various
people moving about the camp. They were dressed in red and brown
robes. Their long black hair they kept pulled back in a braid. If
not for their size Rylus wouldn't be able to discern one from
another. The larger ones carried big curved blades at their sides,
and wore armor made of cured leather.
He laid on his stomach at the ridge observing for quite some
time, formulating his plan. If Rylus had to place a bet on which
tent held the amulet he would place his money on the giant ornate
one. He hadn't seen anyone come in or go out of that tent the entire
time. There were two guards at either side of the entrance, both
armed with those curved swords, their arms crossed. What, or who
might be inside that tent he didn't know. After a few moments, he
smirked. He had his plan.
The thief made his way down the side of the ridge slowly,
clinging to the edge. It was a steep drop, but he was nimble enough
to slide down without drawing attention to himself. At the bottom of
the ridge he ducked behind a tree and paused for a moment. There
were no sounds from the camp behind him. Nothing to acknowledge he'd
been detected. He turned, still leaning against the fir tree and
slowly peeked around its side.
The camp was a mere twenty paces away. Directly ahead of him
was the back of a smaller tent on the edge of the campsite. There
was the glow of a lantern coming from within the tent, but he could
see no movement.
He slid around the edge of the tree and darted over to the tent,
crouching. He slid his dagger from its sheath and carefully
punctured the wall of the tent. He withdrew his blade and placed his
eye against the hole he'd created peering in. He could see a small
table in the center of the tent, along with a small cot on the side.
Although the angle of the peephole made it difficult to see, he was
certain there was a man on the cot. He watched for a few moments
longer and listened. He could vaguely hear the sound, but he
recognized it — snoring.
Rylus took the dagger and cut two of the ropes used to secure
the tent providing him just enough slack to crawl under the tent's
wall and inside. The cultist in the cot stirred, but did not wake.
After a few moments the snoring continued. He eased out the dagger
and slowly crawled over to the cot. In one motion he covered the
man's mouth and slit his throat. Blood poured from the man's neck as
he struggled. Rylus, still covering the man's mouth, bared down on
him from above. Within seconds the man's movements ceased and his
eyes rolled back in his head.
Rylus tore a piece of the man's robes with his dagger. He
gathered up some of the straw on the floor of the tent and piled it
on the ground at the end of the table. He laid the torn robe down on
the pile and stretched it over to the edge of the tent. He grabbed
the rope from his pack and tied an end of it onto the lantern,
placing it at the edge of the table. He crawled out of the tent the
same way he'd come in, carrying the length of rope behind him.
Outside of the camp now he ran back to the tree. He paused for
a moment, hoping no one had noticed his movements. He peered back
around the tree, one end of the rope in his hand, the other tied to
the base of the lantern in the tent. The camp was still quiet. That
was about to change, or so he hoped. Rylus closed his eyes and
pulled hard on the rope. Oh by the gods, let this work.
Rylus sat with his back against the tree, his eyes still closed.
Then he smelled the smoke. Glancing around the tree, he saw the fire
starting in the tent. Within seconds the fire moved up the torn robe
and onto the tent itself. This was his one and only chance.
He dropped the rope and moved along the outskirts of the camp.
Voices rose as the cultists scurried about the encampment. The fire
was raging now and the smoke billowed throughout the clearing. The
cultists ran back and forth shouting and yelling in a language
foreign to Rylus. The thief stopped behind another tree and peered
into the camp. He could see the back of the ornate tent now. The
guards were gone, and he could see no movement from within.
He moved up to the closest tent and waited. More cultists ran
by with bags and skins filled with water, shouting and cursing. He
moved around and glanced to either side, then fell behind the large
ornate tent. Time was working against him now. It wouldn't be long
before the cultists knew something was awry, and this was the first
place they'd come looking, he was sure of it.
There was no noise coming from within, and no sign of movement.
There was no time to scout it out now, he had to move. He cut open a
hole in the tent, and climbed in. Inside, in the center of the
structure, stood a large figure, its back to Rylus. The man was
adorned in the same black and red robes and furs as the others. Atop
his head was a large golden adornment, and in his right hand he
grasped a long staff. The gnarled wood on the staff twisted around
itself to the very tip, which formed the head of a demon, its jaws
open in a horrible smile.
“I know why you have come, thief,” the cultist said, his back
still facing Rylus. The voice was unnatural, and echoed around him
in a guttural tone.
Rylus said nothing, tightening his grip on the dagger.
