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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 - 21. Chapter 21

Jamon entered the gates of Slome with Vondum. This was the first time since his capture that he found himself in a public setting. The slave collar he now wore seemed to stick out, advertising he was now nothing more than a piece of property. Every being who walked by, it seemed, stared not at him but at the collar.

Vondum noticed the change in Jamon almost immediately but remained silent. Partly he enjoyed watching the youngster squirm, yet the fact Jamon continued on and didn’t break down impressed the Warrior Adept. Vondum had broken many slaves and had the satisfaction of seeing next to all of them crumble into tears as they entered a town for the first time as the lowest caste where their new status could be seen by all.

Jamon, on the other hand, refused to let despair overwhelm him. He walked down the street beside Vondum showing proper deference but other than the slightly stiffer walk and light chewing on his lip Jamon refused to show others his true feelings. The very fact he met the stares of the few whose eyes lingered on him longer than they should have caused Vondum to hide a grin.

Once it became clear Jamon would not cave in Vondum patted the boy on the shoulder. “You know a slave who stares down a free person could easily feel the bite of a whip. If you were not standing next to an Expert Echelon being you may have already felt a couple.”

Jamon hardened, “Wouldn’t be no worse than what I already went through! I may be no better than a stinkin’ animal to others, but I ain’t gunna be one!”

Vondum nodded. “Jamon, had I known just how strong you are inside, I would have never given you up. Something tells me Kandric saw something in you I missed.” He paused as he looked over to a leather working shop. “Let’s make the fact you have been made lead slave official.”

Jamon frowned, “What do you mean?”

Vondum pulled lightly at Jamon’s collar leading him over to the small shop. “Relax. You will find out soon enough.” Vondum pointed to a small bench inside the shop and let his voice go a bit harsh, “Remember you are a slave, don’t move until you are told.”

Jamon glanced around as he took a seat; the shop was typical of most leatherworker shops. The smell of curing hides, burnt leather, the sweat of hard work, and even some rotten meat caused Jamon’s nose to crinkle. The sight of a pair of kids scraping a hide behind the counter was almost enough to make him sick.

Of all the types of shops he used to visit with his father, leather shops were, in his opinion, the worst. He wondered how anyone could work in such unpleasant conditions as he forced his stomach to calm. He concentrated on what was going on outside to take his mind off the smells, sights and sounds of the shop.

As he stared outside, he noticed a group of young swordsmen trainees marching down the street being led by a man in plate armor. All of the students wore packs that were easily three times heavier than they should be and next to all of the trainees wore armor draped with extra weapons. There were only two or three of the fifteen or sixteen kids who didn’t have massive packs and way more weapons than they would be able to use with any degree of effectiveness. He couldn’t help but shake his head as he remembered his father talking about a similar group of students a year or so before.

His father pointed out to his sons the mistakes made over and over by such students and teachers alike. Jamon recalled his father’s words as he could see many of the students were already showing some fatigue after a short walk. “How can anyone fight carrying almost more than they can support? What are the chances of them surviving a battle when nary a one of them could swing a sword because of their gear?”

At the time Jamon’s father was trying to teach them that just because a being could be trained didn’t make them smart while making fun of trained beings, but now, looking at the column of students putting one foot in front of the other, Jamon realized it had been a general lesson in life as well. Most of the kids out there were not much older than he was and a few were even the same age. Yet he had managed to make a forced march being led by a man on a mount. There was no chance any of those out on the street could accomplish the same thing carrying half of what they were. Jamon scratched his chin as he thought about this fact. Could one spend too much energy and time on a task, such as the kids outside thinking weapons and armor was the only way to win and fight, and end up cutting options in the long run?

As he started to think about this, he also began to understand why Conth had done what he had. His cousin saw the situation as hopeless and gave up. Much like many of those outside would probably cave in and surrender if they were ever disarmed and faced with an armed opponent.

However Kandric didn’t see life in such black and white terms. Slowly it dawned on Jamon the willingness to adjust was exactly what Kandric had been faced with when Kandric had followed in hopes of rescuing him. His current owner had adjusted his approach and had in the end accomplished his primary mission of helping his family while also giving some relief to those he had hoped to rescue.

