A note from Casey Baca

Hey everyone. Sorry again for the long delay after mentioning I was getting back to a faster schedule. I got a little sick and things slowed down. But again don't worry the story is not going anywhere and updates will continue to flow, hopefully 1 a week at minimum.

“I understand the situation, corporal,” a harsh voice said from around the corner of Virian’s private manor in the noble district. “But I still don’t have to like what we are doing.”

Virian stomped through his well manicured gardens that he hardly ever saw these days, yet were still kept tidy by the servants. He rounded the corner where he had told his two co-conspirators to wait for him. The sergeant had his back to him, and only corporal Tamren noticed Virian’s arrival in the dead of night.

“Sergeant, uhm—”

“Don’t ‘sergeant’ me, you know exactly what I’m talking about. We’re about to aid a witch.”

“Is that going to be a problem?” Virian asked.

Sergeant Feron wheeled on Virian with a look of horror on his face.

“Your highness!”

“Sergeant Feron,” Virian said, “we’re not going to have any issues, are we?”

“Of course not! I know what is at stake.”

“Good. Then we should head out. I don’t know how long this will take, and it will be best to retreat under the cover of night.”

The sun had only just fully fallen, but Virian didn’t want to take any chances. His memory of the vast underground structure of the cathedral made the task before them seem daunting. He could only pray that the vials used to dose Ivy would not be kept on a paladin’s person, and that one of the three of them could find their location.

Virian had already double and triple checked everything that he had packed in his large, leather satchel hanging at his side, but he went over them once more in his head. He touched the hilt of his sword at his hip as well, though he had no desire to cross swords with a paladin.

“Okay, follow me,” he said.

The two guardsmen nodded and Virian started off toward the cathedral. He led them through the empty streets of the nobles’ district from his family manor off to one side of the cathedral’s vast grounds. After the paladin inquisition of the area, not many ventured out, and tonight was no different. Not a soul roamed the district with them. Not even the lamps were lit. The servants weren’t happy about the situation either.

It was almost too easy to reach their destination without being noticed. Only the front gates of the cathedral were manned by paladins, leaving only the ten foot sheer stone wall ahead of Virian. He peered up at the top of it and shrugged. It didn’t look that high. Though the spiked rim did look a bit dicey.

He fished in his sack for the rope and hook he had prepared and gave it a throw. The four-pronged steel grapple bounced off of the edge of the wall and clambered back down to the cobbled road.

“Your highness?” Sergeant Feron said. “Why don’t you let me have a try?”

“Uh, sure,” Virian said, and handed over the rope.

The sergeant nailed the throw on his first try, and then gave the rope a good tug before pulling himself upward, his feet against the wall.

“Sergeant,” Virian said, and the man paused, looking over his shoulder. Virian retrieved another item from his sack and draped it over Feron’s shoulder. It was a coiled up, leather lined blanket that they could use to cover up the spiked crenelations. Feron nodded and continued his ascent.

Near the top, he braced his feet against the wall and let go of the rope with one hand, reaching for the blanket. It looked easy for him as he swung the thing over the battlements and climbed right over without issue. Corporal Tamren gave Virian a look and then shrugged, following after his superior.

When it finally came to Virian’s turn, he also gave the rope a good tug before attempting to pull himself up. The first thing he noticed was that it was nowhere near as easy as the soldiers made it look. He had thought he kept himself active and healthy, but every pull on the rope strained every muscle in his arms. All of his sneaking around up to this point involved tunnels and dodging servants. This felt more like a burglary than anything else. How were the soldiers so adept at such a thing?

Eventually he struggled his way up, and flung his torso over the top, the covered spikes jutting into his ribs as he rolled over the edge. Luckily for him, the guards were there to catch him instead of falling in a heap to the dirt ten feet below.

“Your highness,” sergeant Feron said, still clutching Virian, “are you alright?”

Virian rested a hand on the man’s shoulder. “Yes, thank you.” He looked up at the evidence of their infiltration and sighed. “I guess we leave it for now. I have one more rope to escape if necessary.”

“Right,” Feron said, “so where to?”

Virian scratched the top of his head.

“I don’t exactly know.”

Both men gave him a blank stare.

“What?” Feron said.

