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    Kyle Aarons
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Beyond the Crags - 5. Chapter 5

Adga stayed well in front of the others as she guided them up and through the natural archway out of the Crags. The trail down was narrow, steep, and treacherous. Off to the side, she saw ruts in the sand. “Wheel marks,” she muttered. She slowed and pointed to them. “Wagons came through real recently.”

“Which way, Ad?” Vyrax asked as he moved closer.

“They came out of the Crags. Can’t be more than a day old. With this wind, probably no more than a few sandglass turns.” Adga maneuvered down the final bend and pointed to the ruts. “They continued east! Not much out there from here.” She turned her skimmer south, “Keep your eyes open, but this is the only path down to the southern pass, so I don’t think we’ll run into them.”

Rin spoke as he looked up, “Even with fight we gain good time.”

Adga nodded, “And didn’t have to battle with those trying to make it to the northern walls. Worked out great. I’m a little nicked up, though. Anyone else?”

Nuk spoke up, “My hip is really hurting.”

“Still bleeding?”

“Do not think so. Rin put a bandage and herbs over it. I ripped one of my shirts and stuck it under my armor where the slice is. I am not feeling any blood running, but I cannot be sure.”

“Nothing but a scratch on me,” Vyrax chimed in. “As usual, you took on all the big baddies, Ad.”

Adga shrugged. “I’m the biggest and ugliest. It’s my job.”

She sped her skimmer up to give her some distance from the others. She needed time to debate with herself. She had just killed a living being, only her second. The first had been a clear enemy. This one… The kid had fired at least three Flare Autospells at Rin. This made him a combatant. This is where her thoughts muddied… From what Rin and Ven had said, he only did so after they attacked the female dead walker. It had certainly been his old lady, and he had been confused. He had also certainly been on his way to becoming a dead walker himself. But he hadn’t been one, not yet. Rin got most of the nasty stuff out of the stomach wounds. He had a chance. Now he had none.

She mulled this over as she entered the steep downhill rocky path down toward the southern settlements. From all indications, this used to be more than a natural pass. It had been a stone-block road. There were evenly spaced cracks in an otherwise crumbling stone path. In most areas, the path followed a natural pass. However, there was a trio of places where obvious spurs of the Outer Crags Wall were cut cleanly. There were also two short and one long tunnel where tool marks could still be seen in a few spots. In the caves, the stones of the ancient road were in much better shape and could easily be made out.

Yet Adga couldn’t image a road being made of stone blocks, six abreast, each two meters wide and three and a half meters long. The road went on for over a hundred and twenty kilometers from the Gate Wall down to the edge of a rocky hill with a fifteen-meter drop off into the lower deep desert and home of the Colossus raiders. At the base of the drop-off, a few stones could occasionally be seen where they had fallen over the edge and down the steep embankment. Other times, winds covered the blocks with sand. The stones could still be made out, but only if one knew what to look for or was extremely observant.

Adga often wanted to go down and see if the road stopped right there or if it was simply hidden under the sand of the lower desert. However, during patrols that took her to the point marked on every patrol map as ‘End of the Road’, they always stopped and made camp. No one ever wanted to join her in explorations. Fear of the Colossus was just too high. She couldn’t go alone. Guard patrol requirements were very strict; no one went out alone for any reason, not even to take a dump. Therefore, all she could do was look down and wonder. Maybe this time she could go. She was the patrol leader… She sighed. She had to worry about defending Scorpion Falls, not explore what was beyond the End of the Road.

Her attempts to think of something else worked for only so long. For some reason, the face of the kid kept reappearing in her mind’s eye. It wasn’t his face, Adga realized, it was his eyes. They had been alive, not clouded. The confusion in them, the way they softened when she had put her hand on his cheek… She bet those eyes would haunt her for a very long time, maybe forever. Was this the god of death, Brandall, tormenting her for killing an innocent kid? If it was, it meant she had made a mistake in ending his life. Had she murdered him? Was this what Brandall was telling her? Or was it just her own thoughts trying to tell her she had options? She looked up and let the intense heat of Zeris’ rays hit her face, hoping the god of sunlight would burn the recurring vision out of her skull. It didn’t work.

With a deep and relieved breath, she turned off the road. She angled through a natural archway with a manned gate on the other side. The portcullis was up. The guards on the two small towers waved them through without asking any questions.

Adga turned southeast and motioned for everyone to stay in the shade of the rocky embankment. The path she took wasn’t as well marked as the road out in the open, but she didn’t even need the occasional white stones. She knew the way. She turned again, this time back to the east, then again to the south without verifying. A few minutes later the low rocky cliffs gave way to a total change of scenery and with it, the smell and feel transformed as well.

It started out with bits of grass, then quickly became a carpet of lush green. The air took on more moisture, at first a welcome change, but it quickly became oppressive since she was in heavy armor and her sweat didn’t evaporate like she was used to it doing. Then came the smells. Flowering plants of all types produced fragrances. They assaulted her nose. This combined with the smells of fresh produce being stacked onto carts and the odor of freshly cut plants. Some of the plants had sweet smells, others bitter. Then there were the piles of rotting leaves in bins. It was revolting but had to be a thousand times better than the scent of what they had fought only half a sandglass turn prior.

Beings of many races worked on plants woven into wooden lattices. This included grapes, tomatoes, squash, and a couple score of other types of edible plants. Nothing edible was allowed to lay on the ground. It was something Adga wondered about often but had never bothered to find the answer as to why.

Several of the workers turned and looked. Some went back to their duties, but a few gazed as if transfixed. Adga gave a few friendly nods and got a couple of acknowledgments back. However, most eyed her with misgivings.

Adga knew what caused them to stare. She was leading a very small patrol and regardless of weapons and armor, they were kids. Even being a gigantic Illorc closing on three meters in height, she had a young-looking face. She was also known here as a guardsman apprentice. In fact, she had been here less than three weeks ago wearing the lower rank. Now she had all the markings and standing of a patrol leader.

Her amazingly fast promotion was made even odder since she was an Illorc. While her race, often considered ‘High-Orcs’ was way more accepted than Orcs, they weren’t commonly found in the ranks of the guardsmen. Adga was certain she was the only one in the Northern Spires Garrison with advanced rank, albeit conditional. Illorcs was seen as a ‘semi-tolerable monster race’ by too many. The problem was, she had seen and even helped arrest enough of her kind who acted like fiends to understand why there was a stigma attached to her. She wondered for probably the hundredth time if her Illorc kin acted badly because they were treated worse or they were treated worse because they tended to act so poorly.

These thoughts were interrupted by the memory of the kid’s eyes looking at her. She clenched the reins of the skimmer tightly as her hands became fists. She bet she would have dreams about the boy. It was not a pleasant thought.

Fortunately, the road wound through a grove of fruit trees, giving her some welcome shade. As the path straightened out, the five-meter-tall walls of a fortress became visible.

Tez looked back to the north as they broke into the clearing around the fortress. “Cannot see red smoke, Adga.”

“They may be up on the walls,” Nuk stated with a note of hope in his voice.

“Still getting south wind,” Adga stated. “And they sure don’t look or act like there is a Dead Storm coming.”

The other three said nothing. It was obvious to Adga, they were transfixed by all the sights and sounds. She knew the feeling. The first time she had come out here she almost fell off her skimmer because one of the guardsmen with her had to grab its reins and keep it on the path and out of the gardens.

“Guys,” Adga snickered, “feel free to look but stay on the path. I hear they get very angry when the crops get damaged.”

Vyrax whistled softly, “Ad, I’ve never seen this much food, not even in the villages above the Silver Spine! Can we buy some of this while we are here?”

“Yes,” Tez responded. "There is a market in the fort. It is not cheap, but you will not find fresher produce anywhere within our desert realm. This is where almost all the crops you find in the markets inside the walls of both the southern and northern settlements of Twin Spires come from.”

