Warnings: Less carnal fun than in the prior stories, by far. Still plenty of bloodshed, plot, twists, and developments though! Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
She seldom slept anymore, such was her power that she needed little of it. She walked through the chambers of the once mighty castle, her flawless ebony skin a sharp contrast to the gleaming white marble of the passages. It rang hollow and empty, the memory of the laughter and the language of her kind long since having faded. In its place was the rustling noise of the movement of her servants, the harshness of their guttural language, and the smell of their fur. She longed for the old days at times like this, yet the longing always reminded her of what he had taken from her. It reminded her of the unending prison she endured.
And so her anger made her stride quicken. Her white silken skirts, no more then a long loin cloth really, trailed behind her as she made her way through the hall and came out into the courtyard in front of the castle. The magic of the place remained, keeping it well maintained and free of the ravages of time. The mighty gates loomed ahead of her, though they stood open as they often did in times of peace. Without lay the mightiest city Viconia had ever seen, home to the might of the most powerful race of beings Viconia had ever known.
She cursed and moved forward, walking purposefully to the gates. The might and glory had been for nothing. In their foolishness her husband and his brother had turned from the path of power and victory and fought against those who knew that the rightful legacy of the elves was to rule all of Viconia. The ensuing civil war had broken both peoples, though in the end the dragons had come to the aid of her side and forced her foolish husband's brother into retreat. Her husband himself had been slain in battle, killed by none other then her lover.
Of her there had been no word. She had been imprisoned for hundreds of years behind the spells of the strongest of elven archmages. But they underestimated her power as well, for she had studied long and hard and found the weakness in their spells. She cancelled their wards at last, only to find herself still trapped.
Kalista stopped and looked upwards from the great plaza she stood in. Looming over her, indeed over all of Thoragloorin, was an impenetrable shield of mystical blue energy. Nothing could penetrate it, not beast nor magic. And the key to the shield lay before her. She gazed hatefully at the fountain rising from the middle of the plaza. It towered over her, 45 feet tall at the tip of the golden dragon statuette at it's center. Surrounding the gold statue were four others, each only 30 feet tall themselves and each of a separate metallic nature. One was copper, another bronze, a third brass, and the fourth was silver. Water flowed from the mouths of all of them save the gold into the pool beneath, and from their it flowed to a stream that turned into a mighty waterfall hundreds of feet high at the edge of the plaza that drained into the idyllic lake below.
On the head of the gold dragon her gaze remained fixed. A beautiful crown fashioned of an alloy of the same metals the five colossal dragon statues were made of. It sported five gleaming gemstones as well of a size so large as to make them pricelessly unique. A ruby, an emerald, a sapphire, a diamond, and a black pearl. The crown was that magic that maintained the seal separating Thoragloorin from Viconia, and the crown itself was protected by great magics she could not penetrate. Indeed, she could come no closer then 15 feet to the tower herself, and her servants were halted from within 5 feet of it.
She cursed and stared over the city that was her domain. It remained timeless and forever frozen in beauty, yet it was also lifeless. Other beings remained, even a few that had wandered in from the outside over the years, but escape was impossible. Of those who remained they stayed to themselves and sought no quarrel with her. She was the undisputed Queen of Thoragloorin, something undisputed thanks to both her magic and her powerful army.
Back when the elves had ruled Viconia and been contested only by orcs, giants, ogres, and some dragons they had a race of servants known as doguren. The doguren were short, standing little over three feet tall, and looked a cross between a dog and a elf. Covered in fur and with long snouts, they possessed the arms and legs of a humanoid and a simple intelligence. When Myragordamar's brother, King Thindamar Risingmoon renounced the proper path of the elves he had likewise ordered all doguren set free to do as they would. Many remained behind, however, content in their servitude, only more so now that they would be treated more kindly.
The doguren that had served Kalista remained with her as well, though she had magically bound them to her. They bred and reproduced, encouraged by her magic over the thousands of generations into larger and more capable creatures. Now they stood nearly 7 feet tall and possessed powerful muscles and thick hides. Most importantly they numbered in the thousands and each one would die for her gladly. She was their Goddess.
But that cheered her little. They all were prisoners. When the elves had been banished they had put up such wards as were present to forever separate Thoragloorin from the world. Kalista was forgotten in the process, sealed away like so many of the ancient elven riches she now possessed that were worthless to her. Thousands of years had passed and she waited, brooding and increasing her magic. The blessing of immortality was also a curse, she had realized long ago.
Elvanshalee clenched her teeth through the searing pain of the contraction, forcing her mind to stay calm. She was alone in her tower, the tower she had raised with her own hands and magic from the very earth that had been the center of her mother's sacred grove. If she were to lose her concentration now all that she had worked for would be lost; years of sacrifice and toil for a greatness that was beyond anything any elf had achieved in their life.
On the edge of her consciousness she remembered what she had been forced to endure to reach the point she was now at. It had been costly, but if it was more so in her pride and self identity than it was in pain and blood, it was only by a narrow margin.
Her interest in dragonkind had been with her since she was a child. It only grew as she grew, and having the honor of fighting alongside Luingirth against Ancaruin was something she considered the pinnacle achievement of her life. Nothing could surpass it, until another idea occurred to her after having overhead one of Garrick's many lewd comments to Luingirth.
Five years spent in research and what little experimentation she could undertake yielded some partial results to her. During her time spent in solitude she sought no one for advice or companionship except for Luingirth. He was an ancient dragon, by elven or dragon standards, yet his youthful demeanor was surely the cause of his bond with Kelnozz Risingmoon, or as most knew him, the King of the Elves. She shared some of her research with him, and in the end after finally confiding all of it to him he filled in the missing blanks with his eons of knowledge he had amassed.
Elvanshalee sought to merge her magic with that of the world, magic that dragons were able to easily pull upon. Magic that Alesha could harness with ease, much to Elvanshalee's annoyance. Alesha, a mere human woman that rose far above her station and her worth. Beyond even that which her mortality should allow for potential. Such a short lived race, humans, yet a few did seem to shine from time to time and burned so brightly that they left spots in the vision of others for generations to come. Alesha was one of those, as was Yamara, the troubled and somewhat surly rogue that Elvanshalee had felt the most kinship too, if only for her aloofness.
Her thoughts were forced back to the matter at hand as she endured another contraction. It would be soon now, she knew it. Elves typically carried a child for nearly 2 years before giving birth. This one had come much quicker, no doubt a legacy of it's unnatural parentage. She had cast her auguries and done her best to divine the nature of it, but even her mightiest magics could learn nothing of it. She was at a loss.
She had considered destroying the child as soon as it was conceived, reaching inside of her with a tendril of her magic and dispatching it. But, at the behest of Luingirth she had abstained. That was her end of the deal, in fact, that whatever fruit was born of there unnatural and highly magical union would be allowed the chance to survive. Luingirth was not as his kin, thus he would never find another blue dragon with which to mate. Instead they had used their individual shape shifting magics to allow such a union to take place.
The contractions were coming quicker then. She bore down and muttered barely heard words that soothed the pain and eased the babies progress through her birth canal. It was still another half an hour before the crying child emerged fully into the world. She studied it through exhausted eyes and noted somewhat clinically that it was a girl. A girl with dark skin and eyes the color of shimmering sapphires. Black hair was wetly plastered to her head. Elvanshalee breathed deeply and wrapped the baby in a rag, cleaning the mucus and blood from it.
She studied it briefly before speaking softly in elvish. "Your name shall be Vanya, little one, and your life shall be filled with harshness and toil, but I promise you that I shall do everything I can to prepare you for it."
She slid a dagger through the umbilical cord then, severing it instantly so magically sharp was it. Instantly she felt a surging tremor within her. Elvanshalee gasped as she felt another contraction nearly double her over. She set her daughter on the table beside her and felt her insides scream at her, forcing her tortured muscles to push anew. In a matter of only a few moments this time she gave birth again, though this time it was something that caused her eyes to widen in fear and amazement. It was over a foot in length and oval shaped. The membrane surrounding it was torn from the tremors of the birthing, and it slid wetly off of where it lay between her legs on the ruined cloth.
Although smaller than she would have though possible there was no mistaking it; it was a dragon egg.
"Bobo!" screamed the second mate of the elven caravel, Dolphinchaser, in warning.
Bobocateya thrust his rapier through the stomach of the human pirate and spun around gracefully to see what the warning was about. To late he realized he was out of position to deal with the new threat, a large man wielding a crudely fashioned short sword that resembled a meat cleaver.
Bobo spun away and threw up his arm with the small buckler on it to try and deflect the descending edge away from him. His maneuver saved his life, but cost him his sword hand as the heavy blade glanced off the buckler and sheared through the wrist of his other arm as he tried to bring his rapier to bear. Bob fell back, stunned by the numbing devastation to his arm. He held it up, watching the blood spurt from it, in shocked wonder, and was only spared death by an archer from the as-yet unengaged forecastle skewering his latest assailant.
The second mate, Halidor, was there then, forcing his way through the crowd of combatants with only a few scratches. He pulled Bobo closer to the forecastle, where they were in a small isle of calm amidst the battle, and cursed loudly and repeatedly while tearing the straps off of the buckler Bobo wore and tying them around his pulsing stump in an attempt to lessen the flow of blood.
"You're father's going to have my skin for letting you get injured like this, now stay out of the way lest he demands my life for letting you get run through by a pirate!" The mate growled, tightening down on the strap so instead of a steady spurt of blood it was reduced to a trickle.
"Stay low and pray a healer survives the battle, Prince."
Bobo stared absently after the retreating second mate. Already he was back in battle, though he kept an eye on the prince and stayed close in case any of the pirates attempted to attack him. Bobo's attention was soon drawn back to his blood stump, wondering how it was possible that such an injury could have occurred. To him, of all people! Such things were not suppose to happen to him.
All his life Bobocateya Risingmoon had lived in the shadow of his mother and father. Two great people of unsurpassed skill and power, let alone station. Only his unique legacy of being the only half-human, half-elven person on all of Viconia had kept him from being forgotten by his childhood friends and tutors. He had to be special, it was in his blood!
And so for all of his childhood and young adulthood Bobo had gone out of his way to prove that he was worthy of his heritage. He took risks where others would not, he would run harder, drink longer, force himself to greater feats of endurance, and generally try to outdo anyone around him. His life was one of constant contest. He did battle on whatever field he found himself on, including those in his mind. In spite of that he often lost, though by any means he gave a good accounting of himself and, in the case of a true contest, would often finish near the top.
But the hand on his sword arm was an insult as well as an injury. Not thinking, he tried to clench his missing fist, something he often did when he was frustrated. The numbness faded as his torn muscles tried to obey him, making tears come to his eyes and dropping him to his knees with the pain of it.
After several long moments of clutching the bloody stump he looked up and vaguely noticed the battle was nearly over. Only a few pirates survived, the elves were seasoned naval veterans and outnumbered the pirate frigate by almost half again their number. It was a foregone conclusion, but still the pirates had put up a fierce battle when it became apparent they could not escape.
The rear bombard on the pirate ship had only been able to fire once, narrowly missing the Dolphinchaser, before keen elven eyes sent arrows into the crew that worked it, slaying them and keeping others away. The elves' fore mounted bombard then fired with impunity, striking three times before the pirates came about and all but crashed into the side of the Dolphinchaser.
The pirates fought to the last man, unwilling to suffer the mercy elves showed pirates, which was to swing from a yardarm by a rope about the. In a matter of minutes the fight was over and the cries of the wounded went up. Halidor returned to the prince and helped him to his feet. The puddle of blood under him was sizeable, but one way or another he would survive, even if the second mate had to sear the wound shut.
On their way to the aft cabin where the healers kept a makeshift infirmary they heard a cry go up. Halidor pushed forward, to hear the news that their high priest had fallen to a stray shot from a pistol. He cursed and turned back to Bobo, who looked about confused and uncertain. Halidor frowned and pulled the boy back forward towards the officer's ready room.
"Prince, you need to stay with me now, fight off the shock," Halidor said once they were near the doorway and out of immediate earshot of the others.
Bobo looked at the man, only vaguely aware of him. He felt so tired and weak he just wanted a chance to rest and let the dream he was in unfold so he could wake up and be back to normal. His fantasy was shattered abruptly when Halidor's fist crashed into the side of his jaw, snapping him fully into reality.
"My apologies, my Prince, but it's for your own good," Halidor said, staring intently at him. "The priest is dead, My Lord, and I'm afraid you're not much better off unless we take care of that arm."
Bobo glanced down at his throbbing arm, understanding what was happening but still at a loss for why it had happened and how it could possibly happen to him. He took a deep shuddering breath and forced himself to stay calm. What would his father have done in his situation?
"We've no magic to restore it here, make it a clean cut, Halidor, and burn it shut," Bobo said, fighting back the tears of frustration, terror, and pain admirably.
Halidor nodded, smiling grimly for reassurance, and turned to the door. Bobo pulled back, stopping him. "No, let us do it on the deck so the others can see."
"Why, My Lord?" Halidor asked, not understanding.
"We are all the same, my friend," Bobo said, some of the weariness from blood loss and extreme stress beginning to creep back into his mind. "Let them see that I am treated no different then anyone else would be."
Halidor nodded. He had been told that his charge was stubborn and obstinate at times. It appeared that could be both a blessing and a curse. He just hoped the boy was not trying to show off, as he had been known to do from time to time.
"Make a hole!" Halidor called out, leading the wounded prince back onto the deck. The sailors fell away, noticing finally the grievous wound that Bobo had taken. Whispers rushed through the crowd, soon falling to silence.
The captain and the remaining healer, little more then an acolyte studying under the priest, came forward. Bobo knelt down and raised his hand alongside the main mast. The captain stepped forward and studied it while Halidor silently drew his cutlass.
"Prince, are you sure of this? If we make best speed we can be back in port in less then a week. With a steady tourniquet, a little luck, and the efforts of Acolyte Pariloosia, you should make it, where it can be healed properly," the captain said, doubting his own words but not wanting to run the risk of upsetting the heir to the throne. Kelnozz was respected, admired, and followed gladly. His son was somewhat of an upstart though, and needed much tempering before he would be half the leader his father was, let alone a quarter of the warrior.
"We have work to do, Captain, and that does not include returning to port 3 weeks shy. Par is a fine healer but this is no simple wound," Bobo said, surprising himself with the strength in his voice.
"That's your sword arm, Highness, you'll never wield your rapier again," the captain reminded him, offering him one final chance, though he was secretly impressed with the maturity Bobo was displaying.
Bobo's eyes fell on the pistol tucked into Captain Dilmornigest's belt and an idea came to him. "I'll have to learn to wield it with my left hand then, I suppose. Besides, there are other uses for this once it's taken care of."
The captain searched Bobo's eyes and nodded. He turned to Halidor and nodded as well, giving him permission to proceed. Par stepped forward then and summoned up what remained of her healing magic. She touched Bobo's arm and channeled it into him, surprising herself with the severity of the wound. Her blessing touch brought a cool relief to him and gave him a few moments free of pain while her magic cleaned out any potential infection and secured life in the remaining tissue.
When the healer backed away Halidor waited for Bobo to nod to him again. He drew his cutlass back and let it swing forward, guided with all his strength and aimed with years of experience tempered in countless battles. The blow fell as intended, shortening Bobo's forearm by another 2 inches but letting it end in a stub instead of a sharply angled spike.
Bobo gritted his teeth and felt the bone jarring blow land. He stared at his arm and pulled it to himself, cradling it with his uninjured hand. Halidor wrenched his cutlass away from the mainmast and reached down to help the prince to his feet. Bobo rose unsteadily, blood dripping through his fingers to the deck. A brazier with glowing coals was being fetched and in a moment it was sitting beside him. Bobo glanced over and saw that his rapier had been broken at some point during the battle after he had dropped it. He gestured towards it and someone brought him the hilt of it. He thrust the hilt into the brazier and let his arm hang at his side, dripping blood steadily to the deck.
The burning agony he felt was nothing compared to the cleansing fire he endured when he pulled the broken blade from the fire and pressed it firmly against the bloody wound, searing the veins and blood vessels shut. He gritted his teeth so tightly he saw spots and nearly blacked out from the ferocity of it. Tears streamed from his eyes but through it all he made no sound. Then he was done, his arm ending in a charred and blackened stump. Several of the elves had to back away, the smell of burnt flesh was overpowering.
"Now to bed with you, My Lord," Halidor said, reaching out to hold onto Bobo as he swayed uncertainly. Bobo nodded and let himself be led to the healer's room where he would lay in rest for several days recovering his strength. His last vision before he fell asleep was a memory of a strange amulet he had seen one of the pirates wearing. It was carved out of a black rock, perhaps onyx or obsidian, and resembled a squid.
"Fool boy is always trying to prove himself," Kelnozz muttered, staring out the window of his and Alesha's palatial bedroom. Alesha smirked behind him and approached.
"No, my love, Bobo is always trying to impress you."
Kelnozz turned, scowling. "I have no need of being impressed, why doesn't he understand that? We are elves, we live for ages beyond imagining, he has time to enjoy life and to be just a boy."
"You forget, he is not an elf as you are. And I am no elf at all," Alesha reminded him. "He has grown up as I expected he would, as a human child would. Our lives are short and we are always in a hurry to leave our mark upon the world."
Kelnozz scoffed. "What of you? You're closing in on 140 years of age and look every bit the buxom wench I met who was only a score of years old."
Alesha winked at him and said. "I'll show you buxom..."
Kelnozz chuckled, given the opportunity she would indeed. But he was in no mood for play, he had to many things upon his mind. Alesha saw this in him and inwardly sighed. She had hoped she would be able to distract him, even if only for a short while, from his responsibilities. She went forward and hugged him, laying her head upon his shoulder while Kelnozz stared silently beyond her. She knew he was still troubled, though she had tried greatly to distract him from the worries their son caused him.
His birth had been nothing short of a miracle. In striking out at Bavorish and refusing to take his place in the pantheon of Viconian Gods, Alesha had been forever sundered from the Gods, be it their actions or the magic of their priests. It was of little concern to her for she had captured a portion of Bavorish's power within herself, more then most mortals could ever hope to dream of, in fact. But her powers were dark and seldom of the type that could be used to heal or aid another. Even when she could there was a price to be paid for it. To give life she had to take life, the balance must be maintained.
Thus it was to her amazement that the spark of life caught within her. Bobo was an impossibility made possible only through some sort of outside interaction that she could not fathom. From her childhood chemistry and biology classes on Earth she knew that there must be great differences between human and elven DNA for no children to have produced from a union between the similar peoples. Yet somehow Bobo was born, half human and half elf.
Kelnozz had been horrified to see Bobo when he was first born. To many memories of light elven atrocities lived in his mind, for when his son proved to have white skin he had to remind himself it was Alesha's heritage he was showing. He also possessed a thick mane of black hair, like either of them. His features were delicate yet strong in the way of the elves, however, and his eyes possessed the same color as his, including their intense ferocity when the boy set his mind to something and refused to be denied.
Bobo had tried hard his entire life to live up to the specter of being the son of the finest warrior in elven history. He possessed no link to Alesha's magic, and for that Alesha was grateful. Her legacy was more of a curse then a boon. It had been given to her from the darkest and most vile of places, yet she had learned that power alone was neither good nor evil, only its use. The lesson had nearly destroyed her on multiple occasions, however. She did not want her son to ever face the things she had, thus she had never showed him how to tap into the power that could be his had he only known about it.
They had been shocked and grieved to learn of his accident 3 years past, when he lost his hand while serving with the Elven Navy. At the time, with the resources he had at hand, he had made the right decision. Not even Alesha's power could restore his hand, however.
What was more was that he had been nearly 3 months in returning and, though only 19 years old at the time, he had adjusted to using his left hand remarkably well. He had found a use for his right arm as well. It was not an uncommon thing for a sailor to have a stump. With ropes and pirates and accidents at sea such things happened. Bobo had adapted a double barreled pistol into a brace that fit over his stump, allowing him to wear and aim it as an extension of his right arm, it required only his left hand to pull the triggers to let the flint strike the powder.
Firepowder had been discovered by the elves of Innowendyn hundreds of years past, but a practical use for it had never been discovered until the dwarves that ran the twin islands and all between and beneath them as the Kingdom of Undersea began producing their own and adapted it into pistols, bombards, and exploding balls. Alesha had paled when she saw these devices and reminded Kelnozz and Garrick's trip to Earth long ago. She begged him to forbid their use and to try to destroy any such knowledge of them, for fear what might happen in the future because of their use. Guns and grenades would lead to greater and bigger weapons of destruction, she insisted, and hundreds of thousands would die because of it.
Kelnozz had reminded her of the great battles she had seen and taken part in. Thousands had died already, and with her magic could she not take the lives of just as many as one of the firepowder weapons? Grudgingly she had accepted his logic, but she had vowed that no matter how long she lived and no matter what happened would she ever call upon her scarce knowledge of firearms and explosive devices to create any of them. She knew little, really, other then the concepts that others could engineer devices to accomplish. Yet had it not been for the concept of a wheel people the people of earth would still be hunting and gathering societies.
"He's not an elf, Kel, he might be okay if he goes to Thoragloorin," Alesha said at last, bringing herself out of her memories and trying to soothe her troubled husband.
"He is no human either, remember," Kelnozz responded darkly. He sighed then and shook his head. "Would that Thoragloorin could stay lost forever."
"You don't want that, and you know it."
Kelnozz chuckled without humor. "Yes, I do know it. But I can not let him go there. None who enter can ever leave until the forbidding is released, and no elf may enter it at all, such was the power of the wizards that sacrificed themselves to create it."
"And there are none more powerful now?" Alesha asked him.
"I think not. You are perhaps the greatest Viconia has ever known, save Narellin, and even your power eclipses his, and you know as well as I do that it stands impervious."
Alesha nodded. She was greater then Narellin had been at his height, though his range of magic had the potential to be wider. Kelnozz's first son, Darakor, had been an archmage as well, but he was dead and gone and still no comparison.
"Garrick?" Alesha asked, thinking of the former God that had become their close companion in the many years since Kelnozz had become the King of the Elves. They had even got over their rivalry that had started centuries back when Alesha had captured him as he masqueraded as a barbarian chieftain. Garrick had toyed with her then, letting her think she had the best of him.
"Not even him," Kelnozz said. "And for that matter, I have no idea where he is at these days. It has been years since I last saw him, when he wanted to take Bobo camping with him and turn him into a real man." Kelnozz smirked and Alesha shuddered at the thought of what an extended time spent in the company of the savage man would do to her son.
"So what are your plans? I hate it when you get so quiet and thoughtful like this. If you want my help you need to tell me what's going through that pointy-eared head of yours!" Alesha said, tapping her fingers roughly against his forehead. Kelnozz just smirked.
"I have my eyes out looking for someone who can help. Your part is soon to come, I think. I need you to meet them and tell me if you think they will work."
Alesha looked at him, her eyes questioning him, but he would say no more of it. "I think you worry too much, as you have always done. Bobo will be fine, whether he goes or not. You can not control his surroundings forever, you know. Let the boy be the man he wants to be. He will never be you, Kel, he is something of each of us and there are literally worlds of difference between us."
Kelnozz lay there, hearing her words and thinking about them in spite of his desire to do so. Before he could digest them all she continued. "Because he is so different everything you think you learned from your relationship with your father does not apply here. He is elf, but he is also human. He needs our support and our love and most importantly, our trust that he can do things on his own, without our help."
"When he lost his hand," Alesha said, forestalling any comment Kelnozz was going to make. "He did something then that you admitted made you very proud. From all accounts he stood up to what had happened with responsibility and did what had to be done, publicly as much as admitting his error and his willingness to learn from it. We were both proud then, even though it was a terrible tragedy."
"And that," Kelnozz said, interrupting her and earning a scathing glare which he could only smirk at. "That is why I fear for him."
"The best lessons are the hardest ones to learn," Alesha said, resting her head back on his shoulder and rubbing her hand across the defined muscles of his stomach. "Perhaps that is another thing father and son share, for you seem unwilling to learn this one."
Alesha peered about the smoky tavern room, searching. The door shut behind her and no one paid her any mind, cloaked in her magic as she was. Far from invisible, she nevertheless was not easily noticeable; the gaze of the most perceptive of people simply passed over her without noticing her. All save for one. She saw him looking at her and smiled. She had found her objective.
"May I sit here?" She inquired, having moved through the crowd so quickly and fluidly that the man who watched her had barely noticed her approach. He nodded, his throat suddenly dry, and she pulled out one of the two unoccupied chairs of the table.
"Well met, can we help you?" The other man at the table said, surprised at her more or less appearing out of nowhere, as far as he was concerned. Then he was even more surprised when she threw back the hood on her cloak and he beheld her black hair curling around the edges of her beautiful face.
"Perhaps you can," she said ambiguously. She stared at both men for a long moment, taking their measure with her eyes. Neither spoke, somehow sensing that she was judging them but also sensing no guile or ill intent in her.
"Whom do you serve?" Alesha asked, looking at the man who had spoken. She knew the answer to her own question but she wished to hear him speak of it.
"My Lord Alto is the one to whom I answer," he replied without hesitation. She nodded. He wore the robes of a fighting monk, a relatively rare but powerful sect in the church of Alto. It was said that they could perform feats with their bodies that rivaled that which was possible. She had never met one before but she wondered if it was mere discipline or divine magic that enabled them to do such things.
"And you?" She turned to face the other man, a wizard by his appearance.
"With all due respect, Milady, I would know who you are first? You, after all, are the one cloaked mysteriously both in magic and garment," he responded.
"You are astute, I see your Mistress at the Academy of Magic spoke truly of you," Alesha said, smiling approvingly at him. She glanced around and let the magic shielding her disperse. To the two men it was as though she suddenly stepped out of a dark room, though the lighting had not changed. Nevertheless she suddenly captured all of their attention with her presence.
"Milady," the monk said, trying to stumble to his feet to kneel before her. Somewhat slower because of his being dazzled by her beauty and charisma, the magician tried to follow suit.
"Sit, young men, and be silent, please," Alesha said, trying not to laugh at their sudden reaction. "I presume that means you know of me now?"
"I do not, but I have no doubt of your nobility and piety," said the monk, suspecting she was an agent of Alto sent to deliver unto him a quest.
Alesha actually did laugh at his words. The laughter was tinged by only the faintest touch of bitterness; she had long grown accustomed to her separation from the Gods of the world. It had left her feeling hollow at first, as though she was missing something important, but as the years passed she grew accustomed to it and then was able to forget about it completely with the birth of Bobo.
Being reminded of it still sometimes caused a dull ache within her though. "None by right of birth, I can assure you," she said with a tight lipped smile. "And you misspeak yourself gravely when you accuse me of piety, Nathanial."
The monk's eyes widened and his mouth opened and closed a few times before he spoke. "You know our names? How else could you save for divine blessings?"
Briefly Alesha toyed with the thought of darkening her image into that of the evil seductress she had been so very long ago, showing him the possibilities that were beyond his ability to consider. "Ah, to be so young and so innocent. Na´ve, really, I envy you."
"You're scarcely possible to be more then a year or so my elder, Milady," Nathaniel said, fighting off the indignity caused to his pride by her words.
"I meant no insult, my friend, simply a statement on my part and if I caused you injury, I apologize," Alesha said.
"Nathan, be silent, you babble and the Mistress of the Elves surely has better things to do then to bandy words with you," the wizard scolded, though his own gaze scarcely strayed from her.
Nathanial's eyes widened as he made the connection. They were indeed in Loralost on the isle of Innowendyn, in a tavern by the name of The New Age. They had returned so that Gregory, Nathanial's magic using companion, could finish his final project and graduate from the Academy of Magic as an enchanter. It had required the two of them to travel far and wide to the island nation of Herdonia, where they had to investigate an artifact of great power that secured the island from ruin by time, nature, and enemy attack. The Rock of Herdonia had been stolen, however, and only a thorough investigation had enabled them to find it and restore it to the cavern deep beneath the island to right the wrongs that had been happening to the people and the lands of Herdonia.
Where else would he expect to run into such a powerful, beautiful, and important woman such as Alesha Risingmoon? Nathanial made to stand and kneel before her again, now that he more properly knew of her. Only her hand on his arm kept him seated, though it seemed to pain him greatly.
"I think, of the two of us, you are filled with far more nobility then I," Alesha said, good natured laughter in her eyes.
"Now then, to the nature of my business with you fine young men. I have heard of your deeds and I applaud you for them, I needed to meet with you and see how genuine you were, and I believe I have seen it. If you are willing my husband has something he would speak of with you. A perilous quest that he requires some unique talent for."
"Of course, Milady, we will gladly undertake it!" Nathanial said resolutely. Gregory sighed and shook his head, smiling apologetically at Alesha when she looked at him. Laughter showed in her eyes. So young and eager to please, she could scarcely remember those days so long ago was it.
"Come to the palace tomorrow evening, tell the steward who you are and he will take care of you from there," she said, standing back up and throwing her cowl over her head again. "Gentlemen, I bid you a good evening. Until the morrow."
Both men blinked and looked at each other. She had disappeared before their very eyes. The door opened and closed but they saw no one go through it. Shaking their heads they turned back to one another, unanswered questions hanging thickly in the air. As one they both turned to a nearby barmaid and called out loudly for ale.
Dressed in the finest clothing they could afford Nathanial and Gregory were admitted into the private office of the King of Innowendyn. Two elven guards wearing finely crafted light weight plate mail stood outside of the door, one to a side. They stood casual but always ready to respond at an instant's notice.
"Welcome," Alesha said, rising from where she was sitting rather casually on the edge of the large wooden desk Kelnozz sat behind. Kelnozz rose as well, a plain but tired smile upon his face. Both wore garments that were simple for their offices, but still cut of a cloth far beyond the means of the two visiting adventurers. Kelnozz wore simple dark brown breeches and a dark blue shirt, with his weapon belt leaning against his desk beside him, something he would never be far from no matter his position or situation. Alesha wore a light blue vest trimmed with crimson lace and rubies as well as a black skirt that clung to her hips and was diagonally cut so that it hung lower on her left leg then on her right.
"Well met, friends," he said, stepping out from behind the desk and coming towards them. Both Gregory and Nathan's eyes widened at King Risingmoon's nonplussed behavior. Both bowed deeply in subservience to him.
Kelnozz sighed audibly. "Rise, good sirs, I would like your help and your services, but not your subservience."
They straightened and stood stiffly, puffing out their chests proudly and scarcely believing they were in a private non-formal conference with the King of the Elves.
Kelnozz studied them for a moment, fighting the urge to smirk as they nearly tripped over themselves. Finally he managed to choke himself down to a smile before he leaned back against his desk and began.
"Tell me what you know of Thoragloorin," he said, watching them for a reaction.
Nathan's frowned as he pondered the name, but it was a quick search through his memory before he came up with nothing. "Thora-what... Sir?"
"Thoragloorin," Gregory supplied. "It is the ancient elven homeland located on Belurian. Nobody knows where it is though, but it is rumored to hold the lost magics of the greatest strengths of the elves before they were lost in the Kinslayer Wars."
Kelnozz looked impressed. He nodded his head thoughtfully. "Yes, yes that is correct. Apparently that Academy we have is doing a better job then I thought they were."
Gregory had the good grace to blush at the praise. "Actually, My Lord, I looked up most of it on my own after hearing a rumor about it a long time ago at the Academy of Magic."
"Oh? What prompted such curiosity?"
Again Gregory blushed. "I am an enchanter, Your Lordship, and items imbued with magic therefore are my tools of the trade. Some of the greatest ensorcelled items in the world are said to come from Thoragloorin, though the only one I have ever seen was the Rock of Herdonia. Thus my interest."
Kelnozz sent an agonizing look at Alesha, who only barely managed to avoid bursting out in laughter at Gregory and Nathaniel's repeated use of honorifics.
"Fair enough," Kelnozz said, letting the matter or formality drop. "There are people who know where it is, and I am one of them."
Gregory's eyes widened in surprise. "You know where Thoragloorin is? Is it passed down in elven history? Or something taught only to royalty?"
Kelnozz grinned at Gregory's blurted out response. Or more so, at his lack of any use of titles. "Well done, Gregory, you've gotten past all the silly name calling!" Alesha said, clapping her hands in twisted delight at Kelnozz's expense. Kelnozz just chuckled at her jibe.
"Yes, I know where it is. I was born there, over five thousand years past."
"Five thousand...." Nathaniel trailed off, stunned at the impossibility of the number.
"Elves do not feel the passing of years as other races do. Ogres were once the same as well," Kelnozz explained.
"Ogres?" Alesha and Gregory spoke at the same time.
Kelnozz glanced at his wife with an amused expression before continuing. "Indeed. Bavorish and Ancaruin seeded this world with life many ages past, and the elves and the ogres were a part of the world, living as the world lived. The elves happily embraced the world and nature, but the ogres felt differently. They strove to take from it and bend and shape it to their will. Bavorish saw much promise in them, and took them under his wing. They betrayed him though, refusing to work for him once they had learned a great many things from him. Not a God yet, he cursed them instead of destroying them all. Their curse caused them to find only the most unattractive and undesirable partners suitable for mating."
Kelnozz paused to enjoy the stunned expressions on the faces of his captive audience. "The inbreeding that ensued caused them to lose their bond with Viconia. From ogres sprang the other races : dwarves, orcs, giants, and others."
"Others?" Nathanial asked hesitantly, almost afraid to know the answer.
"Yes, even men can claim ogre blood in their ancestry, though it is easily 10000 years back if not further."
Alesha looked on, surprised. There were many things she needed to think about, in light of this news. Gregory was thoughtful as well, imagining the far reaching ramifications of the information. Nathan was stunned, having more then a little difficulty coming to terms that in some extremely distant way he was related to the large, smelly, and barbaric beasts he had been told to hate and kill since he was old enough to walk.
"Enough history, I would speak of the future," Kelnozz said loudly, forcing their attention back to him. "It is time Thoragloorin was reclaimed and the elves given the choice of where they would live. There are many who would stay here, but some of those who remember Thoragloorin's mystical beauty and some of those who are younger and more idealistic would like to see it renewed."
"What must we do?" Nathanial said, straightening again and proving himself ready to face whatever odds were necessary.
"Wait, Nathanial," Gregory said, putting his hand on the slightly younger man's shoulder. Before he turned to address Kelnozz. "Why us? You command thousands of elves, why not send an army in to recapture it?"
Nathanial looked to Gregory as though he were mad, questioning the whims of the King. Kelnozz nodded and smiled though, showing no concerns.
"Wise questions, I am doubly certain you are the right people for this task. I wish it to remain unknown that I seek to reclaim Thoragloorin, firstly. Secondly, no elf may enter Thoragloorin, a mystical shield surrounds it."
"There is more," Alesha said, walking next to Kelnozz and hopping up so that she sat on the desk beside him. Her legs were side by side but in the skin hugging skirt both men involuntarily felt their eyes drawn to them. Nathanial alone was able to resist, his discipline long since built up against temptation in his service to the church of Alto. Gregory did so only after remembering where he was and who he was in front of. Neither Kelnozz nor Alesha showed any sign of noticing their discomfort.
"There will be a third member of your company, and between the three of you the seal that keeps Thoragloorin apart from Viconia must be brought down," she said, pointedly ignoring the dark mien that came across Kelnozz's face as she spoke.
"Who is to be the third?" Gregory asked after glancing at Nathanial.
In ages past the light elves had defeated the dark elves and forced them to exile far from the shores of Belurian. To deny the forsaken elves, later to become light elves, any of Thoragloorin's treasures the five most powerful wizards of the dark elven nation gave their lives fashioning the shield that would deny exit to anyone from within the city. Likewise no elf would be able to enter the city from without.
But the seal could be broken. The council of elders that ran the Academy of Magic kept the secret. And they were subject to the whims of their king. The secret to the seal was a jeweled crown atop a mystical fountain in the great courtyard of the palace. The crown needed to be destroyed, but such was it's magic that it could only be unwrought in the greatest of flames within Thoragloorin. What could create those flames was unknown to the elders, as it had never been passed on to them. And of course the crown was protected as well, though by what was a secret the wizards took to the grave with them.
All of that information was passed on to Gregory and Nathaniel ere they met the prince. Their meeting with the prince was even more informal as their meeting with Kelnozz and Alesha had been. It was set in another tavern, this one heavily populated by off duty guards. Just how "off duty" they were was highly suspect, in Gregory's and Nathanial's minds.
A lone man sat at a table, drinking a mug of ale with his left hand. His right hand was unseen, hidden below the table. The two companions sized him up as they approached, knowing who he was without needing to be told. White skinned he nevertheless possessed the fair and delicate features of the elves without being quite as tall and scrawny in appearance. His thick black hair also set him apart from the elven race, though the sparkling intensity of his brown eyes would never be mistaken for a humans.
"I am Gregory, My Lord, the enchanter. My companion is Nathanial a monk of Alto," Gregory said when they both stood across the table from him.
Bobo looked up at them and nodded, hiding his distaste from his face. "Be seated then, and let us discuss the way of things to be."
The two companions glanced at each other and sat down, signaling the barmaid for ales. Bobo looked them over as they did so and nodded. "You'll do. Of course with my father and mother having already spoken with you I am sure they already knew that. But tell me, what would make two free men readily sign on for such an adventure?"
"Alto works in mysterious ways, My Lord," Gregory said. "He has given me many visions in my life, showing me the things I must strive for and accomplish. While this is not one of them, it is along the same line of seeking to do a good thing."
Bobo chuckled. "Yes, well, if it is a good thing, as you say, then it is good to have the Gods with us I suppose. I find it never hurts to have some divine favor on your side." His strange smile left both companions mystified as to the hidden joke, but they chose to press on rather then dwell on it.
"On top of that I must confess a strong desire to witness and study the magics of Thor... the place we go to. Your father has offered us whatever treasure we find within that we may keep." Gregory stumbled over the name of the ancient elven homeland, remembering only just in time that the nature of their mission was to remain a secret.
The Prince smirked. "Say what you will here, these are all men loyal to the King and pretending so very hard to pay no interest in what goes on at our table that clearly every word said is being memorized by a score of ears."
"And you, Prince? Why do you wish to do this? From the look on the King's face he would rather not have you facing such perils." Nathanial asked boldly, making Gregory glance to him wide eyed at his audacity.
Bobo blinked in surprise at the question. He was unused to being challenged, yet this priest had just done so. He smiled and nodded, "I think I'm going to get along with you two quite well. I do it to get out and to live. Always I am surrounded by bodyguards and those who would protect me from experiencing life. My father means well but only my mother truly understands me, I suspect."
Nathanial nodded and leaned forward, extending his right hand in an offer of friendship. Bobo smirked again and raised his own right arm above the top of the table and let it land on the table. His arm ended in a stump perhaps 4 inches below his elbow. Nathanial's face paled then flooded red in embarrassment.
Bobo chuckled and extended his left hand, "Perhaps this one instead?" He asked good naturedly. Nathanial laughed away his awkwardness and met him, each gripping the other's forearm.
"Doesn't that make wielding a sword difficult?" Gregory asked. "I suppose you must be left handed because of it, but still, you fight backwards against most of your opponents, don't you?"
Bobo nodded, still smiling. "Puts them off balance. I have a few tricks up my sleeve as well. You will see them soon enough. Meet me at the docks in 4 days, look for the Dolphinchaser. She's the finest ship in the Elven Navy and I'll have words with any man who says otherwise."
