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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. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Mature story contains dark themes involving graphic violence and taboo topics that may contain triggers for sensitive readers. Please do not read further if this bothers you.

The Kandric Saga - 17. Chapter 17

Glaster waited until Klandon’s eyes shut for the night and the boy’s breathing become even before he slipped out of the inn well after most of the city had gone to sleep. The evening with the boy proved something deep within the boy was broken.

The young prince was at a loss in a royal environment and was doing his utmost to fit in. Part of the boy liked the feel of power of his princely title, but another part used the position within the court to drive others away to hide how uncomfortable and out of place the boy really was. Glaster exited the inn wondering what would happen if he cast a Remember spell on the young prince. Such a spell could be dangerous though, and Glaster knew it. A Remember spell could bring back memories forgotten or taken away by a spell. Unfortunately, it could accidentally, at least in this case, give the child a false memory. Any conversation heard by the child during the casting of the spell could trigger such a false memory. Then again, so could a stray thought on the part of the caster. Glaster sucked in some cold night air into his lungs to clear his head as he looked around the basically deserted streets. He would have to consider the idea of a Remember spell when he had more time for peaceful thought.

The only people moving through the streets at this early hour were members of the town guard and the few others with odd jobs of the late night. There were a few people who made their money from the city cleaning streets, collecting garbage and keeping candles lit on major streets. Once in a while one could find merchants readying for departure at first light. Last but far from the least in number were those people the town guard worked to protect others from. It was these types Glaster sought out as he moved past taverns long since closed for the night and deeper into the poorer sections of the town.

It didn’t take long for someone to see a well-dressed man staggering down the street as if he was drunk. Glaster smiled to himself as he saw the shadowy figure move in for what the hapless robber thought would be an easy mark. Glaster made no effort to seek shelter. Instead he moved with a bit of a wobble toward the middle of the street and continued to meander down the street until he spotted a dark side street and made straight for it.

The lone figure waited until he saw the drunken merchant turn down a back alley before he made his move. He rushed into the darkened area leading to a community well and stopped in confusion. The merchant had vanished. Muttering about a missed opportunity he turned only to find the man he had been stalking was now blocking standing straight and holding a machete like blade.

Glaster grinned, “Let us make this easy. Give me a little information and both of us will walk away without any blood or dirt on our clothing.”

The figure glanced around looking for an easy escape only to look back up and see the person he had been following left hand glowing from magical energies. The figure sighed and flipped back his hood. “Whats ya want Mage!”

Glaster laughed despite the situation, “Don’t insult me. Mages are so boring.”

The Halfling muttered “Magic sucks.” under his breath as he stood in silence waiting for the man in front of him to get to the point.

Glaster nodded in satisfaction; “I need some minor information. You tell me you can go, if you do not I will hurt you.” Glaster paused for a moment more for effect then to let his words sink in, “And if you lie, I will hunt you down and kill you.”

“I gets yer point spell thrower!”

“Good!” Glaster stated cheerfully, more to annoy the Halfling than anything. “I need to know what kinds of interesting information can be found about Everone.”

“Why’d ya think me’d know something?”

“Because,” Glaster’s voice took on a sharp edge, “this is the gateway to the Everone Barony and your type keep their ears open. You are good; I picked you up, but only after you had started following me. I did not catch on right away or I would have simply taken you out immediately like I did the last three. It takes more than talent to get to be as skilled as you are. It takes brains.”

“I’m not stupid, fer sure.” The Halfling grinned at the compliment. “But there ain’t much to tell.”

“Give me what you have and we both walk away.”

The Halfling shrugged, “Sure, I don’t know what ya be looking fer, but there be quite a few groups all fighting down there. Me, fer one, tend to think the Lizards ain’t the ones to worry none about. I mean, a friend of a friend tell me them lizards be holding a line and even help get food and supply wagons inta the area from the south. Me even hears of the lizards freeing prisoners of the Hobs and given em weapons and stuff.”

The Halfling paused as his brow furled in thought. Suddenly he nodded, “Oh yea, another friend of a friend tells me he be seeing lots of dragon activities down south.”

This was not the type of information Glaster was looking for. He had hoped to hear about what type of trade goods to equip himself with, but rumors sometimes held facts so he decided to ask a few follow-up questions, “Let me get this straight. Are you saying the Lizardmen are fighting for Everone? How good is this information?”

“It come from a friend of a friend, like me said, but I believe it cause I know the gal who come from there. She ain’t no story talker. More like the gal to says nothing. If she say them lizards ain’t hurting no ones but Hobs then I believes her!”

Glaster held up his hand, “I am not saying I do not believe you. What about all this dragon talk?”

The Halfling seemed to shudder, “Mister spell thrower, me don’t like talking about dragons none. It be bad luck, but fer you, me’ll tell ya what me know. More than one says Everone be loaded with warring dragons. I hears one man say he saw both a red and a black the same day. Another claim he sees a green and a black on the same hill. Them dragonthings be all over too! Some say red, green, and black are all over down there. One fella come through here about two week ago with a load of slave he pick up cheep down there. He tell me he sees a silver and a blue working ta help a small village from some green dragonthings! Me thinks he spend some time there and bought slave kids for next to nothing cause the place was running out of eats, but he no say so. At least right out like, he hint, but no more.”

Glaster frowned deeply, “Silver and Blue Dragons will work together if really pressed, but not very often. Were these Dragonlings?”

“Nope,” The Halfling shook his head fiercely, “full blown dragon, real thing! He even tell me how they look and had a couple of dragon scales of each. They be real pretty, but me no have the money. I got him paper on six of him slave kids so he give me one of each.”

Glaster’s eyes shot up, “Do you have them with you?”

“I ain’t giving them to ya!”

Glaster waved his arms, “No, no. I just want to take a look.”

The Halfling advanced yet stayed out of reach of Glaster’s blade as he dug into a pouch. Finally his hand came out holding two rather large dragon scales, one silver, one blue.

Glaster took one look them whistled; “Those are definitely dragon scales!” His mind raced trying to make sense of everything he had just been told. Yet his merchant side still needed some information, “Mind if I ask you one last question?”

The Halfling quickly tucked the dragon scales back into his pouch, “Ask, ya going ta anyways!”

“True.” Glaster admitted with a genuine smile, “What sorts of things have caravans been selling and bringing back other than slaves and food?”

“Eats and killing tools going down, slaves and non-coin stuff like glass, plates, them silver like trays, and even nice chairs and the like coming up. Me be hearing need fer stuff like burning oil, torches, and normal tools since all them metal shops be making killing tools, None of em be making saws, hammers, and the like no more!”

Glaster tossed down a pouch of coins he had taken off the first thief he had killed earlier, “Pleasure doing business with you, skilled denizen of the night.”

The Halfling watched Glaster move away before he picked up the bag of coins with a bemused frown on his face, “He be a strange one!” he spoke aloud, “Me don’t know if me should be insult like, but the money’s nice!”


Kandric looked over the cells full of kids with a bit of a smile. He was certain Glaster would be proud of him. He had used an unforeseen opportunity to start his first business venture. It had taken no investment on his part other than a black eye and a pathetically easy fight to gain control of the other kids. Now he would have a business, his business. He would be making money through his own idea. Yes, it would be at the misfortune of others. But even they would be better off in the long run. Besides, the town would not have to pay quite as much to support them.

Rylop and Londow watched over the kids as four junior guards hammered the old lock off. The key’s location had long ago been forgotten. It turned out the doors was also quite difficult to unlatch. The old sliding solid bronze bar had not been oiled in decades, if not longer. The four men had to muscle the latch and then they had an even harder time with the heavy door. Finally Londow moved forward and poured oil on the three hinges and used a hammer to break loose each one.

Kandric moved in as soon as the door opened and inspected the passage. His eyes came alive with excitement as he noticed it was not just a simple passage with cells like Rylop had told him to expect. Instead there was one passage leading to the opposite side of the dungeon where the female prisoners were kept. Along the walls were over three dozen small cell doors. But there was something else, long forgotten! In the middle of the hall on the left side was a set of stairs hollowed out of the stone leading down. Londow saw Kandric’s desire to see more and chuckled.

“We’ll make sure this area is safe then put the kids to work cleaning it up. Once I’m sure everything be safe, we’ll check and see what else we have been sitting on top of all these years.”

Kandric nearly jumped up and down with eagerness, but tempered it some as he looked up at Rylop; “It might be a good idea if I was allowed to get my weapons before we explore what is down those steps.”

Rylop nodded, “No argument young one. Let the guards take care of this level while we go to the school and get your gear.”

Kandric watched the kids’ eyes as they were ordered by the cell leaders to move into the long abandoned part of the dungeon. Each of the kids’ eyes went wide as they saw bronze chains with shackles hanging off walls in every room they entered. He secretly smiled when he saw the way their noses scrunched up at the smell of the damp musty halls and long unused tiny holding cells. Even better was the look revulsion on seeing a room after room no bigger than pair small closets with a chamber pot, water bucket, a set of chains and no bed. One by one the kids realized these had been the cells of the truly unfortunate. Judging by the look on all the kids’ faces, he knew almost instantly his plan would work. Most of them would eagerly hand themselves over for a few nights a week when the other option would be to sit alone in one of these dank tiny cells for days at a time.


Sy slowed his War Steed down as he entered the Swamp Slums. The animal’s breath was heavy and bordering on ragged. With a sad shake of his head, he jumped off and led the animal to a small fresh water stream. “Sorry old gal. None a us oughta ride ya so hard!” Sy shook his head sadly as he pulled off his saddle and bags. “Stay and rest girl.” He glanced back knowing there were even chances on the War Steed living as to dying after such a prolonged and hard journey.

The few Swamp dwellers awake at the late hour nodded to him or backed away. Most did both. Sy shrugged. He was known here. Known as the warrior who had fixed up a hut into a house. He was a man who had skills of a carpenter and with a sword. Some of the Swamp Slum Dwellers saw him as a hero, most were envious of his abilities, and almost all feared him.

Although he liked the feeling of power the others gave him, he hated being in the dismal place. He had grown up in the slums outside of Black Rapids, a beggar begging scraps from other beggars just to stay alive. It wasn’t until the age of nine, when he first started casting Autospells, before his life took an upward turn that he never looked back from. He had been noticed by the Black Rapids guards and taken in as a guard trainee. For hours a day he was taught to work on the barracks with other kids. Four long years he did nothing but learn how to hammer nails, cut wood, and in the evening read and write. Seven days a week twelve hours a day he was forced to work and study. The guards didn’t allow any slack time. If he was sick he would stay in, but no matter how bad he felt, he would still have to work and read.

Those kids who couldn’t were sent off to work the farms, where he later found out they only had to work five days a week and still got trained. But they all were the regular guards and Army of Black Rapids. They would never become officers in the military nor would they ever be offered slots in the Wilderness Scouts. Only those who made it in the Barracks through four straight years moved on to be taught how to command. He was one of the few who learned real combat skills under the elite Palace Guards of Black Rapids. Unfortunately, his past still haunted him. Any Slums reminded him of his early childhood. He shuddered as memories of eating worms out of the ground to quench the never-ending hunger returned. Quickly he spat a few times as the horrible taste seemed to come from memory and enter his mouth.

Not being able to stand the memories he pulled out some of his own rations and tossed them to a pair of kids digging in the mud by the swamps edge looking for anything, even dormant bugs, to eat. He smiled as they grabbed the food like someone would grab at a pile of offered gold. As he moved on he stopped and glanced back wondering if the kids were boys or girls. Slum kids all looked alike. They were way too skinny, had long unkempt hair, and wore dirty rags, which passed as clothing. After nearly a minute he turned away guessing one was a boy the other a girl.

