The castle was an oddity in the poor country. Wicker
shacks and weathered woods that held the measly buildings together were a
drastic contrast to the smooth, carved architecture of the castle upon the
hillside. The providence of Me’lein was the most populated region this
close to the western shores––it had fallen under threat since the coming of
The path leading to the castle had been plowed in the
early hours of the morning; several feet of snow had fallen during the night.
No tracks had yet graced the way. The main bay doors were guarded by a pair
of dark-garbed soldiers, their steel armor reflecting neither soul nor
compassion. Pikes––gripped tightly––rose far above them; their other hand
brandished a shield with the crest of Me’lein emblazoned across its center:
the essence of a dragon king drifting lazily into the mist.
Past them was a hall that extended deep into the
darkness––scores of doorways and spiral staircases on either side. The
hallway narrowed toward its completion, the intricate stone walls ending in
a wooden door at its center.
The same crest depicted all about the mighty castle was
emblazoned here as well. The door opened inward. Within was a grand hall
far taller than any manner of dragon, and darker than the depths of
underworld. But, it was lit brightly by thousands of carefully-placed
candles; at the center of the room was a brilliant white throne. The rests,
the back, and even the cushions were bleached whiter than anything should
The man who sat upon it was clouded in shadow. His gaze
was that of a shroud. Bearded chin rested on closed fist, royal robes
covering his sinewy flesh. His face was contorted into a frown and black
eyes looked far into the distance, past the guests who shuffled about the
room. The congregation was a mix of all the people of Me’lein. They were
the poor and the rich, the beautiful and the desperate.
The crowd parted as a tall man approached the throne.
His light purple hat extended far above his head and his moustache extended
down the sides of his face, past his mouth like drooping lines. He knelt
before the man upon the throne, his head bowed and his right arm across his
“Rise, Gaition. What news do you bring my humble court?”
rumbled the man, his head rising from his fist and leaning against the
marble back of the throne.
“My lord, I bring a traveler. This man says he has
killed the Widow’s beast, the Nighen. The destroyer of our lands,”
responded Gaition. His light green eyes harbored both deceit and fear.
Hands grasped one another, twisting against each other nervously. The king
leaned back in his throne and closed his eyes. His throat exposed for a
moment, the crest about his neck visible as he paused.
“Let him in,” returned the king, departing from his
thoughts and staring ahead.
“As you wish, Lord Verifal. He waits as we speak.”
Gaition bowed and turned from the king, his light blue robes swishing
across the polished floor. His movements were more a scurry than anything
else. Gaition gripped the iron ring that held the door in place and pulled
it forward, revealing the shadowed hallway and the solitary figure of the
He walked forward, his brown hair hidden beneath the
robes once again. In his left hand, he gripped a cloth bag drawn tight with
a string. As he walked through the congregation, some members grasped their
noses, others covered their mouths. And some even became ill as the man
It was considered disrespectful to allow your hair to
grow longer than that of a king. Verifal’s coal black hair rested around
his shoulders, far shorter than that of the wary stranger who had graced
the hall. The stench that emanated from the cloth bag reached Verifal’s
nostrils and he rose quickly, pointing a finger at the approaching
“What manner of devilry do you bring upon my doors?”
roared the enraged Verifal, as he stepped down from his throne to intercede
in the robed man’s way.
The man stopped in his tracks. Reaching his hand into
the bag, he produced the mangled head of the creature he had bested. “The
“You have defeated the Nighen?” queried Gaition,
astonished. His thin face was drawn bloodless, and his hand covered his
mouth at the putrid smell.
The king looked from Gaition to the hooded stranger who
stood before him brandishing the head of the Nighen. “How did you defeat
“Steel: the blade can defeat even the greatest creatures
of the shadow,” replied the hooded man, tossing the putrid head to the
bewildered Gaition. Wiping his hands along his cloak, he pulled the hood
completely from his face. Gaition let out a panicked scream as he caught
the head, and then dropped it unceremoniously upon witnessing the horrid
image of the deceased demon.
“Are you a hero of Me’lein?” queried Verifal, regaining
his composure and sitting back upon his throne.
The hooded man looked from side to side and then moved
forward, closer to the throne. He coughed lightly into his hand. “I am from
a place far from here. But I have heard of the Widow who plagues Telen,
especially the providence of Me’lein. I came to aid you in your peril, for
a price,” returned the warrior.
“A man in pursuit of wealth, I suppose it matters not.
You have destroyed a powerful monster that has ravaged the people of Me’lein
for many moons, and would have for many more without your intervention.
What is your price?”
“I do not desire your money, King Verifal, but rather a
trinket stolen by the Widow. I have come to kill her,” returned the hooded
warrior. Laughter echoed in the crowd and was silenced quickly by
“That is a tall order for a man who looks more the part
of a beggar than a warrior,” called a voice from behind the hooded warrior.
A man approached the throne, his armor tarnished silver and his head hidden
beneath a steely skull cap.