Gregory and Nathanial both nodded, standing up and bidding him a good day. They left the tavern scant moments before the barmaid approached the table with two jacks of ale in her hands. She looked around then looked at Bobo, who shrugged indifferently. "Will your friends be returning, Your Highness?" She asked.
Bobo looked at her for a minute before responding. "Friends? Well, perhaps they might just be. Time will tell."
The barmaid looked at him strangely, wondering what he was talking about. She was about to ask again when he seemed to come to his senses. "My apologies, Katarin, I was lost in thought. No, they will not be returning to this table tonight. Leave the ale though, I find myself thirsty."
Katarin smiled and put the two jacks in front of him, taking his empty one from him and disappearing back into the kitchen. Bobo raised the first tankard to his lips and pondered again that which was in store for him, as well as the two humans his parents had found to accompany him. It looked to be an adventure, and a damned sight more exciting then hunting pirates! Or whatever the buccaneers the Freewater Society secretly employed to harass shipping in ports not sanctioned by them called themselves.
They had been at sea four days, sailing into the setting sun towards the chain of islands that made up the Chachopeyan Empire and beyond them another week to the mainland of Belurian. Already two ships had veered close until they could make out the sails identifying the ship and then veered away. Three others had been spotted as well, but they were either merchant ships or another caravel of the Elven Navy. Gregory and Nathanial, neither a stranger to traveling the ocean, were still impressed with the ease and grace that Bobo employed while helping out the crew on the ship. He seemed to not only know what and when to do things, but also every member of the crew. They treated him as one of their own.
It was two days into the voyage that Gregory had commented on it to Bobo, drawing a good natured laugh from him. He told them that he had served on the Dolphinchaser for 6 months during his two year stint in the Elven Navy, and that without exception the Dolphinchaser was his favorite ship. It was the finest crew and the fastest ship, without argue, he maintained. In no position to debate, both men had accepted him at face value.
Bobo also explained how he lost his hand while fighting pirates on board the Dolphinchaser, and how he had recovered from it and had a hook fashioned on a sling that fit over his arm to help him maintain his usefulness. He had other tools too, but those the two would see in time.
They put in briefly at a small port town in the Chachopeyan Isles to resupply the ship, and were off before nightfall sailing again. It took nearly a total of two weeks before the ship sailed into the passage marked with buoys through the waters rife with volcanic reefs and managed to dock at Port Easton, the most south-eastern port town on Belurian.
From Port Easton they traveled by horseback to the west, heading down ancient roads created before any could remember. Any save a few select elves, that is. They passed three other towns, all smaller waypoints along the way, until a large swamp began to loom off to the left. The road skirted the northern edge of the swamp, and was traveled frequently enough that there were seldom any problems encountered. Fate smiled kindly upon the three adventurers this time as well, for they were nearly past it before Bobo pulled up sharply as they drew even with a strange rock formation clearly seen many miles to the south in the small mountain range that lay within the middle of the swamp.
"We go there," Bobo said, pointing through the swamp towards the mountains. "Thoragloorin lays within those mountains."
"Oh good, a swamp," Gregory said sarcastically. "Maybe I can make myself some gator skin boots by the time we come out... if I'm not eaten alive."
Bobo grinned at him and hopped off his horse, reaching into on of his saddlebags and pulling out a strange contraption neither Nathan or Gregory had yet seen. He slipped it on his arm and secured the buckles to it, then turned to face them. It was clearly a modified firepowder pistol, though with two barrels.
"It will do you little good to worry about alligators," Bobo said, still grinning. "There are far worse things that lay between us."
Gregory's mouth opened but no words came out. Bobo had turned and headed off towards the swamp, counting on them to catch up. "What did he mean, worse things?" Gregory asked Nathanial as the monk hopped off his own horse and adjusted his robes before hurrying after the half-elven prince.
"Come and find out, why don't you?" Nathanial said over his shoulder, taking care to follow Bobo's tracks as closely as he could.
They walked through increasingly damp ground until it became muddy and sucked at their feet. Nathanial lost his sandals to the muck in no time, finally giving up and wrapping them in a piece of cloth after washing them off in one of the many puddles of stagnant water that surrounded them and slipping them into a large pouch that hung from the rope he tied around his waist.
Soon the ground gave way to the swamp entirely, with only occasional mounds of earth rising above the water. Bobo kept them on a course where firmer ground lay only a few inches beneath the surface of the water. How he knew where to go baffled the other two men, they could only assume that it was either a property of his unique heritage or he had been counseled by Kelnozz.
Occasionally a nearby splash or a flutter of wings as a bird took to the sky startled them. Bobo glanced back at them one time, a very intent look on his face, and motioned them all to silence. Very stealthily he crept through the water and up to a nearby small hill that rose out of the water. He crouched behind some bushes and motioned for the other two to join him. Not as naturally talented at stealth as the Prince was, they nevertheless drew no attention to themselves when they crouched beside him. The inched up and looked over the edge the hill and around the gnarled roots of a half dead Cyprus tree, nearly gasping aloud at when they realized what it was Bobo was looking at.
Concealed by bushes and the murky water, a giant scaled thing was laying in wait for its dinner. Several small fish gasped for air on the dry surface of the tiny isle the creature used for its trap. Some were already dead and others nearly there, their fate assured regardless of whether they returned to water or not. In the trees above several large birds hopped about, watching less then patiently and waiting for a sign that they could dive in on the feast below.
The true predator was over 20 feet long easily, but how long it was they could not tell for it's snakelike body trailed into the water and lay beneath the surface. It had several sets of legs, spaced evenly down it's length, allowing it to pull it's massive weight without dragging along the ground. It's head was large as well, large enough to bite a full grown man in half with a single chomp, though they had yet to see it open it's mouth to verify that it did indeed have millions of razor sharp teeth as they suspected.
Their wait was short lived, however. A bird finally grew impatient and fluttered down, grabbing a fish with its talons and trying to beat its wings to fly away quickly. The creature was faster though, and it rocketed forward catching the bird in its mouth and chewing on it only twice before swallowing it. Both men backed down from the small ridge and looked at each other, eyes wide. Another glance and they saw that the creature had returned to its hiding spot, waiting for another bird to descend. A few feathers floated softly to the ground, only now coming to rest.
Bobo motioned them away and led them back through the swamp to the trail, then quietly and slowly along it until at least 20 minutes and half a mile had passed. He pulled up short then and smiled at the two, who were looking back over their shoulder nervously.
"Frightened?" Bobo asked softly.
Gregory nodded, no attempt at false bravado present. Nathanial glanced back again before saying, "I fear no man or woman of this world, though perhaps I should, but what in the nine hells was that thing?"
"Cousin to a dragon I am told, a swamp-wyrm," Bobo explained. "Though that is the first I have seen. Rather impressive, I think."
"Impressive?" Gregory spat out, amazed at his calm behavior. "How would you even hope to kill such a thing?"
"Siege equipment," Nathanial said with a ghost of a grin. Bobo chuckled and nodded.
"Aye, that would be one way. I'm told either magic, a very sharp blade, or aiming for their eyes or mouth, where they are more vulnerable. That is the first I have seen of one, but this swamp is supposedly filled with them."
"So that would be the worse thing you mentioned?" Gregory asked.
"One of them. When we get to the mountains there will be other threats, mountain-wyrms, similar to the swap-wyrm but smaller. Then there are the wyverns..."
Nathanial and Gregory looked at each other and just shook their heads. Silently the three of them continued, though all were more wary now then ever before.
They managed to emerge from the swamp unharassed. A few times in the distance Gregory or Nathan would have sworn they saw the ruins of an ancient building, but they never approached so were forced to remain uncertain. The swamp ended abruptly, the muddy ground climbing higher rapidly and drying out quickly. It rose into some low foothills and from there into mountains ahead of them. The unseen path Bobo led them down remained fairly level, though occasionally strewn with broken rocks that had fallen from great heights. It became apparent that at one point long ago it had been a major thoroughfare.
Shortly after they entered the mountains the ruins of a great gatehouse rose ahead of them. The walls that stretched to the nearby cliffs on either side had long since fallen into mounds of rubble, as had the gate itself. A lonely tower remained, itself only a few years from unrecognizable rubble. The scene was one of stillness, with the sun passing just beyond the easternmost ridge of the cliff and casting the valley into shadow.
"It seems awfully dead up there," Bobo muttered to himself, pausing and studying the gatehouse.
"Looks like a great place for a monster lair," Gregory commented, studying the tower and the total lack of plant life around it.
Nathanial took a deep breath and sat down on the ground with his legs crossed in front of him; the classic pose of meditation. Bobo glanced back at him and frowned, then looked to Gregory for an explanation.
"He gets like that before a big fight, some religious channeling thing or something," Gregory said, shrugging. "It's best to just go with it, he gets cranky when you question him too much."
Bobo smiled and nodded, letting the seemingly odd idiosyncrasy slide from his list of worries. He reached down to the device on his arm and cranked the hammers back on each barrel. He loosened his cutlass in his scabbard, the same cutlass that Halidor had given him after he used it to "fix" Bobo's arm several years back, and walked towards the tower. Gregory pulled out his wand from a pocket and held it stretched in front of him, ready to use.
"What are you going to do with that, poke somebody's eye out?" Bobo asked after looking back and seeing Gregory wielding the thing wooden stick.
"This is my wand, through it I cast my magic," Gregory replied indignantly.
Bobo snorted. "Some magic, all the wizards I know chant some words, wave their hands, and things happen. Or, in the case of my mother, she can just make a simple gesture... or less, and cause her spells to take shape."
"Everybody's magic works differently," Gregory replied, irritation in his whispered voice. "By channeling mine through my wand I can invoke powerful spells faster."
Bobo rolled his eyes but accepted the wizard's statement. He glanced back and saw Nathanial walking towards them, looking very grim and determined. Then he saw Nathanial's gaze go past them at the same time his sensitive hearing picked up the sound of shifting rock behind him. He spun about and saw the mountain wyrm that made its lair in the tower rushing towards them.
Gregory snapped his wand forward and spat out a couple of syllables that made absolutely no sense to anyone but him. The wand responded though, sending out an arc of flames that crashed into the creature as it tried to rush through them. It screeched and backed away hurriedly, waiting until a few seconds later when the spell ended and the flames burnt out. It roared and tensed to lunge forward again.
Nathanial was there then, leaping through the air and bringing a fist crashing down on the snout of the wyrm. He kicked off of it and spun in mid air to land solidly on the ground, the wyrm turning to regard him as its new target. The air echoed then as Bobo pulled both triggers on his arm, sending two bullets exploding out of the barrels and at the beast. One veered high, narrowly missing, while the other slammed into the wyrm just behind it's head, tearing a hole in its scales that dripped a dark red blood.
The wyrm turned back to Bobo and Gregory, giving Nathanial a chance to lash out with his foot and kick it in the side of the face. The wyrm was confused by so many attacks coming from so many different directions, and in the end decided to attack the enemy closest to it. It leapt sideways at Nathanial, catching him completely off guard and wrapping as much of its 20 foot long body around him as possible. It contracted and tried to squeeze the life of out him, using its many legs for purchase against the shifting rocks.
Nathanial gasped in pain but fought the only way he knew how, by bringing his fists down in powerful punches on the back of the creature, trying to shatter its spine through its thick scales and hide. His blows had little effect.
Bobocateya ran forward, his cutlass in his hand slashing down at the neck of the wyrm. The thick scales turned the sharp blade aside with little more then a scratch to show for his efforts. He struck repeatedly, trying again and again to use the curved blade against it.
The wyrm took notice of him finally and tripped him with one leg, sending him sprawling backwards. It stretched its head out towards him, fanged maw opening. Gregory snapped his arm forward and chanted another command word. The air in front of the wand shimmered and contracted, stealing Gregory's breath from him for a second, then it flung forward, rocketing into the mouth of the wyrm. With sound of air being loudly knocked from someone's lungs the heavily condensed ball of air returned to normal size and volume. The wyrm's head exploded, absorbing the majority of the explosion, yet enough over-pressure remained to send Bobo rolling away and to pick Nathanial up out of the dying wyrm's clutches and propel him through the air nearly ten feet.
Nathanial picked himself up first, hopping from his back to his feet with a fluid movement. He saw the final twitches of the mountain wyrm and saw Bobo struggling to regain his feet as well. Other then bumps, bruises, and scrapes they appeared uninjured. He hurried back and to his companions and watched as Bobo pulled some things out of a pouch at his side and slid them into the barrels of his pistol. A few moments later he turned to face Nathanial and the monk saw blood ran from the Prince's ear. The pressure from Gregory's spell had ruptured his ear drum.
Nathanial moved closer and called upon the blessings of Alto, resting his hand on a hesitant Bobo's ear. When he pulled his hand away the blood was dried and flaking away. Bobo grinned and brushed it away. "I can hear again, my thanks!" he said, clapping Nathanial on the shoulder with his good hand.
"And you, I offer my apologies if I insulted your wizardry, that was a very neat trick!" Gregory beamed at the praise.
"Let us hurry, something may come to investigate the noise," Nathanial said, glancing around nervously. Bobo nodded, heading forward. Gregory glanced at the dead wyrm and then the tower and scrambled forward excitedly.
"What's he doing?" Bobo asked when the enchanter had passed both of them and disappeared into the tower.
"Probably thinks that thing had some treasure. He grew up with a money hungry merchant as a father and his profession requires a lot of expensive supplies, so he's a little greedy at times," Nathanial spoke softly so his words would not carry.
Bobo looked at him, one eyebrow cocked in surprise.
"Oh, don't worry, he won't deny us our share of anything that is there," Nathan said, misinterpreting Bobo's look. Bobo just shook his head and chuckled.
"As much as I want you both to look upon me as just a companion, perhaps I should remind him of who he is traveling with. If he wants for money I can easily remedy the situation when we return."
Nathanial shrugged. "It's in his nature. As for me, I have only what I need. Anything else is unneeded. Perhaps a sizeable donation to my church if the opportunity presents itself."
Bobo nodded. He had never wanted for material things, so he had less true appreciation for wealth then most people did. He had little appreciation for religion as well, however, so amongst the three of them each man was alone. By the time the two were about to enter the doorway to the tower, which resembled a gaping hole in the side of the building far more then a door anymore, Gregory was emerging from it with a faint scowl on his face.
"Nothing?" Nathan asked.
Gregory shook his head. "At least the beast was smart enough to bury its waste."
Bobo raised his eyebrows, thankful he had not been the one to go digging for it. Still Gregory seemed clean enough. "Let us be off then, scavengers can not be far away."
They camped that night using the side of a large boulder and a mound of rubble from a long ago landslide as shelter. No fire was necessary, they had enough jerked meat to keep them full and the temperature in southern Belurian was tropical throughout most of the year.
In the morning a fresh challenge awaited them. Scarcely fifteen minutes out from their campsite a wyvern spotted them as it hunted high above them. Nathan glanced up, noticing a strange shadow as he looked over the edge of the worn and ancient rock bridge they crossed. Hundreds of feet below a large river flowed. The bridge itself was far from natural, but it having survived thousands of years was a testimony to the skill and strength it had been fashioned with.
"Watch out!" Nathan cried, leaping into both of his companions and sending them rolling to the ground. The wyvern's grasping claws clicked shut on empty air, but it still managed to tear a deep gouge into Gregory's calf as it passed.
Nathan and Bobo were back on their feet, Bobo aiming as the wyvern soared back into the air. It was out of range before he could fire on it, however. It circled high in the air and came rocketing back down, diving with a frightful speed. Both men held their ground, prepared to lash out and dodge out of the way, full well understanding and accepting the consequences of a half second's miscalculation in their timing.
Gregory sat up and aimed his wand at the rapidly approaching wyvern. He performed a new rotating and twitching maneuver with the stick and spat out a single arcane word. A stream of shimmering light erupted from the tip of the wand and struck the wyvern squarely in the face, stunning it with the bright lights and multiple images. Confused, the wyvern struggled to make sense of the chaotic visions and plummeted straight towards them.
Gregory cursed as he forced his bleeding leg to support his weight while scrambling out of the way. Nathanial and Bobo, not understanding what was happening stayed in place until they realized the wyvern was out of control. Both flung themselves away but Nathanial was what the wyvern had been aiming for. One of the reptilian bird's wings clipped him as he dove, sending him rolling towards the edge only seconds before the wyvern crashed into the bridge at a high rate of speed, snapping multiple bones and dislodging a large chunk of the side of the bridge into the abyss over the river. Nathanial scrambled to find purchase on the rock and ended up grabbing onto the ledge with his fingertips, grunting in pain as his full weight rested on them. He swung over the river hundreds of feet below and dared not look down.
Bobo was there then, grabbing on to his arm and easily lifting the 190 pound man up and onto the bridge with only his one arm. It was not until Nathanial's feet were back on solid ground and he peered over the edge that he realized what Bobo had done for him and to him.
"How strong are you?" He asked incredulously.
Bobo opened his mouth to respond but stopped as he noticed the red stain spreading from a tear in Nathan's robes at his hip. "You're injured,' he said instead, pointing.
Nathanial glanced down at himself and groaned. He pulled his robes aside and noticed that the wyverns wing had cut quite a gash through his robes and hip. Nothing life threatening if properly bandaged, but potentially crippling. Then again, it was good to be a priest...
A few moments of quiet meditation later and Nathanial stood up, seemingly without injury. He moved over to Gregory and prayed for the power to heal his friend, which Alto deemed worthy, for the wound on his calf closed over and bled no more.
"Where were you when I lost my hand," the prince said, chuckling as both men were on their feet and ready to proceed.
"Learning how to do that," Nathanial responded, looking around suspiciously. "Let us make haste, we are in the open here and Alto does not favor me with spells so much as strength of arms."
"Well then, let us test your strength of foot," Bobo said, jogging at a brisk pace ahead on the trail. Nathaniel chuckled and followed after, leaving a cursing Gregory to try and keep up the pace they set. In moments Gregory was ready to kill them both, if he would have had the strength to catch up.
Nothing else assailed them the rest of the afternoon. They stood at the base of a shimmering blue wall of light, studying it carefully. Gregory, in particular, took quite an interest in it. The road they had been on showed more and more signs of manufacturing the closer they got. At the edge of the curtain of light it was apparent that it had once been made of cobblestones, though now they showed the signs of age.
"What now?" Nathanial asked, watching behind them.
"Now we find out just how much elf there is in me," Bobo muttered.
"What do you mean?"
"You're afraid you won't be able to enter?" Gregory seconded, understanding what Bobo meant.
"Aye, this wall was specifically designed at forbidding elves from crossing through it, other races are only restricted from leaving. If too much of my father's blood runs in me I will be denied entry," Bobo explained.
"Well, if you can't get in this trip is for naught, you're the one who knows the most about what is going on," Nathan said.
Bobo nodded. "Yes, so let us find out, shall we?"
Without waiting for a reply he stepped forward, pushing through the light with a look of intense concentration on his face. He seemed to struggle for a moment, pushing harder and harder until he disappeared into the light.
Nathanial and Gregory looked to each other, wondering at just how successful he had been. "Well, let's hope he wasn't just disintegrated," Gregory said, stepping forward and easily walking through the magical curtain.
Nathanial stared after him for a long moment before finally muttering, "I could have done without that thought." Trusting in Alto's wisdom to guide him, he stepped forward into the light.
"Mistress!" Barked one of her scouts. The language they spoke, gutturally, only barely resembled the elvish of modern or ancient times. It had been twisted and modified to fit the vocal abilities of the doguren.
"Visitors, Mistress, visitors come to your realm!" He finished, yapping excitedly as he did so. Kalista smiled down at him and dismissed him, waving her arms in the air before her and causing the very air to shimmer and part in front of her, displaying the scene at the entrance of the city.
Three men stood taking in the sights. They had moved into the city only a little bit, studying everything with meticulous detail. Two of them seemed to be growing tired of it already, however, yet a third remained fascinated by everything. She studied them, learning what she could simply by looking at them.
They were strange to her, they looked similar to ogres, yet they were smaller then she remembered. She wondered if the curse had made the race of ogres fall so far from their one time grandeur. They wore strange clothing too, as well as an overabundance of it. The one that seemed to be in the lead had black hair and... she gasped. He looked like an elf. The facial features and eyes of an elf, a strikingly familiar elf, she realized, yet there was a fullness to him and a way that he moved that marked him as separate from the elven race. She must know more about them.
"Bring them to me," she called out, turning to the general of the doguren. Then she added, "as honored guests, unharmed and willing."
The dog-man growled his assent and nodded to her, turning and barking out orders to those nearest him. They hurried out of the hall, gathering up a patrol of doguren to greet the visitors. Kalista studied the image of the visitors as they methodically explored the city, leaving nothing behind as they moved forward. Soon she would know all she needed to know of them; they would tell her or they would die. Only one person had denied her so far, and that was a recent arrival that she knew was within Thoragloorin but for some reason she could not find them.
The three companions traveled into the city slowly, taking care to check as much as they could before proceeding. Still, the city was immense; greater than anything they had ever seen in any of their lives. Exploring it all would take months. It was several long minutes before Gregory would even leave the entrance to the city, so caught up was he in examining everything he saw.
Five thousand years had passed but the city was in immaculate condition. Buildings looked to have been abandoned only moments before they arrived, and no dust could be found anywhere. Magic was heavy in the air, both from the seal separating Thoragloorin from Viconia and from the magic that made the city what it was: the pinnacle of architectural achievement by the elven people. Innowendyn was breathtaking and beautiful, but all three were stunned by the artistry and elegance that was Thoragloorin.
"Gregory, it's time to stop gawking," Bobo said over his shoulder. Unseen Gregory scowled at the interruption. Nathanial and the Prince did not understand how important this was to his work.
"One second," Gregory said, studying the fountain in the small grass courtyard of an inn.
"No, right now, we have guests," Nathanial said quietly but intently.
"Oh," Gregory said, straightening up rapidly and turning around.
A single figure approached them, wearing chain mail designed to fit its strange form. All three men studied it carefully, trying to figure out just what it was they faced. Finally Bobo figured it out.
"Doguren!" he hissed. "But much larger then they were supposed to be. The ancients had tamed a race of intelligent wolves, no different then the hunting hounds used by men today, but they used their magic to make them more useful, increasing their intelligence even more and making them so they walked on two legs. They were the servants of the elves."
Gregory's eyes widened at the power required to do what Bobo suggested. Nathanial just grunted acknowledgement. "Are they still friendly?"
Bobo shrugged, "I do not know. It appears they have grown greater still over the ages. They never possessed weapons or armor in the olden days either."
The dog-man was within 20 yards then. He spoke, his voice harsh and braying, but he clearly used a language. Bobo gasped, understanding bits and pieces of it. Gregory, upon listening intently and pondering each word he could make out realized it was a broken form of elvish, albeit an archaic version.
"It speaks a type of elvish," Gregory whispered to Nathanial so he was not totally in the dark.
"They want us to come with them, we are honored guests, it says," Bobo translated.
"Them?" Gregory asked, looking around nervously. "I thought he was the only one."
"No, we are surrounded," Bobo explained. "They hide well."
"I'm not feeling quite so honored all of a sudden," Nathanial commented, also glancing around.
"Something about taking us to their... Queen? Mistress? Goddess? Someone important who wants to meet us."
"Maybe she can help us," Nathanial pointed out. "If she's been here a while she must know a few things that can help us solve the riddle of bringing down the shield."
"Or maybe she prefers the isolation," Gregory pointed out.
"Why do you always do that?" Nathanial asked him, scowling.
"What?" Asked the wizard, feigning innocence. Nathanial continued to glare at him.
Bobo haltingly spoke to the emissary, choosing his words carefully so as not to offer any insult as he tried to adapt to the strange dialect. He finished and the doguren nodded and turned, walking down the wide road towards the center of the town.
"Let us go," Bobo said, walking after the dog-man. Gregory and Nathanial glanced at each other and saw no answer lay in each other's eyes, so they followed the prince into the unknown.
Unseen and unheard behind them, a score of doguren emerged from various hiding places and followed after. Nearly two dozen others moved along side on parallel roads, ensuring that the three could not escape if they suddenly decided to run for it.
Even more unseen by everyone a figure slipped from shadow to shadow, following at a distance to both the newcomers and the large company of doguren.
"I have lost them," Alesha said, turning from the still pool of dark water in front of her. Kelnozz nodded, his fists clenched both in frustration and to help stem the flow of blood from his palms where his knife had cut deeply into them.
She waved her hand and the image in the water disappeared, leaving only the red tinted water behind. "Wash your hands in the water, it will help," she told him. Kelnozz nodded and knelt down, opening his hands and immersing them in the small pool.
He gasped as the fiery agony of the cuts in his hands lessened. The water was warm at first, but cooled the longer his hands remained in it. Not only that, but the color of it lessened as well, until at the last it was transparent again as water should be. He pulled his hands out and stood up, staring at his palms. Gone were the deep cuts, in their place were fresh scars that were still pink and tender to the touch.
"The magic used some of your blood as fuel, what remained is restored to you," Alesha explained, smiling softly. Kelnozz nodded, she had told him that she could scry upon their son but the cost to do so would be painful. Kelnozz had, of course, agreed instantly. As in all things throughout his life when he set his mind to something he would sacrifice nearly anything to see it done.
"In the olden days you would not have needed a sacrifice for such a thing," Kelnozz pointed out, finally relinquishing his worries over his son and turning to her.
"In the old days I would have the stored energy of countless sacrifices already within me," she pointed out.
"What of the power you stole from Bavorish?" Kelnozz asked.
Alesha shivered. "Yes, I have that, but his is more destructive. I keep that buried deep inside me until those times when I need it. It makes me feel... unholy, I guess, using it."
Kelnozz nodded. He might not be able to emphasize with her but he could understand on a rational level what she was saying. He smiled at her. "And to think I almost killed you because I thought you lost to evil."
"Several times," Alesha reminded him with a grin. Kelnozz shrugged sheepishly, then glanced back at the pool. His expression sobered.
"Well?" Alesha asked, knowing fresh troubling thoughts had entered his mind. "Are you envious of him or frightened for him?"
It was a good question, Kelnozz had to admit. "I wonder if the years have driven her mad."
"Or perhaps she has realized the error of her ways. Some of us do that, you know," Alesha said with a smile. Kelnozz faintly returned it, but in the case of his mother, whom he could not remember having ever met, he felt such was not the case.
"Greetings, travelers, and welcome to my domain," Kalista said once Bobo, Nathanial, and Gregory were assembled before her. Gregory stared around himself in delight, so much magic had been used to enchant the palace and in particular the great hall they were presently in that he felt overwhelmed. In a good way, that is.
Nathanial, a man of the cloth perhaps but not bound by any vows of chastity, had his attention elsewhere. The woman before them was beautiful in a way that made a perfect sunrise pale in comparison. He was reminded of Alesha, save that this woman was a dark elf and therefore more exotic. Nathanial had always had a thing for elven women.
Kalista had his attention the moment he entered the room. She wore a loin cloth that fell just past her thighs, displaying her shapely legs from the dark brown sandals she wore up to the chain of silver links across her hips that held the minimal skirt up. Between her breasts lay an exquisitely crafted necklace, worth enough to bankrupt several kingdoms, numerous gems and crystals hung from it, reflecting gleaming motes of light and drawing attention away from her openly displayed breasts, which were smallish in the manner of elves but beautifully shaped and firm, despite thousands of years of gravity.
With skin the color of the darkest of chocolates and surrounded by a main of silver hair from her head, it was everything Nathanial could do to keep from drooling on himself. Bobo noticed the distraction of his companions and would have chuckled, had the situation been any different. As it was he knew what it was they were facing and he held no small amount of trepidation within him.
Kelnozz had pulled him aside before he left, telling him what little he knew of Kalista. Everything from her betrayal of her people and Kelnozz's father to her continued imprisonment within Thoragloorin. He had cautioned him time and again about her, saying that he had no idea what her mind would be like, if she was still alive even. Shaken at the sudden realization that he had a grandmother, and that she might very well end up wanting him dead, Bobo had chosen to keep the information to himself.
And now he faced her, the woman he both longed and dreaded meeting. "We are honored to be here, Your Highness," Bobo answered, again carefully choosing his words but this time using the most archaic form of pure elvish he could.
Kalista's face brightened at his chosen tongue and his words. "Tell me of the world outside, young one, and tell me also of yourselves. Who and, more importantly, what, are you?"
Bobo glance to the enchanter first, gesturing towards him and saying, "This is Gregory, he is an enchanter and is most duly impressed with the wizardry of this city. My other companion is Nathanial, a priest of the order of Alto. My name is Bobocateya, I am a simple soldier, My Lady."
Kalista's brow furrowed. "Who is this Alto and how is it possible he has such power to have people devoted to worshipping him?"
Bobo's eyes widened in realization. Bavorish had been incredibly powerful before Thoragloorin was around, but he was still only a man. The visitors from another world had not arrived and defeated him, establishing the pantheon of Gods until nearly two thousand years after the Kinslaying Wars.
"You have been here for some time, Your Majesty. Alto is one of many Gods that have come to Viconia. Bavorish was overthrown by them, joining their ranks for a while though now he has again been defeated and cast aside. Their power is absolute over most all of us that live here. Alto stands for the ideals of duty, justice, and chivalry," Bobo explained, calling upon some of the kinder things Garrick had taught him during the many times he had spent with the former God.
"Gods?" Kalista mused, speaking to herself. She shook her head, wanting more then ever to journey beyond the shield that imprisoned her and see the world beyond. "And what of the elves, how are they, Bobocateya?"
"The elves are well, My Lady, they thrive on Innowendyn, an island kingdom far to the east. Only recently, in fact, have they come together again. The sundering that took place in your time, precipitating the Kinslaying Wars, has been healed over by their king after he defeated the leader of the forsaken elves."
Kalista walked forward, stepping gracefully down the multiple steps of the stairs that led to her dais until she was directly in front of them. If she looked eager to hear more it was not even half as strong as she suddenly felt.
"Tell me more, tell me, who is the king of he Elves, Did Galinia remarry?"
"Nay, My Lady, she remained a widow and led the elves for ages. She fell in the final Chapter of the Kinslayer Wars, whence her nephew took up the mantle and reunited the elven peoples as well as slaying their general."
Nearly breathless, Kalista asked, "More, I must know more. Who... who was her nephew?"
"Kelnozz Risingmoon is King of the Elves."
Kalista gasped, one hand going to cover her mouth. She stared at Bobo for a long moment as tears welled up in the corner of her eyes, tears that she blinked away. "I knew he was destined for greatness, I knew it!"
Bobo did not acknowledge her words. He fought to keep a straight face in spite of the powerful emotions tensing through his stomach. "It was no simple task, My Lady, he had to defeat his first born son in battle to reunite the elves."
Kalista nodded, "Yes, yes, I saw much pain in his future, I remember that clearly. Many choices and hardships he had to endure, but the success... oh the success. I must see him, I must get out of here so we can be reunited!"
"He would like that very much," Bobo said, smiling for the first time and beginning to feel the iciness in his chest warm and abate.
"Damn this prison!" Kalista shouted, turning and rushing back up the steps. "You are as trapped as I am now, there is no escape from this accursed city."
"My Lady, we are here to end your imprisonment. My companions and I have been sent by King Risingmoon to destroy the seal and reclaim Thoragloorin for the elves," Bobo told her boldly.
Kalista stopped and stared at him for a long moment. She felt hope for the first time in ages, then it was crushed in a violent rage of arrogance. "You and your companions? Who are you and your companions that you can boast more power then the wizards who crafted it? Who are you that you think you have more power then I do, and I have been studying it and building up my strength for millennia!"
"Not more power, Your Highness, we have knowledge of how it must be destroyed, that is all," Bobo said quickly, frightened at her sudden mood swings.
"And how must it be destroyed, what manner of beings are you, anyhow? Never have I seen your like. You seem to be a runt of an elf yet your skin is too pale by far. And your companions are clearly descendents of ogres, a people cursed for their stupidity," she snapped.
Bobo bristled, but he forced himself to remember that had he been imprisoned for so long he might be a little irritable himself. "They are men, human, officially. And yes, humans are descended of ogres though the curse has long since been lifted. I am part man myself. Part man and part elf."
Kalista's eyes widened. "You speak against nature, child! Such a thing is impossible, it is against the natural order of things!"
Bobo smiled innocently. "Say what you will, Your Majesty, but my mother is a human woman from another world and my father is an elf that found her, trained her, fought her, loved her, and tried to kill her. Now she sits at his side and they are happy."
Kalista eyed him warily, studying him for any signs of deceit. "Very well, I have been absent from the world for to long to know what is and what is not possible. Tell me how you would destroy the seal."
Bobo glanced at his companions, who were both now staring intently at him and Kalista. Gregory in particular was trying to follow the conversation but it flowed to quickly for him to do more then pick up a handful of words here and there. He looked back to Kalista and nodded.
"Pardon me, Your Majesty, for being so bold but I must ask, who are you?" He said, needing confirmation on what he knew to be the truth.
Kalista laughed. "How rude of me, I am the only remaining elf in Thoragloorin, and by right of nobility and marriage to the belated King's brother, I am it's Queen. Kalista Risingmoon is my name, I am the mother of the King you know, Kelnozz. It is because of me that he has the power he has now, the magic he no doubt wields and the position he has obtained."
"Kelnozz is a warrior, My Lady, he has no magic," Bobo explained.
"You are wrong!" Kalista snapped. "He has it, even if he is a warrior. It is deep within him and so much a part of him that he may not even realize it. I gave it to him when he was a baby fresh from the womb. It is a part of him."
Bobo hid the shiver that ran down his spine. If both his parents possessed magic, then what did he have hidden deep within him? He fought the urge to shake his head and instead turned his thoughts back on his confirmed grandmother.
"The crown upon the fountain we passed on the way here, in the great courtyard. That is the seal that must be destroyed," he said, speaking strongly.
Kalista laughed bitterly. "I know this, child, if you have no more to offer you are fools."
Bobo bristled at her condescension. "It can only be destroyed by the greatest fire within Thoragloorin, though what that is we do not know. The crown must be immersed in that flame and only then will the great seal surrounding the city be undone."
Kalista smirked. "I know of no flames in this city. There are forges, but the fires went out thousands of years ago."
Bobocateya took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "Nonetheless we shall try, none of us intend to spend the rest of our lives here, it will be better then doing nothing."
Kalista eyed him warily for a moment. Finally she spoke, "Hold, let my men investigate these things. Stay here as my guests while they do so. I would enjoy hearing tales of the outside world. It has been... a long time, since I have heard anything of it."
Bobo turned to his companions and relayed the offer. Nathanial was excited at the prospect of having to do nothing other then live like a king for a few days while the dog-men did all the work for them. Gregory seemed quiet and uninterested, only wanting a chance to be alone. So it was that Bobo turned back to Kalista and accepted her offer. She had her servants show them to rooms and promised to meet with them later for a dinner... a formal dinner that she had not participated in for many thousands of years.
Each was taken to a separate room, with servants outside of each, though all three recognized them as guards. They were left with few choices other then cleaning up and preparing for dinner, biding their time as best they could until they were summoned.
Dinner was a strange and spicy meat none of the men recognized. It tasted good though, so they decided it was best not to ask. Conversation consisted mainly of Kalista asking them questions about the outside world. In particular how Kelnozz was doing and how the elves in general faired compared to the rest of the world. When she learned of Narellin's demise at the hands of Darakor, Kelnozz's confused son, her eyes widened in disbelief and then anger. After a few moments she calmed down and a great sadness seemed to come over her. She eyed them suspiciously from that point on, however.
At no point did Bobo explain his relationship to her. Her moods were too varied and her interests were held too close to heart; he remained uncertain about her. Dinner was soon over and the guests were allowed to wander about the palace some. Always some of the doguren were close by, and without a doubt they all knew they were being watched.
They retired to their rooms that night, each thinking their own thoughts and wondering what the others really had in mind. Bobo had warned them as quietly as possible in the tongue of men to keep their thoughts and words to themselves, she was a powerful sorceress and the doguren were far from her only way of keeping track of them. Gregory had seemed pained at the time, he clearly wanted to say something, but he bit his tongue and kept it to himself.
The night turned into days, and within a week the three from Innowendyn realized that little was being done. Kalista would tell them there had been no success yet, but she was working hard on it. After all, her freedom meant as much to her as theirs did to them, why would she dally? Meals came and went with her increasingly absent. The only thing to improve was Gregory's skill with the bastardized elvish that the Doguren spoke. Gregory also seemed somewhat content with their wait, it gave him time to study the great many magical devices and contraptions in the palace, though all were considered minor enchantments, the way they were used fascinated him.
A week stretched in to two and then into three. The companions grew irritated beyond belief, and Kalista's presence more and more rare. Days would go by at a time without seeing her, and when at last they did any questions Bobo asked were deflected. It was soon obvious to them. They were prisoners. Prisoners within a prison, no less. The irony of it was not lost on them.
The shadow slipped down from where it had tightly positioned itself in the corner above the doguren that walked its patrol. Its short fall to the floor was noiseless, so lightly did it land. It grabbed the dog-man around the neck with one gloved hand and another went to the back of its head, propelling the surprised guard solidly into a stone wall. The thud that resulted was probably enough to ensure its unconsciousness, but to make sure the figure switched both hands to its throat and squeezed until it stopped moving.
The doguren was pulled off to the side then the figure moved on, cowl pulled tightly over its face. It walked down the first hallway where one of the three companions was sleeping. This one was the wizard, Gregory. The doguren stationed outside his door looked up, sensing the cloaked figures approach. It reacted in surprise, barking out in its language demanding to know who the stranger was.
The answer came in the form of a dagger plunging into the dog-man's throat as the figure pretended to walk past it, then sprung into action. The doguren tried to yip out an alarm but between the blade that had cut its throat and another dagger that slipped between its ribs and into its lungs, it found its breath and then its life stolen from it. It was lowered silently to the ground and the assassin paused, looking in both directions for any sign of discovery. After several tense moments the figure moved, nothing had come.
A lock pick appeared in the gloved hand and in moments the door was open. Gregory was sitting at a desk studying a glowing light contained within a shaped cone of metal, projecting the light much like a hooded lantern might. He was oblivious to the danger behind him. So much so that he tried to jump out of his chair when a hand clad in a leather glove firmly wrapped around his mouth and pulled his head back.
Nathanial was busy working himself into a sweat in his room, stretching and exercising as best he could in the confined quarters. Denied exodus from the palace, he was also denied a chance to jog to keep himself in shape. He made do with the rest of his exercises, both for form, muscle strength, and endurance, but he sorely missed the opportunity to run.
He was finishing with his last set of stretches when he felt a presence above him. He rolled over quickly and looked up, seeing nothing at first. Then he realized there was something above him. Much higher above him. Someone was on the ceiling, staring down at him. He gazed in shock, wondering how it was possible anyone could cling to the ceiling, even though the person had their arms and legs stretched out into the corners of the walls for tension.
Nathan opened his mouth and breathed in deeply, ready to shout out an alarm. Halfway through his breath something hit him in the stomach, catching him unaware and knocking his breath out of him. He doubled over in surprise then realized his mistake. Before he could recover the wall-crawling invader had leapt off the wall straight at him.
Nathanial straightened in time to catch the an open palm in his chest, knocking the wind out of him again and sending him crashing to the ground. His attacker landed with him, leaping to its feet after a quick roll. Nathanial tried to struggle back up himself but the figure dropped on his chest, one knee pressing painfully down on him and threatening to crack his ribs. One of the unknown assassin's hands went to his neck, resting firmly but not choking. The other hand moved up almost slowly in front of the hooded face and raised a single finger, the universal symbol for silence.
