Zaradanoric was stirred to wakefulness by an argument outside the barrack walls. By the looks of the sky it was nearing evening. Zaradanoric stiffly sat up, stretched, and then removed his breastplate and shoulders. He laid his armor on the ground next to his bag and strode outside to see what the argument was about. Outside there was a group of people arguing in a circle. Zaradanoric surveyed the situation and saw that there were three parties. The captain of the guard, named Ralman, led one group, a lanky man with close-cropped dark hair led another, and woman, who Zaradnaoric had not met but felt like he knew, led the last group.
It was clear that the captain of the guard and the lanky man were about to come to blows so Zaradanoric took action. He drew his two-handed sword, which was made from his father’s sword hilt, and marched forward. While the blade was on its last legs, Zaradanoric loved it because of its history and imposing look.
The woman, who was trying to mediate, saw the sword-bearing warrior and backed up. They briefly made eye contact and while Zaradanoric was positive he had never met her she seemed familiar. However, the guard and lanky man continued shouting at each other and Zaradanoric entered the center of the circle to break up the shouting match.
In between the two men lay a broken shield, Zaradanoric swung his sword against one of the fractured parts and shouted, “Enough! Look at you two. Here you stand arguing like children and not hearing the other despite how much you have to say. If you have not had enough of arguing then take it up with me.” Zaradanoric hefted his sword menacingly; “I can be the argument councilor if you need one. Now, lets hear each side’s complaint from the neutral party. You their ma’am, you seem to be the one trying to break it up.”
The woman nodded and stepped forward. She took a breath and spoke, “My name is Katherine Oaklane. The problem is this. Two men went missing this morning. One was from the captain of the guards unit and one from Mr. Brackenbrook’s hunting party. They were found about an hour ago with Mr. Brackenbrook’s hunter missing but his sword was thrust through the guardsman. The hunters shield was found shattered on the ground with blood around it. The argument arose from who was responsible and why it happened. Mr. Brackenbrook and the captain have… struggled to get along and things came to a boiling point.”
Zaradanoric nodded at the story, thought a minute and spoke, “Where was the body found?”
The a burley guardsman bellowed, “Towards the Fields of Fornost. The tracks looked like they were chased or chasing each other.”
Zaradanoric replied, “Very well. All right, the sun is setting so here is what we must do. Captain Ralman, gather a party of twenty men including you. You are to arm them and give them all lanterns. Mr. Brackenbrook, you are to do the same. Mrs. Oaklane, please accompany us. We may need a cooler mind to prevail. We will leave in thirty minutes and we will get to the bottom of this matter.”
Zaradanoric turned around and walked to the guardhouse ignoring the glare from the captain. He set down his sword, but when he did the tried blade fractured from hitting the shield and pavestones so hard. Zaradanoric salvaged the hilt and tossed the broken blade to the side. He went to the arms rack and began testing the feel of their blades. None of them felt entirely right but Zaradanoric took one that was balanced well enough. It was a dull bronze blade covered in dust and grime.
Zaradanoric took it out into the wan light of evening along with the rest of his gear and sat on the guardhouse steps sharpening and cleaning the blade to the best of his ability. His mind was racing with the events. He had heard that unearthly assault the night before and now this. Either he was living in a fever dream or many bad things were beginning to occur.
The woman who he had briefly talked with earlier interrupted his thoughts when she approached him. She was wearing a brown hooded cloak and bore a wooden staff with a large, uncut ruby nested in it. Her long brown hair was bound up away from her face and she looked resolute but a touch scared.
Without looking up from cleaning his blade, Zaradnaoric inquired, “Well Mrs. Oaklane. What brings you to me this fine evening? Do you have a case of battle nerves?”
She nodded in response and looked at him with a ponderous look.
Zaradanoric did not even need to see her reaction to know the answer. He simply gestured to the stair beside him and spoke, “Take a seat and talk a minute with me. There is nothing you should need to be scared about. What probably occurred was a dispute over something that was fueled by wine. Wine fuels the passion and passion never governs wisely. Most likely both men resorted to swords and chased each other. In the end they probably slew each other and the hunter simply dragged himself to a place where he could die in solitude.”
She nodded and replied, “First off, you can call me Katherine, everyone does. Second, thank you for trying to comfort me but there is something about this that sets me on edge. Something is not right about this situation.”
Zaradanoric adjusted the lantern he was using, resumed cleaning the sword, and spoke again, “Well Katherine, I am Zaradanoric son of Eguald the Just. Have you ever been amongst the Rangers? You seem familiar to me yet I do not know your face.”
Katherine shifted uncomfortably for a moment then spoke, “No, I have never been with the Rangers. I have lived in Trestlebridge my entire life.”
With that she got up and departed immediately. Zaradanoric thought the behavior was a touch bizarre but not altogether unwarranted. Once he finished preparing his gear, Zaradanoric began his pre-combat ritual. Leaving his breastplate and shoulders with his bag, he walked away from the village. He held his necklace, which was a band of steel with a spectacular galaxy sapphire inlaid in it, in one hand and his sword in another. He strode a fair distance away from the town and walked to the cliff that overlooked the river.
