Realm of Shadow: Chapter 1


Chapter 1



Rays of orange streamed through the louvered balcony doors into his bedchamber.  Jayce Shadowgrass blinked his eyes several times, then left them shut as the light stabbed his brain like venomous daggers.  One attempt to roll his head to the right ceased with a throbbing that reminded him of a dwarven blacksmith vigorously pounding out a fiery red sheet of iron inside his skull.  Eventually that dwarf would make mush of his head, sometimes he wished it would be sooner.  He lay there allowing the suns morning rays to massage his face, invigorating him.  A full day lay ahead for him; he needed to make plenty of silver, and spend not nearly half as much.  Well, spent was an ugly word; invested was a much more suitable term.  He never spent silver without the intent on making some in one way or another.  You never gave silver away or to waste frivolously.  Of course, there was one exception to that rule, ale.

Ale was still the taste that now lingered in his dry palate.  One more night, one too many of those damn mugs, again, he laughed to himself, what a life.  Last night was but a blur to him, then again so was almost every night for the past eight years.  It was utterly amazing that the little dwarf in his head had not yet smashed his mind into useless chunks.  What a life, he thought again, at least it was finally his life, to control on his own.

The knighthood now far from his life, rude council members bought and paid for after several years.  He was now no more the errand boy for Colin or Patch Brevor, currently his rivals.  After a life of struggle, it was his turn to lounge in the lap of luxury.  A distant dream as a boy surviving on the wharves was now a fruitful reality.

 He now lay in his newest venture, and most prized.  The Silver Dagger was not a business to him, but his child.  The Dagger—it’s more commonly used name—held a luxurious tavern and gambling casino.  It was also the finest inn on the northeastern side of the island, which held the majority of the middle class merchants.  The unfinished sixth floor of the building held his residence.  It was a modest three-room apartment, yet it contained the luxuries he dubbed required for his status.

The Dagger took him three years to build.  His partners and he had taken much secrecy and care to hide the fact that the unfinished building was his.  It was expensive to pay off those in the palace to keep the building, zoning, and other licenses inaccessible to anyone who held an interest; namely Colin Brevor and the Alexian Pirates.  If they found out it was his business before it opened, his game was over.  By rights, their silver paid for it.  The salary that both Colin and the pirates paid could never yield such a profit as luxurious as the Dagger, let alone a seedy building near the docks.  No, he went about it the right way, stealing.  Actually, he wondered, was there any other way to make a vault full of silver faster?

In fact, the illegal acquisition of goods was one his primary sources of income.  Smugglers in far eastern city of Katananga furnished him with Dyginian Elven tea and the finest silk.  A few close dwarven friends that hid in the mountains to Islesen's east sold him weapons made from dwarven steel by dwarven blacksmiths.  The finest, sharpest, and strongest weapons known to man are in fact dwarven made.  The dwarves knew a metallurgical skill that dated thousands of years, and to date, no human knew.

Of course, he fenced many goods for thieves who worked outside of the city, as far as in the city, well, no burglaries occurred unless he ordered it.  Colin's organization was a problem in this area, but in time, that small difficulty would eventually disperse.  Only one organization of his type could exist in the city, and he had far more to offer this clients.  However, until then, the protection services that he extended were another large source of silver.

The mattress of his bed shook as a body that lay next to him turned.  He finally forced his head to look to his right and opened his eyes.  A naked sleeping woman greeted his blurred sight.  Erin's nipples pointed up to the ceiling as the cool morning air woke only part of her beautiful body.  He laughed quietly to himself, his thought earlier was wrong; there was at least one person who still held control over him.  Erin was ten years younger, a vibrant twenty-six.  She was the daughter of Leeland Parker, a powerful man who sat on the Inn and Tavern Guild Council and owned four of the finest establishments, "hotels, on the 'Hill'".  It was through her that Jayce persuaded him to keep his business hush.  Without his influence on the Guild, Jayce would have never succeeded.  Jayce's reputation usually preceded him, and no respectable man would give him a license to build or sell any thing, let alone a casino.

The bed rustled again as the young brown-haired woman rolled over.  She slipped her silky thigh on top of his.  Her bare chest rested on his right side.  Erin’s right arm drifted across his bare chest, her nails seductively teased his skin.  She kissed his shoulder, then his cheek.  Sex was one thing, but this young woman was getting a little too emotional for him.

“Morning lover,” she whispered.  “How do you feel?”

“Like hell,” he responded.

“Daddy’s going to be wondering where I’m at soon?”

“He knows,” Jayce rolled his eyes, “he’s no idiot.”