He moved on half wondering why the kids had been out so late at night. Again thoughts of how horrible it was to be close to starvation returned. “Hunger,” He muttered, “No kid sleep when he be hungry.”

Finally he neared the small hut Kandric had found to use, “Jamon, Conth, One a ya two best be awake and ready ta take me gear!”

Jamon came out of the hut wiping the sleep from his eyes, “Sorry, we were all sleeping.”

Sy’s face twisted into a deep frown, “You be lucky ya be Kandric’s boy er I’d knock yer teeth out! Who be watchin’ the others and where be Captain Vondum and Kandric?”

Jamon bowed his head slightly; “Vondum left me in charge sir. He went after Kandric up in town.”

Sy Glanced over the boy, “Vondum put yer scrawny butt in charge over Conth?”

Jamon nodded, “Yes sir.”

“Who be watchin’ them others if ya be sleepin’?”

Jamon’s face blushed with embarrassment “I made Conth chain them up so I could sleep.”

Sy’s Frown slowly faded, “Well, I’ll be! Maybe he make the good choice after all!” Quickly he stepped into the hut and used a spark Autospell to light a candle. All the boys had heard the conversation and were awake, but they couldn’t move much being all chained together. Sy smiled as he noticed Porma had been kept separate; His chains had been nailed to a thick corner brace. “Not shabby, Jamon. Maybe you’ll make a good lead slave one of them years!”

Porma tried to kick at Sy as the man drew near, but his efforts only caused the chains around his ankles to bite into his flesh. He winced but remained silent as the man looked down with a truly sad expression. “Boy, you best put a stops to yer foolishness. Ya done made enough enemies already. Ya ain’t be needin’ no more!”

“What are you gunna do to me?” Porma demanded, although his voice didn’t sound anywhere near as brave as he wanted his words to show.

“I ain’t doin’ nothin’ to ya.” Sy turned to Jamon. “Make sure he don’t eat er drink nothin‘. He’ll be goin’ through enough misery as it be already.”

“I know the big thug sent ya to get a potion.” Porma interrupted, “He gunna try to make me drink poison er somethin’?”

Sy shook his head as he his gaze settled on the chained teen, “Son, Vondum don’t ever try, he just will, and you’ll be wishin’ it were poison a few minutes after ya drink it. Bein’ dead is far better than what you’ll be goin’ through.”

Porma tried to match Sy’s stare, but failed after only a few seconds. Defeated, he kicked lightly at the wall. “Why don’t ya just force it inta me now?”

Sy shook his head, “Vondum like to do the feedin‘. Besides, son, I be doin’ you a favor by makin’ sure yer hungry. Me bet’s Vondum made it seem like he wanted ya to go hungry then changed his mind. He’ll also tell them boys ta offer ya food in the morn. It be up ta you, but If’n ya be smart you’ll says no.”

Porma stared at the ground, “Why should I believe ya?”

Sy shrugged, “Son, what ya believe and don’t be no concern of mine. But, if ya want ta find out who be more nice to slave brats ask Jamon or Conth.” Sy again turned away from Porma, “Jamon, does we have any feed fer the mounts?”

Jamon nodded, “Kandric got some from the Caravan, sir.”

“Excellent. Get some and run down to the stream. If’n my mount not be dead already she’ll need food before she do die. And where be the keys fer the shackles?”

Jamon pointed to the door where a set of keys hung and exited the hut without any further instruction as Sy grabbed the keys. Sy tossed them to Conth, “Unchain em so y’all get a good sleep. He then looked back at Porma for a moment, ”He’ll have to stay chained, but take him off the wall. He’ll be needin’ all the rest he can get!"


Vondum entered the jail just as Kandric was exiting with Londow and Rylop. Vondum’s eyes narrowed dangerously as he looked over the men. The two guards stopped as if petrified by the man’s presence.

Kandric quickly broke the sudden frosty feeling before someone over reacted. Running up to the massive Warrior Adept he wrapped his arms around the man, “Vondum!”

Vondum returned the unexpected hug and knelt. As he did so he lifted up Kandric’s face so he could look at the nasty swollen and bruised eye. Hatred entered the huge man’s eyes as he hissed, “Did either of these two…”

Kandric cut him off, “No sir! They have treated me with the utmost of respect.”

“Then who?” Vondum demanded, as his hand tightened around his sword.

Rylop nervously answered, “It was the Healthman, Velert, Captain. He ordered the arrest of your scout after punching him.”

“You should have killed him Kandric.” Vondum seethed.

“I did not have a chance. Rylop and Londow, behind me,” Kandric pointed, “came up too fast. They acted on his orders to arrest me before they found out he did not have a claim. Rylop was very nice though. He let me go to the school and prove who I was and let me stow my gear. Since then, I have worked out a business arrangement with the guards here and was going to present my case before the governor tomorrow.”

Vondum bit back his fury as he ruffled Kandric’s hair and nodded to the two guards as he put on an easy to see through calmed down look. His eyes, however, told of a deep dark rage building deep inside. “My thanks to both of you for taking care of one of my scouts without causing too much of an uproar.”

Londow breathed a big sigh of relief as he realized he was not one of the man’s targets; “He has been quite a pleasure to work with.”

Kandric grinned, “I still need to get my gear and help them look over the lower passages in the dungeon.”

“You have a fight with some Gnolls tomorrow my young scout.” Vondum reminded Kandric, “and why didn’t you heal yourself?”

Kandric shook his head; “I wanted to show the governor what Velert did without me raising a weapon or even a fist.”

“What about the Gnolls?”

“I have gone much longer than one night without sleep and still had to fight. Besides, we are only talking Gnolls here.” Kandric’s expression and tone told all three adults he was serious, deadly serious.

Vondum was the first to break the sudden silence, “Fine, but you’ll need your sword and there is a brat on the back of my steed who needs a nose fixed.”

Kandric headed over to the War Steed with Vondum, “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“Coming to find me.”

“My pleasure.” Vondum smiled for the first time since finding out Kandric had gone into Slome alone, “Mind telling me what Velert ever did to you?”

“He claimed my seriously injuring a merchant kid was a class motivated attack.”

Vondum’s eyes narrowed. “Kandric, you could have easily defended yourself against such a claim. You hold something else against him, don’t you?”

Kandric grinned, “Actually, I came into town to extract some revenge on him. The timing of the merchant kid’s attack on the Halfling and being so close to his shop could not have been a better set-up for me. Now I get to totally destroy him!”

Vondum again looked at Kandric’s eye; “I’ll be the one doing the destroying. I just want to know what he did to you to begin with and why you came into Slome today, of all days, to get your revenge.”

Kandric moved over to the Halfling and smiled, “Hello again!”

“Hi.” The boy managed to say as he continued to hold his nose."

Kandric immediately started a healing spell. As he got the glow on his hands to the brightest intensity he could he answered Vondum; “The man is arrogant. He makes the lives of the Slum dwellers and even the low peasants in town miserable. Velert refused to hire me many times while blocking me from getting hired many more. He had me thrown out of town two separate times because by me looking for work because he claimed I was taking potential work away from those of higher classes. As far as why I chose today? Well, I found out he is the current owner of Jamon’s brother this morning.”

Vondum held the small Halfling as Kandric moved forward and pressed his hands up to the boy’s nose. The lad squealed in pain but didn’t pass out during the healing. Vondum nodded in a slightly praising way as he lifted the boy with one hand back onto the steed. “How in the name of the gods did this lowly Healthman get Jamon’s brother?”

“I am not sure, but after the way he has treated me and the rest of the Swamp Slums residents, I have no intention of paying to get Jamon’s brother. As a matter of fact, after what he did today, I have no intention of letting him own much of anything.”

Vondum shook his head and growled, “Owning something is going to be the least of his concerns when I get my hands on him!”

Kandric grinned, then pointed up to the Halfling. “I sure hope you have not found a replacement for me.”

Vondum put on a pouty frown causing Kandric to burst out in laughter.

Vondum moved up and gave Kandric a quick hug and kiss, “Don’t even start teasing me boy, I already know where you are ticklish!”

Before Kandric could squiggle free, Vondum’s fingers was already lightly digging into the boy’s ribs. Kandric squirmed and yelped out wave after wave of laughter before he finally felt the man back off. Gasping for breath, Kandric looked up with a huge smile, “No fair!”

Vondum jumped up on his mount grabbing the Halfling boy as he did so, “Neither is teasing me.” Vondum winked as he turned his attention to Londow and Rylop, “I’m going to track down Velert. Make sure your people stay out of my way or I’ll go through them as well. Nothing is going to stop me, not even the gods!” He then pointed to Kandric, “He needs to be in the slums at first light, I expect an escort with him ready to fight and kill some Gnolls with us.”

“You’ll have it Captain!” Rylop replied with a salute.

Watching Vondum ride back down the street, Londow snorted, “I’d better go warn our patrols and round up a squad for tomorrow while you get Kandric’s things from the school. We can’t afford to lose no more guards.”


Conner slipped away from the feast early. Even after the conversation with Captain Pontarious, he was not comfortable with himself or his new friends. Sure, they accepted him and even seemed to like him. The only problem was, he was not sure he accepted or liked himself. His whole life since he had been declared a Non-child had been one mistake after another. When compared with what Aster and Kandric had become, he was nothing more than a failure.

One thing always helped these moods and he knew it. He stripped off everything but his loincloth and began an exhaustive workout. He started with speed casting drills. Pretend casting all of his memorized spells one after another as quickly as he could. The only thing he didn’t do was put his magical force behind the spells, so as to save his magic. Next, he went over his fighting stances and used his Dives to “attack” a small woodpile while moving and dodging his own shadow. With a good sweat worked up in the cold air, he slowed down and practiced his silent movements and slight-of-hand surrounding his Lockmaster skills.

Conner knelt and grabbed a bucket of water. Taking a long drink he stood and turned, “Captain, this is two times tonight you have decided to pay attention to me instead of your crew. Is this your way of telling me you want to share a bed with me or something?”

Pontarious moved into view, “Son, don’t ask questions like those. Some adults might take it as an invitation.”

“Only once.”

Pontarious remained silent, but did nod.

“So, what do you want from me?”

Pontarious sat on the pile of wood and carefully pulled out the Dives. “I just wanted to see who the real Conner is. Our earlier talk told me a great deal about your past and how you dealt with the obstacles thrown your way, but very little about who you are.”

Conner moved up and took the offered dives from Pontarious. As he slipped them back into his wristbands he shrugged, “I’ll let you know as soon as I figure it out. Question I have is why?”

“Why what? Why do I want to know, why am I so interested in you, or why do I care?”


Pontarious laughed, “Dumb question, huh?”

“Yea.” Conner admitted. After a moment he grinned. Something about the older man was so comforting it was almost scary.

Pontarious lightly patted Conner on the back as he returned the boy’s smile. "So what would you like to know first?

“I guess my real question is somewhere in the middle of all of it. I not real sure why anyone would care about a kid whose mom kicked him out of the house.”

Pontarious looked skyward for a moment as he collected his thoughts. “I know all about wanting to get trained and making mistakes to get what I wanted. My brother and I both made a big one. The only difference is, I didn’t have what it took. My brother, however, had enough guts and determination for both of us. He saved my life when I couldn’t handle it anymore, and tossed me to the wolves once I had gained enough will of my own to survive. I hated him, but when I look back, both his decisions were correct. One of these years I hope to thank him. In the mean time there is one thing I can do to honor him.”

Conner started to shiver lightly as the sweat from his workout started to dry and the cold nigh wind coming off the river chilled him. “Honor him? How?”

