Chapter 1:

Chapter One

A Traveller in the Narrow

My year long trip in the Westerlands has been anything but the wonderous journey I envisioned it to be.

Though, I doubt anyone could’ve known that a Gods-damned civil war would break out during my visit.

Since I arrived in the west, I feel like the Gods have been playing with me, enjoying my suffering; that, or maybe my good luck has finally run out.

When I arrived in Gormus by boat, all my belongings were searched immediately by the guards; then, they took half the coin I had on me as an ‘entry fee’.

An awful joke to start my disastrous journey.

If Titus the Great could see what his descendants had done to his empire, I’m sure he’d rise up from the Depths with an army of monsters to burn all of Carlen to the ground.

That’d make for a good tale if it happened.

I could tell it to the Nords in the north, or maybe the eastern folk, or whoever’s lands it’d be cheapest to flee to.

So, why was my trip to the Westerlands so unpleasant?

Well, I started my adventure this year in the northern territories, visiting abandoned castle, desolate caves and even barely explored ancient ruins.

At least, that had been the plan.

The haunted and empty castles of legend, like the Wailing Watch, had been torn down, the desolate caves were filled with miners and the barely explored ruins were swarming with Imperial soldiers.

That last lot even tried to arrest me when I drew close, claiming I was a rebel long before the Star Rebellion broke out. One of the captains, however, realised I was nothing of the sort and let me go.

So, that was a waste of a month.

A week after that, I was staying at an inn in near the Boundless Hills along the western coast and, I shit you not, the damn place was haunted by a Wight.

For the past six months.

Six whole months?!

I’m so glad the damn innkeeper told me about that after I paid for my room and meal.

I’m so happy that I got to find this out from the high pitched, chilling wailing and the visage of a corpse visiting my room that night.

Had I not been so curious about why the place was haunted, I’d have cut the innkeeper in half, I swear to the Gods I would’ve.

Though, in the end, I did kill him.

The innkeeper had listened to my tales as we ate that night and then apologised to me profusely in the morning after I’d been haunted by the Wight, begging for my help in breaking the curse. He said that the Wight had been haunting him for months on end and without reason, saying that it began when his wife passed away.

He explained that they hadn’t had much business at the inn in a long time and his wife had suggested turning to magic, using it to draw in travellers and Imperial patrols for many nights in a row. The innkeeper told me he was against it, but his wife thought it was a good idea and tried a demonic ritual which ended up killing her.

Perhaps other adventurers would’ve been sympathetic to him upon hearing that, but I already knew that this man was lying to me.

Wights aren’t Demons; Wights are spirits and it takes great lingering agony for them to manifest.

I feigned ignorance, pretended to feel sorry for him and agreed to help.

He thanked me and told me where he and his wife used to live, hoping I could find something there.

I said I’d leave immediately and fix the issue.

He turned to go back to work and I stabbed him in the heart.

Premature? Perhaps, but any adventurer worth a damn would’ve known the truth there and then and done the same.

Wights don’t haunt people in general; typically, they haunt abandoned places or places where they died after their lingering regrets or pain caused them to be unable to pass on.

That causes them to manifest; there is never a Wight in a place without reason.

For a Wight to haunt a person, it must have meant it was them that had wronged them in life, so I could guess the Wight’s identity already.

I cleaned my blade on his clothes, drank his finest vintage from his cellar, spilled the rest, and torched the building.

With that done, I went to where his hut was and found it long abandoned.

In the backyard, there was a shallow grave.

I didn’t dig it up to confirm who it was.

Instead, I offered her my prayers, blessed the ground where she lay, and I hoped that would allow her to find peace.

So, not half a year in and I’d already killed someone.

Not the fastest I’ve had to kill people on my adventures, but still.

I needed a break after dealing with that, so I went to the nearby city of Calatorn and stayed there for two months, earning some money from telling my stories and doing the odd job and favour here and there.

After finally putting the ugly business with the inn behind me, I rode off in search of a new adventure and, instead, found myself surrounded by four bandits.

A good start to my renewed journey, eh?

I killed them all but my leg was badly cut by one of the men, so I rested in a nearby village for a few weeks, wasting more of my days telling stories and struggling to walk down the street with a stick.

Once my wounds were healed, I gladly said goodbye to the village and rode on to find my next adventure…which I never found.

I was resting in a tavern one night by the roadside when I overheard people on the table next to me talking about the Emperor ordering attacks on nobles that had Star-blood in their veins.

The Children of the Stars; a small number of humans in the Westerlands who were supposedly descendants of the Gods, able to wield unimaginable power whilst using items forged from metal that fell from the Heavens, hence the name.

The Emperor had apparently launched numerous attacks on them in the last fortnight, angering tens of thousands of people, including some influential nobles.

I had hoped that these days would pass without further incident but, like I said, my luck had finally run dry and rebellion eventually broke out; that was after I failed to have a few successful adventures.

I would go to a ruin only to find an Imperial battalion there, or the bodies of one. I’d be taking a leisurely walk in the gorgeous woodlands of the southern provinces, only for heavy rain to appear, sometimes turning into a storm, and forcing me back to my inn.

