Cade Vanderbough pleasantly munched on a perfectly round apple as he navigated his way through the busy port town of Engleway. The warmth of the high sun offered a welcome change from his past journeys, which all seemed to be defined by cold. This new environment made his travels significantly easier. Appropriately, Cade had switched his warm traveling cloak in favor for a light short-sleeved shirt and thin pants. The clothing succeeded in protecting his legs while allowing for the warmer temperatures of the costal town. In his new attire Cade felt newly liberated from the heavy confines of his winter wear.
Cade took a sharp left and abandoned the thick atmosphere of the main street for the quiet of an alleyway between the general store and armory. The ally was masked in an icy blackness and harnessed a cool that was not found in the open day. After making sure the offshoot was empty of any civilians, Cade began to stride into the depths of the dark. Then, with a knowledge that could only be gained from past experience, he used the tip of a discarded pipe to jab at a brick protruding from the wall of the alleyway. A rather loud grinding answered the gesture as a previously unseen door swung open from the shadows. Cade stepped carefully through before the door swung securely closed behind him. The space inside was lit faintly by a few dim torches burning quietly in their iron holds. With some effort, he could make out the shadowy forms of two shadowy forms of two silent figures in wait. The two people were seated around a think wooden table. Large, intimidating weapons lined the wall of the room.
Cade took a seat at a rickety, wooden chair across from his silent hosts. The atmosphere in the room was so tense Cade wasn’t certain if he wanted to break it. Nevertheless, his hosts seemed indifferent to his presence. So, after a moment to make sure he wasn’t going to interrupt, Cade asked tentatively, “You wanted to speak with me?”
From the blackness that formed his hosts figure came a voice as unreavealing as its form. “Yesss,” it almost hissed, “I understand you were once a part of our…organization.”
Cade began to nod but, after realizing the gesture would be lost in the low light, murmured affirmatively.
“Good….”the voice replied, “we were interested in re-acquiring your service.”
Cade hesitated. It was true; he had once been part ofEnglways strength, as their organization was called, but it had not been an ideal arrangement. Years ago, Cade had arrived at Engleway tired and penniless. Generously, the Strong (as they were affectionately called) agreed to provide him with food in exchange for services. Initially, Cade was required to do petty tasks for the group’s members. Eventually, Cade was recognized for his worth and joined as an official member. Although at first glad, he had soon realized that the organization was unforgiving and often cruel in achieving their goals. They brutally murdered their enemies and civilians alike, indifferent to any common morality. Too afraid to speak out against the actions of the group, Cade instead had chosen to leave the town. He had never been proud of his inaction, and he had vowed that, if he ever had the choice to speak out again against injustice, he would without hesitation. It seemed to Cade that now was the moment to prove he had meant it.
This being said, Cade didn’t want to make any rash decisions. He was outnumbered two to one, and the Strong lived up to their name. So, Cade figured it would be smarter to play along until the moment was right.
After a moment’s contemplation, Cade answered the man calmly, “It depends, what would the membership entail?”
“Confidence, strength, and influence in return for the occasional test of loyalty,” the man answered smoothly.
Something about the voice unnerved Cade. He had no knowledge of the man save his intelligent words and manipulative voice. Cade wasn’t sure if he wanted to upset the man until he had a more intimate knowledge of who he was defying. The voice dripped of self-confidence and control, two things that often forged powerful men. Besides, Cade couldn’t even boast of any shallow assumptions for his hosts partner, for the second figure had yet to speak. Cade was too uncomfortable with the situation to make any long-lasting decisions. Instead, Cade decided to maintain his strategy of saying what they wanted him to.
“Sounds good to me,” Cade said in what he hoped was a confident voice.
“Good…”whispered the chilling voice, “but first we must test your utility.” With this, the room erupted in an immense cloud of light. Cade was blinded momentarily and struggled to regain his senses. When he finally retrieved his senses, he focused on the two people across from him. The one to the right, to which he had been talking, was standing. He was wrapped in a midnight cape, his eyes the stars and his blazing sword the sun. To Cade’s surprise, a young man with sandy hair and bright blue eyes was bound to a chair and gagged with a ripped piece of cloth. He was struggling against the ropes holding him in place, rocking back and forth in a futile attempt to break free.
“This man,” the cloak figure said, waving his hand lazily towards the captive, “was attempting to enter our ranks as a spy. Moreover, he is being entirely uncooperative. I’ve heard you can be quite…convincing.”
Cade maintained his composure despite the sudden change in events. Cade was baffled to why this man believed he could extract any information from this apparently unrevealing captive. While Cade knew that many stories had developed over the years about him, and just as many reputations, this one was new. Regardless, it hardly mattered now. The helpless man was seemingly apposed to the cloaked man, as was Cade, which made him a friend. Ideally, he would be leaving this room with both his own life and the captured man’s, but such a goal seemed impossible.
Cade was still deciding what to do when the cloaked man raised a cloaked arm and snapped with hidden fingers. The wall behind them melted away to show a large room comprised of twisted, glittering instruments intended to induce pain.
Thinking fast, Cade stated, “I’m going to need privacy if I’m going to do this.”
“Of course.” The man smiled and, without waiting for a response, whipped his cloak around and exited into the dirty alleyway as the door closed behind him.
As soon as Cade was certain the door was securely close he turned to the helpless man secured to the chair. Cade strode towards the man, removed a small knife from his pocket, and precisely cut the ropes holding the man in place. The man remained motionless as the bounds fell in a twisted pile at his feet. Cade then untied the cloth gagging the man.
“What are you doing?” the man asked blankly.
“Getting you out of here,” Cade whispered hurriedly, “Now get up.”
The man didn’t stand. His blue eyes stared into Cade’s, perfect windows to the limitless ocean.
“I don’t think,” the man said slowly, “that is a good idea.”
“Why on earth not?” Cade demanded incredulously, The man didn’t reply, he just continued to stare at Cade with his remarkable eyes. Then, something changed. The aqua blue expansions began to harden. Their milky appearance grew dark and finite as if obscured by a wall. Cade moved his hand in front of the man’s face, which was now blank and unresponsive.
“Well,” a voice murmured from behind him, “I think its safe to say you failed that test.” Cade spun around to face the source of the unmistakable voice. As Cade expected, the cloaked figure was back, but his face was no longer clouded in darkness. A handsome, strong face with sandy blond hair and eyes of the ocean sneered at Cade. The eyes were unmistakable, Cade gaped in disbelief at the man standing before him.