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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction that combine worlds created by the original content owner with names, places, characters, events, and incidents that are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, organizations, companies, events or locales are entirely coincidental. Authors are responsible for properly crediting Original Content creator for their creative works.
Valdemar world, characters, events belong to Mercedes Lackey and Tor Publishing

Tests of Blood - 14. Chapter 14

“Any word yet?” Herald-Mage Loishia asked Dalen, who was sitting in the workroom, staring into the large silver scrying bowl that had come with the reinforcements. The image in the bowl was opaque at the moment and he had stopped trying to break through the spell protecting the area he was trying to scry.

“None.” Dalen said with a sigh as he waved his hand over the bowl, cancelling the spell. The oil in the bowl glistened for a few moments before settling into its normal coloring and he breathed a sigh of relief that it had not been contaminated like the last two times. He was getting better at the fine control spells that kept his scrying attempts from being contaminated by the enemy.

“It looks like you’re better at that spell now too.” Loishia said encouragingly.

“You were right in that it is more a matter of control than anything else.” Dalen acknowledged with a bow of his head to the more experienced but less powerful mage.

“Don’t worry so much.” Loishia told him in her most comforting tone. “They are all Heralds, they know what they are up against and if anyone can get in there, take a look at what is going on and get out again, it will be them.”

“The only problem with that is our enemy seems to know Heralds fairly well and has set several traps that are adapted just for Heralds and their Companions.” Dalen reminded her sourly. Paet was with that group of four Heralds and he was worried about his friend, even if Paet had been given his full Whites and was no longer a Trainee.

“That has been worrisome, yes.” Loishia said as she grimaced and sat down. “It was the same way on the front down south. Those Black Kings have obviously been studying us for a while. They used some type of otherworldly creature that was able to track down Companions specifically and went after them. I saw the things literally stream past a dozen troops to pick out the Herald. Once I was able to drive it off with magic, but mind-magic didn’t seem to phase it at all. We had a firestarter down there that was able to send a few of their mages up like torches. One of those things came at him though and nothing he did with his gift worked. The thing got him in the end. Only mages seemed to be able to affect it at all.”

“Is that why you insisted Mavren go with them?” Dalen asked with a frown.

“Yes.” She agreed with a nod. “They only ever sent one of those things at a time, and I figure if the enemy up here has been taking lessons from those down south, well this way the scouting party has a better chance of making it back.”

“Good reasoning.” Dalen said with a sigh. “I just wish… well there’s just so much to learn and know.”

“That’s what experience is for, lad.” Loishia said with a gentle smile on her face. “You know enough to know there are things you don’t know and you didn’t sit there and try to make me explain why we needed Mavren to go. Instead, you just nodded and accepted that into your planning. That’s what a good leader does. Dalen, your father would work the same way. He’d listen to his senior officers and the specialists like Heralds, and adopt their suggestions into his plans. If he didn’t understand why, he took their word for it until they had time later to explain.”

“I know.” Dalen sighed again as he leaned back and closed his eyes. He had a dull reaction headache like he did all the time these days. In the six days since the arrival of the reinforcements he’d remembered a passage from one of the old histories on Vanyel Ashkevron and a statement in there about how the famous Herald-Mage had linked all his gifts in with his mage-gift, boosting their power. Two nights of concentrated effort had resulted in what he thought was success, but had also left him with a massive reaction headache that was just now fading.

“This is the worst part, the waiting.” Loishia said with a kind smile. “There is only so much you can do when you have to send others out into danger.”

“I should be with them.” Dalen murmured.

“You don’t have a Companion, lad.” Loishia reminded him. “You sent Heralds because we’re the fastest scouts you have in the area, and our combination of skills means the biggest chance of success. If you went along, well, they’d be limited to the speed of your horse.”

“I know.” Dalen grumbled, and realized with trepidation that he was almost pouting over the fact that he had never been Chosen. The thought stunned him for a long moment and then he let out a rueful chuckle.

“What do you find so amusing?” Loishia asked him.

“I just realized I’ve spent most of my life doing my damndest to make sure I would never be Chosen, even living in fear of it when we came back to Haven.” Dalen said with a shake of his head. “Now, here I am thinking how it’d be easier if I had been.”

