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Mancuso turned and jogged down the dark tunnel, his light beam bouncing before him.  The tunnel sloped slightly downward and was wide enough to transport large equipment.  It eventually dead-ended with a crank, brake, and a cold electronic control panel.  He released the brake, turned the crank, and the wall opened partway.  He slipped through the narrow crack into the open air of the Old Arena foyer.  Tree roots had prevented him from opening the door any wider.  He took a moment to look around.  From this hidden doorway on the northwest side, he was relatively hidden from view since the door was in an alcove.  He didn’t see anyone and slipped cautiously through the door to search for the release mechanism.  This left him vulnerable for a moment to anyone hiding but he had no choice.  Then he saw it.  The pillar the release mechanism was on had fallen but there under its debris was the cable.  With some effort, he pulled it and it clicked under the force, returning the wall it its closed position.

He ran through the arena and stopped for a moment to check for the enemy at one of the arched doorways of the amphitheater.  Panic almost overwhelmed him as he surveyed the multitude of benches.  “Oh no.  Where did I park?”  Then remembering the spot just on the other side of the hall and to the east of where the Governor from Tung Sheng used to sit, he saw it.  “That chameleon device really is too good,” he muttered to himself.

To him the way seemed clear, but something didn’t seem right.  The hair on the back of his neck stood up.  He had no time to check, despite his feelings.  Making his way swiftly towards the POD, he saw them, just moving shadows in the corner of his eyesight at first, and then recognizable shapes of men ... six of them moving in from all around the arena with swords drawn.  He surveyed his opponents cautiously, summing up their abilities.  He knew their mark, the Shadow Knights of the Salmonil.  The Salmonil, fierce nomadic warriors, were bad enough albeit extremely superstitious, but the Shadow Knights, so called because of the dark clothing they wore, were worse.  This band of brigands had no honor and should not have been given the dignified title of knight.  Instead of defending a code of honor, they pillaged, burned, and did whatever else their wicked leader desired.

He looked again towards the POD.  He had the lead.  He could get to the POD before them, but he would not have time to initiate a jump.  He rebuked himself for not bringing a remote.  Just as well, he wanted to find out more about his pursuers so he might as well take advantage of it.  Why did they come here, since Cah Bel is within Andril Territory?  Were they just patrolling the ruins and just happened to find him, or were they sent in search of him and his treasure? 

Deciding to confront them directly, he stopped in his tracks a stone’s throw away from the POD.  The Shadow Knights copied his move but then started walking sideways always facing him in a slow spiral drawing closer, swords at the ready almost in a dance.

“Go no further Firesmyth,” one, apparently the leader, called out in a pleasant tone.

Firesmyth Mancuso threw back his hood and drew his sword.  He wore the armor of old like that in the korax carving.  His face, now visible, could have been mistaken for a man of much younger years if it weren’t for his shoulder-length hair and a neatly trimmed beard that were gray but fast turning white.  He wore a few wrinkles like a soldier wears campaign ribbons.  They showed that he had survived a few battles in life and though he appeared old, he had a vitality of youth about him as if age touched only the surface of his life.  His eyes . . . his eyes were alit with a blue flame, brilliant blue, the mark of his clan.

Upon seeing whom they confronted, the Shadow Knights drew back a step except for the leader Consus, who smiled mockingly with hand outstretched.  “What?  Does this old man best us at swordplay?”

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Copyright 2000 by Darrell A. Newton, All Rights Reserved.
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Last updated: March 06, 2001.