The Lady Jasminth was taking her usual walk around the keep, she stopped in the kitchen to make sure that the evening meal was well on its way to being prepared, and satisfied she left the kitchen by way of the east hall known as the Hall of Armor. Her soft- soled shoes made a slight whispering sound as she walked; the hall was dimly lit by oil lamps spaced every fifty feet; however most of the hall still remained shrouded in shadow. Suits of ancient armor lined the walls like silent sentinels drawing a shudder from her every time she came this way which was every day. One of these days she told herself she would move her apartment to more pleasant surrounding. Up ahead of her was an intersection, the northern hall led to the slave' quarters while the southern hall led to stairs that went down into the bowels of the keep. At the very end of the hall she now walked was where her own apartments were currently located, but she had no intentions of going to them.
She was on her way to the house slaves' quarters to check on a couple of the slaves who had come down with some kind of stomach flu. She hoped that it was something they had eaten and not another virus the last time a virus swept through the keep she lost nearly a thousand house slaves. If they did not recover soon she would have to send for the human cleric in the settlement. Her acute hearing picked out the sound of two people talking. " I tol ye already," said a woman's voice that Jasminth instantly recognized as Amelia's and knew the other one was probably Sonja, those two were nearly inseparable. Jasminth stopped in the shadows of the long hall to listen. "Oh, I know but tell me again I think it is just so romantic." "Bah romantic my arse men aught not treat women such. Women ought ta be treated with respect and dignity not at all like a mere possession to be owned." "I don't care about that, you just go ahead and tell me again." Jasminth smiled she could almost see the look of disapproval on Amelia's face and the protruding bottom lip of Sonja as she pouted "I shan't have told ye in the first place, very well since you willn't leaveth me alone tilth I do". Jasminth covered her mouth with her hand to stifle the laugh that almost burst forth from her lips. Everyone knew that Amelia loved to gossip about anyone and anything and very seldom did she have to be begged to repeat things no matter how many times she told them.
"I has this cousin that owned by Baron Valdir and he a tol me that he o'er heard the Baron telling his chief a?visor- havin seen her in the town market two eve's agone- that he would have her no a matter what the price." Being ever-dramatic Sonja gasped and sighed clapping her hands, Amelia scowled but was inwardly pleased at her companions' reaction. "He said that he must have her, wold have her, and wold nothin keep him from her." "I still think that is the most romantic thing I have ever heard. Do you still not think so?" Nay I do not he is a cruel an spiteful man and I no wish him on any women. Besides your'n idea of romantic is a quickie in the hay." "This is true but still," said Sonja with a giggle. Amelia laughed, "Lass your incorrigible. We best be gettin back she'll be along shortly." Jasminth decided enough was enough and stepped around the corner, "To late I am already here as a matter of fact I have been standing here for quite sometime." Sonja was so frightened that she stumbled backwards and fell on her rump, and Amelia fell against the wall white as a sheet. Both had eyes that looked the size of dinner plates in the flickering light from the lamps. "Amelia were you not supposed to be at the slaves quarters tending to the infirm." "Y..yes m...milady I...I was just...." "I am perfectly aware of what you were just doing." In their fright Amelia's brogue accent had all but vanished and Sonja hadn't moved a muscle. For the moment Jasminth paid little attention to the whimpering girl on the floor. "I suggest that you be on your way then and don't let me catch you shirking your duty again. Next time I shall not be as generous, as it is I should have you whipped and stripped of your status. As I understand it Eberta is more then willing to usurp you of your position, now go." Tears welling in her eye's Amelia gathered her skirts and fled as if the demons of HelĀ“ were poking her stout body with fiery brands. Sonja moved to follow but froze when Jasminth frosty sky-blue eyes turned to her. Sonja kept her own golden brown eyes locked onto the floor licking her lips nervously. "Oh, do get off of the floor you are no pig to be wallowing in the dirt." Sonja scrambled to her feet; she tried to say something but the only thing that came out was a terrified whimper. "You I believe were supposed to be in the kitchen helping with this evening's meal. Not here in the hall listening to gossip. I believe you better be getting there as well, next time I won't be so lenient. Do you understand?" Sonja nodded her head so fast that Jasminth got the impression that if the poor girl nodded it any faster her head would fall off. Sonja keeping her eyes averted, started to hurry off. "Wait!" The girl stopped as if being jerked back by a rope; slowly she turned around. Realizing how frightened the girl was Jasminth let her eyes and her voice soften but only a little. "One more thing now I heard most of what was said, but I am sure not all and I am curious to know just who this person is that Baron Valdir has taken such and interest in. After all there is some truth to what people gossip about is there not." As she talked she took a few steps to stand near Sonja once more, clasping her hands behind her back.. When Sonja made no answer she began to walk around the frightened house slave at some point reaching up and stroking the young girls auburn locks.
