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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 - 19. Chapter 19

Kandric entered the town of Slome and for the first time in his life he got treated with respect from people he didn’t know just because of whom he was. The gate guards both moved to the side and gave him a slight nod. There was no attempt to stop him nor was there any of the normal questions about what his business was. The word had come down from the city guard leaders. The red haired Halfelf boy was someone who should be recognized on sight. Kandric hated to admit it, but it felt good.

Needless to say, it helped that he wore nice very nice armor and had a blade over his back. Adding even more to his outfit were the extras. The row of Elvin Silver Steel throwing daggers across his chest and the cloak with the bold patch of the Wilderness Scouts over his left shoulder. Many beings within the town carried weapons, but very few carried swords and fewer still wore armor. Only the highest-ranking members of the town’s guilds had close to what Kandric now openly displayed. Those were the marks of guilded, and age mattered none when dealing with a guilded being.

Of course, Kandric was guilded and now that he was a known member of the Wilderness Scouts there was no need to hide those guild pins. Granted they were only Secondary step three and he was a full Echelon higher than those pins, but Secondary Echelon above the Silver Spine Mountains held the same if not more weight than being Teaching Echelon did below the mountains. Still, he decided to make them visible, but not prominently displayed on wristbands made for him by Monarch’s people. Each leather wristband held a small magical knife hidden in them as well, extra protection should an extra surprise ever be needed.

Holgab had handed them to him when he brought forward the offer to find the Hobgoblin’s base in exchange for ownership in Monarch’s new fort. The very idea of having a fortress to help not only defend the people of his Swamp Slums, but also give them all something they could build a real future around was a dream come true for Kandric. He knew the offer had a three-fold advantage to Monarch. First it would be a base of operation Monarch could work out of while the beings in the area would blindly welcome it. Second the offer of ownership guaranteed Monarch of Kandric’s and his mother’s support. Lastly, and that part Kandric had the most problem with, it all but forced him to join Monarch’s command staff.

Kandric looked down on the jeweled butterfly which was acting as the clasp for his throwing dagger bandoleer belt. It irritated him. He knew it had been Monarch who had captured Jamon and Conth to begin with. He had been there as the boys had been handed over to Vondum in the Orc encampment. Furthermore, he had witnessed the fate of females turned over to the Orcs, again survivors of Monarch’s raid on Jamon’s caravan.

Part of Kandric wanted nothing more than to remove the damned butterfly clasp and stamp on it until it became nothing more then a twisted jeweled lump of silver in a meaningless shape. But to do so would not help his Swamp Slums nor would it stop the raids on other innocent caravans. As he walked down the main street of Slome, he wondered if the plan he had proposed to Monarch would indeed be followed. If it was, then he and he alone would be responsible for countless caravans being spared the fate of the one Jamon had been a part of. If his plan was not followed then he had just sided with a vicious power hungry killer for nothing more than the betterment of his home, which was a good start but it would mean he was part of an operation he detested. Those thoughts only caused his stomach to churn.

Kandric turned and entered the Town Square. His eyes scanned the crowd until he spied whom he had come to see. He moved in a straight line and was somewhat surprised by the fact everyone between him and the Halforc he was moving toward moved out of his way. Of course those who saw the boy coming saw only two things. Kandric’s steadfast determination in his eyes and his overall demeanor. Both told anyone who bothered to look to move aside or get run over. Those who didn’t look were pulled aside by those who were watching.

The Halforc saw Kandric coming and knew it meant trouble. He didn’t know what, but looks alone told him enough. He jumped out of his booth and took off. He made it exactly four steps.

Kandric’s hand yanked out a throwing dagger and whipped it hard. A few people who were close to the line of fire cringed as they saw the blade flash by. It found its mark in the Halforc’s left foot. The Halforc fell screaming and clutching its foot.

The Halforc’s hired booth guard leapt up from his seat, having not seen what was happening until after his employer was on the ground.

Kandric didn’t even bother warning the guard. Instead he clenched his right hand into a fist and muttered a short string of arcane words. A burst of sound erupted from his hand as he unclenched it and the wave of sound slammed into the Halfling guard with enough force to knock him back and through the front of the Halforc’s booth. The Halfling stayed down blood leaking out of his ears.

A patrol of Slome guards moved forward but stopped upon seeing Kandric walking toward the screeching Halforc. The squad leader swallowed hard, “Um hold up. He be the Halfelf kid we was talked about. The one from the slums!”

Off to the side Rylop shouted out. “He be a Wilderness Scout. Don’t bother him none! Best just watch the booth and make sure nothing gets looted!” He moved over to provide assistance to Kandric and/or the patrol. Somehow he figured Kandric was not the one he needed to worry about however.

Kandric glanced up at Rylop and grinned, “Sorry for the mess but I need a word with this creep.”

Rylop held up his hands, “Fine by me. He ran so me be guessin’ he done somethin’ wrong!”

“Me to.” Kandric agreed, “Now I just need to find out what.”

“You mean ya don’t know?”

“Not yet.” Kandric turned his attention to the Halforc. It tried to throw a fist only to have it intercepted in mid swing and twisted sharply by Kandric. The Halforc found itself flipped over on its gut with its face pushed into the dirt with a knee and its arm pulled painfully up into the small of its back. Guards and patrons alike felt their jaws open a bit in astonishment at a child being able to so easily handle a being well over twice the size and three times the weight of the boy. Even Rylop let out a soft whistle.

Kandric pulled the Halforc’s arm further up until the Halforc grunted more in pain from its arm than the dagger still sticking out of its foot. “What’s ya wants! Me no do nothin!”

“A few moons back,” Kandric started, “I was in town looking for work and noticed you had some fruit for sale.”

“So whats? Me always has food. Its me job!”

“Yea, well exactly where did you get the fruit from? It was tropical fruit, mangos, bananas, coconut, and the like. Some of it was not even fully ripe. I know. I have been down there where those things are grown. So where did you get it!”

Rylop frowned, “I ain’t never thought it over, but yer right. With no merchants in except fer this last one there is no way he should a been able to get so much fresh food.”

The Halforc tried to squirm free rather than answer. All it got for its trouble was its arm wrenched further up. As its shoulder got dangerously close to dislocating it finally relented. “Me gots it from a couple a Hobs. Them gets it to me through the sewers somehows.”

Kandric had guessed the Hobgoblins belonging to Bandurlok had been providing food for Slome and other places. Now he basically had proof but other than knowing they got it in through the sewers he didn’t see how the information would help. This all seemed like a great idea when he came into Slome, but now he didn’t know what direction to take.

Rylop could see the look of confusion cross Kandric’s eyes. He stifled a chuckle. It was kind of nice to see the boy was not always so sure of himself as he tried to come across. He decided to see if Kandric would accept some assistance. “Mind if I ask a couple a questions?”

“Be my guest.” Kandric agreed with a somewhat relieved voice.

Rylop knelt next to the Halforc. “Why would Hobs give the likes a you food ta sell?”

The Halforc tried to remain silent but a simple twist and yank of his arm by Kandric took all the fight out of him, “Them Hobs wanted me ta gets em wood. Them Hobs need a bunch a it. I gets em three carts a week and them gets me the foods ta sell.”

“Wood?” Kandric asked no one in particular. “Why wood?”

Rylop was equally confused but stayed focused. “How’d ya get em the wood? There ain’t no way you handed a full cart load er more to em through the sewers!”

The Halforc shook his head. “No, me left em a cart next ta the Bloody Rock. Me’d then grab it the next day next ta the old bridge, on the far side a the stream.”

Rylop looked over a Kandric, “Now what.”

Kandric shook his head. “I wish I knew. I expected something more clear cut.”

“Like what?”

Kandric again shook his head in frustration, “Like where they were operating out of.”