“We will divide loot while we water the skimmers,” Adga stated. “Even with the fight we gained well over a turn of a sandglass, so we should have time to sell and buy. But we’ll have to make it fast. Get rid of armor and unwanted weapons here. It is extra weight we don’t want and will fetch a decent price. You will get more than enough to buy a few bags of fresh food.”

Nuk quickly added, “Make sure to stock up on dried rations as well. There is no telling what the storm will do to food markets over the next couple of moons. It will certainly mess up normal caravan transport. It’s why we moved so much food and other staples out of royal reserves over to the northern side of the Spires.”

Adga looked back as they exited the gardens, “I have not been on a skimmer yet that likes this bridge so keep good control of them. Ven, I doubt Razor has seen this much water either so keep him under control.”

Ven blinked and nodded, but her eyes stared out at the massive lake with clear amazement.

Next to her, Rin was no better. He kept blinking since the glare from Zeris’ light reflected off the massive body of water.

Tez moved over to the two of them and pointed to the northwest, “The water roars out of the rocks about halfway up the ridge, way over there. It then goes out through a cave on the eastern side.” He pointed to the southeast. It is way too big to see either end. This is the largest lake within a few hundred leagues according to my uncle. If you do not know how to swim, do not fall off the bridge. It gets very deep, very quickly.”

Rin shook his head as if to clear it. “If’n it be deep, how’d da bridge be made?"

“No idea,” Nuk spoke up. “It is made from the same stone as the Gate Wall and I have been told it is as old. So is the fortress according to my father.”

“The ground the fort sits on is also made out of the same kind of blocks, only they are bigger than those in the Gate Wall,” Tez added.

“Much bigger,” Adga added. “It amazes me every time I look at ‘em. It had to be the work of a god. Maybe all of them.”

Rin slowed as they were waved through stone towers and the gate guarding the bridge. He audibly gulped as he looked at the near-kilometer-long bridge leading to the huge walled fortress in the lake. “No… Too long… and wide ‘nuff for wagon goin’ both way? How?”

“No idea,” Tez stated as he grabbed the harness of Rin’s skimmer and gave it a shake since it tried to back up. “I do not think anyone knows.”

Ven finally broke her silence as she patted the side of the skimmer she was on. “It’s OK girl. It’s OK." The skimmer hissed but stepped in line behind Rin. She then spoke to the group, “Makes me wish I could’ve seen it when it was being made.”

Nuk pointed to square deep indentations in the edge of the bridge. “My great-aunt believes those carved holes were there to hold wood beams. If she is right, this whole bridge may have once been covered."

“OK, then I change my wish,” Ven gasped. “I want to see this bridge when it was in its full majesty!”

“My great-aunt says the same thing.” Nuk snickered. “It must be a Ruinseeker thing.”

“It is,” Adga stated.

“How do you know?” Tez asked.

Adga pulled on her shirt collar to expose a Primary Echelon step 1 Ruinseeker pin. “Started studying pretty much after I went on my first patrol as a trainee. The roadstones fascinate me. I have free tutorage since I am sponsored by your uncle. I was formally accepted into the Ruinseeker Guild as a trainee right after I killed Ven’s owner outside the Shrine of Zeris. Got my Primary Echelon Guild certification the day after I was promoted to guardsman.”

Nuk whistled, “Wow! You actually picked up a second Subfield after you were fully Guilded?”

“She did,” Ven answered. “It amazed the Channelers of Zeris and my Ruinseeker instructors how quickly Adga picked it up.”

“Do the guard officers know this?” Tez asked.

“I don’t think so,” Adga responded with a shrug. “The other guardsmen always teased me for going to classes after shift changes instead of drinking or whatever they do, so I stopped talking about it. Quartermaster Burntmetal knows, though. So I guess my commanders might know.”

“You should get three more copper a week since you have a second Subfield,” Nuk informed her. “Base pay is augmented by second Subfields. Everyone gets a base of twenty-five copper for their Field and first Subfield, there is then a bonus for a second Subfield. Mindmasters get the most at five. Healthmen and Metal Workers get four, Channelers and Ruinseekers get three. Sect Warriors, Lockmasters, and Miners get two. All the others get one extra copper a week. This is why almost all guardsmen with two Subfields mark Outdoorsman, Gem Worker, Stoneworker, Sailor, or one of the others as their first Subfield. This way they get paid more if they have one of the higher rated Subfields as their secondary."

“So I should be getting twenty-eight copper a week?”

“Thirty-three. You are a patrol leader.” Tez reminded her. “Even though I am on my Rite of Noblehood, I will speak to the purser here to get you your extra six copper and make sure it is properly documented going forward.”

“Forget the copper.” Adga reached back and patted gear taken off the Halforc, Halfling, and woman with the meat cleaver. “We managed to pull in quite a bit of loot.”

“Yes, but pay is pay. Adga.” Nuk stated. He managed a grin, “If you want to opt out of the six copper, Tez and I will be more than happy to split it!”

Adga laughed. “Oh, why not? You get me the pay increase, the two of you can split the copper on my pay this time.”

“Oh, we will!” Tez stated seriously. “Remember, we had all our stipend funds taken and given the gear we carry. The only earned coin we have is the one-week advance. I do not ever remember having so little house funds.”

“Ya gonna get good coin for loot.”

“Not as good as you all.” Tez sighed. “We did not exactly perform…”

“You did fine for your first time in the Crags,” Vyrax responded. “We have taken others out and brought them back. There were a few who smelled bad, not from what they killed, but what they did in their loincloths.”

As both nobles scrunched their noses and cringed, Rin snickered. “Fer rich chief type, ya two do OK. Me not yet want ta eat ya.” He then showed a mouth full of very sharp-looking teeth as he smiled. “Give ya chance ta do gooder. If not, den eat ya.”

Tez nudged a wide-eyed Nuk, “He is joking. At least I am pretty sure he is.”

“How ‘bout ya do gooder next time and ya no have ta find out none?” Rin asked with a gleam in his eyes.

Adga’s head dropped into her hand, “Rin…”

“What?” Rin snickered with a hissing sound, “Me give credit. No eat dem if’n dem do little gooder next time!” He then patted the bundles of spoils on the back of his mount. “No want dem do real good. Me want gooder loot. Pick before, not behind dem.”

“Yeah…” Tez sighed. “We deserve to be number five and six in the pick order this time for sure… Sorry.”

“Better for the rest of us.” Ven giggled. “So, who should be one through four?”

“Ad be one,” Rin stated without hesitation.

Tez followed, “Agreed.”

Both Nuk and Ven nodded while Vyrax simply stated “Yup!”

Nuk looked around, “Rin, you took down the spell caster. You should be second.”

Again, there was quick agreement from the others so Adga stayed silent.

At this point, Ven spoke up. “Vyrax needs to go before me. I only had to deal with a Halfling who was already in bad shape and teamed up on the cleaver walker with Rin.”

“You can pick third if you want,” Vyrax countered. “All I am going to go after is any undamaged spell pages. I looked in the pouches on both the Halfling and Kid. They were both Mages. I’d bet Tez will want the same thing.”

At this point, Adga cleared her throat. “Vyrax, I think you and Tez should automatically get any pages you don’t have, with Tez getting first pick of any neither of you have since he will be able to cast them and you can’t yet. I’d say that should make up both of your first two or three picks depending on how many pages each of you get.”

“More than fair,” Vyrax stated. “Undamaged pages are worth a great deal, so if I lose my first four after getting them, I’m still very happy.”

Tez looked shocked. “If you are really being serious, yes… but a page, even Primary Echelon, will sell for between eighty to a hundred and twenty silver!”

“If it makes you a better Mage, any lost coin from the rest of us is secondary to you being able to better help keep all of us alive during and after the storm.”

“I cannot argue such logic,” Nuk stated.

“Me find nothin’ wrong wit what Adga think.” Rin jumped in. “Be alive without full pouch be better den dead wit lot a coin!”

Ven nodded. “I’m all for it too, Adga.”