Sonja wanted desperately to flee and she quivered like a frightened deer, her heart pounding in her ears. Her mouth was dry and her lips felt swollen she swallowed and moisten her lips with her tongue but not even that helped. The words were in her head but her voice failed to utter a word, no matter how hard she tried the words would not come out.
When Jasminth stood in front of her again she gently lifted up the girls face, Sonja promptly closed her eyes tightly. "Look at me!" The command was said softly but with a hint of steel in it. Sonja opened her eyes even though her mind wanted to refuse. "I am asking you to tell me because she should be warned; I wouldn't want any woman to fall in the hands of that monster. I shudder to think what might befall whoever it is." After a few minutes she released the girls chin and shook her head sadly. "You leave me no choice then. I didn't want to have to do this but your disobedience must be punished." Jasminth's eyes turned from hazel to black and she began to chant softly, suddenly a cold wind whistled down the halls, the lanterns flickered and went out. The wind passed through Sonja's like a sheet of ice, she stumbled back almost falling, the hair on the back of her neck and arms stood on end, and a cold dreadful chill took hold of her body. Jasminth continued to chant arms raised toward the ceiling, her voice echoing down the hall, a pale light infused her body making her look ghostly white. She watched Sonja through slitted eyes and smiled inwardly the illusion was doing exactly as intended one final touch was needed. There was a grinding sound of rock against rock that came from the Hall of Armor behind Sonja, she spun around and in the darkness beyond the light emanating from her mistress she saw something huge moving, reaching toward her.
As the thing got nearer to the light Sonja saw the hulking form of a winged gargoyle. Huge arms hung to the floor, it used it dagger-sized claws to pull itself along the hall slightly to narrow for its bulk. Tusks protruded from its grotesque wo1fs head and the green smoke filled eyes smoldered. Its mouth opened hungrily baring razor sharp teeth, slime dripped from its mouth landing on the floor with a hiss, as it approached a malevolence washed over the helpless woman. Every fiber in her being told her to flee and she desperately wanted to run screaming but she remained frozen in place. The gargoyle reached a massive hand toward the girl, who fell to the ground screaming with terror scrambling back like a spider. "I.it's you, it's you he wantssssssssss!" Sonja shrieked, suddenly the gargoyle vanished and the hall was once again lit by the lanterns. Instantly Jasminth was cradling the young girl in her arms rocking back and forth talking soothingly. Sonja repeated over and over again, "It's you, it's you." "Sleep now my dear and when you awake you will have forgotten that it ever happened." Two of her Racorithian bodyguards came running swords drawn at the horrible shrieks; they came to a halt upon seeing the two women on the floor. "Is everything alright milady," said the taller of the two, both were looking around looking for someone to fight. "Take this human back to the slave's quarters and you two are to watch over her while she sleeps. Let no one and I mean no one disturb her." "As you wish milady," said the other one. "Good see that it is." She watched as the taller of the two picked her up gently and then they were disappearing down the semi-dark corridor. Only then did the magnitude of what she was just told hit her.

