Argrave and Galamon sat around a campfire, engaging with the Stonepetal Sentinels. One Sentinel seemed to be recounting a story, and Argrave was asking him questions. Though there was a cautious distance between the two parties, there was also an undeniable curiosity from both—by all accounts, an engaging conversation.

Meanwhile, though, far out of either’s sight, something else was happening.

Alasdair leaned on a table with his arms crossed, standing just across from a woman who examined a long piece of parchment with spell light. The woman was old, with wrinkled skin and thinning gray hair, all concealed by robes bearing a rose on the shoulder. They were in a tent that had been enveloped by a ward to block out any would-be listeners.

“The lords of Blackridge Citadel were the Tullens. Even the minor nobles in the regions—the castellan, the treasurer, et cetera… none of them were named Blackgard, Alasdair,” the old woman looked up at the Master Sentinel.

Alasdair sighed, then kneaded his forehead. “Is there even a noble house with the name ‘Blackgard’ affiliated with the Order?”

“These records aren’t perfect, but they’re just about so. ‘Blackgard’ was never a house associated with the Order of the Rose.”

“Slippery bastard. Had everyone under his thumb the whole time. Played us like an instrument, now I’ll string him like one…” Alasdair muttered. “Thank you, Jean.”

“What will you do with him?”

“Confine him. Find out why he’s here, why he knows so much about the Stonepetal Sentinels, and… after that, I’m unsure. Depends on what he says. We’ll probably confiscate his things. Both he and that female servant of his have items worth at least a year’s supply.”

“Those two are both mages,” Jean contributed. “The she-elf is probably B-rank, judging by how much magic she has. Argrave, or whatever his real name might be, is likely C-rank.”

“What about the big snow elf?” Alasdair pressed.

“A warrior alone. You’d know better than me about his skills,” she shook her head.

“Alright. Thank you.” Alasdair leaned off the table, walking about the tent. “We’ll gather some people before they fall asleep. Veterans, mages... all our men are here, and I’ll take no chances. Can’t be sure what these people want. I’ll be sure they rue this deception, though.”

“Acting without the approval of the other Master Sentinels?” Jean clicked her tongue. “You’re taking liberties with the leader gone, Alasdair. I thought you were the honest one.”

“You know as well as I do that Claude would do the same were he here,” Alasdair refuted passively. “We’ll keep them engaged, make sure they feel welcome. It’s important we find out why they’re here, and who sent them, if anyone. Claude would agree with me.”

Jean rolled up the parchment. “Not my place to argue. I’ll return to the ladies' tents, gather some spellcasters to help.”


It was night. With the moon behind the mountain, the fort in front of the Low Way of the Rose was deathly dark. In one of the tents closest to the walls, a set of white eyes peered out into the darkness, watching ever carefully. Galamon drank from a flask quietly, guarding and waiting.

His gaze flitted from the work in his hands—maintaining his armor—and watching the outside. He continued like this in relative silence, the silence of the night broken only by Argrave and Anneliese’s quiet breathing.

After a time, though, Galamon brought his busy hands to a stop, his eyes focused solely on the night beyond. He watched for a time, body completely still, and then put the gauntlet he had been cleaning back on his hand. He stood and moved to Argrave, kneeling down beside the sleeping bag. He grabbed Argrave’s shoulder and shook him gently.

Argrave, ever the light sleeper, woke immediately. He mumbled something incomprehensible, blinking quickly.

“Be quiet,” Galamon insisted.

Argrave mumbled something to the effect of, ‘Is it morning already?’

Galamon flicked his forehead, and Argrave winced in surprise. “A lot of people moving outside. Something’s happening.”

“Probably just preparing to enter the tunnel,” Argrave dismissed, too tired for a proper response.

“Did they mention these plans in your long talk with them last night?” Galamon said sternly. “They’re giving our area a wide berth and muffling their noises with spellcasters.”

Argrave blinked, thinking. “You don’t mean…”

“This is what I would do if I wanted to capture potentially dangerous people without casualties,” Galamon nodded.

“You’re sure? Not jumping the gun?” Argrave asked, some awareness returning.

Galamon frowned. “Do you know me to be paranoid?”

“This damn...” Argrave blinked quicker, still evidently very tired. He slapped his face twice, then shook his head as though to jolt himself awake. “Alright. Alright.” He pulled out of the sleeping bag, rising to his feet. The commotion awoke Anneliese, who turned over to look at the both of them.

Galamon walked back over to the tent flap, watching outside. Argrave looked around frantically. “Already dressed, everything’s packed…” He took a deep breath. “Okay, what the hell am I doing?” he asked himself, trying to gather his thought process.

“What is wrong?” Anneliese asked, sitting up.

Galamon said nothing, but Argrave replied distantly, “Our hosts seem to have taken issue with us.”

“We’re right by the wall. I remember where there’s a caved-in portion. Can’t sense any people blocking it. We move quickly, we exit without issue,” Galamon said, planning everything out thoroughly. “We’ll lose this tent, but nothing else.”

“Right. Right,” Argrave nodded at first, but it quickly turned into a headshake. “No, no… this won’t do. I don’t know what the hell happened, but I need to get into the Low Way. All the other entrances are miserable to get to.”

Galamon turned his head away from the outside. “You’re thinking about this now? We have a quick and easy out. We take it,” he refuted.

