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The King of Criminal Island: Chapter One

Updated: Sep 22, 2021


Steam flares from the snouts of six horses. Six riders cling to the equines' backs, urging them forward. Together they whip through the labyrinth of trunk, branch, river, and stone called Venenum forest. Darkness drowns all that fails to find moonlight. It is a night of claustrophobic solitude. It is a night of quiet, but for the thundering of hooves. It smells of flowers and reeks of death.

The stags masked with leather armour gallop, as if shot from a cannon, through darkness. Half a dozen riders cloaked in amethyst hoods remain skillfully saddled to their horses’ backs. The company of rangers strides through Venenum Forest with speed. Their feet flex, embraced tightly within the tattered stirrups encompassing their boots, as their stances shift forward.

Even in the eleventh hour, these riders are seemingly untroubled by the pace of their stallions or the strenuous obstacles of the woods. The fellowship steers their steeds with expertise through shadows, shallow creeks, and winding rivers. Their technique is a testimony to their mastery as equestrians.

The forest itself is not the terror these rangers run from. There is another, more foul thing, which hunts them, which urges them on. What is it that stalks these riders? How far is the border of these woods? Can any refuge be found there? Unseen peril approaches.

They near the tree line to Venenum Forest, persevering through the timber. Still, no rider slows his steed. Instead, as the thickness of the branches gives way to the stars, their pace increases all the more. A castle dwells radiantly in the visible distance. Its walls are colossal. Its doors are coated with glimmering gold. Torches engraved with the royal emblem of a lion protrude from its stone frame, contrasting the building’s architecture from the shadows of the night. Archery posts line the spiral formations spread across the palace roof. This castle is the headquarters of Gomer’s royalty, and is the diamond of the country.

The company emerges from the forest, pulling their formation tightly together, each riding their stallion with zeal. They stride across the grassy plains, darting to the palace with vigor.

“Keep going!” One horseman shouts to the leading rider, unhooking his longbow from his saddle. “We will see for ourselves,” he promises in a deep and serious tone. The head horseman nods from behind his aged violet hood and persists forward. His five companions plod their horses from a gallop to a trot, turning to face the forest. They reach from their quivers and saddles, drawing their bows. Notching their arrows, they tarry, anticipating whatever may pursue them from out of the twisting branches of the forest.

A lone purple hooded equestrian persists forward with momentum and vigilance, slowing only upon reaching the palace entryway. There he dismounts, yanking his hand and a half sword from his saddle and sheathing it to his belt. He is greeted by two guards weary of standing and weighed down by the heavy metal plates drooping over their slouched shoulders. One is clearly young, and the other distinctly old. They are decorated in the standard golden armour of the Queen’s men.

“Greetings, Sir Matthews,” the older gentleman announces, his voice raspy with age.

“Ron,” the purple hooded soldier addresses, forcing a smile. It is not received as well as he had hoped. “I thought you requested daylight hours,” Sir Matthews remembers as he taps the rear of his horse, glancing back at the distant forests one last time. The steed responds by strutting forth in the direction of the stables. The younger of the two golden men’s face reels at the stag with reverence. His eyes follow the battle stallion, even as he and his superior pull open the ruby coated double doors to Gomer’s castle.

Sir Matthews steps into the doorway, pausing in the light. Extending his arms to the knights, he grips their shoulder guards.

“If anyone arrives from out of that field without a hood and a horse like mine, he did not journey here with me,” the horseman instructs them.

“Yes sir,” the boy responds.

“Thank you,” Sir Matthews articulates gently.

With this note of appreciation, and word of warning, the lone rider strides into the magnificent castle. The two Golden warriors close the entryway behind him and are left alone to stare out into the night.

“Ron, maybe we should get someone to circle the perimeter,” the boy suggests.

“The castle lies between a fork in the Great River,” the elderly soldier reminds him. “Sir Matthews has been away on scouting missions for too long. He is merely tired from travel. Pay him no mind.” Ron turns his face to his comrade and labors an aged smile. The younger golden knight simpers back. Neither convinces the other they are thinking rationally.

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