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Raiders of the Dark Coast: Astral Knight


A young knight in service of the queen, what dark secrets from his past drive him down the path of reckless redemption?


Balthazar is a fiercely loyal soul, his dedication to the Queen of Lanfor surpassed by none. Orphaned at a very young age, he survived on the streets for nearly a year before being found by the then Captain Amaia. Offered a commission in the Royal Lanfor Army, Bal jumped at the chance. Yet what he soon learned about his past filled him with shame and guilt.


Having been sent away, Bal had no knowledge of the fate of his family. Much to his chagrin, he found they had sided with the rebels during the War of the Eternal Queen—a misguided attempt to unseat the benevolent Queen Amerelis. They had paid dearly with their lives and as no one knew Bal still survived, their lands were forfeit. Still, Amaia and the Queen tried to keep his background a secret, but rumors abounded and he was ostracized by his peers.


Instead of folding under the weight of that guilt, the knowledge drove Bal to prove himself. As psychic abilities ran in his family, Amaia enrolled him in a specialized unit. Striving tirelessly day and night, Bal honed his skills, using them at every opportunity in service of his queen. After nearly a decade of selfless sacrifice, Bal rose to the rank of lieutenant as part of the Queen’s personal guard. Yet his efforts had not won him any accolades from his peers, nor completely assuaged his guilt.


How does the disgraced young man deal with this heavy weight on his heart? What lengths will he go to in order to prove himself worthy? The events that unfold in Raiders of the Dark Coast explore Bal’s guilt and his fervent desire to make up for his family’s transgressions. Here are a couple of excerpts which focus on the young astral knight’s trials:


 

Balthazar had heard enough. This group comprised the rebel leaders with Lillon in charge of them all. The question remained as to who was backing them, but that information would have to wait. With the Queen at risk, it was far more important to find these infiltrators in the palace. In order to do so, he’d need to take these traitors alive—or Lillon at the very least.


Over by the window at the other end of the room, Bal spied the rebel’s flying carpet. The sight sparked the beginnings of a rudimentary plan in his mind. Though far more fragile than Bal would have liked, with the looming danger to the Queen he felt he had little choice.


Resigning himself to the circumstances at hand, the young astral knight carefully backed away down the hall. Once again focusing his will, this time he did not dispel his armor. Instead he pushed the energy out of his hand and shaped it with his mind. When he was done, he held a translucent purple crossbow. Not quite finished just yet, Bal focused on the other hand, this time sculpting three ethereal bolts.


Down the hall, the rebel leaders had resumed their discussions. From the sound of it, things had taken a less volatile turn. Bal padded back to the edge of the doorway and peered inside.


“…and the Olde Town crew I’m overseeing are prepared for the coming revolt.” The droning voice belonged to Celdon who had risen from his seat to address the table. “Yet, unlike some folks, they’ve managed to keep a low profile,” he added loftily with a pointed look at Lillon.


Lillon chose to ignore the dig, but Celdon’s presentation helped Bal in two ways. First, it confirmed that there was more than one rebel cell in the city. Second, in his current position, the portly man made an excellent target.


As Celdon went on with his report, Bal swung around his crossbow. Taking aim at the man’s corpulent back, he pulled the trigger and let the bolt fly. Noiselessly hurtling across the room, the projectile hit its mark with nary a sound and disappeared into Celdon’s body. The only indication that anything had happened was a slight pause in the pudgy man’s speech.


As Celdon continued to drone on, Bal took aim at his other marks: the two elves next to Burkon. Like Celdon, the man hardly reacted, but the elven woman seemed to notice something. She spun about, her eyes focused on the hallway. Bal ducked back around the corner, his heart pounding in his chest.


“Is something wrong Selone?” He heard Lillon ask.


“It’s—nothing,” Selone answered hesitantly. “I just thought I heard something in the hall.”


Bal fought down a rising panic. This Selone was obviously some sort of sensitive. He would have to be extra cautious around her.


Burkon got up and stuck his head through the open doorway. Bal held his breath as the big man peered up and down the hall. Thankfully, he looked right past him. Burkon turned about and let out a hearty laugh. “I think the ghost stories about this place are starting to get to you, Selone.”


Bal chanced another peek around the corner of the door. He was just in time to see Burkon walk up behind Selone and drape his arm around her shoulders. “Maybe you’d like some company this evening?”


Selone slowly turned her head and peered at the hand on her arm. A look of disgust crossed her face as she picked it up with two fingers. Holding it as if it carried some sort of disease, she lifted it away and abruptly dropped it. She then twisted about in her chair to fix Burkon with an icy stare.


“Not in your wildest dreams,” she intoned haughtily.


The dissension between Burkon and Selone had caught the attention of everyone at the table. Seeing his chance, Bal took the opportunity to slip into the room past the big man and steal over to the window where the carpet laid.


Burkon sat down with a boisterous laugh. “One of these days you’re going to wish you had taken me up on my offer.”


Selone upturned her nose at the man. “In half a century you’ll be nothing but a memory.”


“Alright, you two, that’s enough,” Lillon snapped. “Burkon, keep it in your pants,” she chided. “Selone…” she began, but never got to finish her sentence.


Crouching down by the carpet, Bal put his plan into motion. Focusing his will, he pushed with his mind at each individual bolt and turned them solid one by one.


“Ahhh!” Celdon was the first to cry out, the pudgy man clutching his abdomen as he doubled over.


“What’s wrong now?” Lillon chastised him. “Eat too much again?”


A moment later, the elf beside him also cried out and doubled over.


Selone shot up out of her seat. “Something’s wrong…” she began when it hit her as well. She cried out and fell to her knees, folded over in pain.


Everyone else leapt from their seats. Those closest to their ailing comrades tried to determine what was wrong. Burkon in particular bent over Selone.