Zaradanoric looked to the stars and remembered his family and brothers in arms. He stood there contemplating for a few minutes then began to walk back. Out of the corner of his eye Zaradanoric saw a shadow move. He released his necklace, a gift from Barain, and let it hang around his neck. Then he raised his sword in a ready position.
To his left he heard a rustling and when he turned that direction he saw the same shadow from the corner of his eye.
Zaradanoric shouted, “Show yourself, real men do not hide in the bushes!”
A chilling, grating laugh sounded from all around him and a voice echoed back filled with spite, “Who says that I am a man? Zaradanoric the parentless.”
Suddenly, Zaradanoric was flung backwards into the ground and a dark shape swirled into being in front of him. As Zaradanoric slowly stood up the figure morphed into a shadowy version of him.
The voice rang out again, “Here you are all alone with no help. You stand against yourself in a match of skills that you will lose. Finally, I will have the haven I was promised. The hunter knew what I was and after he and his companion were both gravely wounded took aggravating pains to deny me a body. That is no matter now! I will take a new host.”
The figure raised his blade and swung. Zaradanoric brought his up barely in time to deflect it. The dark blade cut through his leather jerkin and left a long cut across his chest. The spirit chuckled menacingly and swung again. This time Zaradanoric was ready a deflected the blade. Zardanoric went on the offense and swiftly thrust his blade at the figures unguarded leg. The blade did not plunge through the shadow figure but it did sink into it. The creature jerked away with an unearthly scream. Zaradanoric was able to pull his blade away in time but the figure had disappeared.
A shove from behind sent Zaradanoric falling towards the cliff. While he was trying to regain his footing he felt himself lifted up into the air. Zaradanoric knew what was coming next but he spent his time preciously. As he was flung back towards the ground Zaradanoric threw his sword into the shadow figures chest. He was rewarded with a scream even louder and longer then the first but Zaradanoric was slammed into the ground and lost consciousness. He awoke seconds later being dragged towards the cliff edge and faked unconsciousness.
As the creature prepared to sling him over the edge to his death, a light and a shout broke the night. “By the flame of Arnor release him! You have not place in our world spirit!’ a majestic voice proclaimed.
Zaradanoric’s frame of vision was flooded by a burst of light but he still acted. Using the distraction Zaradanoric drew his reserve blade and plunged it into the figure. It released him and writhed towards the edge of the cliff. Although bleeding from a head wound and the cut on his chest, Zaradanoric staggered to his feet and walked towards the creature.
A cloaked person ran up behind him carrying a glowing staff. The robed warrior shouted, “He is going to kill us. This is just a diversion. We must act now! Stab him again and I will do the rest.”
Zaradanoric simply acted. He plunged his blade into the creature’s gut and twisted it. While he did this, he heard his ally shout out a phrase in another language and hit the shadow with the staff.
A blaze of light shone out and the creature began to melt away.
The shadow figure shouted, “You foolish mortals! You have not slain Oraston. I will return and finish my work but you shall suffer great pain when I do!”
His monologue was terminated because his form melted away. Zaradanoric turned to his ally and stated, “Thank you. Your aid has saved me and I owe you a blood debt.” Zaradanoric shakily kneeled.
“Consider it an action of a friend. You may have saved our town.” The cloaked person pulled the hood off and Zaradanoric recognized it immediately.
“Katherine, you wield the knowledge of ancient lore? That is astounding. How did you know?” Zaradanoric inquired.
“I always have known certain thing. I have been more aware of the realms of the undead and I knew some sort of spirit was attacking the town. The people have been very hostile and on edge for about a week. I just didn’t know that you would provoke it to appear.” She said.
Zaradanoric lifted his sword and stood up, “Well your intuition saved me and possibly the town. We can call off the search party now. I know what happened but I need to tell the town.”
Katherine nodded and helped the warrior back to the town. The blood covered man sat upon the steps while the town assembled. Katherine brought her sister over to help treat Zaradanoric’s wounds before he addressed the town.
Finally, the town was assembled and Zaradanoric spoke, “People of Trestlebridge, tonight I and Katherine Oaklane have seen and vanquished an evil that was terrorizing the town. The two murdered men were slain in combat with a powerful phantom who had the ability to manifest in a nearly physical form. It called itself Oraston and I believe it desired to turn the town against each other and set it to war. He caused much grief and stirred up much anger while he was here but will not bother you for a time. Let us return to our houses and sleep in peace tonight while we may. For I fear that a spirit targeting a town with such strategy is not a random occurrence. For a spirit to be that strong and vindictive it was let in and strengthened by some greater power. We must be on the watch and take care for greater evils will come. When? I do not know but something evil stands ahead.”
Zaradanoric finished his speech and the townspeople set to muttering. Hunger pangs struck Zaradanoric as he realized that he had not eaten in two sunrises. So while the town filled its beds Zaradanoric filled his stomach.
As he was eating the man who was identified as Brackenbrook came to Zaradanoric and spoke, “You must be the one who we are to take south. I am Jon Brackenbrook.” The jovial man offered his hand and Zaradanoric shook it. The hunter continued, “I see you incurred a few injuries there. We will delay our start time a few days to see that you heal well. My men and I are staying in the fields towards Bree. Feel free to join us when you would like.”
Abruptly ending the conversation, the wiry hunter strode down the street whistling.