It also started to dawn on the boy that Kandric’s ability to teach had allowed Jamon to better his own position even though he was nothing more than a slave. Kandric had, basically from the start, taught him to think for himself. This was not something he had ever done before. He hadn’t needed to. His mother and father had done it all for him. Even his stubbornness after his capture had not been a conscious choice, but instead the training of his parents and more than a few beatings at the hands of his dad for giving up on a task before it was done. Quitting was simply not an option under the strict hand of his father.

Vondum broke the chain of thought as he came over with the shop’s owner. The man knelt next to Jamon and fitted the boy with a pair of bracers. Once he had them sized he inserted a metal pin and pounded it flat on each side. It took a moment for Jamon to realize the pins were nothing more than fixtures for a finely crafted and extremely small Dwarven lock. The leather worker followed the first set of pins with five others, three sets in each bracer. He made a final check to make sure the new bracers were not so loose they could be slid off while not being too tight. Once the man was sure his work could not be easily taken off he used a knife and removed the leather slave collar from Jamon’s neck. Finally he handed over a set of keys to Vondum.

Jamon finally got a good look at them as the leather worker and Vondum went back to the counter to handle payment. Each bracer had light metal reinforcement providing some protection to the forearms. The only difference between standard armor worn by countless beings and the bracers he now wore were the four small Dwarven Steel loops hanging off each one and the burned-in insignia of a hand with a chain attached to it, the insignia of a slave. Only this hand branded into the leather also carried a dagger, signifying Jamon as being an owned gladiator or a lead slave; the same symbol was used for both. It also meant he was semi-free. He was in essence a step above a slave while still being one. No one gave orders to or even touched a lead slave other than the owner and those the owner designated as overseers of the lead slave.

Jamon lightly flipped at the attached rings, realizing they were there for the single purpose of restraining him if the need or desire of his owners warranted it. Still, the fact he now wore something signifying him as more than a simple slave gave his heart a boost.

Vondum returned to Jamon’s side with a slight nod and even the faintest hint of a smile. “Now there will be no question about who is in charge when Kandric, Sy, and me be gone. Remember those show who you are, but what you did with the whip and your willingness to fight to keep your status is what really makes you the lead slave.”

Jamon’s features hardened as he nodded, “I know what I have to do sir.” He walked out of the shop with Vondum patting the whip curled up on his side all the while hating what he had done to his cousin.

Vondum nodded in a rare show of satisfaction, “Besides myself, Jamon, you and Kandric are probably the only other two I know who would have succeeded in the depths of the Black Dragon’s Obsidian Fortress.” Vondum paused for a moment as he saw the look in the boy’s eyes, “And yes Jamon, I am talking from first hand experience. Now let’s get you tested and find a suitable beast for you to command.”


Kandric looked out over the lands surrounding Bloody Rock again. He sought out a reason, any reason, to call off the planned attack but he could find nothing. His Outdoorsman abilities detected no imminent danger, he could spot nothing out of place and even his wind spirit friend could find no reason for the attack not to happen. Finally he backed down from his overlook and went back to his group only to find Zeltoss alone was waiting for him. “What gives?”

Zeltoss looked up, “Kandric, something has changed. Teacher Saslara wants us to meet back at the cold camp.”

Kandric let out a sigh, hoping this meant Saslara had decided to call the whole thing off. “OK, Any idea what is up?”

“No, but Londow looked really upset.”

Kandric turned to head back with a frown, “He does not strike me as one to get angry easily.”

“I don’t know him very well, but I’d agree.”

The two boys walked in silence until they crested the ridge and saw the students they had brought out along with quite a few more younger ones. The younger ones were being led by a pair of guards Kandric recognized from the jail. Glancing over at Zeltoss he whispered, “Those are all Step Threes, correct?”

Zeltoss could only nod as he looked over the disorganized group including a couple of kids who were having a hard time standing under the weight of their gear.

Still not believing what he was seeing Kandric shook his head, “Who is the lead guard with the weird small looking battle axe?”

Zeltoss spat out the name showing a rare display of disgust, “Cothral.” He paused for a second. When he spoke again his voice was a bit calmer but still held a good deal of loathing “She is one of the Governor’s pets. She sucks.”

Kandric raised an eyebrow. “She sucks?”

