Ryan Smith

The Quests of Joseph Karlan:

Blood of Adriel

Alone he walked into the town, wind tossing his cloak about and the cold nipping at his un-shaven face. Every so often he staggered from the awkwardness of his dented armor. A blood stained sword was strapped to his back, his hair falling almost to mid back and covering the hilt. He seemed restless, taking hold of his blade, a habitual motion. After an hour and a half, the man entered a smithy reluctantly, obviously new to the own.

Raised voices were soon heard from within, the man desperately attempting to persuade the man to repair his armor on nothing but promises. The men argued for over an hour before the adventurer emerged, armor less, in a leather tunic and hide pants. He headed toward the town inn with a determined look in his eyes. When he entered, none of the patrons even glanced in his direction, to absorbed in their own conversations or lack thereof. "This is a vulgar lot," he thought. "But they are all I have to work with." He took a seat at the bar and ordered a pint, over which he pondered his fortune as of late.

Just days ago he and several companions had attempted to traverse the Blood Forest just outside this town. He chuckled, the attempt had been worse than a failure. Not an hour in and they had discovered they had simply been going in circles. No matter how they changed their course, it always ended the same. Four days they trudged through the din. On the fifth, the trees began to attack them.

The day had been normal, as normal as it could be there, until one of their number went missing. At that point, no one cared much, they were all to focused on their own well being. Then the body was found. A root had jammed itself through the mans chest and was beginning to suck the corpse into the ground. Panic quickly came into their heads, pulses raced and some of them ran off mad into the seemingly void of the trees. Their screams soon followed.

Of the fifteen men that entered, only three were left. Johnathan, Gabriel, and himself, Joseph Karlan. Soon after though, Gabe was ripped in half by some branches. Johnathan and he stopped caring about what direction they went and just ran. Surprisingly, the edge of the forest soon came into view. Branches berated them, but they made it to the edge. When they were clear, they breathed a sigh of relief. Joseph turned to walk away, but after a few steps he couldn't hear Johnathan. His breath caught as he turned, then his head dropped. A root had skewered Johnathan, the end coming out his head, and pulled him back into the forest.

Looking at the bottom of his mug, Jacob sighed. He ordered another and looked around again. None of these could compare to those he lost. Then he noticed an man in the corner, partially hidden by shadow. He wore a black cloak with a hood that cast shadows over his eyes. An air of power surrounded the man and even the most curious of the patron. Joseph was greatly intrigued. He walked over and sat next to the man, he didn't so much as look at him. After what seemed hours, but was actually only a few minute, the man spoke.

"Traveler of fortune, why do you approach me?" his voice was smooth, yet dark. It sent a shiver up Joseph spine, but at the same time made him feel at ease. This man was definitely more than he seemed.

"I am in need of companions. A terrible witch is said to live in the woods east of here and it is my aim to rid Evermore of her ilk. Please aid me, I can tell you are more tan you seem to be."

"Your name is Joseph Karlan is it not? Very well, but I warn you, you will come to regret having me with you. I am but a wanderer, though maybe I can be of some help. My name is Cain" The man rose and nodded to Joseph, then made to walk out.

Joseph hastily followed him. Cain walked to the outskirts of the town and much to Joseph's surprise, there was ten armed men on horseback along with two extra horses. The solemn man's lips cracked in a slight smirk. "We have been expecting you, Joseph Karlan."

With those words two things happened to Joseph. One was he began to laugh. The second, was that an odd feeling rose up inside him. He felt...knew that this man was going to do more than just travel with him for a time. This man would change his life.

Three days later, Joseph rode to the edge of the forest on the horse the group had provided for him. His armor looked freshly forged and his sword shone in the morning sun. The group was silently waiting for him and with a nod from Cain, they all entered the forest. It wasn't at all like the last time Joseph had been here. The trees were a grey color, rotting where only days ago they had been green and healthy. Now, the forest looked as if it was dead. A ghastly breeze blew though the gnarly branches.