Pontarious pulled off his cloak and wrapped it around Conner, “By offering you a friend, a home, and if you want it, a family.”


“Conner you are so much like my older brother it is scary. You took the toughest routes, chose to fight an uphill battle, and are willing to cover for loved ones with your life. Those same traits are what made my brother who he was. Like you, he willingly became something others hated to save my life. Like you, he slowly changed, losing the good and loving parts of himself. The difference is, you still have Aster and others you care about. There is a strong caring side in you. But I can see it slipping away. It is in your eyes, Conner. You are thinking about giving it all up. It is the same look I saw in my brother’s eyes the day he chose to take power over his love of family.”

“Are you a Mindmaster er something?” Conner gasped out in surprise.


“Am I really so easy to read?”

Pontarious tested the waters by putting his arm around Conner, “Not unless you really know what you are looking for. I bet Aster knows something is wrong with you, but doesn’t know what. The others, well simply put, you don’t let anyone else close enough for them to know if you are in a bad or a good mood, so they have no way of knowing.”

Conner found himself confused by two opposite feelings. One part of him wanted to pull away, yet another part desired the closeness, to snuggle, to be hugged. He decided on a middle ground. He did nothing. He sighed, partially out of fear. He was not used to giving others control over any part of his life, let lone with close contact. It took a great deal of effort to not smack at the arm tenderly draped over his shoulder.

Pontarious waited, expecting a question or at least some reaction. When he didn’t get any, he decided to continue. “Conner, I am offering you a chance to keep and regrow your heart and your love for others. I know what you are thinking. You cannot be part of your real family, at least not completely, at least not yet. You think you burned too many bridges. I, for one, don’t believe your family feels like you think they do. But until you decide this is the case, you may consider my family as yours. You, if you so wish, may become as a son to me. In return, I will demand only one thing.”

Tears threatened to spill out of Conner’s eyes. He figured he already knew the answer, but he still had to ask, “What?”

“You must learn how to open your heart again my boy.” Answered a soft and serious voice. You must learn how to trust others and how to love without attaching strings."

Conner hung his head, “I don’t know how.”

“Yes you do.” Pontarious insisted, “You have just forgotten. You are where I was at before my owner freed me and gave me some money and a small lab and handed over my son to take care of as a free child.”

Conner’s head jerked up in surprise; “You were a slave?”

“Yea.” Pontarious admitted, “All because I wanted to be trained.”

“You turned yourself into a slave for training?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes. But you can hear my long story later. I need an answer to my offer.”

“Can I think about it?”

Pontarious closed his eyes and cringed hoping the boy would eventually understand his harsh stance, “No. This is a decision you have to make now. You need to determine how you wish to grow up. Do you want to continue down the road you are on now or do you want to reclaim your ability for affection and compassion.”

Conner’s left hand slammed into the deck of the barge shattering some of the planking, “I don’t know if there is any of either left in me!”

Pontarious nodded, “There is. The way you handle little Zoldon and your brother, Aster, tells me as much. The fact you are willing to walk away to protect your family tells me even more.”

Tears poured down Conner’s face. Finally he pushed his head into Pontarious’ shoulder hard enough to make the man wince. “I’ll try. I’ll really try!”

Pontarious wrapped his other arm around the boy, “I know you will Conner. Come on, let’s get you below decks and warm you up.”

Conner allowed the man to pull him to a standing position and started to lead him back toward the Captain’s Quarters. “What about your deck?”

“Worry not my boy, the men will simply fix it and will not ask questions. They are used to my potions messing up the ship. None of them will think otherwise.”

Through his tears Conner laughed and accepted a hug of compassion from an adult for the first time in over a decade.


Kandric smiled at the pair of guards standing watch outside of the Slome prison. The look on the guards’ faces showed their astonishment as they took in the sight of the boy who only an hour ago had been just another kid in the boy’s dungeon. What really caught their eyes were the rugged armor, nice clothing, and the sword slung menacingly over the red-haired Half-elf’s back. The way everything was worn told far more than the items being worn. The boy was experienced and walked with complete confidence. One of the guards recovered and managed a smile as he saw the Wilderness Scouts markings on the armor. “Velert is in world of trouble!”

Londow snickered, “Yea, Slome is about to lose a Healthman.”

“And an arrogant snob.” The other guard chimed in once he recovered from the original shock over seeing who the real Kandric was.

Kandric glanced up at Rylop, “Would you mind if I wore my old guild pins?”

“Nope, but it’ll sure make the other guards nervous.”

Kandric shrugged as he pulled out his Secondary Step Three guild pins. “This is from the last time I was able to test, so they are not current.” He stated to the two now thoroughly astonished guards.

“A Secondary Echelon Shaman?” the two managed to snort out in unison.

Londow chuckled, “And a lot better than a mere Step three too.”

The first guard to speak shuddered, “Oh da Gov’nor is goin’ ta be furious when he find out Velert staked a claim based on class when he had no right ta do so!”

The other guard cringed as he realized the extent of Velert’s mistake. “His actions make the whole Swordsman Guild look bad!”

Rylop agreed, “True, but if ya see Velert do nothing, say nothing, and don’t provide no help or info. Captain Vondum wants ta handle Velert himself.”

Kandric giggled at the look on the guards’ faces, “I bet it makes you both glad you are not in his shoes!”

“Major understatement Mr. Shaman.” The second guard spoke with a combination of respect and sincerity.

“My name is Kandric. There is no need to use a Secondary Echelon greeting, I mean I’m only eleven in equivalency years!”

Rylop chuckled, “You want to be called by your name, you’ve got it! I’m sure none of us guards will argue!”

Kandric shook his head as the whole scene struck him as funny. Less than two months ago none of these guys would have glanced his direction if had had been hurt. Matter of fact, none of them had when Porma had attacked him in the middle of the street with iron. A sudden though occurred to him, “You all might want to remember these guild pins when you see one of us from the Swamp Slums. You never know who you are really dealing with, so a little more respect might be a good idea.”

Kandric hid how satisfied he felt as he saw all four men slowly nod as his words sank in. Instead he decided to not let them dwell on what might or might not be in the Swamp Slums, “So can we go play in the lower dungeon now?”

Londow’s face scrunched up a little, “Umm, yea, I guess, but I’m not so sure about playing.”

Rylop snickered, “Remember you be dealing with a Ruinseeker! They don’t think normal!”

“Hey!” Kandric shouted as he led the way down to the boys’ section of the dungeon.

Londow laughed, as he grabbed the keys. “Well, you guys don’t! How many people enjoy poking around in dungeons, grave yards, and destroyed castles.”

Kandric flashed a huge smile, “Me!”

Rylop patted Kandric’s shoulder; “I rest my case!”

Kandric entered the cell area with Rylop and watched the expressions on the kids’ faces as well as the guards watching them clean out the upper corridor. All activity stopped as he moved in to inspect the first few cleaned out cells. Finally, Kandric moved back out and glanced around. “You all knew I was spell caster and was guilded, so stop gawking and get to work!” He paused for a moment then put on a very nasty smirk, “unless any of you want to see if they can take me on and become the leader down here.”

It didn’t take long for the kids to get back to work. If anything they worked harder because of the implied threat. The guards even turned up the pressure as they realized the small Halfelf was indeed a Secondary Echelon spell caster.

Kandric looked to Rylop, “We should take a few of the older kids for torch and oil carriers and a couple of extra guards to keep them safe just in case of trouble. There is no way of telling if something may have moved in down there.”

Rylop didn’t hesitate. He pointed to two of the guards and four of the older boys, “Take those four up and get them ten torches and fifteen flasks of oil each. With the few rats we saw up here there are likely to be a whole host of them as we get deeper. Make sure each boy is given some shoes and some leather chaps to protect they lower legs. I don’t want any of them getting bit let alone diseased by rat bites.”

Kandric looked over the four selected boys. He smiled as he realized Rylop had carefully selected boys he knew were trainable yet had not received any real training. This made them more useful than mundanes would have been but not as dangerous as bringing down kids with real training. “I want them to each have a dagger and they should carry a couple of score worth of extra arrows for us as well as a water skin and some extra food. I want them equipped with at least the basics of adventuring gear.” He pulled out four gold coins he had received for some of the spells he had sold. “I saw your armory up stairs and know you have the goods but, this should cover the cost and should get them all full leather armor. If it does not cover the cost of all the supplies, I’ll get the rest to you later.”

“You want me to arm the prisoners?” The Dwarven guard asked with a startled voice.

Rylop thought it over for a second, “Kandric’s right. They may need such gear if they get separated from us or have to run for any reason. I don’t expect trouble none, but it be best to be over ready then not ready enough. Besides, Kandric be the Ruinseeker and he be running this show.” Rylop paused for a second then added, “Unless you want to fight a Secondary Echelon Shaman.”

The Dwarf grumbled but shook his head; “I’m not stupid enough to play with no spell thrower.”

Londow grunted, “Besides, he be paying and has the gold to back it up!”

“Right, a boy with gold.” The dwarf complained, “While I make a lousy 2 silver a week.” The Dwarf headed up the stairs mumbling, “One little snot nosed brat has more money in his pocket than I get in two blasted years! There is something very unfair about this world!”

Kandric couldn’t wait. He moved down the passageway with Londow and Rylop right behind him. By the time the three had broken the lock on the bronze door and forced it open the others were equipped and ready to move forward. A wave of dank and musty air washed over the group as the door was forced open.

One of the boys behind Kandric spat, “What died down there?”

Londow held his nose, “Good question, but I’ll bet ya it’s just old and stale. Let’s have two of ya light torches. When they burn down we’ll have the next two light theirs. None of ya will get too tired and we won’t waste no torches.”

Rylop nodded, “Good plan.” He pointed to two of the boys; “You’ll be the first to carry torches. Stay close, but don’t stand right next ta each other. The further apart you are, the more light we’ll have.”

Kandric shook with excitement as he entered the long forgotten passageway. He was somewhat surprised such an area had been sealed off to begin with and wondered what had led to such a decision. With any luck, the answer or answers could be found. He could not help but notice he was probably the only one to find this truly fun. The guards themselves were slightly uneasy in the corridors of the deepest part of the original fortification, which had over the centuries become Slome. They men moved in right behind Kandric, making sure there was no danger to the youthful prisoners. Each door was pulled open, some even had to be pried because age had taken its toll on the solid bronze doors and the thick bronze pegs which slid into the rock to lock the doors. Almost all the bronze in the passageways had long ago turned an ugly green.

Occasionally a mouse or rat would try to scamper away, but they were dispatched with arrows and their nest burned out with oil when located. Such creatures could case sickness and, therefore, needed to be rooted out and destroyed.

It was clear to not only Kandric, but also the rest of the kids how the guards were surprised at how vast and deep the long unused section of the dungeon was. Its passages twisted and turned; there were over a dozen sets of hallways with small cells branching off from the main hall, each with a solid bronze door locking it off from the rest of the halls. In addition to the cells there were long forgotten barracks areas for the guards. Behind two doors the surprised group found fully laid out kitchens and one large mess hall for troops. One of the Kitchens was for the prisoners, the other for the guards. It was obvious to all those seeing them, which was which. The guard’s kitchen had a full sized pantry and still held a large amount of cooking equipment. While the other held six fire places and six large bronze kettles with massive wooden holders, which could be wheeled down the halls to feed all the captives. Of course all the bronze had long ago turned green from lack of care and the wooden carts for pushing the kettles were completely rotten and mice ridden. Still, for a Ruinseeker, Kandric found the exploration to be fascinating!

