The potentially neverending story where YOU help write the action!
As he walked, his eyes darted from one person to another. Several men gambling in the shadows of one corner, a bleary eyed drunk propped up on a stool in another. He seemed to pause for a moment as he passed two red cloaked women at a table near the center of the room. Then he continued on, shaking the rain from his cloak and shoving aside a chair to stand at the bar.
He pushed his hood back as the barkeep approached, revealing shoulder-length black hair. His eyes contained a cold fierceness that seemed better suited to a lion and as he spoke, his voice contained no humour, no joy. Only his bushy eyebrows seemed to give any hint of softness to his features.
He passed several silver coins to the scrawny man tending bar, who quickly drew forth a pitcher of dark ale. After a quick perusal of the barkeep, he turned his back to the man and returned his attention to the other patrons of the tavern. He downed the pitcher quickly, his eyes never leaving the room, his left hand never leaving the hilt of his sword.
As he told the cook to put more mutton on the grill, it came to him! "Aha!" he said to himself, surprising the cook. "I know him!" "Who?" said the cook. "The new man in the dark cloak who came in here a few minutes ago, you dolt!" muttered the barkeep, throwing a glance over his shoulder. "Oh, I never get to see much back here," whined the cook. Unfortunately, the barkeep had already walked away, leaving the cook with the mutton.
The barkeep walked to the bar, glancing nervously at the stranger as he did so. The stranger showed no sign that he noticed the odd behavior of the barkeep, showing more interest in a tankard of mead that had been set before him. The barkeep relaxed a little as he reached the bar. "Got to get my wages and get out of here before he realizes who I am," he thought out loud. He reached into the cash drawer and pulled out a small cloth sack, filled with clinking coins.
"No one is going to catch me, Gimlet the Thief, by just walking in and taking me unawares!" He stuffed the coins into his baggy brown trousers and reached for his cloak. The cook, meanwhile, had shuffled out to the open area and was watching with great interest. The barkeep slung the cloak over his shoulders and skittered out the door, shoving people aside as he ran.
The cook looked over at the stranger; their eyes met and the stranger smiled, grimly. The cook laughed and shuffled back to the grill and the mutton chops. The stranger looked over to the table where the three women clad in red sat. One of them, a tall, blonde woman, noticed his glance and got up. She inclined her head towards the door, and he smiled, nodding ever so slightly. She loosened her sword in its scabbard, and strode out into the night, following the barkeep.
Loosing his sword, he began following the all too obvious tracks in the mud. One set was walking, the other running. A single torch was burning in a stable near the edge of the woods. Sword in hand, he entered the musty building. The woman sat waiting in the wavering torchlight. Her sword, with a fresh coating of red on its tip, was lying absently on the hay beside her.
As he entered, she picked up her sword and rose. She casually wiped the sword's tip on a rag hanging from the wall. "Don't worry", she said, "I have kept my word, the miserable cretin still lives. He simply needed a bit of persuasion to give up his loot."
"Did you get the ring?" asked the stranger.
"What do you take me for? I wouldn't have let him go otherwise." Reaching into her cloak, she pulled out a small pouch and tossed it over to the stranger. As he began checking the contents, she sheathed her sword and walked past him into the rain.
Amongst the varied silver and copper coins was a single gold ring. Shaped to resemble braided twigs, each strand was covered in writing. For a moment, he closed his eyes and held the ring to his forehead. Then, putting the pouch aside, he forced the tiny ring onto his smallest finger.
"I don't know why you let him live", she said as he neared her on the road. "He was a worthless thief, he can bring no goodness to this world."
"He's not the one", muttered the stranger. Handing her the pouch, he pulled the hood of his cloak over his head and slowly walked off into the darkness.
He stumbled out into the night to complete the evening's performance and made sure he was heard well down the street. The ring certainly did have a mind of it's own. The thought brought a smile to his face as he came to the first of the trees that would soon become a forest.
They had taken it. They would pay. Time was of no real relavence, except that for someone of his age Atlas could be said to be impatient. Scanning the surroundings, the pot-bellied musician came to a halt. Satisfied that there was no one around, he began to disrobe, making sure he remembered where he set his cothes down this time, so as to avoid the unpleasantries of previous occasions.
If a casual observer had happened by- which one may have done, Atlas had his mind elsewhere- they would have seen a most remakable thing. If the observer had been, say, from a tavern down the street that a certain barkeeper had quite suddenly taken leave of, followed by a red cloaked woman and a tall stranger, all very subtly of course, they may have recognised a certain musician that had overindulged himself in the corner. They would have then been very surprised when the musician proceeded to strip naked and polymorph into a rather well formed young dragon of impressive stature. The observer could not have guessed at the double deceit of the creature who was posing as a secret militia agent, posing as a drunk.
Atlas felt much better. No matter how easy a form was to immitate, it always took such effort to maintain. The young silver still got a thrill as he launched himself into the air and thrust open his wings. What was the ring to these humans anyway? A prize? A novelty? No matter. Atlas was older than most things around, save for other dragons (wherever they were), but the ring's age held it's own legend. This alone, Atlas felt, was enough to make human hands unfit to bear it. He was just thankful that, as yet, none of the fools had stumbled onto it's greater power; but the longer they messed around with it... Atlas put the thought out of his mind and set to searching the night.
Yes, there was that thief of a barkeeper hiding behind an old cart and some bushes. He was hurt, deserved it even, but where were the other... wait, yes... maybe. The ring always made it so hard to tell. The great beast circled in the moonlight until he could be sure. Yes, he was close now, they would not get away.
Silver scales angled themselves down sharply as the enormous bulk dove. The wind tore past at an incredible and increasing speed, hurting the young dragon's eyes. He fell like a silver arrow in the night, the moonlight segmenting his descent.
Almost too late the huge wings unfurled themselves to slow the momentous plunge. Something was wrong, something that he should have felt long before now. Curse that stupid ring, it scrambled his senses like nothing else he knew. There was a presence approaching. Powerful. Angry.