The midwinter air seemed to get even colder as the got deeper into the forest. Frost began to appear on the companions armor. Hours they rode, deeper and deeper into the gloom. The trees began to thicken abruptly. They decided to camp under a large oak when it got to dark to see. One Cain's men, an archer by the name of Gleadis, had a fire up in a few minutes.

Joseph leaned against a tree, detached from the group. After a few minutes, he noticed Cain beside him. The dark cloaked man spoke without emotion, as always. "The witch knows we come. She wants something from us. Do not be at ease though, there are much worse things then those trees in this forest." He rose as soundlessly as he had come and strode off into the darkness. A shiver crept up Josephs spine. That night was long and cold. He got no sleep.

The morning came quick and the companions set out again. The air seemed to be getting warmer to Joseph, but he couldn't understand why. A dark feeling began to come over him and he became restless. He was not alone in this feeling. All of the men were like him, except for Cain. His expression, composure, never changed. The man irked Joseph, but at the same time, made things seem...safer.

Once again they rode until the could not see. They had no concept of time, but assumed it to be night. Gleadis started a fire once more and they all found a passable place on the ground to sleep. A man named Ralin cooked some unidentifiable meat he had brought. It made a decent meal, but it wasn't anything Joseph cared to have again if he could avoid it. If he was going to be the cook on this venture, it was going to be long indeed.

Once again, Joseph could not sleep. He rose and sat next to the man on watch, Jacob. Jacob was a young man, about nineteen. He had short, dirty blonde hair, green eyes, and a friendly face.

"Get some rest Jacob, we do not know what tomorrow will bring us. I'll will take watch for tonight." Joseph pat the young man on the shoulder.

Jacob shook his head. "No, I must stay. Talk to me if you wish, but I will not rest. It is my duty to watch tonight."

Joseph smirked at the man's pride. "Very well, Jacob. Tell me about yourself."

The young man smiled softly. "What there is to know, you have seen already. My past is not my own. There was only one who cared for me, though she is likely dead and if not, she would have nothing to do with me. I am trying to find my place again, same as you." He looked into the darkness and fidgeted with his spear. "This spear, is the only thing from those times that I keep."

Joseph frowned slightly, empathetic to the man. "Forgive me for making you think of such ill things."

Jacob laughed. "No need friend, I am used to it." He twirled his spear around and laid it on the ground. The pair talked until dawn , telling stories and talking about nothing in general. Joseph began to feel a deep kinship for this man.

The next morning, or what they assumed was morning, came quicker than any of them wanted. It was dark still, though hours must have passed, the fire had turned to embers. All in the group were confused...except Cain. The pushed forward despite their doubts, deeper into the black forest. The trees began to take on sickly appearances, limbs twisted and contorted into grotesque knots. They began to look almost organic, some even oozing a putrid green pus. More than one of the men were relieved of the previous nights meal.

Rain began to fall through the horrid trees of the dark forest. Joseph tensed. Something was off, the rain was too heavy. He held out his hand a froze in horror. A pool of red filled his palm. The acrid smell of decay became apparent in the air. Looking up, he almost lost himself in fear and disgust. Lining the canopy were the corpses of countless men, crimson tears raining down from their wounds. The floor of the forest was saturated with blood and it was beginning to form a pond. His companions became unsettled as the level of it began to increase. Now they understood why it was called the Blood Forest.

Screams echoed down from the bodies and Ralin relieved himself once again. "M-my God! What manner of creature could do this! S-some of those men are still alive!"

Despite the horror that lay before them, Cain did not falter. He rode forth into the bloody din, going up to his knees in the blood, his horse calm as well. "Do not trust what your eyes see from this point forth. The boundary between illusion and reality does not exist anymore. Anything you see can be real, or a facsimile created by the one who lives in this forest. Trust no one but me."

With his words, the group stepped forth into the pool and made there way to their goal, The witch of this forest, Adriel. The name ran sour through Cain's mind. This was a personal endeavor for him, though he could not let the others know that, let them even know what he truly was. He clenched his fist beneath the cover of his cloak.