One question kept nagging at him. As he watched the last of the wooden carts be put to the torch in the prisoner kitchen he turned to Rylop. “It is a good thing there is still air flowing through the corridors to clear the smoke, but where is it all going and where are the mice and rats getting all their food?”

Rylop paused as he watched the flames quickly consume the rotten wood. He looked around the room and watched the smoke swirl out and out the chimney over one of the lager cooking fire areas. He frowned. “Good question.” He turned to the two other guards he had assigned to help clear out and inspect the lower dungeon. "Kandric, Londow and me will finish down here. You two split up. One of you needs to round up all them kids still working up stairs and get each of ’em into one of them tiny cells fer two hours or so. As we’ve seen there be more then enough of rooms for the brats. I’d bet there’ll be no problems getting them to agree ta Kandric’s scheme once them boys get a feel for what life ’ll be like if they argue.

"The other one needs to alert our guards and look for where this smoke is coming out. Kandric’s right. All this smoke has ta be going somewhere.

Kandric sighed, “Lets burn all of these wooden cauldron holders to give them a chance to find where this chimney leads. We should probably mark where we are and continue the exploration after we take care of an annoying Gnoll infestation.”

Rylop snorted, "Ya know Kandric, my men be scared of a single Gnoll while you talk about a hoard of them as mere bother, nothing more than a mosquito to swat.


Kandric moved down the slope of the ravine slowly, watching his footing. He smiled as some of the men behind him and Vondum cursed as they occasionally lost their footing. He stopped and looked across to the far side. It was difficult, but he could make out the Caravan forces as they worked down an equally steep slope. Scouts had verified the Gnoll village was right were the captives had said it would be. Unfortunately, the village was in a well hidden spot and access without detection was next to impossible.

Kandric held up his hand, signaling to Sy to stop the squad of men added to the attacking party from Slome. Kandric knelt behind a bush and glanced around.

“Problem?” Vondum whispered.

“Yes.” Kandric pointed to a small mound of loose stones; “This path is trapped.”

Vondum slipped down to the mound and brushed some of the stones away. Beneath it he found a tightly woven branch mat. It could easily support the weight of a small animal, but an armed swordsman would fall right through. “We’ll have to mark them.”

“I know,” Kandric stated while nodding toward the other group, “But if we have traps on this side, they are certainly going to encounter them. They are attacking from the Slome side.”

“You have to worry about our group, Kandric. They wanted the Slome side because they expected heavier resistance. They wanted the new troops I got for them to get the brunt of the combat so let them worry about what they face.”

“At the rate they are moving, we will get into position first though.”

Vondum laughed softly, “I offered to lead them. If I had, they would already be attacking the Gnolls.”

“I still think I could have gotten this group here first.” Kandric whispered back with a smile.

“You aren’t in the swamps, boy. You are good, but not as good as me out here.” Vondum uncovered some more of the trap and moved forward, “Let’s get our people into position then move forward on our own. Let’s see how far we can penetrate without backup.”

“Now there is a real challenge!” Kandric grinned with enthusiasm.

Two hours and eleven traps later Vondum positioned the squad from the Slome garrison. “Remember men, your job is support. I don’t want to hear about none of you stealing the show. Your primary job is to cover their backs and help if one or more of them get into trouble. Kandric and I are going to move in, track down their spell casters and kill them before they can do too much damage. Sy is your overall commander here, so his orders are law. Got it?”

One by one all eight men in the patrol nodded.

Sy gazed over the twelve structures and the pair of caves and shrugged, “We’ll be fine. They only got seven guards in sight and most of their workers appear to be young’ans. We must have hurt em bad when they hit the caravan.”

“They hurt themselves, and now they pay the price.” Vondum grunted as he motioned for Kandric to move in.

Kandric slipped from the cover of the bushes, stayed low and dashed to the side of the first building. He knelt long enough to make sure he had not been spotted before he slipped around to a small shack with a curl of smoke coming from the chimney. Kandric again knelt and waited for Vondum to catch up. It took only a few seconds. “You spotted something I didn’t you?”

Vondum nodded, “I saw an Illorc by the tiny cavern to the south.”

“The one by the pair of Spike Pines?”



“So. If an Illorc is in the camp, there is a reason for it. As best as I can tell, we are the only ones who spotted the tiny cave, so we need to find out what is there and if necessary keep it a secret. If Monarch is hiding something here, we cannot let it be revealed.”

“Why do you follow an Illorc?”

“Kandric,” Vondum sighed, “You will have to meet him to really understand, but he has good plan to bring together the entire plateau under a united rulership. I know some parts of the plan are less than pleasant. I also know the way you see it, are the same way others would see it if the plan ever got out. Give him a chance to win you over, Kandric. In the mean time, I really need your help on this.”

“You know I am with you, Vondum.” Kandric replied with a slightly hurt voice.

Vondum winced, “Sorry to question your loyalty, it’s just this may be very important. Then again, it may be nothing. One way or the other we need to find out. You circle to the left around the wood storage lean-to; I’ll cut around the long building to the right. If I am right, and we keep our heads down, we should be able to get to the tiny cave mouth without being seen by either group.”

“I would agree if the other group was in position to commence the attack, but they are not.”Kandric snorted. “If they are moving down the hill on target, there is a chance they will be able to see us.”

“We will have to risk it. We cannot allow any Illorcs to defend the whole village or exposure of what they are guarding is all but guaranteed.”

Kandric took in a deep breath and exhaled carefully to avoid any chances of his breath being seen then darted out from the cover of the building. Picking his way carefully and ducking behind natural cover over a dozen times before sliding up the rock face close to the small cave entrance. Two Illorc guards could be seen just inside the entrance that seemed to open up quickly beyond them. Kandric took a moment to steady his breathing before he cast a nap spell, splitting it in two.

Both Illorc guards staggered for a moment then fell to the floor. Kandric darted in the entrance, pulled out his dagger and cut off strips of cloth from the Illorc’s shirts. By the time Vondum appeared Kandric had gagged both guards and was in the process of tying their hands.

Vondum shook his head the second he saw Kandric. As he knelt he pulled out some rope, “Nice work on bringing them down, but these are Illorcs, my boy. They’ll snap those weak bonds in a matter of minutes.”

“I twisted the cloth.”

Vondum grabbed a strip of the cloth, twisted it tightly, and then augmented his strength. It took less than thirty seconds before he was able to tear it enough to snap it.

“Oh…” Kandric paused. “This is what Glaster taught me, though.”

“For Human’s, Goblins, Dwarves, Elves, and even Orcs tightly twisted cloth works great. The same doesn’t hold for Illorcs or powerful Warrior Adepts though.”

Kandric nodded understanding as he cut a section of the rope and retied the Illorc’s hands.

“Hog tie them so they can’t try to untie each other.” Vondum ordered.

Kandric slapped his head, “I never thought of them helping each other either. I guess I am not used to this kind of combat.”

“The important thing is you learn quickly and under pressure. Glaster taught you how to adapt quickly. It is one thing not to know; it is another thing to be willing to admit it. Follow my lead?”


Vondum checked Kandric’s knots then moved forward motioning for Kandric to follow. He moved taking his first left. Sticking to the left wall, he moved rapidly taking each turn. A few torches lit the passages, as they got deeper into the cave. Six times Vondum eliminated a lone Gnoll four other times the task fell to Kandric. Twice they paired up to take on and subdue an Illorc, and once they had to kill one. Finally the sounds of a combat school started echoing though the deeper parts of the cavern. Illorc voices issued commands for thrusting, followed moments latter with dozens of grunts as the maneuver was preformed.

Kandric pushed himself up against the cave wall next to Vondum, “OK, now what? We cannot fight an army.”

Vondum closed his eyes as he thought over options. Slowly he rubbed his hand over his hair then stopped suddenly. “We have no choice. We have to take out the cadre. With them out of the way, the students will fold.”

“How do we take out all the teachers?”

“Preferably, one at a time. Let’s backtrack, and work to the right. We are so deep right now; there is a very good chance the attack could happen without any of those we are hearing knowing the village was ever assaulted.”

“Then we may not even have to fight them?” Kandric Asked hopefully

“I’m rarely so lucky. It would be nice if it worked out, but I am more interested in taking out the outer guards. This will prevent this area from being discovered. Eventually one of the bodies we left behind will be found and the alarm sounded. When it happens, we will have to prevent those in here from making it out there.”

“Great! We get to act as gate guards.”

“More like prison guards, only all the prisoners are armed and wanting to break out. We have to stop them while killing as few as possible.”

Kandric rolled his eyes, “You make it sound so easy.”

Vondum grinned, “I just hope the assault is going better than our scouting mission!”


Outside the small hidden cave mouth, the assault was well underway. The guards fell quickly, as did the outer building. Fighting intensified as they closed on the four large central buildings. Sy finally ordered the Slome garrison in when a spell caster hit the caravan’s guard commander, Klorna with a flame spell of some sort. He twirled his fingers sending a burst of ice shards at the spell casting Gnoll knocking it down. “Move in. Hit from their flank and work toward the Caravan guards.”

Sy rushed forward, dropping a young Gnoll with a dagger in a single swipe of his mace. The other Slome guards moved forward with equal measures of success, but took slightly longer to do so. Sy, ignored the lesser Gnolls, went straight toward the one he noticed was doing most of the leading. As it raised its hammer Sy cast an ice spell on the handle of the weapon.

The Gnoll yelped in surprise and terror as its grip on its weapon failed and the hammer sailed backwards into the building.

Sy didn’t hesitate. He slammed his mace into the Gnoll’s midsection cracking a couple of ribs. As it doubled over he slammed the mace down between its shoulder blades.

The Gnoll coughed blood as it drew its dagger and sliced Sy’s leg wide open. Its eyes glinted for a moment before an arrow pierced its skull and ended its life.

Sy looked up to see one of Kandric’s brothers standing a good twenty paces back with a bow held in shaking hands. “Good kill! Stop, breath, and get your nerve back!” Sy watched in a mixture of pride and astonishment as the boy’s hands steadied and pulled another arrow out of the small quiver over his shoulder. The aim and release were next to perfect as the arrow zipped between two of his own people and embedded itself deeply into the chest of a Gnoll desperately trying to pull back. Half a dozen more arrows flew out of the tree line behind Kandric’s brother. Most missed. Still, the effects broke the remaining Gnolls’ moral.

The ill prepared Gnolls reacted badly without a good leader. In less than 5 minutes all resistance was crushed. Only one guard, who had gone unnoticed at the western entrance to the village, managed to slip away.

Klorna pulled herself over to Sy, “Glad ya recommended letting my students get some combat archery practice.”

Sy pulled out a bandage from his pack and tied off his leg, “Them Gnolls ‘ll be madder than a cornered Pit Badger if’n they find out it be kids firin’ arrows at em!”

“They’ll never find out. One of the teachers will pull them back and have them shoot at any of em who flee. Thanks for waxin’ the spell thrower for me!”

“Happy ta help.” Sy pointed to his leg; “Ya got a Healthman?”

“Yea.” Klorna pulled herself up with the help of a tree, “Healthman needed! Bad wound over here!”

One of the guards came over, “Commander, Klorna?”

The female Dwarf saw by the look on the man’s face something was wrong. The man almost looked sick. “Bad news?”

“Well, umm, I…”

“Spit it out solider!”

One of the Healthmen came over and knelt beside Sy, “Commander, Ya better take a look in those buildings. It’s kinda hard to describe.”

Sy nodded, “I’ll be fine. Go.”

The Healthman pulled off the bandage and crinkled his nose, “How in the name of the gods can you take this much pain! It’s all the way to the bone!”

“Then get to fixin’!” Klorna ordered as she leaned on the first guard, “Come on, let me go see what all the fuss is over!”