“Yea,” Zeltoss again spat. “She sucked her way to a lead guard rank, literally. Both the Governor and the Captain of the guard get frequent visits from her. The only reason she is not an officer is Teacher Saslara refuses to let the Governor move her into Secondary Echelon, which there is no way she is really at. Even worse, she is the only Swordsman I know who lost in the first round of head to head skill challenges within the city guard 6 months in a row and is still in a leadership position. The whole reason she has the weird axe is she can’t properly swing a real one.”

Kandric let out a slight groan. “You have got to be kidding me. What is she doing here?”

“The only reason she is ever anywhere is because the Governor or the Captain of the Guard sent her.”

Saslara saw Kandric heading down the hill. The look on her face, alone, told everyone she was not happy. Coupling the facial expression with the fact she was opening and closing the fingers around the pummel of her sword repeatedly gave further evidence of how furious she really was.

Kandric noted everyone moved out of her way as she moved to meet with him and no one followed. If anything they moved further away, including Zeltoss who skirted Saslara and moved quietly over to Rylop and Londow who were working with the new arrivals to lighten their loads and check over their selected gear.

Kandric quickly decided keeping quiet would be the best idea as Saslara approached. He could swear he could almost see steam rising off her forehead in the rapidly dimming light of the late evening sky.

Saslara quickly filled Kandric in on what was in her view a monumental mistake by the Governor. The original plan to just take the Training Echelon Step Fours and Fives had been modified to include the Step Threes as well. The added manpower was offset, at least in her opinion, by the fact not a single Step Three had real sparring practice with real weapons. Weighted wooden weapons would and occasionally did real damage, but didn’t have nearly the same feel as bronze. She, for the most part, would take the leftover students after Zeltoss finished picking who he wanted to lead. She went on to say Zeltoss was being given instruction to re-choose who he would bring and she would modify it as she saw fit.

Kandric, for his part, felt a great deal more comfortable with the new situation simply because he was not part of the decision making process. Nothing would fall on his shoulders any more. All he had to do was be a teacher letting the students learn from their errors. This was no longer his idea, his plan. His request had been usurped by Slome’s Governor. Saslara had, upon seeing her younger students marched out without her permission, filed a written protest with the Swordsman Guild under a seldom used clause allowing a Teacher to complain about a local guild leader. Cothral and the other Slome guard would take it to a different Swordsman Guild, the nearest being Vail’s Pond nearly a 3 day hike away. Eventually the whole matter would end up before 3 other Swordsman Guild leaders where the actions of the Governor would be reviewed. There was little question in Kandric’s mind the Governor would end up in some trouble simply because telling a teacher how to run his or her school and what to do with the students was something done only in the most dire of emergencies, and this was not in any stretch of the word an emergency.

Saslara ended the update with a venomous sounding voice. “So, your part does not change much. You remember what we talked about and do not be a glory hound or a savior. Be the Teacher we both know you can be. The Teacher all of us saw in the training pit.”

As Saslara stormed off Kandric realized he had not said a single word.


Glaster leaned back from the table after finishing the last bite of his Dagger Boar Steak. His eyes lingered on Jory who had a real gleam in his eyes after certifying himself as a Primary step two Mage, Healthman, and Scorpion Sect Warrior. The boy’s company had been enchanting over the course of the meal as he eagerly talked about the day’s testing, yet was polite enough to not demand all the attention like so many kids his age would have done.

Glaster sighed as he watched the youngster finish off the last bite of his razor clawed toad legs. The meal had cost more than most peasants could hope to make in a score of months, but Glaster had to admit the lad’s choice was a test of sorts which Glaster himself had taken a calculated risk. By agreeing to pay for the requested special order Glaster had let on how much he would be willing to pay for the boy’s company and how desperate he was. On the other side of the coin it also sent a message as to how rich and powerful he was which he hoped would cause at least some hesitation on the boy and or Klent backing out altogether.

Still, it was clear Jory had indeed enjoyed and even savored every bite. Every bone on the platter was completely devoid of meat and there was no sign of the herb and butter flavored thorny vined potatoes.

At last Jory glanced up while purposefully licking his lips in a seductive manner, “So now I guess it is time to set the terms for my company?”