Almost like a zombie Jasminth started to walk again but not in the direction of the slave quarters that was all but forgotten and before she knew it she was opening the door to her apartment. As she entered a short, swarthy human female stood up head bowed. A half human, half Racorithian boy of fourteen sat in a chair reading a book he looked up as she came in, upon seeing her face he sat the book on a side table. "Mother is something the matter?" At first he got no reply and he had to ask a second time. "Ah no everything is fine. What makes you think something is wrong?" she asked him. "Oh, I don't know maybe it has something to do with the fact that you look like you have seen a ghost." She smiled wanly, "I'm not feeling that well today, I think I maybe coming down with that stomach flu." "Well I hope that you get to feeling better. By the way, What was that racket I just heard? "Oh that! nothing for you to worry about Dalin." "Then I won't," he shrugged. "Good." That's when she noticed the palm of her hand where she had been digging the fingernails into them; hurriedly she headed for her bedroom. "I think I will lie down for a little while if you don't mind," she said over her shoulder. She stopped and looked at the female "Orri I am not to be disturbed," she told her. "Of course milady," said Orri meekly. He watched his mother disappear down the short hall and into her bedroom. Something was obviously troubling her and it had nothing to do with being sick. He was sure that she would tell him eventually and he knew better then to push it. He watched as Orri went around the room doing her daily dusting, in a castle like this it didn't take long for the dust to accumulate. He picked up his book and began to read again. Before too long he put the book back down, got up and went to the window, he liked to watch the sun go down with its different hues of gold's and browns. The sound of breaking glass and a gasp from Orri caused him to turn around. He must have had a fierce look on his face because she dropped to her knees with a whimper, head touching the floor. On the ground was one of mothers crystal unicorns in several thousand pieces. Hastily he went to Orri kneeling on the ground with her and he could now hear her moaning softly. "It's ok," he said to her soothingly, placing a hand on her shoulder, she visibly flinched from him. "N- n- no, milord it is not. S-s-she is going to send me back to that horrible place." "Oh come on now what could be so horrible about the kitchen." "The head cook beats us unmercifully with a wooden spoon at the slightest mishap, milord." She began to cry with great heaving sobs and he did his best to comfort her, but to no avail. Finally he stood up and moved back to the window. "I will tell her that I broke it." "M... milord, you must not you will be punished." He laughed, "No I won't at least not to badly anyway. Besides that way she won't send you back to that horrible kitchen." "M.master makes fun of me," and she began to cry again. Hurriedly he moved back to her and put his arm around her shoulders. "No, no Orri I am not making fun of you." "Y.ou a...ain't," she managed between snuffles, wiping her nose with her hand. He shook his head, "No, I would never make fun of you" "You wouldn't," she asked a look of surprise on her face, tears still in her eyes. "Of course, I would never make fun of someone I liked. Better clean that mess up though." He once more moved to the window and looked out upon the waning sunlight as it turned the battlements a golden hue. "Yep, it just would not do to have my favorite house slave sent away," He said bitterly to no one in particular.
The next morning at breakfast in the apartment not a word was spoken and when they were done Orri cleared the small table. It was Dalin who finally broke the silence and it was only after Orri had left the room to return the dishes to the kitchen, "Last night I accidentally broke one of your crystal unicorns "Damn it! Dalin, do you have any idea how rare they are? She said slamming her hand down on the table as she stood knocking her chair over in the process. "I'm sorry I had no idea that they were so important to you I will find away to replace it." She never could stay mad at him for long and this time was no exception. "I'm sorry for yelling at you it's just that I spent a life time collecting them. They are extremely rare and irreplaceable I am afraid. They were made by a master crafts man over three hundred years ago each one unique in its intricacy." She had walked over to the display case and picked up one of the delicate pieces as she spoke. She gently sat it back down and once more turned to face him although the anger was gone he could see the shadow of something in their depths.
"Your tutor should be here in a little while and I have important things to do this morning. So while you get ready for your lessons I have to go make my rounds. After all this keep can't run it self no matter how much I wish it could." She came over and gave him a kiss on the forehead before leaving.