Klorna entered the first long building, took one look around and nearly feinted. There were dozens of cages on one side, each holding a single female. All but a few looked to be pregnant. On the other side were cages after cages holding very young half being, mostly Half-Gnolls, but others held Halforcs, Half-Kobalds, Half-goblins, and Half-Illorcs. Many of the half-beings were mis-formed and had labels on the cages listing Potion and then a number of one through six.

The guard lowered her to the ground. “The other buildings are similar. One contains male prisoners, mostly older teens, who have been forced to breed with other races. The third has the females they were forced to breed with and more creatures like you see in here.”

Klorna puked on the floor, wiped her mouth and shivered. “What’s in the last one?”

“Half-race kids who don’t look weird like these things do.” He pointed over to the misshapen babies held in the cage closest to him. “One of the large caves holds a huge Mystic lab and another two dozen pregnant females of different races. The other looks like it was their barracks for their troops. We captured several supply wagons, lots of weapons, and a huge amount of trade goods. It looks like theses Gnolls have been raiding caravans and using some of the prisoners for this.”

“What about the Mystic who ran the lab?”

The guard shook his head, "No sign of him. We are continuing to search, but it looks like he got away somehow.


Vondum looked at Kandric as the pair killed yet another Gnoll. “I count eighteen kills and ten subdued. There can’t be many left!”

“They have all been fairly good too!” Kandric yawned. “I guess I should have gotten some sleep last night after all.”

Suddenly a secret door opened behind Kandric. He spun with his sword lowered.

An Elderly man saw the boy and started a spell. A blade to his throat interrupted the castling long before it could be finished.

Vondum drew a line across the man’s chin drawing blood, “Mafto, Don’t do anything you couldn’t live through. Take your hands out of your pockets slowly. If I see a potion in either one, you are dead.”

The man’s eyes went wide, “Vondum?”

“Yes. And the lad you are trying to cast on could drop you with a spell faster than you can spit one out old man. Do not try us.”

“But the camp is under attack!”

“Indeed it is.”

“Don’t you care?”

“Why should I?”

“Vondum, this is one of Monarch’s training bases for his Half-race forces.”

Kandric’s eyes narrowed. “His what?”

The old Mystic glared down, “Boy shut up!”

Kandric snapped his fingers as he twirled his thumb. A sharp blast of cold air slammed into the man’s arm smashing it into the rock wall of the cave. Bones broke.

The man fell to his knees gripping his battered hand and arm.

“I think the boy, as you call him, was demanding an answer, not asking a question Mafto. I just finished warning you about his abilities. Don’t test him again. You may not live through it.”

“OK!” the man shouted half out of pain and half out of anger, “Monarch has had me set up three bases like this. We take the females captives from the caravans we raid who are in prime breeding ages and bring them here. They are forced to breed with other races. We also bring the older boys and use them for the same thing. I then use my potions to help things along. Those who show real potential are brought into the slave quarters here and breed with Illorcs.”

Vondum lowered his head into his hands, “And then the Half-Illorcs are trained. They are to be the bridge between the monster races and the other races since Illorcs are probably accepted more than any other Monster race, there is a good chance a Half-Illorc army would be accepted!”

Kandric felt his stomach heave, “Illorc’s cannot breed with humans! A human male cannot penetrate deeply enough and it would kill a human mother to have a litter of three or four pups of four to five kilos each!”

The Mystic looked at Kandric with a degree of surprise; “I designed a potion to keep the numbers to one, two at the most. It only works after the woman has had kids of two different half races who were not too badly malformed. Dwarves also takes two, Elves take three, but I have only succeeded four times with them.”

Vondum clenched his fist. “Mafto, you need to hide here until we clean out the village. Don’t let anyone be seen, got it?”


“Good. Kandric, fix his hand.”

“Are you sure?” Kandric’s voice betrayed his skepticism.


Kandric pulled up healing spell and cast it on the Mystic’s hand. Most of the bones mended. Kandric knew he could have done better, but just did not want to. He could tell by the look on Vondum’s face the man knew this as well. Kandric was pleased to see a slight smile creep into Vondum’s features as Mafto grimaced in pain as he opened and closed his hand.

Vondum lead Kandric back through the secret passage, making sure to seal it up on the other side. He then joined the victorious forces within the seized village. Looking down at Kandric he smiled, “Tomorrow you will meet Monarch.”

Kandric yawned again. “I need to get back to the dungeon.”

“Not until you get a full night’s sleep.”


“No, Kandric. You are too tired to think straight.”

Kandric put on his best pleading look.

Vondum smiled like he was about to give in. As Kandric lowered his guard, Vondum lowered his head and cast a Sleep spell. Before Kandric could react, he fell into a deep sleep.


In a dimly lit tent with only a well-tended fire keeping the outside cold fog at bay, a brooding figure sat on a Nightwood throne gilded in a mixture of silver and gold. The being’s clothing matched his dark expression; even this scene was no match for his terrible thoughts.

The figure gazed down at the base of his throne and barred his teeth at the charred lump of flesh. Moments ago the blackened mass had been a Gnoll. For a moment the face smiled slightly, thinking of the power of the spell that had killed the creature. The being even managed a brief chuckle when it thought of the ease in which the spell had been called forth. The gruesome expression faded quickly as the news the Gnoll brought came back to the front of his mind.

Standing, the being stepped down from his throne and began walking across the room. It stopped and began to pace as its mood again turned foul. Finally it relaxed enough to exit the tent. It growled as it pulled the fine Winter Wolf fur coat over its shoulders to block out the cold. From his hilltop vantage point it watched as its elite troops drilled. The figures’ movements seemed almost ghost-like in the winter fog. Another growl came from somewhere deep inside as it muttered, “Winter! This should be spring! Even the weather seems to stand against me!”

The voice faded as a frown returned. So long, the creature thought. So long I have planned, manipulated, schemed to arrange a corner of this world to be ripe for my conquest. Now this. Turning from the open tent flap, the brooding figure continued a slow stroll around the empty tent. Devoid of life now, since his outburst of rage sent all of his attendants fleeing for their lives. They would return. They always did. Yet he also knew there were two guards assigned to watch his tent and to guard him. They were close, but like the others even his personal guards knew when to give him space. Now was one of those times. When they were certain their Master’s anger had passed they would return. Such a time was not now. No, the time to be near him was most certainly not now. Events of the past few months had finally pushed him near the edge of his temper and beyond. How could such a simple plan face so many obstacles? Why didn’t others see what he wanted to accomplish?

He was an Illorc. A race of being related to the Orcs, but so, so much more. Illorcs were larger, slightly stronger, more handsome (even by Human standards), and vastly more intelligent. His race was superior to those brutish, loutish Orcs in every conceivable way. The fact most considered the Illorcs to be merely an offshoot of the Orcs was a constant point of aggravation. His race was more given to magic. He, himself, was a sorcerer of immense power. A general of unsurpassed skill.

He was Monarch! He was supreme! And, right now, he was furious.

Monarch firmly believed he had every right to be. Years upon years he has worked quietly. His agenda hidden by shadows and an elaborately constructed background which left him shrouded in myth, even to those in his own race. Seldom did he show himself. Now, on the verge of the beginning of his conquest, his plans threatened to unravel yet one more time. Bandurlok had caused his first failure and had regretted it; matter of fact still was regretting it. Yet, once again his grand and simple plan was being threatened. This time the threat was not external though and this bothered him far more than the petty interference of a Black Dragon Prince.

First there were the Gnolls. Just one of his servant races. They had begun to raid against his strict orders. Caravans coming up the pass only, he told them, to strangle trade and isolate the lands for easier conquest. They failed. Instead of following new marching orders like good troops, they let pride rear its ugly head. “We are warriors, not thieves,” they would claim when confronted. Then, inexplicably, all communication with the Gnolls ceased. Well at least until an hour ago, all communication had ceased. Monarch looked back at the tent witch held the smoldering body with a bit of satisfaction. “Worthless clan got what they deserved!” He once again muttered out in a low dangerous voice. He returned to the relative comfort of the tent with a sharp turn. Outside someone would come up to him, ask him a silly question, no it was better for his people to stay away at the moment and he knew it. He pushed aside the tent flaps with enough force to tell his guards now was not a good time to disturb him. He had to do some thinking and clam down first.

The Gnolls were hardly the only problems facing Monarch. Others included Gambra. His servant had fouled up nearly every assignment she had been given. Her attack in the city of Junsac was too bold and her methods too sloppy. Releasing demon larvae was foolish. The leaving of witnesses, even children marked for sale, was extremely foolish. Even now, Monarch had agents working to reclaim the brats and bring them to him. Such a waste of manpower and money bothered him far more than the actual act. He needed his people, his agents, to be working on matters of far more importance. Her behavior had brought far too many eyes to look in his direction, made his name be spoken far too many times in dark places, place where the Junsac Barony Watch kept their ears open. Worst of all, she had chosen Junsac, home of the Watch, to recapture the Prince. Of all places to regain the boy, Monarch could not think of a worse one. The risk of attracting the attention of so many powerful beings as were in the Watch was inexcusable.

The very fact her and her people had allowed the boy to escape within the walls of Junsac pointed to their lack of intelligence and carelessness. Now the boy was in the possession of someone very powerful, possibly even the Watch itself. The raiding party, more of an army really, which had been sent to retrieve the boy, had been wiped out and their bodies looted. All of the money he had invested to gather the force was probably being used to make the young prince even harder to retrieve. Yet one more in a list of Gambra’s many recent failures. Adding to the outright failures was a bit of treachery on Gambra’s part. She had left a jeweled butterfly at the scene of the demon larva attack as if trying to point a finger at him. Yes, someone had told her to do it. Bandurlok’s agent was paying for his fake message sent to the Dark Mage. His screams would continue for many moons until at last his vocal cords would stop working, and even then he would continue to scream; only his screams would be silent. Monarch doubted he would ever give the order to kill the Dwarf. Maybe, one day, he would allow the Dwarf to return to Bandurlok so other agents working for the great dragon would know the price of messing with Monarch. Still, Gambra should have known better or at least confirmed the order before doing something so stupid.

Monarch had finally concluded that the Dark Mage was simply too much trouble to tolerate. He had sent some of his assassins to kill her. In addition he managed to send word of bounty on her head large enough to ensure her demise without linking it in any way to himself. Word of her death would come as a welcome weight lifted off his shoulders.

Monarch again strode to look out of the flap of his tent. He turned his gaze skyward. A new growl of anger escaped his throat as a few light snowflakes hit him. Never in his 98 years of life had he seen such weather. It was clear that the gods had had a hand in all of this. It confused Monarch, and worried him. The gods never took such direct a hand in the affairs of mortals. They stayed aloof during the great Dragon Wars. In his own war with Bandurlok they never so much as batted an eyelash. Why, then, should they stick their noses into his affairs now? Could it have anything to do with the odd, subtle stirrings Monarch felt in the planes of magic? Was there some new being of interest to the gods? Monarch would have to investigate further into this, but later. More pressing, and more currently, were the matters of the lizard men. They were restless and would need to be dealt with soon. The Weather had hampered them, slowed them and made them vulnerable at a time when their strength should be returning; they were still weak and lethargic because of their dependency on warmth.

The most vexing of his problems, though, centered on Vondum. Monarch seethed as he thought about his ally. Concession after concession Monarch had made to get Vondum on his side. Promise after promise, some of which Monarch actually intended to keep others to be kept in sprit if not in truth, all to appease the Captain of Black Rapids. The man most likely to take over the city when the, ailing and childless Duke passes to the next realm. Still Vondum demanded more. More slaves, more money, more time, more control and above all more freedom. It was infuriating. If Monarch didn’t need the man so badly, he’d just as soon kill him outright. Monarch did need him though. Not only was Black Rapids strategically important, but fairly wealthy. In addition, it had a sizeable and very well trained army. Vondum himself had a considerable reputation and political influence in the area. Having Vondum on his side would make it easier to recruit others…BUT THE MAN WAS IMPOSSIBLE!