At those words Klent quickly excused himself from the table reminding Glaster he would have all his men in the stables for mind scanning at high sun.

Glaster smiled while having to shift, his manhood expanding more rapidly than he would have liked. It was clear the meal, which had in total for the three of them cost over 175 silver, had done as he intended. The boy’s eyes, even while attempting to convey strength also showed more than a little fear. He waited until Klent had completely exited the establishment before answering. The more isolated the child was the better terms he could come to. “Name your desired fee and conditions. We will go from there.”

Jory took a deep breath. Part of him knew the man sitting across from him was more wealthy than anyone he had ever hoped to meet. He also knew the man was extremely interested. However, Jory also realized the man was Master Echelon, royalty within any kingdom. If he pushed too hard this man could easily push back and would certainly win. There was no doubt in his mind Glaster could kill every living thing in the entire block without getting more than a few scratches and probably had the money to bribe his way out of spending a single night in jail.

Even though Jory had spent a few hours thinking over how to approach this, he balked at his planned speech.

Glaster, on the other hand, didn’t hesitate. Once he saw the renewed flicker of uncertainty in the boy’s eyes he took the offence. “Thirty silver, no restraints, no weapons, no biting, no fists, otherwise you belong to me till high sun when we meet Klent again. If your are good enough and I do hire Klent you will be at my beck and call for any future nights which will be at the price of no less than fifteen silver and I will be allowed to use padded restraints for a couple of hours at a time at most as I desire. The payment for the long term use of you will be four Primary Echelon mage spell pages and three Secondary of your choice out of my stash. I will even throw in a Teaching Echelon Force Bolt, as I currently have four in my for sale chest.”

Jory was stunned and it showed as his jaw dropped. Never had he gotten more than ten silver and the only way he was able to get so much was to agree to being spanked with an open hand to the guy’s content. Jory briefly shuddered as he remembered not being able to sit for almost three days afterward. But at the same time he had never dreamed the man would be interested in a long term contract. The shear scope of it left him shaken and momentarily speechless.

Adding in the idea of getting spell pages made the possible return somewhere beyond the scope of dreams. His current book only held four pages, all relatively easy to find Primary Echelon spells. The thought of getting four more plus even a single Secondary was beyond the realms of hope. Even the Force Bolt spell, which was by far the most common of the Teaching Echelon Mage spells, was still worth over 300 silver and Jory knew it. Besides, not many Primary Echelon Mages could say they owned a Teaching Echelon spell! When he finally found his voice it was way weaker than he wanted it to be. “No slapping and no tools?” Inwardly he groaned as he realized his voice had made it a question rather than a statement. Making matters worse was the total lack of dispute over the longer term offer.

Glaster knew he had the boy and wanted to make sure Jory knew it. “No biting, no weapons, no fists, no restraints tonight. Thirty silver and you belong to me. The rest depends on what we find out tomorrow from my Mind Master but the full deal will remain in force once you accept tonight’s offer.” His eyes hardened as he stared the boy down. This was a bit of a power play on his part which could undo the deal, but he could tell the money was far more than Jory had ever considered. It was no real different than haggling over goods in a caravan, and like usual his ability to read others was on the mark.

Jory swallowed hard and nodded but still put in a plea. “No pain tools, please?”

Glaster allowed a warmer smile to seep into his facial expression, “Young one, I do not use such items. On rare occasions I like to play with a few toys while enjoying a companion, but nothing which would cause more than a bit of discomfort. Tools of pain belong in a torture chamber, not a bed.”

Jory calmed some, still he knew in his heart he had left too much open. In his years of selling himself for the pleasure of others he had learned to be careful and forceful. Yet somehow he had lost the initiative and had given the man across the table way too much in a deal which was a long term one. He wondered how the man had pulled it off even as he stood and allowed the Master Shaman to put his arm over his shoulder and guide him up the steps.

Glaster quickly sent a runner to tell his guards not to expect him until high sun and to have the Mind Master there. He then quickly escorted Jory up to his room with more than a little lust. Still, his primary concern was the safety of the boys given to his care. Even as he closed the door and kissed the newly guilded Mage on the back of his neck his words sought out more information about Klent. “How is it you came to be traveling with such a man?”