“You'd better hurry. The guards will be back soon,” the voice
spoke again, surrounding him in the tent. Still, the figure did not
move. “It's around my neck. All you have to do is slide that dagger
between my ribs, and it's yours for the taking.”
Rylus heard a commotion stirring outside. Through the opening
he could see shadows moving back and forth, and the voices of the
cultists became clearer. His eyes darted back and forth to the
opening and the figure in front of him. Sweat beaded upon his brow
and trickled down his cheeks. The voices drew closer and closer.
Rylus sprang forward and plunged the dagger into the side of the
cultist. He didn't shout, but simply fell limp into Rylus' arms.
Rylus rolled over the dead man and saw the amulet hanging around his
neck. The cut of the large ruby stone at its center was perfect;
each facet sparkled even in the dimly lit tent. The gemstone was
encircled by a gold design of two dragons, each consuming the tail of
the other. For a moment, Rylus found himself lost in its beauty and
intricate design. Small wonder Verys would go to such lengths to
obtain this, he thought.
The voices grew closer. Rylus pulled at the gold chain and
threw the amulet into his pouch. He'd been so enamored with the
beauty of the thing, he'd hardly noticed its keeper. The dead
cultist's eyes were sunken and gray and his cheeks were hollow.
Rylus felt the cold of the man's skin and jumped back. If he didn’t
know any better, he’d say the man had been dead long before the
dagger found its mark in his side. Impossible, he thought. The
voices were just outside now. He gathered himself, and slid out of
Rylus ran through the forest, leaves and branches cracking under
his feet with every step. The voices behind him grew faint and
distant, and finally he stopped. Leaning against a tree, he paused
for a moment to catch his breath and look back. There was no sign of
them behind him. There were no vile foreign curses, or flickers of
torchlight bouncing in pursuit. There was only the cold night air
and the silence of the woods to keep him company.
He closed his eyes again, his mind going back to the encounter
in the tent. He’d heard such tales of sorcery before, of course.
There were stories of necromancers and demons that could make the
dead walk, but they were only legends. Such magic couldn’t possibly
exist. Even so, Rylus couldn’t deny what he’d seen with his own
eyes. By the look of him, that priest had been dead for days, maybe
even weeks. Then there was the voice. Unnatural in its tone, it was
not the voice of any living man.
Who were they? What were these foreign zealots doing out in the
middle of the forest in the free realms anyway? He hadn’t thought to
ask these questions when he took the job from Verys. Would he have
told me regardless? He thought. He had to admit, he didn’t care to
know at first. The musings and practices of some demon cult were not
his concern. He only needed to know enough about them to infiltrate
their camp, and steal the amulet. Still, the encounter left him
He pulled the amulet from the pouch and looked it over once
more. Verys had gone to great lengths to obtain this, and he aimed
to get answers from the old man. First, he had to get back to the
city. He put the jewel away, gathered his bearings, and disappeared
into the darkness.
The city of Highmarch was bustling with people as Rylus made his
way down the winding cobble-stoned streets of the Lowland District.
The Lows, they called it. The largest, and by far the most dangerous
part of the sprawling metropolis was the nervous center of the city's
underworld; a vast and intricate network of thieves and killers. For
Rylus, it was simply home.
He pulled the cowl of his gray wool cloak closer to his face.
He couldn't risk being spotted by one of Verys' cronies. The shadows
cast by the street lanterns in the darkness helped conceal his
identity as he weaved through the narrow winding roads. He turned
down a sharp alleyway, and made his way down the tight passage
between the two wooden buildings.
He nearly tripped over a man laying in the alley whose feet
stretched out before him. The man remained on the ground,
motionless. Rylus slowed as he stepped over the man's legs, and
proceeded down the alley. Still the man didn't move as Rylus backed
away. As terrible as the Lows smelled, a dead body could lay out for
nearly a week on the street before anyone noticed.
Continuing down the alley he stopped at the top of a stairway
that led down to a wooden door. He glanced back over at the man on
the ground, and then over his shoulder. He made his way down the
stairs and knocked on the door with three light taps.
“Rylus?” The soft voice whispered from the other side of the
“Zyana, let me in,” he replied. “Hurry.”
The door creaked open and the thief slid inside. He closed the
door behind him and pulled the lock in place. Rylus turned to the
woman. Her hair was a black, curly mess. Her brown skin glistened
with sweat in the candlelight and she bit her bottom lip smiling at
“Are you working?” Rylus asked.