Atlas shot upwards into the veil of night. Had it sensed him? No. No, not yet. Lucky. He circled until he found a clearing in which he could set down. He would watch, he would wait. If the fools could only comprehend the power they were messing with, if they had any idea.....arrh! Patient, he would be patient. He would watch, he would wait.
"Are you planning on following me?" asked the black-cloaked stranger.
"I am simply headed the same way as you. In these times, there is safety in numbers."
So he had made a new friend. He used the term very loosely. Far too many so-called friends had betrayed him. Perhaps they all had. He tried to think back, to remember if there was anyone who had not turned on him. No, there was no one... except her, he thought, absently rotating the tiny ring upon his finger. But perhaps Saara would have too, if she had only been given the chance.
"Dragon's boils!" he cursed aloud, shattering the calm of the forest path. He could not doubt her. Doubt any others, doubt all others, but not Saara, never her. He could not defile her memory. The woman stared at him, but he said nothing. Dragon's boils? What a bizarre curse to say. It was certainly nothing he had ever heard before. What made him say it? He continued to play with the ring and ignored the woman's questioning look. She could think him a fool, it didn't matter, nothing did anymore. Nothing except...
The woman was no longer looking at him. Her eyes were searching the darkness of the forest surrounding them. He sensed it too. Something was wrong, deadly wrong, but he could not tell what it was. His sword was out in a flash, ready for anything.
The distant rumbling seemed too constant to be thunder, and as he listened to it more closely, he began to doubt that it was so distant after all. It seemed very low to the ground, perhaps even beneath the ground. An earthquake? No, it couldn't be, but what other explanation was there?
The woman grabbed his hand. He turned to face her and saw a look of terror in her eyes. He noticed she had sheathed her sword. "Weapons won't help us here", she whispered, "if you want to stand any chance of surviving, you'll follow me now."
With that, she released his hand and began running into the forest. "But what is it?" he called out after her. "Pray that you never find out, very few of us have lived to warn others." Shoving his sword in its place by his side, he quickly followed after her into the darkness.
The farmer looked at him in disgust. "Sure you were. Lookin' for a free cart no doubt!" the farmer bent down, picked up a stick, and threw it at him. Gimlet dodged, barely, and made a run for the forest. Only when the boughs of Weren Forest were about him did he fill safe.
As he started into Weren Forest, Gimlet thought there was something strange about it. The trees, the trees. Gimlet looked at them more closely. They had a faint green light about them, just bright enough to be noticed. Something was wrong here. There was some magic at work. Gimlet knew this magic. "No, that can't be! Only one is strong enough to wield this, and he is dead," he thought. He continued down the path into the forest. In places, the light seemed brighter than in others. Always in the brighter he saw strange shadows that looked like -- no, he was dead. It couldn't be. The shadows seemed to be following him. He looked about him. There it was again! He was beginning to panic now. Then the voice spoke:
"Did you really think you could get away from me? You knew I would track you down. How could you betray me like that?" The voice was angry.
"Galager?" asked Gimlet in a strange voice.
"Yes it is me!" At this Galager strode out. He was a strange creature, being half elf and half gnome. He was clad in black and red, and set about his head was a small cirlet of gold. He was of medium height, and had long, golden locks. He had a short beard. The green light shone about him. He was the source of it.
"Galager, you're dead! How could you be here? Even you are not that strong in magic!" asked Gimlet.
"I escaped your trap! You're nothing but a low down thief! Where is it? You stole the ring! I want it!"
"I don't have it lord! They have it!" Gimlet said.
"Who, who has it?"
"HE has it! HE and that woman!"
"Are you sure?" asked Galager.
"Yes! She took it from me! She then said something about Ah, Islor will be glad of this news!"
"I don't even know why I should let you live!" At this, Galager drew out his sword from his scabbard. He made ready to slay the thief, but just before he made the death blow, the thief whimpered "No wait, I can help you!"
Galager sheathed his sword. "What kind of help?"
"My sister, she lives in Spider's Hollow. She knows of information that will be helpful to you! She knows the location of the Daranzger!" said Gimlet.
"The Daranzger! How would she know that!" asked Galager in disbelief.
"She has her ways! Let me live, and I will take you to her!" Gimlet said.
"No, I must find the ring first, or the Daranzger is of no use. Tell me, was this woman clad in red?"
"Yes, she was! Why?" asked Gimlet.
"The prophecy speaks of the Prince and the Woman Clad in Red. We are doomed unless we act fast. Are you sure it was Prince Islor?
"Yes, I am sure she said it!"
"Why did Saara have to get mixed up with him? My own daughter!"
"I don't know, King Galager! But if he does with that ring what is expected of him, then Islor and Saara will inevitably be united!" said Gimlet
"Hey, what is this blood?" asked Galager, for there was some on the ground.
Gimlet had forgotton about his wound. His loss of the ring was what his mind had been on mostly, and then Galager when he came about. "It is me. She got me in the arm."
Galager stripped away the cloth where the wound was. Seeing its condition, he got a little powder from a pouch inside his robe, and sprinkled it on the wound. It healed.
"Now, be off with you! Go to your sister's house. But beware, if you practice any treachery against me, I will have my eye on you, and you will regret it!" At this, Galager started down the path that led to Karackis. The lights vanished.
Gimlet began to follow the route that would take him to Spider's Hollow. He was glad that he was on Galager's side. Galager came from Nearix, a colony of the magic users. He was king among them. With power such as his, he was truly a force to be reckoned with.
The citadel of the Magus sprawled atop the bleakest peak in all of Nearix. A black thunderhead rose in the sky above it, raining lightning down on the barren slopes. The small traces of life and dust that clung to the rocks were buffeted by a cold and endless wind. For seven centuries, no living mortals traveled closer than sighting distance of the peak, their journeys and curiosity warned away by the boiling storm.