“Huh?” Jory asked, more than a bit confused. “What is wrong with Klent?”

Glaster lightly kicked the door closed and slid his hand down the front of the boy’s shirt ripping it as he did so. “He seems only slightly better than a bandit.”

Jory cringed as he realized his clothing was forfeit. This was yet one more thing he normally bargained for when making a deal for a night in someone’s bed. Even as he felt his shirt ripping all the way down the front he defended Klent. “You are wrong sir. He is no bandit.”

Glaster pulled hard on the torn shirt removing it completely before pulling the boy fully against him. His hands started exploring the smooth chest and playing with the boy’s nipples while continuing the impromptu interrogation. “So how could he be mixed up with the likes of Gambra’s forces?”

Jory grunted and cringed, half expecting the man to twist or pinch; when it didn’t happen he was able to calm a bit more. “He would never work for her. He is a bounty hunter, and a good one. He earned all his money by taking jobs like getting merchant family members back from goblins, tracking down robbers who stole something important to someone, and even clearing out a mine over run by Kobalds once. He owns a large land hold somewhere too with a couple of mines on it, but he never goes there. It can’t be too far though because he sent for money and got it very quickly in order to form this group.”

Glaster continued to explore flesh with his hands, moving down to get rid of the britches. “How do you know all of this?”

Jory couldn’t help but wonder what he was going to wear the next day as his britches were torn off of him. But the deal had been made and he could always use part of the thirty silver to send a runner to get him a replacement set of clothing if needed. “I saw his parents once about three years ago. They are merchants and clearly don’t care for Klent’s chosen line of work. They tried to convince him it was time to settle down and continue the family line. When they saw how well he liked me they even suggested he marry my mother and claim me as an heir. When it was clear their words were being wasted they left, but they liked me too, so I spent some time with them, found out a lot, and came away with a fair amount of silver too.”

“Very resourceful,” Glaster stated with a degree of approval before yanking the last of the cloth from the boy’s body. He let lust take over, no longer worried about asking further questions.

Jory relaxed his body, allowing the man behind him to have full control over the progression of the events about to unfold in the private suite. With his loin cloth also ruined there was no doubt he would have to find a way to send for new clothing, unless the man would pay for a replacement set. But his concerns over his clothing became secondary as he felt the man push him over the desk. Jory had hoped the man would not use his butt, especially not right away.

He always hoped to do most of the work with his mouth or at least provide some spit to make things easier on himself. This not being the case he forced his body to relax further and gritted his teeth as he felt pressure build on his hole. The initial entrance was always the worst but again he bit back a yelp. A few minutes later the pain became more of a dull ache and he resumed breathing normally even as he stayed bent over the desk with the man’s hands groping his boyhood.

Jory allowed himself to become putty for Glaster. He had never really enjoyed sex with men, but had learned from a very young age how powerful and profitable a tool it was. He relished the rare occasions where the adult wanted to provide him with pleasure, but seldom was the case and he could already tell this night would be no different. His mind began to drift as he felt the man move in and out of him.

Shortly after the death of his father Jory had been forced to use his body to secure food for his family. His mother had no scruples about sending her oldest into the arms of any paying customer, for an hour, a night, a week, or even longer. For her it had been about the coin and the cheap, yet highly intoxicating, wine she could buy with it. The first time he came home battered and bawling his mother comforted him not with hugs but with a few coins of his own to spend and enough wine to make him forget how much it had hurt.

Time spiraled into months and years. His life became measured by the few moments of peace and quiet where he was allowed to have some fun, the many nights in the bed of a man or an occasional woman, and the ever present wine to ease the pain and dim the memories. Wine became the answer for everything, just like it had been for his mother.

Fortunately his father’s former employer found out about his predicament and the fact Jory had begun using Autospells. The man, feeling guilty about the fact Jory’s father had died working for him, had Jory tested then found someone to take him in as an apprentice. But the assistance had come much too late as Jory had grown accustomed to having money and for the price of a bit of discomfort he could make several silver a week, far more than any other peasant in his village.

The fact his Healthman teacher made him pay for his own food out of a tiny amount of wages simply encouraged him to further perfect his skills and negotiation abilities as a pleasure boy. Besides, as he had learned from his mother, a few glasses of wine was usually enough to make it all good.