Nathanial stared into the blackness that concealed the face of the person on top of him for a long time. Nowhere could he see any skin, the person was completely covered in dark leather, either a tunic, pants, gloves, or boots. Only its face was hidden by the shadow of the dark brown cloth cloak. He nodded, knowing that, at the moment, his attacker had the advantage.
"Stay here," the attacker whispered, the voice quick and harsh but speaking the tongue of men. "Be silent." Nathanial struggled to learn of the person that had bested him but could tell no more from it.
The weight was lifted from his chest then. Nathanial watched, from the floor, as the figure rose and moved away from him smoothly. He shook his head in surprise, the person that had attacked him was smaller then he was. Shorter and clearly lighter, yet the pressure on his chest had been that of a full grown and well fed man. He picked himself up slowly, warily eyeing the person as they slipped back out of the door to his room.
Nathanial waited a few tense moments then moved as silently as he could to the door. He opened it slowly and peered out, seeing there was no guard outside for the first time since they had arrived. Cautiously, he inched out into the hallway and turned towards Gregory's room. A faint noise from the other direction changed his mind, he turned and walked toward the Prince's room instead, hugging the wall for what little cover it provided.
Bobo's door shut silently as soon as Nathanial rounded the corner. He paused, peering up and down the passageway, before creeping closer and listening carefully at the door. He heard nothing. He reached for the door after several long minutes then jumped back in surprise when it opened in front of him. The image of the stranger flashed through his brain less then a heartbeat before he felt himself suddenly weightless. He crashed into the ground, not even registering the dull ache in his sternum from where he had been punched with two open palms instead of just one. Neither did he register the pain or the sound of his head thudding onto the thinly carpeted stone floor.
"I told you to stay in your room."
Nathanial groaned as he opened his eyes and let things slowly come into focus. He was not in his room, nor was he still in the hallway. He looked around and saw Gregory, then Bobo, then finally the woman that had bested him. Woman? He did a double take and stared at her.
She was a couple inches shorter than him and a few years older as well, if the lines on her face spoke the truth. Quite attractive, he supposed, except that he had a pounding headache and he knew her to be extremely dangerous. Short blond hair fell shy of her shoulders and framed eyes that had seen more then most people deserved. He sat up slowly, groaning again as he did so.
"What did you hit me with?" He asked, rubbing the bruise on the back of his head.
"My hands, now be quiet and listen," she said curtly.
Nathanial just stared at her in disbelief, refusing to believe someone so small could handle him in such a way. He was no muscle-bound warrior himself, but he still possessed a balance and wiry strength that few in his order could compete against. He shook his head and focused on what she was saying, she already had the attention of his companions.
"I have no idea who that elf is, but she clearly means to keep you prisoner here," she said. "I came here unaware that I would be unable to leave, I was told the barrier would only keep out elves. From watching and listening to you three I take it that you know how to disable the shield and escape this accursed city?"
Bobo nodded, "We were sent here with that goal. Do you know anything of it?"
The woman shook her head. "I do not. I will help you though, for it is the only safe way to escape this place."
"There is an unsafe way?" Gregory asked, more interested then before.
"Aye, there is," she responded, offering no more.
"Wait a minute, who are you and why should we believe you?" Nathanial said, forcing himself to his feet and fighting off the slight nausea he felt while doing so.
"My name is Yamara," she said, fixing a cold stare on him. "You may choose whether you believe me or not, the alternative is being her prisoner until you grow old and die of boredom and inaction."
"I know of you," Bobo said, surprised. Gregory's expression revealed that he too was in shock at meeting her. "What could bring you to a place such as this? Surely you did not need riches, my father would have given you enough to live off of for ten of your lifetimes."
"Your father?" Yamara said, peering at him. She chuckled after a moment. "Yes, that explains it, Alesha and Kelnozz had a child."
"What was that?" Gregory asked, looking around the room wildly. The other three looked to him, wondering what he was talking about, then searched the walls and ceiling of his room as he did. Nothing was amiss.
"I felt... something. Magic, I am sure, but I don't know what it was," he explained.
Yamara cursed. "She can not find me with her spells, but you are not so protected. Quickly, she has trapped us, we must away!"
Bobo looked around, his brow furrowed and his jaw set. He nodded after a moment and followed Yamara to the door. Nathanial moved as soon as he did, not trusting the woman who everyone seemed to know except him, but willing to follow the Prince's lead. Gregory brought up the rear, his wand in his hand and ready for action.
What followed was a mad dash through the halls. The rushed past surprised doguren in the halls several times, Yamara striking out at them if they were close by or otherwise ignoring them as they paused then gave chase. Yamara took them down passages they did not know about, simply because they had always been guided away from them during their captive stay.
"Where are we going?" Bobo called out over their panting as they ran ahead of a growing crowd of doguren.
"To the fountain," Yamara responded, breathing far easier then she had any right to. "So you can do your thing."
On they ran, coming at last down a staircase and out into the courtyard. Between it and them was a company of at least 20 doguren, with a score or more behind them as well. Kalista strode out into the courtyard, the blue glow from the shield overhead reflecting off of her dark skin.
"Good idea," Bobo said under his breath. Yamara sent him a scathing glance but then looked to Kalista as she walked confidently towards them.
"You have been denied my hospitality for to long, my dear," Kalista said, stopping directly in front of her. "Denied me a great many things, I think," she said, her gaze turning cold and murderous.
Yamara returned the ancient sorceresses gaze without flinching, not understanding a word that she said. She said nothing, only matched her stare. Kalista turned away, walking to Bobo and gently running the back of her fingers across his cheek.
"My grandson... a cross between ogre and elf. An abomination, yet perhaps also a sign of great strength. Tell me, Bobocateya Risingmoon, why did you hide this from me? We are flesh and blood, you and I."
Bobo looked at her and saw the lack of warmth in her eyes. Instead there was fury. A cold, dreadful fury that promised a thousand years of punishment for each lie told, real or imagined.
"My father told me you might be here," Bobo said after a moment's thought. "I was warned to be sure of you before revealing myself. 5000 years of solitude can do strange things to a person. I had to know if you were mad or not."
Kalista laughed sharply. "Oh, I am mad. Entrapped this long and now finding out that others knew of me here, I am filled with a fury that is well beyond sanity. I will escape this prison and I will take my rightful place at the head of the elves, now that they are one people again, and lead them to the glory that is theirs to be had!"
"What glory is that, grandmother?" Bobo asked her.
"The elves and ogres are a part of this world, we are meant to rule it!" She all but screamed at them.
"The only true ogres that remain are stupid and misshapen, products of the curse of Bavorish from before even your time," Bobo pointed out.
"Yes, grandson, that is true," she said, smiling at him. "And because of that this world shall fall under the control of those who remain to inherit it. The elves shall reign over all!"
"My father will not stand for it," Bobo said calmly, believing full well that his life and that of his companions was doomed.
"Then he will step aside, it is a simple thing." She responded, turning and staring up at the fountain of five metallic dragons. Water gushed from the mouths of the four lesser ones, while the gold was a full fifteen feet taller and stood in the middle of the other four, a magnificent crown upon its head.
"But first you must fetch me that so that we can destroy it," she said sweetly, turning back to him.
She pointed at it and looked to Bobo. "Fetch it for me, child, fetch it for me and you all can live lives of contentment."
"No," he said with a tone of finality.
She stared at him, anger burning fresh in her eyes. "You would deny me? Do you know what I can do to you? To your friends? Do not trifle with me, boy! That you are a bastard relative of mine is no concern, there are greater things at work here!"
"You are right, there are greater things at work here. Knowing your plans keeping you imprisoned here, though it costs us our lives and our freedom, is a price I will gladly pay. My father would do the same, I think," Bobo said, steeling himself for her retribution.
She ground her teeth and glared at him with such hatred that Bobo could feel the magic within her begin to rise. He was ready for the agony of it stripping his flesh from his bones. It could be no worse then the pain he had endured when he lost his arm, he kept telling himself, and having survived that he could endure anything.
I will go.
Bobo turned to Yamara, who had spoken, and gasped. "No Yamara, I know what you fought for beside my father and mother, this would be throwing that away and letting darkness anew into the world!"
Yamara turned and looked at him, while Kalista watched with eyes that were suspicious and also afraid. Yamara's words had not been spoken, yet she had heard them and understood them. She gathered her magic about her and prepared a spell, ready to strike down instantly at anyone that would come against her.
I know what you speak of, Prince. You should shield your thoughts, for they are easy to read, she said. If you must deny her then feel free to do so with all your heart, I would rather be free of this place first.
He growled and raised up his musket barreled arm at her, reaching across to pull back the hammers with his other hand. "Do no such thing, Yamara."
Behind them Gregory and Nathanial were staring at Yamara in shock. Gregory's was even more apparent for try as he might he could sense no magic about the woman, yet she had to be using it to use such telepathy.
Kalista waved her hand at Bobo and uttered a rapid series of arcane syllables, leaving him suddenly paralyzed in place. You are free to do as you will, my dear. Kalista thought, correctly assuming Yamara could read her unshielded thoughts.
Yamara looked at Bobo for a long moment, hesitating. Then she made up her mind and nodded to herself. She turned to Kalista and smiled coldly, then walked forward. As she passed Kalista she turned her head away from the elf and looked back at Bobo, Gregory and Nathan. Bobo's head remained frozen looking at where she had been standing, but nonetheless she sent a quick wink their way.
Ahead of Yamara the doguren parted, creating a passage through their ranks towards the fountain. She walked towards it without pause, not stopping until she stood some twenty feet distant from the base of it. She stared up at it for several long minutes, studying it carefully.
Finally she approached it, walking three steps before something stopped her. She grunted as she came to a rest. She reached out in front of her and pushed her hands against what appeared to be an invisible wall in front of her. Frowning, she pulled her gloves off and placed the naked skin of her hands against it, gasping in surprise when they met no resistance until the bracers on her were suddenly stopped.
Eyes wide in sudden realization, Yamara hurriedly began taking off her clothing. Soon she stood with a pile of clothing at her feet and wore nothing save a large ruby pendant with a spark of light within it on simple leather cord around her neck. She reached up with her right hand and clutched it tightly in the valley of her breasts. She took a deep breath and stepped forward, unhindered in the least by the wall that had stopped her moments before.
Nathanial and Gregory watched in aroused fascination as Yamara had done something that seemed not only out of character, but totally inappropriate. Gregory was even more amazed that, for a human woman who must have been in her fifties or sixties, she looked as good as she did. Even her face was barely that of a thirty year old. The human aging condition was something he was more and more familiar with since he had spent almost two decades among elves.
"Interesting woman," Kalista said to herself, but knowing Bobo at least could hear and understand her. "I do not know her talents, but perhaps I can use her. I may need a fitting general."
Yamara stepped into the knee deep water of the fountain, noting that it was slightly cool to the touch but not the least bit uncomfortable. Then she was at the base of the fountain. In front of her, rose a copper dragon. To its right was the silver and the left was a bronze. She studied it carefully then stepped up to it and stretched out her arms above her head. She flexed her knees and jumped, soaring at least eight feet into the air and grabbing on to the hind leg of the dragon where it branched from the body. She hauled herself up on it, obscenely displaying herself to those on the ground on several occasions as she nimbly scaled up the dragon's body.
In no time she had reached the top of the copper dragon and stood well balanced on its shoulders. She studied the gold dragon as it rose above her for a moment, judging distances, then she leapt from the copper's back and landed on the gold's back where the wings joined the body. Nathanial found himself gasping at the acrobatic maneuver, certain she would slip and fall. He underestimated her greatly.
A few more tense minutes and she had managed to climb up the sinuous neck of the gold dragon. She hung under it, her legs and arms wrapped around the neck, and stared at the bottom of the head of it. Such detail went into its carving she almost believed a real dragon had been turned to gold and set before her. Almost, save that she knew the dragons were surrounded by a powerful wall of anti-magic that would let nothing remotely magic through it. That was why she had stripped off her clothing, virtually everything she possessed had some touch of magic to it. The ruby was her gift from Brina. It was not magic though, it was something else altogether.
Yamara inched out the final distance to the head and carefully reached up and around the head with her left arm until she felt the crown against her fingers. It was warm to the touch, warmer then the dragon on which she clung. She took a deep breath and tugged at it, lifting it off the dragon easily. To easily. Yamara looked beneath her, suddenly nervous. She wanted the quickest way down she could find. Her desire increased exponentially when she felt the neck of the dragon between her legs and arms suddenly grow warm.
Kalista gasped in surprise and delight when Yamara began scaling the fountain. Her disbelief turned to amazement when the blond haired woman pulled the crown free from its head. Already visions of her army of doguren marching triumphantly from the city were running through her head. She turned to address her general when a movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. Looking back she saw the head of the dragon being to move.
It was slow for a few moments, during which Yamara clung tenaciously to its neck and tried to slide down it. The speed picked up rapidly, however, and soon the dragon whipped its head about on its long neck, stopping abruptly and sending Yamara flying through the air, the crown clutched in her hand.
Yamara twisted her body in mid air and threw the crown with a force mightier then should have been possible. It flew true, reaching its destination before Yamara slammed into the ground in a less then graceful roll. Bobo sat up from where he found himself on the ground and looked down, surprised, at the heavy metal object he held clutched to his bruised chest.
The seal is yours, princeling, now destroy it!
Bobo looked around, hearing Yamara's voice in his head, but did not see her. What he did see was the dragons of the fountain climbing out of the water and all turning, as one, to look at him. Then Nathanial was there, hauling him to his feet and shouting at him. Bobo turned, still stunned from the impact of the crown hitting him in the chest, but nodded at Nathanial's repeated insistence that they run.
They were off then, sprinting through the palace gate and heading out into the city. They had no idea where they were supposed to go, but they ran in the hopes they could gain enough time to figure out what to do with the crown. Or, more importantly, how to destroy it. Kalista, also stunned by the unfolding events, reacted at last, ordering her soldiers to attack the dragons. They did so without hesitation, hacking in vain at the solid metal of their legs and torsos. The golems ignored the doguren, instead charging through them and heading after the crown.
Yamara looked up from where she had rolled and skidded across the cobblestone courtyard. She was badly scraped and bruised but the glowing amulet that hung from her neck had aided her ability to lighten her weight and reduce the impact of the landing. There was still pain, but pain she had been dealing with since she was born. She picked herself up and ran after them, veering to side only to pick up her wicked looking dagger and short sword from her pile of gear.
"They are catching up!" Gregory panted, barely able to keep up with his companions.
"They are after the crown," Nathanial grunted, having watched over his shoulder as the animated statues ignored the doguren and came directly after the three of them. "Keep running, Bobo, we'll try to slow them down."
"We'll do what?" Gregory asked, slowing down beside Nathanial. Bobo just grunted and continued running, glancing back over his shoulder from time to time.
Nathanial closed his eyes and muttered a chant of power to his God. Gregory glanced at him as the dragons grew closer. Shrugging, he held out his wand and prepared to cast a spell. After a moment he realized he had nothing that would work against them, so he lowered his hand and ran over to the side of the thoroughfare only heartbeats ahead of them. Looking back he saw Nathanial still standing in the middle of the road. Gregory did a double take when he realized the priest had grown slightly larger and become more imposing.
Nathanial deftly slipped around the leg of the first dragon, the bronze one, as it thundered down the road. He leapt up, timing his movement so that he could then spring off of the thigh of the hind leg of the dragon and slip up onto its back. Once there he drove his fist down, which Gregory now realized was glowing softly with divine might. It crashed into the statue's back, denting the metal and sending some cracks running through the construct.
Further back Yamara had leapt onto the tail of the copper dragon and, using her mental powers to aid her, had run up onto its back as well. She slipped down to sit just ahead of its forelimbs and sank her magical dagger into the metal with ease to give her something to hold on to. He short sword she swung as hard as she could, cleaving into the side of the base of the dragon's neck several inches. She cursed as she wrenched the sword free, drawing it back to swing again.
Stricken with inspiration, Gregory raised his wand and cast a spell before his target was out of range. Nathanial shuddered as he felt Gregory's spell hit him, filling him with energy and making the world slow down around him. Yet, in spite of the slowness of things, his movements remained normal. Nathanial grinned and reared back for another punch.
Bobo realized that the statues towered over him and were tireless. At his top speed he could almost match theirs, but his stamina was nowhere near what it needed to be. He came to a junction of streets and slowed briefly, trying to figure out where to go. To his right a path led up, back towards the palace as it curved, but more importantly towards the waterfall where the stream that left the fountain fell hundreds of feet to the lake below. He grinned at the absurdity of his sudden idea, then glanced back over his shoulder. They were closing on him rapidly. With a deep breath he was off, running up the hill.
The bronze dragon that Nathanial was pummeling tried to turn the corner and follow Bobo, but the damage the priest had inflicted by then was extensive enough that one of its forelimbs crumpled under the weight shift. Nathanial flew off of it, landing and skidding unceremoniously in a heap. He looked up and, terrified, rolled to the side barely in time to miss the descending foot of the next dragon in line, a brass, that had leapt over the bronze. Nathanial finished his roll by standing up, just in time to catch the tail of the brass dragon in the arm, sending him crashing back to the ground.
The silver dragon came next, rounding the corner somewhat more gracefully. More importantly to Nathanial, it posed no threat to him in its maneuver. He rose shaking his arm to try and return feeling to it, and ran after the dragon. He realized that while he seemed to be running no faster then usual, he was covering the distance faster than the metallic automatons were.
Yamara saw Nathanial take off at an amazing speed after the silver dragon. The copper she rode leapt into the air clearing the inert body of the bronze dragon. She swung her sword a final time, hacking into the neck, and grinned ferociously as the metal gave way and collapsed, the weight of the head and neck to great for it to support it any longer. Still the dragon moved forward, though its head now was being dragged on the ground. She ground her teeth in frustration and hacked at it from the other side, shearing it free with two swings. The dragon stopped then, losing all momentum and animation. It collapsed atop the bronze, sending her forward with her momentum. Only her tight grip of her dagger kept her from flying forward.
Yamara hung in mid air, kept from falling the eight feet to the ground only by her dagger. She looked up as she felt it move, then cursed as it lost its purchase in the metallic corpse, dropping her to the ground abruptly and unpleasantly. Yamara stood back up and scowled at the now inanimate statue, or what remained of it. Copper and brass lay before her, still ahead was the bronze, silver, and gold.
Yamara laughed, it coming out in a single harsh sounding breath. A few years ago and she would have been feverish with excitement over the thought of a lump of metal the size of these things made of pure silver or gold. Worth enough to live in decadent luxury for hundreds or thousands of years, now she just wanted to destroy them.
A shadow passed overhead, sending chills down her spine. She looked up and saw the gold dragon flying above them and angling straight for where Bobo was running. She cursed and took off running, using every bit of her strength and her talent to make up the ground. Around her neck her ruby amulet blazed with a fierce light.
Bobo made it up the hill only a few breaths ahead of the bronze dragon. Breathing hard and acutely aware of the pain in his side, he ran for the stream, hoping in some way he could make it his salvation. A quick glance over his shoulder and he realized he had seconds left before the metallic jaws of the dragon clamped down on him. The cliff was there, however, on his left. Thirty strides to where the stream plunged over the cliff and into the lake below. Bobo lunged and jumped over the edge, praying as he went over the edge.
Nathanial leapt upon the back of the silver dragon and saw Bobo jump over the edge. His breath caught in his throat and then he screamed in outrage and pounded down on the back of the dragon, sending shockwaves of force through it. He realize a second later what Bobo's intention had been, for the bronze dragon followed him over the cliff. He looked at the silver beneath him and then looked up, understanding his sudden predicament.
Nathanial leapt to the side, hitting the ground hard and rolling into the swift flowing stream. He broke the surface and swam to the side, ignoring the fresh bruises with a rush of adrenaline caused by the realization that he was less then a dozen feet from being swept over the cliff. He pulled himself out of the water and realized that he was alone on top of the grassy plateau area outside of the palace; the silver dragon golem had plunged over the edge as well.
Nathanial looked over at Yamara, seeing her running towards him. She pointed up and he glanced at the sky, noticing the gold dragon bearing down on him. He stood his ground defiantly, earning him a few unpleasant thoughts from Yamara, but determined to fight to the bitter end, now that Bobo and the seal were gone.
The gold flew over him though, all but ignoring him as he stood shouting defiantly at it. It cleared the edge of the cliff and flew in a tight circle, impossible without the heavy usage of magic. It pulled up short and hovered, staring at the edge of the cliff a moment before it reached its head in. A double blast of thunder startled both Yamara and Nathanial. The dragon recoiled, two side by side black marks on its snout showing the result of the noise.
Nathanial ran forward and looked over the edge of the cliff, joined shortly by Yamara. Fifteen feet down Bobo was hanging with his arm draped around a jutting piece of rock, the crown clutched in his hand. His other arm, the one ending in the twin pistols, was pointing at the dragon, although now ineffectively.
The dragon statue reared its head back and then thrust it forward, a cone of impossible flame blossoming forth from it and washing over the face of the cliff. Yamara grabbed Nathanial and pulled him away from it as the flames climbed up and threatened to wash over them. They fell to the ground, the air stolen by the fire from their lungs.
Bobo saw the flames coming and cringed, trying to hide behind the small rocky outcropping he was hanging from. There was no escape, he was doomed and he knew it. With the flames less then a second from engulfing he had a sudden realization. Fire. Pure fire. He flung the crown into the air, using every bit of strength his wrist muscles could provide. The crown met the flames less then six feet from him, drawing in some of the energy and heat and then exploding violently as the hottest fire in Thoragloorin overpowered the magic of the seal.
Panting heavily, Gregory half jogged and half stumbled up the road and came onto the small plateau. His second wind kicked in when he saw Nathanial and Yamara rolling on the grass beside he road. Already Yamara was struggling back to her feet, though she seemed more then a little disoriented. By the time he reached them she was on her feet, if a bit unsteadily. He offered Nathanial his hand and helped his friend up. He followed their gaze to the cliff, from which smoke and waves of heat rose.
They approached the edge and looked over it, squinting as the heat from the fire baked rocks rose upwards. Fifteen feet down Bobo hanged by his arm draped over a spindle of rock, though he hung limply and only because his arm was wedged into another rock. His clothing was blackened or missing, and much of his hair was singed to his scalp as well. The smell of burnt flesh rose to meet them, making both Gregory and Nathanial pull away. Yamara stared for a moment longer, then looked down, beyond Bobo, to see the golden dragon statue nearly completely immersed in the lake below.
She began to pull away when he saw Bobo move. Looking back wide eyed, she realized that he moved because he still lived, even if only briefly.
"Look!" Gregory said, drawing her attention. He pointed to the sky, where the shimmering blue shield of the sky was thinning out and disappearing to reveal a clear sky filled with a nearly full moon and clear view of the stars.
"Rope!" Yamara snapped, thankful that the shield was disappearing, now she could leave the city and return to a semblance of normality. But before that she had a debt that she owed.
"What?" Nathanial asked, turning to her and away from the sky.
"The Prince still lives, give me a rope so I can climb down and get him," she said calmly and evenly, but with a tightness to her voice that brooked no question.
Gregory rifled through his backpack quickly, pulling out a length of silk rope. Yamara studied it briefly, making certain it was sound, before she handed one end of it to Nathanial then tossed the other end over the edge of the cliff. Gregory watched, wide eyed, as she followed it over climbing over it quickly and without the aid of the rope, her bare fingers and toes touching the still hot rocks.
"How does she do that?" Nathanial asked, amazed. Gregory just shook his head, unable to explain it. He could sense no magic about her, it defied everything he knew about the laws of nature and the laws of the arcane.
Nathanial felt a tug on the rope a few moments later, then glanced over at Gregory who was peering over the edge. He nodded and grabbed on to the rope as well, helping Nathanial haul the roasted Prince up. Yamara climbed beside him, helping when she could to keep any further damage from being done to him. Her face was a mask of intense concentration throughout, though it had nothing to do with the several hundred foot drop to the lake below.
On level ground again they saw that Bobo was breathing shallowly and with great difficulty. In a few places the damage was so bad that his bones showed through where the skin had been eaten away by the flames. Without magic of an extreme caliber he held on to life only by the hardy nature of his unique heritage.
Yamara sat beside him on the grass, her nudity ignored and all but forgotten by all three of them. She reached out and placed her hand on Bobo's chest, ignoring the crackling of his tunic and skin and the wetness of the blood that seeped through. She closed her eyes and focused on feeling his heartbeat, slipping into a trance as she felt it and focused her energy on it, strengthening it as she once had long ago for another man on the brink of death.
Nathanial saw Bobo's breathing strengthen, although only a little, and the blood staining the grass under him grow thicker. He knelt beside him and began a chant of his own, preying to Alto for the healing magic to bring Bobo back from the brink of death. Enough of the soothing energy poured through him to lessen the pain of the Prince's wounds and to make his blackened eyelids flutter open. His eyes were a milky white, blind to the world. His mouth opened, the skin of his lips and cheeks cracking with the movement. Gregory leaned forward, the only unoccupied at present, and listened as Bobo struggled to speak.
He whispered broken words in Elvish, garbled with the ruin that had been done to his body. Gregory heard enough to hazard a guess though. He reached into a pouch at Bobo's side that had been shielded from the fire and he opened it up, taking out a wooden token emblazoned with the image of a moon rising over crossed swords. He threw it down on the ground and stomped on it, grinding with his heel and breaking it in half.
Gregory stepped back and waited. His wait was short lived, for within seconds two figures appeared before him, startling Nathanial and making him rise up and back away in surprise. Kelnozz and Alesha stood before them, looking around hurriedly and then noticing the ruined body of their son. Alesha flew to him, kneeling down where Nathanial had been and placing her own hands upon him. She let out a pained gasp as she sent her power into him, searching out his condition and learning what his immediate fate would be.
"He will die in minutes," Alesha said, looking up to Kelnozz with tears running freely.
Kelnozz stared down at his son, his hands and jaw clenched to reign in his pain. "Save him," he ordered.
"The cost will be great," Alesha warned him. She too wanted their son to live, more then anything, but she feared what making him live might cost them all.
"No matter the cost, save him!"
Alesha looked up and saw Yamara. She gasped in surprise, not having realized fully she was there a moment before. Yamara looked back at her, though the look in her eyes showed her mind was elsewhere. Alesha nodded to her. "As before, Yamara, give him strength to make him hold on."
Yamara nodded slightly, then closed her eyes and focused her will. Around her neck the ruby glowed brightly, casting a reddish glow over them. Alesha looked at the others and said in a soft and tired voice, "Who will share their strength with him?"
Nathanial and Gregory looked at each other, not entirely understanding. Nathanial stepped forward after a moment and opened his mouth to speak. He fell silent when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"He came because of me, I will bear the burden," Kelnozz said. He knelt beside Alesha and she took his hand and laid it upon Bobo's forehead, her own hand on top of his. Her other hand she laid beside Yamara's on his chest. Her eyes closed and she reached inside herself calling upon the darkest of her powers that she had locked away decades before.
Kelnozz gasped as he felt an icy vortex open in his palm, sucking the heat and the life from him. He pushed down, ignoring his instinctive reaction to pull away, knowing somehow that breaking the connection would seal his son's fate.
Yamara's eyes widened as she felt the power rushing through the Prince and through her because of their temporarily linked life-force. She gazed at Alesha in equal parts admiration and fear. She had never witnessed such raw naked power in her life. It made her shudder. Alesha glanced up, her eyes a pure glowing black with no sign of her pupil or iris. Yamara could faintly see the outline of lips on her forehead as well, glowing as though it were under a black light. Her mouth moved, uttering words silently of names and things best left unknown. Around Yamara's neck the ruby grew brighter and brighter, until finally it flashed so brightly it seemed it had exploded. When the flash had faded Yamara was truly naked, the ruby had disappeared and the leather thong that held it had fallen to the ground.
Yamara picked herself up from where she had fallen, noticing as she did so that almost everyone else had been knocked to the ground by the pulse of power as well. She glanced down, not feeling the familiar weight of the amulet and gasped. She reached out with her mind, trying to sense it, but again she met with emptiness. Yet her power remained unchanged, or perhaps even more stable and sure then before. Her eyes widened as another possibility occurred to her. She sent her senses inward and found it, though the ruby was gone the spirit within it had merged with her. In contacting the darkness and the planes of the dead a tunnel had been opened. Brina, or a part of her, had been drawn to her and now she was truly a part of her. Dead and gone forever, but she lived on within her. Thankfully unseen, a tear fell from Yamara's eye.
Alesha alone remained kneeling over Bobocateya. She rose slowly, her skin glowing with non-light. She looked to the sky and raised her hands almost beseechingly. Then she fell to the ground, her hands touching the ground and causing an unseen tremor as she released the stored up energy into the earth. She looked up at last, breathing heavily, and stared at her son.
Bobo's clothing remained charred and blackened, or just absent. His skin was healed, however, and a slightly darker hue, as though the burn had left him with a permanent suntan. His chest rose and fell evenly as he slept.
Kelnozz stood up slowly. Weakly. He looked at his son where he slept and nodded, a thin smile coming to his face. He looked at his own palm and saw that it was pale and thin, almost emaciated looking. He clenched his feet and felt the weakness within it. Throughout his body he felt bone tired.
"Thank you," he said, walking over to Alesha. And placing his unmarked hand on hers. She looked up at him and nodded. Her eyes had gone back to normal but a haunted look remained in them.
"I had to open a portal to dark places to give him life. Many things tried to follow me through that portal," she said softly. "I fought them off, but some may have come through and touched him before I dispatched them."
"You healed him?" Nathanial asked, staring at the smooth and unmarked skin of the Prince. He was astonished to think that such a thing could happen without the holy blessing of a God. It shook his system of beliefs to the core, in fact.
"I can not restore life," Alesha said, turning to him. "Only trade it. That and I gave him a touch of my power, enough to understand the darkness that threatened him and to live with it as an ally instead of an enemy."
"I felt it," Yamara said, speaking at last. She hugged her arms about herself, not for modesty, but because she felt more alive and aware then ever before. "Some of it came into me."
"How?" Alesha hissed, staring at her with a sudden curiosity.
"To keep him alive I had to link our life force. To long and he would have died, pulling me with him. But we lived together for a brief time. I saw everything about him and within him, from his earliest memories to his fondest dreams," Yamara said, turning to Kelnozz and looking at him fondly. She smiled and shrugged.
"It will fade from me, but the memories will remain," she said. "What touched him touched me as well. Already I can see better in the dark, what else may have happened to... us, I do not know."
A noise behind them drew their attention. Kelnozz spun about first, his senses dulled slightly by his encounter. His hands went to the swords at his hips, but his left hand could not grasp the hilt strongly enough to pull it free from his scabbard. His jaw twitched as he realized his sudden vulnerability. He left both swords sheathed, concealing his weakness.
Doguren approached, numbering in the dozens before they could no longer count. They took up positions along the rode and parted to let their Queen through. She strode boldly forward, moving so smoothly she seemed to be floating rather then walking. She studied the small party of people and smiled widely when she saw Kelnozz, recognizing him instantly for who and what he was.
"Hello mother," Kelnozz said, hiding his trepidation and uncertainty well.
"At last, my son has come to free me from this prison!" She said, walking towards him and smiling widely. "All these years... I knew you would come eventually."
"You have done well for yourself, I see," she continued. "King of the reunited Elves. Such a destiny beyond what I dreamed."
Kelnozz hid his scowl. "Release your servants, mother, and return with us to Innowendyn. See that which the elves have made their home."
Kalista shook her head emphatically. "This is the home of the elves!" She insisted. "I'll not go into exile as they did! Belurian belongs to our kind, it must be reclaimed!"
"Many will return to Thoragloorin," Kelnozz said evenly, "but only those who wish to do so and only those who understand that while Thoragloorin will again be a safe place for elves on Belurian, only Thoragloorin will be under their control."
Kalista opened her mouth to retort but Kelnozz persisted. "The world has grown and evolved, mother. Much has changed since your time. There are many different peoples now, dwarves, humans, halflings, and others. Many are descended of the ogres of old, but now they are separate races scattered about in many towns and cities. They have greater numbers then the elves, and they possess armies as well. No, the time of the elves ruling all is past. It died in your time, with the betrayal of the forsaken ones."
"Impossible," Kalista spat. "Rule at my side, my son, and we can claim it all again! These are but a sample of the army I have at my call. We can sweep through the lands and reunite it!"
"You were married to the brother of the King ages past, I was named heir and King through direct blood and ability. You and I shall never rule together. You forsook your claim to nobility by betraying your husband and everything he stood for!" Kelnozz said, his voice rising with his ire. His concerns over her nature had proven to be true, he saw at last. In spite of his hopes to the contrary, his father had made a mistake by imprisoning her instead of executing her.
Kalista looked at him in shock. Then her shock faded and was replaced by condescending laughter. "And what will you do, King Kelnozz? I remain your mother and your elder, you have no right to challenge me."
"I grew up having no mother," Kelnozz growled, matching her challenging stare. "And no father, thanks to you and your consort. You are nothing more then a relic of the past. Unfinished business that was left for me to take care of."
Her eyes narrowed hatefully. "So be it, I will show you first hand the strengths of my magic and my army!"
Kalista raised her hand and the doguren drew their weapons, everything from swords and spears to bows. Gregory looked back and forth rapidly, seeing an unavoidable and obviously unpleasant confrontation rapidly approaching. Yamara cursed under her breath behind him, seeing the same thing.
"Got any tricks up your sleeve?" Yamara whispered to Alesha, who stood nearby.
The woman glanced at her briefly and shook her head, looking none to amused. "I must focus on stopping whatever Kalista does."
Unseen at their feet Bobo's eyelids fluttered open. He stared up at the night sky, his eyes still a milky white and seemingly unseeing. What he actually saw was the world in a different way. Around him he sensed the life force of those closest to him. Even the grass beneath him he could sense. Then it faded, his eyes clearing. With it so too did his special vision fade. The brighter glow of the people around him faded and he recognized them as those he had known.
He sat up slowly, dimly hearing the talking behind him, but paying no attention to it. He looked down at his body, studying it and noting that his armor was in tatters and worthless, yet his body was whole. Somehow though, he felt different. More aware, more alive, then ever he had before. Bobo stood up and turned around, seeing his mother and father were now with them, and they were facing his grandmother. A family reunion from hell.
"Welcome back," Nathanial whispered to him. Bobo grunted, hearing him clearly.
"Seems your grandma and dad are not getting along to well," Nathanial continued.
Bobo nodded, focusing on the world around him and wondering at how differently he was perceiving it. Something was nagging at him, something he could not quite place. He sensed something behind them all. Unable to deny it any longer he turned around and walked to the edge and peered over the cliff. Faint heat still rose from the cliff wall, sending an unpleasant shiver down his spine at the memory of it.
Far below, climbing up out of the water along the rocky wall was what had tugged at his mind. A giant...thing, was crawling up the wall. It possessed six legs, each ending in vicious talons half the size of a man. A tail with a bony club on the tip of it swung behind it. A thick shell protected its back and its belly, and spikes of hardened shell protruded from it further showcasing its violent nature. The head of the monster possessed four multi-faceted eyes and sharp pincers that could grip and tear food before feeding it to the sharp looking teeth of the beasts mouth.
"Mother! Father!" Bobo called out, backing away and reaching into a pouch that was secured to his belt behind his back. He pulled out some small items wrapped in silk and shoved them into the barrels of his pistols. He followed this with two iron balls, one for each barrel, and reached for the wooden rod that was normally stored alongside the barrels to ram the bullets and powder in with. His eyes widened when he realized the rod had burned up in the flames.
Gregory approached the edge quickly, seeing Bobo up and acting somewhat frantic. Bobo saw him approach and snatched the wizard's wand out of his hand, shoving it quickly down each barrel and completing the action of arming his pistols. Gregory looked at him in shocked outrage, then snatched his wand back as soon as Bobo was finished. The Prince shrugged and gave him a weak grin by means of apology.
"What is it, Bobo?" Alesha said, alarmed by the tone in his voice. Kelnozz turned away from Kalista, but made sure he could still see her out of the corner of his eye. Dimly he noticed a smile was spreading across Kalista's face.
"It is the guardian that was left behind, in case the shield should ever fail," Kalista said. "It will not stop until all of Thoragloorin is destroyed and everyone within it is slain."
Bobo leaned over the edge, took quick aim, and fired both barrels of his pistol. One slug bounced off the hard shell of the guardian's back, and the other glanced off one of the cruel horns coming out of its head. Bobo fell back, dismayed at how useless his ranged attack had been.
"This is bad," Gregory said, having looked over the edge as well.
Nathanial glanced at him and then at the army of doguren behind them. "You have a talent for stating the obvious." Gregory smirked and tried to think up some creative ways to use his spells.
"Let us destroy this mindless creature and then we can debate the future of the elves and the legacy I gave you!" Kalista said, emphasizing her last words. Kelnozz turned to her then looked back at the edge of the cliff. He looked back to her and nodded once, accepting the truce.
On cue the first of the beast's six feet cleared the top edge of the cliff, landing with enough force to impress upon all of them a desire to not be caught under it. Gregory acted first, flinging his wand forward and spraying magical flames out of it and over the leg and foot. If the guardian was upset or dismayed by the fire he made no sign of it, instead bringing another of its insect-like legs over the cliff.
Yamara, Bobo, and Nathanial acted next, lashing out with their weapons, be they swords in Yamara and Bobo's case or Nathanial's fists and feet. Small wounds were scored on the creature, but nothing that seemed to inconvenience it. It continued its nonstop ascent towards them, gaining a purchase with its middle legs and pulling the bulk of its body towards them.
Kelnozz glanced to Alesha, who nodded with a resigned look in her eyes. He drew Llarothimaril with his right hand and ran forward, dodging under a sweeping horn and lashing out, cutting the tip off of one of the pincers of the guardian. At nearly 6 and a half feet tall Kelnozz was still dwarfed by the guardian.
Alesha raised her hands, reaching down deep within herself and then deeper still, within darker places she could connect to, and flung tendrils of non-light at the guardian. Where they struck they clung to the creature, leaching away at its strength. It howled and thrashed, throwing the shadowy fragments free of it after a moment. It turned to gaze at Alesha, moving towards her with determined steps.
Alesha reached to the sky again and made a beckoning motion with her hands, backing up slowly as the guardian approached her. The doguren rushed forward, adding their mostly ineffectual help by hacking and chopping at the feet of the creature. Bowstrings twanged and arrows struck about the head and neck of the guardian, bouncing off or sticking in but doing no real damage to the hardened skin.
Alesha's spell reached fruition then, summoning a mighty glowing rock from the sky, it blazed down from the sky and struck the rear of the guardian with force enough to send nearly everyone stumbling to the knees. The smoke from the strike cleared quickly, blown away by a breeze and showed the guardian still alive and picking itself back up to attack her. Near the rear of the beasts body the ground was littered with dead doguren, either those slain by her spell or crushed under the guardian as it was driven to the ground. Her eyes widened in surprise and she fell back.
Kelnozz slashed across with his sword, opening a great wound on the underside of the guardian's jaw. No blood fell from the wound, instead a viscous fluid filled the gash and sealed it over, hardening before the elf's eyes into skin. Kelnozz stood there, stunned, and for his inaction was caught by one of the forelimbs as it stepped forward. He sprawled to the side, rolling out of the way of the descending foot and scrambled back to his feet.