“I don’t get it. You already had us destroy a Gnoll village. The Gnolls be the big problem and thanks ta you and Captain Vondum, we killed em all.”

Kandric sighed as he fought his desire to tell the truth to the man in front of him. Rylop was a man he had grown to like and trust. It didn’t sit with well him to lie, but lying was the only way out of the situation. "When Vondum and I attacked the back of the Gnolls’ base we found a few wagons and some of the supplies taken from caravans, but we also found a couple of Hobgoblin guards. We chased them and killed them, but one of them tried pleading for its life by offering us information. It said some Hobgoblin leader was behind most of the attacks and was using informants in the city to get needed supplies the caravans did not provide enough of.

“I did not think much more about it until this morning when I remembered seeing the fruit at this stand.” He pointed to the ruined stand with the still unconscious Halfling lying in the middle of it.

Rylop scratched his chin, “So ya put it together and came ta find out what this traitor to our city knew.”

“Yes.” Kandric admitted, “But now I am left with more questions than answers. I should have stayed out of sight and watched him then followed the cart of wood back to where the Hobgoblins were taking it.”

“What’s ta stop you from doing it now?”

“Simple,” Kandric grumbled, “I was just seen getting the information in front of countless beings. So far everything the Hobgoblin said was true, so there are others here who will report this back to the Hobgoblins and they will never allow this jerk to provide them with wood again. They will find another source and given half the chance will probably kill this one.”

“Point taken.” Rylop agreed, “What do you want me to do to this one?”

“Let him go for all I care.” Kandric’s face twisted into an evil smirk. “He has not technically broken any rules other than making a killing on selling food. Since he was dealing with Hobgoblins, there is not even any proof he knew he was in collusion with the enemy. Letting him go will take care of the matter because something tells me most of the people here who heard this will want a piece of him. After all, he has been helping those who have put a strangle hold on Slome and made money off of most of the beings here.”

“The Governor ain’t goin’ ta go easy if the guards allow a mob to take the law inta their own hands. Slome just ain’t run by mob rules.”

Kandric rolled his eyes. “Fine then have your guards grab his belongings and toss them and him on his cart and escort it out the front gate. Let him fend for himself.” Kandric yanked his dagger out of the Halforc’s foot and wiped it on the Halforc’s shirt. “Something tells me he will have a hard time running very fast or far so he will have to stay with the cart and with any luck he will find his fate sealed by those who had been helping him. If he stays too close to here, someone from Slome will take care of him for us.”

The Halforc’s wail of pain got him no sympathy from those watching. This gave the Halforc all the incentive he needed to head out as fast and far as possible.

 

Glaster watched as Zoldon and Mylan entered the jail to be locked up for their second day. Once he was satisfied the boys did indeed get their own cell and thus couldn’t be accosted by adult prisoners he left, leaving a pair of guards to keep an eye on the two. One way or another, the Magistrate who ordered this injustice would pay and pay dearly. However, he would let King Wyhrem deal with it, for he had other matters which demanded attention.

Since discovering he had been taking care of Zoldon instead of Klandon his over riding concern became finding the true heir to the throne. Secondly, yet just as troubling was what to tell King Wyhrem and when.

Part of him wanted to gate to King Wyhrem’s side and tell the man what he had discovered. Yet he also knew the King was in route to deal with a great threat and the last thing he wanted was to have this new distraction weighing down a man who needed every bit of his prowess to fend off the enemies of the kingdom.

Glaster went back to his room and sulked for a while. He was confused. He had seen the infant, Zoldon, lowered into the King’s family crypt. He watched the crypt as it got sealed with the magic key worn only by King Wyhrem. Furthermore he had witnessed first hand the infant’s struggle to live as he had inscribed the runes of protection on the boy’s leg. Zoldon had been so close to death the Channeler of Tallis had even abandoned hope. Yet it was clear the boy not only survived and never got buried, but he had in fact been whisked out of the kingdom and forcefully trained to keep pace with his twin brother. Slowly his confusion changed to anger.

He was annoyed at King Wyhrem for not realizing the switch had taken place. Sure his wife had died and he believed his only son was very close to death, but some blame had to be placed on the King. He was Klandon’s father after all. He should have seen some difference that could have prevented Klandon from being kidnapped.

Glaster was also furious at the fact there had to be a traitor in the palace, for someone had to get the boy out and had to have tricked everyone, including the Queen who had stayed with Zoldon until the child had stopped breathing. Someone who had unfettered access to the Prince had betrayed the trust of a King and a Kingdom. It was not hard to figure this part out. Only one man had such access and abilities who could have pulled all this off, the former Royal Healthman. The man who up till only a few weeks ago had been a constant aid and advisor to King Wyhrem.

Yet, even as angry as he was at this revelation, a deeper rage was boiling within Glaster. For he, himself, had screwed up. He had seen Zoldon for months, heard the reports from the palace staff about how “Klandon” had changed. Heard first hand accounts from teachers, friends, and even the boy’s frustrated father that something had gone terribly wrong with the Prince. Yet he had spent so much time concentrating on protecting the Prince he had missed the overall picture.

Suddenly all the failed attacks on the Prince made sense. Whoever planned and executed the attacks had never meant to kill him, only those closest to him. They had been, after all, controlling the boy’s memories. The mysterious forces behind the attacks were setting in motion a way to make it easier for Zoldon to become Klandon by removing those who might eventually figure out what had happened. Eventually, once the boy became Primary Echelon, all they would have to do would be to kill the King and let the boy take over. He would then be forced, through the magic runes, to appoint someone to help him rule.

Such an action would be looked at as wise by everyone, for a boy of twelve or thrirteen is not yet fit to rule a kingdom. Then the ruler pro-tem could easily set in motion a series of events which would destroy the kingdom and allow a new power to take over. The first would be to sow a few more seeds of distrust between the other royal families. Then the assassination of “Klandon” would cause an open civil war. If peace couldn’t be restored or the war went against what they wanted they had yet another card to play. Their trump card would be to bring Klandon back as Zoldon and restore the peace. After years in the wrong hands the new ruler would be a virtual puppet and none of the other royal houses would be strong enough to oppose what he did. They would still be licking their wounds after a long and bloody civil war and would probably blindly welcome peace. It was a complex plot to be sure, but all the pieces had been put in place. It also fit the information forced out of the female Dark Mage.

Yet all this went on for months and Glaster had not seen it. Looking back he counted countless times where things hadn’t added up. But not once did he try to figure them out. Instead he stayed glued to the mission of protecting “Klandon”. The real question was who was the mysterious “they” behind the plot? His only leads were the former Royal Healthman and the Dark Mage he had ordered the Watch to keep an eye on.

Gating back to the capital Glaster was enraged, yet not surprised, when he learned the man had been killed. The timing coincided to the day Glaster had changed his route and headed toward Everone. It made sense to Glaster as he thought it over. Whoever was behind the plot realized they had lost control of Zoldon and thus needed to cover their tacks as best as possible. The weakest link was the Healthman. Besides he was no longer in the Royal circle so was nothing more than a liability.

Of course the death looked like an accident and had been treated as such by the city guard. The Healthman had been trampled by a runaway carriage. Such unfortunate events happened and who would have thought otherwise? Glaster gated back to his inn room knowing he had once again failed to put the pieces in place in time. “Accident,” Glaster snorted, “how convenient.” While knowing in his heart the chances of finding Klandon were once again greatly diminished

He went over what he knew. The fact he knew only two things and both of them were not real facts but guesses based on hard information made it even worse. The first was Klandon had to have been abducted when he was aboard the other ship. This could have been done with or without the other ship’s knowledge. Second, Klandon was too valuable to kill yet too dangerous to keep alive so whoever had him would have to make sure the boy either was never seen or couldn’t talk if he was. Glaster briefly wondered which of the two possibilities would be worse.