“Good,” Adga stated firmly. “Going forward, if there is something we know will help one of us, it should be an automatic pick unless the person doesn’t want it for some reason. We will assign number of picks value to it and move on.”

The conversation ended as Adga entered the main fortress. A guard shift commander came over, “Adga, what is with you on a patrol leader mount with nothing but young’ans, including nobles, with you?”

“Shift Commander, we need to see Sir Lenti Avery,” Tez stated as he moved forward. He held up a scroll with a signet impression on it in red wax. “We have news and documents from Lord Alagor Shunral!”

The woman gave a quick bow, “I will get you escort, young lord.”

“Patrol Leader Adga is in command of this royal patrol, Shift Commander. You need to speak to her going forward. Not me.”

The woman shot Tez an astonished look before glancing over to Adga with a raised eyebrow.

“Commander, this is very important, and we’re in a hurry.” Adga pleaded. “While we get escort to see this Sir Avery, can someone please lead young Lord Nuk-lem, along with Rar’rin and Vendra, to the watering and feed stables with our mounts? Young Lord Nuk-lem also received injury in a fight and may need better healing. But we have to be fast! We need to be back on the road in less than two sandglass turns and in Scorpion Falls in less than five.”

“Yes. We will see to it. However,” she looked over to Nuk-lem, “young lord, are you okay with Guardsman Adga telling you what to do?”

Nuk-lem glared and spoke harshly. “Adga is a patrol leader, not guardsman, Shift Commander. And yes. She is in command of this royal patrol. She has full authority over both myself and Son-tez Shunral per command of Lord Alagor Shunral. She should be treated as such. Understood?”

“Yes… um… You have… um… made it abundantly clear… young lord!” The woman managed to stammer out.

She pointed to the back of the skimmers, “But I need to catalog the obvious spoils…”

“No, you do not!” Tez fired back. “If needed, get a Mindmaster to verify my words. All spoils with us came out of the Crags. Therefore, full claim is this patrol’s. There is no spoils tax from anything taken or found inside the Crags since it is uncontrolled territory!”

At this several guards’ heads turned as if on the same lever. Most also had their jaws drop simultaneously.

The shift commander gasped, “As in behind the Outer Crag Wall… like really inside the Crags?”

“Yes.” Nuk-lem verified. “I understand you will want to make sure nothing we took off the undead have any dangerous leftovers on them. They do not, we sunbaked everything for several minutes per our patrol leader’s orders. We left all clothing other than armor on the bodies, and our own Primary Echelon Channeler of Zeris, Vendra, gave everything we carry a blessing under the light of Zeris. So while we will submit to an inspection, nothing is taxed.

“However, your primary duty is to get our message to Sir Lenti Avery, Count Avery, or a higher lord. You are making the patrol leader, who comes with a royal signet and who safely navigated us a shortcut through the Crags, wait while you gawk. This is not something I would recommend.” He then added, “Unless, by chance, you and your entire gate detail would like to join us the next time she takes us in there.”

“Sergeant Lergen!” the woman screamed, “Get Patrol Leader Adga and the uninjured young lord in to see Sir Lenti Avery now! The rest of you, go with Guardsman Bimina. She will get you to a Channeler for healing you, young lord. You can then stay and watch as a Channeler checks your spoils to make sure there is nothing perilous lurking within. She will also make sure you and your mounts get fed and watered. We can even change out your skimmers with fresh ones if you would like!”

As guards across the whole gate scrambled to get Adga’s patrol taken care of, Nuk shot Adga a smirk. At the same time, Tez moved up and whispered, “Anyone else gives you any lip, tell them they must want to join you when you take us through the Crags on our way back. We will nod, making it look like you have the authority to order them. It will be an instant attitude adjustment from whoever it is.”

Adga fought hard not to grin, “I’m game. Oh, and you’re right about Nuk. He’ll fit in just fine with the rest of us just fine once he gets to know us better.”

Tez snickered, “Pretty sure those words, coming out of your mouth, would be enough to give mine and Nuk’s parents nightmares for the rest of their lives!”

All Adga did was give him a smirk and a wink, which caused him to burst out in laughter.

Sergeant Lergen, a Dwarf with a build reminding Adga of a brick with a smaller brick sitting on top making up the head hustled over. He glanced over at the still snickering Tez with a frown and a pull on his beard but remained very professional. “Patrol Leader, come. I’ll take ya through the lower passage straight to the main keep.”

Vyrax looked around, “This isn’t the main keep?”

“No,” Tez shook his head. “This whole thing is the fortress. It is controlled by Count Oglaugh Avery. The keep is around the backside facing the far side of the lake for reasons no one has ever been able to figure out. Come with us. The view of the lake from the keep is amazing.”

Adga was led through a normally barred and locked door and down a steep flight of steps. As this happened, she realized she had to be lower than the level of the lake. It made her nervous. It had a musty smell, but there was no sign of seepage. The passageway was dry.

Lergen moved at a run, forcing Adga to walk fast while Tez and Vyrax had to jog. The Dwarf turned a couple of times and glanced back to make sure he hadn’t lost anyone. He then unlocked a gate made of Gnome Steel and pointed up the steps. “Knock three times hard. When you hear a pair of knocks on the other side, knock four times. They’ll let ya in. I have ta stay down here and relock the gate.”

Adga hustled up the steps and followed the instructions. The door made a series of clicking sounds before being pulled open on the other side. While four heavily armored and armed guards stared at them, a man wearing very nice-looking clothing and wearing a cloak came through a door on the far wall. “What is the meaning of this intrusion into my private sanctum?"

Adga froze. All she saw was the fire opal pin marking the man as a Legendary Echelon Mystic. Legendary Echelon… a rank nearly unfathomable. The guilds had nothing higher, and… There was no end. The man was as near to a god as Adga ever wanted to get. The truth was she had no desire to be this close to him. She was certain he could reduce her to ash with a spell or a flick of a potion. She was terrified and awestruck all at the same time!

Tez stepped around Adga and gave a bow, “Sir Lenti Avery, I have an urgent message from my uncle, Lord Alagor Shunral.” He then extended his hand with the scroll.

The man stepped forward while motioning the guards to allow all three kids into the room. He took the offered scroll, checked the seal, and nodded. “Very well. And so good to see you young Son-tez! Where is your normal compatriot, Nuk-lem?”

“With the skimmers and hopefully getting healed, sir.”

“I will see to his care! Come, come…” He paused as he noticed dried blood on Adga’s fingers. “Patrol Leader your tusk is chipped, and you have freshly dried blood on the back of your hand. Are you injured?”

“She took several hits getting us here, sir.” Tez stated.” The tusk is an older wound. She got it fighting for Twin Spires. She took out two bone walkers, a flesh walker, and a hide walker to protect their mounts all on her own while the rest of her patrol was engaged. It is the talk of both the northern and southern settlements.”

Lenti turned to look at Adga. “And your guard commander did not get you properly cared for?”

“There was not time, sir,” Adga responded while continuing to stare at his guild pins. She couldn’t bring herself to look him in the eyes. “We had to pull squatters back and protect them. We then did a full sweep of the… um, southern waste dump. I helped to take out several more bone walkers and a few skinwalkers. The fight lasted all night and into the next morning. By the time I got back to the barracks, our Healthman said it was too late for him to fix. It doesn’t hurt much anymore.”

The man pulled a vial out of his cloak. “Nonsense! You are escorting and leader over a young lord who must be out here on a Rite of Noblehood. This means there is another in your group. Since you say young Nuk-lem is injured, I gather he is also partaking in his first rite?”

“He is sir,” Tez responded. “Nuk-lem Vylevin is my counterpart.”

Lenti sighed. “You both are growing up so fast. Still, it brings me great joy to see you.” He turned to Adga, “So you are a very trusted guard with advanced rank at a very young age. I can see you are also Noble sponsored. You deserve better treatment than you have received, Patrol Leader. Here. This will take care of everything. It will taste bad so wait until I get you something to wash it down with. I have juice: Apple, Mango, Dark Berry, Lemon, Thorn Cherry, or even Mead if you prefer."