I ran into groups of armed of nomads and peasants a few times which, in hindsight, I think were members of the Star Rebellion before it officially began.

I always rode away from then when I could.

When the rebellion had officially started, I made my horse ride so hard it almost died from exhaustion; then, I bought a new horse and continued on this way until I arrived at Yarthan.

I prayed to every God I could of every religion of every race I could that I wouldn’t run into Imperials or Rebels.

I didn’t, thankfully, and I started to hope that my luck might have improved.

If only the Gods were that kind.

After riding to the eastern coast and into Yarthan, I found hundreds of refugees from the southern provinces crowding the streets. I found a good inn, paid a hefty price for a room and left my horse in their stables, then fought my way through to the docks.

And then I heard this speech from a guard.

“By order of his majesty, Emperor Illian the 2nd, and of his lordship, Lord Carthagus, all ships have been denied entry and departure from the city of Yarthan until the unrest caused by the rebels is over! Should anyone be caught trying to leave the city on a ship, they will be immediately executed!”

I couldn’t believe the stupidity of what I had just heard.

Are you trying to get killed, my Lord, your Imperial Majesty?!

Now, I’d understand barring ships from entering the city; they could have mercenaries, spies, assassins or even a Child of the Stars on board disguised as merchants or travellers.

That made sense.

It didn’t make sense to bar people from leaving, even to go across the sea to the Crystal Coast and Nordstown; it was beyond a stupid decision.

Keeping all these people here, clogging up your city, making them more sympathetic to the rebel cause and, arguably the biggest mistake, making the citizens pay for their extra time here out of their own pocket.

As it’s his city, Lord Carthagus would have to pay out of his own coin purse for the guards to work overtime and keep the city orderly, and he’d have to find a way to feed the people or they’d turn against him very quickly.

I had feared that something like this might have been the case, hence why I had gotten a room at an inn before heading down to the docks, so, at the very least, I’ll have somewhere to rest my head until I can find a way out of the country.

Tonight, though, after a long hard ride and the crushing disappointment over not being able to leave the Westerlands on a ship, I decided to do the most sensible thing anyone can do whilst feeling upset.


Drink until I can’t feel the pain.

Drink so that, when I wake, I won’t remember a damn thing from the night, or maybe even the entire day, before.

To alcohol! How I love thee!

I sat down on a table in the corner, gave my order to the barmaid and gave her a silver coin as a tip.

Even after drinking my fill, my troubles still plagued me, even as the ale warmed my belly and soothed my body.

With a heavy sigh, I let my head fall onto the table with a loud thud, a nasty scowl on my face.

I have to get out of the Westerlands, and soon, before a riot breaks out in Yarthan or before a rebel army attacks the city.

But how?

If the port’s closed, there’s a good chance that the rest of the coastal cities in the Westerlands will have theirs closed as well, and there’s no way I could swim back to the Green.

And I don’t have enough coin to keep a roof over my head until the war ends, nor a cave I know where I could stay in safely.

“You seem to be troubled, sir,” someone said, sitting in the chair across from me. “What worries you on this fine evening?”

…Who the fuck are you?

I looked up from my cup and saw a man in leather armour, a short sword by his waist, and an annoyingly cheerful smile on his face; sat right beside it was a long scar on his left cheek. He had short cut blonde hair and blue eyes that seemed to sparkle, even with everything that the country was going through.

Gods, I want to punch him in the jaw.

I wonder if I’d be able to do it and not get kicked out for starting a brawl.

I bet the innkeeper would understand.

Look at how miserable that old git is and how annoyingly happy this twat is; even the guards would be on my side if I did it.

I’m so tempted.

How can someone this happy, this friendly, possibly exist, especially during a civil war?

“Who in the Depths are you?”

“Wiatt; yourself, sir?”

“What’s it to you?”

Wiatt was taken aback, but he smiled and said, “I imagine you’re not here to enjoy yourself, are you?”

I snorted.

“Ya think?” I sat up and looked down at my drink. “Couldn’t be happier. War’s broken out, the docks are closed, and now I’m probably going to end up dying in this accursed place. So, yeah, happy as can be, Wiatt.”

“Trying to escape the war?” Wiatt winced and took a sip of his beer.

“That, and tryin’ to get home.”

Wiatt raised an eyebrow. “Whereabouts you from?”

“Wheatcraft, little village a few miles out from Nordstown.” I went to take another sip of my beer. “You?”


I almost choked on my drink after hearing that.

Why in the Depths was someone who lived in the damn capital so far south?

“The Depths you doing down this way?”

“Travelling. Well.” He grunted. “Was. Now I’m scared to stay here much longer, you know?”

“Well, welcome to the party, friend!” I raised my drink and he raised his to clink against mine.

We both took a large swig from our drinks and then slammed the mugs onto the table.

Huh. Maybe this guy’s actually pretty alright, or maybe I’m drunk enough to think he is.