The only thing Glaster saw for a course of action was to track down the ship Klandon had been taken to. The only problem was it could be anywhere. Glaster did something he had not done in years. He used his Watch pin and put out a call for help. Within hours, every contact the Watch had along any coast line was put on alert and all top Watch members were informed of the new Watch marker.

 

Kandric watched the guards escort the wounded Halforc out of Slome. He had reacted too quickly and because of his mistake a good chance of finding the Hobgoblins had slipped through his fingers. He turned away from the gate.

He had another reason for visiting Slome. It was time to find out if his friend, Zeltoss, really wanted to join him and Vondum.

As expected, he found Zeltoss down in the combat pit of the school fighting against one of the students. He said nothing. Instead he watched as the two boys spent way too much time trying to find a good opening and too little really attacking.

Kandric shook his head showing his annoyance.

The lead teacher moved up beside Kandric and knelt. “You have a problem with this Teacher Kandric?”

Kandric rolled his eyes as he whispered, “Do you have any idea how strange it sounds to be addressed as a Teacher?”

“Yea, I probably do. It took me over a year to really accept it and even today I find it hard to believe I am the one being honored when someone simply says Teacher.”

“One of these years, when I decide to test, I will have to get used to it as well.”

“True, but all the students here already know your true abilities and talents. They will not spread the word, at least not on purpose, but sooner or later the word will get out Teacher Kandric.”

“Yes, I know.” Kandric grumbled.

“So, let me ask you again. Do you have a problem with what you are seeing?”

Kandric frowned for a second before he realized the question was not being asked in a mean way, but out of genuine interest. He was actually being asked what he would be doing differently. Slowly he nodded, “As a matter of fact, I have to disagree with the tactics completely.”

“Then take over.”

Kandric shook his head in some disbelief. “Seriously?”

“Yes.” Teacher Saslara grinned. “I am teaching my way, but it would not hurt for any of my students to see another approach from a true Teacher with a different perspective.”

Kandric stood and gave a brief bow. He then leaped into the pit, “Hold!”

Both boys took a step back then looked over. Zeltoss’ eyes lit up “Kandric!”

Kandric smiled, “Hello my friend. However, for the moment I have been asked to offer a different perspective on combat and have agreed to teach. Would you two be willing to accept my input?”

Zeltoss nodded instantly.

The other boy frowned for a second then gave a quick bow, “Sure.”

“Practice staff!” Kandric called out. A few seconds later another student tossed one down. Kandric picked it up and tested it for a few moments then moved toward the Human boy. “Fight me.”

“You must be joking. I saw what you did the last time you were in this pit.”

Teacher Saslara growled from above, “Tayac, do as you are told!”

The boy gulped but took a fighting stance.

Kandric spun the staff forcing the boy back then smiled, “There will be no simulated damage and I promise you I will not inflict anything more that a light bruise. You however, may strike at me with everything you have. Furthermore I pledge I will not tap into any of my magic so you will be fighting me on close to equal terms. Zeltoss, join him on attacking me.”

Zeltoss moved over quickly to stand next to Tayac, “which side do you want?”

Before Tayac could answer Kandric moved forward forcing both of them back. He used the length of the staff to keep both a healthy distance away. Whenever either got too close they paid for it with a light smack, yet neither boy got a single shot in on Kandric.

Kandric continued the game of cat and mouse for almost a full hour before he backed up and called out “Hold!”

Both Zeltoss and Tayac slumped to one knee. Both of them had a good 30 small bruises and were exhausted.

Kandric stuck the staff into the ground, and looked up at the students above the pit. “Why is it they are so tired they can hardly stand while I am basically fresh?”

One Dwarf stood after almost 3 minutes of blank looks, “Permission to speak Teacher.”

“Granted!” Kandric pointed at the girl.

“Um, this seems real silly like, but, um them two spent all their energy tryin’ not ta get hit while you jus kept your weapon moving and didn’t give no opening.”

Kandric shook his head, “Are you seriously saying I did not give a single opening during this entire time?”

The girl quickly sat back down.

A young Elf stood up, “Teacher?”

Kandric pointed to the boy. “Yes?”

“You never gave em no chance to attack cause you never stopped. They had to defend the whole time.”

A smirk spread over Kandric’s face, “So let me get this straight. If you are being attacked you have to defend, no matter how light the attack is?”

Above Kandric, several students turned to each other as they realized what had happened. Kandric had constantly been on the attack, but most of what he had done was easy to counter, attacks such as light thrusts, jabs, and wide arc swings. Because his staff never stopped spinning the two opponents did nothing but defend and Kandric took each and every opening he spotted to inflict a light shot. Never once did he have to adjust to defend against an attack because neither Zeltoss nor Tayac had attacked.

Kandric let the kids above, some of them much older then he was in equivalency years, talk it over for a few minutes while he climbed out of the pit. He moved over to Teacher Saslara and nodded. “So what did you think?”

Teacher Saslara took a deep breath. “You have pointed out a major flaw in my teaching. Should someone learn of this and spread the word all of my students, both former and present, would be at an extreme disadvantage. All my life I have taught my students to defend first then take the first opening. It never occurred to me someone with a weapon which could always be kept in motion could so easily overwhelm my teaching style!”

“Your methods have merit against most weapons, but even then defense should never overbalance attack. I have noticed your students tend to spend too much time trying to find an opening rather than working to create one. This next to guarantees their opponents will get first attack, and should they hit…”

“Should they hit my student will be a major disadvantage before he even starts to fight.” Teacher Saslara agreed. “If you have some time, I would like for you to change these students thinking a bit while I watch and learn some more from you.”

Kandric smiled, "Zeltoss and I are going to join the city watch down under the jail soon and then we must be going elsewhere. However, I can spend the rest of the day and all day tomorrow here. The problem is I wanted to take Zeltoss out to Bloody Rock and poke around this evening.

Teacher Saslara “Bloody Rock is a red color because of the amount of iron in it. Both you and Zeltoss are Elf.”

Kandric nodded, “I know, but it is natural iron, which does not harm us like pure processed iron does. I must admit, my first real mishap with iron was because of Bloody Rock though. I went into one of the old mines and was playing around. By the time I got home my clothing was full of dust from the place and I itched for almost a full week!”

Teacher Saslara laughed, “It is nice to know you were a real boy for at least a while!” She turned serious. “What exactly are you looking for out there anyway? It is well outside of Slome and the area around there is pretty wild.”

“I know.” Kandric paused, “But some information I got today points toward Bloody Rock as a possible problem spot.”

“Is this something my more advanced students might be able to handle?”

“Possibly.” Kandric stated slowly, “Why?”

“Because I like to take my step four and five students out once in a while looking for trouble, but I have not been able to do so since early last fall because of the Gnolls and other very dangerous creatures being so close to Slome. I have a couple of Training step five’s who have not been out even once with me because of the virtual state of siege we have been under the last several months.”

Kandric mulled it over, “If I find what I am looking for, I will be going against some Hobgoblins. From what I know, fewer than normal will be mundane.”

“How many are we talking about?”

“There is a question I wish I knew the answer to.”

"If I managed to convince the Governor to give us Londow and Rylop would you be willing to help supervise a school expedition to hunt for these critters? Maybe we could even make it an overnighter.

“How many students would we be talking about?”

“Nine, ten if you consider Zeltoss one of the students.”

Kandric growled, “Zeltoss is Primary Echelon, he is no student!”

“He can’t hold up in a fight in the pit Kandric.”

“Sure he can. Just watch.” Kandric jumped back down into the pit and pulled the training staff out of the ground. “Tayac, Zeltoss, you two are going to spar again. Each time I see an opening you do not take I will take it and the first one I hit 5 times the other loses. We will continue this until every step 4 and 5 have spared each other. The one who loses the most will be left out on tonight’s expedition outside of Slome.”