“Dark Berry would be great, sir.”

“Ah, an Illorc with taste! Who would have guessed? I will get you a couple of bottles of Dark Berry to take with you as well. Once done with what I just gave you, drink a great deal of water. As massive a specimen as you are, I would say at least two full pitchers, if not three.” Lenti clapped his hands. A boy and girl slightly younger than Adga appeared and lowered their heads. Both wore slave collars and ornate black front scarves. The man didn’t even look at them. “Food, dark berry juice, and pull water for quick baths for all three. Get Metal Smith Okki to send a couple of his senior people up to care for weapons and armor while they clean and then speak with me. You two find them fresh clothing. I will not have them coming any further into my estate smelling like…” He paused, “Oh my!…” He moved up to Adga and pulled up her shield arm. “Where did this come from?”

“Off the dead walker who cracked my tusk with it, sir.”

Lenti let out a light whistle, “I assume you have no idea what you hold. Am I correct?”

“It is a fighting shield, sir. Smooth front for deflecting arrows and blows or smashing along with beveled edges for slashing. It is slightly small for my size, but for a bronze shield, it has incredible strength. But it must be super old, for I have tried repeatedly to get the green tinge off.”

“Young Patrol Leader, do not waste your time, it is not bronze…” his eyes arched as he sniffed at the front of the disk. “And what is this?” He eyed the gore on the front of the shield with excitement in his voice. “Extremely fresh dead walker chunks and dried juices… Disgusting… May I take a scraping?”

“Um... sure…” Adga stammered.

“Boy,” he snapped at the male slave, “once you have water drawn and clothing found for my guests, get the patrol leader’s shield up to my senior apprentice. Tell him we need as much off the front as possible before he cleans it, then get it back to the patrol leader! Make sure to tell him not to try to put it on. I am certain it is already attuned to our enormous patrol leader.”

“Girl, make sure our fine patrol leader has plenty of water to drink and use cleansing solutions on their gear while they wash.”

As Sir Lenti turned his attention back to Adga, she spoke while looking at the green-tinged disk. “Attuned? Are you saying it is magic?”

“More than magic, young one… so much more…” He let out a long breath, “Have you ever noticed the swirling in the metal when you clean it?”

“All the time. It is one of the reasons I chose it as my first choice for spoils. It is as beautiful as it is effective. The other is I bent my shield on this and it didn’t even scratch… And while bronze my shield was made for me by Burntmetal.”

“Only Kandahar stamped could compare to the quality of the most cantankerous Dwarf I have ever met!”

Adga couldn’t help it. She snickered.

This got a genuine smile out of Lenti. He reached up and patted Adga on the shoulder. “I gather he looked at this,” he nodded at the shield, “yet said nothing?”

Adga shrugged, “No. He told me no matter how much more I grow, to never get another shield, not to give this away or sell it. It was of the highest quality possible.”

“Words of sound advice. What you hold is rarer than Eldwar. If anyone knows how to forge what you now hold, I have not heard of them. The metal is beyond rare here. It is supposedly even rare where it originates from.”

“How far away are the mines?” Vyrax asked.

Lenti laughed, “Beyond the veil of the Spirit Realms, young Mystic, in fact beyond the great barriers of the realms of Cataclysm!”

“Where?” Son-Tez asked in confusion.

Adga glanced down at the disk on her arm and then over to Tez. Her voice was softened by awe of what she had just been told. “The Realms of Cataclysm… It is said in some of the oldest texts, it is where the ancient gods were banished to by the gods and demon lords to kill them… Where the ancient gods came from and they destroyed in a war far greater than the combination of the Mythling and Dragon Wars did here. And those two wars all but ripped our world asunder.”

“Very impressive!” Lenti praised. You do not show a Ruinseeker or Channeler pin, but you must be one or the other!”

“She is a Ruinseeker, Sir,” Tez stated. “She hides her pin because she is fully literate and already gets made fun of for her size and race in the barracks. Her pay is not even what it should be because of this.”

“No more!” Lenti growled. “At least not if I have any say in it! I will also set her pay straight! There is no greater praise than to say one is literate!”

Anger was clear as he focused back on the shield. “I will need to have a talk with the guard commanders back in the Spires the next time I am there!”

He shook his head. “You are on the rise Patrol Leader. Of this I assure you. However, back to the topic at hand. Your shield is a once in a multiple-lifetime find. The more common name for the metal is Mythmetal. However, what you hold goes one step further, it is layered, folded, layered, refolded, and reforged repeatedly. It is what gives it the swirls and unmatched strength. Much like Damascus Eldwar, only far better. What you hold is Spirit-forged Mythmetal. And while it will not be detected as magical, because it does not draw power through the near Spirit Realms, it is, without question magical. What a Mythmetal item does, according to the most ancient of texts, is mold to fit the owner. It is also said it can go with the owner into the Spirit Realms before, during, or after death. It is why so few exist. They are taken by the owners into the next realm.”

“But since this came off a dead walker, it stayed with him here, right?” Adga asked.

“Such is my guess Patrol Leader. Only Mythmetal, the Frozen Flame weapons of the Alphar and Garm, and the famed or infamous, depending on who you ask and who really knows history, Dark Metal of the Drow have the innate ability to travel into the Spirit Realms. If I were ever to have a Mythmetal item, I would sleep with it!”

Adga said nothing until they were led into a side room with hooks on walls, armor stands, and eight wooden tubs. “You could have warned me I was going to see a Legendary guild member!”

“It is not something he focuses on,” Tez stated. “He is much prouder of being knighted during his second Rite of Nobility. But, yes, I should have told you… He is very… idiosyncratic…”

“What?” Vyrax asked.

“Idiosyncratic. Means eccentric, only in a nice way,” Adga answered. “But while I know what the word means, don’t ask me how to spell it. I’m good and know three languages, plus Mage and Druid, but there are words beyond my ability to spell…” She shook her head. “OK, so I am kinda over my shock. He has every right to demand to be called Lord, not Sir… Whatever… I’ll call him whatever he wants and kiss his boots if he asks. But is it really true what he said about my shield?”

“He is Legendary Echelon. He gets what he wants when he wants. He has no reason to lie.” Tez responded dryly.

She looked around the room, “So what is all this about and why in the name of Lunara would he want scrapings of dead walkers?”

“Must be something he can use in a potion of some kind,” Vyrax whispered.

“Totally gross!” Tez shuddered. “You Mystics and your concoctions… hearing you may use bits of dead walkers is enough to give you all bad names.” He shuddered again.

Vyrax didn’t even seem to hear what Tez had said. “I can’t believe I just met a Legendary Mystic...”

“You did, so get over it. Trust me, he’s not as nice as he seems. He gets what he wants and no one in the Combined Desert Realm will ever tell him no.” Tez turned back to Adga, “As far as what this is, it is a washroom. Undress. They will bring in water, soap, and cloths for us to wipe down and rinse.”

“We don’t have time for this!” Adga growled.

“We can make it quick,” Tez stated. “We’ll dress in robes and go see him if we have to. By the time we get back in here, our gear will be cleaned, and we can redress and meet up with the others. There is no way any noble, no matter how urgent things are, is going to allow us, smelling like we are, with bits and splatter of undead on us, into a sitting room to talk. It is just not going to happen.”

“Grrrr.” Adga snarled as she stripped down without bothering to move the partitions meant for privacy around her. She was surprised when the slaves came in, hooked wood pipes to holes in the walls, and then pulled on levers. Water poured into three of the tubs. The girl turned and spoke. “It is warm, so you may take a full bath. We will be happy to bathe you if you would like.”

Both Adga and Vyrax shook their heads vehemently while Tez snickered, then spoke. “We can wash ourselves. We need to make this fast. Besides, you were given other duties.”