In the midst of all the pandemonium, Bal struck. Rising from his crouched position, he rushed up behind Lillon and conked her on the head. Catching her unconscious body, he grit his teeth and pushed again, this time extending his aura out until it encompassed her inert form.


With Lillon now virtually invisible, Bal dragged her back onto the carpet. Setting her down next to him, he knelt and placed his palm on the rug. Steeling himself, he gave one last final push. His body ached, rebelling against the strain, but in the end his aura responded stretching to cover the entire carpet.


“Phew,” Bal gasped when he was done, his breath coming in short ragged bursts. Behind him he heard someone yell.


“Wait! What happened to Lillon?”


“Fugere,” Bal said the word without looking back. The carpet immediately responded to his wishes, rising up into the air and shooting out of the window in front of them.


***


Balthazar laid flat on the flying carpet as they sped past the walls of the keep and the moat beyond. Holding onto Lillon’s inert form, he verbally steered them off at an angle keeping as close to the tree tops as possible.


Knowing that pursuit wouldn’t be far behind, he cast a quick glance over his shoulder. As he expected, a number of dragon-like forms separated themselves from the spires of the keep. Their large wings spread wide, they shot past the moat in mere seconds. From there the wyverns fanned out further. Unfortunately, one was headed in their direction.


Bal knew there was no way they could outrun a wyvern. Worse, the strain of keeping the carpet, his captive, and himself invisible had become almost unbearable. Frantically scanning the forest below, he prayed to the gods for a miracle. Not far ahead, the trees began to part. Beyond that lay the River of Liath, its waters sparkling in the silver moonlight.


Behind them the wyvern was coming up fast. It would be close, but they might just make it. Clearing the treetops, Bal angled the carpet downward. They’d drawn within fifty yards of the riverbank when a sharp cry cut through the night.


Bal’s heart leapt into his throat. It must have caught our scent! They’d run out of time. The creature would be on them in less than a minute. They only had one chance.


Tightening his grip on Lillon, Bal waited until they were far enough out over the water. Wrapping his arms around Lillon’s inert form, he commanded the carpet to keep going, then rolled off the side.


The duo plunged into the river with more of a splash than Bal would have liked. On top of that, the cold waters had shocked the rebel leader awake.


Lillon shrieked in terror as they resurfaced, her arms around him in a death-like grip. “Don’t let go! I can’t swim!”


Bal might have found that amusing if not for their current situation. They had landed near the center of the river, too far from either shore for his liking. To make matters worse, he had lost control of his aura and the commotion had drawn the wyvern’s attention. Peeling off from its pursuit of the carpet, the creature banked around and dove down directly towards them.


Though the situation seemed hopeless, Bal was not the type to give up so quickly. After all, he had spent much of his energy escaping from the castle in the first place. Moreover, with Lillon holding onto him, his options were rather limited.


The wyvern swiftly closed the gap, its maw open wide. Lillon shrieked again as she saw their impending peril. “What are you doing you stupid reptile? You work for me!” she screamed at it.


“Somehow, I don’t think it cares,” Bal muttered to the indignant rebel. “Oh, and you might want to take a deep breath.”


“What do you—” Lillon’s response was literally drowned out as Bal dragged them both under.


A moment later, a large shadow whizzed over the top of the water where they had just been. As soon as it was gone, Bal propelled them both back to the surface.


“Wh—what was—that for?” Lillon sputtered, coughing out river water in between her words.


“I thought it better than ending up in some monster’s belly,” Bal responded wryly. Unfortunately, the tactic would only work for so long.


A hundred or so yards away, the creature cried out as it banked around and began another run. Other cries echoed in response. The rest of the wyverns were headed this way. They were done for unless they could find some way to call them off.


“So how do you control these creatures?” Bal asked the still sputtering Lillon.


“I have a crystal of course”—she responded somewhat indignantly— “but I do need to make eye contact to use it,” she admitted in a soft voice.


That figures, Bal thought with more than a little irony. Unfortunately to get that close would definitely be the end of them.


The wyvern was coming up on them fast, its maw open once more in anticipation. Bal prepared to dive yet again when something suddenly shot past them. A winged figure the size of a man raced across the top of the waters directly for the incoming wyvern.


Bal blinked. Am I crazy? Or are they?


The last moment before they collided, the wyvern snapped at the oncoming figure. The smaller flyer proved faster though, slipping beneath the creature’s maw.


Bal caught the glint of moonlight on steel just before the wyvern cried out in pain. The creature abruptly veered off course. It hit the water with a tremendous splash a few dozen yards from Bal and his captive.


Bal couldn’t believe his eyes. Whoever, or whatever, that was, it took out the wyvern in one shot. He had no more time to think about it, however, as the wake from the wyvern’s fall came rushing at them.


“Hang on!” He cried to Lillon, diving beneath the surface once more.


When they resurfaced, the night sky had lit up around them. A squad of skyriders, easily two dozen strong, now hovered over the river and nearby forest. The remainder of the wyverns had peeled off and were headed back in the direction of the keep.


A wave of relief flooded over Bal. By the grace of the gods, they had somehow survived.


A light suddenly shone on the waters around them. A familiar voice called out from above. “Nice night for a swim.”


Bal peered upward to see Cloud hovering just above them. The normally stoic gnome wore a slight smirk. Bal grimaced back at his friend. “I hadn’t exactly planned it that way.”


“Apparently,” Cloud replied, this time totally deadpan. “Guess you’ll be wanting a lift?”


“That would be nice.” Bal half laughed.  ⁣

 

Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to leave your comments or thoughts below. In the coming months we'll meet more characters and I'll share further experts from Raiders. If all goes as planned, look for Raiders to be released early this summer.


F.P.

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