Teacher Saslara jumped up, “Teacher Kandric, I don’t have approval for it yet.”

“You will.” Kandric promised, “Just tell the governor it has been ordered by the Wilderness Scouts. If he argues I will have Captain Vondum talk to him.”

Teacher Saslara stood, “Fine, I will get everything organized.” She then turned to the entire assembled school. “Until I get back Teacher Kandric has full authority. You don’t do as he says and I guarantee you will be seeing me for a one on one training session the likes of which none of you have ever seen!”

Kandric snickered to himself. A month ago he was Slum scum, now he was just handed command of the Slome School for a brief period. Every single trainee before him would from this day forward defer to him as his or her teacher. Such was the tradition and the importance of being handed command of a school, even for the briefest of times. Furthermore, he knew his name would be placed on the plague as one of the instructors the moment his Teaching Echelon status was confirmed by the Shaman Guild.

Kandric spun the staff and put aside those thoughts as he got down to the business at hand. “Remember, when I strike your opponent the mark is scored as a failure to you so this drill will require an offensive mindset. Begin!”

Several hours went by as Kandric continued round after round of sparing matches. At first the matches didn’t last long because Kandric lashed out at the openings and within couple of minutes he had scored five hits on one and four on the other. After each student had been in the pit with him for three matches the length of time started increasing as the students moved in on each other’s openings. The drills also started showing some very surprised students how good Zeltoss was. Even Zeltoss was amazed at how switching to a quick attack turned him from being one of the worst to the top of the pecking order simply because the fights didn’t last as long which meant his lack of strength and stamina didn’t come into play. Instead his skills as a Primary Echelon being showed through.

By the time Teacher Saslara got back it was clear to not only her but also the rest of the students none of them really knew the true potential of Zeltoss.

Kandric finally exited the pit and looked at the scores. Two of the students were tied for the worst scores, each having only won 3 times. Kandric called them forward in front of Teacher Saslara “Do you two want to spar one last time to see who goes or do you both want to stay back?”

One said she wanted to spar while the other said he didn’t. Kandric shook his head in disgust at the teen boy, “Fine, you get to stay here and chop all the wood needed for the whole school for the next week while the rest of us go out.”

When the boy started to complain Teacher Saslara shook her head, “Kandric just spent all day showing you how to take some initiative and you still don’t get it. Maybe the woodcutting will teach you not to take the easy road out all the time.”

The boy’s face turned a bright red, “If ya weren’t a Teacher…”

Kandric didn’t hesitate. He delivered a precise blow to the boy’s solar plexus. The kid dropped like a stone. “I am who and what I am because I fought to get here. I have a mundane slave with more integrity and pride than you! Get out of my sight you worthless piece of trash!”

Teacher Saslara pointed to two of the younger students, “Drag him out to the woodpile and chain him to the work post before Teacher Kandric kills him.”

Kandric shook his head; “I would not kill a student, no matter how pathetic he might be.”

“I know.” She snarled, “but I might. If you hadn’t reacted so fast, I would have broke his jaw.”

 

A pair of Pantherlings dragged the kicking and screaming Dwarf deeper and deeper into some very large caves. Finally the Dwarf, one of Gambra’s scouts, grew silent. Since his capture in Everone, his life had been a blur of traveling from one magical point to another and it was clear there was no one to answer his pleas for help.

The first leg of the journey went by while he was still unconscious from the beating in the back alley, so he had no clue how the black furry beasts had gotten him out of the city. But once he had regained his senses he counted 9 different magical gates he had traveled through. Of the 9, 5 had been permanent magical gates. The others had been by spells.

At first he had tried to escape, but the Pantherlings had been diligent. Each attempt only ended up making security tighter and the pace of the journey had been picked up.

One of the Pantherlings looked down at Gambra’s scout, “Did your voice finally grow horse or are you just catching your breath for a new round?”

“Gambra will kill you furry freaks!” The Dwarf bellowed at the taunt.

A new voice from somewhere in front of the small group shook the whole cavern; “She would have to know you were here first Dark Mage collaborator!” As the voice spoke fifteen huge cauldrons burst into flame lighting up the whole cave. The light was further intensified by the fact the whole inner chamber was silver. It was not a coating, but instead the entire place, including the columns, stalagmites, and stalactites were made of natural silver! Hanging from the center of the room was a great silver banner etched with the name of every Silver Dragon King and Queen from the beginning of the Silver Dragon line.

Both Pantherlings took a knee instantly.

The Dwarf took advantage and tried to flee. He didn’t get but a few steps before he realized the way he had been dragged in was no longer there; instead there was a smooth wall of silver. Desperately he started running looking for a way out. Finally, after nearly 5 minutes he sank to the ground as he realized there was none. The inner chamber of the Silver Dragon palace was sealed tight with silver and magic.

Six Silver Dragonlings seemed to slowly materialize out of the silver floor. At first they were nothing more than protruding lumps of silver, but within a minute they were fully formed and advanced quickly to secure the Dwarf.

A few moments after the Dwarf was surrounded by the Dragonlings a much larger mass pushed up from the floor. This time it took almost 3 minutes before a massive Silver Dragon took full shape. As it towered over everyone in the room it examined the Dwarf. The dragon snorted in satisfaction as it watched the Dwarf’s bladder empty.

It addressed the Dragonlings first. “It will not leave this chamber until its mess has been cleaned. I will not have my father’s inner sanctum fouled with the filth of a Dark Mage ally!”

The biggest of the Dragonlings bowed, “As you command Prince Millen!”

Prince Millen then turned his attention to the Pantherlings. “Please stand. I am honored as always by the presence of our most trusted in kinship. I trust your journey here was not too taxing?”

The higher guild ranked Pantherling spoke, “My Prince, we were forced to expedite our travels because our prisoner took every available chance to escape. Even here, its first thought when we took a knee was to flee.”

“This wretched Dark Mage lover’s days being free to harm others are at an end. The real question is, why bring this one here?”

“My Prince, this Dwarf…”

Prince Millen cut off the Pantherling; “He is a creature, nothing more. I would never dishonor a Dwarf by referring to a Dark Mage underling as one so noble as a Dwarf!”

The Pantherling bowed slightly again. “My apologies my Prince.” He paused to calm his nerves before speaking again; “This creature is one of Gambra’s lead scouts. We caught him after he had a face to face meeting with the Dark Mage Queen.”

“What has he told you.”

“We could get nothing from him. Even our best Mind Master in the Everone district of operation could not scan him. Thus we brought him here for you to question.”

Prince Millen’s eyes hardened. “So you wish to hold your secrets creature? You may be able to counter a Teaching Echelon Mind Master, or even an Expert, but do you really wish to fight my power?”

“You are nothing!” the Dwarf spat at the massive Silver Dragon. However, the Dwarf’s trembling knees spoke louder than the attempted act of defiance and brave words.

“Nothing?” a wisp of steam curled from the edge of Prince Millen’s mouth as he smiled at the challenging tone of the prisoner. “We shall see who is nothing!”

The great dragon’s eyes went from a light sky color to a deep midnight blue as he focused on the Dwarf. At first the Dwarf started to sweat, but within moment his arms and legs stated shaking. The shakes turned to spasms. Finally he started trying to dig out his eyes as the pressure inside his head became so intense blood started to leak out of his ears, nose, eyes, and even some blood seeped out around his teeth. The pain became so overwhelming all six Dragonlings found it difficult to hold the Dwarf down.

Finally the Dwarf stopped struggling and his eyes rolled up in its head.