Suddenly, a screamed rang out from the rear of the group. Something was clamped to Gleadis' leg. A loud crunch was head and the thing slid back beneath the red. Gleadis cried out in pain, his leg gone. Then, a great toothed maw exploded out from under him and devoured the helpless man. It let out a mighty roar and dove back down, taking another of the group with it. Panic set in quick as it began picking them off at random.

Joseph grabbed Jacob out of the things path just in time, but it got the horse he had been riding. It all happened so fast, joseph had no clue who was still alive. Then, suddenly, the thing was lifted into the air. It was a giant worm of some kind with a large stinger at it's end. It's skin began to rip and brown oozed out of it. Then it all but exploded. A dark aura faded from around can as a tattooed arm slid beneath his cloak. Joseph didn't fail to notice.

The five remaining of the group rode in silence the rest of the day and eventually came to the opposite side of the pool. Ralin started the fire this time, and cooked some rabbit. No one ate much. When the others were asleep and Cain was off on his own, Joseph sought him out. It was pitch black in the forest and he soon became lost. Suddenly, he felt a shift behind him and saw a dark figure.

"Joseph Karlan, why do you venture into the darkness." his voice was emotionless as ever, but the darkness seemed to give it more power, more authority.

"To find out why you are here, what you are." Joseph turned to him and was shocked to see him without his hood, to see him period. He was a young man, no more than 25 it seemed. He had short black hair and his eyes...his eyes changed colors rapidly. Abruptly, they fixed on red.

"I am a shadow Arche. That is all I will tell you. Mention not a word to the remaining men. " He looked off into the darkness. "Tomorrow we shall reach her fortress. Be prepared, the worst is yet to even be hinted at. Get some sleep Joseph, I will keep watch. He faded away into darkness.

Joseph found himself at the edge of camp somehow, he suspected Cain's magic. He layed down and fell into an uneasy sleep.

The Fortress loomed ahead of them, A black spear of hatred among the trees. It's dark aura seeped into the ground around it, turning it black and foul. Joseph shivered from the sight and at the skeletons of animals fool enough to venture into the area. He walked forward into the tainted land alongside the five survivors. The anticipation mounted as nothing happened. The group made it to the massive doors, which swung open with a simple touch from Cain. They walked in, to the stale and quiet air of the great hall. It was untouched, had been for what looked centuries. Cobwebs hung from an ornate chandelier, though the candles burned brightly. The seemed odd to Joseph. The had light, but no wax melted...no heat.

The whole house was full of things that made no sense. Skeletons that simply floated around, lights that appeared randomly and were gone as quick as they came. Joseph was so perplexed, he didn't notice Cain disappear, he just turned and noticed the man was gone. The group did not speak, words were useless here. After a while of walking silently, he heard someone call his name. He looked around and saw someone at the end of a hallway beckon and disappear behind a corner. Something drew him after the man, he didn't even question it. The same thing happened for a while as he followed. Eventually, he was led to a dead end room and the man was nowhere to be seen. Then hand tapped his shoulder and he turned and found himself face to face with his brother.

"Y-your dead. Killed by a fire demon." He was absolutely stunned. The man he was looking at was as healthy as he could be.

His brother laughed. "She brought me back Joseph. Alexander Karlan lives once more." He drew a sword and pointed it at Joseph. "Sorry brother, but my mistress is my life. Family means nothing to me now." He pulled off the necklace he still had, the one mother had made. "Those useless parents are better dead and forgotten."

Joseph cringed, but drew his as well. "Very well brother. I do not want to fight you, but I will if I must." This man wasn't his brother. They looked the same, shared the same blood, same body, but the mind was not his brother. This witch was playing dirty, but Joseph would be deterred by nothing. Slowley, the began to move towards each other, Alexander letting his sword point drag against the floor, causing sparks when he sped up. The began running. Joseph took a strong down stroke, but Alex caught it with the flat of his blade and kneed him in the gut. It drew out a grunt, but nothing more. They jumped apart and began exchanging blows, non breaking the others defense.