Now this latest news of Vondum’s deeds, brought to him by the only apparent survivor of the slaughter, was the final pebble of weight tossed onto his back, which had brought on this latest outburst of rage. Monarch stopped at the dining table on the far tent wall, opposite his throne and picked up a goblet of very expensive wine. He thought of the news as his grip tightened around the bejeweled ornate cup.

The Gnolls had attacked the caravan again just beyond the slums outside the city of Slome. His grip on the goblet tightened. They had been repulsed, by slum-dwellers and merchants! How had residents of slums thrown back one of his armies? The goblet began to warp under the pressure of his grip.

The Gnolls returned to their village, only to be beset upon by a counter-attack from the caravan. Wine began to spill from the shaking, shrinking mouth of the goblet. The Gnoll village was overrun, conquered and burned to the ground. All of the surviving Gnolls were captured part of his secret army, the one he planned on using to show the world Illorcs were not monsters was exposed. The wine exploded out of the golden chalice in a violent spray and the metal crushed as he thought of the name of the man who led the attack:




“What in perdition’s name is Vondum doing helping the Swamp Slum dwellers?” Monarch hurled the decimated grail with all of his might at the huge oaken banquet table where the command staff had their meals. It flew with blinding speed at embedded itself deeply in the hard wood. Servants would work long and hard later to remove it.

Monarch began pacing the floor faster, gritting his teeth in fury. Vondum should be back in Black Rapids, tending to his army, preparing them for his role in events to come. If not in Black Rapids, there were several places he could logically be. There were even a few reasons the man might have needed to travel to Slome. Monarch could come up with at least a dozen other places Vondum could be. All of them were locations that would make sense and where his orders could be being followed. Yet Vondum had no business being in the Swamp Slums, none! One thing was absolutely certain; the famed Captain of the Guard of Black Rapids had no right to destroy one of Monarch’s supporting forces. Even if the man didn’t know about the Half-Illorc forces being bread and trained by the Gnolls, he had no right to assist a rogue caravan in such a battle!

Ebony lightning surrounded Monarch’s fists, arcing up his arms as his rage boiled and peaked. His glowing eyes found the still smoking carcass lying on the floor. With a bone shaking bellow, Monarch sent a scintillating bolt of searing energy across the room to strike the smoldering corpse. The powerful spell slammed into the former Gnoll, encircling it, lifting it from the floor, and igniting it. Monarch’s roar of rage continued for several seconds as his powerful magic incinerated, rented, and pulverized the body of the Gnoll messenger.

Finally, his rage spent, and the tangy smell of ozone strong in the air, Monarch let the dust and ash fall to the floor. Yes, he thought, I’ve been behind the scenes too long. I’ve trusted too many others to do what I should have done myself. Monarch turned and strode out of the command tent pulling on the Winter Wolf fur coat as he did so. The attendants slowly made their way back to clean up the debris of his temper tantrum relieved that their master was looking calmer.

As he walked purposefully down the hill, Monarch allowed another small smile. Indeed. I will most certainly have to start taking a more personal hand in events. As one of my teachers said once, before I killed him, the only way to ensure success is to do it yourself. I will have to take more direct control of things.

My first order of business will be to deal with Vondum directly.


Glaster nodded to a burly Dwarf guarding the door to the back room of the Dry Tap Tavern. His nod was returned, but one had to really be watching to detect the slight head movement of the Dwarf. Anyone looking on would have gotten the feeling a private gambling game had been set up and only certain participants were allowed. Glaster jingled his pouch to further the deception as he entered and closed the door firmly behind him.

Two men glanced up from the single table in the room. A third being jerked at the sound of the closing door, but the leather bag covering the person’s head and upper body prevented any chance of seeing exactly what was going on.

Glaster stared at the hooded figure for a few moments then turned his attention to the pair of captors. He noted the sandy haired man on the hooded figure’s left side was Secondary step 2 while his black haired partner was only Primary step 3. He quickly focused his attention on the higher-ranking man. “What did he do to deserve the attention of the Watch, and how does this involve me?”

“Master,” the sandy haired man spoke with a quavering voice telling everyone in the room of his nervousness at being addressed by Glaster, “She was going from Inn to Inn looking for a one armed man leading a caravan of merchant apprentice children. She even went to the orphanage to hire children to search for her and report any findings back to her. She is offering twenty gold for good information.”

“Quite an impressive sum.” Glaster kept his voice hard yet neutral, “Spying on a senior Watch member shows a certain lack of intelligence and the money shows a very wealthy backer. Have you been able to inform Glaster of this situation?”

The sandy haired man’s face betrayed his confusion. Fortunately for him, his partner covered quickly, “Master, we sent word before you got here. Glaster is aware of the potential danger. Fortunately, whoever is looking for him seems to have lost track of his whereabouts, but there is evidence someone knows he is headed for the plateau.”

Glaster glared at the sandy haired man and tapped his head while silently mouthing the word “think!” He quickly turned his attention to the dark haired man, “Who does this woman work for?”

“She has not been forthcoming with much information, Master.” The man pushed over a small bundle; “This is everything she had on her.”

Glaster pulled the bundle apart and snickered as he saw the bundle included a full set of clothing, “I gather she is not wearing much under that leather bag?”

“Like I said Master, you are looking at EVERYTHING she had on her.”

Glaster again chuckled, “I always have praise for someone who does a thorough job.” He continued to dig through the assortment of belongings. His eyes suddenly hardened as he saw a small spell book bound in Bloodwood. He wrapped his hand in the woman’s cloak and picked up the book. Holding it up to the candle he moved it slowly back and forth, dark red liquid rolled around within the cover. “She is a Dark Mage!”

The sandy haired man’s hand shot to his blade and drew it. Continuing the motion, the blade descended toward the woman’s head.

Glaster’s blade stopped the swing, “No. If you kill her the book dies.”


“The book has the life blood of her first victim rolling around inside it. You kill her and the being or creature will become a Quasi-Vampire, needing to suck blood to survive, once it drains enough life force from others it will become a fledging Vampire, Wraith, or Ghoul depending on the power of the victim before she drained it.”

Both men gasped in shock. The dark haired man finally managed to speak “So what do we do?”

Glaster grabbed the woman’s hand. “Watch and learn.”

The woman gasped as she felt her finger being pulled back.

“Release your first kill and destroy your book!”

“No chance Watch scum!” the woman hissed.

Glaster yanked back on the woman’s finger. A snap of bone followed, “I do not think I heard you correctly.”

A scream sounded from under the bag.

Glaster wiggled the broken finger, “I have nine more fingers and ten toes left and I get to play with them some as well. You will destroy your book, how long it takes and how much pain you have to endure is up to you.”

The whimpering woman muttered a pair of arcane words as Glaster started to bend her thumb painfully back toward the back of her hand. The book cover shriveled as dark red blood poured out onto the table. A face of an old man appeared in the pool of blood and spoke, "My thanks for stopping my daughter’s use of my essence for her treacherous goals. I may now finally pass on. But let me first tell you what I know. Her Master is a Halfling woman by the name of Gambra. Gambra’s plans are to eliminate by assassination someone by the name of King Wyhrem and take over his kingdom by being given power as Queen Pro-tem by a young prince who is somehow magically under her partial control. The face of the man faded as the blood hardened on the table leaving thirteen normal spell pages and six spell pages with dried blood on their edges.

Glaster’s voice hardened to a deadly edge, “How does Gambra control the Prince?”

“Even if I knew, you could not force such information out of me you Watch bastard!”

Glaster glanced at the two men. “Keep breaking fingers until she tells you. If you run out of fingers and toes, mangle her hands so she cannot cast and kick her out on the road outside of town.”

“I don’t know!” the woman screamed in horror upon hearing the words.

“Then you will be allowed to go free by the end of the day wench.” Glaster snorted out with a degree of enjoyment in his voice.

“What if she does know?”

“Then get Glaster the information and break her hands so she cannot cast. At least she will keep her feet intact.”

Glaster wrote down instructions to make sure the woman was followed regardless of what happened. He then grabbed the pages with bloody boarders and pointed to the rest of the spell pages. “You two split those and sell them as your reward once you get rid of the trash on the chair over there.”

The woman again screamed, “You cannot do this! Just kill me!”

“No way.” Glaster stated calmly as he walked toward the door. “Sometimes the Watch likes to leave their victims alive to show what we do to those who mess with us.” As he exited the back room he read the crack of bone and another scream of agony. By the time he exited onto the street he wore a wide smile of satisfaction.


Vondum patted Kandric on the shoulder. "The figure coming out of the tent up there is who you are here to meet. Do not back down from him or appear weak, yet remember he is a Master Echelon Sorcerer who has a next to legendary temper when insulted. He will test you, but some of his tests will be to see how fast a thinker you are, how fast to anger you tend to be, and how quickly you recover from surprise. For he sees these things as traits of leadership. Any trained being can swing a sword or cast a spell, but not all trained being can lead.

“I am ready Vondum. I am just glad I got a full night’s sleep after the skirmish with the Gnolls. I still do not understand why you kept the Half-beings secret, but maybe I will understand more after this meeting.”

“You will.” Vondum promised, then his face changed, “This is not good.”


“I can tell by Monarch’s stance he is not happy. He may already know of my involvement with the destruction of the Gnoll clan.”

“Will he understand the reasons once he hears them?”

“Eventually. But I better start thinking up a concession or two to give him.”

Kandric smiled, “You have my ability to send his reinforcements to the Lizardmen. What more do you need?”

A slight grin broke out on Vondum’s face, “Very true. I do like the way you think.”

Kandric moved forward again, “Come on, let us get this over with so I can finish checking out the Slome dungeon!”

“Which will give me the chance I need to talk to the good ole governor of Slome and seize all Velert’s assets within the city and transfer them to you. He may have gone into deep hiding, but without money he will have to resurface. When he does, I will deal with him!”

Monarch saw Vondum moving up the hill toward his encampment. There was a nasty snarl to his face as he looked at his bodyguards, “Leave me now!”

As Vondum drew closer, Monarch noticed a boy with the huge man, a boy with red hair, an almost certain sign or magic potential. His curiosity surpassed his anger and prepared speech for Vondum as he realized the boy wore nothing to indicate he was a slave. In fact, quite the opposite could be seen as the pair moved closer. The child was armed and armored. This was too strange a sight to believe; for one thing Monarch did know was Vondum’s taste for boys. He liked to break his toys, to humiliate them, make them believe they were nothing more then living toys to be played with. This youngster could not have carried himself in a more opposing manner.

Monarch took a brief moment to look at the magical energies surrounding the boy. The flow was astonishing. He shook his head and cast a Detect on the unknown child. At Master Echelon a detect spell could tell the caster how powerful a being was, not like Echelon and Step, but instead it told the caster about innate magic, the being’s internal magical energies. He sent out his magical feelers slowly. Once they got close Monarch Knew the magic he felt was indeed from the child. A massive flow of Shamanistic forces surrounded the child. Shocked he decided to probe a little further.

Kandric suddenly felt the wind swirl around him. He paused for a moment and entered the Spirit realm for an instant.

The wind spirit swirled close by; “Your magical aura is being looked at my strange mortal friend.”

“Thank you wind spirit. I will be on guard, but unless there is an attack I will let it continue. If you sense something is being directed at me for harmful reasons swirl around me again.”