Lords and kings turned their attention to other matters; great wizards investigated less dangerous secrets. So that when, upon finding an intruder within the castle, the citadel's master became at once confounded, enraged, and fascinated. He ordered his unliving servants to bring the intruder to his study for questioning, then retired there to await the arrival.
Catching the intruder was no mean feat, since he was quite skilled at evading pursuit. In due time, however, two of the deformed manlike automatons which served the Magus entered the study, the intruder suspended between them by his arms. The Magus looked carefully at the intruder, who stopped kicking the moment he saw the ancient Magus.
The intruder was at least six feet in height and had a muscular build; he had deep blue eyes and the face of a battle-worn warrior. Scars and bruises covered his neck, face and arms; he had dark brown hair which was pulled into a ponytail and wore chainmail which was battered and torn. The Magus was accustomed to seeing terror on the faces of his captives. It disarmed him to see this one look upon him with open defiance and fearless apprehension.
"You must be the Necromancer," said the intruder, "Or should I say the Ancient One of Nearix." He craned his neck and surveyed the study as if it were the living room of a friend. "Nice place you've got here." Mildly annoyed, the Magus nodded. "I have not had visitors here for many, many years. Today, I find you here within my fortress. For the sake of courtesy, I will first ask your name before I demand an explanation of how you got here."
The intruder struggled for a moment, but he accomplished nothing against the grip of his eight-foot tall captors. With a sigh, he resigned himself to talking his way out. "My name is Darkar Calanis," he began confidently. He almost added, "Folks know of me as the Dark Bounty-Hunter," but decided not to bother. "Could your guards put me down? My arms hurt."
The Magus ignored his request. "Calanis. An unfamiliar name, though I recognize Altonar as being the nearest town from here - but it is still more than a hundred miles from this place. How did you get into this fortress?"
Darkar smiled, he was very fatigued and was sure that his arms were getting even more bruised. "Oh, I dunno, I was wandering by and saw your place up here,so I thought I'd step in,see how you were doing -" The Magus hissed as if he were a viper that had been stepped upon. Darkar's voice faded away. "That's not going to work, is it?" Darkar finished hesitantly.
"Wretch!" said the Magus savagely. His pale, skull-like face grew dead white with rage. "I am wasting time on you. Speak plainly!"
Although Darkar loved to infuriate and tease, he could tell when he'd pushed someone too far. "Nevermind how I got here. You ever heard of Galager?"
The ancient Magus gestured, and the undead automatons released their grip on Darkar's arms, dropping him to the floor. Getting up, the prisoner rubbed his aching muscles, signed, then adjusted his chainmail but was still watching the Magus the whole time. Though he didn't fear the Magus, he was not eager to have the Magus approach him, either. The Magus spoke a few words, and the air was suddenly charged with power. A nimbus of light appeared around the Magus's left hand, which he held out in Darkar's direction.There was a sudden burst of electrostatic illumination from the Magus's left hand and in the same moment all the automatons had disappeared, the studyroom had become much more brighter and spacious and there was a table laiden with magical fruit, in front of Darkar. The Magus eyed Darkar closely and with suspicion, but then said,"Tell me more, about this Galager...."
"First I must tell you WHY I have come here. It began twenty-five years ago, when I was just ten years old. My parents and I were travelling nomads, we had reached the small town of Altonar and had decided to rest there for several days. We stayed at an inn and it was that very night I witnessed a crime so disturbing and hideous, it makes me wrench to think about it. It was past midnight when I awoke with a shiver....my parents were nowhere to be seen, this seemed very odd to me - as my parents had never left me alone before." said Darkar, as his face turned sadly away from the Magus.
The face of the Magus was devoid of emotion, calm but attentive. Darkar continued, "I then quietly sneaked out of the inn, creeping past the drunken figures who were either lying or sleeping on the floor. The streets were cold and desolate, there was a chill wind that bit deep into my bones - only my childish curiousity kept me venturing any further. It was only from the corner of my eye that I noticed a strange green incandescent glow emanating from the stables. I slowly approached the stables, but quickly hid when I saw that there was a strange figure standing there - he was clad in a black and red robe, had long golden locks and a short beard. I almost cried out when I saw that my parents were also there, but pure instinct kept me from doing so - my parents were not themselves...it was as if they were in a sort of trance. I could hear the robed figure whispering strange and arcane words, but then my parents started squirming, then screaming in agony as their flesh was torn apart by some unknown force and then all of a sudden it was over. My parents were gone. I was ready to wrench with anger, fear and frustation - at not being able to do anything. But I knew in my heart I had to know who it was."
"Galager."answered the ancient Magus."He was once my student, the most talented and dedicated of all my students, but now he is a renegade, an outcast - he had only one ambition in life, and that was to obtain ultimate power. He has stolen the most sacred and powerful tombs of Magi from the Grand library, murdered numerous beings in his quest for knowlege, experimented necromancy on countless others and is now seeking the Daranzger and the Ring of Caro. My regrets to your family, but what is your true purpose in coming here?" said the Magus, with a hollow voice.
"I will never forget that face and I have sworn an oath that one day I will avenge the death of my parents. But the suffering and torment carries on inside my head, knowing that after all these years of training will be for nought because Galager is a NECROMANCER! My weapons are useless against HIM! I know that the deaths of my parents mean nothing to you, but if you are able to help me I swear I will do everything in my power to retrieve the tombs of the Magi for you...." said Darkar, who was almost overwhelmed with emotion.
"A very interesting proposition. I agree."said the Magus calmly. He then reached into the drawer in his desk and took out two small items."But first take this crystal amulet - it will let you contact me when you need help most, my magicks can also be transfered from this amulet so take great care of it. When you need to contact me just focus your thoughts of the Nearix onto the amulet. Second - take this copper box and when you are in dire trouble just open it and it will equip you with an awesome array of battlegear and weaponry. You will need it for this most difficult task that is ahead."