“Jaidra says if you really want to be Chosen that it can be arranged.” Loishia said with laugh.

“Uh, no thanks.” Dalen said with a shake of his head after a moment of thought. “That’d just add even more complications to things right now.”

“Ah, so you’d rather stay here and not be with the scouting run?” Loishia asked him with an arched eyebrow.

“Let’s just say that for now, I’m satisfied with my responsibilities.” Dalen said. “I don’t want to add more complications to things. Besides, if I remember the rules right, the moment I’m Chosen I’ll be packed off to Haven for more training and then who would handle things down here?”

“There are exceptions to almost every rule.” Loishia said cryptically and now Dalen did shiver before giving her a calculating look.

“Wait a moment.” Dalen said as something crystallized in his brain. “Since when do Companions offer to choose someone?”

“You’re a special case, or at least that’s what Jaidra says.” Loishia shrugged. “After a couple of years, most Heralds know when it is pointless to ask their Companions something. They’ve got their own secrets, you know, and they reveal them very, very reluctantly.”

“I know.” Dalen said with another shake of his head. Their idle chatter was interrupted when Captain Helgenberger stuck her head into the workroom.

“I hope I’m not interrupting anything?” She asked in a worried tone.

“No, we were just talking.” Dalen said as he stood up. “What’s going on?”

“We’ve just gotten a report from one of our scouts.” She said in a rush. “Can both of you come out here?”

“Sure.” Dalen said as he led the Herald-Mage out of the workroom and into the war-room. Helgenberger had all of her officers that were in the camp already assembled, as well as several of her best sergeants. All of the men and women looked grim.

“The scout in sector SE 2 just reported in via relay.” The Captain said as they formed a circle around the map table. She pointed to the sector that was farthest from the Valdemar camp. “A large raiding party including at least one mage is looping their way up towards some of the Holderkin farms in that area. They’ll be there in a day, far quicker than we can get troops there.”

“If I make a gate to this location, we can be in a position to cut them off as long as we move fast enough.” Dalen said as he looked at the map and pointed to a spot to their north. “If, that is, we can find someone who has been in that area before.”

“One of my first Circuits was down in that area.” Loishia said with a grimace. “You can get the image from my mind. The spot I’m thinking of is a little further north and east, though, but it should be close enough for mounted troops to make it to the farm in time. If you make the gate, I can go with them and take on that mage.”

“We don’t know how powerful the mage is, Loishia.” Dalen said firmly. “I’m sorry, but I’m not throwing you and the troops with you into a fight you can’t win. I’ll have to go.”

“Do I need to remind you how much energy a Gate takes?” Loishia asked with an arched eyebrow and a pointed look.

“It’s not even a tenth of the maximum range I’ve ever Gated.” Dalen said with determination in his voice. “It won’t take a lot of power, and I should be able to replenish quickly from the ambient power in that area. The biggest problem is that the mage is going to feel the Gate and know we’re there. No matter what, there’s no help for that.”

“Plus the weather has been growing more unstable the last few days.” Loishia reminded him with a grimace. “I’ll need to do some heavy lifting to keep a nasty storm from developing here. Late summer thunderstorms are not pleasant.”

“Especially not now with our camp in a perfect place for a flash flood.” Captain Helgenberger said. “I agree with Mage Dalen. He should go with the troops. Lieutenant Mayweather’s squad will go with him, along with another ten volunteers from our other mounted forces. A couple of engineers should be included in case, after the fighting, the farms in that area need some assistance with repairing damage.”

“How soon can you be ready to move out?” Loishia asked Dalen.

“Give me a mark, I mean an hour.” He said. There were still times he had difficulty remembering the new system of marking time. A candlemark and an hour were not exactly the same, but they were close enough.

“Better make it two.” Captain Helgenberger said flatly. “Lieutenant Mayweather?”

“I’ll have my troops ready, ma’am.” Lee said with a nod of his head. “Two hours will be enough time.”

“Good.” She said and fixed him with a stern look. “Keep Prince Dalen alive, Lieutenant.”

“I will, ma’am.” Lee said before snapping to attention, saluting her and then turning sharply on his heel and walking out of the room.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dalen asked her sharply. “The part about keeping me alive?”