“They are holding the witch in the cathedral’s basement somewhere. I assume they store the alaricite potions somewhere nearby. But that place is a maze. I need your help searching.”

The guards said nothing and Virian shook himself from Feron’s arms, stomping through the manicured grasses of the cathedral courtyard. They had entered on the east side of the main building where there was basically nothing of interest, and thankfully no paladins. He skirted up to the exterior wall of the cathedral and followed it up to the southeast corner before pausing. He heard nothing but the footsteps and breathing of the two men in his employ. The whole place was eerily quiet.

Virian took a deep breath and leaned around the edge of the structure for a quick peek. Nothing. The wide, shallow stairs leading up to the entrance were devoid of activity, their polished white marble reflecting against the almost full moon.

He turned to his men and nodded.

“Okay, from here on, only talk if necessary.” He reached into his sack for the thick black cloth he had prepared and wrapped it around his nose and mouth. The guards mimicked him, and he almost laughed at the sight of them. Did he also look so ridiculous? They were like a band of highwaymen…except he was a prince of the kingdom and they were his royal guard.

“Ready, your highness,” corporal Tamren said.

“Right,” Virian said, “you know the plan. If you get caught, drink your potion or get rid of it somehow. No one can be allowed to discern our goal or it won’t work. I’ll do everything in my power to help you if the worst happens.” The men nodded. “Feron, Tamren…thank you for this.”

Virian turned and rushed forward on the balls of his feet up to the grand cathedral’s sole entrance. The whole way he continued to pray to the one god he had long since lost faith in that it would all go right. Maybe for once in his life, something would go his way.

No shouts of alarm rang through the courtyard. No sounds of steel being unsheathed. He reached out to the massive arched door twice his height and paused one last time. Once he entered there would be no going back. All it would take was a single paladin waiting behind the door and everything would be for naught. Still, he couldn’t back down now. Not after everything. Not after mother.

He eased the door open. Unlocked as always. Was that good or bad? If they let people in so easily, it probably meant someone was waiting. He looked into the candle lit interior and saw nothing but empty seating and the massive altar flanked by way too many candles. Once he put a single foot inside, however, a voice greeted him.


The blood thrumming in his ears drowned out anything else the priest might have said as Virian threw open the door and full on sprinted toward the voice. He leapt over several rows of pews, his sword in his hand before he knew what he was doing. The stunned, wide-eyed priest tried to back away, but Virian was already there, and slammed the pommel of his blade into the side of the man’s head. The priest crumpled to the ground instantly without another sound.

Virian was breathing hard, his heart pounding in his chest, but held a bright smile on his face. Finally. Finally he had done something about his pent up resentment towards these bastards who had murdered his mother. And it was only just beginning.

“Your highness?”

A voice came from behind him. He didn’t turn to address them, his mind working through the adrenaline.

“Feron, find something expensive to steal. Tamren, help with him.” Neither of the guards moved, and Virian spun to face them. They were simply staring at him. “What is it?”

“Uhm…steal, your highness?” Feron asked.

“Yes. We must mask our intent, sergeant. Are you going to question every order I give? Just do as I say.”

The sergeant nodded and then approached the altar, giving Virian a moment to look over the younger corporal.

“You won’t find any back talk from me, your highness,” he said, “I was just a little bit impressed at the speed with which you handled the priest.”

Tamren took the few steps separating him from Virian and bent down, slinging the priest over his shoulder with a fluid motion. He nodded to Virian.

Virian took a quick survey of the worship hall just to be sure, but they were definitely alone. Just like the last time he had visited, the priest had come from the sole exit from the room as far as he knew. There was an open door just a few paces from where they stood, cut into the stone construction that led further into the depths of the cathedral. He knew from experience the majority of the place lie underground, but there was still plenty left on the surface where they might run into another priest. However, if the recent commotion hadn’t alerted anyone else, it was unlikely there were more priests nearby.

Still, he leaned his head into the next corridor just to be sure. Empty as expected. There were several closed doors along the path, and Virian chose the nearest, swinging the wooden door open wide. Beyond was some kind of office, littered with books and loose sheafs of paper, but Virian had no time to inspect any of it. He motioned to Tamren at the single chair in the room behind a massive, carved dark-wood desk.