Darkar relunctantly put the copper box into his pouch and placed the amulet around his neck, he had always been weary of sorcery and even more weary about sorcerors - but now was not the time to disagree or argue. "Now we will find the location of Galager, stand back!" said the Magus in a firm voice.
The ancient Magus stood up and cupped both his hands into the air, pulsating and electrostatic energy could be seen crackling from his hands. A magical picture appeared in front of Darkar, it was of Galager....headed towards Karackis.
The wind rustled Niicar's raven locks as he waited in the chill night air, suspended above the meadow on the sturdy branch. Goosebumps raised on the powerful young warrior's flesh and he shivered in the cold. The jaguar-hide loincloth and shirt did little to preserve his body heat, while the elven-steel helmet and shield acted as a direct conduit for the cold to pour into his skin. He tucked his doeskin booted feet tightly beneath him, cradling the enchanted katana in his lap.
Beneath him, a silver dragon looked about into the night sky, moonlight glittering beautifully off its scales. A deep-throated growl purred from his throat, like gravelled thunder beneath thick hide covering his throat. Niicar was certain that whatever the dragon had been waiting for had passed and that it was about to fly back into the heavens, unless the dragon hunter did something about it.
Sensing the time was now as good as it would ever be, Niicar threw himself into the air, tucking his sword and shield beneath him, and executing a forward flip, landing light as a panther on the balls of his feet, mere yards from the massive, dripping jaw of the dragon. The arc of his flip having caught the dragon's golden eyes, the dragon now peered malevolently at Niicar.
"Stripling... What are you about? Have you come to provide a meal for me?" Atlas' voice dripped sizzling fire... he followed it with a smoky chuckle. "If so, then I thank you. And if that was not your intention, I am most sorry...but you will be eaten nonetheless."
"I wouldn't be so sure about that, dragon." Niicar laughed grimly. "Rather, you should be aware that your long life is about to end." Niicar drew the glittering katana from its scabbard, its brilliant, ruby-studded hilt catching the moonlight for a moment.
"I have no time for your games, human."Atlas spat, shaking his head. Suddenly, his eyes caught sight of the blade of the katana, which had begun to glow with white fire. " What the....? The Blade of Kronoku?!!" Shock tinged the dragon's words...
"I see you have heard of my sensei, dragon," Niicar grinned wolfishly, debating mentally whether to take the non-traditional shield into battle with him. However, the fact that the shield was the only thing he had on him which was enchanted to withstand fire, Niicar decided quickly that the shield would indeed accompany his assault.
"Run away, child...I cannot harm a hair on a pupil of Kronoku'!" Atlas snapped, angry at himself for staying so long in this place that an encounter like this had presented itself.
"I am glad you see reason, dragon," the warrior responded, moving in with raised blade toward the dragon. "For you will be slain by me. I really do apologize, dragon, but I haven't eaten for days...and the teeth which you have in your very mouth will fetch such a price that I won't go hungry again for years, maybe ever!" He moved closer, hauling back the enchanted blade to sever the dragon's mighty head.
"You don't understand," the dragon sighed in exasperation, his body suddenly shimmering. Much to Niicar's shock, the dragon's body shrunk to the form of a broad-shouldered, muscular man with salt-and-pepper hair and matching beard. Kindly gray eyes stared beneath his brows and he almost seemed to remind Niicar of his own father. Despite the fact that the man who now stood in place of the dragon didn't seem at all ashamed of his nudity, he waved a hand and an occult light cloaked him translucently. The light then materialized into a dark brown cloak which hung to the grass of the meadow.
"What the...?" Niicar gasped, shocked out of his forward assault...his sword arm falling limply to his side, the blade cutting lightly into the grass at his feet.
"You and I must not fight, boy," Atlas explained to him, shaking his head. "The Silver Dragon clan, of whom I am the protector of, long ago allied themselves with the Yasseni clan, from which your sensei came from. As his student, I recognize you as one of his clan and, under mark of death, may not touch a hair on your head. Not to mention, I owe your sensei a personal debt of gratitude...for, if he had not helped me, I would have lost face forever among my kin."
"What?" Niicar asked, shock still evident in his eyes.
"Come. We have much to discuss, and so little time," Atlas drew near to him and began to explain...
"Whadda ye mean, there ain't no bars in this here town?" Drawled Lorr pleasantly, but in surprise.
"There ain't." The man poking his head out the door winced. "I mean there aren't. Leastwise none that are open right now. Forgarth's opens near dusk and the others open later. Some new idea they are trying; to attract new customers the Tavern Guild leaders say."
"Bloody..." Started Lorr.
"Watch yer tongue." Snapped Ivsa in the same dialect. "Ye canna keep speakin' like that in front o' goodly peoples like this here gentleman."
"Bah." Grumbled Lorr. Then, behind Ivsa's back, he looked at the man behind the door and made the universal sign for craziness, pointing at Ivsa.
The man stared at them both for a quick second and then slammed the door. Ivsa spun around. Lorr quickly dropped the goofy expression from his face and stared back at her with his normal bland expression. She frowned at him, but after a moment her lips split in a wide grin. "At least I now know that knock you took to the head last week didn't scramble your wits any."
"As if you've never been hit on the head with a quarterstaff before." Lorr responded. "And besides it's not like these people like clan dialect anyway. I thought perhaps we'd get a quicker answer out of him that way."
Ivsa had an odd expression on her face by this time. "And since we don't really want to find something to drink you irritate the bejeebers out of everyone."
Their talk was drawing attention from passing people so Ivsa grabbed Lorr by the collar and dragged him down the road until she found an alley. Shoving her twin down the deserted lane, she balled her fists. For each of their twenty-some years they had always brawled when unhappy with each other.
Catching his balance, Lorr glanced up at her. Chuckling to himself, he stood and shoved his sleeves up to his elbows in preparation. His sister's gasp told him what he had done. Quickly he pushed his sleeves back down over the revealing tattoos on his forearms and glanced quickly around, half-drawing his sword.
"We're clear." Ivsa's anxious voice came at his ear. "Just be more careful when we're in these bloody towns."