The guardian plowed its head down into the masses of doguren around it, capturing one between its pincers and impaling another on one of its horns. Kelnozz blinked in shock and realized that the pincer he had severed earlier had regrown its tip already.
Alesha began to understand the nature of the beast in front of her. Enough physical damage might eventually destroy it, but it was a creature of the elements, created to merge both nature and the world around her. Fire, earth, water, and air would not destroy it. Indeed, perhaps nothing could destroy it. But, if given enough time, she could defeat it.
"Keep it busy," Alesha called out over the din of battle. She turned and ran from it, heading towards the portcullis where the stream flowed from the fountain in the palace courtyard. She stopped and turned to face it, reaching out and gathering the dying life forces of the doguren and drawing their energy in to her. It left her with a sour taste in her mouth, yet simultaneously filled her with power and ignited the spark of lust for it within her.
Bobo looked up, sensing something, and saw his mother standing with her arms raised above her. A black cloud swirled around her hands, growing larger and larger by the moment. He felt chilled, as though whatever she was doing was drawing the warmth from the air around him. He squinted and realized that he could recognize bits and pieces of the cloud, they were the souls of the dead.
Bobo gasped when Gregory knocked him aside, barely avoiding a descending taloned foot from the guardian. Gregory gasped as a numbing pain spread through him. He looked at where a talon had torn a gash through the inside of his thigh, nearly to the bone. Beyond that he could see Alesha standing with her arms raised, He saw nothing of the cloud, but he could sense the growing magic around her through his own nauseating pain.
"Powerful stuff," Gregory said through gritted teeth as he grabbed Bobo's arm and let himself be hauled to his feet.
"Necromancy!" The Prince whispered.
Gregory shrugged. "She needs time, let's give it to her!"
Bobo nodded, raising his sword and rushing towards the nearest leg. Gregory aimed his wand and cast another spell, sending his magic ball of super compressed air towards the guardian's head. It exploded, sending several doguren flying, and even managed to tear a chunk of flesh from the cheek of the guardian, but in moments it healed the damage done to it. The guardian's attention was diverted, however, making it lash out with its tail, clipping a ducking Gregory in the shoulder and sending him rolling. Nearby doguren were not so lucky, being struck dead on by the crushing weight of it.
Alesha was ready at last. She gathered enough power within her and above her to cast her spell, a powerful spell of imprisonment. She flung her arms forward and the energy gathered materialized into a dark band of energy that shot out from her towards the guardian in a beam. It struck the guardian easily and spread quickly, enveloping it entirely. It screamed at the spell and tried to move out of it, but the spell stuck with it. Alesha gritted her teeth and focused, lowering her arms slowly and clearly fighting every inch of the way. The guardian began to slowly sink, the ground underneath it yielding as it gradually lowered.
Nathanial pulled away, seeing the beast covered in a dark glow, then he drew back with the intent of punching it again. He was stopped by someone grabbing his arm, the strength as great as his own in his divine fervor. He turned and saw Yamara standing beside him, shaking her head.
"Do not touch it, it will pull you down with it," she warned. Nathanial followed her gaze and saw several doguren that had continued to attack and were now in the very predicament that Yamara had warned him of. Nathanial nodded and relaxed his stance.
They backed away and watched as the guardian struggled, stomped, and screamed its rage, but was unable to break free of Alesha's spell. Finally the last of it slid beneath the surface of the ground. Still Alesha remained focused, lowering her arms more and more until at the end she was pointing nearly straight down. Only then did she relax her stance and swoon, barely catching herself before falling.
Alesha shook her head, sending her raven hair flying about her face. She reached up and pulled it away then looked to Kelnozz and the others. "It is done."
Kelnozz hurried towards her, sheathing his blade and when he reached her he pulled her to him, wrapping his strong right arm around her. She only gave minimal strength to returning his hug, but she did move her head next to his ear so she could whisper into it.
"Was Thoragloorin worth it?" she asked, her voice a mixture of anger and despair.
Kelnozz pulled away, looking at her questioningly, but found the look in her eyes stilled any response he might make.
"Where did Kalista go?" Gregory asked, breaking the tension. Everyone turned to look, trying to find the elven sorceress, but she was nowhere to be found. The doguren that remained among them retreated as well, heading into the castle.
"She had no intention of helping us fight the guardian, it only served to help her escape!" Kelnozz said, nearly grinding his teeth in frustration. "We must find her and stop her!"
"She is gone," Yamara said, opening her eyes and looking at him. "I felt my link with her break during the fight, but I did not notice it at the time. She has fled Thoragloorin."
Kelnozz cursed softly and looked at those surrounding him. His gaze went back to Yamara and he cocked his head as he stared at her. She stood still and firm, weathering his gaze as he studied her nude body.
"You look well for a woman who has aged over 30 years since last we met," he observed.
"I try to eat healthy," she responded.
Kelnozz smirked and stared around Thoragloorin, looking beyond the cliff into the more common sections of the city below, as well as the fabled park that surrounded the lake. His gaze returned to Yamara, as it always seemed to, though this time he made no attempt at pretending he was doing anything other then studying her face and her eyes.
"Why are you here?"
"I brought the blade here, I heard there was a place within to hide it, a place where no one would ever find it," she responded. Kelnozz closed his eyes and shook his head.
"The Well of Lost Worlds?"
"Yes, that is the place," Yamara said.
"Then you may have doomed this world," Kelnozz said sounding tired. "That sword may not leave this world through any portal, for it is bound to it. By doing so it forces the portal to remain open, allowing entry to whatever chances across it."
"The Well of Lost Worlds can open a rift to almost anywhere," he continued. "And though the blade no doubt went to whichever world you were thinking of when you cast it in, a rift has been opened in every world where it can reach for those who can see it, allowing anyone access."
"For the truly talented a beacon or a thread can be seen connecting the blade with the portal, showing them the way to it," Kelnozz finished. He took a deep breath and sighed. "Thoragloorin is a place of many forgotten wonders... chief among them is the wonder that perhaps we are not ready for it to be returned."
"I will go and get it," Yamara said, breaking the uncomfortable silence that followed. "It was mine to safeguard and still is. I will ensure that it is returned."
Kelnozz nodded, "Do you remember what it is you were thinking about when you tossed it in?"
Yamara grinned, her smile resembling nothing so much as that of a predator's. "The most inhospitable place I could think of."
"Where is Gregory?" Nathanial asked, looking about for his companion. At last he found him lying amongst several dead doguren, his face pale.
The monk rushed to him before anyone else could reach him and knelt beside him, carefully lifting his head. Gregory's eyes fluttered open. "Leave it to you to ruin a good dream," the enchanter said, his voice weak. Nathanial's eyes widened. He looked at his friend and saw the wound on his leg.
"Rest, I will see if I can heal you," Nathanial reassured him.
Gregory smiled faintly. "About time you earned your keep."
Nathanial fought the smile and the tears in his eyes and instead focused on his internal conduit to Alto. The priest had used much of his power already, but surely for such a worthy cause Alto would grant him an additional spell. In his arms Gregory closed his eyes and relaxed back into a deep sleep.
When Nathanial looked up there were fresh tears in his eyes. Bobo, Kelnozz, and Alesha all stood nearby looking down up on him. Yamara alone was off retrieving her clothing. "I could not heal him in time," Nathanial whispered.
Kelnozz nodded, resting his hand on the monk's shoulder. "It was a grievous wound, it is no fault of your own he bled out so quickly."
"You healed your son when he was all but dead, is there nothing you can do for him?" Nathanial said, looking to Alesha pleadingly.
Alesha's face drained of color at the request. "No!" She nearly shouted. Then her tone softened. "I am sorry, but I can not, to restore his life another must die, and even then he would forever be tainted. Not he alone, but it would damage me as well."
Nathanial looked away then stood up, picking up his friend's body as he rose. He walked over to the edge of the cliff and, after a long moment he dropped the enchanter into the lake hundreds of feet below.
"I would be better off doing this alone," Yamara said to the Elf King.
Kelnozz looked at her and shrugged. "Call it redundancy. If you fail he can take over where you left off. I have every appreciation for your abilities and talents, but there is a great deal more at stake here than you proving you can do it. Every minute that portal is open brings us a minute closer to something coming through it that we would rather not deal with."
Yamara nodded, grinding her teeth. She knew that alone she stood a much better chance of speed, stealth, and the lethal force necessary to reacquire the blade. On top of that she was concerned by the very nature of the thing that Kelnozz had chosen to go with her.
"Then let us go, the sooner we are off the better. Have you the equipment I requested?"
Kelnozz nodded, smirking. It was plainly obvious to all that Yamara was not happy about her situation, but she accepted responsibility for it and acquiesced to his demands. He pointed to two filled backpacks lying on the ground behind him, one for each of them.
Yamara sighed and went to the first one, opening it up and rifling through its contents. She took out the majority of it and began repacking the items in the various pouches she had on her person. Most were magical and allowed for a greater apparent volume then the outward size appeared capable of holding. Extra-dimensional spaces were a must for the light traveler.
"Hurry up, troll," Yamara said, the distaste evident in her voice.
The troll in question lumbered forward, seeming quite awkward and ungainly in his thick and vicious looking blackened plate mail. Spikes and hooks protruded from it, promising anything that got to close a painful encounter. Draped across his nine foot tall form were various bags, sacks, and pouches containing everything from extra water skins to rations to miscellaneous garbage only he would call treasure. Also scattered amongst his gear was an assortment of lethal looking weaponry.
"Yooz sure bowt dis, her doesn't like me very much," the troll said, looking at Kelnozz.
"Yes, Rocktooth, I am," Kelnozz said. "You are the descendent of Grabbil, the first troll to ever befriend elves, dwarves, and men. More so, he befriended Nordan, my friend."
The troll slapped his gauntleted hand against his mail covered chest reverently at the mention of his God. When the loud clang had finished echoing Kelnozz continued. "I ask you to honor that friendship and put up with her. Learn from her, if you can, and if she should fall take up her quest."
Rocktooth reached out and grabbed the backpack that came sailing through the air at him, even though at the last minute it seemed to shift to the side in mid air. He slid it over his shoulders and stretched his arms, straining the seams of the pack even though it had already been tailored to fit him.
"Okies, me do dat den," Rocktooth said, shrugging. He picked up the large battle axe that would have taken any one of them at least two hands to wield with a single fist and walked towards the well.
"You're going to roast alive in that armor, troll," Yamara said, scowling. She had no use for trolls, they were large, smelly, messy, disgusting, and hard to kill. The hard to kill part she could appreciate having him on her side for, but the rest of his faults outmatched his strengths.
"Before you go there is one thing I would give you to aid your journey. These rings, wear them and when you speak the word of activation you will be magically succored back to the closest point on the world you are in to this one." Kelnozz spoke and made them repeat a word in old elvish until they had it correct.
"Now go and may the Gods grant you speed. I will guard the well in your absence, ensuring nothing escapes it," he finished. In the time since Kalista had disappeared and Bobo had been saved his arm had recovered most of its color and strength, though it was still visibly weaker then his right one was.
"Take my hand and empty your mind," Yamara told the troll coming with her. In a quiet whisper she added, "if there is anything in it to empty."
Rocktooth glanced at Kelnozz, a worried expression on his green skinned face. Kelnozz just shook his head and smiled sadly. He hoped Yamara could overcome her prejudice, the trolls of Rocktooth's clan had proven resourceful and useful in the past, he was certain they could do so again.
Rocktooth took Yamara's hand and after she stared at him for a long moment he realized she was waiting on him. He grinned, his sharp teeth looking dangerous in spite of the silly gesture, and nodded to indicate he was ready. Yamara scowled and pulled him forward with a strength that surprised him. With her leading the way they dropped into the well.
There were explosions of color and blackness, separately and together. It distorted their vision and made their mind swim with the chaos of it all. Then there was light, nothing but brilliant light. The air exploded from their chests as they hit the ground. They scrambled to their feet, disoriented and off balance.
"Damn, itz hot!" Were the first words out of Rocktooth's mouth. Yamara smiled thinly. She had expected the heat, but even so it still came as a shock to her system.
He glanced up and did a double take. Not just one, but two suns were heating them, though one was much smaller then the other. He was suddenly wondering if Yamara had been right about his armor. He shrugged and decided to deal with it, such was the way of his people.
"Be silent, save your energy for walking, and as hot as it is now it will be just as cold tonight," Yamara snapped, already studying the terrain. She closed her eyes and sent out her senses. Somehow she could still see, though everything was very dark and her range was limited to thirty feet or so. As she turned she found what she was looking for, a glimmer of light in the distance, calling to her.
"The blade is this way," she said, pointing and opening her eyes. In the distance mountains rose high above the barren wasteland surrounding them and ahead of them. She turned and grinned wickedly. "Welcome to Acathia."
Kelnozz had wandered throughout Thoragloorin, reliving his youth in his memories. Alesha and Bobocateya trailed along with him, both silent and withdrawn. Kelnozz was aware of their moods, but he was not yet ready to deal with them. He toured his ancestral home and the palace, smiling in grim satisfaction as the ancient magic of the city restored it and cleaned away even the signs of the Kalista and her doguren's habitation.
"Do you wish to stay here or return to Innowendyn?" Alesha asked after many hours had passed and the sun had fallen on them yet another day. They again stood at the scene of the battle where their son had nearly died. Where a part of him had, in fact, died.
"That's not what you want to know," he said, turning away from the cliff and looking at her. "You want to know what I am going to do about her."
Alesha remained non-committal. Finally, after Kelnozz stared at her long enough she shrugged. "You will do the right thing, I know you well."
"And what is the right thing?" He asked rhetorically, taking a deep breath and letting it out.
"You tried to kill your son when you thought you had no living family remaining because of what he stood for," Alesha reminded him of Darakor, his one time best friend, his son, and his near equal in skill. "When the time comes you will know what to do with Kalista."
Bobo looked up, suddenly alarmed. He had heard the tales of Darakor, his half-brother, but having never had the opportunity to meet the man he tended to forget about him.
"I was too young to remember her, to remember what she reportedly did to me," Kelnozz said.
"Father, Kalista said you had magic that she had given it to you, and that I did as well. Is it true?" Bobo asked hesitantly, not wanting to interrupt his parents but feeling that he had something that might be important.
"She performed a ceremony upon me as I was born, the very one that caused the first of the Forsaken elves to gain their power and be sundered from the elves of old. My father interrupted it, interrupting her before she could complete it," Kelnozz explained, turning to look at him. His eyes widened as he beheld his son. The prince looked different in the moonlight. "She was mistaken, there is no magic within me," he said, gaining time to study his son.
Alesha gasped, drawing both their attention. "I understand now," she said, her face showing the shock of her revelation. "All those times I tried to use my magic on you and you denied me. I could never understand why you were special..."
Kelnozz looked at her, clearly confused.
"Before Ancaruin fell," Alesha explained turning to Bobo. "You know your father and I had a falling out for a time, well, I was lost and confused and he saved me. Saved me from a life and a madness not so different from what your grandmother possesses."
"In those days I tried several times to influence your father, to make him mine in the only way I knew how. Sometimes I could get through to him, but only once in the same way, he denied me ever after. Now I understand why."
"Why?" Bobo and Kelnozz both said. They looked at one another and Kelnozz was again stricken by the growing changes in his son. His eyes widened as he realized what was happening.
"What is it?" Bobo asked, seeing the expression on Kelnozz's face.
"Your eyes..." Kelnozz trailed off, not having proper words to explain what he was seeing.
Alesha turned to look at him, pursing her lips pensively when she saw the change as well. "Can you see?"
"Clear as day," Bobo admitted. "Except there is something different... I can see you two better. Clearer, I think. It's almost like you are glowing, you are so bright."
Alesha nodded. "You are a unique creature, Bobo, more so now than before."
Bobo frowned; he did not particularly care for being called a creature. "What do you mean? Is this magic?"
Alesha nodded. "To keep you from the realm of the dead I had to bond you with it while your father gave up some of his life for you. Yamara tasted it as well, but mostly it is within you. You are alive, but you have tasted death as well. What you see in us is our life force. Our spirit-energy. Have you seen it before?"
Bobo nodded. "On the night you brought me back it was much the same. I did not think on it then, we were kind of busy."
"And what of the day, how did you see then?" Alesha asked intently.
"It... it was bright today, brighter than high noon at sea, come to think of it. It hurt my eyes and I tried to stay out of the sun," Bobo said, thinking carefully as he spoke.
Alesha nodded. "Your eyes are clouded over, they look as though you are blind. The sun is fully set and the last of its light is gone, this is how it will be from now on for you. During the day you will be bothered by the light, for the dead are creatures of darkness."
Bobo's eyes widened and his mouth opened and shut. "I'm... dead?" He finally managed to say.
Kelnozz took a step closer to him, protectively. The elf king's hands were clenched.
"No," Alesha said, smiling sadly. "You are alive. You have crossed over though, and the underworld could not keep you so it made you one of its creatures."
"It made me?" Bobo asked, confused at how a place could have such sentience and power.
Alesha glanced at Kelnozz, who nodded, his gaze steady and sure. She closed her eyes and sighed. "No," she admitted warily, "I made you."
Bobo stared at her for a long moment, seeing more then he told them. She glowed with life and with power, and beneath the surface he could glimpse the darkness with her. Darkness that called to him with its strange and comforting familiarity. He nodded and turned to look at his father.
"I buried my first son on a beach, I will not let another fall while I still draw breath," Kelnozz said to him, answering the unspoken question his eerie eyes asked.
"Where I come from people had a saying," Alesha said, drawing the attention of both men. "If you can't beat them, join them."
The absurdity of the statement had both of them staring at her in shock. Then, after a few moments Bobo could not help but chuckle. Kelnozz finally admitted a grin himself.
"Aye, I guess it beats the alternative," Bobo admitted. He shook his head and chuckled. "You have any idea how hard this is going to make it for me to go wenching?"
More laughter followed, healing the wounds amongst the family as Bobo accepted his new lot in life... and in death. After a few quiet and thoughtful moments Bobo reminded them of their earlier conversation. "What of the magic you spoke of, mom?"
Alesha nodded, wondering when one of them would get back to that topic. "Kelnozz does possess magic, but over the years you have been in such denial of it that you have used it to shield you from other magic. That is why my spells sent at you acted as though they had hit a wall, you blocked me."
Kelnozz stared at her, head tilted as he thought about what she said. He felt no magic in him, but then again, if he had always had it how would he know what it felt like? He shrugged and smiled. "If you say so."
Alesha scowled at him and turned back to her son. "And you, young man, you also have magic within you, more now then ever, in fact. I had hoped to never teach you how to reach it, for fear of what it might do to you."
"I'm not you, mother," Bobo said, facing her bravely.
She nodded. "No, you're not me. That might give you more strength or might weaken you against the power you have the potential to grasp. Now that you are as you are I must teach you, in order for you to survive what you may encounter."
"And you must learn fast, for with Yamara seeking the blade, now you must seek the other part of the sword. We can not afford the risk of letting both fall into the possession of someone with the power to use them," Kelnozz said.
"Why me?" Bobo asked, surprised.
"Do you not feel you can handle it?" Kelnozz asked, guarding his expression carefully.
"No, father, you misread me. I am honored to be chosen, just surprised is all."
Kelnozz nodded and smiled. "I will be busy with Thoragloorin and your mother will be with me, as the elves will accept nothing else during this momentous time. I would have as few know of what happens as possible, therefore you make the most sense."
Bobo opened his mouth but Kelnozz raised his hand to stall him. "Wait, son, there is more. Elvanshalee has the hilt, and she is the sister of Darakor. There is no blood between you, but a strange relationship exists regardless. She knows of you and even saw you as a babe. Few people would she willingly relinquish the hilt to. I think you would be one of them."
Bobo nodded, feeling inside the pride of acceptance. "Now give us a few minutes, boy, I had hoped to do a little wenching myself!"
Bobo chuckled, all the more so when he saw his mother's raised eyebrow. Not disapproving but amused. He turned and walked off, heading back into the palace.
After he was out of earshot Alesha said to her husband, "Wenching, is it?"
Kelnozz chuckled. "Sorry, I just wanted some privacy."
"Kalista," Kelnozz explained. "My mother... what is it you think I should do with her?"
"Kel, for all we know she could be after Bavorish as well. Perhaps she learned something from Yamara, or perhaps her magic will tell her of it at some time," Alesha said earnestly.
"We have to find her. She means to do no less then every other power-hungry fool does, including Narellin, Ancaruin, and even myself at one time."
"And what happens then?" Kelnozz asked, already knowing her answer.
"Then we stop her."
Kelnozz sighed and remained quiet for a long time. "All my life I knew my parents were dead, now I find one still alive and I am asked to kill her. Perhaps you ask too much."
"No, I don't," Alesha said, her voice warm but steady. "You will do what you must, as you always have. You tried to kill Darakor when you had the opportunity and you tried to kill me when I needed killing. That we escaped is no fault of your own, you did the right thing."
Kelnozz fought down the shiver as she spoke so casually of her own past. He remembered all to well the feel of his longsword plunging into her, his intent clearly murderous. She had escaped, spirited away by Bavorish to her own world to build up her power and start a cult of worshippers to return her stronger then ever to Viconia. She had not anticipated Kelnozz and Garrick coming after her though, to finish the job.
"And what if I can't?" He asked softly, flexing his still weakened left hand.
"You do not know how to fail," Alesha said to him, smiling. "And if you do, then I will kill her for you."
Kelnozz looked up at her sharply. She smiled after a moment and said, "What can I say, I'm still young and impetuous."
Kelnozz had to laugh. She was young, compared to him. She was also older then any human had any right to be. She came to him and they held each other then. Such a troubled relationship they had, now they felt as though they could not live without each other.
"She threatens my husband and my son, I welcome the chance to find out just how powerful she really is," Alesha whispered in his ear. Kelnozz held her tightly, smiling at the fighting spirit that was within his wife.
"Dis world iz ded," Roktooth said, staring around and squinting.
Yamara smirked but chose not to make a comment on his ability to point out the obvious. They were resting for a few moments in the shade of some rocks that looked as though they had been thrust up through the crust of the ground. Yamara judged that roughly another four hours would pass before it began to cool down as the suns set.
"Not dead, dying," Yamara sighed, deciding the troll needed an education if they were to have any chance of success. Yamara thought back and remembered her talks with the pudarin woman Sandala from what seemed like a lifetime ago. "There are elves here, or something like them. They call themselves Pudarin. Humans as well, called humans, no less," Yamara smirked. "A branch of humans, shorter and stronger and separate, are known as Acathians."
Yamara took stock of the situation. Speed was good, but the troll refused to abandon his heavy plate mail and she suspected before long he would be ready to drop from heat exhaustion. She decided now was as good a time as any to give him a clue about the world they found themselves on.
"Legend has it that humans arrived a few thousand years ago, descending on great skiffs from the sky. There was a great war, though I know little of it. Apparently a peace ensued, of some sort. The Acathians, ever since, became a lesser race, or rather a race of workers. I guess they lost the war," Yamara said, smiling thinly.
"Another race of people live here, they are called faradwim. They are similar to lizardmen, yet they are much larger and far more friendly," Yamara paused, realizing something. "Then again, the one I met was decent enough, I don't suppose they all are though."
"Your weapons and coins and especially your armor is worth enough here to earn a dagger in your back in a dark alley," she continued. "This world has little in the way of metal, just enough to make every bit of it all the more precious, so keep them to yourself and guard it closely should we encounter anyone."
"The Gods of Viconia have no sway in this world," she said, gazing into the distance and watching the hot air rise in shimmering waves off of the sun baked ground. "Magic is not practiced either, save for a kind of power they call mentalism."
"Almost everyone here has some mental talent or other," she said, "though according to someone I met here before it seems everyone possesses the ability, of this world or not. The trick is having it awoken with you."
"Enough time has been wasted," Yamara said, standing up abruptly. The more she tried to remember what she knew of Acathia the more she remembered all to well what had happened the last time she had been to Acathia. How she had treated people who meant her only kindness unfairly. She had no desire to relive it. "Let us be on our way, and try not to fall too far behind when the suns heating your armor causes you to roast alive."
Without so much as a groan Rocktooth regained his feet. As the twin suns were setting, slowly, he did begin to feel the heat a little less. It was still painfully bright and threatened to suck the life from him, however. It was only with extreme self-discipline that he remembered not to drain his water skins prematurely.
Three days later Yamara drove the lumbering and exhausted troll on. He rarely had time for words, so miserable was he in the harsh climate. At best she could get a grunt or two out of him. She had spotted the trail of her prey two days back, causing her to increase their pace. Now Rocktooth's water was gone and her skins were nearly empty as well. She took great comfort in the fact that she somehow knew they would be coming upon an oasis soon. Something in the land and the air about her seemed to tell her as much.
Since returning to Acathia Yamara's senses had been expanding. Her awareness of herself and of the world around her was growing with each passing day, making her feel more at ease. The familiarity with which she treated Acathia both surprised her and made her feel at ease. She knew it was Brina's doing. The part of the girl she carried within her, made stronger by her brief contact with the realm of the dead in Thoragloorin, was happy to be back home.
"Here," Yamara said, taking off her final waterskin and sipping from it before passing it to the troll. "Finish it, we'll find more soon."
Rocktooth snatched it out of her hand, stopping only second before he emptied it into his mouth. He paused and looked at her, to dehydrated to spit out the dust in his mouth. "Why yooz say dat?"
Yamara smirked, "Because otherwise we'll die."
Rocktooth's eyes widened. He stared at the waterskin suspiciously, as though the simple object could somehow be at fault. Then he shrugged and held the pouch to his mouth and finished it, swallowing three times before it was gone. A low rumble that might have been mistaken for an earthquake followed. Yamara looked at the troll, her amusement at the joke she was playing on the simpleton wearing thin.
"Skooz me," Rocktooth said with a sheepish grin.
Yamara muttered something under her breath that reflected unfavorably on the relationship of trolls with their mothers then set off again, heading out into the morning light and into a slight crevasse that wound its way down a ridge of broken rocks. Rocktooth followed, expending just enough energy to shoot a hateful glance at the larger of the two suns that was rising into the sky.
The crevasse opened into a hidden valley that was all but impossible to see had they not been on the trail of those that came before them. Those that took the blade that they sought with them. Yamara pulled up short and Rocktooth gasped. Tough desert grass could be seen poking up in clumps. It was brown and dry, but it lived, proof of moisture and life. Further in they could see a few spiny cacti as well, more proof of water.
A thought that Yamara did not know she possessed came to her then. It was a rumor that held that by cutting off the top of one of the barrel shaped cactus plants the soft pulp inside could be squeezed to obtain water, or just chewed as it was. She thought of telling her unwanted companion and seeing him go after it. With a sigh she refrained, knowing that while the cactus might have moisture within it, it would make her sick and, even though he was a troll, perhaps Rocktooth as well.
"Derz water here?" Rocktooth asked her, looking around anxiously as though a fountain or a stream would suddenly appear.
"Be silent, you oaf!" Yamara snapped, sending a look that promised daggers his way. He recoiled in surprise, then scowled back at her when she turned her head away from him.
"We have been gaining on them, they might still be here," she explained, moving forward cautiously. Yamara took nothing for granted and scanned every inch of terrain before them with her eyes as well as her enhanced senses.
Yamara looked around a corner to find a group of large lizardmen, or faradwim as they were called her, moving along the path. They were armed with spears with stone points and javelins of similar construction. She ducked back and motioned towards Rocktooth to hurry to meet her. He lumbered along the path to catch up, his heavy armor clanking loudly and ruining any chance for surprise. Yamara slipped into some shadows and disappeared from view.
Rocktooth pulled up short, surprised at her sudden disappearance. He looked back and forth for her, baffled. The first of the patrol of faradwim rounded the corner then, refocusing his attention. The lizardman held his spear ready and approached rapidly, his purpose clear. He wavered a moment as he beheld just what sort of a creature Rocktooth was, for he had never seen a troll before.
The hesitation cost the faradwim its life. Rocktooth's axe cut through one arm and into its side, crushing and cleaving scales, bone, and organs beyond repair. He let the axe go and drew two swords, one large enough that Yamara would be hard pressed to wield it in two hands and the other slightly smaller and with a tapered edge to the blade.
Rocktooth parried the spear of the next faradwim and thrust his shorter sword into the creatures stomach, tearing it out in such a way that deaf was imminent. He bellowed and charged into the remaining six members of the patrol, lashing out with his trollish strength and surprising skill.
While Rocktooth fought Yamara slipped around the battle and moved deeper into the valley. She found several huts where other faradwim dealt. They apparently owned the oasis. She slipped through the outskirts of the town, blending in with her surroundings in a way that she had not known she would be able to do. She silently thanked Brina again, inexplicably feeling her close by, and stopped only when she encountered a cage made of the bones of one of the large reptilian mounts that was used on Acathia. Within it lay the last person she expected to see.
Rocktooth hacked and slashed with abandon, accepting hits he could have blocked in the way of a true troll warrior. What was a little pain now compared to landing a greater blow on his enemies, especially when it would heal with the speed so common to all trolls.
With the last lizardman of the first patrol sliding off of his sword Rocktooth stopped and breathed deeply. He was winded from the fight, though he should not have been. He understood immediately that it had to do with the heat of the thrice cursed world they found themselves on. He bent over and wrenched his axe free of the faradwim and looked up in time to see a fresh wave round the corner towards him. He threw his axe at them mindlessly and grabbed up one of the spears the lizardmen had used. He threw that as well, drawing his swords and following after it.
Rocktooth felt himself slowing as he fought. Still the lizardmen fell about him, but his arms grew heavier and the pain from their stone-headed spears was harder to ignore. He roared in rage as a spear slipped through a niche in his armor and poked into the back of his knee. He fell to one knee and lashed out with his curved blade, cutting the faradwim behind him in half. A large rock slammed into his chest next, sending him sprawling backwards.
The lizardmen rushed him, stabbing down with their spears and trying to finish him off. One spear broke against his armored cuirass, others deflected away. They rose and fell repeatedly, seeking an entrance to his armor. Rocktooth bellowed and flailed about, cutting into legs and whatever else his swords could reach. Then a sandaled foot stepped heavily on his arm, pinning it to the ground. Rocktooth looked over, yanking his other sword to dislodge it from the ankle it was lodged in.
An axe with an obsidian edge crashed down into his wrist, shattering the head of it but also severing his wrist. Blood spurted thickly from it, then thinned and congealed rapidly. Rocktooth howled and yanked his sword free, plunging it deeply into the belly of the faradwim that had severed his hand.
"Youz stoopids gonna pay fer dat!" He roared, rising to his feet and hacking with a berserk rage into anything that moved near him.
In a few moments the faradwim were slain or had retreated. Rocktooth regained some of his senses and felt how exhausted he was. He looked around and saw himself surrounded by a ring of at least a dozen of the lizardmen. They were easily his size, if somewhat less stout then he. He stabbed his sword into the ground and reached down, head up and eyeing his opponents warily.
The troll picked up his severed hand and held it against the stub on his arm. When it touched he grunted and snarled, revealing his sharp teeth to them. They had begun to approach but at his expression they backed up a few feet. Rocktooth let go of his hand and wrenched his sword free of the hard packed ground.
"Who'z next?" He asked, flexing the hand that had reattached itself to his forearm.
The faradwim backed up again, stunned and amazed at how he had healed. A few threw down their swords and ran away, while others remained standing and awed. Rocktooth bent down, seeing no immediate assault forthcoming, and picked up his other blade so that he could dual wield again.
Seeing the troll fully healed and fully armed again, the courage of the remaining soldiers broke. They fled, running back into their small village ahead. Rocktooth waited a moment, surprised by the turn of events, then chuckled. He sheathed his blades and picked up the severed arm of one of his fallen combatants. He took a bite out of it, his teeth rending through the scales and tearing the flesh free of it. He chewed a few times then spat it out in disgust. He spat a few more times, trying to rid his mouth of the taste, then stomped angrily towards the village.
"Stoopid lizardz duzzint even have da good sense to taste good!"
Yamara drove her dagger into the hamstring of the faradwim guarding the prisoner. It gasped in pain and started to fall backwards, to which she aided gravity by plunging her short sword into its chest. It lay writhing and grasping on the ground after she yanked her blades free and moved to the large rock that served as a door to the pen.
"How are you alive?" The prisoner asked, jumping to her feet and staring at Yamara disbelievingly.
"Long story, would you like help out of there?" Yamara replied, glancing over her shoulder as she heard Rocktooth bellow from down the path.
"Yes!" Sandala said, grinning at the impossibility of the situation. "Is Brina with you?"
The shadow that flickered across Yamara's face would have been missed by all but an elf. As soon as it left Yamara realized that Brina was indeed with her, and always would be. "Yes, she is," Yamara said, smiling oddly.
"I don't know how you're going to move that, even with the two of you it's far to heavy." Sandala gestured at the rock that lay between her and freedom.
Yamara shrugged and looked towards the growing sounds of battle. Rocktooth sounded to be holding his own, that much was certain. If he survived she would have to thank the troll for the distraction he provided. If he did not... Yamara shrugged again.
Concentrating on the task at hand, Yamara focused her growing powers and stepped up to the rock. She leaned against it and dug her feet in, then pushed. To her great surprise the rock rolled easily out of her way. Sandala gasped as Yamara thudded into the baked ground without grace.
"Nothing to it," Yamara said, blood rushing to her cheeks at the clumsy maneuver. She regained her feet and reached in to pull Sandala out of the cage.
"What of the others? Krill and... Arktan, was it? Wait, Arktan was like these others, is he part of their tribe? Did he betray you?"
The anemically thin sand elf shook her head, her wispy blond hair floating in the dry air. "It's been a long time, Yamara. Arktan gave his life helping Krill and I escape the silt after you and Brina disappeared. Krill died nearly a year ago when some bandits attacked us. I had some other companions but they were all slain by these faradwim when we offered payment for some water. Apparently we insulted them without knowing it."
"Where is Brina and how are you still alive? How did you escape that strange place and the silt around it?"
"There's no time, Sandala, we must escape first. Then I will tell you everything," Yamara said hastily. She stopped and looked at the deeply tanned elf beside her. "I mean it this time, everything. I owe you that much."
Sandala looked at her for a moment, then nodded. "Where to then, is that ruckus some friends of yours?"
Yamara snorted. "Hardly a friend, more an inconvenience. Still, he is serving a purpose now."
Yamara cursed, seeing several faradwim fleeing from where Rocktooth was at. The lizardman saw them but did not slow down, they just kept on running. Yamara shook her head and Sandala chuckled. "Must be quite an inconvenience if he has the faradwim routed."
"You have no idea," Yamara muttered. Waiting with her weapons in hand while Rocktooth walked into the small village.
"By the spirits, what is that?" Sandala gasped, her hand reaching for the sword that was not at her side.
"What's a troll?"
"He is," Yamara answered without humor.
"Ey der!" Rocktooth said, walking over to them. "Me need some rest, bashin stoopidz in da heat sucks ballz!"
"Sandala, this is Rocktooth, my... companion."
Rocktooth grinned, displaying his many sharp and pointy teeth. "Ey, yooz gots a friend! Me Rocktoof, but yooz can call me Rocky if youz wants."
Sandala, eyes wide, nodded towards him. "Um, thanks, I think. I am Sandala."
"Okies," the troll said, already loosing interest. He looked around and noticed the pool of water with some scrub bushes around it sheltered from the worst of the sunlight by a cliff wall.
"Water!" Rocktooth shouted, running towards it and forgetting everything else.
"Don't drink to much," Sandala called after him warningly. Yamara just held up her hand to the well-intentioned elf and shook her head.
"Don't worry, it won't kill him," Yamara said. Then, forgetting that Sandala was an elf able to hear the quietest of whispers she muttered, "I'm not that lucky."
"He is fearsome but he seems a loyal and brave companion. No doubt he is strong in battle as well, to have made these bandits flee. Why do you hate him so?"
"He's a troll," Yamara said, as though that should explain it all. At Sandala's blank look Yamara sighed. "Another long story, come, let's find your gear and I could use some water before Rocktooth tries to bathe in it."
"He would bathe in it?" Sandala gasped, amazed at the idea of dirtying so much water needlessly.
"Good point," she responded, "he probably doesn't know the meaning of the word."
The women moved off then, stopping first by the diminishing puddle to slake their first and then fill Yamara's skins. Once finished they left the still drinking troll behind and moved through the huts. Yamara searched diligently, trying to find the blade of the sword that they sought, all the while talking with Sandala and filling her in on the events that transpired since last they saw one another.
"Brina and I were transported to another world," she told her. "A world like the one I came from, with water a plenty and cooler temperatures. Brina was delighted by it, though after a while she began to long for Acathia, I think."
"Much as any world, it was filled with evil. She was stricken when an evil man betrayed us, and I barely escaped with my life. I hunted him down after I found out he still lived, and he had sent Brina after me. She was bound to his service, and was no longer a living and breathing creature as you and I are. When finally we met again I managed to slay him and Brina, in her last moments, gave herself to me, infusing her spirit into mine.
"When I said Brina was with me, I mean that she is a part of me now, though her body has ceased to exist, I can still feel her within me." Yamara paused, feeling something stirring within her that pulled at her emotions. "She is glad to know you are well, I think, and if I know her as I think I do, I imagine she would not want you grieving at her passing."
Sandala nodded, her smile sad but understanding. She finished strapping the last of her equipment that they had recovered back under her cloak then. Rocktooth wandered by and stopped staring at her with his jaw open and eyes wide.
"What's wrong with Rocktooth?" Sandala asked quietly, nodding towards the troll behind Yamara.
Yamara turned and saw the slack-jawed troll staring at the sand elf. She turned back, following his gaze, and then chuckled.
"What?" Sandala asked, alarmed.
"Yooz... yoo...yoos'z perty!" The troll stammered.
Yamara laughed, unable to control herself. Sandala looked down at herself, not understanding. Her cloak was open as she finished belting on her sword displaying her body. As before when Yamara had known her she wore no top and only a loin cloth for clothing, the rest of her garb consisted of crossed belts over her hips to hold her pouches and weapons and another belt with several small pouches that looped across her chest to be held up by her shoulder.
"Rocktooth, shouldn't you make sure that our new friend is not ambushed by those lizardmen?" Yamara reminded him pointedly, barely concealing her amusement.
The troll scowled but turned and walked away. Yamara chuckled and looked back to her old friend. "His world is one where he seldom has a chance to see such beauty. Indeed, his kind are not welcomed except among their own, and his tribe in particular for they turned their backs on the evil warlords that once ruled them and fought with men to make their world a better place."
Sandala accepted the compliment in stride, waving her hand as if to say it was nothing worth mentioning. "If his people are as you say then why I are they shunned? To fight evil is noble, and such fervor as his kind can surely incite should bring about adulation and recognition."
Yamara opened her mouth to respond and then stopped as the impact of Sandala's words hit her. The elven woman had made a good point, she had to admit. "The people of Viconia do not always see it so. To them a troll is a troll, and since most of them are fey, they all must be. Kind of like believing that a snake is a snake, it will bite regardless of how well tended it may be."
Sandala shook her head sadly, "I think I am glad that I do not know of this place he comes from. I pity any who can not accept a person for their nature because of their skin."