Alex went for a down stroke and missed, leaving him open. Joseph did not hesitate and brought the sword point into Alex's chest and out his back. The dying man chuckled.

"This outcome was foreseen. It is what I wanted. I cannot go against my mistress Adriel's will, but I could never allow myself to hurt you brother. I said those things...to release you from your inhibition to ....fight me seriously. Goodbye...brother. Forgive me." His eyes went blank and he leaned forward, dead weight now.

Joseph rose and sheathed his sword, not caring about the blood on it. He suppressed the tears that wanted to come and closed his brothers eyes. The fight with this witch was now personal to him. He turned to leave the room, but the exit was gone. The room had become all walls. Panic threatened to rise, but he didn't let it. He tried to think of what had happened, when he remembered Cain's words 'Trust non but myself'. This was all an illusion, Joseph realized. He tried to focus on reality and soon, it soon came. He smiled to himself, then saw his brothers body. That had not been illusion then.

He took a look around and saw the others in a trance, like he must have been. All but Cain. He was at the front of the room with a death gaze directed at the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She had long, flowing black hair and deep, purple eyes. Despite her beauty, there was a definite evil about her. This was Adriel. Joseph stayed still and watched.

The witch traced circles on Cain's face with her finger. "My dark prince. You were easier than I expected. All those complicated traps and you fall for the simple one." She giggled. "I have waited so long to see you again."

Cain's face darkened. "Even now you can't kill me. Why is it that you do this? You are the one who called me here. What is it that you want?"

Adriel chuckled. "I want you as my husband Cain. I guess I am attracted to," She put a scratch on his face, drawing blood, "Power." With a sly grin, she looked at Joseph "It seems the first broke free." A great weight fell on Joseph shoulders. "Pathetic people. You believed you could kill me." The same happened to the others. "Begone." She waved her hand and they began to disappear. Just before everything went black, Joseph saw her kiss Cain and him cringe again.

When he came to, he was in what could be called dungeons. He could see the others in separate cells. He called to them, but no one answered. Then he heard a whimper in the corner. It came from a woman. She would have been beautiful had she not been dressed in rags and was too obviously dirty. She looked up at him.

"Are you going to use me like the others that foul woman brings here?" there was a tear in her eye, but it was obviously a common thing.

Joseph knelt beside her, despite her cowering away. "I will not do such a thing to any woman. I will help you out of here if I am able. Do you know any way out of these cells?"

She nodded and removed a few bars. They had been cut in such a way, no one could tell they could be removed. "This way, we can get your friends out too." She moved quickly. Surprising considering her previous state. Within a few minutes, all the cells were open and Jacob was already awake. He was instantly enamored with the girl, left speechless. She smirked to herself and began walking around.

Joseph checked the other men, all dead. He sighed and motioned for Jacob and the girl to follow. She followed ad Jacob trailed like a zombie. She walked up beside Joseph.

"My name is Remith by the way." She smiled at him. He simply nodded back.

"Joseph Karlan. The one acting a fool behind you," He shot Jacob a look and emphasized fool, "is named Jacob Lorinth." He looked for any sign of a threat.

Remith giggled and gave Jacob a flirtatious look which got him drooling. She giggled again and gave one to Joseph.

He gave her a sharp look. "This is not the place for that. We have to find Cain and get out of here." He looked forward and walked.

Remith frowned and a tear appeared, but she kept quiet. She sighed quietly and got serious.

They made their way back up the tower, just outside the Witches room. Joseph could hear voices inside. He drew his sword quietly and charged in, not thinking about the two others. He was hit square in the chest bye a burst of shadow magic and thrown against a wall. The witch laughed while she stroked Cain's hair. "Thats a good boy Cain. You listen well. So long as I have that which you seek. You are mine." She laughed, but choked on it when Remith walked in with a smirk on her face.

The young woman smirked. "Witchy don't got me anymore. These fine young men," She motioned at the still drooling Jacob and crumpled Joseph, "Got me past your boundaries." She giggled. "Hello Cain. You took long enough."