Lorr glanced over at his sister in surprise. She smiled ruefully. "Yeah, it's even getting to me now."
In most towns, even more so this one, those tattoos were a death sentence. Given one, as a result of being Found, and the other after passing the Warding Test, the tattoos marked those with the born ability to repel magic, of any kind. In a land full of sorcerers and necromancers, these people were hunted down by bounty hunters hired by the more ruthless of necromancers and left for dead staked where they were found.
Lorr wore both the green helix of being Found on his left arm and the purple shield of successfully passing the Test on his right. Ivsa as yet only wore the green helix. Searched out and helped by certain kindly magicians, those known as the Magebane were born with a potential to deflect magic but it had to be brought into the fore; a somewhat perilous task that could only be completed by exposing this gift to it's adversary: magic.
Ivsa flicked her red hair back off her face and laid a gentle hand on her brother's shoulder.
"We're safe. But I think that we had best be out of Karackis before nightfall."
Still unrelentingly tense, Lorr visibly attempted to calm himself. It had been a foolish plan anyway. Coming to Karackis; a town rumored to have been frequented by the reputedly now- dead necromancer Galager. They had planned to skip past this town on the way back into the highlands east of the Prondany Mountains where the clansmen were friendly to those like them; but delays on the road and spoiled food had caused them to change their minds.
Lorr glanced at his sister and saw that his thoughts were mirrored in the blue eyes that were twin to his own. He nodded and they headed for the end of the alley. Several tough-looking brutes stood at the end of it.
"What have we here?" Said the unshaven thug in the middle. The man to his right chuckled, showing he had only one tooth remaining. The man on the left bounced a spiked club from hand to hand.
"Looks like a little boy and his girl!" Leered the club-swinging man.
Ivsa glanced at Lorr and found him paralyzed. After such a recent scare, he was not mentally ready for a confrontation with anyone. Realizing what she had to do, Ivsa sneered back at the men. "Git ye gone, ye hear? I don' wanna see ye's here any longer. Git!"
The thugs eyes seemed to light up from inside. "Clansmen..." Breathed the man in the middle. He glanced swiftly at his comrades. "Your heads are worth three silver each to us. Come, give them up."
Ivsa glanced once at her brother. He stood with one hand clenched tightly around his sword hilt. His face was blanched so pale she might have thought him dead but for his rasping breath. He had lost his nerve after receiving the tattoos. He would be of no use. She drew both of her sabers with practiced ease and launched herself at the toothless goon. He died without a sound as one blade drove through his neck. The spiked club whistled past her ear as she dove past the middle man, slamming her other blade into his stomach. -Two down.- She thought, then pleading aloud, "Lorr!"
Her brother wasn't needed as the last thug tripped and spitted himself on one of her blades. Shrugging with disgust at their lowly skills, she quickly wiped and sheathed her blades.
"Let's go!" She urged.
Several minutes later, they stood on the edge of town. Lorr was finally looking more normal again; his face having regained it's normal coloring. They looked at the line of trees in front of them and Ivsa said, "Weren Forest. Do we enter? Going around will add a week to Dun Linoch."
As they stood deciding, a rider exited the dark pathways of the Forest. From this distance and through the gloom all they could make out was his red and black clothing.
"Looks like he made it through the Forest. I see no reason to go around." Said Lorr. "I want to get to Dun Linoch as fast as possible."
As they neared, Lorr shivered. He grabbed his sister and set off at a right angle to the pathway.
The rider in red and black paused as they headed into the waist-high grass and then urged his horse after them.
Atlas led him off the path into a clearing where the young warrior stood shivering as the shock of the encounter began to take effect. "Sit down boy" commanded the older man, "while I build a fire." When the blaze was lit he said "Do you carry any water?"
"Yes," Niicar replied, "There is a flask on the saddle of my horse." He gestured to where his mount was tied some hundred yards off.
Atlas went and retrieved the water bottle, returning in addition with a pot and a leather wallet containing tea bags. "You travel prepared for the honourable tea ceremony," he remarked as he proceeded to boil the water.
"I cannot drink tea with you." Niicar said suddenly. "I have sworn revenge on all dragons for the death of my master, Kronoku."
"But Kronoku was my friend!" Atlas protested "And your words bring me nothing but grief at his loss."
"You may well say that," replied the youth "but how can I know that you are not trying to deceive me in order to steal my sword?"
"Because I did not kill you and take it."
"How do you know that you could have done that? I have made an oath. One that I cannot break."
"The intemperance of youth!" the older man said. "Do you not know that there are many, many species of dragon? You cannot take up arms against them all."
"I have sworn" said the warrior "to wreak vengeance on all dragons until I die."
"Ah. Not for long, then." said the older man "Especially if you approach them in the way you attacked me. Have you fought a dragon before?"
"You may scorn me for my inexperience," replied Niicar, "but my heart is brave enough and my sword would soon have found your fiery heart had you not cravenly transformed into an evil sorceror."
Atlas raised his hand, as if to exert a force against the lad but thought better and smiled. "Here," he said, "take this cup of tea. If, for your oath I must do without, then so be it. Now tell me how died my ancient friend, Kronoku."
"He was killed, brave in battle, by a fiery dragon, on a quest as we searched for the Dazragner. We had left the field of Ordin at the end of the battle. Our army had suffered defeat but we retreated in good order and we could not wait with them as winter drew on. We had a chart directing us to the Tombs of the Magi, but as we approached there was no sign of them.
"Fearing detection we made a cold camp but as we slept, we were surprised by the dragon. My master had no time to draw his katana so he attacked with the wakizashi. He fought brave as a tiger but in the end he was lost. I attempted to aid him. Alas, my sword was but an import of the west and it could not pierce the dragon's hide."
"What was the colour," asked Atlas "of this dragon? Was it silver as I, or was it gold of the sun, or red, or green?"