“I know he knows, that’s what’s so fun about it,” she giggled.  Erin hated her father; he was old fashioned, strict, demanding, and still believed in prearranged marriages.  Out of spite, she involved herself with Jayce.  Jason did not mind, she was an easy step for a larger target.  Although, Erin was an attractive woman, Jayce held no feelings for her other than pure lust.  She was a good avenue for the frequent sexual tension that would build up when Cat was not in town, but other than that, she meant nothing to him.

Erin, on the other hand, had other plans.  Unfortunately, against her original agreement, she seemed to be getting to ‘clingy’.  She never mentioned that four-letter word that women so easily tossed around, but he could see it coming.  This posed a serious and deeply unwanted situation.  How could he break away from her, before she started harping love without pissing her off?  Despite her disposition with her father, she would run to him in an instant, daddy could fix anything.  This could result in a tragic confrontation between him, the Guild, and the law.

She rolled over on top of him, her naked body felt smooth against his.  She rubbed her chest over his, and then temptingly kissed his neck.  Being with her definitely held its advantages; she was a wildcat in bed.  Actually, more like those mythical nymphs who seduced their victims and locked them forever behind closed doors eventually killing the male.  Though he was not about to fall prey to that.  He rolled her off him, kissed her on the lips, semi-passionately, and then slid out of bed.

“What part of like hell did you not understand?”

“Well I thought I’d make you feel better,” she returned.

“That won’t do it this time.”

He saw the fire in her eyes, again, keeping her happy for a bit longer was necessary, just a bit.  After things settled, and he established himself in the city a bit more, removing her from the picture would be much easier.  Something would come to him, it always did.  Someway or another, an avenue of freedom would alleviate his need for her.  As the sun rose that day, he had men working on the background of Leeland Parker and several other Guild Councilmen to find something buried deep within their closets.

A few were even digging in Erin's short, but obviously colorful past.  Without a doubt, he knew they would find something they always did, because no one was perfect.  Not many lived an unadulterated life; and everyone had at least one moment of weakness during their life that they regret.  Secrets thrived in the free willed soul.  Sometimes he considered secrets an essential food for the soul, or, at least, for his business.  Something men or all freethinking humanoids must have to survive, and to discover these dark secrets were his job.  To reveal these clandestine acts was also a task that he gladly performed.  Only when the time was right, at a moment when these painful revelations would most benefit him.

An hour later, Jayce was sitting behind a desk in his third office.  His second office was on the first floor of the Dagger, behind the bar.  There he sat and conducted legal business as well as taking care of concerned patrons and nosey officials.  The third office was yet one more flight of stairs down, under the Dagger, in a small catacomb of cleared and refinished sewers. 

“Jayce, you give me a lot of lata--,” Carl Haynmen paused thinking of the correct word.  Finally giving up the quest he continued, “--freedom here.  Why do you want to act so harshly on this one?”

Carl Haynmen or Blade, which Carl preferred, owned one third of the Dagger and ran most of the illicit side of the business.  This wiry red head and he built the small empire that Jayce ran today.  Blade had no urge to run any legitimate businesses however, he secretly owned at least two whore houses down by the docks and one high class call girl parlor on the Hill.  Blade preferred to work at night, running the organization efficiently with little interjection from Jayce himself.

"Burn it," he replied to Blade after a few moments.

"But I don’t understand" Blade questioned.  "That old man kept me and Sven alive, you too, if I recall.  Without his free food and ale, and at times lodging and women at no cost, I would be dead.  Maybe even you as well."  Blade shook his head.  "Times are hard now.  With the Royal Order cracking down, the new law on building codes and requirements by our own city council, silver is tight.  You know that Jayce."

Jayce leaned back in his chair and propped his feet on his desk.  "We can't have people neglecting their payments; if he can get away with it, just because you feel sorry for him, who's next Blade?  No, we must let them know.  Burn it."

"Hell, Jayce, listen...”

"Blade, I know you have a lot of latitude down here, but something’s just can't be avoided.  With that said,” Jayce paused.  The establishment did serve him well back in the day, when he and the ‘gang’ roamed the night as teenagers.  Presently, it was new day, a new time, and the old man’s business was slow, newer bars opened, seedier taverns ruled the docks.  There was no longer room for ‘nice’ guys.  He continued with the order, “I want to hear about the tragic fire at the Spitting Serpent Tavern tomorrow morning.  Besides, the damn place is an eyesore,” he was not lying here, it was in bad disrepair, “no wonder he's spending so much trying to come up to the standards of the new beautification law.  Actually, we’re doing him a favor."