Yamara could only nod, unable to think up a proper reply. Yamara knew she was one of those people as well. It filled her with shame to realize a lesson she had long ago learned, a lesson she had long ago fought for, was so easily forgotten.
"So why have you returned?" Sandala asked after the silence had grown between them. Her cloak fell back about her body, protecting her from the sun, and she studied Yamara as she spoke.
"We seek something that I lost. A powerful artifact from Rocktooth's world, my world now as well. I was entrusted to find a safe hiding place for it and I thought I did, but that place ended up being a portal to this world."
Sandala raised an eyebrow in curiosity. "What sort of thing is it you speak of?"
"The blade of a short sword, made of metal so strong that it is unbreakable."
"If it's unbreakable then why is only the blade here?"
Yamara grinned. "It was broken by something even stronger."
Sandala laughed. "You have never ceased to be filled with surprises, Yamara. It fills me with happiness to see you again, even more to learn of the companionship you have found and shared with Brina."
It was Yamara's turn to wave away the comment. "It's been a hard ride, but one that I have become the better because of."
"Now then, know you anything of this blade?"
Sandala thought for a moment and then shook her head. "I have not heard of it. Metal is scarce here though, if we journey to a nearby city, Seerpoint is the closest, we might ask about and find rumors of it."
Yamara nodded, it made sense, though it seemed unlikely. The direction Sandala had glanced when she mentioned the name of the city was in the same direction that the bond with the blade had brought them thus far. Yamara had lost the link earlier that morning, however, and now she was effectively looking for a needle in a world full of haystacks.
"I'll go and get Rocktooth," Yamara said, heading off towards the direction she had last seen the troll head.
She found him amidst the dead faradwim. He was kneeling over the body of their leader. The same one that had cut off the troll's hand with his axe, though she did not know it.
"Rocktooth, we're leaving, are you finished here?" Yamara tried, and mostly failed, to soften her tone with the troll. She remembered Sandala's words well, but change was never an easy thing for her.
The troll turned to look at her, a strange light in his eyes. Yamara knew instantly that a thunderstorm of trouble was about to come her way.
"Yooz tink dat Rocktoof iz stoopid," the troll said, his voice flat. "Yooz tink dat me duzzint care bowt you or da elfz or home, but yooz wrong!"
"You such a smart human, den why duz yooz tink dat me is helping? Duz yooz tink dat me is afeared of what Bavorish gunna do to my tribe if him come back?" Rocktooth stood up slowly, his hands clenched in fists at his sides. Yamara stood her ground, suspecting, correctly, that what she did would determine how long she lived.
"Grabbil bashed da orkz an da giants an da light elvzez kuz him knew what livin wif dem in charge would be like," Rocktooth reached down and pulled the blade of the sword out from where it was tucked into the harness of the faradwim chieftain.
"Me not gonna let dis ting go back, if lettin dis go back meanz dat Bavorush is gonna come back.. Him is bad news. Mabbe me isn't smart like yooz's, but dat's just learnins, dat's not wut bein smart is all bowt."
"Rocktooth, we gave our word to Kelnozz to return it to him for his safekeeping," Yamara stated, her voice low and casual. She flexed her forearms in preparation, suspecting the worst.
"Da udder part of da sword is already der, dis bring dem bof together, is yooz an ijjit?"
Yamara bristled. To have her intelligence questioned by a troll was nearly more than she would take. She calmed herself, remembering that he was clearly under the influence of the being trapped within the blade. "The last thing Kelnozz and Alesha want is to let Bavorish back into the world, we are here to get it to them so that they can guard it forever."
Rocktooth shook his head. "Bedder dat it stay here. Me gunna keep dis an stay in dis place. It's hot an it suckz ballz, but beddur Rocky stay heer den let dis go back."
Yamara sighed in exasperation. "Troll, you're trying my patience, and I really am trying to work with you here. Leaving it here is not an option, there is no safer place... anywhere... than under the nose of Kelnozz and Alesha!"
"Not troof," Rocktooth disagreed. "Yooz go back an tell dem dat me is keeping it, unless you tink yooz make a beddur keeper fer dis ting."
Yamara clenched her fists and ground her teeth. Behind her Sandala had rounded the bend in the trail and watched with wide eyes. "I know you better now, Rocktooth, and I am sorry for insulting you before. Your heart is good even if your appearance...and your smell, is not. I will ask you a final time to turn it over to me, then if you refuse I will be forced to take it from you and assume that you are under the influence of Bavorish."
Rocktooth shook his head. "Nope, dis is Rocktoof talking, not dat frooty God. Da boss tells me dat if youz kan't do da job right den me haz to step up an do it fer yooz. Me duzzint want to bash yooz, but me will."
"The boss?" Yamara asked, confused. "Who is that?"
"Kelnozz, him'z da boss."
Yamara nodded, she knew what she had to do and Rocktooth felt he knew what he had to do. "Stand clear, Sandala."
The expression on the troll's face was one of sadness. He shook his head and then slipped the shard into a pouch before pulling his axe free of its harness. "Yoo'z da stoopid one dis time."
Yamara jerked her arms and a dagger slid out of each sleeve into her palms. She whipped them up and sent them flying towards the troll. He batted one out of the air with his axe and let the other one glance off his cheek, splitting the skin and spilling some blood. Yamara was there then, short sword and dagger in hand and rushing towards him.
Sandala gasped as the two companions fought. Rocktooth's strength and surprising speed astounded her, yet every time he launched a blow that should have split Yamara in two the woman had moved and was no longer there. She lashed out at him repeatedly, inflicting shallow wounds that would, over time, prove the difference between victory and defeat. Or so Sandala thought. As soon as she realized that the cut on Rocktooth's cheek had healed she gasped anew. How could anyone hope to defeat such a foe?
Yamara only tried to directly block Rocktooth's axe one time. She concentrated and used her mentalist powers to aid her, but even with it the strength and power of his blow rocked her arm to the shoulder. The troll seemed surprised but recovered quickly, kicking the woman in the chest and sending her sprawling. Yamara started to roll away to give herself time to recover, then thought better of it and instead rolled towards him. She came to her feet and leapt into the air, again using her powers to boost her jump.
Rocktooth grunted as Yamara sailed over his head, slashing down at him. He felt his ear severed and felt her dagger plunge into a chink in his armor between front and back plates. Had he not twisted to the side her strikes would have been more lethal. He spun about to face her, growling and feeling the rage of combat overwhelming him.
Yamara landed and leapt straight backwards, falling as much as jumping. She timed it perfectly and slid between the trolls legs. On her way through she thrust up with her dagger, striking a blow in an area that would cripple any normal man. Rocktooth howled and stumbled forward, one hand leaving his axe to put pressure on the wound.
"Yooz gunna pay fer dat," he growled, turning around and stomping towards where she had ended up after she stopped rolling.
Yamara was already on her feet with her sword and dirk back in their sheaths. She held two more daggers in her hands that she had pulled free from her boots and let them fly, forcing the troll to bat one aside with his axe and grunt as the other one hit his arm behind his gauntlet.
"How many of dem stoopid tings yooz got?" Rocktooth growled, closing on her and throwing the dagger to the ground.
Yamara barely drew her sword in time to block his descending axe. Blocking him again made her arm shudder and dip, but she kept the axe away. Rocktooth let go of his wound, which had stopped bleeding, and gripped his axe in a two handed grip, driving it towards her again. Yamara again blocked, having no option since her back was to a rock wall, and was driven to her knees by the force of it.
Furious at having his strength resisted again, the troll raised his axe and let it fall again, his face contorting with the power he was bringing to bear on her. Yamara focused her own will and swung her side up to intercept, knowing that it was the pivotal moment for her. She had never known a troll with Rocktooth's strength, speed, or skill; she was concerned for her own survival.
The edge of Rocktooth's axe hit Yamara's sword in a loud cracking and rending noise. His axe handle shattered, as did her blade. Enough force remained from the impact to send both of them sprawling away from each other. Yamara rolled and came up, shaking her head and advancing on the troll. She dropped her ruined short sword and dropped onto the troll's back with her knees. Her dagger she pressed tightly against his throat. She heard a gurgling and rasping noise coming from him and wondered what had happened.
The gurgling intensified then, and his shoulders and back shook with the force of it. Yamara tensed to drive the dagger in, knowing that only by striking a troll in the nervous system or the heart could he be killed.
"Wait," he said, his breath groaning. "Yooz win, me is bashed."
Yamara reached down and helped roll the troll over. The head of his battle axe was imbedded into his chest, the spike on the rear of it piercing through his armor. She stared at him in surprise, then brought her dagger back around when he moved his arm slowly to the imbedded weapon.
"Yooz gonna hep wif dis ting?" He wheezed.
Yamara studied him for a long moment then sheathed her dagger and reached down to grab the broken handle of the axe. With a grunt she felt the spike pull free from his chest. The hissing noise that followed as the air rushed in and out of his pierced lung was sure sign of a mortal wound.
Mortal for anyone but a troll, that is. A few moments of ragged and wet breathing passed before Rocktooth rolled over and started coughing and retching. This persisted for well over a minute, with blood expelling from his mouth, before he finally rolled over again onto his back.
"Dat sucked ogre ballz," he said, looking up at Yamara and grinning weakly.
"Give me the blade, Rocktooth," Yamara said sternly, wondering at her wisdom in letting him live.
Rocktooth saw the serious expression on her face and nodded. He reached into his pouch at his side and pulled it out, handing the ebony colored piece of metal to her. She took it from him and slipped it into the now empty sheath at her side. For lack of anything better to keep it in she went over and picked up the hilt of her short sword and fit it in as far as it would go to the scabbard on top of it. Thus secured, she tied a strap around it, keeping it in place.
"Yooz a good basher," Rocktooth said, climbing slowly to his feet. "An me is wun tired troll!"
"I got lucky," Yamara admitted in a rare moment of honesty. She was a little giddy with the adrenaline rushing through her, now that the fight was over and she had obtained the blade.
"Troof!" Rocktoof said, grinning widely. At Yamara's shocked expression he clapped her on the shoulder, sending her stumbling a few steps. "But datz wut bein a basher is all bowt, gittin lucky!"
Yamara looked at him and shook her head, then she looked back to where Sandala still stood. The sand elf had an incredulous look on her face. Seeing Yamara looking at her she shook her head and walked closer.
"I have never seen a fight like that before. You are a mountain of raw force strong as the desert sands," Sandala addressed Rocktooth with her compliment, then turned to Yamara, "and you are like the wind above it, dancing over it untouched and able to strike out at a whim. You have gained much since last I saw you fight."
Yamara shrugged. "Like you said, it's been a while."
"You two were trying to kill each other moment's ago, yet now you behave as though nothing is amiss? How can this be?"
Yamara and Rocktooth looked at each other, sharing a strange moment that neither would be willing to admit to. Yamara finally said, "He yielded the blade to me, it did not control him."
"Her bashed Rocky fair an square, dat meenz her is gonna be bedder at protektin dat ting den Rocky is."
"Rocktooth, I am going to give it to Kelnozz," Yamara reminded him.
Rocktooth shrugged. "Dats okies. It's yooz respons...resp... it's up to yooz to know what to do wif it now."
Yamara nodded. The troll was right, he lacked in education but he made up for it with wisdom. Perhaps not common sense, she thought as she saw him kick over a rock and grab up a scorpion that had been hiding under it and toss it into his mouth.
Sandala shook her head again, not able or willing to explore it any further. "What will you do now?"
"Rest here a little, then return to our world and be done with this quest," Yamara said, fingering the ring that Kelnozz had given her.
"Would you like to come with us?" Yamara asked on a whim. "It is a beautiful world when people aren't killing one another over the fate of it. More water than you will ever see here too."
Sandala tilted her head and smiled as she pondered the offer. Quickly she reached her decision and shook her head. "I thank you both, but this is my place. I am no world-walker, as are you Yamara. My place and my people is here. This is my home, the desert and the wind both. My soul is better simply knowing you still do well, and that Brina is with you, in some way or other."
Yamara nodded, she had expected as much. "Go in peace, sister of the wind, and know that I do not think I have seen the last of you," Sandala said, touching her fingers to her forehead in ritualistic fashion and bowing to the human.
Yamara fumbled a similar response and turned to notice Thorrik was trying to pull out a snake that had slipped through a dead bush and into a small tunnel. She shook her head and looked back, wondering if maybe it was not to late to leave the troll behind after all. Sandala had already turned and started walking away, heading towards Seerpoint or wherever else she felt her next destination lie.
"Let's go Rocktooth, we've got places to go."
Gregory floated, unaware of time and space. After a while he realized that something should be happening. He should be waking up. Or perhaps he was bound for...somewhere else? He remembered suffering great injuries, yet his friend had been there at the end reassuring him. Perhaps to much damage had been done though. If that was true why did the nothingness about him persist? Perhaps he should have paid more attention to Nathanial's preaching about his God...
Sensations. Sound. Light. Colors. It all came flooding in to him, driving away the dark shadows that had tormented him until they were so far removed that he could no longer remember what it had been like for him. He looked around, seeing without recognizing anything. Then, slowly, things began to make sense; patterns began to form in the myriad shapes and rainbows of colors.
He sat up, a shuddering gasp of breath entering his lungs. How had he gotten here? Where was here? Who was he? Who was the beautiful woman standing in front of him that filled him with a sense of familiarity?
"Sleep," she said, waving her hand at him, "and remember."
He felt his consciousness ebb. Dimly he was aware of his head landing back on the ground, then the darkness reclaimed him. It was different that time though, this time he dreamed and in his dreams he remembered who he was.
Alesha stumbled, dropping to one knee from where she walked beside Kelnozz. They were walking in the small park that surrounded the Well. Thus far only a strange looking creature had emerged from it, but Kelnozz had dispatched it instantly with a swift cut from his blades. Now he stooped to help his wife, wondering what could cause her to trip on even ground.
"Something just came across," she said, letting him help her.
Kelnozz glanced at the Well, but saw nothing. "What do you mean?"
"Powerful magic was used to summon a soul from the realm of the dead," she explained. "With the rift between realms, those powerful enough to do so can now break the rule of death."
Kelnozz cursed. "Do you know where or who?"
Alesha shook her head. She could feel the soul that had come across, and it was one that was familiar to her, but she did not know who. "Every time the rift grows wider. Soon the dead will return of their own accord... it must be stopped!"
Kelnozz nodded, agreeing whole-heartedly with his wife. He stared at the Well, not seeing it but instead lost in thought as he wondered what or who might have come back to the realm of the living.
Vanya studied her surroundings carefully. Somewhere nearby was the prey she stalked. She had caught its scent earlier and followed the trail the hooves of the stag left through the hard packed ground with ease. She had once tracked a mountain goat through the ridges of the nearby Periphery mountains, tracking was little more than a game to her.
She slipped around a few rocks that looked to have been long ago thrust up from within the earth and fought the urge to smile her satisfaction. Ahead of her less than a hundred yards the stag drank from the small stream that ran from the nearby mountains and emptied into a pool a few miles away. From there it ran underground, she knew, but had never dared to try and follow it.
She drew her powerful bow back, sighting along it and preparing to loose. Moments before she let go the deadly arrow the buck lifted its head in alarm. It looked about and crouched, ready to bolt. Vanya paused, knowing that if it caught sight or scent of her it would flee ere her arrow could cross the distance. With patience and strength greater than her athletically thin frame should have allowed she held the great bow fully drawn and steady.
Something crashed into the deer then, hurtling out of the air and tumbling it to the ground in a flurry of talons, teeth, and wings. Vanya scowled and relaxed her bow, walking forward with no desire for concealment. The struggle stopped almost as quickly as it had begun, with the deer slain and the airborne predator tearing into its side and pulling a dripping scrap of flesh from it with its teeth.
"Sloppy," Vanya said to it, speaking in elvish. "The deer knew you were coming, it smelled you or sensed you, and nearly bolted."
The beast that was sating its appetite on the deer looked at her and snorted. It chomped through flesh and bone loudly, then swallowed the gruesome meal. It shook its head and pointed a bloody talon at her accusingly.
"No, Regnar, it did not know of me. I was downwind of it," she refuted. "You may have won, but you're still getting sloppy."
The small dragon snorted again, staring at her with a challenging look in its eyes. Finally Vanya relented and smiled. "I said you won, you overgrown lizard, now move, I'm hungry!"
Grinning with a smile a mother would be challenged to love, Regnar moved off of the fallen deer and let Vanya approach it. She drew a dagger and cut into its stomach, letting its organs spill out. She reached in up to her elbow before grinning triumphantly. She pulled the stag's still steaming heart free from its chest. The elven girl tossed it up into the air, where Regnar caught it in his mouth and swallowed it down with scarcely any time spent chewing.
She dug around inside it some more, then pulled free one of the tenderloin straps of meat from the deer. Paying no attention to the blood or the extremely raw state of the meat, she bit a chunk of it off and chewed, savoring in the taste of it. Regnar dove back in as well, feeding as though he was starving.
They gorged themselves on the carcass, eating beyond the point of satiety in Vanya's case, and just barely curbing the appetite of Regnar. Little remained of the deer, however, save for its skin and a pile of bones. With their meal finished both of them looked as though they had visited a slaughterhouse. Vanya chuckled and stripped off her simple leather clothing before wading into the small stream to wash herself off. Regnar jumped in behind her, splashing her with the cold water as he played in the water.
Vanya laughed, caught off guard by the playful dragon, and splashed him back. In moments they were both glistening with water and totally heedless to anything but their wrestling in the water.
While Vanya stood several inches over six feet tall as many elves did, she possessed a frame that spoke of a solidness that could not be questioned. As with the bow, her strength seemingly surpassed even that which her body should have allowed her. Regnar, on the other hand, was a dragon. He was over a dozen feet long, but the sinuous tail made up nearly half of that length, and his neck another 3 feet of it.
"Um, excuse me..."
Regnar leaped out of the stream and into the air at the words. Vanya jumped as well, landing by her discarded clothing and weapons and rolling through them. She came to one knee with her bow drawn and an arrow knocked, pointing at the source of the noise.
The source of the noise was an elf with wide opened eyes. He kept glancing nervously at where Regnar floated in mid-air, beating his wings easily to keep his position. Mostly he stared at Vanya, impressed as he was with her nudity. Nudity was far from uncommon, given the warmer climates he was accustomed to, but he still felt as though he was intruding.
"I'm looking for someone, I meant no intrusion," the elf said, holding his arms up in the air peacefully. One arm ended not in a hand, but rather in twin barrels.
"Who are you?" Vanya asked, not relaxing her stance in the least. Then, as an afterthought she added, "and who do you seek?"
"I am Bobocateya Risingmoon, Prince of the Elves. I seek Elvanshalee, Mistress of these lands. Do you know her?"
"I know her," Vanya said. "but I know of no Prince. I have heard of your father though, but know that he does not rule us."
Bobo smiled nervously. "My apologies. I meant to say that I am the Prince of the Elves of Innowendyn and of Thoragloorin. Elvanshalee rules here."
Vanya relaxed, letting her bow go slack but keeping the arrow knocked. "Why do you seek her?"
"My King has made me vow to reveal my reason only to her, it is of great importance."
Vanya scowled. She turned to Regnar and saw that he had dropped down some and was on the verge of landing. Regnar usually had a good sense of strangers, so she trusted the dragon's instincts. She stood up and walked closer to the strange elf. "What happened to your hand?"
Bobo looked down at the reminders of his time spent in the navy. "It's a long story," he said, shrugging.
"And your eyes?" Vanya continued, reaching out and twisting his head so that he was staring straight at her.
Bobo let her move his head, silently surprised at her strength. Her beauty was instantly evident and it stirred his blood to look upon her, even though he saw things differently now. He could still tell that she was shapely and able to take the breath away from any man fortunate enough to look upon her.
"That's a longer story."
"Elvanshalee is several hours away, I will take you there, and it will give you time to tell me your stories," Vanya said, letting her hand fall from his face.
She turned, presenting her back to him and went to her clothing. With a innocent lack of modesty she bent over and picked up her items, putting them on with not idea of the effect she was having upon the visitor. Bobo did his best to look away but found himself unable to do so, so amazed and impressed was he by the images she unwittingly offered him. A quick glance to the small dragon convinced him that nothing seemed amiss and that his blatant staring would not be taken rudely.
A few minutes later Elvanshalee turned back to face him and saw him adjusting himself as though he was uncomfortable, then noticed the flushed look upon his face. Uncertain as to why, she merely shrugged and walked past him. "Come," she said, "and tell me of yourself."
Bobo followed, whistling to summon his steed, a magnificent warhorse that had been brought over from Innowendyn. "There's not all that much tell, really," he said, stalling as he tried to gather his thoughts.
Vanya stopped and stared at him. "Which is it?"
Bobo looked at her blankly, not understanding. She sighed in exasperation. "First you tell us it is a long story, then you tell us there's not much to it. Well, which is it?"
Bobo laughed self-consciously. Here was a girl only a few years younger than him but with a naivety and innocence about her that indicated she was far from worldly. He remembered well how agile she was and how easily she had drawn the powerful bow upon her back and settled it on his chest, however.
"I lost my hand while sailing a while back. Fighting pirates, actually. Our priest died so I had to sear the wound shut. Unable to heal it, I made the best out of it that I could, rigging this device over it."
"What does it do?" Vanya was full of questions and eager to learn.
"Think of it as a pair of magic wands. They create great noise, like a thunderclap, and strike out at whatever I point it at, hitting with the force of a sling wielded by a giant," Bobo explained.
Vanya nodded, it sounded like magic to her. "My mother probably has things that do that, she is a great sorceress, you know."
Bobo nearly stumbled as he led his horse beside her. Her mother? Did that mean...
"Who is your mother?" He asked neutrally.
"Elvanshalee," she answered, paying no special attention to the question.
Bobo nodded, no longer surprised. He was curious, however, for he had been told that Elvanshalee had no interest in men or in mating. What, he wondered, might have changed that?
"And your father, is he here as well?"
Vanya was quiet for a moment then shrugged. "No, I do not know of him. My mother refuses to speak of him. It is just her, me, and Regnar here. Sometimes we have strange visitors though, people I do not know. One I do know is Lynngar."
"Lynngar?" Bobo asked, struggling to keep up with her chatter. "Who is he?"
"A friend of ours. He taught me how to hunt, Regnar too, actually, except Regnar doesn't use a bow or daggers like I do."
"Is Lynngar an elf then?" Bobo wanted to know more about this man, especially if he might end up having to deal with him.
"No, he's a human, or an ogre. Or something, I'm not sure. I've never seen a human man, actually, just read about them and heard from my mother."
Bobo nearly stumbled again. What had gotten himself in to? "What do you mean, a man or an ogre? How tall is he?"
"Taller than me by a head, very strong too. He almost always wears plate armor with a tint of blue in the metal. He claims it's mithril, forged by dwarves ages past, but I've never seen a dwarf either. Little creatures like that? Seems like a fantasy to me."
Bobo chuckled. "Oh, dwarves are real enough. Not so little either. Better than half of our size and just as strong or stronger. Fierce warriors too, as well as able smiths and craftsmen."
"By the way, I'm only half elf," he continued, smiling at the look of excitement in Vanya's eyes. "I'm part human too, my mother is a human."
"That's not supposed to be possible! How neat!" Vanya nearly clapped her hands in excitement.
"The rules don't seem to apply where my mother and father are concerned," Bobo said somewhat mysteriously.
Vanya nodded emphatically at that. "My mother has told me stories of them, she seems to think that they're like that too."
"What's his story? Is he a pet or your mother's familiar or something?" Bobo changed the subject, waving towards where Regnar was flying nearby, keeping an eye on them.
"Regnar? He's... my friend, I guess. I've never really thought about it. He's just always been there, we've sort of grown up together," she answered, her lips pinched as she tried to remember anything other than the normal day to day life they lived.
"Last person I knew of to grow up with a dragon as a companion was someone special," Bobo said, lost in thought at the possibilities that were occurring to him.
"Oh yeah? Who was that?" Vanya asked, looking at him anxiously.
"What? Oh, sorry, I thought you would have known. It was the last, and current, King of the Elves. Luingirth, a blue dragon, no less, is his companion. They are bound to one another in ways that I do not understand. Although Loo spends far more time with Garrick lately on what Garrick calls 'hunting' trips."
"There it is," Vanya said, distracting him. They were emerging from the edge of the mixed forest they had been walking through and could see a tower rising above another stand of trees ahead of them.
"Impressive," the Prince said, admiring the architecture with his keen vision.
"Is it?" she asked, studying it herself as though for the first time. Finally she shrugged. "I've never seen anything else so I'll have to take your word for it."
Bobo chuckled at her naivety. "There are so many different buildings in the world, and I've only seen a sample of them myself. Perhaps one day I can take you on a tour."
"How fun!" Vanya said happily.
Bobo smirked and looked at his youthful guide. Well, roughly as youthful as he was, he supposed, but her manner spoke of an innocence he had lost at half his age. He found himself envying her.
They continued on, entering the smaller woods surrounding the tower and then standing before the double doors that admitted entry. The tower was large. Bobo stared up at it, impressed with the size of it. He had not seen a tower of such dimensions since he had left Thoragloorin.
Vanya stepped up to the door and touched it, pausing a moment as she whispered something even he could not hear with his elven trained hearing. The doors parted, swinging towards them, and spilled out a warm golden light from within.
"Come, I'll introduce you to mother!" Vanya said, walking happily forward. Regnar landed behind him, sending a small swirl of dust around him with his wings.
Glancing back and smiling a little warily, Bobo followed Vanya in. The doors shut behind Regnar once he had entered. Vanya walked into the main chamber of the tower, walking through a foyer of sorts and into what resembled a very well appointed sitting room. Nothing of it spoke of excess, but it was very naturally and tastefully, and not to mention expensively, decorated. The decorations all shared a common theme, they boasted an interest, or perhaps an obsession, with dragons.
Vanya headed directly for a wide stone staircase that led up to the next level of the tower. The passageway at the head of the stairs curved around the outer wall of the tower, with three doors on their right as they walked. The second door Vanya stopped at and opened. She stepped inside and Bobo turned to follow but a cross between a growl and a chirp from behind him stopped him in his tracks. He looked back at Regnar and saw the dragon shake its head from side to side. Bobo raised an eyebrow, then turned back around. The door was open but Vanya had moved so that it was blocking his view of her.
She rounded the door and stepped back out a moment later, drawing a surprised, and somewhat rude breath from Bobo. She had changed from her leathers into a simple light cloth skirt. Her stared for what seemed like a long moment at her near nudity, ogling her as he had done outside, but this time at extremely close range. He blushed, realizing what he was doing but she had already walked past him, not noticing his behavior in the least. Behind him he heard the chirping noise again and heard an impatient slap of a foot on the stone floor.
Bobo turned back at the dragon, holding up his arms innocently. "What?" he asked quietly. The Regnar snorted and nodded his head past Bobo. Bobo grinned and turned, hurrying after the delicious form of Vanya as she walked towards the next set of stairs.
The top few stairs had runes carved into them. Runes that, Bobo realized, were faintly glowing. As he passed them he felt a faint tingling feeling flow through him. His eyes narrowed at the perceived magic, and he reached within himself, feeling that his own magic he had recently been taught to call upon, was unaffected by it. At the top of the stairs he saw a raised dais that took up the entire center of the floor. Standing on one extended section of it, behind a lectern and a pair of smoking braziers, stood a woman equally as beautiful as Vanya, but with golden hair and eyes. She was chanting quietly, controlling some rolling clouds within the pit in the middle of the room.
Bobo's eyes were torn from the sorceress somehow, in spite of his male interest in the magical glyphs tattooed on to her nude body. How could the room have a pit, he wondered? Staring at it he realized that the dais was some 3 feet above the floor level, and it dropped away in the middle of the room those same three feet. A pentagram was traced onto the floor, allowing for whatever was summoned or experimented with to be contained.
The rolling clouds flashed and spat out angry forks of lightning. They never passed the barrier of the pentagram, but it seemed that they vied against the sorceress for control. Vanya turned to stare at him anxiously, but Bobo knew better than to do anything to disrupt her. He smiled in her direction and Vanya visibly relaxed.
Bobo lost track of the time, but he remained as motionless as possible watching the sorceress, whom he correctly assumed was Elvanshalee, struggle in a contest of wills with the storm cloud. Bobo guessed, again correctly, that the clouds represented an air spirit or elemental, a magical entity she had called forth to do her bidding. Finally the clouds faded away and departed, and both the smell of electricity and the feeling of magic in the room faded to a faint background murmur he was barely aware of.
"So he finally sent you." It was a statement, not a question, and not something that Bobo felt he was supposed to respond to.
Vanya looked surprised. She glanced at Bobo and then back at her mother. "Mother, this is..."
"I know who he is, Vanya, I know well who he is," Elvanshalee said. She stepped out from behind the lectern and approached him, looking him over carefully.
"Well Prince, you've the look of your mother, but the eyes of your father," she said, circling him slowly. "You've got some hidden secrets too, I think."
Bobo returned her gaze, letting her stare into the depths of his eyes. "Vanya and Regnar, leave us, the Prince and I must speak."
He heard an impatient snort from both the dragon and the elven woman, but he never looked away from Elvanshalee. He heard them descend the stairs, but otherwise waited patiently for Elvanshalee to continue.
"I don't approve of your mother," she said at last, turning and walking over to a hook on the wall from which hung a diaphanous cloak. She put it about her shoulders and turned back to face him. "She is a human in possession of far more power than she should have. Her race has fallen from their former glory, she should not have what she has."
Bobo smiled, "I suspect that, if she had a choice right now, she would agree with you and gladly give it up."
"She comes from another world, and that perhaps is her saving grace," the elven sorceress continued as though Bobo had not spoken. "That and she has, at least, the wisdom of being a woman."
"But you are who you are and that is no fault of your own. I only hope, for your sake and for that of the elves, that your human nature does not pull you down," she finished.
"I've come for the hilt," Bobo stated, tiring of her game.
"I know that too, otherwise why would he have sent you? I told him when you were born I wanted nothing of the elven peoples. I chose seclusion for myself, a separation from the fools of the world that would seek to rule and to destroy it." Elvanshalee paused, studying the twin barrels on his arm. She looked up at him again and spoke, "you are a half-breed in many ways, it seems."
Bobo resisted her taunt. He had been told that Elvanshalee would be difficult. She would be impressed only with discipline and strength. "This was the gift of a pirate. He lay dead and I grew stronger because of it," Bobo said, raising his arm up.
Elvanshalee ignored him again. "Now tell me, Prince, why should I give you the hilt? What is to stop the lot of you from bringing Bavorish back and casting the world into darkness?"
"The dead refuse to sleep," Bobo said roughly, losing some of his patience. "When slain they may lay there as is proper, or more likely they may rise again undead and evil. And what's worse, they hate the living."
"They often do," Elvanshalee smirked. "What caused this sundering with the world of the dead?"
Bobo shrugged, "My mother believes it happened when she brought me back. The portal between worlds was week already, and that final act severed it."
Elvanshalee stopped pacing and stared at him angrily. "You were dead?" she spat out.
"Nearly, we retook Thoragloorin and in doing so I was grievously wounded, she had to pull me back from the underworld." Bobo stated. "Yamara kept my body alive and my father gave some of his strength to help while my mother pulled my departing soul back."
Elvanshalee scowled. "I had hoped Yamara would be smarter than that, but she is human as well, I forget. You should have died, Prince, and you should still be dead."
"Perhaps, but as I am not, I now seek to set things right. I need to hilt to do that."
Elvanshalee turned away and headed back to her lectern, pocketing some expensive magical paraphernalia. The way her hips swayed through the translucent material of her cloak was no longer able to divert Bobo's attention, however. She turned back and fixed him with a challenging stare.
"It matters not, I no longer have the hilt," she said.
"What?" Bobo exploded, stunned by her proclamation. "You swore to protect it and keep it from those that would use it! How could you break such a thing! You know what is at stake!"
"Be silent, Princeling," Elvanshalee hissed, walking towards him and towards the stairs, a menacing and powerful look in her eyes. "I know where it is, and you need not worry about anyone laying claim to it. That anyone includes me. It rests in a place where it is beyond this world."
Bobo's eyes widened. "You let it leave Viconia?"
Elvanshalee looked at him in a new light, tilting her head slightly as she appraised him. "Perhaps there is hope for you, Prince, you seem to possess a quick mind."
"No, I did not let it leave Viconia, it is merely beyond where any living person may reach it."
Bobo's unnatural eyes squinted as he tried to make sense of her words. "Tell me of your eyes, what made them as they are?" Elvanshalee asked him, seemingly changing the topic abruptly.
Bobo opened his mouth and then snapped it shut. He was getting annoyed with her, but he knew better than to let her get the best of him. "Magical fire and a trip to the world of the dead. I still see, but not as I once did. My vision is shadowy during the day, and at night I see the very life of the world around me."
"Stay with us tonight, then tomorrow I will tell you where the hilt is at so that you may return to your father and tell him your quest is doomed but the world is safe," Elvanshalee said, her tone somewhat mysterious. Bobo stared after her as she began to descend the stairs.
"The world is not safe without that hilt. The sword must be reforged and Bavorish must be let out of it so that the portal can be restored!" Bobo spat out angrily at her.
Elvanshalee turned, golden eyes on fire with anger, and spoke in a powerful and low voice. "I was there when he was defeated. I fought Ancaruin, ready to lay down my life. My brother was killed, Princeling, as was yours. You and I, there is no blood between us but yet we are still kin, that reason alone is why I allow you to speak to me thusly, now respect your elders and tell me no more of things you think I have no idea of!"
Bobo stared after her as she turned and continued down the stairs. He waited a moment and then followed after her, his cheeks red and a rebuttal hot on his lips. He reigned himself in as he walked, knowing that no matter how passionate he may have been, passion alone would not sway her.
She stopped at the first doorway Bobo had passed on the way up the stairs. "You may stay in here tonight," she told him, opening it up and gesturing in. "Refresh yourself if you wish, I will be downstairs with the others."
Elvanshalee turned and left, her golden tresses floating around her shoulders with the movement. Bobo watched her leave then shook his head and looked into the room. With a shrug he headed into it and shut the door behind him. A water basin was filled with fresh water already. The rest of the room looked neatly made and functional, even a bit cozy for one used to the wilds. Bobo shook his head again and went to the basin.
"Vanya, be careful with that man, there is more to him than you realize," Elvanshalee said quietly to her daughter.
"Mother, he told me who he is and why he has the funny eyes and hand, what more could there be?" Vanya asked, sitting in a most unladylike manner upon a couch.
"His mother and father are the two most powerful people alive short of the Gods," Elvanshalee explained, hands on her hips as she faced her. "And still Bobocateya managed to get himself killed. It was only their unique abilities that allowed him to be brought back, and in doing so they made the world no longer safe for the rest of us."
Vanya's eyes widened. She glanced upwards, wondering if Bobo was some sort of terrible monster capable of destroying them all.
"Take great care, especially you, Regnar," Elvanshalee continued, "that when you eat you do not consume any animals uncooked or that is whole. At least not until this matter is put to right."
"What happened?" Vanya asked. Regnar sneered and dropped his head to the floor unhappily.
"The dead can find no escape from this world to the next, they roam searching for a chance to return to the world of the living. They can do this in any body that has no soul, meaning any recently slain," She explained.
"Bobo told you all of this?" Vanya asked, once again reappraising the half-elven man she had just met.
"He did not need too, it is simple necromancy. Something I care little for, but anyone who studies magic must learn some of it, even if it is only to ward against it."
"It is no matter, he will leave tomorrow, returning to his homeland never to return. We will be safe here for quite some time, I suspect," Elvanshalee dismissed it with a wave of her hand, turning and heading to a large chair with several books piled on a wooden table in front of it.
"You are wrong," Bobo said evenly as he descended the stairs. He stood in front of them, staring mostly at Elvanshalee but occasionally his eerie gaze would settle on Vanya or Regnar.
"If the dead are not forced from this world then you are far from safe. Your magic can defeat them, for a time, but they do not sleep. They do not rest. They do not stop. Kill one and 5 take their place, kill those five and a hundred will come after them. This is not about your safety here, this is about everyone's safety everywhere!"
"You're the one who caused it to happen, not us," Elvanshalee said, sitting forward in her seat with her hands on the sides of her chair ready to stand.
"That's not important, now is it? I had no choice in the matter, I was fulfilling the quest given to me by my King. I was to help restore Thoragloorin, and in doing so I knew my fate was sealed. That my companions summoned my mother and father to bring me back as I was passing is beyond my control," Bobo stated. His voice had gotten even calmer and smoother, but it was tightly controlled in a manner that bespoke just how deathly serious he was.
"And you," he spoke directly at Elvanshalee, "have no right to lie to her about the seriousness of this situation. Protect her as you feel is your right, but do not tell her that things will be all right when you yourself insist that the world is doomed because you will not help us reclaim the hilt of that sword!"
"Are you finished, boy-Prince?" Elvanshalee said, standing up and appearing to tower over Bobocateya even though she was his height.
"I haven't even started you arrogant bitch," he replied smoothly, staring her down.
Elvanshalee cracked a dangerous smile, "If you were anyone else I would strike you down where you stand, boy. Out of respect for your parents, fools that they may be, I will not."
"Go ahead and try, but make it count the first time," Bobo challenged her.
Elvanshalee's fingers curled slowly into fists, then she straightened them out at her side. She began to raise them up when Vanya leapt to her feet from the couch, "Mother, stop! He is our guest and an important man!"
Air spun around rapidly in a tight circle surrounding Bobo. Ten feet away Vanya felt nothing of the miniature cyclone, but in moments Bobo was hidden from view by the force of the vortex. Lightning spat out within it, striking within at an unseen target they all knew to be the elven prince. The air receded, leaving the room unfazed. Bobo remained, but he was kneeling on one knee. He stood up slowly, smoke rising from his clothes but no signs of damage apparent.
Elvanshalee snarled and waved her fingers too quick to follow through an intricate pattern. Flames from nearby braziers erupted and lanced out at him, striking his raised arm that he held defensively in front of him.
"I said you have one chance," Bobo growled, throwing his arm out and negating the lances of fire. "Now it's my turn. Or you can agree to help me!"
"I already told you of it, what more do you want?" Elvanshalee spat, furious and ready to pummel him with her fists if need be. She had no idea how he had fought off her magic, but she sensed that it had drained him to do so and he would be unable to do it much longer.
"Tell me where it is and what defense you had put in place."
"In the great desert to the west, where a great blue dragon once laired, lays an underground cavern. It is there, guarded by the elements and powerful magics that prevent anything that lives from approaching it," she told him.
"Think you can pass that, Prince? Why the trip there alone might do you in!" She jibed, knowing that he would be able to make it but still angry enough to belittle him.
"Easily. You forget, I already died, I'll find a way if anybody can."
Elvanshalee glared at him a long moment longer then finally turned to glance at her daughter. She turned back to Bobo and spoke, "My offer is rescinded, leave this tower now or I will lash out at you again. You and I both know you can't fight off much more of my magic."
Bobo stared at her, calling her bluff for a long moment. "The lair of the great dragon Nordan and my father slew?" Elvanshalee nodded. "Pray I am not destroyed, for I may be the only one in the world able to retrieve it."
Bobo turned and walked to the door, showing no surprised when it opened before him without him touching it. He glanced back at Vanya and Regnar, nodding to each, then he passed beyond the threshold and was gone.
"Good riddance," Elvanshalee muttered, sinking back down into her chair. She looked over at Vanya and Regnar and saw them both staring at her. "What?" she demanded.