The boy moved up and handed each of them a small vial he pulled off a wooden rack. “This will make it very fast, but I am told it burns if you have wounds.” He handed Adga a decanter. “Drink the liquid my master gave you then this before you use the bathing potion. You will want to get clean after you take what master gave you anyway.”

Adga frowned, eyed the boy, shrugged, and pulled the stopper on the vial Lenti had given her. She smelled nothing. She eyed it for a moment, then downed it in a single gulp hoping taking it fast would prevent her from tasting it. She was wrong. It was beyond awful. It reminded her of a combination of the horrible tar-tasting salve her mom had bought at a Healthman shop and put on her, including her tongue, after she had fallen into a pit of burning nettles and the time she accidentally drank some oil for cleaning and sharpening weapons. However, she still bet the oil had been set up as a prank by a couple of the other guardsmen. At this point, none of it mattered. All she wanted was to get the taste out of her mouth. It took a dozen gulps of dark berry juice to even diminish the flavor. “Oh, by Lunara’s light… that was hoooooorible!”

She then paused and staggered. Her eyes crossed and she saw two of everything. She tried to burp but couldn’t. Her stomach made a series of loud gurgles. She went to a knee in an attempt to puke. Nothing. It became hard to breathe. Her body got extremely hot. Beads of sweat broke out. Seconds later the sweat made her extremely cold, but it poured out of her from head to toe.

She heard the slave boy say something, but couldn’t make it out. Her ears were ringing too badly. Suddenly her skin started to ripple and move like it had something inside her causing waves right under the skin. It itched. She tried to scratch but found she had totally cramped up. Nothing moved. Everything hurt. She was certain her skin crawled. Her stomach continued to heave. Her mouth around her chipped tusk burned. Her gumline under her tusk felt like it suddenly had exploded outward. The fresh injuries got worse. She could have sworn her skin was being ripped further around each of them. Then it all stopped. She felt normal. Actually, she was better than normal. Even the irritated bump from an ingrown hair on her leg had vanished. Everything was great… Except the lingering taste was still in her mouth. She reached over and downed the rest of the bottle of dark berry. The sweetly sour flavor finally took over. She let out a relieved sigh.

Adga rolled her head and stood. At this point, she noticed she was coated with sweat from head to toe. Her eyes spotted a trio of glass water pitchers on the stand not far away. She downed one quickly, then half of the second. “Yeah, the boy was right. I really need a bath…” She made a single step only to find both Tez and Vyrax were staring at her. “Pretty sure you both have seen a naked girl by now… And I’ll be fine, guys…”

Vyrax pointed, “Adga, your wounds… they’re… GONE!”

At the same time, Tez pointed to the floor, “Your bad tusk popped out.”

Adga turned sharply and spotted a tusk, including the roots with a piece of gumline on it lying on the floor. She reached up to her mouth. There was a tusk. She turned back, about to say something about messing with her when she realized the tusk she was feeling had no chip or crack. She looked down at her upper arm when she had taken a slash from the skinwalker. There was no trace. She moved to her leg where she had been stabbed by the dagger. The skin not only looked undamaged but there was fresh hair over the spot.

Adga moved over to the tusk and looked at it. Sure enough, it had a chip near the tip and a partially healed crack running down the side. She downed the rest of the second pitcher of water and took a few drinks out of the third one. “No way!”

The boy looked up, “Master has never given one to a non-noble since he bought me. I have heard him say to others who have drank one of those, they cannot drink another, even if he gives them one, for six moons or bad things will happen.”

“I’d still like to have a few of them just in case.”

“They must be taken here. Normally he charges many gold, so I think he must like you. However, he never gives them for people to take with them.”

Vyrax looked over, “He charges gold, … wow… gold… for one potion…” He shook his head in clear amazement. “But this is a trade secret. One he will probably take to his grave. The last thing he wants is to have another Mystic to try to break it down and figure out how he makes them.”

“Mystics can do that?” Tez asked in a surprised voice.

“Yes. It is part of learning to be a Mystic, but it takes a lot of time, work, and special expensive ingredients to do so. There is also a high chance of failure which destroys the potion and wastes a huge amount of time and money. However, my father has done it a few times. He also has a few brews he only allows to be used in his shop. But they don’t sell for several gold!” Vyrax looked at the tub, at the vial in his hand, and back to the tub, as he added, “Dad won’t even let me know how he makes his special concoctions.”

The boy pointed to a full tub. “It works best to get in, take a deep breath, then open the vial while submerged. Hold breath for as long as you can, then stand up. I will come back with fresh clothing after I drop off the shield…” he looked over to Adga. “I may have to get you a robe. I do not think Master has spare anything to fit you.”

“A robe will be fine. Thank you.”

“There is no need to thank me. It is my duty.”

“Thank you, nonetheless,” Tez stated as the boy left the room having to use both hands to carry the shield Adga easily handled with one.

“Does your family own slaves?” Vyrax asked Tez as he stepped into the tub.

“We do, several. But it is not something I feel totally comfortable with. I was gifted with a slave when I was accepted into the guild and started formal Mage training. Mother bought him to give me less chores so I could study. At first, I made him do everything. But… he worked so hard… Got no credit… no… love… I started to feel bad for him. I got to know him. I found I liked him.”

“Where is he now?”

“I freed him. He is now a house servant. My house servant. I lost two silver a moon to pay his wage and Father took and resold a couple of spell pages he was going to gift me to make up for the cost of freeing him.” Tez smiled. “It was worth it. Amacord is now one of my best friends. It took some convincing, but I managed to get him tested. He is not Mundane. Reluctantly, Father put him into training to be an Enchanted Archer and Leatherworker. It took some time, but even Nuk likes him now. Maybe we can take him out with us to explore when we get back.”

“We would be happy to have another in our group,” Vyrax stated. “So you are against slavery?”

Tez shook his head. “I would not go that far… However, I will never own another person again. At least not someone who did nothing wrong other than be born to a slave. A criminal being made a slave or because of debt, maybe, but I’ll never own a being born into slavery. It isn’t right.”

Vyrax looked over in surprise. “So your being basically nice to Ven right from the start wasn’t just because Adga is in charge of you?”

“Not at all. Many see property. I see a person. In Vendra’s case a Human. Very low caste, but Human. The only reason I snapped at her when she first spoke is because as a noble it is expected of me to keep slaves in line. Once I found out her status with you all, I backed off instantly. Nuk will take longer, but as I said, he has finally warmed to Amacord. He will do the same to Vendra. And yes, I am glad you found a way to free her.”

Adga blinked in fear and shock. “How’d you know?”

“When she fought, I saw the bandage over the slave brand and noticed she was not wearing a collar. This means someone freed her and sliced a freed slave scaring wound over her brand. I am guessing it had to be done by Burntmetal since he handles most of the scaring marking a slave as being freed by the nobles. I hear he is not nice about it, but his scars are considered artwork by many. I know the one on Amacord’s shoulder now looks like a Bear Scorpion. His slave birth brand is all but unnoticeable, but any who sees it will first see the freed slave crest of Twin Spires being held up by the spiked tail of the Bear Scorpion. Amacord said Burntmetal pinned him to a table and made the cuts. No warning and nothing for pain. Just cut him and sprinkled something over it to make a clearly identifiable raised scar. It sounded brutal.”

“Same thing he did to Vendra,” Vyrax sighed. “But he gave her something for pain after he was done.”

“He did the same for Amacord. Some orange berries. Amacord said they didn’t help much. He cried on my chest for a couple of sandglass turns after Father brought him back from Burntmetal.”

“Vendra’s rougher than she looks. I’m sure she’s hurting more than she lets on.” Adga stated as she stepped into one of the tubs.

“The way she fought tells me she is very tough. Nuk and I look like Training Echelon scrubs next to any of you!”

“At least you admit it,” Adga stated. “This means you know you can learn from all the rest of us… Here goes nothing.” She took a deep breath and immersed herself in the largest tub. As she did so, she popped the cork and held her breath. Two and a half minutes later she stood, took several deep breaths, and looked down at the tub. She cringed. The water was filthy. She stepped out. As she did, nasty brown water rolled off her legs.