Prince Millen took a deep breath then looked back at the Pantherlings. "The news is far better than I could have hoped. Monarch has decided to cut all ties with the Dark Mages and has even put out assassins to kill Gambra. Furthermore, thanks to your scouts on the plateau we know Monarch is getting ready to move to assist King Wyhrem with a force of his beloved Illorcs.

“Tell your people above the Silver Spine Mountains to become active, but not to deter Monarch, but instead to assist him. Offer a few of your clans to bolster his defenses.”

Pure shock registered on the faces of the Pantherlings, “My Prince?”

"I know he is not one we would like up there. However, the alternative is Bandurlok. We already know Bandurlok is moving with the Red Dragons against his Nephew and the Green Dragons. With our forces helping Monarch, he could send down even more forces. Then, with the help of the small Halfelf child, Kandric, who somehow knows how to read Shamanistic who I was told about from your people above the Silver Spine Mountains gating those forces straight into the heart of the fight King Wyhrem might stand a chance.

"King Wyhrem is currently caught between an impending dragon war. There is no way his kingdom can withstand being caught in the middle let alone having to fight both factions. However, with enough help his forces could hold Everone while the Reds, Greens, and Blacks wipe each other out. Already I have some of my forces in position to assist, as does Prince Bathron, Crown Prince of the Blue Dragons.

“Unfortunately, we cannot move in our primary forces or we would be dragged in. Once our full armies were engaged the Whites would attack my homeland and the Browns would, likewise, move against the Prince Bathron. We know the gods are at work in Everone, and I will not allow my kingdom to be dragged into another Dragon war just because the gods are playing games again.”

The junior Pantherling thought over what Prince Millen had said and spoke up, “My Prince, I have one problem with your plan.”

“Please continue.”

“Monarch would never accept a gift of a Pantherling force to help him on the Plateau. Instead he would want to send them down to Everone.”

Millen nodded slowly. “Good point. Any suggestions?”

“One, but it would certainly switch the balance of power on the plateau.”

“Go on.”

“Since we first encountered Kandric, we have kept spies on him. Just before we gated here we got a report from another Pantherling using your gate system coming from up there. He told us Kandric was seen walking around with one of Monarch’s command medallions on. The boy was trying to track down some information on Hobgoblin activity around Slome and even took out a merchant who had been providing aid.”

Prince Millen took in a deep breath, powerful enough to where everyone in the room felt their hair move in the direction of the Silver Dragon. “So you suggest we provide the needed aid to wipe out Bandurlok’s stronghold in Bloody Rock and the old crypts beneath Slome?”

“This boy, Kandric, is getting close to discovering Bandurlok’s base. The second he does Monarch will move to crush it and will be weakened by doing so.”

“Which will be less aid he can put into helping King Wyhrem.” Prince Millen finished the thought. “Very well. I will gate a force of Pantherlings along with some Dragonlings to handle the Black Dragonlings in the central base and to help the rather interesting child, but they will need to be lead by someone this uncanny child knows.”

“He met two of us already. He was with Vondum, so Vondum knows them as well.”

Prince Millen’s smile widened. “Perfect. Monarch will see Pantherlings through the eyes of this mysterious boy and Vondum. Since my first report about this extremely powerful child included the fact he and Vondum were led to believe the Pantherlings they encountered were protecting their territory we can use their beliefs against them. We will simply tell Monarch our Pantherling forces will not go to fight elsewhere but would be willing to help him secure the Plateau because our own territories are in danger. Vondum and this Kandric child would back up the claim and then our forces would be in a position to provide a more gentle caring hand to the lands he would have to concede to us after all is said and done!”

The junior Pantherling shook his head; “Your plan is far more complex than mine, my Prince. But I believe you saw everything I did and a great deal more!”

“You did well to point out the original flaw in my thinking. Before you leave the palace, it would please me greatly if you would secure yourself a magical weapon out of my armory.”

“Thank you my Prince!” the Pantherlings both bowed and exited through a small opening which appeared behind them with a mere wave of Prince Millen’s left claw.

Prince Millen glared at the Dwarf, then looked over at the Dragonlings. “He is to lick up his mess and his spit before he leaves this room. Then take him to my Shaman and have his entire memory erased repeatedly. Once we are positive there is nothing left, take him out and drop him off in the middle of Everone. It will make Gambra wonder what or who is behind the attack on her scout, and with any luck she will expend her already thin resources trying to track down mere shadows and ghosts.”

Prince Millen didn’t wait to see his if his commands were going to be followed. He knew they would be. Instead, he exited the same way he had come.

 

Master Lannet sat in front of a fire he and Lord Falk had built inside a half-wrecked farmhouse. The signs of a slaughter could easily be seen inside what was left of the main house. There were splatters of blood and even a bloody handprint on one wall and the entire place had been looted thoroughly.

On the plus side those responsible for the atrocity had met a rather gruesome fate of their own. Flak and Lannet had wiped out no less than 4 bands of Hobgoblin raiders, 1 group of Green Dragonlings and had combined their powers to eliminate a rather large Black Warrior Dragon. It had been the Black Dragon’s fleeing Kobalds which had led them here. Even with both he and Falk being badly injured, the fight against the fourteen Kobalds had lasted exactly ninety-two seconds.

Master Lannet scratched the chin of his worst injured pet. The Winged Panther had a broken wing and forepaw. To most the creature would not have been worth saving, but for Lannet the animal was family and if he had to carry it the twenty-five leagues back to the city of Everone, he would. Yet he knew Falk had every intention of gating them back once he regained more force at first light.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sudden glow of his Watch pin.

Lord Falk glanced over, “You be wanted.”

“I noticed.” Master Lannet grumbled in true Dwarvin fashion, “It amazes me how often this happens when I have just gotten comfortable!”

Lard Falk snickered as he glanced at his own pin. He smiled as he noticed his remained nice and dull looking. “Better you then me!”

“I’ll remember this.” Lannet teased as he touched his pin and concentrated. He stayed in deep concentration for some time.

Lord Falk noticed his friend’s face go a bit pale. He sat up as Master Lannet finally broke contact with the pin. “Problem?”

"I can’t be sure. One bit of news is stunning; the other is extremely troubling at best.

“Can you enlighten me?”

Master Lannet thought it over for a moment then nodded slowly. “The second part you must keep completely secret, however.”

“Very well.” Lord Falk sat up even straighter. He had never seen Master Lannet so edgy.

“First, it seems our retired friend, Glaster, has used one of his watch markers.”

Lord Falk removed his hood, showing his true Blue Dragonling heritage and a great deal of shock. “He jussssst un-retired?”

“Indeed he did.”

“What could be sssso important?”

“He wants everyone who can to locate the ship Prince Klandon was treated on when he fell ill on the Isles.”

Falk waited. When Lannet didn’t continue he rolled his hand as if wanting the rest. “Then what?”

“There, my friend, is what bothers me. There is nothing else.”

“He ussssed a marker jusssst to find a sssship?”

“Yes.”

Falk shook his head. “No! No one throwssss away a Watch marker on ssssssomething like thisssss! What doessssss he know we do not? Issss Prince Klandon in trouble?”

“We don’t know. The watch marker was to find the ship, nothing more and no other information.”

Falk’s eyes sizzled with electrical energy. “There be a problem with Klandon and Glassster isssss holding back! He mussssst be!”

“I agree, but what can we do?”

“I do not know.” Falk admitted, “But I will think of sssssomething!” Falk took a moment to calm. “Now what is such a sssssecret?”

Master Lannet held up his hand and slipped off a magical ring. Under the ring was a tattoo, a royal crest, The Crest of the Garm High Council.

Falk nearly passed out from holding his breath too long. Finally he managed to speak. “You be Garm!”