"Is he really that bad? That powerful and dangerous?" Vanya asked. Regnar nodded his head up and down, echoing the question.
Elvanshalee sighed. "He is not that bad, no. He is dangerous, but he does not yet realize it I do not think. His power he does not fully grasp either, but it is not as great as he thinks it is. At least not yet."
"What about all that half dead stuff you were talking about. Is he really half dead?"
"I can't be certain, I am no necromancer or priest. There is something to his claims, that much is certain, and given his mother's area of specialty, it would not surprise me if he were. He may have been right in that he is the only person that can hope to retrieve the hilt from where it is safeguarded," Elvanshalee admitted thoughtfully.
"Pity he'll never make it there to find out," she continued, sighing.
"Why not?" Vanya asked, alarmed. Regnar's head popped up at the statement as well.
"The orcs that sometimes threaten our lands? That is where they make their camp, around the lair that once housed the dragon they worshipped as their leader and God," she told her. "There are hundreds of them, and they are no easy army to bypass."
"You've got to warn him!" Vanya said, hopping to her feet. "He'll be killed!"
"If he is stupid enough to stumble into a camp of orcs he deserves to be killed," Elvanshalee huffed. "But I shall do no such thing. My oath is to keep the hilt safe from recovery from anyone. I will do nothing to interfere with that."
"Well then I will!" Vanya said, walking briskly across the room and heading up the stairs toward her room. Regnar and Elvanshalee both watched her go, somewhat surprised.
"The door is over there, daughter," Elvanshalee said, pointing towards the door out of their tower, "if you're so adamant about warning him."
"Mother, Bobo was right... sometimes you really are a bitch!"
Elvanshalee's shocked expression was lost on Vanya, who was already heading up the stairs again. Regnar hissed, chuckling in a sibilant fashion. Elvanshalee glared at him, making his reptilian lips drop back into a neutral expression.
Vanya came back down the stairs shortly, dressed again in her leathers and having her adventuring equipment strapped on. Additionally she also had a few extra pouches and sacks filled with what gear she felt she might need for a longer outing than usual.
"I'll be back after I've found him and warned him," she said rebelliously.
Elvanshalee nodded, somewhat sour-faced. "He only just left, you're faster than anyone in the wilderness, you should be able to find him quickly."
Vanya clenched her fists and looked to Regnar for support, who only looked away innocently pretending he was not paying any attention to what was going on. "Well, maybe I'll stay with him and help him. After all, I'm an elf too, and if everybody is in danger then he could use all the help he can get!"
Elvanshalee stared at her for a long moment, her thoughts and emotions conflicting within her. "Very well," she finally said. "But go with her, Regnar, and do your best to keep one another safe."
"Will you still not help?" Vanya asked, her voice softening into almost a plea.
Her mother just shook her head. "My part in this was done many years past. Others have picked it up, and it seems that this is to be your first test."
She stood up and walked closer to her, reaching out and rubbing the back of her hand against her cheek affectionately. "You were only newly born but I made an oath to you. I told you that your life would be filled with harshness and toil, but that I would prepare you for it. I have done all that I can to make you ready. Go now and take up what is yours. The skills, powers, and talent that are your birthright will allow you to gain knowledge and understanding to better yourself. What you have on you is yours, but take also with you my respect and love, though it will do you no good to shield you from that which you will face."
Elvanshalee smiled sadly, then turned away. "Return here only when you feel you have found yourself. You are always welcome, but nothing remains here for you except for a place where you can hide from the world and from yourself."
Elvanshalee, still facing away, walked away to the stairs and back up them. Tears ran down Vanya's face, but she stood still as well. Her mother had passed her stubbornness along to her, after all. Finally she turned and headed for the doors. Regnar fell in behind her, silent as always but thoughtful.
Bobo had made good time. He was nearly seven miles from the tower before he had the first inklings of being watched. He cast about him, searching without showing that he was aware, but still could not be certain. It was not magic that was after him, that much he knew, but it was something.
Having a sudden inspiration he glanced up into the sky. The sun had nearly settled behind him, but that only made it easier for him to see. He was able to pick up the reptilian form of Regnar with ease, even though he was far away. If Regnar was nearby, then so too was Vanya.
The half-elven Prince spun around, his twin barrels pointing in the direction where he thought he sensed pursuit. His cutlass was in hand as well. He stared into the forest for long moments, searching for any movement or any telltale signs of life beyond that of the forest itself. The forest, he realized, was abnormally full of life. Not more than he had ever witnessed, but it reminded him of how he imagined some of the ancient woods on Innowendyn would look to him now.
I glance into the sky to check on Regnar and Bobo could not help but gasp aloud in shock. He looked again into the woods and his amazement was complete.
"Vanya, come out, I know where you are and I would not harm you or your... or Regnar," he told her, determined to get to the bottom of the mystery he had just uncovered.
Vanya stepped out, catching him off guard. He had known where she was, but in spite of that he still had not seen her, so well had she blended into the tree and the bushes. She walked towards him, hands at her sides peacefully.
"I don't want to hurt you either, Bobo. I'm sorry about my mother, but you don't have to worry about her anymore. Now it's just the three of us," she said.
Bobo glanced up again and saw Regnar rapidly approaching. He stepped off to the side and let the dragon land roughly, so tightly did he have to tuck his wings in to avoid some branches. He snorted and looked at them, glaring at Bobo for a moment.
"What are you?" Bobo asked, looking at both of them alternately.
"What do you mean?" Vanya asked, cocking her head the same way Elvanshalee had done in her casting room. Bobo ignored the similarity.
"I do not see things as you do, nor as any elf does. I see the spirit and the life force of a person. Yours and Regnar's is the same, what does that mean?"
Vanya looked at Regnar, and he at her. They looked back to Vanya and Vanya had a lot expression on her face. "I don't know..."
Bobo looked at them again, hoping for something to occur to him. It did not. "There is more to both of you than it seems. Fair enough, the same can be said of me. But let me tell you this, such similarities I have only seen in people who are very closely related."
Vanya gasped. "Related... but he's a dragon and I'm an elf!"
Bobo shrugged, "That is what I see, perhaps there is more to you then either of you know."
Regnar huffed loudly, echoing Vanya's confused and disbelieving thoughts. "Just think about it," Bobo said. "Not now, perhaps, but later. For now tell me, what brings you to me?"
"Um, well," Vanya trailed off, having trouble dismissing the revelation at the moment. "I, er, we came to help you. The lair is surrounded by orcs, hundreds of them. They once worshipped the dragon that lived there. We came to tell you of it and to help you get passed them."
Bobo frowned. "How will you help me get past them? We are only three and they are many."
"They're only orcs!" Vanya said, smiling for the first time in hours. Her smile reminded Bobo of a similar expression on Regnar's scaly face and it nearly sent shivers down his spine.
"Indeed," he muttered. "Well let us be off then, we can learn more there than we can here."
It had taken them several days of traveling across the harsh sands to reach the tribal lands. The dry heat made traveling miserable for Bobo, but in stoic fashion he endured and did not complain. Vanya and Regnar seemed unfazed by the heat. Regnar in particular bore up under it almost playfully. Bobo scowled at the antics of the two at times, but refrained from commenting. The brightness of the pale golden sand and the sun bothered his eyes as well, further testing his mood.
But now they stared across several sand dunes at the distant camp, noting the orcs that wandered about on patrol. Dark skinned and haired, they wore light colored robes and armors woven from tough desert fibers.
"Mother says there is around 300 of them here," Vanya said, laying in the sand beside Bobo so as to avoid showing any silhouette.
Bobo grunted. He rolled onto his back and stared up at the sky, seeing shifting essences blow with the night winds instead of the clear sky and stars that Vanya and Regnar would see. "They worship a dragon here too?" He asked thoughtfully.
"They did, a great blue dragon that your father helped kill a long time ago."
"Oh," Bobo said, sounding slightly chastised. After all, if Kelnozz had taken part in it, shouldn't he remember?
"Shortly after that he met my grandmother," Vanya continued, sounding a little distant as she remembered what her mother had taught her. "That was before Narellin captured and destroyed her. From their meeting was born Darakor."
"Of course!" Bobo said, remembering now what he had been told. It had only been told to him once, and never discussed since. Whether that was out of emotional angst or a concern for how his mother would feel he did not know. "Your mother, on the other hand, was Narellin and ... Jethallin's daughter. That was her name, wasn't it? Your grandmother?"
Vanya nodded. "Yes, it was. Your father saved her in the end, when her own son sacrificed her to bring back Ancaruin into the world." She paused and looked over at Bobo, smiling somewhat sadly. "I know the story and the names," she said softly, "but I do not know the people."
"Well and good," Bobo replied, "for what I gather tells me it was a time of hardship and of loss. We live in a better time... unless of course I can not get that hilt back to Thoragloorin."
Bobo met her gaze, seeing mercurial things in her eyes with his mysterious vision. "Besides," he said, grinning mischievously in a way that would have reminded anyone who had known him of Kelnozz, "we're making our own adventures and stories to be told for centuries now! Someday your grandchildren will hear of how you saved the life of a foolish elf prince that thought to slip unnoticed through a tribe of bloodthirsty orcs!"
Vanya laughed softly, then rolled over to stare at the camp again. Bobo studied her a moment longer, seeing the exotic life energies within her move and flare with each breath and movement. There was something different and special about, he just had no idea what it was. Yet. He planned on sticking around and finding out.
Regnar landed none too gracefully behind them, spraying sand over both of them. Bob scowled and turned, seeing the grinning dragon sitting happily behind them. He had returned from his scouting mission, apparently.
"Is the lair still in the middle of the camp?" Vanya asked. Regnar growled and nodded. He reached down and started drawing lines in the sand outlining the tents, the buildings, and the overall layout of the orc city.
"You know, every other dragon I have met can talk, why can't you?" Bobo asked, suddenly realizing he had never heard the diminutive dragon speak.
Regnar looked at him and shrugged. He opened his mouth and made a strangled noise that wavered in pitch and octave, but was not recognizable as speech. He shrugged his reptilian shoulders, sending his wings out and buffeting up some sand with the movement.
"I don't think he's old enough yet for his throat to take the proper shape and control. Or at least that's what mother says," Vanya said, answering as best she could for the dragon.
Bobo nodded, rubbing the sand out of his eyes and turning to spit out what the dragon had accidentally kicked up. He stopped then, realizing something.
"You're a dragon!" He gasped. "With a heavy blue tinting to your scales... similar to the one that Kelnozz, Garrick, and Luingirth defeated!"
"Yeah, so?" Vanya asked, not understanding where he was going.
"You can be our diversion! Get the orcs' attention and keep them busy. Their ancestors worshipped your kind, no doubt they will remember, seeing you, and if nothing else be confused long enough for us to get in the lair!"
Regnar looked to Vanya, who stared at Bobo open mouthed. Either she was impressed with the idea or outraged at the unnecessary risk to her lifelong companion. Bobo turned to look at her and smiled triumphantly. When he saw her mood darkening he realized he might have misinterpreted her.
"Wait! It's a good plan! He can fly and get away from them quickly if they turn out to be aggressive. And even if that happens they'll still be distracted so we can get into the caves," Bob pushed on, trying to make them see the light.
Regnar huffed, clearly not impressed at the thought of being used as a distraction or as bait. Vanya shook her head and sat up. "Absolutely not! Come up with something better, that's just too dangerous. Orcs can see in the dark almost as well as we can, and they have more than just swords and axes, they have bows and even some siege engines. They've had to fight off dragons before that tried to come and claim the horde that was supposedly left behind. They've had to fight off adventurers too."
"Look, we don't have time for a fancy plan. I know it's dangerous, but so is every part of this, not the least of which including our own! I did not come here to play it safe, I came here because it is expected of me. Because my people need this quest to succeed just as much as every other living and breathing thing on Viconia needs us to succeed! If I could do it I would, but I can not fly and I can not make my way past the wards your mother left in place if I were to do it."
Bobo looked to both of them, the heat of righteous anger flushing his face. "Now will you help me this? If I could think of something better I would give it a shot, and if you have anything better I would do the same. We do not, I can see from the looks on your faces, so let us do this and be done with it. For all of us, even those we don't like, it must be done and quickly."
Vanya looked to Regnar, sharing a long moment that seemed as though the two were communicating without words. Finally they both looked at Bobo at the same time, making a shiver run down his spine a the similar looks they both gave him.
Regnar nodded and Vanya said, "alright, we will do it. But let us be quick about it!"
Bobo nodded, smiling thankfully. "Regnar, you can see us from high above, right?"
The dragon nodded, closing one eye and peering at him through the other one playfully. Bob ignored the antic and studied the orc settlement. "The sand gives way to some hard packed hills and some rocks, right?" Regnar nodded again. "We will approach as close as we can, certainly through the outer circle of their guards. Do what you can to cause a ruckus then... remember, we want them to think you are a descendent of the dragon they worshipped, so attacking won't necessarily accomplish what we need."
"We," the Prince said, gesturing at himself and Vanya, "will use the diversion to sneak in further. If an alarm goes up there is no way out, we have to push in and recover what we need, do you both understand?"
"What good will it do us to get in there if we can't get back out?" Vanya asked, to which Regnar vigorously nodded his approval of the question.
"I can get us out," Bobo said somewhat mysteriously. Seeing their suspicious looks Bobo explained, "I have a magical item that, when used one time and one time only will succor us back to Thoragloorin. My mother crafted it for me ere I left."
What he did not tell them was that Alesha had intended for it to be used only by him, and the path back would be fraught with peril, especially for someone not possessing his unique nature. Bobo was not sure if it would work for Vanya and Regnar or not, but in one of his toughest moments he had decided that, if it came right down to it, he would be willing to sacrifice them for the good of the many. It bothered him more to think of doing it to them than it did to think of sacrificing himself for the same cause.
"Is something wrong?"
Bobo snapped out of his short reverie, startled by Vanya's concerned voice. He shook his head and offered a weak smile. "Sorry, I was trying to remember anything else of use my father might have told me about his fight here," Bobo lied.
"Come, let us get going! Regnar, to the sky with you, and I pray you fly swiftly and safely," Bobo said, hurrying to his feet to prevent any further discussion. He knew what had to be done, one way or another, there was no sense in brooding on it.
With a last shared look of unspoken communication, Regnar took the sky while Vanya turned and followed after Bobo. She readied her bow as they walked, moving quickly between sand dunes until they approached a patrol. Bobo looked around and made ready to move forward between sentries when Vanya's hand on his shoulder stopped him.
"Our tracks," she whispered.
Bobo looked down, frowning as he did so. He looked behind him and, with his special vision saw a rapidly fading trail behind them of the energy they imparted on the ground. It faded quickly enough into the faint glow that came from the desert life thriving in the sand that he considered it inconsequential. However, Bobo also knew that they would leave footprints in the sand, even though he realized he now had trouble seeing them. He had adapted to his new vision far more rapidly than he had realized until now.
"Not much choice," Bobo muttered, not seeing any easy way to eliminate their trail.
"Sure there is, take off your cloak," Vanya said with a smile. "Then drag it behind us. Let me lead."
Bobo thought about it a moment and then nodded. Untested as she was, in his eyes, she had a good idea. He readied his cloak, piling some sand in the hood to weigh it down more, then waited for Vanya to signal that they could move out.
She waited until another pair of orcs wandered by. They were sloppy in their behavior, but she had faced them before so she expected as much. Especially since they were in their home, a place no sane person would ever attack. Vanya grinned, this was fun!
She moved out, quietly slipping across the sand so effortlessly that she seemed to dance in mid-air across it. Bobo moved behind her, struggling to match her speed while dragging his clock behind him. The sand was obscured to a casual glance, though a skilled tracker could certainly decipher their trail. Orcs were not known for their skill at tracking, fortunately.
They were out of the sand then and moving amongst the low mounds that served as the outer defensive banks of the orc village. Bobo emptied the sand from his cloak and shrugged it back over his shoulders. Vanya kept watch, noting the location of several orcs.
"Don't they sleep?" Bobo muttered, never having done much in the way of studying orc social patterns.
"Few spend the desert days active. Most sleep during the day and move about at night. Orcs, in particular, are fond of the dark," Vanya said, feeling as though she were instructing a child. She grinned at the thought, then saw Bobo's concerned expression.
"How far we from the center?" He asked her.
Vanya shrugged, "I've never been here, how would I know?"
Bobo swore softly, then cast around them for some higher ground they could climb too. The only high ground was ahead, the hills and rocks that rose above the desert floor to make the base of the orc village. "Well, it's time to get our hands dirty," he said.
Vanya nodded, not paying attention to the sound of him drawing his cutlass. She had her bow at the ready, and if the need arose a hand and a half sword across her back and long daggers at her sides. They set out, moving with stealth possible only for elves. Even so, in a place outnumbered as they were, the inevitable was bound to happen.
An orc stepped around a cluster or rocks and was suddenly face to face with Bobo. They both reared back in surprise. The orc opened his mouth to shout out an alarm, already reaching for his a knife at his side. Vanya's bow hummed as she loosed her arrow, taking the orc in his upper lip. The arrow exited the back of the orc's head and imbedded itself into a nearby earthen berm.
Bobo grabbed the orc as he fell, pulling him towards him and swinging him around. Not so distantly they heard some rough chuckling and then one of the orcs calling out to his fallen comrade, asking if he needed any help relieving himself.
Bobo nearly jumped when he heard a reply coming from right behind him. He spun about, cutlass at the ready, and checked his swing when he realized that Vanya apparently knew orcish.
"What are you doing?" He hissed at her, turning back to see if any of the other orcs were coming. He heard renewed laughter from their direction, though they still could not see the orcs or what they were doing due to the turn in the path.
"I told them he had fallen and cracked his skull on a rock," Vanya said, smiling excitedly.
Bobo shook his head, the remaining orcs, however many there were, would no doubt be upon the in moments to investigate the fate of the dead one. He looked up to the sky, picking Regnar's distant form out, and began waving his hands in signal to the dragon.
After a few tense moments, only seconds really, Regnar banked to the right and then swooped down, heading directly for the orc camp. Bobo's eyes widened when he saw a bolt of lightning erupt from the dragon's mouth, jabbing out into the dark night sky and hitting a large rock in the middle of the village, at the mouth of the cave they sought to enter. The rock exploded, showering fragments dozens of feet away.
The village was deathly quiet for a long moment, then, all at once, it exploded with shouting and activity. The orcs burst out of tents, huts, and from their positions at campfires. Forgotten was the orc that Vanya had slain, its companions were already on their way headed towards the village center.
Regnar swooped around in a lazy circle, making sure he was seen by the orcs, then flew in and landed less than a hundred yards from the cave. The orcs gathered hastily, none approaching within a few dozen feet of him. He roared when a few came close, making them back up hastily. Even for a small dragon his roar was impressive.
Bobo and Vanya moved quickly, seizing the initiative and all but running through the camp. Many orcs remained behind, they soon discovered, manning posts and keeping watch for additional threats. They heard a cry come up from a disguised tower that had been built from an earthen mound. Vanya let fly another arrow, silencing the cry of alarm, but the orc on watch was not alone. A separate shout went up and, unable to find its source, they had no choice but to rush on. In moments the alarm was up and orcs began to look for them as they dodged in and out of the hastily abandoned dwellings.
They made it nearly to the top of the hills with only a few minor altercations. Every orc they encountered was dispatched by Bobo's cutlass or Vanya's bow, barely slowing their passage. It was at the top, their destination in sight, that things took a turn for the worse.
Moderately winded from the uphill sprint, Bobo slowed his pace and looked for a way through the crowd of orcs that had gathered. Most had their attention diverted by Regnar, but the orcs chasing them soon crested the hill to the sacred ground they were encroaching and began to shout and draw their attention.
"Follow me!" Vanya shouted, rushing ahead of him.
Bobo watched her, stunned for a moment at her energy. His legs were drained from the run, yet she ran as though she was fresh. He shook his head and was after her, ignoring the growing burn that was beginning to take its toll on him.
Vanya led him into the orcs, her bow secured around her back and her sword in hand. She cut a swath through them, catching them by surprise. The were five ranks deep into them before the orcs began to mount a defense, but the close proximity of one orc to another prevented them from being very effective. The orcs crowded them as well, limiting their strikes, and soon they were fighting off grasping and clawing hands.
"Almost there!" Vanya shouted to him above their cries of the orcs.
Bobo grunted, catching sight of the clearing on the other side of the orcs close by. He heard Regnar roar from close by, knowing he was clearly besieged as well. Something clamped on to his leg, biting in. He kicked but could not shake the orc that had fallen from him. Vanya was gone then, no longer in front of him when he turned to look back to her. Where she had gone he was not sure.
Bobo growled deep in his throat, feeling a primal rage he had seldom experienced growing in him. To be so close only to be denied was not fair. It was not acceptable. It would not happen!
He raised his left arm and aimed it the orc that stood between him and the lair he sought. He released a touch of his magic, enough to ignite the firepowder in one of the barrels. The resulting boom quieted the nearby orcs and made them retreat from the sorcery of it. Bobo stepped over the twitching orc with a canoe for a skull and felt his leg still being pulled. He looked down, glaring at the orc that held him, and lowered his gun to the orcs head. The orc bit deeper. Bobo fired his remaining barrel.
Vanya was there then, bursting free of the orcs that had pulled her down. Her leathers were torn in many places and she bleed from many scratches and cuts, but her sword was in her hand and a wild and fierce look gleamed in her blue eyes. Regnar roared anew and leapt from where he was encircled, beating his wings once to aid his leap. He landed near to them and faced the orcs with them.
Bobo glanced at Vanya, noting how strong and powerful she looked as she stood with her sword in hand. He smelled ozone, prompting him to turn and look at Regnar.
"They will be on us in a moment," Bobo said in elvish. "If we..."
"We will hold them," Vanya said, glancing at him long enough for Bobo to see something coiling within her aura that seemed almost reptilian and malevolent. "You must go and do what you came for. We will buy you the time you need."
Bobo wanted to deny what she said, but he knew he could not. He nodded, "Fight well and I'll see that you're remembered."
Bobo turned and ran, stopping only when he reached the mouth of the lair. He turned back when he realized that Regnar had spoken the last word. His flight had prompted the orcs to attack again, though this time there was room enough for proper weapons to be used. In moments Vanya and Regnar were surrounded, but they kept the orcs at bay.
Bobo clenched his jaw in frustration then turned back to the cave. He ran inside of it, seeing in the dark as others could not.
Elvanshalee broke out of her trance as she felt the first of her wards being tripped. It had been a few years since someone or something had last trespassed, and this time she wondered how she truly felt about it. Bobo had beaten the odds she had given him, she admitted, if he had gotten that far. Still, the first of the wards was far from the most dangerous.
Bobo paused, taking stock of the way the air carried through the immense cavern. It spiraled downwards at an alarming angle, and only now that he had reached a landing in it had he paused to consider the tunnel. He had good reason to pause, the desiccated corpses of several orcs and a few other beings lay on the ground.
Bobo reloaded the firepowder and the bullets before advancing forward cautiously. He looked about, seeing the strange currents of energy and life in the air beginning to coalesce into smaller shapes. Familiar shapes. Those that died here apparently remained behind, adding to the number of guardians.
Wraithlike and ephemeral, they approached him. Faintly glowing eyes came at him, shadowy arms outstretched intent to draw the very warmth of life from his bones. Bobo stood his ground and held out his right hand feeling the power that he had inherited from his mother coiling through him again. It left him drained and feeling rather dark inside, but she had shown him how to use it and how to keep it from using him.
He sent out a pulsing aura of non-light, disrupting the specters that approached him. "Make way for me, for I am greater than you," he warned them.
They slowed their ghostly movements, considering his command. Bobo drew his sword, dark flames of absolution erupting from the edges of the curved short sword.
"Come closer and you will know no more. Stay away and peace will find you, be slain by me and nothingness is your reward."
They all stopped, bowing their shifting heads in obedience to him. One approached after a moment but Bobo sense no harm in his intent. He let him close with him and endured the outstretched appendage that touched his shoulder.
The arm withdrew and Bobo felt shaken to the core. He had felt the chill from the creature, but it was a distant thing, not something the drove the breath from his lungs or the blood from his limbs. Instead he felt a strange sense of comfort with the communion. Bobo walked through them, sheathing his sword and trying to put the disturbing incident behind him.
The tunnel continued downwards, descending into the depths. Or the first of the Nine Hells, whichever he encountered first.
Elvanshalee raised an eyebrow, again removed from her meditative state by another ward going off. She frowned, somewhat annoyed this time. She was studying some complicated elemental planar magic and was nearing an understanding of it. The second ward meant that Bobo had gotten past the first one, and a quick study of it in her mind left her gasping in surprise... he had not defeated it, he had simply moved through it and beyond.
The second one would prove more challenging, she was certain, though how he had been accepted by the spirits of the dead was unknown to her.
Bobo slowed again, studying the scene before him. The passage had opened into a giant cavern mostly devoid of any stalactite of stalagmite growth. What it did possess was more bones. The shattered skeletal remains of a dragon lay spread across the floor. Bobo studied it carefully, wondering what had killed it. He sensed that the spirits of the dead he had already encountered were not permitted to travel any deeper than where they were at, yet something had clearly killed this dragon.
Bobo studied the walls and the floor, wondering if some mundane trap had been responsible. Nothing seemed evident, and he further suspected that Elvanshalee would not have done something so simple as that. She loved her power and craved more, to use some device that needed none was not her style.
Then again, neither was necromancy.
Bobo looked again and realized with a start what he had been missing. Or rather, what appeared to be missing. He studied the very air of the cavern intently, noticing that none of the swirling vortex of life's energies traveled beyond the mouth of the passage he stood in. It was as if the chamber was a vacuum.
Bobo shook his head, wondering why that did not make sense. He knelt down and picked up a pinch of sand that had gathered on the rocky floor. He held it up to his mouth and blew on it, watching it enter the cavern. The fine grains of sand behaved exactly as they should, in an atmosphere, save that the warmth of his breath and the tiny imprints of life his breath gave to them vanished as soon as they entered the room.
Bobo nodded thoughtfully, realizing that the living could go no further. He knelt down on the ground and, with the barrels on his left arm, traced the line where life stopped and death began. He lay down next to it and calmed his breathing. He closed his eyes and forced himself to relax. Dwelling upon what was about to happen would do him no good, instead he had to simply do it, as was expected of him.
Drawing the life energies up and around him, Bobo infused his body with it. When he felt fully protected he stood up, feeling strangely buoyant. He turned into the cavern and walked into it, seeing things even more brightly than he had before.
He passed through the immense room and saw a smaller chamber at the end, carved out of the rock with tools, not by nature as the rest of the cavern had been. He studied it carefully, knowing a third deadly trap must be in place, but could find nothing that might impede his progress. With a sense of fatalism, Bobo stepped forward to cross the threshold.
Elvanshalee was paying attention this time. She suspected that trying any further study into the higher physics of magic would escape her anyhow. She felt nothing transpiring further with the second ward, wondering if perhaps the Prince had given up his quest. She chuckled, reckless and brash he might be, but he was also determined. He would not surrender so easily, she was certain.
She wondered as well about Vanya and Regnar. Had they gone with him to the orcs, or had he found a way through them alone? They had not returned, but that meant nothing, they might be watching from a distance. Elvanshalee had long ago fashioned powerful shields about them to protect them from the eyes of others that would use magic to scry upon them. It defeated her in this instance, but they were of such unique nature that it was worth the price. If others were to find out about them she could only imagine the horrors they might endure. Death would be better, even at her own hands if need be.
Another ward screamed its warning to her. Elvanshalee gasped in amazement. How had he sent off the third ward without defeating the second one? It was impossible! It was...
"I see you've done well for yourself."
Elvanshalee's head snapped around, looking to the doorway into her tower. The final ward she sensed being defeated was not in the desert, it was in her very tower. Her eyes widened as she looked upon the trespasser.
"What?! But... you're..."
"Not anymore I'm not," he said with a crooked smile. "You've been a very naughty girl, Elvanshalee, and I'm here to punish you."
Elvanshalee rose off her couch fluidly, arms in front of her defensively. "I'm no foolish little girl anymore," she warned. "I'll not be so easily tamed."
The man laughed, a sinister and mocking sound. Without further preamble he sent his own magic against her, countered just in time by her own. Elvanshalee felt the strength within him and understood instantly that she would not win. The best she could do was buy time. Time for her children to escape. Time for Bobo to do what he needed to do, even though she had been unable to help him.
Elvanshalee threw herself into her magic more deeply than ever before. Unlike the elves of ancient times, she had understood the restraint necessary to keep the magic from gaining control of her. Now she removed those restraints. She opened the floodgates and bathed in the elemental powers she had acquired. She could not win, but maybe, just maybe, she could take him with her.
A light lit up the sky to the west. The orcs cowered, ducking under the barely felt shockwave that passed over them. Regnar and Vanya, both bloodied time and again, stared into the distance at the column of flame that filled the pre-dawn sky. Both felt something inside of them crumble at that moment. It was not a magical or a spiritual thing, but rather a bond that told them that Elvanshalee was no more.
Vanya felt tears threatening to spill from her eyes. Grief tried to overwhelm her, but her gaze fell upon a nearby orc that was staring to the west as well. Suddenly filled with rage, Vanya stood up from where she had been knocked to one knee and picked up her dropped hand and a half sword. She lashed out at the orc, crumpling him to the ground. A roaring sound reached her ears, and she realized as she lashed out again and again that it was Regnar. Then she felt the strain in her own throat and lungs and she knew that she was screaming as well.
The orcs that survived their initial assault routed, fleeing from the two as they stalked out anything close enough to hunt down and destroy. In minutes Regnar and Vanya stood alone on top of the mound, breathing heavily and streaked with blood.
Bobo stepped out of the room, holding the hilt of the sword in front of him in mid-air with his otherworldly magic. It was the correct one, as well, rather than the expert imitation that had rested upon the top of the now overturned stone plinth. He walked back through the dead cavern and saw his body laying on the stone floor, awaiting his return.
Above it floated several shades of those who had sensed a spiritless body and sought to use it for their own purposes. Bobo scowled and hurried back. He let the hilt fall to the ground beside his body and then laid down upon it, merging spirit with flesh.
Bobo's eyes opened and he gasped as racking pains shot through his body. He shuddered with each attempt to draw in breath, until at long last he was able to breath unimpeded. His joints were sore and his body was cold to the touch. Yet inside he felt as though he burned with a fever. He looked around saw that the shades had left him, robbed of their prize as they were.
He stood up slowly, carefully balancing his wayward legs. He gaze up the passage and nearly groaned at the thought of the long uphill walk. Then he remembered that he could return to Thoragloorin at any time, he had the magical disk in his pouch.
Bobo debated for a long moment, knowing that young as he was, Regnar stood little chance surviving the entire orc tribe. Vanya as well, in spite of her amazing abilities and strengths, would surely have perished. Bobo reached into his pouch and pulled it out, tapping his twin barreled arm against it in preparation for breaking it.
Sighing, Bobo pocketed it and began the climb. He had to see if they were still there. There was no chance that they had survived, but he had to see for himself to be sure. He picked up his pace and hoped that the exercise would warm his body up and get his blood flowing enough to make him feel alive again.
Bobo emerged from the tunnel and immediately saw the bloom of energy in the west. He stopped, stunned, and turned the east. The sun was brightening the eastern sky by this time, further adding to his confusion. He looked back to the west and was at a loss to explain it.
What amazed him more was the bodies that lay about the top of the hill. Dead orcs were everywhere, well over two score of them. He shook his head in amazement, convinced that Regnar's and Vanya's last moments were truly worthy of remembrance in song. Then he turned enough to see them standing near the edge of the hill. Bobo's eyes widened in amazement a third time in as many minutes.
"Remind me to never make you angry," Bobo said good-naturedly as he walked up to them.
The look that both directed to him silenced him instantly. It was sadness and anger, mixed together. Under the circumstances it was easy for Bobo to ignore the fact that Vanya's leathers were torn so badly as to be reduced to scraps. Her right breast hung free, scored and bloody by three furrows running down it vertically, and her leather leggings had been reduced to little more than shorts.
"What's wrong?" He asked.
"My mother is dead," Vanya responded thickly.
Bobo looked to the west, suddenly understanding. It had been her final strike against whatever had attacked her. He admired her at the end, in spite of their heated argument.
"She died well, I think," the Prince offered as a consolation.
Vanya nodded, turning back with Regnar to stare into the west for a long moment. Bobo nervously looked down the hill, seeing many orcs doing their best to hide from them. Whatever had happened up here had scared the normally ferocious tribal warriors. Bobo shuddered to think of what it might have been.
"Now what?" Vanya asked finally. "Did you get it?"
Bobo patted a sack that hung from his side. "Aye, it's here. I'm for Thoragloorin now, and for what happens when the sword and hilt are reunited."
"We're coming with you," Vanya said. Regnar nodded once beside her.
Bobo opened and closed his mouth. "The way is fraught with peril. We can be there in hours, but to walk the way I do you might see things that you might wish you had not seen."
"We've nothing left here, Bobo, now we want to find out what my mother was willing to sacrifice her life to protect."
Bobo nodded, he could appreciate that. They were involved and they did deserve that much, if not more. "And the orcs?" Bobo asked, nodding down the hill.
Regnar smiled viciously. He turned and roared, sending several unseen but well heard orcs scurrying for cover.
"They'll not bother us anymore, I think," Vanya replied.
"You think wrong," Bobo said dryly. Behind them some of the dead orcs were beginning to rise.
"What are you..." Vanya trailed off, following Bobo's gaze.
"As I told your mother, the dead do not stay dead anymore. We must hurry!" Bobo said and pulled the disc from his pocket. "Hold hands...er, talons."
Regnar was in a foul mood such that he did not even snort his displeasure at Bobo's weak attempt at humor. Instead he wrapped one scaled fist around Bobo's barrels, while Bobo tossed the disc onto the ground between the three of them. Vanya took his right hand in hers and after he summoned forth the energy from within him and also gathered up that which was swirling around them from the deaths of the battle, he crumbled it with the heel of his boot.
All three of them were immediately plunged into darkness. Vanya's grip tightened on his arm, as did Regnar. Both were possessed of superior night vision, a courtesy of their specific racial heritages, and to be blinded so suddenly was a unique experience for them.
"Relax, some, you are safe with me. In time you will be able to see things, dimly though, as though through a veil," Bobo counseled. "We must away quickly, and take care to not look about you if you can. You might see things that the living are not meant to see."
Bobo knew what he was talking about. His mother had taken him on a few spirit walks when she had been training him. They traveled in the realm of the dead, but they were alive. For them it was safe, if disturbing, for they were protected by the very power they wielded over the dead. Bobo hoped that he could extend his protection over Regnar and Vanya, otherwise the two of them could be injured. Or worse.
But of equal of greater concern were the sights. Bobo had seen many things, and his experience was limited. The dead that did not rest, far more abundant now than before, would seek them out. Normally the living did not see the dead, though Bobocateya was special in the that respect. Normally the dead did not try to harass the living, for they were unable to hold onto the world of the living for long. Now all manner of beings were running amok, anxious for a chance to upset or injure the living.
All around him they could see spirits hovering over the bodies of the orcs. Fighting with one another to reinhabit them so that they could taste the living world again, even though a body animated thusly would not be alive in the truest sense. Some of the spirits looked at them, but they had witnessed the necromantic powers Bobo had called upon and they understood that to interfere with him would spell their eternal doom.
"What are you doing?"
Bobo turned, surprised at the voice he heard. Not for what it said, but for who it was.
"How dare you bring them here!" Bobo stared at Elvanshalee's spirit, as beautiful in death as she had been in life, here she had a terrible power about her as well.
"Mother!" Vanya gasped, staring at her. Regnar sought to move towards her but Bobo stepped forward quickly, pulling Vanya with him and blocking the dragon's approach.
"Do not let go of me!" Bobo hissed.
To Elvanshalee he said, "It is the only way back to Thoragloorin. Go and rest, spirit, we will reopen the realm of the dead soon so that you can be at peace."
"Enough with that nonsense, boy! You know I don't have to go even if the portal is repaired. You protect them, boy, or I'll haunt you for the rest of you life!"
Bobo smiled sadly. "I will do my best,"
"No!" Elvanshalee snarled at him. "I'll have your oath, or you're not the son of the greatest elf to ever life. No one else could have done what you did to retrieve the hilt, Bobo, you've marked yourself as special. Now earn the accident of your birth and your legacy."
Bobo nodded. "So be it, I swear it then. I shall protect them and see them through to the time that they set into the world on their own."
Elvanshalee's ethereal snarl did not fade, but she seemed somewhat mollified. She floated to Vanya and Regnar, not touching either but looking fondly at both of them. "Take care of each other as well, you're all you have left in the world. And be careful, I learned at the end that even blood is not always as thick as it should be..."
Vanya reached out for her and Elvanshalee shrank away from her quickly, she held up her hand in parting and then was gone, slinking away too fast for them to follow her. Fresh tears ran from Vanya's eyes.
"Come," Bobo said softly, "we must make haste."
They set off, each silent in introspection. They traveled across the landscape, moving far more rapidly than they could have on foot or on horseback. Even flying Regnar could not have covered the distance they did as they walked among the spirits.
Many times they were accosted by the souls of the dead, but fortunately none of them caused them any ill. Some were curious, others pleading for help for themselves or their loved ones. Only one was openly hostile, but Bobo's power held him at bay. Each step was as one hundred, allowing them to cross mountains with ease.
As they approached Thoragloorin the dead increased. Both those animating bodies and those that were formless, seeking peace. In time it became almost impossible for them to move forward without brushing against some specter or shade. Bobo halted them and frowned.
"I mark Thoragloorin nearly half a days march from here, but we will be contested every step of the way," he told them.
"We must leave the spirit world and rejoin the land of the living, else we may come in contact with the spirits and to do so would be a bad thing."
Vanya shivered at the thought of brushing up against the shadowy forms that moved about, some amorphous blobs defying gravity and others detailed souls looking much as they had when they lived. "What happens if we touch them?"
Bobo met her eyes and said, "You will experience everything they wish you too, and typically the dead want you to understand what dying felt like."
Vanya gasped, her free hand covering her mouth.
"You will not die, here, but you will suffer their death as they suffered it," he continued. "And there's more, if they can they will distract you, causing you to get lost. This world is different from yours, our bodies do not age but they do not live as well. Too long spent here will harm you, and if the dead can have their way of it, many of them will keep you here until your body has not the strength to move on."
Regnar snorted, turning to look at him. Vanya nodded and said, "that makes sense, I have felt a weight on my shoulders increasing as we walked. I feel weaker than before, and the despair of seeing all these...dead people. And the colors.. there are no bright colors here! How dismal their existence must be!"
Bobo nodded, "Yes, it is. Now you know why the orcs began to rise after you slew them, something that lusted after the world of the living could not stand it here anymore."
"So this is death?"
"Only a part of it," Bobo explained. "Normally when a person dies they move on to whichever afterlife suits them the most."
Vanya's eyes widened. "You know what happens after?"
Bobo gave her a ghost of a smile. "I died once. My mother pulled me back with her power, it's why I am the way I am."
"As for what happens after you die, that is the great secret that everyone wants to know, but it is not one I can share with you."
"But do you know?" Vanya persisted.
Bobo looked at her for a long moment before he shook his head. "Gather close and stay in contact with me, we are going to leave this realm. And be ready, when we return the dead that walk will be only too happy to attack us."
