The shadows stretched low over the land as Sebastian Monteserrio walked towards the ruins, afraid and frightened of what might transpire in the next few seconds, the next few minutes, the next hour. It was said that these initiations were terrible things that changed men forever. The Elves had an easier time with it because they adapted more easily to magic. Sebastian despised magic. He glanced up at the sky. A full, silver moon rose above him, throwing shadows in front of him and not behind him or to the side. He did not want to be here. But Alira, the love of his life, was in constant danger and he had to do something-anything-to protect her. This was the only thing he could think of.
The Dark Wizard looked at him, his expression grim. “Are you ready?” he asked.
Sebastian swallowed hard. His Adam’s apple bobbed. “Yes,” he whispered, his words so low he could barely get the words past his throat. Tears squeezed out of the corner of his eyes and he could not cry, could not let the tears fall. He hated crying in front of people. A bat flew overhead. He jumped.
“Where is the Gate?”
“You must walk up to the ruins of the monument, and put your hand inside it,” he answered, “and then you must try to pull the key out of the lock. If you are able to pull out the key, you are a real Dark Knight. If not, we will cast you into the Wild Blue.”
“What’s the Wild Blue?”
“It’s a skeleton graveyard beyond the ruins. Some survive; most do not.”
“Why not?” Sebastian asked.
“It is hard to find food and water. All the trees are dead; monsters roam the land like shadows.”
Sebastian nodded. “Thanks for the four one-one.”
Crandek smiled. “Anytime,” he replied. “Now, you must go.” He glanced behind him. Sebastian followed his gaze. Nothing but darkness was seen. It made him afraid. Goosebumps rose on his arms. Several Dark Elders clustered around him, chanting an odd, haunting melody that reverberated in the back of their throats, and a terror unlike anything he had ever known filled his soul and clawed at the back of his mind.
The words were this:
“Annatey-arah, kain, tarenmen, ahwie, ehuil, sarahpah,
Arahd, silvea tei lein nah anah fuan!
Harah ney anah dah,
Gorah Hepah haun!”
The wind picked up, faster and faster, until a howl of voices surrounded him. All at once he imagined fingers grabbing him, the invisible fingers of ghosts. Sebastian nearly passed out. A Dark Elder steadied his shoulder. He wanted to scream at them, Don’t touch me! And couldn’t. He was frightened, and it was no wonder, for he was in the land of ghosts. A hand steadied his shoulder. War made it all the worse.
He glanced at Crandek. "I must go by myself," he said. The Dark Elder smiled, his teeth full of cragged, yellow bone. "That's the plan," he replied.
Sebastian shuddered. He hated Crandek. The man was more evil than the others. He did not know why, but he felt it deep in his soul. Stay away from this man, his mind whispered. His heart obeyed.
“Not all apprentice knights are cast out,” Crandek continued. “Therefore, we will give you one weapon. A dagger.” A flick of his wrist and a dagger appeared in his hand where there wasn’t any before. Sebastian was impressed. It wasn’t every day he saw something appear where nothing was before.
“It contains magic,” Crandek continued. “A spell was put over it to help you if you’re cast into the wild. Don’t take it as an insult. Not all apprentices make it.” One of the Dark Elders snorted. Sebastian glanced at him. That was the only sound he made.
“I’ll take it,” he said. He put the dagger in the empty sheath around his waist and moved forward.
A Dark Knight pushed him behind. Laughter reached his ears. He glared at them. “Stop it!” he hissed. “I’m going, I’m going.” He hobbled forward, reminding himself not to make friends with darkness. The ruins of the monument rose large and proud above them.
The monument, that of Merlin the Wise, had been several stories high. Up until seven hundred years ago, when a cannon had blown it up-or at least, that’s what everyone else said.
Sebastian believed it was magic that took out the great and terrible thing; whether he liked magic or not, he knew it existed, and that terrified him even more. Most of the statue still remained intact except for the front of the statue, the door that lead to somewhere Sebastian couldn’t see, and the arms had been chopped off. Most of the buildings around it had been destroyed, but a silver key protruded from the door of the monument. There were eight Merlins that had roamed the land since the first Merlin came to this world.
They are: Merlin the Wise, Merlin the Tall, Merlin the Grand, Merlin the Great, Merlin the Second, Merlin Shartenz, Merlin Oray Bradlin, Merlin the Green, Merlin the Elder.
Only the original Merlin was the most famous, and had done the most magic. Sebastian wasn’t sure if he hated the man or feared him. Some say he was still alive, even though seven thousand years had passed since he took his last breath. Sebastian began to tremble. He wanted to turn around and run, but he was trapped.
The Dark Knights would seek him out, and destroy him, if he did that. A person who did not pass the initiation would be instantly killed. He did not like these rules, but there was nothing he could do to change their wicked ways. Beat ‘em or join ‘em, had been King Og’s saying in 2123 BEC, in order to get men to join the army. It worked. Thunder rumbled overhead.
A cloud of dust rose above him. Sebastian coughed; dust filled his eyes and mouth and lungs. The Dark Knights faded from sight, and Sebastian was on his own. He walked forward, one, step after the other, toward the monument. He was so frightened he was shaking in his boots, afraid the giant statue would come to life before his eyes.
Weirder things have happened. He snorted. Like a war between Elves and dragons several thousand years ago.
His little home had been shattered by magical creatures that he had once believed were imaginary. He wondered if he was going mad. It wouldn’t be the first time the thought passed through his head and settled in his mind like burning sulfuric acid. The wind picked up.
Walking among the ruins was like walking in a graveyard that was eerie and dark, shadows moving around him like they were alive. He’d read stories about zombies and ghosts and hoped they weren’t true. Sebastian inched closer and closer to the monument.
The key glared at him like an eye. The sun had gone completely behind the clouds, a red burning thing that pulsated like lightning. Darkness was everywhere. Sebastian felt at home even though he was frightened. He was going to have to get used to the darkness. He thought about his family. Of his mother and father, their faces flashed in his mind. They had both died at an early age, their mother was the first one to go. He thought about Damsel, the Little Warrior, the Crusader who befriended magical folk, specifically the Elves and dragons. He thought of his twin brother.
They looked exactly alike, like two peas in a pod. When they were children, they played together all the time; and as they got older, and the responsibilities were thrust upon their shoulders and their father died, they grew further and further apart. It was sad, but it happened. He did not think he hated the man-he was, after all, his twin. It irked Sebastian the way Ellerhynwyn always got his way, or the way that Damsel looked up to Ellerhynwyn more than him. He usually did his good deeds in secret, like the time Aunt Millicent came over and Damsel wanted to play with her friends instead of taking sewing lessons and he distracted her while she slipped out the door. He realized his father had always been a transparent figure in his life, even before his death, he had been away on business constantly, or fucking the many hookers he’d hired to fuck. Sebastian did not know how his mother’s death affected their father, probably the worse thing that had ever happened to him.
Maybe it drove him mad. He had never had a full-time girlfriend after their mother died. Sebastian reached the stone steps of the monument and walked up them, one at a time, his eyes on the towering head of Merlin high above him.
“What have you gotten yourself into, you stupid sonofabitch?” he muttered between clenched teeth.
He stood in front of the door, studying the wood, only the door was wooden but everything else was not. It was a very peculiar statue not to mention annoyingly large.