“And then we have to sneak in when they’re ready for us? Forget that. These guys are some of the best-equipped knights in the kingdom of Vasquer. It’d be ridiculous to even try. We have them unaware. They won’t be focused on the entrance. We have to go now,” Argrave whispered intently.

“And instead we should rush past when they’re prepared to apprehend us?” Galamon’s voice held disdain. “Ridiculous. Cut your losses, Argrave. Acknowledge when you have no other options but retreat.”

“Hold,” Anneliese said, pulling both of their attention. “We can…” she rubbed her eyes. “…weave out the nearby hole, and then follow the wall until the base of the mountain. There is another collapsed portion there. We can enter right next to the entrance to the Low Way and walk the rest of the way relatively unmolested.”

Argrave pointed insistently to Anneliese, feeling his point supported. Galamon questioned, “You’re sure there’s another collapsed portion near the base of the mountain?”

“I am,” Anneliese nodded, getting up from her sleeping bag. “While Argrave was speaking to the Stonepetal Sentinels, I was examining the walls and the tunnel. It was difficult to be around them. I could tell they were not fond of me,” she justified herself.

“Okay. That’s enough for me,” Argrave said eagerly. “Galamon, you have everything?”

Galamon put his helmet back on. “It’s dark. Light will attract attention. I will lead you two through the darkness.”

“As ever,” Argrave retorted, his mind starting to come alive.

Argrave and Anneliese moved urgently to put what few things of theirs remained unpacked back in their bags. Soon enough, the tent was left with only their sleeping bags on the grass, and Argrave put the backpack over his shoulder. He checked to be sure everyone else was ready, and then Galamon opened the tent, leading out into the darkness.

Chest ablaze with anxiety, Argrave took a deep breath and followed. He could hear nothing beyond the sounds of his companions and his own feet hitting the ground, and the night was so dark he could only follow after Galamon. True to Galamon’s word, it did not take long before their feet left the courtyard’s grass and stumbled over fallen stone bricks.

They emerged from the half-ring fortress, standing before the plains. Argrave felt the wind at his cheek, and his hair moved. Realizing this might be the last time he felt open air for a long, long while, he felt another wave of nervousness.

Galamon grabbed Argrave’s shoulder, pulling him from his daze. They followed along the wall as it winded, taking quiet yet quick steps. With the wall to guide them, Argrave felt some confidence return.

“Damn it all. It had to be something I said. What did I say, Galamon? Where did I ruin things? I thought I did pretty well…” he whispered, knowing well his companion’s sharp hearing would catch his mutters.

“I don’t know. You spoke a lot, and the acting you were doing was insufferable,” Galamon returned. “I tuned much of it out.”

“Gee, thanks. Real helpful.”

“Be quiet,” Galamon veritably growled. “Focus on what to do, not how it happened. Dwell on this later, when we stand with stone over our heads and the Low Way beneath our feet.”

“This isn’t exactly how I wanted to enter it,” Argrave muttered, but then heeded Galamon’s advice and remained quiet.

They followed along the wall with the sheer gray mountain base looming closer after every step. Though they passed by multiple collapsed portions, Anneliese urged them onwards, insisting she knew of one closer to the entrance. Argrave trusted her, but at the same time felt uneasy, numerous ‘what if’ scenarios echoing in his head.

Eventually, they did indeed find a collapsed portion of the wall all but touching the base of the mountain. Argrave breathed a sigh of relief, trying to peer out into the darkness beyond. He saw a few torches lit near the entrance to the Low Way, but all else was covered in shadow. He saw a few people and felt terribly exposed with them in sight.

“It’s dark. Can’t see a damn thing. I’ll just follow your lead, Galamon,” Argrave shook his head.

Galamon nodded. “Grab onto me if you must.”

Shouts sounded out across the night, making Argrave freeze. He listened, trying to discern their voices. It was a fruitless effort, though, but it helped confirm one thing—they were indeed targets. The voices came from where they had been sleeping.

“Let’s go now,” Argrave said insistently, trying to suppress his fear with action.

Galamon stepped back into the fortress, and Argrave followed just behind. After a few steps, a horn sounded out, the sound bouncing off the mountain walls and echoing dreadfully.

Damn it all, Argrave despaired silently, following after Galamon.

They proceeded across the empty courtyard towards the entrance to the Low Way. All those that had been guarding turned their heads to the sound of the horn. None of them seemed to move. Just as they neared the perimeter near the tunnel, though, someone broke away, taking the torch off its sconce and rushing towards the blown horn.

Galamon drew his dagger and rushed away. Argrave called out weakly, “Wait!” but to little avail. The elven vampire caught the man’s wrist which held the torch, pulled him forward, and then plunged his dagger beneath the man’s helmet. The fiery enchantments on the dagger burst from the visor, and then Galamon pulled it away. The man’s body dropped.

“Galamon…!” Argrave called out quietly. “If they didn’t have a reason to pursue before, they do now!”

“The man would have seen us—shouted, called for help. That alone would ruin things. We can make a clean break. They won’t find out where we went for some time. By then, we’ll be deep within.” Galamon grabbed the man’s torch and smothered the flame. “Let’s go.”

Argrave spared one last glance at the man’s body. He shook his head, swallowed, and went after Galamon, entering the Low Way of the Rose.


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  • Buried on a hill overlooking a little river with pinecones all around
  • Esquire

Bio: Author of the #1 'Heroes of Berendar' fan-fiction. Vicar of Crust. President of the Richie Aprile fan-club.

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