“Bind him,” Virian said, retrieving his second rope and depositing it on the desk. They should be able to escape without it, and no one could know they were here. “Gag him too.”

Virian left the corporal to his task and headed back into the worship hall. Feron was ambling around with a few golden trinkets in his right hand.

“That’s fine, sergeant,” Virian said, “let’s go.” He held out his sack as Feron approached. “Here.” After Virian became just a little bit richer than he already was, they went back to check in on Tamren.

Damn, the corporal was efficient. The priest was not going anywhere anytime soon. Another of their face masks was stuffed into his mouth and tied with a second.

“Alright,” Virian said, “remember what we’re here for. Once we get to the substructure, we spread out and find the potions for the swap.” He grabbed both men’s forearms. “Meet back at the wall, but don’t wait for sunrise if one of us is missing. Just get out.”

They both rose an eyebrow at him, but offered no objections. Virian led the way down the hallway to the stairwell that the archbishop had shown him. They trudged on, descending in silence. The gloom and stuffiness of the thicker and thicker air adding extra weight to their task. When they finally reached the bottom, Virian gave his men one last look and nodded. They split off into the three branching paths that he had seen the first time down here. Virian took straight ahead while the guards went left and right. He was pretty sure he had chosen the same direction archbishop Tristian had taken him down previously, but doubt began to creep into his mind the further he went.

The place was just way too dark, and way too big. He had a suspicion that the place was not created by the church at all. Even where the limited torchlight did not touch, a dim, somehow dark light still pervaded. It gave off enough to barely see, yet also made the whole place seem further removed from the surface world.

He walked and walked, finding nothing and no one. He was alone in gloom as he wound through countless hallways, and never once did he find a branching path. There were no doors, no tunnels leading off in a separate direction. Yet somehow he still got the impression that he was lost. If he turned back now, he wasn’t sure he would be able to make it back.

His mind started to break further and further with each new step, a sense of deep, impending dread washing over him. The tunnel got darker the further he went until he could hardly see his hand in front of his face, despite the sudden increase in torches hanging on the wall. Every instinct screamed at him to turn around and run as fast as he could, but he could never look at himself in the mirror again if he turned coward now. One foot after the other, he pressed on, until…

A glint of metal shone ahead of him. All of the torchlight was drawn to it, just like…huh. It was a door of solid alaricite. On its face was the triangular symbol of the church. Could this be it? He went to take one more step, but froze.

“It has grown agitated as of late,” a voice echoed down toward Virian from the way he had come. He shrank down into a prone position, hoping the strange atmosphere of the the place would hide him despite the relatively narrow space.

“Yes,” a second voice that Virian recognized said, “it knows the witches are near. No doubt it mourns for its brethren. How fare the restraints?”

“Holding. For now. But it tests them endlessly.”

The voices were growing close now. Much too close. Virian could practically feel each of the footsteps against the stone floor. He scrunched as tight as he could against the wall and waited. A boot came less than an inch from his face, but neither priest looked down. They passed over him as if he wasn’t there.

Yet when the alaricite door was opened, an entirely new ordeal struck Virian with the force of a blacksmith’s hammer to the side of his head. He clamped both hands over his mouth in an attempt to muffle what would no doubt escape his lips. Yet he forgot all about the pain an instant later as he felt an unknowable presence invade his very being. It traveled his mind as easily as he might stroll through his palace halls. It probed, searching, until eventually the violation ended, a satisfied feeling overwhelming Virian.

Before he could recover, however, an image was forced into his mind’s eye. There was a small room, full of cabinets with a pair of empty workbenches. It looked like a version of the alchemist’s shop where Virian had his fake potions made. Without knowing where the vision had come from, nor caring, he knew it was exactly the place he was looking for. And better yet, directions to its location popped into his head right after.


A deep, gravelly voice ordered him, and Virian had no reason to disobey. If not to get away from whatever was doing this to him, then to save Ivy.

He heard the alaricite door shut at the other end of the tunnel, and sprang to his feet. He still didn’t know or even really understand where he was going, but the instructions seemed imprinted into him. He sprinted through the darkness, the haze fading the further he retreated from the alaricite door. In just a minute or so, he stood before a very different, wooden portal.