"None of the above" the lad replied. "It was a light blue as of a mountain sky with a crest of black and red, a circlet of gold upon its head and lank golden hair."
"That was no dragon," spat Atlas "That was the treacherous necromancer, Galager, transmorphed. He would not have dared to attack Kronoku when your master was awake."
"But if he was no dragon, why would he have attacked our camp? We carried nothing of any value."
"He knew of your quest. You say the word Dazragner lightly, boy, for you do not know its meaning. What you refer to is the Daranzger, and you would do well to quail at the sound of the word."
"What, then, is this Daranzger?"
"The Daranzger is a mystery, boy. It is that which it is not. It is the greatest power of this world, and the greatest danger. It was old when I was a hatchling dragon. It is new as tomorrow's dawn. It is the Tombs of the Magi, and it is not. It is that which you cannot understand, but only experience."
"It is an object, then, of great value?"
"To a fool, it is worth less than nothing. To the wise, it is worth everything."
"If it is the Tombs of the Magi why did we not find it?"
"I do not know that. But even if you stood before it, without the Ring of Nurgall, it is impossible to see the Daranzger."
"This very night, as it happens, many men - good men and evil, brave and cowards, honest men and women and thieves search for the Ring. And it is near. For centuries men have given their lives in search of the Ring of Nurgall. And now it is on the move."
The girl in the dull red cloak ran just ahead of him, swift as the wind. She didn't seem to tire at all. Just when the massive rumbling sound seemed about to deafen him, he saw a hermit's small wooden hut, omniously placed in the middle of a circle of stones.
The girl burst through the door and slammed it shut as soon as he leaped inside.
The noise became painful. The girl started to stuff the folds of her cloak against her ears. He pulled back the flap of ragged cloth on the window and looked outside.
There were thousands of them. Death knights, some with bits of flesh still clinging to the bone, all dressed for battle, rode the remains of horses. Other corpses flew on the backs of long-dead dragons, death drakes. Some rode indescribable creatures, or rather the remains of creatures. One skeletal horse tripped, its bones mixed with the rider's. Suddenly, the bones started to reform back into the original shapes.
He estimated that, had it been a normal human army, it would be fifty thousand strong. He knew now why the swords of two adventurers, unless they were enchanted with some sort of mass distruction spells, were useless.
The strange thing was, as soon as any warrior of the army of death was about to enter the circle of leaning stones, they vanished completely. He looked in the opposite direction and saw them reappear just outside the protective area.
It seemed like forever, but eventually the last death knight dissapeared into the forest and the sound faded.
The girl stood up, her cloak falling back to normal. "They seem to enter Weren Forest more frequently now. They are still searching. By the way, what's your name?"
"Prince Islor, although my kingdom might not even exist anymore." Even after all he managed to live through, Islor was still stunned at the army of rotting corpses. The girl was right, there was no way to escape them except this hut. He stared at the girl, her cloak still showed spots of crimson underneath a layer of dirt. "What is your name?"
The girl thought for a moment, then slowly started to smile. "Welcome to my house, the name is Caro the Artificer, and I believe that is my ring you're holding."
Gimlet reeled back as the arrow had almost got its mark. A voice called out "Halt, who goes there?"
"Zephanor? Is that you? It's me, Eshna. I've come to see my sister."
"Eshna? Is that you?" A small dwarvish face peered out. "Eshna it is!!!" At this a little armored dwarf came running out and hugged Gimlet's leg. To see Zephanor in armour was quite a sight. Gimlet was worried about it tho'. Something must be wrong indeed if even Zephanor is in armour. "Where is Nataly? " he asked of the dwarf.
"Oh, your sister? She's in her house. Things are happening here. But I won't talk here about it. Gotta get back to my duty. Oh Eshna?"
"Eltano is dead."
Oh God, this came as a blow. Zephano went back into hiding. Eshna continued down the path and soon came to his sister's house. It was a little ways from the main of Spider's hollow. A fire was burning, for he could see smoke coming from the chimney. The smell of roast mutton was drifted out of the window taunting Eshna. Oh, what had he done?? Gimlet hurried up to the door and knocked on it. The shadows off of the forrest were playing tricks on him. He just wanted the rest of his former home. The door opened. Oh ... her!
"Eshna! Everyone its Eshna!" Keelan drew him into the house. Keelan was so excited she just gave him a huge kiss. She had missed him so much! After the embrace, Gimlet looked about the house. Around the table was an assembly. At the head of the table was Nataly, his sister. Nataly did not look pleased to see him. Gimlet grimaced when he saw his sister's reaction. There were five people sitting on either side of the table. Gimlet recognized most of them, but two or three he did not. A map was sitting on the table, and it was obvious they were using it for the sake of this council. Kelkortay looked at him from across the table.. "Keelan, back to the cooking!" he told his daughter.
"You heard me!"
"Yes Poppa." Keelan sighed, but did as her father commanded. Of course, not before stealing a quick kiss from Eshna. She went back to the fire and continued the task of cooking the mutton.
"Eshna, what do you want?" asked Nataly. Her voice had the tone of indifference.
Gimlet went over and sat down at the table. "Galager. He's back. Things are happening out there. Where is it?"
"You really think I'm that stupid, Eshna? Spider's Hollow has its own problems without dealing with yours." Nataly spoke.
"What's this council for?" asked Gimlet.
Deephon looked at him. "To decide what to do about this mess! Had you been around you would know!"
"Know? Know what?"
"Eshna, in your absence to the outside, things have been changing in Spider's Hollow. We've assembled together to decide what to do. The prophecies are about to come true! Do you know what that means?? The kingdom of Isnadoray is about to come into restoration! If this is not conduted carefully, it might delay the fulfillment of it," said Nataly. Her eyes shone bright when she was saying this. But then they quickly darkened. "Why are you back?" she asked.
"To see you. To get your help!"
"Why?" asked Nataly.
"I need council." Gimlet said. "But first, tell me why this is here?"
Kelkortay looked at him. "Listen, we're debating what to do here. From the times, Karontos is about to spring."