“With pleasure!”

Monarch felt a resistance to his probe and a strengthening of magic surrounding the youth for a moment then it calmed again. Monarch pushed his spell forward enough to touch the boy. It was the only way to know exactly what type of power he was facing. Was it wild, untamed magic, or was it controlled and tempered by training? The magical feelers got close and recoiled as the found the answer. A backlash of raw magic streamed back down the feelers and into Monarch.

Monarch was ill prepared for a child being in so total control of power very few trained adults could hope to contain let alone utilize. With control came magic defiance, and defiance reacts against intruding spells. Most mundanes thought magical defiance simply prevented damage from magic or at least reduced the damage done by magic. This was true, but only in the case of damage causing spells. Magic defiance provided far more than protection. It was a living extension of the life force surrounding a trained being. It was the extra power drawn upon in battle, which gives a higher Echelon being such an advantage in combat. Magic defiance shaped all of the guilds’ systems of ranking members within the guilds, yet it couldn’t be measured. The whole reason each guild had developed tests was to determine not only skill, but also the magical energies which surrounded a being. In other words, the tests put some kind of comparison to the strength of true magical defiance while setting aside the fact the race and Field of a being had much to do with the beings’ actual ability to protect themselves from spells. In simple terms Magical Defiance was quirky. If it didn’t have to defend the being it could strike back automatically, as was the case with Monarch’s detect spell.

Monarch felt his spell go sour, knew in the instant before the backlash struck him it was going to happen, but was too surprised to let the spell go. The wave of magic burst forth around Monarch in an explosion of thousands of sparks. Thankfully for Monarch, his magical defiance came to his aid and killed most of the damage, but the effects still set his clothing on fire.

Vondum instantly pulled his sword, looking for the attacker as bodyguards rushed up the hill to protect their leader.

Kandric, on the other hand, knew exactly what had happened. He had felt the spell backfire. This knowledge allowed him to react far faster than anyone else.

Kandric knelt and pushed his hands deep in the snow. He muttered a trio of arcane words and wiggled his fingers. Twin waves of snow shot out from where his hands were buried and raced up the hill. When they reached the burning figure they curled like waves in an ocean and washed over the figure, extinguishing the fire. Long before the first Illorc made it to the side of Monarch, the flames were out.

Kandric had to bite his tongue to prevent himself from laughing as the Illorc stood up after being knocked over by the waves of snow. It snarled, shook his head and smacked at the couple of places where his clothing was still smoldering. If nothing else happened in his lifetime Kandric had gotten a measure of revenge for both Jamon and Conth. He decided to remain silent. Kandric was curious as to what the Illorc would do. Part of him expected to beast to outright lie about what had happened while another part hoped Vondum had chosen to work under someone with the decency to admit a mistake.

Monarch shook his head again to clear it as he spat out some snow. He staggered for a brief moment before he realized what an uproar the whole of the camp was in. Glancing around he was surprised to find Vondum had taken command of his forces and was organizing a defense. Such actions were not the mark of a traitor.

Monarch then focused his attention on the red haired child. The boy met his eye contact and smiled, but otherwise remained quiet. Monarch was not one used to being upstaged, but he had no one to be angry at this time but himself. It had been a long time indeed since one of his own spells had backfired and he couldn’t ever recall one doing so with such zeal. He couldn’t help but return the smile with one of his own and winked.

Kandric was astonished by the reaction. There was no anger from the beast, not resentment. Instead there was a hint of camaraderie and respect. Kandric decided there was indeed a side to the Illorc worth respecting. To his end he made a slight nod and remained silent.

Monarch found himself impressed by the boy. The lad showed unusual restraint and even had the common sense to allow the first exchange to be done with barely noticeable non-verbal communication. It was equally clear the child had not even told Vondum what had happened. This allowed Monarch to regain control without having to admit to a failure.

The Illorc didn’t take long to reorganize his thoughts, "Stand down! He shouted to the hasty defense organized by Vondum.

Vondum spun around, “Who attacked you?”

Monarch paused long enough to give Kandric another wink. “It was a long distance scrying attack, and it failed. My guess is Bandurlok or one of his agents managed to pinpoint me for a moment with a crystal ball and used the opportunity to launch a surprise attack. I have put up a spell to block further such nuisances.”

Kandric covered his mouth with his hand to hide the sudden smile.

Vondum moved up the hill, “Are you OK?”

“I am fine, thanks in a large part to your fine little Shaman with the weird spell. I must say it has been more than a few years since I have seen a totally new spell to me.”

“Indeed!” Vondum laughed, “Yet I am willing to bet my favorite Wilderness Scout has dozens more he could show you. I have seen him cast an array of such strange spells. As a matter of fact he has even allowed me to catch a few of them.”

Monarch raised an eyebrow; “He is really one of your Wilderness Scouts?”

“Yes, and he earned it Monarch. I do not give such positions away, no matter how cute the recipient.”

Monarch exhaled, watching his breath in the cold air for a moment. “I can feel his power. I have no doubt he is quite advanced.”

“You have no idea, Monarch.”

Monarch stifled a chuckle, “Um, yea, I do.”

Kandric again had to cover his mouth with a hand. This time he hid a giggle behind a fake cough.

Vondum knew he was missing something, and his facial expression told both Kandric and Monarch as much. Yet the Warrior Adept decided to let it slide.

Monarch moved up to Kandric, “Mind if I ask what spell you knocked me over with?”

Kandric was relieved to have something to really talk about. This way he could hide how funny he thought the whole turn of events had been. “It is in essence a wave spell, I learned from a friend how such water spells could work with all forms of water. A wave can be cast with snow, ice, or even steam if you slightly alter how you speak the triggering phrase. I simply changed the Shamanistic word for water to snow when doing the casting. Everything else remains including the basic effects. Since there was a solid sheet of snow between you and me it worked just like a water wave would have. It was the quickest way to put out the fire from the distance I was at.”

Monarch stood transfixed by the explanation. The boy had just opened a new door of magical research that had next to unlimited potential. Almost any casting could be altered in such a way; even Sorcery with its manipulation of raw magic energies could utilize the principals.

“Monarch, are you really OK?” Vondum asked with some concern in his voice

Monarch jerked out of his momentary stupor, “Um, yea. Yes, I am fine. I can tell you both I have much interest in continuing this conversation on magic in the future. I find myself being the student and my teacher being a child. The boy is quite something.” Monarch reached down and ruffled Kandric’s hair. Even with such a mild contact, Monarch felt the ties of magic around the boy were strong, terrifyingly strong. In the second of contact Monarch knew without question where a large part of the strange magic he had been feeling were centered. Yet there was more wild magic shifting through the fabric of enchantment than this boy. Something strange was certainly close to happening. He also was certain the boy in front of in would play a role and, unless he missed his guess, it would be a large role.

“There is no question, Monarch. Yet I sense there is a problem.” Vondum continued never realizing Monarch mind had drifted.

Monarch’s eyes showed confusion but his stance hardened as he focused on his conversation with Vondum, “There is one, yes.”

“What is it?”

“I was just trying to figure out why you come to my defense one moment and attack my forces another. What sort of treachery are you up to Vondum?”

Vondum stood speechless for a second as if the words had delivered a physical blow. “What do you mean, treachery?”

Anger flashed across Monarch’s features, “You kill my Gnolls, destroy one of my training camps, and show the world my secrets! How can this not be treachery!”

“It was not an act of treachery!” Vondum shouted back.

“What would you call it then?” Monarch snarled.

Kandric slammed his hands together suddenly. The ground around him, as well as Vondum and Monarch, cleared of all snow as it quickly melted. The temperature went up as a dome of warm steam formed over them. “Would you two hot heads knock it off?” Kandric shouted, “If you want to warm up, then do so with magic. It is my fault the Gnolls are dead and your little cadre of Illorc teachers and their classes of young Half-beings are safe and still secret!”

Vondum and Monarch both stopped in a mixture of shock and awe.

Monarch put up his hands and took a step back from Vondum. “Um, young one?”

“Yes?” Kandric replied with an acid-like voice.

“What exactly did you just cast?”

“A steam bubble.” Kandric replied calming some.

“A steam bubble?” Vondum asked as he looked around the now almost tent-like dome of steam surrounding the small group.

“What exactly is a steam bubble?” Monarch managed to inquire as he poked at it and quickly withdrew his hand as it was scalded.

“It is a Shaman ice bubble, only it is made out of steam instead of ice.” Kandric answered with a sigh as he realized he had managed to stop the argument.

“Um, can my troops hear me through this bubble young one?”

Kandric frowned, “Sure, why?”

Vondum managed a chuckle, “Because right about now there are at least six Illorc bodyguards charging up the hill with exactly one goal in mind. All of them probably think someone has just attacked Monarch again.”

Kandric’s eyes went wide as he realized his rash actions were probably causing a major panic in Monarchs forces, “Oops.”

Monarch exploded in laughter, “Oh by the gods I wish I could see their faces!”

“Um, either Kandric needs to cancel this spell or Monarch needs to call off his guards or we are going to have a real mess on our hands.”

Monarch managed to grab Kandric’s hand before he could snap his fingers and end the spell. “No, no. I kind of like the sauna effect after living out of a tent for the last five months. No sense in wasting the magic.”

Still laughing Monarch shouted out, “I am fine! The boy was just showing me a new spell. We will rejoin you in a while!”

A reply came from just outside the steam bubble, “Are you sure my liege?”

“Positive! Don’t touch this blasted thing. It’s hot!”

“As I already found out my liege!”

“Me too!” Monarch replied with laughter.

“Um, sorry Mr. Illorc” Kandric called out in embarrassment. “My mistake!”

Grumbling and cursing about being burned could be heard from several voices on the other side of the thick wall of steam along with comments about a brat casting magic. The voices diminished as they moved further away.

Vondum sank to his knees in a fit of laughter, followed moments later by Monarch.

Kandric stood watching the pair shaking his head. He didn’t know whether he should find more embarrassment or humor in the whole situation. One thing was very certain. He felt incredibly silly.


Sardan broke his concentration with his watch pin and glanced around the party going one below decks of the Thunder Rapids. He shook his head to clear it. The magical method of communication within the watch was amazing and allowed for up to the minute updates, but it tended to be tiring and always gave Sardan a massive headache.

He moved over to Aster and Pocet. “We have new orders.”

Pocet looked up from his pate of smoked fish, “We?”

“Yes. Aster has been put on my team and your status as a watch member is no longer probationary. Because of lack of manpower, the Watch voted to count your stand in the arena as one successful mission and the destruction of the forces lead by Quavis’ father as the second. If you still want it, you are now a member.”

Pocet felt his eyes go wide and his mouth go dry. Taking a quick slug of ale to calm his nerves he answered. “Yes I want it!”

"Fine. We’ll get you a watch pin as soon as possible; in the mean time you are part of my team along with Aster. We have been directed to break off our plans and move instead to Everone. Our direct commander for this special assignment is Master Lannet, who I might add, used a Watch marker to get a full team to help Aster down there.

Aster frowned, “How’d they know I was going down to Everone?”

“I have no clue, Aster.” Sardan admitted, “But Lord Falk put in a marker of his own to make sure yet another Watch team is going down to help out Master Echelon Shaman Glaster.”

Aster could tell his eyes were bugging out of his head in surprise, “By the gods, what is happening down in Everone?”

“I do not know my young friend, but I have one more piece of news.” Sardan paused as if trying to put all the information is some sense of order, “Master Lannet and Lord Falk gated to Everone shortly after the Watch council voted to allow both Watch markers to stand.”