“It means that you are more valuable than stopping a raid on a farm.” She replied with a stone-cold voice. “You may get caught up in the heroics of saving poor farmers, but Lieutenant Mayweather has enough experience to know better. If it looks like you’re in danger, he will get you out of there and I expect you to obey him, sir.”

“I…” Dalen started to protest but when he noticed that Herald-Mage Loishia had the same look on her face, he shut his mouth and hung his head before replying. “I will, I promise.”

“That’s a good boy.” Loishia laughed lightly. “Now, why don’t we go get you ready and I will share that location with you while the Captain and her officers get their troops ready?”

“Of course, Herald.” Dalen said when a quick glance showed that Captain Helgenberger agreed emphatically. Herald Loishia followed him into the small workroom cavern, closing the field blanket that had been hung to act as a door.

“Here is the place I was thinking.” Loishia said as she sat in one of the camp chairs and mentally prepared herself. Dalen also took a seat and touched her mind gently with his, grateful that she was also a mindspeaker. That made it far easier for him to pick the location from her mind.

“Can you be certain that the place hasn’t changed much?” Dalen asked her and she shook her head. He sighed and closed his eyes. “I think I can make an Eastern-style portal, without depending on an archway. That would make it more likely to succeed.”

“You’re the one with the power to make a Gate, not me.” Loishia said with a shrug as she stood up and crossed to the corner of the room where he kept his empty saddlebags. “Now, let’s get your bags packed.”

“I can pack my own bags, Herald.” Dalen said defensively. “It’s not like I’m a complete novice at this?”

“Oh really?” She asked with a lift of an eyebrow and a little smile. “When was the last time that you rode off with a troop of soldiers into a combat situation where you will be facing enemy soldiers and enemy mages in the defense of innocent civilians?”

“I, uh, okay, maybe I haven’t done anything exactly like this before.” Dalen admitted with a very slight blush after a moment. “Still, I did come out here with Herald Landir, you know.”

“Yes, and that situation was very different from this one.” She said firmly.

“Right, so like, I don’t need to take all the travelling supplies with me.” Dalen said with a gesture to the makeshift shelves that held most of his mage supplies.

“What if you’re having a problem finding the exact location of the enemy troops?” She asked him. “I know you have Farsight, but a scrying bowl is safer, as we both know.”

“True.” Dalen frowned. “But if I take everything, well we won’t be able to move as fast as we should.”

“Yes, which is why I’m going to show you how to pack like a Herald-Mage expecting action.” She said with a smile and proceeded to do just that. Now he was glad that they had two hours instead of just one as she took the time to explain why something was or was not included. This was not something he’d ever had covered in any of his training, and as he followed her out of the caves to the cooking area, he was grateful she took the time to explain everything and teach him properly.

That was something he understood, and had been hammered into him from his very first lessons. Just because he was very powerful, he should never, ever assume that a less powerful mage had nothing to teach him. The truth was a well-trained Journeyman could defeat a more powerful and lesser trained mage. Power and excellent training though, meant Dalen would be well off in almost any conflict.

Not that he had ever expected to be riding off into combat. Even as he packed away the high-energy field rations that Loishia requisitioned for him, and made sure his saddlebags were ready to go, he realized that he was feeling slightly excited. He had fought, and killed, twice now, and while part of him was still sickened at the memories of the after-effects from fighting, he couldn’t deny that he was feeling excited as well.

The feelings had him both excited and feeling slightly nauseous at the same time.

“Let’s get your horse ready.” Herald-mage Loishia said as she watched him secure the last fruit bar into his saddlebag and closed the entire bag. Dalen led her to the corrals and was happy when Moana replied to his whistle. Lee had pretty much given her to him and he was finding that he enjoyed riding her. She responded very well to him, and seemed genuinely happy that he was here, and that he was getting her ready for the journey.

“You ready for a long ride, Moana?” Dalen asked the horse in a jovial voice as the Herald followed him to the tack area. The area was nearly full with Lee’s men as they were also getting ready. Several of them called out to Dalen in a friendly way as Moana followed him with eagerness visible in her every step. As he saddled Moana and checked her over, Dalen couldn’t help but feel the evaluating eyes of Herald-mage Loishia on him like an anxious parent.

“Dalen, what you are feeling right now is normal.” Loishia said in a soft voice as she stepped beside him. He nearly jumped, but looked over at her with a quizzical expression.