Blade shifted uneasily in his chair.  "What about the women upstairs.  Hell, what's old man Cravnik gonna do?"

"The whores will find work else where, no doubt in that.  Cravnik can retire, or rebuild, his choice.  Hell, if he decides to rebuild, we'll pay a quarter of the cost and loan him the rest, to show him that we're sorry to see a tragedy befall on such a historical tavern."  He grinned, "Then he'll have no problem remaining loyal 'cause I'll own a quarter of his damn business."  He looked at the dark haired female sitting next to Blade and smiled.  She returned with a shake of her head and then sipped her tea.  “You disapprove my dear?” he asked.

“Milord, it is your business to run as you see fit, I play no part in that.  Whether I approve or not, is none of my concern,” she sipped, never looking up at him.  “It will only concern me when an angry tavern owner tries to kill you for burning down his lively hood.”  She looked up at him, “then I’m afraid I’ll have to kill him,”--she said the last two words slowly.  After a second or so of pause, she continued, “To protect you,” she emphasized with a quick nod to him, “whether I approve of it or not, milord.”

Jayce looked at her staring straight into her young but harden brown eyes she stared back at him.  His glare did not intimidate her as it did many others.  She was an enigma.  She never spoke of her past, nor did she even pretend to have a life outside of his.  Shae was originally from Myrinda and that was about the whole of it, nothing more.  Which was odd, for all his connections, all his men, only dead ends were encounter, she had no past, or one that someone was hiding.  Despite that, she was a trusted ally and valued employee.

This small but deceptively strong and quick woman was now his one and only required bodyguard.  With her by his side, he needed no other.  She stood no more than five feet, and was only twenty - three years.  However, she wielded that four-foot sword of hers with beautiful grace and agility.  The blade soon became nicknamed the 'Widow-maker'.  To this day, he had only seen a handful of individuals better with a blade than her.

 Jayce picked up a cup of smuggled tea; he decided to change the subject.  His order given, Blade would obey.  "Next?"

Shae turned to him swiping back her long thick black hair, which held a unique silver streak on her right side.  “There was an attack late last night outside the city, in the Jaws.  A source told me that Norrelle is riding out this morning to investigate.  Two of the soldiers that went with her are on our payroll as well, so we should get a good report about the incident.”

“There as not been an attack out there for years, since,” he paused.  “Strange, who could have done that; I wouldn’t think it was Colin’s doing.”

“Yes Milord,” she nodded.

“Keep me informed, look into it.  I’ll speak with Norrelle herself later,” he paused again.  Old memories began to seep into his mind, memories he had chose to forget.  His keen instinct told him it was worth a look, something was out of the ordinary.  To the day, he thought.  “Send out some scouts anyway, before the scene is too badly trampled over.  It maybe something, it maybe nothing, but I think we should have a look for ourselves.”

Shae nodded again.

“Next?” he asked.

Blade again repositioned himself in his seat and looked at a tattered sheet of parchment.  "Well, you need to get in touch with Captain Jon.  We've got a hot shipment that needs to head east rather soon."

"What would this be?"  Jayce asked. 

"Remember that jewelry I asked you about a fortnight ago?  The stuff that was stolen from Arginth, by that Arginthian bandit group the, whatever the hell they call themselves?"

He took in a deep breath, "You're referring the Arginthian Dark Nights."  He rolled his eyes at the ridiculous title.

"Yeah, well it seems the Royal Order was reported in that town at the falls."

"Why would the Royal Order be looking for jewels Blade?"

"Well, it seems that they were no..."

"It’s not as if they Arginthian Crown Jewels," Jayce cut him off with a laugh.

 Blade shifted again, "Okay, if you wanna believe that."

“What?” he yelled.  “I thought they were just some nobles jewelry, that’s what you said Blade.”

“No, I said some royal’s jewelry buddy.  I didn’t elaborate on which.”

He placed his head in his hands and looked at his desk, it was still pounding, now a bit worse.  If there were two things he never liked hearing in a conversation, they would be the Dargothian World Council and the Dargothian Royal Order.  Twelve years ago the Dargothian world leaders, which consisted of eleven human civilized countries in southern Dargothia got together and established what they called the World Council.  They insisted that, as one entity, they could oversee the entire civilized area and protect it easier.  Deal with common threats to all those countries.  By their own laws, each country would still run itself as long as it was to the best interest to all of Dargothia.  Each country, eleven at time was to send one ambassador to sit on this council and make decisions that would affect all eleven.  Then they created the Royal Order. 