Bobo turned around so that they were facing each other in a circle again. He reached out, pulling in the dark energies that abounded in the pseudo-underworld and fashioned them as his mother had taught him. Finally he let them go, a vortex of soundless energy forming with them at its center and then disappearing completely.
It was as though they had been muffled and suffocating and then suddenly freed. Sights, sounds, feeling, and colors assaulted them. Vanya and Regnar both stumbled and fell, overcome with the sensations as well as trying to deal with the aching weakness in their bodies. Bobo stood ready, drawing his cutlass and watching a few shambling bodies in various states of decomposition that came towards them.
Vanya rose shakily to her feet and reached to unlimber her bow. Bobo waved his hand at her, making her pause. "Arrows are all but worthless, they do not live as you or I. To stop these things they must be hacked and torn apart, or have their head or spine severed."
Regnar roared and spat out a powerful bolt of static electricity. It tore into the closest of the undead zombies, making it dance and erupt into flames.
"That works too," Bobo admitted. "Now hurry, we must run to Thoragloorin, there will be many more between us and there for they seek out my mother."
"Why?" Vanya asked, drawing her sword and falling in beside the Prince as he began to run. Regnar thudded easily along beside them, his four legs able to match their pace without concern.
"She's was the last one to touch the portal. Some blame her for it, others believe she is the only one that can restore it."
"Is she?" Vanya asked.
"I hope so," Bobo responded, angling away from where a zombie shambled towards them.
Dodging single undead proved easy for them, for they moved far more swiftly. The spirits that returned not only proved to be awkward in trying to control an unfamiliar body, but the bodies themselves were in various states of decay, some being little more than skeletons and others missing limbs or various parts that were normally required for a body to be ambulatory.
A few times they encountered groups of undead, and as they neared Thoragloorin it became more and more common. These they avoided when they could, though the dead seemed to sense the living and usually came after them, and a few others they had to fight their way through. Bobo was amazed as they did this, for both Regnar and Vanya fought with a strength and a ferocity that humbled him. Vanya, in particular, seemed possessed of the ability to endure beyond what an elf should be able to, regardless of gender.
Vanya's aura as she fought confused him as well, for as before, it seemed to coil with something serpentine and powerful. He began to grow mildly suspicious of her. Not of her actions or intentions, but rather of her very nature. He wondered what inhumane experiments Elvanshalee may have unwittingly, or perhaps consciously, conducted upon her.
"It's beautiful," Vanya said, hardly winded by their repeated skirmishes. The dead fought without skill or tact, making them easy opponents, but the sheer number that they had fought through thus far was beginning to try them.
Or at least it was beginning to tire Bobo. He glanced up to see that Vanya was referring to the gate of Thoragloorin. They were within 300 yards of it, but between them and the gates were hundreds of zombies, some of which were turning to face them.
"Any bright ideas, Prince?" Vanya asked, swinging her sword vigorously to clean the ichor off from it.
Bobo stared at her, thinking for a moment that he had heard her mother's voice come from her mouth. He shook his head, searching for an option. Finally he stumbled upon one.
"Stand within the circle!" Bobo ordered, drawing a line in the dirt around them, connecting the ends. It was far from a perfect circle, but it would do, he hoped, for temporary protection.
Bobo reached up into the air with his good hand and swirled it around, causing an unseen vortex to slowly form. The energies from the dead souls that he alone could sense was being pulled to him, robbing them of their power over the living as well as giving him the energy he needed. Having enough gathered around his hand at last, he looked at Vanya and Regnar.
"To create the circle I need blood, and a fair amount of it. Choose quickly, it will be our only chance!"
Vanya and Regnar looked to one another, then Vanya began to step forward. Regnar wrapped his hand around her ankle and pulled, tripping her and causing her to fall to the ground. The dragon walked over her, taking care not to step on her as he did so, and held out one scaled forearm to Bobo.
"Cut yourself, deeply," Bobo commanded. Regnar bit into his own arm, sinking his fangs deep through the armored scales and into the flesh. Blood flowed and fell from the wound.
"Trace the circle with your blood," Bobo told him. "Just let it fall onto it, I will do the rest as it falls."
Regnar moved about the inside of the circle, turning more than moving since he was large enough and the circle small enough. Bobo directed the life energy into the ground, using the blood as a catalyst to transfer it. Vanya had regained her feet and had to forcibly kick the closest zombie out of the circle before Regnar and Bobo could complete it.
"There," Bobo said, swaying with the sudden exhaustion required to create such a protective incantation. "We will be safe for a while."
Vanya was tending to Regnar's wound. Bobo shook his head in disbelief when he saw her bend her head to his wound and lick it. What's more, he was amazed at how long and sinuous her tongue was. Prior to his injury, he might have made a comment to her about potential employment in a joyhouse. Now he knew better.
"A while?" Vanya asked, turning to face him after Regnar had clamped his other hand over the bite to put pressure on it.
"Yes, a while," Bobo said, slowly feeling his strength returning. "They will push at it and slowly drain the energy from it. Even if the dead did not threaten us, it would eventually leach away into the ground."
"So how long is a while?"
"A day, perhaps less. If the circle was better or if I had more time and more experience, I could have bought us more time," Bobo explained, shrugging.
"So we're stuck here a day while they keep showing up? We should have tried to fight our way through!" Vanya hissed, eyes narrowing.
Regnar reached out with his hand and laid it on her shoulder, restraining her from marching over to Bobo and confronting him directly. Bobo watched and chuckled.
"Don't worry, my mother will know I put that up and someone will come to visit. Many elves have come to Thoragloorin already through the magical gates they have established between here and Loralost. They will come and get us."
Bobo was ignoring the dark looks Vanya was directing at him, with increasing frequency, when the sun dipped behind the mountains to the west several hours later.
His eyes snapped open and he felt the intense pain associated with being alive. Then came the heat and the noise. He lay still on the sand, his nerves on fire within him. Slowly, the light and colors and raw sensations began to coalesce into patterns. Things began to make sense. He gasped, remembering what it was like to breath, then nearly wretched at the pain of inhaling.
He knew there were people nearby, but he could not yet control his body well enough to look at them. He thought back and tried to remember. His understood pain and torture and punishment. Flames and misery as well. Fleeting emotions, things that filled him with dread. Of their causes he had no recollection. He did remember his final moments while alive though. It was here he had died, on this very ground.
He sat up slowly, his tortured body still for ages and unused to moving. His clothes were bleached by the weather and the sun, and in many places rotting away. His flesh remained whole, miraculously.
He looked over and opened his mouth, coughing as he did so. He tried again, finding his voice still too raspy. A figure, a woman, he remembered, tossed something into the sand in front of him. Yes, a dark elven woman. She had given him a skin filled with water. His hands trembling he reached for it and, after fumbling with it for a time, he managed to bring it to his mouth.
He drank, the cool water burning as it went down his parched throat, then soothing at the last. He shivered, his mind and body suddenly afire from illness. He looked at her again, in a swoon and tried to speak a third time. It came out as a croak of unrecognizable sound.
"Sleep, child, and rest," she said, her voice strangely accented. "In time you will be well and you can serve me as once you served your father. You are the son I should have had... the son I will have!"
He opened his mouth again but a yawing chasm of darkness swallowed him whole. He collapsed to the sandy ground and knew no more for a time.
Alesha awoke with a silent gasp. She was resting from a busy night spent using her powers to try and feel out the growing rift between levels of existence. She had hoped to never again use her powers of necromancy, but she realized that it was only wishful thinking on her part. Long ago she had accepted them and made them a part of herself. There was a saying on the world she came from that she had been reminded of many times over the years, 'be careful what you wish for, you might get it.'
What had woken her this time was not Bobo's incantation, though she was also aware of that. No, she had awoke because once again a great spirit had crossed over from the realm of the dead to the living. The familiarity she felt before was nothing compared to this time, for she knew this spirit. She looked around the palatial bedroom she rested in, thankful that Kelnozz was elsewhere. Now she had only to decide whether or not she should tell him... and she wondered what the knowledge might do to him.
She climbed from the bed and, with barely a thought triggering the necessary magic, clothed herself in a fine dress. She glanced at herself in a mirror, not out of interest in primping, but rather because she wondered how long until the time would come for her to once again don her armor.
Rather than wasting the effort on sighing, she hurried from the room. Bobo needed their help now, she could reflect on the future later.
"We've the hilt and the blade... now we need only Garrick," Alesha said, looking at the pieces of the sword that lay upon the table before her.
They were in a private room in the palace of Thoragloorin. Kelnozz, Alesha, Bobo, Nathanial, Yamara, Vanya, and Regnar. All who had played a part in the quest thus far. All who had a vested interest in it. And among them, not a one that truly wished to see the blade reforged.
"Garrick is with Luingirth... somewhere," Kelnozz offered. "I've no idea where he is, but the dragon I can feel. He's off to the southeast, somewhere."
"Southeast? But there's nothing out there!" Nathanial spoke up before thinking. He glanced around then shrugged, outclassed as he might have been in both social status and prowess, he nevertheless had earned his right to speak. None denied him it either.
"Aye, he's right," Bobo said. "I've sailed these waters for years with the navy, there's nothing out there."
"Then you haven't gone far enough," replied the Elf King.
Bobo nodded, stung by the rebuke but unable to refute it. "Very well, I'll return to Innowendyn and get a ship ready to leave at once. We'll sale until we find land, even if that means we have to go around the world."
Kelnozz and Alesha both looked to each other, surprised by their simultaneous response. Before they could explain their individual declaration Bobo spoke up, "Have I not proven myself? I can handle this! And I know the seas better than anyone here, by far!"
"I need you here, with me. There are things we must do. Things you must learn. Things... you must be told," Alesha said, pausing at the last. She sensed Kelnozz staring at her curiously but she did not return his gaze.
"And with you here we stand a better chance of defeating the growing ranks of those trying to gain entrance to the city," she continued, as though that explained it all. "Your nature gives you a great power over them, the same as me."
"And you, father? What reason do you deny me?" Bobo said, understanding what his mother said but still angry at Kelnozz.
"Because it is my turn to do this thing," Kelnozz said, surprising Alesha and making her turn to stare at him. "I've sat back and let others face danger in my stead for too long now. This last task is perhaps the gravest of all, and so I will not let anyone else go."
"You are the King, you are needed here," Alesha reminded him.
"I am the King, yes, but I proved my right to lead my people through action and deed, not by sitting back and letting others do things for me. My people do not forget, but as with any, they will begin to wonder."
"Alesha, a rift grows between us lately. I don't know what it is, but it pains me to see and feel it growing," Kelnozz said, interrupting Alesha as she opened her mouth to speak. "We have secrets, you and I do, secrets from those present and perhaps even some from each other. Our love is unfailing, we both know this, but our lives are dictated by the needs of our stations, not by our wants."
Kelnozz saw Alesha nod, tears brimming in her eyes. He turned to stare at his son and saw him nodding in understanding as well. "No greater lesson can I teach you, Bobo, and if you have learned it as I think you have, my pride and my success as a father is complete. You are fully the man I dreamed you would become, and I call you my companion."
Bobo's eyes were watering as well, which caused for discomfort on the parts of the others in the room to be taking a place in such a personal and familial moment. It was Yamara that saved them all.
"Then you're off by yourself then, leaving the rest of us trapped here?" Yamara said, reminding everyone of their situation. Mountains upon three sides and a horde of walking dead beating on the doors of the fourth.
"The portal to Innowendyn remains open. You may leave whenever you wish, Yamara."
The blond woman smirked as she stared at the powerful elf. "Very well, I choose to leave at the same time you do then."
Kelnozz shrugged, seeing no importance to it. He was disappointed in her, but from the beginning he had known her to be cut from a different cloth than the rest of them. "Vanya, Regnar, I would like the two of you to accompany me."
Bobo's eyes widened but he showed no other sign of surprise at this. Vanya and Regnar, on the other hand, both looked to each other then back to Kelnozz. He held up his hand to forestall their comments.
"I will tell you what I know of your mother, and you may find yourself surprised in the telling. I shall also tell you what I suspect to be the case with both of you, but it is something best told on the road, and time is not our ally," he explained in a mysterious way.
They nodded and Kelnozz looked around. "Very well, let us be off then."
"You're leaving now?" Yamara said, surprised at his abruptness.
"Yes," Kelnozz responded. "Why, not ready to leave?"
"Yes, I am, I'm just surprised. You're an elf, I thought you people took forever to do much of anything."
Kelnozz smirked, "I've known many elves like that, so I can't fault you for that."
"I've got to get my things!" Vanya said, suddenly realizing she was expected to go and did not have all of her equipment either. She hurried out, leaving Regnar to answer everyone else's stares. He grinned, displaying his reptilian smile, and fluffed his wings by way of shrugging.
The peaks of distant mountains slowly grew larger on the horizon. The elven flagship, The Folly of the Seas, raced towards them with every inch of canvas stretched taut. They were on the front of what appeared to be a vicious storm, trying to outrace it. Trying, and losing.
"My Lord, you should be below decks!" The captain of the Folly called out to Kelnozz, who stood agilely upon the forecastle deck.
Kelnozz ignored him, staring ahead at the unknown land that awaited them. Somewhere upon it Garrick and Luingirth roamed, and he had to find them. Lightning flashed and thunder pealed behind the ship, making the sailors curse with the increasing closeness. Kelnozz felt the first drops of rain begin to fall and realized that the storm would be fully upon them before they reached the shore.
"We're not going to make it."
Kelnozz turned his head, showing no surprise at seeing Yamara standing beside him against the railing. He grunted and turned back, looking at the island. Finally he looked back at her and said, "this is no place for a lady."
Yamara smirked. "We're in luck then, I'm no lady."
Kelnozz grinned in spite of himself. He turned fully and stared at the threatening blackness behind them. "It's a good ship, it'll see us to a safe harbor."
"Nobody's been here before, there are no harbors," she pointed out.
Kelnozz shrugged. "None we know about, but the world is older than the elves, there's no telling what might have come before us. Nor what might be awaiting us or coming after us."
"Awful gloomy words for an immortal."
"My wife is a necromancer," Kelnozz offered by way of explanation.
They watched a swirling wind off in the distance twist fast enough to form a water spout that shot up into the sky for several long seconds before it fell apart.
"Ever think your end would come like this?" She asked him.
Kelnozz's expression had a bitter humor to it. "I'll not end here, Yamara, such a simple and peaceful thing is not for me."
"Aren't you at least a little surprised to find me on your ship?" she asked him after a long moment of silence stretched between them. The gusts from the storm were getting stronger, pushing the ship harder through the waves.
"Little surprises me when it comes to you," Kelnozz told her. "But I admit, it does my heart good to see you here."
Yamara laughed. "You're a married man, King Risingmoon. You have a soft spot for human women or something?"
Kelnozz scowled at her. "I meant I was glad to see you, not that I ... bah, women!"
Yamara laughed at Kelnozz's discomfort. She rarely enjoyed such sport, but the elf had been gloomy and morose the entire trip. She had stowed away, intent upon seeing it through, but had judged that her time for concealment was over. Especially with the fury of the storm nearly upon them.
"Vanya and Regnar still below decks?" Kelnozz asked her by way of changing the subject.
"Yes," Yamara replied, looking off the bow again. The island did seem closer, and she could pick out the beach and a distant line she suspected was a forest. The mountain peaks still seemed distant, however.
Yamara chuckled. "Worse than ever with these waves."
"They're made for the sky, not to be confined in a hold," Kelnozz commented.
"So let them out."
It was Kelnozz's turn to chuckle. "You try and get them out, neither one has shown any interest in coming topside in over a week now."
"They're related, aren't they?"
Kelnozz stared hard at Yamara, then nodded. "Aye, some twist of magic. Elvanshalee is their mother and Luingirth is their father."
Yamara had a satisfied expression on her face. "I knew there was something about them, I could feel it."
"What else can you feel?" Kelnozz asked, wondering not for the first time just how diverse her talents were.
"Sorry King, this human girl isn't interested in your type," Yamara said with a wink.
Kelnozz's mouth opened and shut in silent protest, then scowled at her and stared off the bow. His eyes widened and he cursed, then turned and shouted to the captain. "Reefs ahead!"
Yamara's eyes shot up to the crow's nest, wondering why the lookout had not spotted them. It was empty, she realized. "Where'd he go?" she wondered aloud.
Kelnozz glanced up and saw it was empty as well, though not ten minutes back he had seen the sailor that was up there. He shrugged and listened to the captain screaming out orders and trying to turn the ship. A glance ahead and Kelnozz knew it was a wasted effort.
"Hold on, we're in trouble," he warned Yamara.
Yamara looked around quickly then lowered her stance a little and focused her concentration as the ships timbers groaned. The tiller strained and brought the ship to port, trying to steer clear of the reefs. It was a futile effort, even with the sails loosed the wind and the waves drove the ship ever closer. The Folly rode a large wave up and over the edges of the reef, clearing it and giving the disbelieving crew a moment of fanatical hope. Such was not to be, however.
In a moment only able to be defined as magical or divine, the skies suddenly cleared and the water beneath them lost its strength. The ship plunged downward with it, dropping a score of feet to crash against the coral below.
Kelnozz picked himself up and saw Yamara still standing, though her face was red from exertion and one hand was touching the deck. He looked at her curiously, then was distracted by the groaning noise of the broken timbers of the hull.
"We're going under!" A sailor screamed. Others took up the cry to abandon ship. Meanwhile the Captain cursed and tried to calm them all. The ship may have foundered, but they were held up on a reef at least.
"Vanya, Regnar," Kelnozz muttered, shaking his head to clear it and rushing across the deck. It was canted at an odd angle, more proof of their predicament. Gentle waves lapped at the sides of the Folly from the direction of land, whereas larger waves, albeit without the strength they should have had, pounded into them from behind.
A roar from beneath and then a section of the deck exploded upwards, sending a few nearby sailors staggering away. Regnar leapt from below, Vanya clutched in his talons and his wings spread. He let her land on the deck, which she did with grace in spite of her green tinged complexion.
Vanya looked about and breathed deeply. She made a face and then turned to Kelnozz and Yamara. "About time," she muttered.
"About time we shipwrecked?" Yamara asked with a scowl.
Vanya looked at her as though she were daft. "No, about time that we were there!" Regnar nodded his head emphatically beside her.
Yamara turned and looked towards the distant shore. "I'm a strong swimmer but that's an impossible distance!"
"There are longboats," Kelnozz suggested, tiring rapidly of their exchange. He pointed towards the main deck of the boat and started walking across it.
Some sailors were putting the boats into the water, while others were trying to help those that had fallen off in the crash back on. The elves worked quickly and efficiently, knowing that at any moment things could suddenly become much worse for them. It only took the thought of the potential horrors for them to become a reality.
A tubular stalk rose up from the depths, wrapping around a swimming elf and pulling him under with little more than a scream. Others soon followed, leaving the water soon free of castaways. In their place dozens of the tentacles swayed about, searching for fresh food for whatever creature of the depths it was attached to.
"That doesn't bode well," Yamara said, peering over the side of the boat.
Vanya's look at her back was, once again, unfavorable. Kelnozz studied the agitated waters and looked to the Captain.
"Captain Surun, have you seen such things before?" He asked, pointing at the water.
The Captain studied them for a moment. "Never this big. I've seen stalks like this near coral, they feed on small fish and the like, but these are monstrosities!"
The stalks found the ship then, and after a moment of feeling the hull, they began to beat against it. The already battered hull was no match for the repeated crushing force and began to slowly disintegrate under the impacts.
"My Lord?" Surun asked as the derelict shuddered under them.
Kelnozz looked at him, "I'm no sailor, Captain, this is your element."
"Wait," the elf King said, suddenly thinking of something. "I once was on a ship that was sucked under by a kraken, are these tentacles the same type of thing? Is there something below us that we could kill and be on our way?"
"No, My Lord, these are all separate creatures," Surun said.
"There's naught to be done but run for it and hope we can get out of their range," the Captain said, signaling for the sailors to keep lowering the four longboats.
"There's not enough boats," Kelnozz realized, studying them and coming to the realization.
"No worries, My Lord, you'll be put on one," the Captain said, misunderstanding him.
"I'm not worried about myself, Captain, I'm worried about your crew... my people!"
"Oh, well... we'll make do. Every man and woman here is ready to give their life for you, worry not."
Kelnozz opened his mouth to retort but closed it instead in frustration. He did not want anyone to die for him, because of him, and near him. He ground his teeth and turned to stare at the land as the ship shuddered and settled another foot beneath them all. "Shark!" Yamara cried out, pointing off into the water. Sure enough a large fin cut through the water and swam rapidly towards them. A very large fin.
"Gods, that's no shark, that's... what in the Nine Hells?" Surun said, baffled at how large the fin was. It was easily twice the size of the largest shark he had ever seen.
It closed rapidly enough and dispelled any thoughts of not being a shark, however. It parted the water with an immense body and equally large jaws, which is displayed for the suddenly terrified sailors by severing two of the rubbery stalks further out from the ship in a single bite.
"The enemy of my enemy?" Yamara offered, wondering if it was going to dispatch of the tentacles for them.
"...Is still my enemy," Kelnozz finished, knowing beyond a doubt that anyone foolish or unfortunate enough to be in the water would be chum.
The boat shuddered under them again, dropping them a few more inches as another supporting piece of wood was smashed away. The sailors were looking around hopelessly and helplessly, wondering what to do. Many looked to Kelnozz, expecting him to deliver them from certain death.
The shark swam closer, clearing out a few more tentacles and investigating the ship as well as the elven blood it smelled in the water.
Kelnozz watched it pass and nodded, realizing what he needed to do. He walked to the railing and lashed out with his foot, kicking a section of the rail free of the boat and into the water. Several of the tentacles swayed towards the wood, sensing the movement. The shark circled rapidly and came back in as well.
Before anyone could ask him what he was doing or stop him, Kelnozz backed up and then ran forward, springing off the edge of the boat an incredible distance. In mid-air he drew Cirithallion and let its point lead his descent into the path of the giant shark. He struck true, sinking the blade all the way into its slick skin, and held on for dear life as he slammed into the rough skin of the fish. The shark went into a pain filled frenzy, thrashing and rolling in the water and then swimming rapidly trying to dislodge Kelnozz and his blade.
The Elf King held true, however, and managed to draw Llarothimaril with his other hand and work it into the shark's body as well. He held on and did his best to catch fleeting gasps of air when he was able to.
The shark dove then, plunging underwater and making Kelnozz certain that he would run out of air or be crushed by the pressure of the depths long before he had a chance to see the sky again. It was only able to dive a few dozen feet, however, for the reef marked the edge of a shelf that the island nearby sat upon. It swam back up even faster, breaking the surface and launching its massive body, easily twice that of a great white, out of the water.
Kelnozz reacted instantly, gasping in fresh air and withdrawing one sword and plunging it back in, then doing the other. He fought the urge to grunt when he slammed back into the water, the shark coming down upon him this time, and focused on keeping his grip on his swords while he tried to clear his head.
The shark swam a while longer, diving low and then coming back up to the surface, its movement slowing. It was swimming partially on its side, allowing Kelnozz a chance to lift himself free of the water and gasp in much needed air. The shark was tiring and, risking a look behind him, he realized it was also leaving a wide trail of blood in the water. Not only that, but it was leaving the boat behind it. Kelnozz cursed yanked his swords free from the shark, cursing again as he saw fresh gouts of blood leak from the wounds as he fell into the water behind the shark.
He sheathed his weapons and started began to tread water, fighting the weight of his clothing and equipment easily in the buoyant salt water. He studied the shark and saw it continue away from him, slowing further with each passing minute. He looked back and saw that ship was still much closer than the shore, but it was a considerable distance and he was already weary from the battle. Taking deep breaths to freshen the air in his lungs, he saw something that gave him a fresh boost of adrenaline : another shark bearing down on the fatally wounded one.
Kelnozz stroked smoothly towards the ship, trying to make as little noise in the water as possible while putting as much distance behind him as possible. Legendary Champion of the Elves that he was, he was still tiring from the swim. This was the man that had once ran from ogres for days without rest, and now he was letting a little water get the better of him. Kelnozz struggled on, his will undeterred even if he body was beginning to show signs of it.
Salvation came in the form of Regnar. The dragon swooped down and gently lifted Kelnozz from the water, his talons gripping the elf's shoulders. Kelnozz mumbled his thanks and fought to will the energy back into his body. They made it back to the ship, with Regnar panting from the exertion of carrying someone, and landed none to gently. Kelnozz rolled to a stop and stood up wearily, to cheers from the surviving crew. Even Yamara was smiling and nodding towards him.
"There's more of those things out there," Kelnozz said, gesturing. The cheering died quickly as the implication set in.
"We must go now if we're to have a chance of making it, while the one I killed is being eaten."
"What of the tentacles?" A sailor asked. He trusted the King and his Captain both, but he was still worried.
"You've all got swords, use them when they come close! Fight them off as best you can... we can't say here." To accentuate Kelnozz's words the ship, or what was left of it, shuddered under them again. The stern deck was under the water by then and three of the four longboats were in the water and unharassed by the tentacles.
Captain Surun nodded at the plan, brief though it was, and started giving orders to the crew. Almost as quickly as the first person dropped into a boat the tentacles became interested in them instead of the ship. Cutlasses and pistols were put to use, slicing and firing into them as quickly as they could. A few men were pulled overboard, but before long those tentacles closest had either been severed or retreated into the briny depths.
The boats were loaded full, with still nearly a score of men stranded upon the ruined ship, including the Captain. "I'll not leave a man behind," he told Kelnozz, then used a pole to push his King's longboat away from the doomed vessel. Regnar flew overhead, unburdened and able to keep a lookout.
The dragon flew ahead, breathing lightning into the water where tentacles clustered and watching them twitch and retreat rapidly from the electrocuting assault. The longboats followed in his wake, with several people rowing and every other person ready to fight whenever a tentacle appeared.
"This is kind of stupid," Yamara observed at one point, after she thrust her short sword through a tentacle and tore it out on side.
"I'm open to suggestions," Kelnozz replied from where he stood with his swords in his hands.
"We know what is at stake, I should be one boat, you in another, and Vanya in a third."
Kelnozz grunted, then drove his sword into the water to impale a rising tentacle. "Where was that idea 30 minutes ago?"
Yamara made no response, knowing it would do them no good. Instead they battled on, fighting their way clear of the field of aggressors. One of the boats behind them was not so lucky, being torn apart by grasping tentacles. That left three boats, roughly 60 people, all rowing frantically towards the shore that was nearly half a mile distant.
Regnar flew overhead, watching carefully for any further threats. He pulled up abruptly at one point, then performed a wingover and hurried back towards the longboats. Vanya watched him and knew that it could only mean trouble.
"Row faster!" Kelnozz urged, also having seen the dragon.
In moments the dragon was there, circling overhead defensively. He launched himself into a dive and spat out a bolt of lightning into the water, then dipped lower and raked beneath the surface with his claws. A fin broke the water a moment later, as large as the one on the shark that Kelnozz had slain. Four others followed suit, though they did not slow as the electrical shock had not stunned them as it had the lead one.
"Archers!" Kelnozz cried out so that everyone could hear him. "Aim for the wounded one! If the sharks smell its blood they may turn on it instead of us!"
Three or four elves on each boat dropped their swords and grabbed up longbows. They fired into the water, some arrows biting in but most having no effect due to the shark's tough skin and the water that deflected their arrows. The other four sharks began circling the boats, with one disappearing and then bumping the lead boat.
One of the archers lost his foot and fell overboard. The two elves nearest to him scrambled to drop their oars and pull him back in, slowing their progress but rescuing the sputtering man moments before another shark darted in and clamped down on his bow, swallowing it whole.
Another elf lashed out, nearly losing his balance as well as his sword cut a shallow gash in the shark's skin.
"Leave that one alone!" Kelnozz berated him. "Blood near us will draw them closer, aim for the wounded one."
Chastised, the elf leaned away from the edge of the boat and watched warily for the next shark.
One of the marine predators pulled away, drawn by the irresistible scent of blood in the water. It attacked the wounded shark, drawing an attack in turn. Soon the water was frothy and red as they savagely went at one another. Everyone watched, fascinated, and dared to hope that their desperate ploy might work. In moments another shark joined the bloody battle, and then another. It seemed to be going well when the rending sound of wood being torn apart reached the ears of those aboard the lead boat. Panicked screams soon followed.
The third longboat was doomed, a shark having torn away a large section of the side and bottom mid ship. It disintegrated under the elves in it and, try as they did to swim away, they were soon claimed by the denizens of the deep. Kelnozz counted and quickly realized that more sharks had arrived, some not so large as the first ones, but there were no less lethal for it.
He tightened his jaw and his knuckles, furious at his inability to help his people, and silently urged them to row harder and faster. Indeed, the screams of the dying seemed to bring renewed energy into the arms of the rowers, making the boats surge ahead towards the shore, which was now only a quarter mile distant.
Vanya leapt up lightly on the prow of the longboat, balancing precariously in a position that anyone, even Kelnozz, would have been hard pressed to do. She drew her powerful bow back and took careful aim, loosing an arrow and fitting another to the string as the first speared into the head of a smaller shark that emerged from the water to snap at the side of the second boat. The shark slammed into the side, now thrashing in the water and swimming erratically. It was no longer interested in the boats and their tasty cargo, it was fighting the agonizing pain that had burrowed into its brain. In moments another shark tore into it, ending its misery and creating yet another feeding frenzy in the treacherous waters.
Vanya stayed up, aiming and shooting when an opportunity presented itself. Not every arrow ended a threat, but every arrow did find the target she intended. Her well timed shots saved many an elf, but so distracted was she by it that she did not see the large one that emerged from the water and tore out the aft of their own boat before swimming away.
Three elves were swept into the water, and two of which managed to desperately scramble back towards it. The third was pulled under, a red cloud spreading seconds later. One of the elves managed to get back into the boat, helped by his comrades, but the other one screamed in agony as he was pulled back into the water and out of the grasping hands of his fellows.
"Row, damn you!" Kelnozz shouted, pushing an exhausted sailor out of the way and grabbing up his oar and putting his considerable strength to it.
Vanya's knees bent as she rode the impact of the boat well, she kept her balance and now focused on the sharks that hurried toward the aft of their boat, keeping up a steady stream of arrows until her hand grasped only air. Her quiver was empty.
She looked at the boat and leapt, clearing five ranks of sailors and landing with her legs astride the sixth and final rank. She pushed him out of the way, surprising him greatly, and took his oar from him. She pulled mightily, surprising the muscular sailors with her own strength as the boat surged forward a little swifter in the water.
Yamara was focusing, a dull ache by now forcing its way into her head. Every bit of energy she had she devoted into trying to lift the boat as high in the water as she could. Between that and trying to deflect any incoming sharks, she felt as though she was tearing her mind apart with the strain.
"Regnar!" Kelnozz yelled out, drawing the dragon closer from where he was flying low over the water striking out when he could at the unbelievable amount of marine predators. Other things had joined the fray, no longer were sharks the only things to harass them, other creatures that none of the sailors had ever seen were present as well.
Kelnozz grabbed up a sturdy rope and, stepping upon one end of it, he tossed the coil high into the air. The dragon swooped in and caught it, slowing his flight as the Elf King tied it off at the bow. He worked hard then, stretching the rope out until it was taught then beating his wings hard to help pull the boat to shore faster. None to soon for Yamara cried out and collapsed, senseless and unable to focus on anything.
The boat dipped deeper in the water, but the added speed that Regnar supplied kept the water from coming far enough into it to swamp it. The other longboat did not fare so well, unfortunately. It was bumped repeatedly, with elves being knocked about and some out of it. A serpent rose out of the depths and plunge into it, biting down on an elf and smashing into the flooring of it, cracking the timbers and providing a heavy leak before it pulled the struggling man into the depths. In minutes the boat crumpled under the brave sailors. In minutes nothing but a red churning froth remained to mark their watery graves.
The lead boat bumped into the sandy bottom, drawing the exhausted but terrified passengers to rush out of it and fall onto the sand. They all felt the ground shake as Regnar, exhausted from his effort at helping to pull the boat to shore, crashed into the ground and lay there gasping for breath himself. Vanya hurried to his side, winded herself but in better shape than all of the others save Kelnozz. The Elf King stared out at the sea, silently mourning all of the fallen.
Nine elven sailors had survived, though one was wounded and bled freely from bites on his arm. Nine elves plus the four of them. It made for a poor party able to survive on a strange new land, especially now that they had no transportation back. Kelnozz turned, bidding the elven sailors farewell and turned to face the island.
The beach extended inland for a little over a hundred yards, and stretched on to his right and left further than he could see. Beyond the fine white sands a jungle rose sharply. He could feel the humidity from where he stood, in spite of the faint breeze blowing in from the ocean. He looked at the survivors and realized that they were all exhausted, camping on the beach might be the best thing for them to do for the night, rather than risk exploring a strange new land that may be fraught with unknown dangers.
"We camp here tonight," he announced, drawing some grateful sighs from the elves. "When everyone is rested we'll organize a party to get some firewood and perhaps find something to eat. We'll need to see what supplies we have remaining as well, because a trip home could be a long time in coming."
That sobered the elves up quite a bit. Yamara heard him as though through a headache induce fog. She nodded and let herself drift off to sleep, her mental exhaustion overwhelming her at last. Vanya glanced at the boat, hoping some of the archers had some arrows left that she could replenish hers with. Regnar was alright, just exhausted and in need of rest as badly as the rest of them were. She patted him on the neck and sat down beside him, resting against him companionably.
The night passed seemingly without incident. In the morning, however, one of the sailors was missing. After several minutes scouring the perimeter Vanya found signs of her passage, and a brief foray into the jungle revealed her fate. A trail of blood led away from the trampled foliage and dark stains where she had been attacked. The tracks left behind by the sailor's attackers she did not recognize, save to note that they were not human. The only other part that remained was a ripped piece of her tunic, colored the royal red of the Elven Navy.
The survivors of the shipwreck were gathered together on the beach awaiting a decision from Kelnozz, who chewed the news of the murder over thoughtfully. His first instinct was to rush into the jungle to investigate, but he dared not lead what remained of his people into such unknown dangers. He feared little for himself, but rather for the others. He was even forced to discard thoughts of leaving them behind while he investigated alone, for his leadership and presence was needed.
The Elven King sighed at the heavy weight of responsibility.
His sigh was short lived, however, for they all felt more than heard a shudder. It was followed by another, as though something heavy had fallen against the ground. They continued, coming more frequently but with seemingly no pattern to them. Shortly they noticed the sand shifting with each reverberating boom as well.
"They are getting closer," Vanya said, on one knee with her hand on the ground.
Yamara shot her a brief scowl, but held her comment to herself. It went unnoticed by the ranger, who instead continued. "There are multiple creatures... more than two certainly."
"What are they?" Kelnozz asked her over his shoulder as he made gestures to the sailors to arrange themselves defensively.
"I don't know," Vanya admitted, rising to her feet and reaching for her bow. "But they're big."
From the distance came the sound of a wood cracking and breaking, accentuating her point. The sailors kept their position stoically, although more than a few glanced anxiously to one another.
A roar from behind caught them off guard. Turning to look they saw a creature emerging from the woods and on to the beach. It stood twelve feet tall at the head, and the head was mighty in and of itself. Bipedal, it possessed a mottled brownish green leathery hide and small arms that looked to serve little real purpose, at least compared to the rest of the body of the beast. It's head was reptilian in design, with a mouth easily large enough to swallow a dwarf or halfling whole.. Whatever it was, it charged up the sand towards them, though it was a long bowshot distant.
"Hold your ground, it's a trap," Kelnozz warned them, turning so that he could keep an eye on the rapidly approaching monster while still being aware of the forest on the other side where the other noises had come from.
"Trap or not, that's no simple foe," Yamara said under her breath. Kelnozz only nodded, but drew his blades in spite of it.
Vanya loosed her fist arrow, striking the creature in its open mouth. It snapped its mouth shut angrily, shattering her arrow and roaring in defiance at her. More arrows followed, deliberately stinging the soft tissue it continued to expose. When it finally lowered its head and closed its mouth, now only a few score yards distant, she took more careful aim and fired again, striking the brow above its left eye first, then impaling the right eye with the next arrow. Blinded and in agony, the creature lost its balance and crashed into the sand, digging a great trench with its bulk and speed. The ground shuddered anew as it fell and writhed upon the ground, trying to use its short arms to claw at the arrow stuck in its face.
"A fine shot, the best I've seen since I journeyed with Martin Twoblade himself," Kelnozz said, complimenting Vanya.
The archer straightened and beamed, but then yelped in surprise when a bolt of lightning struck the ground between her and Kelnozz. A glance to the sky showed only an occasional cloud above them, and none dark and foreboding enough to warrant such a storm.
Kelnozz glanced to the sky as well. "Stop that!" He snapped at the air above them. "I didn't say she was better then you!"
No further divine retorts followed, but instead the air was filled with the sound of fresh foliage being torn asunder as yet another of the behemoths burst free from the forest, this time only 30 yards from them. This one was easily fifteen feet tall, with jaws, legs, and a tail to match the increased height. A matching roar joined as another emerged up the beech a ways further, with the third easily being the largest of the enormous creatures at a staggering twenty feet tall.
"The trap is sprung," Yamara said, admiring the simple cunning of the monsters.
Had they been simple prey, they would have fled from the first of the creatures. Fleeing would have brought them into the area of the second thundering lizard. For any that survived that encounter the third, which seemed to be the pack leader, would have been waiting. Even holding their ground instead of scattering might not have done them any good, she grimly thought.
Ere Vanya could turn her bow on the new threat it was crashing through the first ranks of the defenders, kicking elves aside with its massive legs and even swatting one sailor with its tail. Another thrust a crudely fashioned spear made while collecting firewood at it, but the beast snapped the spear in half with its mouth, taking both of the elf's arms with it.
A pistol fired, one of the few salvaged from the ship, sending its bullet into the shoulder of the beast. It showed no sign of noticing the injury, but it did turn to look at the source of the thundering sound his makeshift arm had made.
Swords and clubs scratched and bounced against the hide of the monster, some digging in a little, but none causing serious injury or concern for the beast. Instead it moved towards the sailor wielding the pistol, intent upon the elf that was drawing his sword and cursing like the sailors he was amongst.
Regnar crashed into the back of the enormous reptile then, having taken to the air enough to get the drop on it. His draconian claws and teeth found better purchase in the thick leathery hide than the elves makeshift weapons did, but with a forceful shake the beast was able to throw the dragon off to the side, where he only barely managed to avoid crushing a stunned sailor.
Vanya held her arrows, knowing she had little chance of piercing its thick hide and wanting to preserve what little ammunition she had remaining. She watched as the beast turned, its interest in the elves now shifting to that of Regnar, the only real threat it had encountered thus far. It made the mistake of ignoring the rest of them, aside from using its tail to send three more sailors to the sand as it turned.
Kelnozz sprung into the fray surrounding it, lashing out with one blade to cut a bloody gash along its thigh. It roared in pain and surprise, and turned to face the new threat. Regnar was forgotten as a target, and the young dragon used his reprieve to regain his feet and his senses.
Kelnozz dodged forward, stepping inside the snapping maw that narrowly missed him, and plunged Llarothimaril into the belly of the creature. It howled anew and tried to step on him, but the agile elven King danced away, cutting a backhanded slice into the knee with Cirithallion.
