The Masquerade: Prelude

His foot slipped off the wet rock. With the sudden loss of purchase, he slid uncontrollably down the cliff face. Luckily, there was a small ledge only a few feet below which caught his fall before it became dangerous.

“My King!” a man higher up on the cliff shouted down to him. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, yes,” the King replied brushing off his clothes while checking for any injury. “Just a few scraps and bruises, and last I checked those never killed anyone.” For a King, the man was very simply dressed. Wearing simple leather clothes, a few bags tied to his belt and a rucksack across his back, any stranger would probably think the man to be a forest nomad wandering the forests living off the land and selling the hides of his kills whenever he would wander into town.

The King looked back up the cliffside to watch his squire slowly make the climb down the cliff. When they had first arrived at the entrance to this hidden cave, the cliff did not appear to be too difficult of a climb. Not long after they had started their decent however, a sudden, afternoon rainstorm had turned the journey into a very slow and perilous process with the rocks slick with rainwater.

Seeing that his squire was going to reach the ledge successfully, the King turned his sights back into the cave. Below him he could see nothing but blackness, as the water flowed into what could only be described as a bottomless pit from this height. The two men wouldn’t need to discover if it was truly bottomless, as the floor of the cave they were looking for was not too far below them.

As the squire landed on the ledge, the King tapped the squire’s shoulder and pointed with his outstretched arm along the ledge they stood. “It isn’t much farther now. It looks like this ledge slopes down to the landing we need. We will be safely there as long as no one decides to take an unnecessary tumble.”

The squire peered over the edge into the dark abyss before taking a big gulp. “Safety sounds good. Let’s move along,” the squire said before quickly looking at the other man and adding, “if that is okay with you, my King.”

The King let out a long sigh. While he rather enjoyed the unquestioning loyalty of his squire, the frightened subservience of the man wore thin on the King. Whenever the man would finally share his thoughts, they would immediately be chopped down by apologizing for speaking brashly. Would it kill the man to have a backbone? The King stopped his line of though to chuckle as he realized that’s probably what the squire thinks would happen if he did learn to grow one.

Once they were on the floor of the cave, the squire set about making a camp. “The wet rocks caused us to take longer getting down here than planned,” the squire said as a flame kindled in his small fire, “but I will have dinner ready for you in–”

“No rush,” the King interrupted, “I am going to continue on ahead.”

“But sir, shouldn’t you at least take a moment to rest?”

“I will rest when the war is over. Until then, I have a kingdom to protect.” The King had already scooped up one of the newly flaming logs and was marching into the cave with his makeshift torch.

While not as treacherous as the entrance to the cave system had been, this branch of the cave was far from flat slowing the King’s progress. Once again he was thankful he had gone against his advisers’ insistence to wear a full suit of armor. While it was a slow journey through the cave now, it would have been almost impossible in the restrictions of armor.

“Who dares walk into my home?” A great guttural voice called out from the blackness beyond the reach of the torch.

The King immediately stopped moving and peered out into the darkness to catch glimpse of voice’s source. “I am but a King looking to stop the death of his people,” he called back into the darkness.

From where the voice came before now came scratching and pounding as something large moved across the rocks and toward the King. The King stumbled back from the noise until he backed into a large boulder blocking his retreat. With nowhere else to go, the King turned back as the light of the torch shown across a massive creature as it came into range of the small blaze.

The King found himself looking into a green eye with a black vertical slit the length of his arm. The black dragon had turned its head to get a good look at the human in its den. This had the effect of filling the King’s entire vision with the dragon, making it look even more imposing in the process.

“And what is a King doing all the way out here in my little cave?”

“A rumor said that a magical dragon lived in these caves.”

“Ah, well you shouldn’t go listening to rumors.”

The King smirked and replied, “I guess I’m just a senile old man who believes in fantasy.”

The dragon made an odd noise before starting in what the King could only guess was supposed to be laughter. “You are a curious little human, and for that I shall help you. Be warned, however, that whatever saves your kingdom today will one day be the source of its ruin.”

The King waved his hand through the air as if physically sweeping the concern away. “It doesn’t matter as long as it ends this costly war.”

Chapter 1 –>
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