Cain smirked. "I got held back." He looked up at Adriel and her face went pale. She was thrown violently against a wall. Cuts began to appear on her all over. Then, she was thrown out the window into the darkness. Cain rose slowly and laughed. "What a fool she was." he looked at the people in the room and began to leave. "It is done, let us begone from this place."

Joseph rose pained, but kept pace with the others. Jacob of course followed Remith. They soon were out of the tower. The forest was beginning to regain it's life. Joseph even saw a bird land on the ground. What irked him, was that Adriel's body was nowhere.

The next few days were very quiet. No one spoke other than an occasional comment more for the speaker than the others. They reached the edge of the forest easily. The pool of blood was gone as well as the bodies. Everything seemed right, but for some reason a foreboding was on all of their shoulders.

Remith decided to take a walk once the made camp that night, Jacob followed her of course. Joseph made to stop him, but Cain held him back. "Let him go."

Joseph relented, but trailed some ways to the side of them, unseen. Nothing happened for a long time, then suddenly, his legs locked up and he couldn't speak. He saw a shadow moving behind the two. It could be no one but Adriel, she had survived. He tried desperately to break the spell, to yell out to them. She was almost on them now and raised her arm to cast a spell. Without warning, Jacob spun around, grabbed his spear off his back, and drove it through the witch's heart in one fluid movement.

The spell on Jacob broke and he rushed over to them."Jacob...what...how did you.." He was stunned. The boy had seemed enamored, incapable of such vigilance.

Jacob chuckled. "I figured something like this would happen, so I trailed Remith closely." he laid the spear across his back. "Plus..she reminded me of someone I used to know. I wanted to get to know her, but she never spoke." He laid the spear across his shoulders and smirked.

Jacob sighed and Remith giggled. He looked at the girl. The day before she had taken a bath in a river. She was beautiful as he had imagined she would be. Black, curly hair fell to her shoulders and she had the deepest hazel eyes. She was very short, only up to Josephs mid chest, but still beautiful. In ways, she reminded him of Avelia. He thought of her for a moment, but shook it away. That was the past, he had moved on. They smiled at each other, a friends smile. Together the three walked back to the camp.

Later that night after much talk about Adriel, Jacob took a serious face. "Cain, why exactly were you so intent on rescuing Remith?"

Cain shrugged. "She has been a partner of mine for some time. It was something I owed her. I am bound to her by honor."

Remith gave him a sad look, the girl was obviously in love with him. Joseph felt a small pain inside for her, slightly angry Cain was so cold. Regardless, he had a proposition to make. He rose and stood before the three. "The three have proved yourselves worthy companions. It would be an honor if you would continue traveling with me." He gave them a bow and waited.

Jacob and Remith agreed immediately and laughed happily. Cain simply gave a nod. The man still chilled him, but he could not deny that he, above any other, would be the one he wanted beside him. He had not yet forgotten the words Cain had spoke the day they met. "You will come to regret having me with you." At that moment Joseph almost saw his death, or something close, and it sent shivers up his spine. What the future held, only god knew, but at that moment it seemed to Joseph, that he would not like it.

One thing good that had come of this, was that he had become friends with Jacob. The young man had tremendous potential and skill, more than he let on. Also, Remith was with them now. He didn't know her well yet, but he got the feeling they would be good friends as well. He sighed, then smiled. There was no use worrying this, this night at least, so he cast them away till another day.

Cain smiled to himself as the other three had fun. This man, Joseph, would change the world. He would be there to guide him all the way. Much that Joseph must do, he would not enjoy and would likely be hurt attempting. Once again, he, Cain, would have to use someone. That was his story though. When this was over, the man would likely hate him, it was expected, but Evermore would be better off. This world was the only thing Cain cared for, the only thing he loved. The girl Remith was a fool for loving him, but she was needed as well. The thing that puzzled Cain this night, was Jacob. What became of that one, would be a much different story.

The End