Master Lannet nodded very slowly. He felt some preliminary explanations would help set the groundwork for what he was about to tell the Dragonling in front of him. “Several years ago, I was going to be reassigned from Junsac to take command of one of our outlying bases. The idea was to give me a command and let me take on a less stressful life.”

Lord Flak nodded, “I remember. You put in a marker to prevent it. No one knew why. But you ssssaid you had a good reasssson. Why remind me?”

“Because it plays into exactly what I am about to tell you.” Lannet paused. “Less than a week after I put in my marker a boy appeared in Junsac, a wounded elf child.”

Lord Falk waited for more information but realized Lannet had stopped talking. He thought back to the time right after Lannet had put in his marker, preventing his transfer out of Junsac. Suddenly a light came on, “Asssster?”

Lannet nodded. “Have you ever wondered what race of Elf he is?”

Falk shook his head then stopped. Pure astonishment crossed his features “He cannot be!”

“He is.” Lannet nodded, “I was given information his grandfather had exiled him and he would be brought to Junsac and then given a non-fatal blow to his head to cover up for a powerful forget spell being cast on him.”

“But why?”

"I honestly don’t know, but Aster is a Prince, and because of our pact I was given the secret task of making sure Aster was taken care of, even if his own grandfather didn’t care.

Falk felt his heart pounding. “Why give me ssssuch background.”

“Because, the Great Halls of Friendship and Battle are being reopened and Aster is one of the reasons. The other two happen to be his half-brothers, until this moment I didn’t even know existed. Both of them we know: Conner and Kandric.”

Falk shuttered openly, “Kandric? The boy trained by Glassssster, The youngesssst to ever reach Ssssecondary Echelon and Assster are brothersss?”

Lannet nodded, “Scary isn’t it?”

“Very.” Falk whispered, “For this well may be a sssssign of them holding Mythling blood.”

Mater Lannet nodded. “There are some who believe the boys are Mythling.”

Falk let out a long laugh “There have been no Mythlingssss for 2000 yearssss!”

“There have been a few.” Lannet spoke very softly, “Have you ever wondered why none of the gods worshiped today are not Mythlings?”

Falk paused. “No I had not, until now. But the only true Mythlingssss known are the Demon lordssss and queenssss.”

“Exactly.” Lannet nodded, “The true Mythlings turned against everyone as they destroyed each other. Then, just when it looked like they would purge the world, some of the younger races most powerful beings fought back and banished them to the lower plains. All of those who were able to stand up to the might of the Mythlings were actually quarter-Mythling. For some reason unknown to anyone, those who were Half-Mythling were not as powerful as those who were quarter-Mythling. Still most of those who were quarter-Mythling didn’t have the power needed to fight back. A few did and most of them were almost wiped out but those few who survived scraped up enough power to win. Then, those who made it through the final battle with the Mythlings and destroyed the Mythlings’ capitol city used some of the powerful items they found there and became the gods we know today. But out there are others who had a distant grandparent who happened to catch the eye of a Mythling. The old Mythlings’ blood lines exist. It would now take a complete fluke, but what would happen if two of those blood lines came together and made a Half-Mythling again?”

Falk felt dazed by the information, but the answer was crystal clear. “The being’ssss offssssspring would be Quarter-Mythling and thussss have the power of those who fought the Mythlingssss and won!”

“Indeed.” Lannet shook his head trying to believe what he already knew. "But remember, very few of the Quarter Mythlings had what it took to become gods. Most didn’t have such power, but folklore gives the weaker ones due credit. Almost every hero or heroine of the age of the Mythling Wars was a brother or sister to one of those we now worship. So, although few made it to true god-hood, many of their brothers and sisters who survived the Mythling Wars became the gods avatars and their names are scattered throughout every races’ lore.

Falk frowned and went into deep thought for quite a while. When he spoke again his voice was guarded. “If we follow your logic, then it would mean Asssster’sss mother somehow happened to get the correct mixture of bloodlinessss to make her a perfect Half-Mythling and all of her offspring could hold the power of the godssss.”

“Only if those she mated with had no Mythling blood. From what we have seen, Kandric and Aster probably have such a combination and so, probably, does Conner.” Lannet paused, “The rest of her children are too young to know where they stand. But if what we think is true, it could be our first hint of why the gods have thrown their weight behind Aster and Conner and let both boys know they were brothers and had a third brother by the name of Kandric. I just wish I knew what else they were up to.”

 

Aster’s hammer slammed into the metal within the fire in the forge. Sparks shot into his face as he continued to try to force the merging of Elvin Silver Steel to Dwarvin Blue Steel while still keeping the magic of both blades intact. Such a task was not for the light of heart, for a single mistake could destroy not only the magic and the blending of the metals, it could also cause the magics held within the formally two blades to rebel, damaging or even killing him. Messing with magical items was something all true metalworkers could do, but most never tried except once in training. It was simply too dangerous!

However, Aster felt at complete peace as the metalworker’s hammer in his hand connected with the metal in the forge. From the first time he had worked with magic in a forge he knew it was something he had been meant to do.

His mind drifted back to the time his teacher handed him a dagger of light and introduced him to the art of transforming a magical item into something else. His task was to change the dagger’s form while not ruining the magic within. All metalworkers got the chance; it was part of training, but most failed. It was expected after all.

Aster remembered how he had first felt the dagger then placed it into the forge. The first step, before even figuring out what he wanted to do with it was to get it into a form where he could work with it. So he heated it and then as he saw it start to glow he let go his first strike with a hammer. White-hot sparks shot up at him and as they danced around him, Aster suddenly felt the magic inside the metal. It was not at all like his teacher had told him to expect. It was not the feeling of magic rebelling, instead it was the magic calling out, demanding it not be forced out of the metal.

Aster retreated from the Dagger of Light for a moment, ignoring the protests of his teacher. He went to the scrap pile and pulled out some spent chunks of Elvin Steel and tossed them into a side pan. While the scrap metal melted he took a more gentle approach to the remolding of the dagger. First he flattened out the hilt then spread the blade out. Slowly he added the extra melted metal and formed loops with it. Finally he pulled it out and used a finishing hammer well before he normally would have. The magic seemed to tell him it wanted to be treated gently, so he did so. Slowly he started adding spikes to the front of the loops. The work was exhausting, but he kept going. At least 70 times he had to reheat the item so he could continue to work it. But at last he took the tongs and put it in the water.

As he turned away from the steam of the water being hit with red-hot Elvin steel he realized it was dark. The only one in the forge was his teacher, and even he was asleep against the back wall. Aster looked around and realized more than one day had to have passed. There were items in various stages of being made which had not been in the shop when he had started. His stomach growled and he felt weak.

Aster remembered he wobbled into the apprentice kitchen and grabbed a great deal of food which he ate all of and drank a huge amount of water. As he did so, his teacher entered the small dining area with a magical glowing set of Elvin Steel spiked knuckles. The man’s face was a mixture of annoyance and amazement. “I thought you were going to make a spear head?”

Aster yawned, “I was, but the magic didn’t want to.”

“What do you mean it didn’t want to?”

Aster shook his head, “I don’t know. But when I fist struck the blade I knew it wouldn’t work. It didn’t want anything taken away for it. To make a spearhead I would have had to take several grams of metal off. The blade just didn’t want anything taken away.”

Aster watched the man, his teacher, nod slowly. “You caught the feeling of the magic Aster. It is a metalworker’s greatest gift.”

“What do you mean?” Aster asked in confusion, “The feeling of the magic?”

“It happened to me the first time after I had made Secondary Echelon.” The teacher smiled as he poured Aster a glass apple wine. “Some say all magic is alive or at least close to it. It has feelings and desires. Some even says it calls out and if you listen to it, it will help and guide your hand. You worked for over 2 days, only stopping to drink some water before going back after your creation. You let the magic speak to you and you did something no other student of mine has ever done. You changed the form of a magic item on yer first try.” His teacher tossed the spiked knuckles onto the table and the spikes stuck into the wood. "And I must say I have never seen your work turn out so well. Keep it. It just might inspire my other students to be half as diligent as you.