Katarn spoke. "My children, they're out there right now. In Karackis. They're making for Dun Linoch. They're getting ready, preparing. Before this is all said and done, you know Taranto [the fortress of Dun Linoch] will back Spider Hollow up in its fight. I've sent them on to intercede for us. According to the prophecy it said those chosen Two of the Found will join forces with a wizard from Taranto to aid the Hollow. We will have military allegiance with Taranto before it is all said and done. Darkar is out in Nearix. The Magus retook Nearix!"
"No! How could he?" asked Delonte. "That was Galager's kingdom!"
"Hoo hoo! Whoa hoa hoa! I think Eshna could tell us of that, could he not? Whoa hoa hoa!" Gimlet recognised it immediately. Asno. Gimlet looked about but could not see him. Asno then flew through the window. He hadn't changed much since Gimlet has last seen him.
"How do you know, Asno?" Eshna asked.
"Oh Eshna, I have ears and eyes always opened! Many many friends. I have heard stories of you, bad stories. Now what would your father have thought of that?" asked the owl.
"Yeah, I know. Where is Dad?" asked Eshna.
"Eltano is dead. You know that Eshna. Just from the knowledge of the prophecies you would have to know that. Your father, he was preparing us for this time. We must act!" said Asno. "I'm much older than your father, and I was his chosen counsellor. He told me we must act fast, or it will be lost!"
Denza asked, "What's happened so far?"
Nataly then recounted the current situations that were occuring. "These are what the prophecies speak of. This is what he is trying for. Korontos is about to make his attack. He is makin' sure everything is right. Galager, he's nothin' but a pawn. In fact, most of these situations Korontos is just puttin' out there to weaken us. He wants us to get so distracted with all of this that we'll be followin' these rabbit trails instead of lookin' for him. He's be waiting a long time for this, and he's not gonna blow it. Unless we get these people lined out and where they're supposed to be, we're gonna lose the Daranzger. With the Daranzger he's pretty much got this world under control. We gotta get these people where they're supposed to be. Caro and Islor gotta be ready to strike so we can get his kingdom founded and Spider Hollow won't be needed anymore. The prophecy goes like this:
When the descendent of Nelyen is in league with a Ringmaker Be wary, for the evil is about To make the onslaught against This Holy allegiance.
Besides she is here."
Kelkortay spoke. "Eshna, why are you here? Whattaya you want? What did you do to Galager after you left?"
Gimlet looked sullen before he spoke. "Well, Nearix was prospering. Thought I would try to steal some of its wealth. I became very trusted of Galager. Then in a mine shaft I tried to kill him. I don't know how he survived. He wants it. The Daranzger. I have to know where its at Nataly."
Nataly smiled grimly. "Selfish to the last, aren't you? You know what would happen if Galager got it? In the end Karontos would get it. All of these people are small time when you compare them to Karontos. These people, in themselves they're not dangerous. But they will fool around and end up losing it to Karontos. Then we've lost.
Keelan looked up from her mutton. "Who is Karontos?"
Anso looked at her. "Karontos is one of the Fallen. The Daranzger, he helped partake in it, and helped to wrought it. He's evil. Eluva the Maker had thrown him from heaven, and darkness overtook the land of our world. I am one of the Kelavar. This is what Karontos was before he fell. Oh, Galager and all them are insignificant compared to Karontos. Even if Galager got it, inevitably he would lose it and himself to Karontos. We must fight!"
"Listen, Spider's Hollow needs to do what it's made for. Atlas is out and is searching, and is in league, or soon will be if it has not already happened, with Niicar. Those two twins, they're in Karackis right now. This has to be a time of unlikely alliances, and will be according to the prophecies of old." Kelkortay spoke
"Then what am I to do? There'll be hell to pay for me. I know Galager. I don't want to cross him again!" spoke Eshna.
Asno looked at him. "My son, it is time. You're to be redeemed. This is your chance. You're the son of Eltano. We need you. Spider's Hollow is in dire need of it."
Dezna, the Elven Lord, looked up at Asno. "What exactly is this made for?"
"Well they made it to protect the Daranzger. Sis and Asno are the only ones who know where the Daranzger's at. I know for a fact it's in Weren. I've seen it once. Listen, I don't know if I can do this. I am going to fall back if I don't have help."
Kelkortay stood up hastily. He pointed his finger at Eshna in anger. "Why did you come back? How do we know you're not just lying again? Huh? Answer me this!! My own daughter, you married her! And you left her! Then you come waltzing back in like nothing's happened! What about Elstanoth [Gimlet's son] and Etelya [Gimlet's daughter]?"
Asno looked at him in anger. "Kelkortay! Now is not the time for this. We have more pressing business at hand!"
"Yeah Poppa, leave Eshna alone! So my husband made some mistakes. So what?" spoke Keelan.
Then from back in the back room Gimlet heard some moaning. He went to the back room. Eshna could not believe what he saw. It was Saara! And she was pregnant, and miserable. Galager's daughter was here!"
"Saara, its me, Gimlet." Saara looked up at him groggily. "Islor? Sweetheart, is that you?" She was definitelty out of it, so he left and returned back to the table.
"What is she doin' here?" he asked.
"Saara is pregnant with Islor's child. They're married. But sundered. They can't be reunited until Islor's kingdom is restored. That is why Spider's Hollow must be prepared!" said Nataly.
"I'm goin' in the back. Keelan, come on." Eshna got up and left. He and Keelan left and went outside. So much to talk about! So much to forgive. Eshna knew what he had to do. He was so used to his evil ways it would be hard to overcome. Things were really going to have to change for him to do what was right. He knew that Gimlet needed to be abandoned. Gimlet was his old self. He had adopted that name when he had originally left Spider's Hollow and went with Galager to Nearix. It was against Eltano's wishs that his son go with Galager. But Galager and even the Magus were no match for what they were up against! Eshna and Keelan walked hand in hand under the trees. He wanted to see his children. They then embraced and gave each other a long full kiss, and then set about to talking.