Regnar returned then, clamping onto the back and neck of the powerful beast and doing his best to claw and tear into the creature. About its head the air shimmered, distorted its vision. Its roar turned from rage to pain and confusion. Rallied, the other elves pressed in hopefully. Where once they had fought out of stubbornness, pride, and loyalty they now fought with renewed hope that their King would see them through the day.
The pack leader joined the fray, scattering elves and snatching one up whole in its mouth. The sailor's scream was short lived as the lethal teeth crunched down twice and it swallowed the gruesome snack.
With the elves no longer pressing it, the wounded creature fled as quickly as the dragon on its back and its wounded legs would allow it to. It ended up falling to the ground, Regnar agilely springing away to avoid being crushed under its weight, and then tried valiantly to fight off the dragon as it returned to worry its neck with his claws and teeth. The short arms of the creature provided little defense against the sharp claws of the dragon, however.
The largest adversary yet, the pack leader surveyed the scampering elves, eyes coming to rest only on the one that stood steady in front of it. Kelnozz raised his swords to get its attention and then ran towards it. The beast roared at him defiantly, then turned and tried to slam the elf aside with its tail in a move that surprised them all.
Kelnozz dove under the tail, rolling as he hit the sand, and came up spitting the white powder from his mouth. One blade lashed out as well, hacking into the ankle of the jungle demon. It roared in anger and whirled on him, spinning so fast that the partially severed tendons tore the rest of the way and it tripped itself.
Kelnozz had already been rolling away from it, but one of the creature's arms still managed to glance off his back as he was lurching to his feet. He was sent sprawling into the sand anew, but rose quickly in spite of having the wind knocked from him.
The beast thrashed and writhed on the ground, regaining its feet at the same time that Kelnozz did. It was hobbled though and it knew it, so it moved slowly and lowered itself as it turned to face him directly.
Kelnozz looked for an opening and tried moving sideways to see how mobile his opponent remained. It shifted to meet his approach, letting him know it had sized him up and any advantages in speed and agility had been neutralized.
Yamara had been studying it too. She had tried the same trick on the pack leader that she had used to blur the vision of the other creature, but its head was too large for her to encompass. Instead she studied it and glanced around, searching for an idea. Seeing Vanya with her bow bent and an arrow in place, waiting for an opportunity, an idea came to her.
"Jump when the time is right!" She called out to Kelnozz, then turned to Vanya and nodded.
Elvanshalee's daughter saw her out of the corner of her eye. Rather than losing her timing by replying, she calmly released her arrow. It flew true, streaking towards the face of the giant reptile. Sensing movement, it managed to jerk its head just enough to let the arrow strike in front of its eye against the tough and the bone just beneath it. The arrow stuck, interfering with its vision, but the shaft shattered from the force of the impact.
Regnar, dripping blood from both his claws and from some rents in his hide, streaked by overhead. The lizard turned and roared, crouching down further and preparing to spring into the sky to snatch Regnar from it. Kelnozz took two steps and leapt, his legs driving him upwards into a leap that even he knew was impossible for him to achieve unaided. For a moment he felt as though he was flying, and he remembered fondly some foolhardy stunts he and Nordan had attempted while battling dragons.
The flashback did not interfere with his purpose, however. He drove both swords deep into the neck of the reptile, then lifted his legs up to wrap around its neck so he could twist and saw with them. The reptile roared and spun, sending him flying from it instead. One sword, Llarothimaril, was still clutched in his hand. Cirithallion remained imbedded in the throat of the giant lizard, which clawed at it with one hand as though it were a burning splinter stuck into its hide. All thought of offense was forgotten as it strove to rid itself of the fiery agony piercing its throat.
It took three steps towards the forest before its wounded foot failed it and it crashed to the ground with force enough to tremble the legs of those standing nearby.
Kelnozz rose to his feet, albeit slightly unsteady, and approached the beast. Already it lay still, whereas even the first of the enormous lizards that had set upon them was still thrashing about. The others approached it as well, moving cautiously lest it rise suddenly. Yamara alone moved in close to it and reached for the King's sword.
She gasped in surprise when Kelnozz's hand landed on her shoulder and halted her, his grip as uncompromising as steel. "Careful," Kelnozz warned.
"It is dead," Yamara said, mistaking Kelnozz's concern.
Kelnozz nodded. "Aye, I do not doubt you. I meant 'ware the sword."
Yamara glanced down at Cirithallion and back to the King. She nodded and stepped aside. She had been told the stories; she knew of Cirithallion's history, and had even been present for some of it. She knew well enough Kelnozz's relationship with the weapon.
Kelnozz pulled the blade free, feeling no different once he had it in his possession again but at least feeling certain that no one else possessed it. It had long ago lost the evil presence that inhabited it and made it what it was, but still he sometimes wondered. If nothing else, he kept control of it to insure that no one else would ever be tempted by it. Even having lost the evil soul of Ancaruin, still there were those that would use it for evil, for it remained one of the most powerful weapons the world had ever seen since the Kinslaying Wars.
"How do we fare?" Kelnozz asked after he had finished dispatching the other two lizards.
Regnar has some wounds, but he will be okay," Vanya offered, having already inspected the dragon.
"We lost three more, and I fear a fourth will be gone shortly," one of the sailors offered.
"And you?" Kelnozz said, turning to Yamara.
She shrugged, "nothing a vacation wouldn't cure," she said.
Kelnozz smiled at her dry humor and turned to the soldier. "Make the wounded comfortable as best we can... and if there's naught to be done for them, give them the choice."
The elf nodded and turned to do his duties.
Kelnozz turned suddenly, remembering something. He moved across the sand, staring at it carefully, until he found the spot he was searching for. He knelt down and dug his figures into the fine white powder, digging until they bumped into what he sought. Satisfied he grabbed onto it and pulled carefully.
"What is that?" Vanya asked, amazed at the clear crystalline object he held in his hands. It was oddly shaped, with some jagged edges upon it, but mostly cylindrical.
"When lightning strikes sand it fuses it to glass," Kelnozz explained. "This bolt of lightning was tossed by a God, it might come in handy."
The Elf King turned to study her a moment before he handed it to her. "When we return to Thoragloorin, speak with my spellweavers, they will no doubt be anxious to relearn the ancient arts of artificing. Only they can turn this into something of great use to you."
"Let's burn the fallen... and be quick about it," Yamara suggested out of nowhere, interrupting any response Vanya may have had.
"Why?" Kelnozz asked, surprised at her suggestion.
Yamara glanced around, then decided she did not want to alarm the keen eared elven sailors. "We had one carried off in the night under our noses, I think it the most respectful we can be."
Kelnozz nodded, sensing something more in the human's intentions. He turned and called out orders to gather up wood from the forest's edge, then went to assist in the task as well.
The funeral pyre was lit for the dead and not a moment too soon, from the relief on Yamara's face.
"We must move inland tomorrow, I think," Kelnozz said softly, wondering idly if he had just seen one of the corpses twitch in the flames.
Yamara nodded, though clearly her thoughts were elsewhere.
"There is little foraging here, and we need water and shade as well," Kelnozz continued, trying to make some conversation.
"Unknown peril in the forest," Yamara offered somewhat flatly.
It was Kelnozz's turn to nod. "Aye, walk with me."
Yamara stared at the burning pyre a long moment then turned and fell in beside the dark elf as he walked away from the crowd of elves along the beach. "What is it?" She asked, knowing that Kelnozz had questions for her.
"If we stay on the beach, my people will begin to doubt. I must always act as though I have a course laid before us. They expect me to lead, I must not disappoint," Kelnozz explained.
Yamara opened her mouth then shut it. She nodded in understanding. "I see," she said softly. "Even if it gets them killed?"
Kelnozz glanced at her, but saw that she did not mean her question to be accusatory. He nodded. "Yes, even if. It's better to die thinking you do so for a cause worth it then to do so in folly."
"Is this folly then, our quest?"
Kelnozz chuckled. "I've lost count of the times in my life I've asked myself that same question," he admitted. "But in truth, never once has it been a fool's errand. Either a past journey nor our present one. You, me, or any of them may not see the right of it yet, but in the end it will be clear."
"If it is folly, why did you choose to join it?" Kelnozz said, asking her a question in turn.
Yamara looked a little surprised at the question. A smirk finally came to her face as she answered him, "I have a history of making bad decisions."
Kelnozz could not help but chuckle. Rather than pursue the topic, he chose to broach the one he had pulled her aside for. "Why did we burn the bodies?"
"Between what I've seen and what your wife and son have been saying, the dead don't seem to want to stay dead much these days," Yamara reminded him.
Kelnozz nodded, he had suspected as much but wondered if she knew something he did not.
"And in a strange new land, we've already discovered some exciting new life," she added, pointing out the additional mystery they faced.
"Exciting?" He asked her, not sure he approved of her choice of words.
"It certainly got my heart pumping."
Kelnozz raised an elven eyebrow and glanced at the forest as if trying to pierce the foliage with his gaze to discover the secrets contained within. "Very well, let's head back lest we find more excitement then we can handle."
Yamara smiled and said, "I told you, Your Highness... elves aren't my type."
Kelnozz shook his head and walked off, heading back towards the survivors. Yamara followed, a self-satisfied smile on her face.
Back at the camp Vanya approached the Elf King, her eyes never settling on him for more than a brief moment. "Um, My Lord?"
Kelnozz chuckled softly. "There's no court here, Vanya, speak plainly. We are all companions here."
She blushed and raised her eyes to his, but then had to look away again. Kelnozz was glad for she had not seen the surprise in his own face. Her eyes had sparkled, looking entirely too alien to belong to an elf.
"You said that you had some news to share with Regnar and I?"
Kelnozz nodded. "Aye, so I did-"
Kelnozz glanced away, something bothering him briefly. He looked back and saw that Vanya, too, was looking about suspiciously. The sun was beginning to set in the west, showing a fiery sunset that buoyed the heart with its beauty.
"I think it will have to wait," he added, seeing Yamara making her way over to them purposefully.
Vanya nodded, her anxiety having dropped from her manner and in its place the sureness and calm that came over her when trouble was afoot.
"We have visitors," Yamara said softly when she reached them.
"More of whatever it was that butchered one of my people?" Kelnozz wondered aloud. He knew it would not be one of the giant lizards that had already attacked them, for they did not hear nor feel the approach of something so large.
Yamara and Vanya shrugged. Word was spreading through the other elves and they began to ready themselves for yet another confrontation.
Something stepped out of the jungle, first it was alone, then another emerged nearby. In moments a dozen stood at the forest's edge, silently watching the elves. They stood taller than a man by nearly a foot, and were covered in ape-like hair. They wore rudimentary clothing, hides worn for protection more than modesty, and wielded weaponry that was likewise crude in make.
Kelnozz moved quickly to stand in front of the assembled elves, making it clear that he was to be their representative. Another ape-man emerged from the forest, this one half a head taller then the rest, and also possessing a necklace strung with the fur covered ears of whatever particular race of creature had apparently fallen before it.
It stood in front of its fellows and thumped its chest with one hand, then grunted. Kelnozz held out his arms, palms open indicating he was concealing no weapon.. He made no noise or sudden movement, however, certain there would be a barrier to communication.
The simian stepped closer and thumped his chest again, then pointed at Kelnozz and shared a few additional grunts and chirps that it clearly used as a language. Kelnozz remained at a loss, and held up his hands to indicate as much.
"I do not understand you, much as I am certain you will not understand me," Kelnozz said, at a loss for how to proceed.
Contrary to Kelnozz's suspicions, the ape man seemed excited to hear him talk. He made many more grunts and turned to his fellows, gesticulating wildly and calling out to them as well. Some responded and four of them even melted back into the forest. The ape man leader turned back to Kelnozz and gestured at him, a universal motion that none could deny meant that he wanted Kelnozz and the others to follow him.
Kelnozz's eyes narrowed suspiciously, but then he shrugged and turned back to the others. "Gather up what we have, and bring the wounded as well, perhaps we can get some help for them."
"You're just going to let them lead us to wherever they want?" Yamara asked, her voice sharp but very quiet.
Kelnozz nodded, then turned so that the others saw the finality of his decision and began working.
It took the remaining elves, 2 of them men and 4 women, very little time to ready themselves. The wounded female needed to be assisted in order to walk, and with each passing step she seemed that much closer to passing out and never waking. Nevertheless, they moved inland and followed the apish humanoids, everyone keeping an eye on them as they glided through the forest around them. They blended with the forest easily, making it obvious to them all that they were natives of the land and were accustomed to the dangers it represented.
The sun set and the moon rose, casting the travelers into darkness beneath the thick canopy of tropical jungle. The elves moved easily still, their night vision more than making up for the lack of daylight. Yamara alone had some trouble, but she managed well enough reaching out around her with her senses to feel the terrain as it passed them by, even though she had trouble seeing it at times.
A few hours later, perhaps half an hour after the wounded woman had lapsed into unconsciousness, the apes led them up a trail and through a ravine to a series of caves and depressions along the side of a set of hills. Behind the hills rose great and majestic mountains, mountains that they had seen from the Folly of the Seas and had used as a landmark.
More of the ape-men appeared, escorting them along. Some also moved quickly ahead, bringing news to where their destination was. It was in a great hollow formed in the side of a hill that they were brought to rest. Carved gourds were already placed, filled with sweetened water and elsewhere nuts, berries, and even some roasted meats lay in wait. Nobody moved towards them until Kelnozz surveyed the scene and gave the okay. At that point, the elves fell to the refreshments and devoured them, with only Kelnozz and Regnar abstaining.
"You turn up in the strangest places."
Kelnozz spun at the sound of the gruff voice, recognizing it at once. A grin spread slowly across his face.
"Yet I'm seldom the first to find them," Kelnozz said, striding over to the massive man and taking his offered hand.
Garrick laughed deeply and clapped the elf on the shoulder, staggering him. "It is good you are here, we have much to discuss."
"Aye," Kelnozz agreed.
The others by then had turned and watched the meeting with open fascination. Garrick looked at them and smiled, his open expression even drawing a bit of warmth from Yamara. When Garrick saw Vanya and Regnar his look changed to one of surprise. He chuckled a bit and muttered to Kelnozz, "Wait till Loo see them."
"That's why I brought them, Elvanshalee is no more and they've no idea what is to become of them."
Garrick grunted, his smile sobered by the news. He took a deep breath and nodded. "Well enough, we have many dark things to discuss... things best discussed in private."
Kelnozz nodded and turned to the others, letting them know they were to be on their own amongst the ape-men until he and Garrick returned from counsel. Yamara tried to approach but he just shook his head, letting her know that, special though she may be, a line yet remained she was not to cross. She nodded, her expression guarded, and let them ascend a trail up the hill and out of their sight.
"What are these beings?" Kelnozz asked first, once they had climbed several hundred feet to a secluded plateau.
"They are an ancient race, more intelligent than apes but not so advanced as humans," Garrick said. "I can understand some of their language... it is a simple thing really, based on basic wants and needs. Not so hard really."
Kelnozz scoffed. "Perhaps for you, it made no sense to me."
Garrick shrugged. "No matter, they once lived in a better place, not so long ago, but they were forced to abandon their homes by invaders."
"Invaders? There are others here? Humans?" Kelnozz asked.
"Not humans," Garrick said. He sat down on a rock and grinned without humor. "They are part man and part dog, something I've not seen on Viconia before."
Kelnozz closed his eyes, his senses reeling. "How did she know about this place?" He asked softly.
"Yes, that's part of the rest of it," Garrick said. "They are led by a beautiful and wicked dark elven woman."
"My mother," Kelnozz offered flatly.
"That explains the resemblance."
"What is it she seeks here?" Kelnozz wondered aloud. "I came here only to find you... she would have no reason to do so."
"I think she was after the ancestral caves these ape-men held sacred," Garrick offered.
"There is a special ore found on this land, or at least found in their caves. There are giants here too, in mountains to the East and the South, and they possess skill in crafting it, but are not given to talking to strangers. Even as powerful as your mother is, she would not throw her dog-men against giants armed such as they are."
"What's special about this ore? Is it mithril?" Kelnozz asked, many of Garrick's comments causing him to wonder.
"It is called Xellium, and it stores the elemental energies of Viconia in it. By agitating it the energy can be released in a discharge much like a shock," Garrick explained.
Kelnozz nodded, interested and seeing the potential for it, but still not sure why someone like his mother would be interested in something so material. "She's after power, not wealth or material gain," he explained.
Garrick nodded. "Aye, but any source of energy only requires a wizard to figure out how to tap into it. Or witch, in her case."
"Perhaps... nothing else makes any sense," he admitted.
"There's more," Garrick said, rising to his feet and coming over to stand next to Kelnozz. The Elf King looked up at him, weariness in his eyes.
Garrick put his hand on Kelnozz's shoulder and said, "Your son is with her."
Kelnozz's eyes widened in alarm. "Bobo? Has Thoragloorin fallen? What of Alesha?"
Garrick shook his head. "No, not Bobo."
"Who then? I ..."
Kelnozz's eyes widened again. His legs almost gave out, in fact, but Garrick's steadying hand kept him balanced.
"Darakor is alive?"
Garrick nodded, knowing that no words he said would be heard or heeded.
"How?" he managed to whisper. His eyes regained their focus and he looked to the former God as he demanded, "how could this happen?"
"Something rent a hole in the wall that separates the planes. The law of death was broken when Ancaruin returned, but that only weakened it. With it being weakened though not so long ago it tore even more, letting some of the more powerful spirits a chance to escape. Darakor's was one of those."
"I know of the rift, Alesha spoke of it... it was her fault, in fact," Kelnozz explained. "I could see him returning as one of the unliving, but you say he is alive? How?"
"Your mother," Garrick said. "I told you she was powerful."
Kelnozz gaped. "I had no idea," he admitted.
"Aye, with the rift in place she had only to call to him to bring him to his body. Then, once she helped his spirit reenter his body, it was a small matter to restore life to it. His body was preserved perfectly upon the shores of the Island of the Gods."
Kelnozz gripped the hilts of his blades instinctively, his thoughts racing at the news. "Gods... what else could come back, if he can? Ancaruin, perhaps?"
Garrick chuckled. "That old wyrm is done, worry not."
Kelnozz frowned, wondering what twist this added.
Garrick interrupted his thoughts, reminding him of the present. "The rift grows by the moment; you realize it must be fixed, aye?"
Kelnozz nodded. "Yes, that's why I sought you out, old friend. We have the blade and the hilt that smote down Bavorish. We need you and your hammer to reforged it, then he can be set free and destroyed. Alesha says she knows this must be done to restore the wall between life and death."
Garrick looked at him sadly, then nodded. "She is right... that will work. And she is right in that she is the one that can do it, for she is the one to have imprisoned him."
"Have you your hammer?" Kelnozz asked, seeing a great sword upon Garrick's back, as well as an axe at his side that was large enough that it would have taken the elf two hands to wield.
"I can summon it," Garrick said.
"Then let us be off, we must make haste."
"What of your mother...and son?"
Kelnozz stared out over the edge of the plateau they stood upon and stared at the beautiful and mysterious new lands before him. "They will be dealt with when the time is right, for now, more pressing matters call to us."
"Very well, I will aid you, but even Luingirth can not carry all of your people upon his back, not for so great a distance."
Kelnozz nodded in understanding, but rather than reply he was already heading back to the path that led down to where the others awaited. Garrick stared after him a moment, feeling a moment of empathy for his friend. Then he shrugged and walked after him, looking forward to having a chance at seeing Bavorish again, even if only to have a chance, should Alesha fail, at doing battle with him again.
Vanya and Regnar were having a discussion with the man they had grown up knowing as Lynngar, but now came to understand as Luingirth. When Kelnozz and Garrick returned, Luingirth was just finishing up with telling them of his actual relationship to them. Luingirth was shape-shifted into his guise as a human, albeit one that stood nearly seven feet tall and looked every bit as imposing as Garrick. Regnar accepted it readily, but Vanya was having still having some troubles coming to terms with it. Or at least the part where Regnar was actually her brother.
She had asked what that meant as far as she was concerned. Why was a dragon and she an elf? Would they ever grow more in common? It was easy for her to reconcile herself, for Luingirth looked humanoid enough, but still she had trouble understanding Regnar to be her brother. These thoughts and others she wondered, some to herself and others aloud. Luingirth had little in the way of answers though, for she and her brother were unique. Their lives would be the first of their kind, their potential was untapped.
Before they could explore too much of it, however, Kelnozz and Garrick returned. Yamara watched them carefully and noted how Kelnozz seemed more drawn than before. He brightened at the sight of Luingirth, but the shadows returned all too quickly on his face.
"Loo, you look well for someone in your age and condition," the Elf King said, trying to make his mood lighter.
Luingirth turned upon him and chuckled, his deep voice echoing off the walls. "And you as well, old friend."
"Have enough in your old bones for another flight?"
"Do you?" Luingirth replied, challenging his lifelong friend.
"We have little time," Kelnozz said to them all, abandoning the jibe and turning serious. "And Luingirth can not carry us all back to Innowendyn. Some must stay, and as you know, this land is fraught with peril. I can not guarantee how quickly we might return for you - if ever."
"This is one decision I'll not be on the wrong side of," Yamara said, stepping forward. "I wish to return with you."
Kelnozz nodded. He understood and appreciated her position. He looked to the others, seeking any who would speak out.
First one sailor, one of the men, volunteered to stay. He was sitting beside his unconscious comrade and said that he would remain behind to offer her what aid she may require. The other sailors gave in as well, admitting that they, too, would remain behind for as long as necessary.
"Vanya, you may ride with us, but Regnar you are too large. You might fly along side us," Kelnozz offered.
"The distance is too great, you would not make it," Luingirth said, his booming voice soft. "I would ask you both to remain, and I will return when this is done so that I might spend more time with you to teach you what I can of your heritage."
Vanya and Regnar looked to one another, sharing an unspoken understanding that they began to understand better now that they knew the truth. They agreed as well.
"These people will treat you well, so long as you treat them well in return," Garrick told them. "They are not servants, but neither are they as advanced and civilized as you might be accustomed."
Garrick turned to the chief of the ape-men and spoke with them, grunting in a parody of their language. The chief nodded and called out orders to his people, telling them to accept the elves among them and to welcome them. Garrick then turned to Luingirth and nodded.
"Let us leave the hills and be on our way," Garrick said, knowing that Kelnozz would want to be off at once.
The King of the Elves nodded approvingly, and moved to follow.
"What will become of me?" Bobo asked his mother as the two of them stared from a tall tower at the growing horde of undead that gathered outside the city wall. "If what you suspect is true, that is," he hastily added.
Alesha had been dodging speculation on the future every chance she had. Now, at the last, she was running out of time. She had tried repeatedly to accept a more patient attitude that the elves fostered, for they were so long-lived that many matters could be put off for years without undue concern. Her human nature came to the front, however, and demanded attention.
So it was that she finally had allowed herself to stop obsessing with checking and rechecking the obvious and instead studying that which was bound to happen. "I don't know," she admitted to him.
"It could be that when the barrier is restored the powers you gained from your experience will be gone," she offered hopefully.
"And with them my sight," Bobo said.
Alesha nodded, her spark of hope fading at the thought of her only son being crippled.
"Perhaps you will be unchanged, since you have inherited your magic from me," she suggested.
"Perhaps... but what of you? And us? If Darakor is returned..."
Alesha wished she had not confided in him that she knew of Kelnozz's first son being resurrected, but she also knew it was the right thing to do. "Your father will never deny you or turn from you," she said, misunderstanding him.
Bobo looked away from her. "I know that... I just..."
"If Darakor works for Kalista, then he has made himself an enemy. Your father will not allow it. I will not allow it so long as I'm here. He even succeeded at defeating me when I deserved it, remember?"
Bobo nodded, then looked back at her, studying her closely. "There's more... more that you're not telling me. What is it?"
Alesha raised an eyebrow at him, remaining calm on the outside but a state of confusion internally. How could he know? More importantly, how could she tell him? Then again, how could she deny him... she had already denied Kelnozz and it was tearing her apart.
She took a breath and sighed, which came out as a tortured moan. "I don't know for certain, but I think things are going to change when this is over."
Bobo's eyes narrowed. He knew that, but she seemed to mean there was more to it.
"I'm going to change, I mean," she said, trying to explain what she herself suspected but did not fully understand. "I have been forced to dig into myself, to explore the powers I have gained and not touched since we defeated Bavorish."
She paused, glancing at the undead again and seeing them with such clarity that any further self-denial seemed pointless. "By drawing some of him into me, I inherited more than just that glimpse of power."
Bobo gasped. "You mean you're the Keeper of the Dead?"
Alesha shook her head, a tear running down her cheek. "Not yet," she said. "If I were, they would not be here," she gestured at the shambling corpses.
"When this is done. I know what I must do," she whispered.
"There must be another way."
Alesha smiled sadly at her son. "There are always options, Bobo. Always ways we can shirk our duties. But imagine the cost," she said, looking meaningfully out the tower again.
Bobo's gaze followed hers. "What are the other options?"
Favoring him with a long gaze she decided to level with him completely. "I could return Bavorish's powers to him, making him whole and terrible again."
Bobo frowned, debating whether it would be worth it or not. He opened his mouth but Alesha continued, letting him know she was not finished.
"Or you could inherit in my stead."
Whatever words had been about to come from his mouth fled. He stared at her, shocked. "Me?" He finally whispered.
"I alone have been touched with his mark, and you are my heir, should I fail," she said, reaching out and pulling her stunned son to her in a fierce hug.
"We raised you to know responsibility; to understand your duty," she whispered into his neck. "We meant that so you could be a leader of the elves, but now I need you to understand the price may be so very much higher."
Bob nodded, unable to deny her anything, even though the thought of what she said terrified him. "Should I fall, you must ascend... do you understand?"
He nodded again, feeling the warmth of her tears against his skin.
Alesha pulled away from him and looked into his eyes, clouded over and milky as they were. "Will you do this, if you must? Will you accept it?"
Bobo closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He had dreamed of one day having a family, or living a long life and of sailing on the seas, perhaps with a fine woman at his side. The image of Vanya came to him at the thought of a beautiful and fitting companion. He took the images and held them close, then let them evaporate.
Eyes open again and staring into both the worlds of the living and the dead, Bobo spoke somberly. "I do."
Luingirth dropped out of the sky and landed in the same courtyard with the fountain where the statues had once been. Now only the pool and the stream remained amidst the cobblestone plaza, all signs of the battle long gone.
They had seen the throng of undead that pressed the city's gates, beating against the walls mindlessly in an attempt to gain entry. A magical portal had been established between Innowendyn and Thoragloorin, allowing elves to travel between the capitals without delay. It likewise allowed the walls of Thoragloorin to be manned and defended, although since there was no great tactical skill behind the army of shuffling corpses, defense consisted primarily of making certain that the exits were barred and that they could not climb atop one another highly enough to climb over the walls.
In spite of that, Kelnozz, Yamara, Luingirth, and Garrick met a haggard looking Bobocateya and Alesha. Both seemed very drawn and tired, but neither would speak much of it. Once the question of Vanya, Regnar, and the others was put to rest they gathered in the recently re-fired forges of the citadel. The smithy in the castle proper was the finest in all the land, allowing both a temperature and a control designed for working with the most complicated of alloys and the powerful of magics. Since the Kinslaying wars, Viconia had not seen its like.
"Darakor is alive," Kelnozz told her shortly after greeting her with a heartfelt embrace.
Alesha nodded, looking a little guilty at his declaration. "I felt him returned recently."
Kelnozz's eyes widened. "That time at the Well?"
She shook her head, "No, after that. I still do not know who or what that was."
The Elf King frowned but decided to let it drop. Later they would discuss why she had not shared the information.
"Are you prepared for this?" Kelnozz, weary himself with the two day flight home, asked his wife.
Alesha nodded, then offered a faint smile to him as thanks for not pursuing the matter of Darakor. She pulled him aside and kissed him tenderly, something that took him by surprise.
"I thought time was of the essence?" Kelnozz asked, a chill growing in him at her actions.
"It is, but a fight such as this is always perilous," she explained. "If the worst should happen..."
Kelnozz smiled and put his fingers to her lips, which he noted were surprisingly cold to the touch. "We will be triumphant, worry not."
She smiled, her eyes watering. Enigmatically she said, "that may be the worst that could happen."
Before Kelnozz could ask her what she meant, she had moved past him. He turned, reaching for her, but was surprised to find that she was already standing near the forge. He was more surprised to see her fully garbed in her armor crafted from the scales of dragons and the mightiest of metals, something he had not seen in years. It brought back feelings and memories, some of which he quickly dismissed.
Garrick had the broken sword and had already placed it into the furnace. As a testimony to its dormant magic, the blade had begun to glow red with the gathering heat almost instantly.
Using adamantine tongs reinforced with magic of their own, Garrick pulled the two halves of the short sword from the coals, setting it upon an anvil made of similarly ensorcelled adamantite. His hammer, which he had summoned to his hand only a few minutes prior, swung through the air and smote the weapon. He struck it twice more, eyes widening in surprise with each swing.
After the third strike he raised the hammer and lowered it slowly to his side. Before him, unmarred and as flawless as it had been the day Alesha had found it in the lair of deceased black dragon, lay the sword. He turned to Kelnozz and Alesha, for once at a loss for words.
"It is ready," Alesha said, staring at it. Her voice was distant and cold, though Bobo and Kelnozz could feel a sense of dread in it.
Bobo felt a similar dread, and wanted to move to his father, to be with him as his mother did what she needed to do. Instead he held his ground, knowing that he must act quickly if she should falter.
Alesha turned to Yamara, who stood nearby but further back as a spectator whose part had already been played. "When this task is done, take this blade and make it your own. It can pierce anything, much like your tongue, and so I see no more fitting wielder for it."
Yamara nodded, fighting the urge to smile at the kindness Alesha had shown her. "Worry not about its powers, for I will draw from it the strength to imprison souls. But be also warned it is a curse, for others may yet seek it. That, too, is why I charge you with it, for it is a powerful weapon and one that I would not see falling into the hands of evil men."
She nodded again, then went so far as to drop to a knee in obedience. Garrick alone stared at Yamara for a long moment after she had risen. She felt uncomfortable under the Herculean man's gaze, but saw the appreciation and respect in his gaze. He alone had understood what it meant to her to show such a sign of respect and fealty.
"Kelnozz, my husband," Alesha said, turning to him. "Whatever should happen, stand clear. Alone this must be done, and alone the consequences must be borne."
"Consequences?" Kelnozz asked, suddenly alarmed. Something had seemed not right about his wife for some time now, he knew, but he thought her only tired and concerned about how everything had developed. Now he suddenly understood there was more to it.
"Wait!" He demanded, ordering in the way of a King who was expected to be obeyed.
Alesha ignored him, turning to step past Garrick. She picked up the reforged sword by the hilt, feeling it warm to her touch. Standing there, in that instant, fully armed and armored, she remembered again the terrible and evil queen she had been. She had thrown off that mantle so long ago it seemed as if it had been another person. Now she knew that it was still a part of her.
Bobo intercepted Kelnozz as he stepped forward, reaching for her. He saw the way her expression changed. How she became cold and hard, and again he saw the woman he had been forced to plunge his blade into long ago.
"Father! Stop... she must do this alone, do not interrupt her!" Bobo said, trying to hold him back.
"Let go, I can help her, I have always helped her," Kelnozz snapped, not wanting to lash out at Bobo but prepared to do so.
"If you make her falter, she will fail!" Bobo seethed back at him. "And if she fails, then it falls to me to do her task!"
Kelnozz halted, stunned by the statement. He stared at Bobo and then at Alesha, watching as she turned and stepped away from the forge and into the open street before it. Many elven soldiers were gathered outside, as word had spread of the royal entourage and of strange events taking place. These soldiers were ignored by them, however. Instead Alesha moved to the middle of the thoroughfare and held the blade up in front of herself. Kelnozz, Bobo, Garrick, and Yamara followed, though at a distance. Tears of confusion and understanding ran down the face of the King of the Elves.
The sword pulsed, a blackness that caused the area to fall under shadow bursting from it. A man appeared on the ground, naked but large, thick limbed, and powerful looking. Red hair the color of flames adorned his head, but it lay still in the sudden thick silence that encompassed the area.
"Bavorish, your time is ended," Alesha said, pronouncing doom upon him. "I claim your soul."
Bavorish rolled to his knees and looked up at Alesha. For the briefest of moments he seemed doubtful, then he barked out a laugh and raised one foot as though to rise. "I made you who you are, silly girl. Seek not to challenge me further, already you will suffer an eternity of subservience to me!"
Alesha tossed the sword to the side, where it clattered quietly on the paved roadway. Her hands reached forward, going towards Bavorish's throat. He caught her wrists in his hands, intent upon pushing her aside with ease. The shock upon his face when he touched her and energy of every color burst from their contact made him tremble. He snatched at his burned hands, disbelief in his eyes.
Alesha grabbed him and pulled him forward, a dark nimbus surrounding him. She leaned forward and placed her lips against his forehead, making him groan in agony as she siphoned his essence from him.
"No... I made you!" He moaned, refusing to surrender. He reached up, his hand grabbing at her body. He ignored the agony touching her caused him and tried instead to force his hand to crush her with his once great power.
Alesha pushed him back and thrust one hand into his chest, spearing through skin and bone as though it was not there. He gasped, head falling back weakly. She yanked her hand out of his flesh, pulling with it not the blood and gore everyone expected, but instead a phantom image of himself. It writhed in agony, struggling to escape her ephemeral grasp.
Alesha's other hand made contact with his spirit and she made a tearing motion with them both, pulling them apart. The spectral image burst, taking with it the shadowy darkness that enveloped them all. Bavorish's body, unmarred, fell to the ground and lay still. Outside the gates the thousands of spirits that animated the bodies of the dead were suddenly pulled back to their rightful resting place. The dead, animated for so long now, collapsed to the ground, leaving behind nothing but their now rapidly decomposing flesh.
Alesha turned, her gaze sweeping over everyone gathered in turn, including the elves that had witnessed the historic moment. Everyone that gazed upon her felt chilled to the bone. She turned to behold Kelnozz and, for a moment, her icy expression softened. He stepped forward, walking to within a few feet of her, and after a timeless moment passed between them, he nodded.
"I understand," he said.
She smiled, though by the moment she seemed increasingly distant to them all. "One day, my King, I hope we will be together again," she said so softly that it seemed a whisper of wind across the ground, yet everyone heard it.
She turned, even as she began to turn ghostly so that they could see through her. "I am the Mistress of the Dead," she proclaimed, her words sending a chill through the bones of those gathered. "The barriers between this realm and mine are restored, when next you look upon me your soul shall be judged. Live well, my friends."
The sun shone down upon the gathered people and the body of the dead God that lay upon the ground. No one moved or spoke, and none could tell between the moment when Alesha was among them and the moment when she was gone. Bobo was the first to move, as he stepped up to his father and laid his hand upon his shoulder.
Kelnozz nodded, to himself, to those assembled, or to something far beyond any of their ability to see no one knew. He gestured at Bavorish's corpse and spoke, "Inter this body into the deepest levels of the catacombs, then seal the room so that it may not be entered or even known to exist. No magic in it exists and no soul can ever inhabit it, but it is best if it is forever lost to the world."
He turned then, looking about and wondering if there was anything else that needed to be done. Finding nothing, he nodded to Garrick and then to Bobo, indicating with a jerk of his head that the latter should follow him as he walked off, heading into the city.
Yamara stepped forward after Kelnozz had left, bending low to gather up the dropped and forgotten short sword. She beheld it, noting how perfectly balanced it was in her grip and how simple the design of it. Yet she could tell it was every bit as dangerous as Alesha had promised. She removed her short sword from its sheath and put the new one in it, then tucked her old one, which had a much lesser magic about it, in her belt. She, too, left the scene, heading back to the palace for lack of a better place.
"Show's over," Garrick said, gesturing for everyone to disburse. Several soldiers came forward to take a part in disposing of the corpse, while the rest wandered off, talking excitedly to one another about the events they had witnessed.
Garrick clapped Bobo on the back softly, for him, and sighed. "Hell of a woman," he offered as consolation. Then Garrick, too, walked off.
Bobo nodded in agreement. He could still feel his mothers connection. In fact, he felt closer to her now than ever before. His vision was the same as before, and so were all of his powers. He sighed and decided that he needed to honor a pledge he had made. He had told Elvanshalee that he would make sure that no harm came to Vanya and Regnar. Plus there was his half-brother and grandmother on the loose. He expected the world to be a busy place, now that the dead at least had the good sense to die.
"Kalista, when are you going to give up on these silly rocks?" Darakor asked his grandmother as she sat bed staring at a small chunk of the Xellium ore she held in her hand.
"These silly rocks possess more elemental magic than anything I've ever seen," she informed him, sending a dangerous glare his way. "If you had half the sense of a proper wizard you would know to be interested as well!"
Darakor shrugged; he was an arch-mage with plenty of power already. Her jibes did not bother him, he had also come to understand the power of steel. "My studies turned me to other areas. I see it as something we can outfit your doguren with, other than that it is of little use to me. To seize the world and rule it as is our right, we need to reunite the chattel of the world and crush Kelnozz and the fools that follow him."
"Soon enough," she said, discounting his thoughts on what was truly necessary for power.
Darakor shook his head but held his tongue. She had brought him back and, though he often disagreed with her, he could not deny that her power eclipsed his. He thought back on his last fight, alongside his father, and forced it from his mind. The right way lay before him again, elves could have the glory and power they deserved, it just needed to be taken!
"Now what?" Bobo asked, coming upon Kelnozz as the Elven King stood upon the edge of the cliff where Bobo had been burned.
"She's restored the boundary, I figure the least I can do is give her some more souls to judge," Kelnozz said.
"She knew what had to be done," Bobo said softly, uncertain of how his father would react. He felt strange with Alesha not present. It was rare that he and Kelnozz spent time together alone; his father was a busy man.
"Aye, she probably did," he agreed noncommittally.
"While you sought out Garrick she told me many things," Bobo plunged on, wondering if his father needed to hear it or if he just needed to talk about it.
"She told me what it was she suspected she must do. She also told me that if she failed, it would be up to me to do it instead because I had inherited her gift...or curse, as she called it."
"A curse indeed, from the very beginning," Kelnozz spat out darkly.
"Was it?" Bobo asked. "It came from Bavorish, but is she, now, evil and beyond redemption because she has taken his place?"
Kelnozz considered the words of his son. Finally he admitted, "she once told me that she realized her powers were not evil, they were merely a tool. Not so different from the firepowder used by our soldiers. On her world it had been used to create great weapons capable of destroying thousands at a time, she feared it would be the same here. We came to agree that the difference was not in the weapon or the power, but by the person using it."
Bobo nodded, agreeing with him. "So what now?"
Kelnozz sighed and looked at his son. "I'm not sure," he said, showing a candor that surprised the half-elven prince.
"Innowendyn and Thoragloorin need to be cared for, and I believe each must be ruled separately. Do we set up yourself at one and me at the other, or do you and I take one and let the other be ruled by their own appointment?"
Bobo had little feedback on the heavy items his father discussed. He had not considered the fate of the Elven nation, now nations, as a whole. He had too many things he wanted to do with his life, and he had always assumed that, with his father living for a very long time, he would have the time to do those things. Now he began to wonder.
"There is one other matter too," Kelnozz said, his mien turning dark as he thought of Kalista and Darakor. "I've a family reunion to attend."