His hand went to open it, but this time he listened to his instincts and paused. Would the church really leave anything containing alaricite unguarded? Unlikely. He retreated back maybe thirty paces back into the darkness and pulled out two of the heaviest trinkets sergeant Feron had stolen earlier.

He angled himself against the wall opposite the door and threw a gilded goblet as hard as he could at the door. After waiting just another second, he did the same with a second chalice, this time aiming as far down the corridor as possible.

For a second time he made himself as small as possible while waiting for a response. It came not a second later. The door swung open and a paladin in his gleaming platemail appeared in the hallway, one hand on his sheathed sword. Briefly, he looked over to where Virian sat hunched, but then turned to where Virian had chucked his pilfered items. He could hardly believe this was working.

The paladin squatted down and retrieved the first of Virian’s distractions, not bothering to inspect the thing at all. And then he was off down the hall. Virian might have only seconds to accomplish his goal without being discovered. Thankfully the vision he had told him everything he needed to know.

Moving only on the balls of his feet, he rushed up as fast as possible without making a noise and made his way through the open doorway. The place was exactly as the vision had shown him, and off to his left sat a glass doored cabinet full of vials containing the dark liquid. There had to be at least a dozen. Damn it. He should have taken all three vials for a better chance.

But there was no time to reflect on his mistakes and he pulled open the cabinet, replacing the closest vial. If someone were to grab one, hopefully it would be the easiest to reach. Taking extra care to close the cabinet without making noise, he pocketed the actual vial of alaracite and flew out of the room.

The hallway still had no sign of the paladin, and Virian let out a held breath, once again crouching in the darkness. He counted the beats of his thrumming heart till thirty-two before the church’s warrior returned, both trinkets in his hands. The man didn’t appear worried or concerned, but those bastards never showed anything on their faces. The paladin entered the potion store and shut the door behind him.

Not wanting to test his good fortune any longer, Virian raced forward. The sooner he could get out of this place, the better. He doubted his companions fared as well as he did, but it would have to be enough. It was all he could manage. Nevermind the vision or the presence that had given it to him. He couldn’t think about what that had been, only his current goal, and what it would mean going forward.

The tunnels were a blur as he ran in a seemingly mindless pattern, yet once again he knew it was not in error. Eventually, the spiraling stairs appeared before him, and he took them two at a time until he reached the top. There was still no one at the surface level, and though his breaths were coming heavy, he didn’t dare slow his pace.

He was through the small hall that led to the basement and down the rows of pews in what felt like an instant compared to the dark tunnels. Fresh night air from the courtyard hit his face and filled his lungs, but still he did not stop. The soft dirt and grasses beneath him soothed his aching feet, and he ran.

He almost hit the exterior wall face first when he reached it, and collapsed against the thing, panting harder than he ever had in his entire life. Neither of his guardsmen had made it back yet. He needed a moment to recover anyway, so he sat their heaving, waiting. And waiting.

He had no idea how long it had been, but just as the sky began to lighten on the eastern horizon, a single figure approached. Virian tensed, reaching for his sword, but there had been no need. He recognized the figure a moment later. Sergeant Feron.

“Sergeant,” Virian said in a whisper, “where’s the corporal?”

Feron shook his head.

“Fool thought it noble to give himself up for me,” he said, “a paladin caught us.”

“His vial?”

Feron held up the remaining two potions.

“Told me to save Sergeant Rose and charged forward like an idiot. I hope you keep your promise, your highness.”

Virian nodded.

“I will. But for now, we need to leave. I was successful, believe it or not.” Feron grunted. “We can only wait now.” Virian looked up at the still in place grapple with its rope hanging down the other side of the wall. “Boost me up and I’ll grab the rope.”

Sergeant Feron got into position below the grapple and held out both hands for Virian to climb up on.

“I hope we did the right thing,” Feron said.

“Me too, sergeant. Me too.”


About the author

Casey Baca

Bio: Avid reader, gamer, fantasy escapist, and more recently, author. I love almost anything related to fantasy lore and story telling, often being the one to explain to my gaming buddies what's actually going on in the game.

Currently addicted to Lost Ark and the RR writathon

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