“Now get some sleep. I have been without you for over 2 days and you have a lot of work to catch up on.”

All the way through the memories of his work with the dagger of light his hands never stopped working on his latest work. Time of past and present blurred as his hammer worked the metal in the forge. Everything he did became automatic as if something else was guiding his hand.

After the memories of his first success with magic faded the thoughts of his other successes, including the reworking of his prized axe filled him. His learning under the eclectic Lizardman Master Echelon Metalworker as he explained not only the idea behind Eldwar Steel, but also the fact that it takes a willingness of the metals to work with the metalworker.

Once again his memories faded, but the dreamlike state remained. Only this time it was not a memory but a vision of sorts which took over.

A Dwarf wearing full plate of Eldwar and a shield of Eldwar emblazed with the holy symbol of Golan appeared. A strange sensation accompanied the vision. As he continued to work on the making of the single longsword the Dwarf moved forward and dropped his shield. The Dwarf picked up a metalworker hammer from off the wall and stood shoulder to shoulder with Aster. The pounding within the forge seemed to double in speed and quadruple in strength.

As the hand of Elf worked side by side with the vision-like Dwarf, the Dwarf spoke. “It is time for your path to leave the path of your brother for a time. Go by land. Your brothers will join you when the time is right.”

Aster continued to work as he spoke, “I don’t understand. I cannot leave Conner now that I have a family!”

The Dwarf seemed to smile, “There is more than one way for a family to stick together my young Alphar Prince. Sometimes trying too hard to protect a loved one does more damage than allowing someone else in to take over, love, guide, and nurture. Do you truly, in your heart, believe you can help Prince Conner?”

Aster shook his head as he poured the pans collecting the runoff into a new glob inside the forge. He then divided the white hot metal into eight small chunks and one very large one. The Dwarf took over on the long sword while Aster formed the melted puddles into eight Dives and one falchion. As Aster continued to mold the new items, he spoke aloud. “Since we found we are brothers, we have grown further apart. I don’t know why and it hurts!”

“Sometimes it is easier to be friends than family. You both need time to adjust to the idea of family. Let your adopted family, the Watch, help you while Prince Conner relearns to love under the guidance of the Thunder Rapids Crew.”

“Conner knows how to love!”

“No Prince Aster, Prince Conner knows how to have compassion but has forgotten how to love. Love requires trust, compassion, and the ability to accept fault in others and in self. Prince Connor lacks part of the whole picture.”

Aster took a deep breath, “He lives for perfection. More in himself than in others, but he cannot trust others who aren’t also constantly striving for perfection.”

The Dwarf’s eyes got a sad look in them, “It goes beyond those observations my young Prince, for, alas, his view of perfection is being able to conquer everything thrown at him without needing assistance. Thus he sees in you a weakness which is dividing the two of you without any fault on either of your parts.”

Aster worked side by side with his vision for many hours before he suddenly understood the Dwarf’s statement. “My need for companionship, especially with Pocet, is the root of my problems with my brother isn’t it?”

The Dwarf smiled, “Congratulations. Now you understand why you must allow someone else to teach him how to love?”

“Yes.” Aster’s voice saddened, “He will only see Pocet as my weakness instead of a strength. But I don’t understand why he used to be able to depend on me and now he cannot. I have done nothing different, instead we have now fought side by side several times!”

"It is how he views loss, my young Prince. He has been trained to not allow emotional attachments interfere with the tasks at hand. So is the way of the Wraith Sect Warrior teaching. He uses life force to kill. Think about the total lack of emotion one must be able to attach to such an act. Yet his teacher is a good man. Prince Conner was taught compassion. He does not kill out of desire nor does he play with the life force of those he kills. Instead he respects them by using the power or not. There is a thin yet hard line he had to embrace to stay away from the Dark Arts yet embrace the ways of a Wraith Sect Warrior.

“But there is more to living than respecting life. It is one thing to fight, kill and be willing to take up arms to defend life. However, it is another thing entirely to let your heart feel for those you defend with something deeper then outward compassion. It takes a great risk to really care for someone. For, if that person dies, then there is true loss far beyond the losing of a fight. He sees winning as good and losing as bad. Those lost during a fight are going to be missed but they died fighting the good fight. There is some sadness with the loss of friends and even some anger, but such things are easy to push to the side, to bury, or even forget. It is an easy life to have friends and enemies but no loves. Until Prince Conner can see the plus side to a deeper relationship he will never be able to really love.”

“So even by becoming closer to me he sees weakness.” Aster wiped a tear as he hit the now very close to complete sword again with his hammer. As if an unspoken line of communication existed between him and the Dwarf, the Dwarf took over on the falchion and the dives.

The Dwarf tapped runes into the first dive before he returned to the conversation “Indeed. Making matters worse he believes he has to love you because you are family. What he needs, is to learn how to love someone he doesn’t feel indebted to love first. Then and only then will he be able to show true love to family without attaching some baggage.”

Aster finished his work with the sword before he fully accepted what the Dwarf standing next to him had told him. “Why can’t I just have a family, a real family. It’s all I ever wanted and now I have one, but have to give it up. It isn’t fair!”

“You have family my Prince, you have lots of family and they are moving even as we speak to render assistance the type of which we could only have dreamed about. Trust me on this just as you trusted your hands to work within the feeling and desire of the magic and metal of the twin blades. Now I must be going for I am afraid your loved ones are getting a little more than somewhat concerned. Good luck my Prince.”

Aster snapped out of his trance in a flash. He shook his head as he felt the weakness and pure hunger overcome him. A slight grin spread over his exhausted features knowing he had once again entered a magical trance of the Metalworker. Still the ache of his arms and legs were far worse than he had ever felt before.

Only this time there were multiple startling proofs that this hadn’t simply been a strange dream. For next to a completed Eldwar longsword was an Eldwar falchion and eight dives. Even more impressive was the fact there was no extra metal in the runoff pans. His eyes did a double take as he suddenly realized the vision had been something far more. For emblazed on each of the weapons was the holy symbol of Golan and each of the blades held a set of magical runes on the blades which there was no way he could have put there!

He stepped out of the forge and shivered. The cold air washing over his sweat-coated body was strangely refreshing, but cold nonetheless. He gazed down at the barge and noticed the crew was still working hard to repair the damage from striking the toll chain, but were much further along than when he had entered the forge to work on Pocet’s blade. Still the work on the barge was a task far from complete. Even at this distance from the barge Aster could make out the fact a small bucket brigade continuously worked to prevent one of the lower holds from flooding.

Pocet jumped up and rushed to the boy as he saw Aster exit the forge, “Aster! Are you OK?”

Aster gratefully collapsed into Pocet’s arms. “I’m a bit hungry.”

Sardan moved up beside Pocet and helped to literally carry the exhausted boy into the building the crew used as a mess hall. “A bit? You have been in that blasted forge talking to yourself for 4 days! You didn’t even acknowledge it when Pocet or I brought you water even though you did drink it. What is wrong with you?”

“4 Days?”

“Yea!” Pocet’s concern was clear.

“And you didn’t see anyone else?”

“Huh?” Sardan squawked.

Aster quickly shook his head as he remembered the full conversation. "Never mind. I went into a trance. It happens sometimes to metalworkers when we work on magic items and are trying to change their forms.

“Oh, come on Aster.” Pocet frowned as he pulled Aster onto his lap and started feeding Aster a bowl of soup Sardan got from the Thunder Rapid’s cook on duty. “You were talking to something, someone, weren’t you?”