What do you mean? He asked her using mindspeech so they wouldn’t be overheard.

I have a very slight amount of Empathy, not really worth much, but you are leaking like a sieve right now. She replied with a steady look. You’ve seen action a few times, and you’re excited and sickened at the memories of what it was like before, right?

Yeah. He admitted with an audible sigh.

It would be better if you were Chosen, because some of the lessons we receive include how to deal with these types of feelings. Loishia’s mind voice was gentle, and held no recrimination at all. Soldiers get similar training too, but you never planned on being in this type of situation, did you?

This type of situation is what I’ve always wanted to avoid. Dalen admitted while rubbing Moana’s shoulder. The mare leaned into him a bit and he strengthened the effort of his hands. I never wanted to use my gifts in combat. They’re meant for helping, for creating things, not for killing. Then, well, I mean after the last time, I just got totally sick by the smell, and the feel of blood on me, but here I am now, kind of excited about it all and almost looking forward to it, if that makes any sense.

You’ve never felt as alive as you did when you were fighting for your life? She asked him and he stared at her for a long moment before nodding his head in reluctant agreement.

Why do you think there are people out there who are always looking for a fight? She asked him. How about those insane danger seekers that were all the rage a few years back? What made them go out and do the crazy stunts they were trying?

I remember hearing they were addicted to the excitement. Dalen replied after a moment of thought. He’d seen the accounts, and remembered shaking his head in wonder that anyone would try stupid stunts like that lot.

The healers who’ve studied this type of thing say the body releases a chemical when we’re excited like that, and it is more intense when our lives are in danger. She told him with a shake of her head. Like anything else, people can become addicted to that feeling and will seek out any opportunity they can to find it again.

Are you saying that’s what is happening to me? Dalen’s mind had a worried edge to it and his eyes were slightly wide, he knew. I am becoming addicted to risking my life?

No, not that, not yet. Her mind-voice was full of friendly laughter, easing the tension that he had started to feel. You’re a good young man, Dalen, and I doubt you will ever allow yourself to become addicted to something like that. Still, it is a possibility and you are better off being aware of the trap involved with seeking out such thrills.

The most important part of beating a trap is knowing of its existence. Dalen supplied the appropriate Shin’a’in quote and was happy when she laughed aloud.

“The Shina’a’in have a saying for everything.” She chuckled. “You should try being stuck on night-watch with one of them, spouting off all their favorite sayings all night just so they won’t go to sleep.”

“Oh crap.” Dalen laughed and she had to pound him on the back when he started choking from laughing so hard.

“What did I say?” Loishia asked with a grin as Dalen looked around and noticed most of the troops had moved their mounts towards the main entrance.

“Nothing.” Dalen smiled. “I’ll tell you when we get back.”

“You better.” She half-growled at him, but she was smiling. He would tell her, later, when the memory would hurt a little less.

He stopped in surprise at the assembly area and frowned at Captain Helgenberger who was standing next to two people at the head of the formation of mounted troops. Dalen expected Lee Mayweather’s presence. After all, it was his troops that were going on this mission. What he didn’t expect was the lean figure in Bard scarlets standing between the two officers.

“What is Bard Lackley doing there?” Dalen half-growled. Even he had to admit the Bard was quite a striking figure with his jet-black hair, thin eyebrows and dark, brooding eyes. His tanned skin and lean frame only accented his good looks, and the Bard would often take advantage of that when it suited his purposes. Behind the Bard was the man’s mount, saddled and ready to go, complete with sword on one side and lute in its traveling case on the other.

“Probably plans to go with you.” Loishia said with a sigh. “Bards, sometimes I wish we could pack the whole lot off somewhere, but then they’d make a song about us again. It is worse now with them and their papers and the stories they write. Poor luck for you since Lackley has a good following in print and in the music side as well. Word is he’ll make Master by this time next year.”

“If he’s so good why isn’t he down south?” Dalen asked grimly. Last he’d heard, the Black Kings made no distinction between Bards and other gifted in their directed attacks.

“He was.” She said with a shake of her head. “Damn near got himself killed twice and the last time he was injured fairly badly. They sent him back to Haven through a resupply Gate and he was patched up at Healer’s Hall. I read he was fully recovered a month back. Falworth says he showed up at their base a few days before they were deployed.”