The slave girl stood off to the side and pointed to another tub. "If you rinse again you will not itch. At least this is what I have been told.”

Adga did as recommended, then took an exceptionally large robe offered by the girl. She looked over, noting both Vyrax and Tez were putting on nice-looking light blue linen clothing. It was clear someone had made sure what Tez got was slightly nicer. It had a red trim on the shirt. “Looks good on you.”

“Thank you,” Tez gave a weak smile. “I am sure he will like the way it looks on me too. At least it is a better quality and softer than what I was given as part of my gear, so I hope he lets me keep it.”

They were then led to a sitting room with decanters of fruit juices, a table full of fresh meats and cheeses, and long rolls of bread. Lenti stood as Adga entered. He pointed to the table. “Please eat. I have read the scroll and have already sent four-man patrols out to Amber Sands, Bladed Sands, Tin Horn, Copper Bluffs, and Agate Point. They will warn other settlements along the way. Crews are moving hides to protect the gardens, and we are making preparations to move everyone into the keep. Your warning and the speed you got here will save numerous lives and allow us to protect many plantings. Because we have time to cover gardens, we will also get new crops planted quickly where needed.” Lenti moved up to Tez, gave him a hug, and kissed him on the top of the head. “Much better. The clothing you were in did nothing for you. Keep what you have on. I will have a couple of extra sets waiting with your gear when you leave, along with a bundle for Nuk-lem.”

Lenti rubbed Tez’s shoulders, “You need to come around more often. My halls are emptier without you and your friends.”

“I enjoyed exploring your keep, sir. But I need to think about my future now.”

“Indeed you do.” He gave Tez another kiss on the top of his head and shoved a scroll case into his hand. “If you already have these, sell them. I remember my first Rite of Noblehood. It was horrible not having funds.”

“My father and uncle will not be happy.”

“And I care how? This is Avery Land, not Shunral. Therefore, I am fully within my rights to gift any as I see fit.” He handed Adga a box. “There are twenty salves of healing in there. You cannot use one for at least a week, preferably a full moon. They will not work on you as well after taking my Wound Restoration formula. However, they will stop bleeding on any bad cut, so they can still be useful, albeit wasteful, in the near term. This is my gift to everyone else in your patrol. Now please eat and tell me how you came to be coated in undead juices!”

Tez snickered as Vyrax grabbed some meat, cheese, and a hunk of bread and started taking random bites. “Vyrax, you look like a heathen! Put it all together!”

“Huh?” Vyrax managed to ask even though his mouth was stuffed full of food.

Lenti snickered. He moved up to Vyrax, put his arm over his shoulder, and led him back to the table. “Young man, you are too fine a looking Mystic to be so uncultured.” Lenti picked up the bread log and used a knife on the table to hollow out a large section. He then proceeded to use the small serving forks to pull meats and cheeses off trays and stuff them into the hollowed-out section. He then drizzled some honey on the section he had cut out of the bread, tilted Vyrax’s head back, and lowered it slowly into his mouth.

Vyrax licked his lips, “I’ve never had fresh honey, let alone on soft bread before. Wow!”

Lenti gave him a firm squeeze and held him tightly to his side. His other hand held up the stuffed bread. “This, young man, is how us civilized folk should eat. As a Mystic I expect better of you. Now give it a try.”

Vyrax followed the example and took a bite. “This is really good this way sir!” He then cocked his head to the side and studied the stuffed bread. “But I bet it would be even better warmed, so the cheese melts and the bread is a little crispy on the outside.”

Lenti’s right eyebrow went up. He pulled the stuffed bread back and looked at it. “Interesting… Delectably interesting… You know, I take back what I just said. You will make an excellent Mystic! An exceptionally good idea young man! I will have to play with your observations and find a way to make it perfect!” He moved over to a desk and reached into a drawer. He pulled out a small stack of rolled-together papers.

He moved over to a bookcase. He pulled out two books and pushed on a section of the engravings. There was a click. The man pulled the bookcase out and entered a room beyond. He returned quickly with a pack made from something with dark green hide. While the kids watched, he pushed the roll of papers into a scroll case hanging off the side of the pack.

With a bemused smile, Lenti moved back over to Vyrax and handed it over. “Here. A Mystic with your potential needs a full traveling kit. It is stocked with everything a future great Mystic needs to step into the world on the proper foot.”

He tapped the scroll case. “These are some odd recipes for some simple, yet useful liquids I came up with over the years. As a Primary Echelon Mystic, you should be able to make the most of them. Once you make Secondary, all but one of the rest will become mixable by you. I give these to those I feel may make something of their mystical talents beyond the norm. The packs only go to those whom I see a glimmer of excellence. Consider it a gift for teaching an old Mystic how to look past the good to seek the possibility of the great!”

While Vyrax’s jaw dropped, only able to squeak out a "th… th… thank… Thank you!." Lenti looked over to Tez, “Feel free to bring Vyrax by when you have more time. I would enjoy spending more time with him and you.”

“I will see what I can do, sir.”

Lenti gave Vyrax’s shoulder a squeeze, then helped him put on and adjust the pack. While the man smiled, his words took on an edge. “Not really a request, young one.”

Tez lowered his head. “Understood, sir.”

“Good!” Lenti patted Vyrax on the back and handed him an expensive-looking engraved dark wood box with black metal bands and a key from a side desk, “A storage for extra potions. I want to keep you in good health between now and your next visit. The six already in there are devastating to the undead. Let them get close and crush the vial in your hand. It will suck the air out of you, so hold your breath when you do so. Only use them as a last resort but use them. Dead Storms can bring out the worst of the undead out of the Desert of the Dead. And yes, I expect to see you again soon, young man.”

While Lenti kept his hands on Vyrax’s shoulders, he turned his full attention to Adga, “Now as I was saying to myself while you were washing; how does six youth come into Avery lands covered in remnants of the undead?”

Adga put on a sheepish grin, “I took us through a shortcut in the Crags.”

Lenti sharply glanced over to a woman who appeared to be a serving woman, “Jantaya?”

“She speaks the truth, Sir Lenti Avery. She is hiding or distressed over something, but they come through the Crags. It is as Nuk-lem told us. Nor was it an accident; she knows of a path. I felt she knew of others within the Crags as well. She has scouted behind the Outer Crag Walls with her friends dozens of times, possibly more.”

“Very well.” Lenti sighed. He reached down and showed Adga a silver headband with a fire opal in the center. On both sides, there were engraved bridges leading to a fortress. “I gather you didn’t make the connection?”

Adga looked at it. “To be honest, Sir, we didn’t look. My duty is to the Spires and the Greater Desert Realm. We quickly sunbaked, blessed, and packed the loot… This is of the bridge to the fortress and the main tower… It was made here?”

“Made here by me and Metal Worker Okki. It was sold to a landless noble, a former associate of mine, hailing from far to the southeast, only nine days ago.”

“I’m sorry. It came off one of the dead walkers. I don’t know which. We bundled belongings together so we could divide loot when we had the time.”

“Noble in thought and deed to think first of our realm young lady. You will go far." He pulled Vyrax’s hair back and carefully put it on the boy’s head. He glanced at it and Vyrax, then nodded. “Not a place for me to order anything, however, I feel it will serve your Mystic friend well and accent his already good looks.”

As Adga nodded, not daring to tell the man no, Vyrax pulled it off and noticed the fire opal shimmered with inner power. “May I ask what it does Lord… um, Sir… Avery?”

“Sir. My knighting means far more to me than my guild rank. As for the headband, it is an armor of sorts." He pulled it back out of Vyrax’s hand and placed it on his head again. He put his hands on both sides and spoke a couple of arcane words. The headband shimmered brightly for a moment. As he pulled his hands back, it was clear it had adjusted to perfectly fit Vyrax. “It is now attuned to you. Worry not about growing, it will adjust to you as you do so.”