Aster sighed as he accepted being fed like a baby. “Yea, I think so. I started working then lost track. It happens to me once in a while, but this time I got so wrapped up into it I think I accidentally called someone. I remember I started talking to a servant of Golan. I know you won’t believe me, but the Dwarf helped me.”

Aster tried to jump back up but his arms and legs were just too tired. He fell back against Pocet.

Sardan moved over and helped Aster back onto Pocet’s lap, “Where do you think you are going?”

“The forge! You have to see…”

“You are not going anywhere.” Sardan’s stance told everyone this was not negotiable. “You are going to finish the soup and then Pocet is going to give you a bath and put you to bed. Understood?”

Aster sighed, “OK, but please go to the forge and take a look. You will know what I’m talking about the second you see them!”

Sardan saw the pleading in Aster’s eyes and gave in. “Very well. But, you will do exactly as I said No if ands or buts. Got it?”

Aster’s eyes sparkled with merriment. “Yes Uncle Sardan.”

Pocet and Sardan both broke into healthy laughs. Pocet finally spoke, “I think our beloved Aster is back with us!”

“No question about it.” Sardan left the building chuckling. He entered the forge and couldn’t believe his own eyes. A pair of blades were on the table next to the forge and under them were 8 dives. All glimmered with their own light. Sardan rapidly wrapped everything in his cloak and almost ran back to the Mess building.

Sardan came back in with the new weapons. He lay the on the table in front of Aster. He glanced at Pocet as he did so. “There is no way Aster could have made all of this. What he claimed happened really must have!”

“I told you!” Aster spoke softly as he finished the last spoonful of soup. “But I didn’t make the marks on the weapons or get a chance to make sheaths. Somehow I just know they will fit into the sheaths you already have though.”

Pocet looked at the blades in complete awe, “What do they do Aster?”

A voice came out of no where. It was a gruff Dwarven sounding voice. “You will know when you grasp them. Let the boy rest already!”

Pocet reached out and took hold of the pummel of the long sword. He instantly liked the feel and then a wave of knowledge washed over him. “Wildfire!” he blurted out not quite knowing or understanding why. The whole of the blade burst into flames. He shook his head, “Quench!” Before the stunned eyes of Aster and Sardan the flame went out. Pocet pulled out the longsword he had bought from Aster back in Junsac and tested the sheath. True to Aster’s words, the new magical blade fit perfectly. He pulled it back out of the sheath and set it next to the Elvin Silver one. They were identical in size. “Wow!”

Sardan blinked then shook his head, “Um, yes, I believe wow is as good a word as any.” He moved over to the falchion and took hold of the pummel. Much the same thing happened to him as happened to Pocet. “Static!” The whole of the blade crackled with electrical energy. He paused and took a few practice swings the called out, “Disperse!” instantly the electrical energy seemed to jump off the blade and entered the ground. Everyone’s hair and feathers stood up for a moment before everything went back to normal.

“Awesome!” Aster stated as he cuddled into Pocet.

Pocet kissed Aster gently, “Well said. Very well said.”

“I wonder what the dives will do when we give them to Conner.” Sardan mused aloud.

Just then Conner entered the building and frowned, “I must a missed something. What dives and what are they supposed to do?”

Pocet pointed to the table, “You tell us.”

Conner’s eyes went wide as he saw the eight four pointed disks. He then looked closer and frowned, “Um they ain’t got blades.”

Sardan took a closer look and scratched his head. “You are most assuredly correct. I had not noticed when I collected them from the forge. Are they finished Aster?”

Aster took a deep breath. “This will sound crazy, but I think so. Grab one Conner.”

Conner moved up and examined them closely. In the middle of the disk were two marks. One was the Holy symbol of Golan and the other was a magical rune of some sort. Then on each of the points there was an additional magic rune. They were perfectly placed to where his grip would rest across exactly one and only one of the runes. He picked it up and gasped it in preparation for a combat throw. As his grip touched the rune of one of the points, the formerly dull edge became razor sharp, only it was made of ice, not metal.

He adjusted his grip to touch one of the other runes instead and the ice vanished off the edge and was replaced by obsidian.

Once again he rolled the dive in his fingers and his grip came to rest on the third rune. Once again the sharp edge faded and was replaced by something new this time, only no one could see it, yet Conner knew it was there. The edges now held a very sharp wind blade. He switched his grip one last time to touch the final spike rune and the edges were suddenly coated with fiery lava. He flipped it around to where the blades were ice and tossed it across the room. It imbedded in a doorframe.

“Ok so what happens when I say Recall?”

The moment he spoke the word “recall” all eight dives appeared back in his hand, but the middle rune stopped glowing.

Conner almost dropped them in surprise then shook his head. I guess the middle rune only works once a day just like I kind of knew it would. Yet I don’t even know how I knew!"

Sardan went over to the doorframe and noticed it still had some ice on it where the dive had stuck in. “Dives of the elements?”

“Water, earth, air, and fire.” Conner muttered in awe. “Yea, that’s a good a name as any for em!” He then looked at Aster, “How did you make these?”

“I had lots of help.” Aster managed to shrug, but even the slight shoulder motion required to do so sent a stab of pain through him.

Conner noticed and shook his head. “You best get some rest bro. You look like a mundane Halfling could whip ya!”

Aster nodded in agreement but turned to face Conner. “You knew our mom, so I need to ask you something.”

“Shoot.”

“Was she a princess?”

Conner started laughing. “She was a lot of things, but a princess was not one of them!” He calmed for a moment but it was clear he still found the question absurd. “Thanks for the weapons, Aster, but you must have worked way too hard to ever come up with a question so crazy!”

As Conner walked out still giggling, the Ruinseeker from the Thunder Rapids who was in charge of teaching all the dependants of the crew how to read and write walked over and sat down at the table with Aster. “I couldn’t help but see and hear everything, so do you mind if I ask you a quick question?”

“I don’t know how the magic works.” Aster replied quickly, “I had nothing to do with those magical writings!”

The man waved his hand, “As much as I would love to know more about the runes, I was not going to ask about them. I was more interested in why you would wonder if your mom was a princess?”

Aster laid his head against Pocet, “I know how weird all this must seem, but when the Dwarf was helping me and talking, he kept calling me ”My Prince“ and he also called Conner, ”Prince Conner“. Since we probably had different dads, it would stand to reason the only way both of us could be princes would be if our mother was a queen or a princess.”

Sardan turned to the Ruinseeker. “Why are you giving him such a questioning look? Aster would not lie about such things.”

The man held up a finger to stop Sardan. “Aster, are you sure it was a Dwarf and he called you my prince?”

“Positive.”

Pocet dismissed the whole thing as he picked up the exhausted boy; “I’ll let you two discuss this. I’m getting this boy cleaned up and into a nice soft bed where he belongs.” Pocet glanced at the Eldwar longsword and called out “Sheath!” The blade disappeared from the table and appeared in his sheath. “Now I can guarantee you I will come to really like this. But for now I have more important matters to attend to. Sardan, would you kindly bring my other sword to my quarters for me?”

“I would be happy to.” Sardan replied then waited until Pocet was out of earshot. Sardan then hardened, “Why is this so important?”

The man didn’t hesitate, “No Dwarf would ever address an Elf as ”My Prince“ unless…”

Sardan felt his blood go cold and his own knowledge of royal court customs took over, “Unless a Dwarf was addressing a true Alphar Prince!”

Sardan and the Ruinseeker both turned to stare out the door Pocet had taken. Both of them spoke at the same time, “But I thought there were no more Alphar!”

Copyright © 2000-2021 Kyle Aarons; All Rights Reserved.
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Aster is starting to get answers to questions that he never even knew existed.  I have to wonder how many others will figure out what he, Kandric, and Connor really are.

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