Chapter Thirteen (by Dave J)
As Galager exited Weren Forest, he felt a sudden ferocious itch at the back of his neck. Ahead, on the path into Karackis, he saw a pair of people veer off. As the itch receded, he turned his horse in their direction. Slowly, he felt the itch increase again as he neared them. With a sudden insight, the necromancer realized what they were; Magebane. He jerked back on the reins so hard that the horse reared up, nearly unseating him.
He quickly headed back into town where he went in search of one of the various bounty hunters he had employed in the past. Meanwhile, outside of town, Lorr gasped for breath. The itch on his forearms had almost caused him to scratch through his skin. "A necromancer!"
"Perhaps losing ourselves in Weren Forest is not such a good idea." Ivsa replied as she watched the necromancer spur his horse away.
"On the contrary, I think going into the Forest would be better. We would be off this open road. Whatever, or whoever, he sends after us would see us from miles away." Two minutes later, they passed through the first trees marking the edge of the forest. Instantly, everything was much darker.
They hurried on their way until Lorr finally said, "Let's stop for a while. I'm hungry." Moving a short distance off the path, the brother and sister leaned against a tree and rummaged through their packs for food. Between bites, Ivsa commented, "You know, I really don't see what gives this forest its reputation. I feel perfectly safe here." Before Lorr could reply, something dropped out of the tree from above their heads. As they scrambled to their feet grabbing at weapons, the little being chortled. At least they assumed it was a laugh of some sort.
"Why are you here? Why?" The little being said in rapid, high-pitched speech.
Lorr and Ivsa glanced at each other in amazement. When the little being repeated its question again, Ivsa replied haltingly, "We journey home."
"Where from? Where, where?"
"From the Purple Towers of Magick." Replied Ivsa before she thought.
"Ooooooh!" Whistled the little being. "Then you must come with me."
And before they could stop it, the being had leapt forward and pushed up Lorr's sleeves. With a quick movement, it did the same to Ivsa. It laughed again, more amused this time. "Yes, yes, come, come. I take you to my home. Yes yes!" The little creature grinned, its mouth extending far wider than they would have first expected. Now that they had a second after recovering their composure, they saw that the little creature was covered almost totally in orange fur. There were two spots, one near each elbow that were a greenish color. It's eyes were black and it came up to Ivsa's waist.
"Wait!" Cried Ivsa. "Who, what, are you?"
The little creature grinned again. It's razor teeth shown to great advantage. "I am Aeriomintar." The creature laughed again. "Have you never heard of Shaltois before?" Lorr looked at his sister."Shaltois?" Looking back at Aeriomintar, he said, "A Beastie of the Near Lands?"
Aeriomintar spat at his feet. "NO! No. Shaltois! Beasties are uncouth monsters with no intelligence. Bah, no no I am Aeriomintar, Duke of the Lesser Reaches!" He spat again on the ground. "Come come. We need to go now!"
He grabbed their hands, and with remarkable agility sprang up and pressed a spot on the tree before him with one of his clawed feet. Remarkably, the tree folded over without a sound, leaving a wide hole down through the trunk. Aeriomintar grinned and pulled them into the hole. They dropped several feet into a heap unto dirt. When Ivsa and Lorr reached their feet they gasped together in surprise. Not for the last time did the brother and sister feel in awe while in the Shaltois' presence. Extending for a distance to both sides of them were huge tunnels. They sloped downward until they created a passageway nearly twenty feet tall, entirely underground. Every several yards along the side was a small lantern lighting the way. Aeriomintar grinned and said, "Come come. We go now!"
He set off seemingly at random, swinging his arms gaily. Seeing no reason against, Lorr and Ivsa set off after the odd little creature.
"Where are we headed?" Asked Ivsa.
"To see the Mistress of course." Replied Aeriomintar. "To eat. To sleep. To visit the Mistress of course." He grinned at her. "Come come."
They walked for several hours, passing through several forks in the passageway. Each time they chose the opposite fork of the last time; right, left, right, left. Finally, they reached a large vaulted area. For some minutes they had heard the rushing sound of water, and now they found the source. A waterfall dropped downward into the depths of the earth from a river on the other side of the cavern. Water sprayed out from the fall, misting their bodies as they moved through the huge cavern.
The Shaltois made annoyed sounds as he tried to wipe the mist from his fur. "Eh eh eh, I will not dry for weeks. What a fool for coming this way!" He grinned up at them. When Lorr seemed inclined to stop and look at the waterfall, Aeriomintar whistled. "No no. keep up! Come come."
Another length of time passed, this one much shorter than the last. They finally stopped in another large cavern. This one had large roots in one wall. They appeared to be a ladder. At the top was a small circle of daylight. The Shaltois grinned at them and said, "Up up. Go up to Mistress."
Shrugging, Ivsa led the way up the roots. They were large roots, speaking of a huge tree to have roots of that size. The climb was short, and the roots were large enough that neither had problems. As they emerged into the light, they could still hear the little creature complaining about his wet fur. They stood blinking their eyes to adjust to the increase in light. When they could see, they found themselves standing just outside a yard surrounded by a circle of stones. And there was indeed a huge tree next to them. Though there was an ominous feel to the air, the small wood hut within the circle seemed to be more cheerful somehow. Or perhaps it was just the sight of habitation and a chance to sit in a chair after the long walk.
Lorr glanced at Ivsa. "Shall we?"
But as they turned to approach closer, he felt the skin of his forearms begin to itch. Nowhere near as bad as with the necromancer before entering the forest, but he grasped Ivsa's shoulder.
"One sorcerer, maybe more, is in there."
Ivsa pursed her lips. "Well, they probably know we are here then as well. I think we should chance it."
"Alright." Lorr grabbed a saber with one hand and moved to knock on the door with the other. "Out of the frying pan and into the fire."
Ivsa smiled. "Hopefully that fire won't burn."