Lenti eyed Vyrax and gave another nod. "I designed this piece to work in conjunction with worn armor, not in place of. Since I attuned it to you, it cannot be used by anyone else until you give it away voluntarily or die. Therefore, you can wear it and armor and have the benefit of both, even magical armor. With a bit of Force while saying the word ‘sandstar’, you can make it appear however you want, but regardless, it will look like a headband. I have not yet figured out a way to fully change the form of something worn, but I am working on it.” His hands went back to Vyrax’s shoulders.

He turned back to Adga while rubbing Vyrax’s shoulders, “The Earl of Ash Glen came here just over two weeks ago with most of his family. I understand King Wyhrem decreed his oldest stay in the kingdom under protection so there would be a noble for Ash Glen once it is taken back… But this is of no concern of yours or even mine. If you destroyed who wore this, it can only mean the Earl of Ash Glen is dead. What of the rest of his family?”

“We took down two real young kids. Tez, you got a better look at them than I did.”

“Son-tez, Patrol Leader.”

“I gave her permission, sir.”

“What you do outside of my home is your business, Son-tez Shunral. In my home, full first names will be used!”

“Sorry, Sir,” Adga spoke. “I will not allow it to happen again.”

“See it does not.” Lenti turned back to Tez, “So you can tell me more about the boy and girl?”

“I can, sir. There was a young girl wearing a swirling yellow and white silk nightshirt. She carried a wooden doll, painted, and had a cloth dress. She tried to hand it to me. Only Patrol Leader Adga’s warning prevented me from getting bitten since she tried to hand it to me and I was dumb enough to try to take it. The boy held a wooden horse with a harness. He had on a nightshirt with a pouncing cat of some type embroidered on the back. A couple of those with us also eliminated a woman with a nice dress. It was light yellow with green trim.”

“His Mundane wife… and two youngest … There were four other Ash Glen noble youths. A girl of about ten. She had a chain shirt and was a fledgling Swordsman. Carried a light Silver Steel Morningstar?”

All three shook their heads.

“OK, there is hope. If you see her, let her know she can shelter with me. What about a boy only a year or so older than his sister? A Shaman with dark auburn hair, nice scale mail armor, Silver Steel axehammer, and a short bow?”

Tez spoke up, “Was not with them either. The man Nuk-lem and I fought had an axehammer, but not Silver Steel. I think he also had the headband you just gave to Vyrax, sir.”

“The Earl of Ash Glen. His Mystic cloak, did you recover it?”

“We did. It had a few potions in it, but was mostly empty.”

Lenti put his arms around Vyrax. “It will be big on you, but my counterpart was a small slender man. Therefore, it will fit you more like a long coat and be big on your shoulders. However, unless there is another Mystic with you, take it. It is magical. Until you grow into it, you can use the emerald pins to tack on the shoulders of a sturdy tight-fitting shirt and belt to hold it on you. I will see you get a couple of both before you leave.”

Lenti sighed. “He won it off me in a card game. The bastard had a Silver Dragon straight flush. Left me holding four Wyvern… Lucky bastard. He should have saved some of his fortune since by all accounts it ran out a few moons ago and it only got worse.

“Enough of him. Before you leave, come to me with the cloak so I can attune it to you. Once I do so the cloak will auto-repair and clean itself if you use some of your magical Force. The command word to do so is ‘ravenflame’. It can also change appearance just like the headband, command word ‘nightbird’. It will give you armor better than what you had on when you came in and has my special microclimate charms built in. Unlike the headband, it will not work with armor under it, but will with the headband, which is why I made it for him. It will give you formidable armor with the appearance of having none.”

“No wonder he was so hard to hit!” Tez grumbled. “Nuk-lem and I both had to fight him, and it took forever!”

“Even in death, my mystical achievements tried to protect him. Such a waste.” He shrugged. “One of you should also take his sling and axehammer. Both are enchanted… not by me, but enchanted nonetheless.” Lenti sighed, “So few good friends in the world, and now one less.” He shook his head, “He will be missed. He had two other sons and an orphaned friend of the oldest. The orphan’s younger brother was also with him. The first was a fledgling Druid. Had a winged bobcat with him. Hair too long for a noble youth, dark, but a hint of rust to it. Dwarven chain armor, Silver Steel Cutlass with rose quartz handle?”

“No. We didn’t fight or see him.” Adga stated with certainty. “One of the others I dealt with had a cutlass. Had a moonstone on the end of the hilt. Only the second cutlass I’ve ever seen. Nuk-lem Vylevin said it was gem magic enchanted, but we don’t know what it does.”

“I will send someone to verify it has no ill-magic attached and may even be able to tell you what enchantment the gem gives it. The cutlass is a good ship weapon,” Lenti stated. “A blade many from Ash Glen were familiar with. What about a blond-haired skinny lad with a light blue cape, chain vest of throwing daggers, a pendant of a shocker lizard, and a shocker lizard as a pet?”

“Did not see him either, sir,” Vyrax responded. “None we took down had Animal Adept or Druid guild pins.”

Lenti let out a long breath. “With any luck young noble Woodhelm and his Druid merchant friend are still alive. Improbable, but… If you come across him or a buck-toothed youngster in reinforced leather with horses facing each other, hooves up as if they are about to fight, send them here. I will care for any or all. Finally, the Earl of Ash Glenn had a boy slightly younger than the three of you, a guilded Mage. Had black leather armor and a gemmed hip sword.”

Adga hung her head. “I… I finished him off, sir.”

“How very sad.” Lenti rubbed his hand down his face. “His hip sword and leather armor were also made by me and Okki. The blade deals heat damage with the use of a slight amount of Force. His armor self-repairs and cleans by taking Force from the wearer, trigger word, ‘fireswarm’. Like many of the enchanted clothing I make, the armor has a permanent microclimate charm on it as well as shielding magic. Both blade and armor will hopefully serve one of you better than it did him. I so looked forward to seeing him again…”

Suddenly, Vyrax’s eyes lit up, “Adga, the wagon marks! It could have been survivors!”

“Wagon marks? Survivors?” Lenti asked with clear interest and even hope.

“It is possible, sir,” Adga answered. “I found wagon marks leading out of the Crags they went east instead of following the road. It was just south of the second cut spur and north of the last cave before the turn into Avery lands. The others may have gotten out of the Crags, but they will find a whole lot of nothing in the direction the tracks went. Their only hope is if they get to the old garnet mines on the Grey Scale Ridge… But those are full of Fire Ferrets and Striper Snakes…”

“I will send a patrol once the storm passes, but if they get caught in the Dead Storm, my men may well have to end them a second time, much like you did for those you encountered. However, I made sure all have enchanted weapons, so if they get to the mines, they will have water, shelter, and a chance.”

“Sir,” Tez spoke, “do you know what they were doing in the Crags to begin with?”

“Yes. The Earl of Ash Glen found a map in a storeroom as they were loading up to abandon Ash Glen. They were within hours of being overrun by a combination of Gnoll and Kobald forces, backed up by some Black Dragonlings and at least one Warrior Dragon. It is my hope the powerful blasts of magic over the last several days were, at least in part, King Wyhrem taking back Ash Glen from the Black Dragons. For I am certain what many of us felt was indeed Dragon Deaths…”

He shrugged. “We can only hope… However, the map I did not see, but he swore to me it was to a hidden bunker in or under a keep inside the Desert of the Dead. It was supposedly locked and secured with magical glyphs. The map had the guidelines to bypass the protection wards and he even had a key. This I did see. It was a claw of a dragon, petrified. The claw was carved with runes of Mage, Druid, Shaman, and something I could not identify, let alone read. Not even magical spells allowed me to decipher it.