She closed the door behind her and lifted the hem of her dress so as not to step on it as she descended the flight of stairs. Her mind seemed to take a step backward in time as she walked down the Hall of Armor. She could see herself a little girl of twelve walking hand in hand with her father to a little shop in the city of Sange, where she was born. She loved to come here the old human male always had a kind word for her and some sweet stuff he called candy. Although she knew her father never really approved, he never admonished her for accepting the candy from the old man pretending to look the other way. The old man worked with glass and crystal his shelves were lined with figurines of all shapes and sizes. When she saw the unicorns she fell instantly in love with them and begged her father to get her one. Although her father wasn't required to pay for anything made by humans, he chose to purchase one instead of just taking it. In some small way she became to love the old man he was so nice and grandfatherly.
From then on whenever her birthday came along her father would get her one to add to her collection. Whenever they were down by his shop they would go in just to look around and she surmised because her father liked the way her eyes seemed to light up whenever she got the candy. Then came the day she was to turn fifteen her father came home and informed her that he could no longer get her the unicorns she loved so much.
He told her that the old man had died in a fire and that his shop and all its contents had been destroyed. On her sixteenth birthday she got married to her betrothed Lord Vander and moved to his holding here in the north a few years later at a party she saw a unicorn figurine on a mantle and recognized the craftsmanship. She's been looking for the pieces ever since
Dalin waited for an hour and when his human tutor hadn't yet arrived he decided that he had better go find him. Of course that's what Dalin told himself he was going to do, but in reality it was his way of justifying his sneaking out to the village. He was tired of being cooped up in the keep never able to leave all because he was a half-breed, it wasn't like he was going to get caught he was too smart for that.
Leaving the apartment he walked down the Hall of Armor pausing every now and then to peruse one of the suits of Racorithian armor. He passed several house slaves whose sole job it was to keep the armor free of dust and remove any rust. As he approached them they would step to the side and lower their heads and he could feel them glaring at his back as he passed them. He heard one of them spit on the floor and say something to the one next to him. Dalin stopped in mid stride turned and doubled back. "If you have something to say I would appreciate it, if you said it where I could at least hear it." "Of course, milord." "Well I'm waiting." "I said that you were a Racorithian lapdog." "I see I guess that's better then a bottom feeding, no account, good for nothing pile of horse dung." "If you weren't the step son of the Lady Bitch I would beat the haughtiness right out of you." The other slave had started to edge away from his companion as if he was a snake. "I will be sure to pass that along to her." Dalin replied with an evil grin showing him his fangs. Realizing he had gone to far the human slave turned three shades of white and fled. Dalin turned and strolled back down the hall whistling, behind him he heard running footsteps fading in the distance. Glancing back the other slaves had returned to work the one he spoke with was nowhere in sight, his companion however still stood where he was at, staring at Dalin with a horrified look. When Dalin turned around and looked the slave decided it was in his best interest to get back to work. Although Dalin didn't like what the other had said he had no intentions of telling his mother. He was despised by both races as it was therefore he had no wish to alienate either side any more then he already was.

Dalin entered the kitchen still whistling and grabbed a freshly baked sweet roll off a plate on the counter, he inhaled deeply at the aroma of baking bread. He grinned at the head cook as she looked at him with a disapproving look. The kitchen was a zoo, already they were preparing for the afternoon meal. A cute blonde girl rolled dough for bread, another girl held a plump goose by the legs while she plucked it. Several other slaves' peeled potatoes or shelled beans putting them in pots to be cleaned and then cooked. Pans rattled and banged, boiled water hissed and a kitchen boy yelped burned with steam. All the while the head cook shouted orders waving a big wooden spoon around as if it was an extension of her arm. He almost laughed she looked like a cow chewing on its cud the way she was chewing on her gums. He wiped the grin off his face when she looked at him with one of disgust before spitting on the floor. Other then the kitchen noise the slaves worked with quiet efficiency never taking their eyes off their work.. Nearby a Racorithian overseer was eating like he hadn't had a meal in a month, ripping the meat off a small hen with his hands and shoving it into his mouth, he then took a swig from a large mug nearby, wiping away the blood that dribbled down his chin with the back of his hand. He looked at Dalin with dark cold eyes then merely grunted his acknowledgement at seeing him before returning to the task at hand. Dalin knew his mother was in the great hall settling the weekly disputes and tending to the other affairs of state. At this time of the morning he avoided the front part of the Keep there were just too many people from the village and if word got out of his existence he and his mother would be in very serious trouble. He was a half-breed and by law his and his mothers life would be forfeit but not just theirs anybody and everybody who knew about him. Which was everyone residing in the Keep he was the best kept secret in the realm.