“I wonder how he came to be down here?” Dalen asked as they got close to the officers, not aware that he’d spoken loud enough for them to here.

“I came down here because I heard this was where you were, Prince Dalen.” Bard Lackley said with a smile that showed his perfectly straight, perfectly white teeth. He had the most blinding smile Dalen had ever seen, and he tried to ignore the feeling in his stomach at the strong, good looks of this man up close. When he finally took the hand the man extended, Dalen had another problem with the dichotomy of silk-soft skin, slightly callused and a very firm grip. “I’ve been trying to get an interview with you ever since I got shipped back to Haven and when I heard you were sent down south, well I just knew things were going to get exciting in this area.”

“Why would you think that?” Dalen asked him with a frown and the man laughed. His laughter had a hearty quality that left Dalen relaxing ever so slightly.

“Please, your highness, I am not an idiot.” Lackley said with good humor and his voice held not one ounce of an insult. “You are said to be the most powerful Mage to be born in Valdemar since your mother’s great-grandmother. Some say you may be more powerful than her. Here you are, two years past the usual time for someone to be Chosen and there’s still no sign of a Companion following you around even though there’s been no hint of scandal or bad behavior about you since you tricked that page into impersonating you when you were seven years old.”

“I really didn’t want to go to Court that night.” Dalen growled in annoyance at the memory of the high-jinks. It had almost worked too since the page did look a lot like him. The only difference was the page had a Hardorn accent since that was where he was from, and he hadn’t counted on his mother actually ‘inspecting’ him that night.

“I would guess not, your highness.” Lackley said with good humor. “You have to know you’re quite the enigmatic character. Even your mother has given interviews since you moved back to Haven and still, all requests for interviews with you have gone without answer.”

“I… I have been focused on my studies, and since the war started, fulfilling my duties.” Dalen said with a bit of hesitation. “Still, if you wish an interview, I will consent to a short one after we return.”

“Ah, yes, about that.” Lackley said with a smile plastered on his face. “I have talked to Captain Helgenberger and since all my Accompany paperwork is in order, she has consented to my going with her troops.”

The Bard’s words had Dalen staring hard at him. Lackley was in his mid-twenties, Dalen figured, and knew the laws as well as any Bard. The Bardic Charter gave certain rights and privileges to every accredited Bard in Valdemar, and the Alliance. Plus, Lackley’s wording had left no doubt about what he was saying.

“Very well.” Dalen said with just a hint of a sigh.

“The troops have been given their briefing and are ready to deploy as soon as you give the order, my lord.” Lieutenant Mayweather said as he stepped forward and saluted. Dalen returned the salute while keeping his eyes on the Bard, who was now fiddling with the stirrup on his nearly black horse. The man had a pleased look on his face that somehow irked Dalen, but then he’d shared most of the Royal Family’s dislike of Bards. Ever since the perfection of the printing presses and the establishment of independent newspapers, the Bards had been more of a problem than they had been in Valdemar’s past.

Still, Bards rarely crossed the line in what they printed, and when they did, the Bardic Circle dealt with the offenders in a fair manner. It was more that they often showed too much curiosity into things that the Royal Family didn’t consider germane to the governance of the nation. Dalen more than remembered the story that had appeared in the major presses about his little attempt at impersonation with the page, and the embarrassment its publication had caused both of his parents.

“Good luck, Dalen.” Loishia said with a kind smile before stepping further back. Dalen nodded at her, and at Captain Helgenberger who said something to Lee Mayweather in a soft voice before moving further away to stand with the Herald. Dalen sighed and prepared himself mentally.

“Prepare to travel.” Dalen said aloud as he began the first stage of the Eastern-style of Gate spells. Minutes later he staggered as a silver slash appeared in the air and then expanded until it was a rounded shimmer of power hanging in the air, more than tall enough for a mounted soldier to pass through. While Dalen steadied himself, Lee barked orders for his men and women to mount.

Dalen was mounted on Moana as the first of the troops rode through the Gate. Their passage could be felt as more power leaked from him, but he was holding up fine with this spell. It was both more difficult, and in its way, easier than the other Gates he had created. The distance was by far the shortest, which meant he wasn’t nearly as drained as before, and the Gate itself required less power. At the same time, it required a great deal more concentration to hold it in place.