“It went to a vote?” Aster managed to gasp out as he started choking on the milk he had just taken a drink of.

“Yes it did. It was also a very close vote with Glaster casting the tie breaking vote on getting a team to help you, Aster.”

Pocet had a hard time believing all this information;"I don’t understand why the Watch wouldn’t want a team to help one of their own.

“It’s not so simple.” Aster answered for Sardan after clearing his throat; “The watch already had two teams in Everone. One to protect the Marquis and the other to find out why we are being attacked and who exactly is behind the attacks. We are spread razor thin right now and having four teams plus Glaster, Lannet, and Falk in one area is all but unheard of. We might as well move Watch headquarters to Everone with so much of our active teams there!”


Falk walked down the Garbage strewn streets of Everone looking at the faces of the peasants who lived and worked within the walled city. He saw nothing but fear, hopelessness and hunger. Even the city guards looked on the verge of wanting to abandon the city. “I have never beheld sssssuch defeat in sssso much of a population before.”

“Nor I my friend.” Lannet responded. “My Winged Panthers are getting jumpy because of the fear and despair in the air. My question is simply what are we doing down here.”

“I have no clue Lannet.” Falk conceded after a brief pause. “I think it besssst if we find a building to rent, hunker down, and wait. I have the feeling sssssooner or later the answersssss will find ussss.”

“Wonderful,” Lannet muttered, “Here I am in a body back in its prime and I end up growing old once again waiting for something to happen and I don’t even know what in the blazes I am looking for!”

Falk laughed, “Why Lannet! I have not heard ssssuch fire in your voice in almost a century! It be good to see my old and dear friend back among the fightersssss of the world! Why not check in with the local Captain of the Guard and head out for a little bit of bandit hunting while we wait?”

Lannet snickered as he stretched, “For the first time in a few decades, hunting down and wiping out a few bandits actually sounds fun. Let’s do it!”


Monarch stifled a yawn as he made a quick tour of his camp and checked on his guards. The Illorc’s personal guards were the best he could field and they took their responsibilities seriously, but like any soldier it never hurt to see the over all commander checking up on them once in a while.

Monarch handed back the pair of swords to the inner camp patrol and muttered in a somewhat disapproving way of the need to keep the blades clean and oiled better. Both guards responded with dismayed looks and sharp salutes at having failed the impromptu inspection. Being selected to the camp of Monarch was more than just an honor; it meant better pay and food as well. It would be a shame to lose such a posting because one’s blade was not oiled properly.

Monarch finished his inspection before reporting his finding to the sergeant of the guard and the captain of the camp watch. The two Illorcs listened to the lackluster report with a mixture of anger and fear. Monarch let them sweat a few moments before dismissing them. Monarch smiled as the two Swordsmen walked out of the tent with scowls on their faces. The next few days would be hard on his troops but they would be better for it and there would be no more slacking off on minor duties for at least a few weeks.

Satisfied, Monarch sat at his planning table and went over his disposition of forces again. He cursed to himself as he crossed off the Orc Clan Raven and looked in dismay at the Gnoll Wolf Clan. Vondum was correct, of course. The Gnolls had disobeyed orders and had attacked the caravan. Allowing such an undercutting of authority to go by unpunished would erode the authority of the upper leadership. Yet letting the clan be destroyed weakened his hold on Slome and the Swamp Slums to a degree where he could no longer call the area controlled at all. The Goblins were useful, but could not be relied upon enough to engage in real battle without running away. The only other resources in the area were two fledgling Gnoll clans and a detachment of Illorc elite guards. He could not use his Illorcs though. Illorcs had to look like the saviors of the region when the time was right.

There was a second Orc clan to the north which up till now Monarch had set aside as a reserve unit but they only had a pair of fully trained spell casters. Neither had progressed to Secondary Echelon in ability. They would be no match for the well-trained garrison of Slome and the sudden emergence of power from within the Swamp Slums. The next nearest force was a breakaway group of Lizardmen who formed their own clan after their clan had formed a peace bond with their former Lizardmen clan enemies. They could easily pick up the slack around Slome in warmer months, but it was far from warm yet and winter didn’t show a desire to allow spring to enter yet. The lethargic Lizardmen would be no better then a band of Kobalds in the cold.

Monarch slammed his fist on the table as rage temporarily pushed aside rational thought, “In a matter of a pair of weeks my southern boarders have collapsed because of one blasted caravan!”

One of the personal guards glanced in to make sure Monarch was not in danger, “Master, is there anything you require?”

Monarch clenched both of his fists and forced himself not to shout at the guard. Instead he allowed his mind to clear as he pushed the anger inside back down to a controllable level, “Holgab, you have been with me for over three years have you not?”

“Yes master.” The guard answered in some surprise at actually being spoken to.

“You were in the war against Bandurlok and his armies and have seen us emerge more powerful, yet you have never once stated your opinion on any of my actions. Why?”

The massive Illorc frowned deeply, “Master, I was barely a pup when your army took me in. My only goal is to keep you safe as your army did for me and my siblings. I graduated your Warrior Adept school with highest of marks for combat and was thus assigned to your camp. I then took out a pair of Green Dragonlings attempting to sneak into the camp with poison and was given the job of protecting you while one of your other guards recovered from injuries received in the same attack. I have never been reassigned nor have I wanted to be.”

Monarch’s eyebrows shot up, “I cannot say I knew any of this about you, yet you still have not answered my question. Why have I never heard your opinion of my operations? You have been my lead personal guard for over a year, your duties could easily be to sit in a tent and order the rest of my personal guard to pull their shifts without ever standing out in the cold. You are at a rank equal to those of any of my Guard commanders, yet I cannot remember ever hearing what you think. You are intelligent enough to have stopped three assassination plots against me and one against Vondum. You have always made sure my personal guards have the best of training and do not let them go soft, and you keep a budget for my personal guard without ever needing to ask for extra money. This shows intelligence and cunning. So now I am asking you for something I have never once gotten from you, your opinion.”

Holgab held up his hand, “Give me a minute to get a second guard posted to your tent and I will be back.”

Monarch nodded approval and watched the Illorc exit the tent. As he waited he wondered how he could make 100 more just like Holgab. His entire adult life Monarch had dedicated to carving out a place for his kind. His guiding dream was to create place where Illorcs would be accepted and could even rule. So many times his forces had helped out Illorcs only to have them turn their back on him. It was nice to see a case where his actions had been appreciated.

Holgab came back only a few moments later. The big Illorc bowed slightly, “Master, what exactly did you wish my opinion on?”

Monarch smiled while motioning for his lead guard to sit across from him, “I am curious to hear what you have thoughts on. What am I doing right, where am I going wrong and when have I been a complete ass in my decision making.”

Holgab pulled up a chair and sat down, “Master, with all due respect it is easier for me to remember what I thought was wrong than it is for me to recall what I agreed with.”

“Fine!” Monarch responded with enthusiasm. “This chat may not change how I am doing things, but then again it might. I think what I need is a new perspective.”

Holgab sighed, “Master the first thing I disagree with is how you have extended your self and your resources so far. You have an army down in Everone, you have a very shaky alliance of forces up here and you are supplying two of the warlords in Morden with yet more manpower and money. Vondum is a capable leader up here, but you have limited leadership in Everone and almost none in Morden. The only reason those two idiots in Morden have any pull is because you keep throwing resources to them which could be used to strengthen the areas we control now.”

Holgab poured himself a mug of water and took a gulp before continuing. He was surprised Monarch remained silent so he continued, “We are getting returns up here from raiding caravans and we will make money when our forces reopen the routes up here, but we have gotten nothing from Morden. They should be sending you goods, slaves, and loot galore. After all, piracy and raiding is what the warlords are all about. Instead you send more and more money down there to keep them on the Council of Warlords. The only one doing you anything worth noting is that damned dark Elf and if your ties to him were ever discovered the Elves and Dwarves would send united armies to rip you limb from limb.”

Monarch nodded, "They would indeed. Yet the Drow have gotten what they wanted from me and now are paying me back. The warlords I am supporting, and as you say bankrolling, used their fleets to navigate a path through and capture an isle beyond the Fire Rim Barrier Isles. The Drow have a safe place to build some sort of a nation again and must continue to repay us out of fear of us telling the rest of the world of their new base. I agree our ties to the Drow are very dangerous, but they are through the warlords and I have plans surrounding them.

Holgab thought this information over for a few moments before shrugging, “Very well. I guess my other major complaint is how we are handling the activities up here then.”

Monarch seemed to straiten up a little. This was the information he had been waiting to here. “Please go on!”

Holgab shook his head as he took another sip of water. “I don’t see any loyalty from your leaders other than Vondum and his men. The Orcs, Goblins, and Gnolls obey your commands out of fear, not loyalty. You have given them power, training, and the ability to stand up to the Humans, Dwarves, Elves, Halfling, and others, yet I have only heard them complain when you ask for something.”

It took Monarch a few seconds to realize Holgab had stopped talking. Finally the Illorc Sorcerer shook his head and looked at the tent roof, “Your words have a strong ring of truth, but I don’t see any way of forcing loyalty onto or into them.”

Holgab shrugged, “You cannot force such a thing.”

“What other option is there?” Monarch’s eyes showed his interest

“With all due respect Master, you seem to fixate on brute force to solve problems. There are other ways.”

Monarch leaned forward, “Go on.”

“Over the last three years you have spent a great deal of time and money testing and training potential spell throwers, Swordsmen, and Animal Adepts from the various clans. We all know why this was necessary, Orcs, Gnolls, and especially Goblins don’t have the percentages of Field potential beings as the better races such as Humans and Halfling, let alone the higher races such as we, Elves and Dwarves enjoy.” Holgab took a breath and cast a spark Autospell into the fire for effect, “And the number of spell throwers they breed are truly miniscule.”

Monarch nodded, “Yes. The whole point was to train every Field potential being. It was and is the only chance I had to turn the lower races into a viable force.”

Holgab could see Monarch’s thoughts were not going in the same direction as his so he tried a new approach, “Master, our people, including me, trained almost all of them. I know for a fact whom I could trust from those I trained and who was just in it for the rise of power and prestige within their clan.”

Monarch’s eyes glinted with sudden understanding, “With the right moves and backing we could put those you and the other trainers trust into power within their clans!”

“Yes,” Holgab grinned, “then we could eliminate the current clan leaders. The clans would be slightly weaker for a while…”

Monarch cut Holgab off, “But they would be more loyal and would need our help. Their clans would see our help through the eyes of their leaders and we would gain even more loyalty!”

“Exactly, Master.” Holgab sighed, “I hate to say this master, but the best thing to happen was the destruction of Orc Clan Raven and Vondum destroying the Gnoll Clan Wolf. We can point to Clan leadership failure and use it as an excuse to rip out the old leadership from other clans within the low races.”

“Excellent idea Holgab.” Monarch’s voice stated with praise. “I need more thinkers like you. Find a replacement for yourself. You are getting a promotion to General, although one of your duties will still be to keep my personal guard at your high standards, I now want you at all strategy sessions from hence forth.”

“As you command master!” Holgab saluted, and then he turned and exited the tent.

“Now how do I make 100 more of him?” Monarch asked himself out loud as he thought over what his new general’s views of the overall situation had been.

A special thank you needs to be added to this chapter, for without the help of ragtopman this chapter would still be in the works. His efforts in putting together much of the Monarch monologue section put me on the right path for this whole chapter.

Copyright © 2000-2021 Kyle Aarons; All Rights Reserved.
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I really enjoyed this chapter.  Monarch proved to be a revelation.  I was impressed with how he dealt with Kandric and Vondum.  I think this will be the start of a really interesting chain of events. 

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