As he went outside through the back door of the kitchen he turned left past several guards lounging nearby playing sticks. A game where different colored toothpick like sticks are placed on the ground in a jumble and each person draws one without collapsing the pile. Wagers are placed before each stick is drawn the one who collapses the pile is eliminated. Then the remaining players reshuffle the sticks and the game continues until one person is left the person remaining wins the pot. Upon seeing him they stopped playing and glared at him but he ignored them and continued walking he looked over his shoulder once and one was looking after him fingering the blade of a dagger. Only loyalty to his mother kept them from cutting his throat almost every warrior here had been with his mother for along time they loved, respected, and even feared her. The majority of the house slaves loved her as well but there were still some that- like the one a little while ago- hated her. In fact many outside the Keep said good things about her both human and Racorithian.
Not to far away two groups of kids were playing but not together. One group comprised of human children and the other of Racorithian they were kept apart by two Overseers standing nearby grimfaced. A Racorithian boy said something to his companions and they started to laugh. Dalin couldn't hear what was said but the Overseer did, stepping forward he cuffed the boy on the back of the head in admonishment. But when the Overseer turned away Dalin caught a a hint of a smile. Dalin made his way around the back to an arched wooden trestle with pink roses the entrance to the gardens. Going inside he looked around to see if the gardener was within sight he spotted him kneeling planting some kind of flowers Daffodils he thought. Not that Dalin really cared what they were just as long as the gardener wasn't paying attention to him. Every species of flower and tree was represented here it was considered the biggest garden anywhere within two hundred miles. Dalin walked past a pond with its pond lilies, and stocked with various frogs and fish. Several statues and water fountains decorated the landscape; he passed a water fountain in the shape of a woman with a basin in her hands and the water coming out of her mouth. He stopped at a statue of an anatomically correct man without his head, holding a spear and shield. Dalin never could understand what the fascination with nude statues was all about he didn't necessarily find them to be very appealing himself. Shrugging and shaking his head he continued to walk, "Now this ones more to my liking" he told himself as he came upon a unicorn statue drinking from a water basin. Overhead in the trees birds talked to each other. A squirrel chattered at him running from branch to branch in irritation, pausing every now and then to rise up on hind legs to give him an earful. "Okay, Okay, my friend sorry to disturb you." The squirrel stopped and looked at him before continuing with its tirade once again. Laughing Dalin decided he better move along so he started walking again, the squirrel followed him for a few minutes finally it lost interest and disappeared. It didn't take him long to get where he needed to be, looking around he made sure he was alone. He was near a postern gate leading to the village, nearby was a couple of rocks and a boulder up against the wall. Reaching behind the boulder he removed some of the foliage feeling around with his hand. When he came up empty he cursed from behind him he heard footsteps. He froze in place not daring to turn fear gripped him like a vice. "Looking for this," it was the voice of the gardener. "I hope you don't mind but I took the liberty of hiding it else where. A through search of the place by one of the Racorithians would have surely found it." Taking a deep breathe Dalin slowly turned his fear subsided just a little. The gardener was a grizzled old human covered in dirt. His hair and beard were entangled with sticks and grass and he constantly scratched himself as if he had fleas. He was the only human his mother allowed to come and go as he pleased she said it was because he was loony and no one would believe him even if he said anything. The old man smiled at him with broken teeth and his red bulbous nose from drinking, twitched like a mouse. In his snarled hands he held a leather bag in fact the same bag Dalin had a few seconds before been looking for. "Don't worry laddy your secrets safe with me." he said eyes twinkling with humor. "Who said I was worried old man." The old gardener chuckled dryly