The Order was the world's knighthood that would serve all humanity.  Islesen at the time was too small, even though it was the largest port on the southern coast, so the Order over looked the city and claimed it responsible for its own security.  Islesen had to take care of its own Goblin problem.  When they created Sebastian Falls, then they were no longer just a city - state, but a country.  Many men died taking hold of that land near the falls.

However, that aside, the Royal Order had full jurisdiction within any member country.  In simple words, they could go and do as they pleased.  No countries law enforcement could challenge them, nor could the local lawmakers.  They also had this problem with 'Organized Crime'.  They were determined to bring all such organizations down.  The reasoning why they never bothered the Alexian Pirates was beyond Jayce.  Now they were getting close to him.  This was indeed not a very pleasant thought. 

He quickly stood and paced behind his desk.  He guzzled down the last half of his tea.  He wiped his bearded chin clean then looked at his lieutenant.  "Where are the jewels at now?"

Blade stood, "In our personal vault."

A small ringing sounded from the corner of the room and interrupted Jayce.  It was the alert bell that was connected by wire to the bar keep.  "What in the Hell does Jacob need?"  He looked back at Blade.  "Alright, I need you to get in touch with Nalin in the dwarven catacombs.  Use the underwater tunnel not the canyon tunnel, and ask him if he can store the stuff temporarily."  Jayce paused and looked at his desk, then quickly glared back to Blade.  "Who else knows?  Who helped you with the transaction?"

"Samuel," he answered.

Jayce sighed in relief.  "Good.  Where did you meet the bandits?"

Blade smiled, "In the grave catacombs off the coastal extension.  The night guard there works for us."

"Well, both men disappear today."

He gave him a confused, but yet knowing stare, "Disappear where Jayce?"

"At the bottom of the sea," Jayce returned.  Blade just closed his eyes.  No rebuttal this time, Blade knew this could happen to anyone of his or her men at anytime.  Sure, they may be loyal to the organization, but magic could see into your soul.  All Royal Order Patrols carried at least one wizard for just such purposes.

"And me?"  Blade asked with fear on his face.

"You stay down here.  No going topside until Shae or I say it is safe," he answered with a smile.  "You’re too valuable to toss into the sea."

"Thanks Jayce," Blade said with relief.  His expression turned to puzzlement as he looked at Shae.  "What about her, and even you?"

He smiled, "Send a runner to Ayrial's men.  Tell them I want to meet with the lady."

Blade rolled his eyes back.  "That witch makes me nervous."

"She makes the Order and the Lewyllen Mage Academy nervous too," he said with a laugh.  As quickly, as he laughed his demeanor turned serious.  “Get in touch with Jon and see if he can pick up the goods at the Dwarven sea cave."

"You'll need Nalin's and Norrelle's permission, Milord,” Shae added.

Jayce looked at her and smiled.  He never got that milord statement.  Actually, he was a Lord, or a titled knight, but no one—or not many—still used that form of address.  He winked at her, "Blade, see too it."  He saw Blade nod in agreement from the corner of his eye, "Now Blade."  Blade took the hint and left the office.  He moved to the door, "Shall we see why Jacob rang me for Shae?"

"Yes milord," she answered.

He rolled his eyes.  "You make me laugh."




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Michael Robinson
Novel / Novella
writing Michael Robinson
"I believe in a world of angels and demons, ghosts and ghouls, zombies and vampires. I love a world of elfs and dragons, heroes and villians. Evil and not so evil. I enjoy walking that line of shadow between evil and good, light and darkness."
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Rating: 10.0/10

It was a typical May morning in the world of Dargothia when Cat Foster, Norrelle Friedman, and Jason Shadowgrass awoke. For Cat, she was en route to arrest the man she loved, one Jayce Shadowgrass. His betrayal to her and her employers, the noted Pirates of Port Alexi marked his death and she was to deliver that sentence. For General Norrelle Friedman, she again stood at the edge of a scene where men died the night prior protecting unknown cargo with signs that the attack was committed by the same mastermind that delivered the skirmish in her band of knights eight years before. Jason awoke next to his lovely lady, not one of love, for he admired the fact the he loved no one. And it was the typical day for him, until the summons, back to the castle he left some eight years ago when the rogue tossed away his title and noble status. For each of them and their companions, this was the day that the darkness begun to reign, as Clinox, a wizard from centuries past uses ancient spells and artifacts allowing him to open a doorway to a plane that none thought to exist. A corner of existence to where dragons where banished and imprisoned. To a Realm of Shadow, to unleashed darkness upon a world that he ruled once before and vowed to again.