A sheath at his side supported a grand broadsword almost
as tall as the man himself. His dark brown eyes were hidden beneath the
confines of the skull cap, and his size was obscured by his armor. But as
he neared the hooded warrior, the size difference was evident.
The knight was certainly the larger man.
“Captain Uthen, this man deserves respect for destroying
the Nighen,” commented the king as he rose from his throne once
Uthen placed his hands on his hips and towered over the
warrior. The captain moved one of his hands over the hilt of his
“I can see we have a problem here. Let me make it simple
for you. You will lose that arm before you can even draw that sword,”
cautioned the hooded warrior.
Uthen’s face darkened and his lip curled in anger, the
grip on his sword tightening. The ripples of his glove made an abrasive
“You might watch your tongue…”
Before the man could finish, the hooded warrior’s blade
was in his hands and he had cut the sheath from Uthen’s side. Returning the
blade to his back, a smirk was planted firmly on his face. Uthen glared at
his fallen sword. Bending to retrieve it, he noticed the astonished glances
of the gathered townspeople and the bewildered face of Gaition in the
corner. He rose and met the warrior’s eyes, but did not speak.
His gaze went immediately to his king.
“Most impressive, warrior. You must pardon the brashness
of Captain Uthen. Many have come before the court and announced such
things. Some have turned to evil upon witnessing the power of the Widow,”
“I can understand such things, but I am here for that
one reason and that reason alone. This beast was merely in the way, a spawn
of the Towers of Darkness. Your captain…” replied the warrior, but was
interrupted by Uthen.
“Pardon my inability to control my tongue. I have
witnessed the horrors of the Widow first hand and know that she can turn a
great man into nothing, no matter his skill with a blade. Please accept my
apologies,” spoke Uthen, extending his hand to the warrior.
The warrior gripped it loosely and then let go.
Lord Verifal sighed with relief and sank into his
throne. “With that aside, I feel that introductions are necessary,
mysterious warrior. You have us at a bit of a loss. You know who we are.
But we know nothing of you, not even your name.”
“Xeno Lobo. I am hunter from a faraway land,” replied
Xeno, his eyes roaming the gathered masses. Their attention had already
returned to their idle, individual conversations that had enraptured them
before his entrance.
“What is this trinket you seek?” queried Uthen.
“That is my affair and will stay as such,” snapped Xeno.
Uthen nodded, not wanting to provoke the man who had so easily disarmed
The king saw the tension and broke into the
conversation. “When do you plan on leaving for the Tower at
“Tonight, by the light of the moon,” returned
“But the Widow’s were-beast hunts in the night,” spoke
“Karian’s playthings are no concern of mine,” replied
“Karian?” queried the king.
“Who is Karian, Master Hunter?” asked Uthen.
“The Widow, the master of the Tower of Darkness at
Sel’verene,” replied Xeno, his attention brought back to the conversation
after realizing his words.
“You know the Widow by name?” asked Uthen.
“I am afraid so,” replied Xeno uncomfortably.
“This is why you go to Sel’verene?”
“In a way, but she had taken something from me the last
time we met. I am going to retrieve it at any cost,” replied Xeno as he
moved away from the throne and paced the small area in front of the royal
“Last time,” whispered Uthen to himself.
“We are in your debt for killing the Nighen. If the
Widow has truly taken something from you, then we would be honored to help
you defeat her,” replied Verifal graciously.
The townspeople whispered among themselves.
Xeno looked at the boastful king and pondered for a
moment. “How could you possibly aid me in my quest?” queried Xeno, and then
continued. “No army can enter the windy paths that lead to the Tower, and
there is no weapon that I can use better than my own. No magical artifact
or incantation will suffice to defeat Karian, the Widow.”
“Then what can we lend you? We wish to help you,”
pressed the king.
The presence of the dark lord Chaos flooded the land in
shadow. The appearance of the Widow was another test of humanity, to see if
they could truly outlast the dark tides of malevolence.
Xeno parried the question and looked around at the
apprehensive gazes of the court of Me’lein. “What of Chaos? Surely his
coming far outweighs my journey?”
“The Widow is a part of the evil that is Chaos, and all
must be cleansed in order to restore peace across the land. Allies must be
chosen and lines draw in the sands of war,” replied Uthen with his grand
arms across his chest.
“Indeed,” returned Xeno with equal dissatisfaction at
the options. “So be it then. Let me reside in Me’lein for the duration of
the night, and then in the morning provide me with a fresh mount and
supplies. This is how you may aid me.”
“Very well,” replied Verifal with a grand sweep of his
hand as he rose from his throne. “Your request is granted. Gaition, prepare
the guest chambers for Master Warrior Xeno.”
Gaition bowed and exited the chamber in haste, a
spiteful glare upon his features as he pushed past the congregation of
citizens. Uthen nodded to Xeno as the chatter and conversation of the
antechamber was restored. The vagrant warrior melted back into the surroundings,
awaiting his journey to the north.