sounding like grating sand, "Why you sonny just look at you body as tight as a piano string, I suspect that any minute now your going to twang like one too." He cackled at his own joke like it was the funniest thing said in years. Despite himself Dalin grinned and allowed his body to relax as the old man looked at him with a quizzical look. Mumbling something incoherent he grabbed an insect that landed on his beard and promptly ate it. At the look of disgust from Dalin the old man simply shrugged. "Well you going to take this thing or make me hold it all day. I have more important things to do, don't ya know," and he thrust the bag at Dalin. Dalin took it and looked inside the cloak was still there and so was the dagger just as he left it. "Off with you now you're keeping me from my appointed tasks." The old gardener turned to leave, "Oh, leave the bag behind the boulder young man. When you get back I'll hide it real good for ya. Yes, real good for ya better then where you're keeping it yes indeed. Every morning I'll put it back in case you have need of it, at night I'll hide it again. If you ever have need of it at night just come to the gardener shack and wake me up. Careful though I sleep with my eyes open it ain't a pretty sight neither no it isn't pretty at all." At that last statement the old man laughed almost hysterically before disappearing.
Dalin took out the items put the dagger around his waist and draped the black cloak around his shoulders clasping it with a brooch. He then pulled the hood over his head to hide his features. The emblem of house Jasminth was sewn into the right shoulder, a black rose on a red background. On the left the emblem of his mothers elite Black Knights, two swords crisscrossed with a dagger between the crossed swords forming a star shape. Although he was part human he had the height and build of a Racorithian and since they could move around unhindered no one bothered him, not that the emblem of the Black Knights wasn't a further deterrent. Fortunately for him he hasn't run into a real Black Knight in the settlement they generally know each other on sight. Racorithians were a dark-skinned people with black to light brown hair and pointed ears not to mention the sharp fangs. The only give a ways that he is part human is his blonde hair and pale skin. Therefore he made sure every part of what would give him away are kept well hidden within the cloak, the deep hood helped to shield his face. Taking a key from his pocket he unlocked the postern gate and stepped through the door closing and locking it behind him. A short path led down to the lower battlements and a small guard shack and gate that is always locked. He made sure the same two guards were on duty if they weren't he'd have to abort. He sighed with relief when he saw them at the shack, up on the battlements Racorithian warriors kept an eye out for trouble ready to react at a moments notice. There is always some minor Racorithian Lord trying to take over another's holdings thereby increasing their standing in the hierarchy. His mother's husband and sons before they were assassinated had taken over a dozen minor houses and every now and then one of these Lords decided to raise his ugly head and try and break away but they were usually stamped out with quick efficiency. A lot of the more powerful Racorithian Lords resent the fact that a woman of all people had the fifth most powerful house. In Racorithian society women do not hold positions of power because they feel that a women isn't capable of running such vast holding.
When Dalin thought about it he found it quite amusing that at one point they tried to get King Hashem to wed her to one of them, he laughed at them apparently he thought it was quite funny that they were actually scared of her .In other provinces there was the occasional human uprising thankfully there hasn't been one here in twenty years.
He walked down to the gate house as if he belonged looking neither left nor right. In a stable yard nearby a dozen war wraiths the steeds of the Racorithians stopped to stare at him. They had the body of a horse but with red eyes, razor sharp teeth, and claws instead of hooves the wraiths were incased in body armor and leg plates to protect them from getting their legs cut out from underneath them in battle. As he passed them they bared teeth and pawed the ground making a hideous growl. A stable boy came out to see what the commotion was, one look at Dalin's cloak and he hastily went back inside. At the gate with barely a glance the guards unlocked the gate and let him through.