“Well, unless you know another way out of this place, then you might want to head back to Titus. Least there you’d have a roof over your head.”

“I can’t. My Pa would have me thrown in the stocks if I did.” Then, cheerfully, he said, “So, I’m planning on heading to the Green myself.”

“How you going to do that?”

“Simple.” He smiled, looked around the room, and then leant forward and whispered, “Through the Narrow.”

I froze at that.

The Narrow; a place I had longed to travel to before I lay in the dirt, but one I had not intended to go for a long time, for there was so much, and yet strangely little, I really knew about the place.

I’d heard plenty of stories about the Narrow, of course; everyone had, but never knew which were true and which were false.

My old man told me that the Narrow was filled with gigantic animals that were as intelligent as humans, and that obeyed the people of the Narrow the same way a dog would respond to a game master.

A passing minstrel that stayed in my home village for a few days had spoken to me of a city in which people need never eat nor drink, sustained only by the magic running through the stones of the streets.

A former friend of mine was a merchant that had been through the Narrow before laughed when I asked what he saw, saying, “All of it’s just a big lie. Just fairy tales to drag curious travellers into the city to take their gold for shoddy goods.”

Needless to say, I wasn’t his friend for much longer, especially not after he tried groping my fiancé, the bastard! Rot in the Depths, cunt.

I had heard that most of the cities in the Narrow were housed in gigantic craters and caverns, buried deep into the Pale Mountains, but I didn’t even know if that was true.

What secrets really lied in that thin stretch of land that connected the western part of Carlen to the east?

What bits of the stories that I had heard were true and which were false?

And, more importantly, what stories had I not heard about the Narrow?

My inner adventurer leapt at the opportunity to go and venture through it, but the ale in my belly and the pain in my heart told me that it wasn’t a good idea.

Why, you ask?

Because the only way into the Narrow is by land, either from the Green or the Westerlands and, chances were, the Westerlands border would be closed.

“How you planning on getting through this stupid border lockdown?” I asked in a hushed voice.

If Wiatt had a way to sneak past the guards at the border and into the Narrow, then I didn’t want any pesky eavesdroppers to report us to the city watch.

Wiatt smiled, looked over his shoulder and whispered, “They haven’t sent enough men there to properly enforce the border. I know where they’ve left gaps and we can sneak past them, even on horseback, and head to the Green that way.”

Normally, if someone came up to me and made such an audacious claim, I’d never believe them, but, for whatever reason, I believed Wiatt.

Maybe it was because of the alcohol, or maybe it was because I thought I’d figured him out based on what he was wearing, but I trusted what he said and I could imagine the Empire would be thinly stretched to cover all of the Westerlands.

Now that I think back on it, a lot of the Imperial Legions were scattered all over the west, at ruins, at towns and forts, and searching for rebels. Depths, I don’t even know if there are enough soldiers in Yarthan to keep order here, let alone fend off a rebel army should they attack.

“Do you not believe me, sir?”

Shit, I’d gotten lost in my own thoughts.

I shook my head. “It’s not that, more…wondering the what and why.”

“The what and why?”

“Yeah. What’s the plan and why invite me to tag along?”

Wiatt didn’t even seem a little confused, nor concerned, about the questions that I had asked.

Most people would be distrustful and suspicious of anyone who randomly came up to them and began speaking to them, especially someone in a tavern, so I had to wonder; why did he approach me with such a good offer?

“For the what, I intend for us to ride at first light from here to Yacatecuhtli; it’s a city partially owned by the Empire and partially by the people of the Narrow. From there, we will depart as if we’re heading to the southern coast when, in reality, we will ride south for a mile or two, then circle east and past the Spiked Gates.

“Once we hit the sea, all land from thereon out is part of the Narrow and the Empire has no power there. After that, it’s a simple enough trip; just follow the Great Stone Road, staying at whichever cities will have us and we’ll be in the Green within a month, I reckon.

“As for the why, good sir.” Wiatt smiled and, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, just said, “Because you looked troubled.”

…Wiatt, are you actually a really nice guy?

‘cause, if you are, I’m so sorry for wanting to punch you in the face.

Ah, the kindness and innocence of youth; may it never fade away.

I remember many years ago when I first started adventuring, I was just like that.

I would offer my services and advice to anyone and everyone; if someone looked troubled, frustrated, upset or disheartened, I’d ask them what’s wrong and lend them my ear and whatever else they required of me.

Now though, my older and more cynical self still doubted Wiatt, if only a little in comparison to when we first started speaking.

But still, I wanted to believe in him, and his words.

So, I grinned, held out my free hand and said, “Sounds like something good might have come out of this place in the end.”

Wiatt smiled brightly back, grasped my hand firmly and we shook on it.

“I look forward to travelling with you, sir…?”


“A pleasure to meet you, sir. I’m Wiatt.”

“Well, Wiatt.” I stood up and finished my drink. “Let us get a good night’s rest and make ready to head out come the dawn.”

His smile grew and he nodded.

It seemed that while my adventures in the Westerlands had just ended, my next adventure that would take me through the Narrow was only just beginning.

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