“The runes were infused with dust of ruby, emerald, and diamond, much like the legendary Frozen Flame weapons that were key to driving off the demon hoards at the end of the Mythling Wars. The back of the claw, in Mythling, said it was off the final ruler of the lands of Sandstorm and held items to retake the lands from the Brown Dragons. It also stated it would only reappear when the son of the king had come through the void of time. Utter rubbish. The Browns have been an all-but-dead race for several thousand years. If someone was suddenly going to appear, it would be well before now. However, the key was certainly magical beyond anything I have ever seen.

“The Lord of Ash Glen figured if this hidden vault had items to stop a near-extinct Dragon race, it might allow him to retake his home… He brought his last remaining guards and hired more men and women out of the hiring hall in Copper Bluffs. This I warned him against almost as vehemently as I tried to have him leave his offspring in my care. He didn’t listen and here we are.” Lenti stood, “Well, you need to get moving and I have things to do. Grab some food for yourselves and fellow patrol members before you leave.

“Also remember, if you find any of the others I mentioned, send them to me. You will be well rewarded. Should my patrol locate any alive, I will give you a reward when you return here.

“I know you are on a tight time schedule, but I can help with this as well. You will have time to divide spoils, sell what you do not wish to keep and stock up on supplies. The Iron Hand will buy everything at a fair price. I will send word and leave you a tab of twenty silver for rations. Make sure you buy additional dried edibles and either procure an extra pack or take one out of your spoils for each member of your patrol. Iron Hand will sell you dried provisions for a good price as well. Keep in mind, that the coming Dead Storm will make many food staples hard to find and what will be available will be expensive for a moon cycle or two.

“To make up for time lost here, tell the gate lieutenant at the archway entry gate to give each of your skimmers a caged meal as you leave. Any who are not good on skimmers will need to hold on very tightly.” He smiled. “The rest of you… Hold on just as forcefully.”

He moved back up to Vyrax and put a firm hand on his shoulder. “For safety, leave any potions left in the Earl of Ash Glen’s cloak with the guards. They will bring them to me. Off to your right behind the tapestry you will find racks of labeled low-powered, but effective potions. Take forty. It will fill the cloak. There is a second rack, next to the fast soap. Feel free to fill the potion box I gave you with them. It will let you try out many of the formulas I handed you.

“And Vyrax, I have heard of you and your family. Before you head back up to Twin Spires, I expect you to spend at least a few days here. I will see to it your father’s slights are eased or even erased if you do so. He is a gifted Elf and he and his family, including you, have suffered enough. However, if you do not return to place yourself under my tutelage for a week or so… Let us not go there. I am certain you are too intelligent to slight my offer of generosity and hospitality… The rest of your patrol is welcome to enjoy some downtime while you spend some time learning, working, and enjoying my company.”

Vyrax gulped. “As you command, Sir. Um, any chance you can tell me what my blade is and does?”

Lenti escorted them into the cleaning room. While Lenti pulled Vyrax’s blade, Adga gazed around in astonishment. Their belongings, all of them, were clean and everything in the room had a wintergreen fragrance to it.

“Well,” Lenti gave the blade a few practice swings, “this is quite the find. Not on order of your patrol leader’s shield, but still quite spectacular. It is an Eldwar katana, Damascus folded, even. Eldwar is a combination of Silver Steel and Blue Steel. It is a metalworking secret all but lost to our realm. You must have more knowledge of the Crags than Son-tez and my Mindmaster let on for you to have procured such a find.”

“We know the Crags better than most, sir,” Vyrax stated.

“You will need to tell me more when next you enjoy my company.”

Lenti swung the blade and even spun it. “Katanas are seldom found outside of the Eastern Isles, so you have a very rare blade of both type and metal.” He paused then spoke a long archaic sounding phrase and moved his left hand down the length of the weapon. As he did so the blade lit up. He studied it for several seconds. “Attack, defense and sharpness enchantments infused into the blade. Nothing spectacular, but much better than gem magic. The gem… I would have to test, but have you ever felt like you could use some of your Force when it hits?”

“As it bites in, sir. Every time I get near a dead walker, I also feel like I could put some Force into the blade.”

“It may well be enchanted to deal with the undead then. When you feel you have Force to spare, let it use some. The blade will undoubtedly attune to you and may provide information when it does. If not, granting it some of your Force will certainly provide an extra damage burst or effect, probably an elemental type, but this is just a guess. I do not know how much Force it will take or the result. But the flow is even and untouched by vile magics, so it is not demon-touched or cursed. When you next see me, you will have to tell me what it does when you impart some of your internal magic into it.”

Lenti stroked the blade in an almost loving way before sliding it back into Vyrax’s sheath. “Such a weapon is also a once-in-a-lifetime find, young one. Do not, under any circumstances, sell it… However, if you do, come to me first!”

As Vyrax giggled, Adga spoke up. “Sir?”

“Yes, Patrol Leader?”

“Is there any way we can get a few of those bath liquids?”

Lenti gave her a sad-looking smirk as he gave Vyrax another shoulder rub and attuned the captured Mystic cloak to him. “Your fellow Mystic, here, has how to make them. Instructions are in the bundle I handed him, as are the needed ingredients in the pack, but yes, feel free to take a dozen or so. They are cheap but challenging to make. It will give my more junior apprentices something to work on while stuck inside during the coming storm.”

 

Copyright © 2023 Kyle Aarons; All Rights Reserved.
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Absolutely Fantastic Chapter Fine Sir , So much back history and knowledge shared with our young Warriors & Mage ! . Look forward to the next chapter 📖 Thank You 💎

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What a restful, and educational break with legendary mystic Sir Avery Lentil. They have been cleaned redressed and upgraded with items to keep on fighting. Messengers were sent out warning about the upcoming deadly sand storm. He was impressed by their serious battles and the magical weapons they possessed but did not until then know how important they were.  Adga's shield was remarkably powerful

Sir Avery was attracted to the young nobles and the mystic who he wants them to visit him again. Agda was brought back to good health without injuries and her chipped tooth was replaced.

It seems Sir Avery is going to help the crew make up for lost time. Their sand skimmers are going to be given a special food as they leave. I wonder what actually happens.

I saw two possible connections to Xavier and the current time. King Wyhrem was cited and he at some point wants to meet Kandric. Also, Xavier will be very surprised when his father's claw appears when he comes to this area. He will be aided to take back his kingdom as he wants.

Sir Avery reported,,,, :The back of the claw, in Mythling, said it was off the final ruler of the lands of Sandstorm and held items to retake the lands from the Brown Dragons. It also stated it would only reappear when the son of the king had come through the void of time." He reappeared in the Sands of Time.

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Adga and her group greatly impressed Sir Lenti, something I suspect is very hard to do. He must see great promise in Vyrex to gift him and insist on his return.

His recounting of the legend the Earl was following ties in nicely with Prince Xavier and the Sands of Time.

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23 hours ago, drpaladin said:

Adga and her group greatly impressed Sir Lenti, something I suspect is very hard to do. He must see great promise in Vyrex to gift him and insist on his return.

His recounting of the legend the Earl was following ties in nicely with Prince Xavier and the Sands of Time.

Does it now?  Imagine that?  lol

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This recounting if the Earl and Xavier's father's claw and way to aid his reforming the Sand Dragon Kingdom stands out as a key fact.

My memory maybe faulty, but is this clear claw related option a new addition to the revised chapter? It offers a solution to Xavier if he learns about it.

In the old Sands of Times, Xavier was going to Scorpion Falls and the City of Lucas the Lost to possibly gain new power.

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In Kandric #32 and #33, Kyle drops several clues as to what may be happening to Xavier and Friends. This was all written before the rewrite of Sands. In Crags, Kyle gives us more to think about where the stories may intersect with each other.

Of course, the biggest problem is understanding not just what Kyle writes, but how he writes.

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1 hour ago, Al Norris said:

Of course, the biggest problem is understanding not just what Kyle writes, but how he writes

Quill and parchment?

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An Underwood with a faded, word-out ribbon and not enough touch up liquid to correct mistakes

 

but what he finishes are compelling chapters

Edited by akascrubber
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