“I’ve never seen this style of Gate used before.” Lackley’s voice startled Dalen and he nearly swore as his concentration wavered. The man’s face paled ever so slightly as the gate wavered with Dalen’s concentration.

“Please don’t do that.” Dalen said in a forced voice as he firmed up his concentration and the gate stabilized. A few of the soldiers looked at him nervously but he waved them through. To their credit, they put on brave faces and barely hurried their mounts through.

“Sorry.” Lackley whispered.

“Eastern-style Gates are much more difficult to hold properly.” Dalen said through slightly gritted teeth. “They require more concentration and attention to detail than the standard Gates. You surprised me.”

“I am sorry.” Lackley said softly. “I didn’t even know a mage as young as you could do Gate spells.”

“Gate spells are more a matter of concentration and power than anything else.” Dalen said quietly as more troops went through the Gate, now leading several remounts and supply horses. Even in a fast-moving war squad like this, they took remounts and supplies with them. “I have been studying mage-craft since I was twelve and my gifts manifested.”

“But you didn’t study at the Collegium.” Lackley stated gently.

“No, a private tutor instructed me until we moved back to Haven.” Dalen said as the last of the soldiers went through the Gate. Moana moved forward at his signal and the Bard stayed with him. Traveling through this Gate was no different than any other Gate, and Dalen let out a sigh of relief when they were through.

“Everyone is through, my lord.” Lee said as he rode up to Dalen and the Bard. His formality was likely because of the Bard being there, and so Dalen just nodded at him before beginning the process of shutting the Gate down. When he was done, he nodded at Lee.

“Let’s get moving then, Lieutenant.” Dalen said with a sigh while simultaneously reaching out and looking for nodes or ley-lines. There was a node to the west, likely the very same node that supplied the ley-line he had been using back at the camp and he tapped into it even as Lee gave the orders for the troops to move out. By the time they were formed up and moving, Dalen was nearly finished replacing the energy he’d used to create the Gate. The node was very strong, a four-line node at least, and he began to think that things weren’t going to be nearly as bad as he had feared.

Valedmar and its world belong to Mercedes Lackey. Everything else belongs to dkstories. Copyright ©2013; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction that combine worlds created by the original content owner with names, places, characters, events, and incidents that are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, organizations, companies, events or locales are entirely coincidental. Authors are responsible for properly crediting Original Content creator for their creative works.
Valdemar world, characters, events belong to Mercedes Lackey and Tor Publishing
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i am very excited to see what Dalen and his group will experience and his fight with the blood mage. I have also after reading the review here and realizing that you have stories online other than here found your yahoo group hope u add me soon also i have read rich boy growing pains it was quite exciting with all the fighting and adventure hope rich boy inheritance continues.

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I'm also looking forward to the battle. The pace of this story is really excellent and I find myself really looking forward to new chapters.

 

I read the chapter this morning and was finally able to review now so here's my last thought: I can't believe you left us with a maybe but maybe not cliffhanger at this one. Those are famous last words Dalen. Famous last words.

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Why does it always seem that the caca hits the fan when someone thinks things are not going to be as bad as they thought? Dalen may regret those thoughts!!!

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On 01/28/2013 09:06 AM, Gene63 said:
Why does it always seem that the caca hits the fan when someone thinks things are not going to be as bad as they thought? Dalen may regret those thoughts!!!
Hopefully he'll survive the next chapter enough to learn a lesson!
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On 01/28/2013 08:54 AM, Rebelghost85 said:
I'm also looking forward to the battle. The pace of this story is really excellent and I find myself really looking forward to new chapters.

 

I read the chapter this morning and was finally able to review now so here's my last thought: I can't believe you left us with a maybe but maybe not cliffhanger at this one. Those are famous last words Dalen. Famous last words.

I am, I think, not nearly as bad as certain other authors when it comes to cliffhangers. Unfortunately they cannot always be avoided.
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Interesting interchange between Dalen and the Bard. Anxious for the next chapter...it's a good thing I don't have to wait :P.

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lol is that Bard going to be Dalen’s partner like Bard Stefan for Vanyel ? 😛

Edited by Danilo Syrtis
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