Glaster, on the other hand, was deep into his lust for the child in his room. The boy was almost perfect. His skin was smooth with just a bit of hair starting to appear. His body was lean and his muscle tone firm. Even the lad’s budding jewels were well formed and fun to play with. Best of all he was free yet obedient in the extreme. Glaster smiled as he thought of the new boy he would soon enjoy and how he could have Jory teach him to be just as good in bed. The only thing better would have been to have Kandric, and in Glaster’s mind higher praise could not be given.

With his initial lust spent at last he pushed himself off Jory and turned the boy around. He took some time to pet Jory from head to toe and to finally remove the boy’s shoes. He poured a glass of water and handed over. “You are incredible. Keep this up and there will be bonuses in your near future!” He paused as he again motioned to the glass of water. “You will need this for your next job is to finish undressing me and to give my whole body some pleasure with your delightful mouth.”

Jory sighed inwardly as he took a drink letting none of his displeasure be seen. As he started to kiss Glaster his mind once again drifted along his past customers. Even as his tongue moved over Glaster’s shoulder, Jory could almost taste the wine he knew he would have the second he got some time away from Klent and Glaster.

Glaster’s hands continued to explore every bone and muscle outline on the young teen. At last, with his tongue bath completed Glaster sat on the bed and pulled Jory onto his lap. Once again he impaled the youth on his rejuvenated manhood. He took a slightly more aggressive approach to his groping making things uncomfortable enough to where Jory was forced to squirm a little. This movement was exactly the stimuli needed to keep him hard and firmly embedded in the boy.

What was a long and uncomfortable night for Jory could not have been more pleasurable for Glaster.


Kandric had to hide a snicker as Saslara’s anger continued to boil. This time it was thanks to Zeltoss picking nothing but Step Fours and Fives. In the end she decided to take back a trio of step fives and give Zeltoss four of the least experienced Step Threes. She explained she would need the experience as she was leading the assault into what they believed was the main cave.

She glanced over to Rylop. “You along with my Healthman and our wounded student fortify the upper cave and keep the fire going just as it is now. Any wounded students will go there. Zeltoss will lead his group into what we can only surmise is an escape route. Hopefully they will be in a position to cut off escape as my group starts the assault. Londow and our school spell caster will come with me since Kandric and Zeltoss both have spell tossing abilities.”

Rylop nodded. “Sounds good. Nothin’ should be able to make it past ’em, but if’n they do I’ll rig a few surprises.”

Rylop then turned to Kandric, “Me’ll leave a clean path along the left wall as you are coming out if’n yer students need ta pull out. Make sure they know ta stay right on the wall as they head out er they may set off somethin’ they ain’t gunna want to play with.”

Kandric grinned, “Remember to make a few of your tricks for small ones as the Hobs may well send their young up the passage to escape the fighting.”

Saslara pushed aside some of her rage as she patted Kandric on the shoulder. “Excellent point Teacher. Zeltoss, you well could end up facing a hoard of females and young trying to get out. Some may be quick to surrender only to try to put a dagger in your back at the first opportunity. Do not leave any unguarded until they have been fully checked for weapons and tied. Hobs aren’t known for being honest!”

Zeltoss glanced around at the students he selected. “Watch each others’ backs around any captives. We already have one injury because we didn’t take time to properly secure an area.”

Saslara, satisfied with the planning, glanced up to a crystal clear night sky. "It shouldn’t take us long to get into position, but just to make sure I don’t want either group to start the assault until the moonlight hits the bridge over the stream. We will make Lunara’s light be our signal. The second the moon is no longer casting shadows on this side of Bloody Rock we strike. I figure we have about an hour and a half to get into striking positions. Take the extra time to finalize your gear and grab a light snack.


Aster handed the reins of the wagon over to Olinday. The slow pace of the wagon was boring him and the constant bumps were not something he wanted any more of. With a graceful leap he landed on the back of his Dragonsteed and moved up along side of Segell.

The Druid smiled warmly. “Life on a wagon not sitting well with you?”

“Not at all. This is the first time I have been on a trip with a wagon. I thought the mud was bad but this rocky road with all the bumps is even worse. How do merchants do this?”

A dwarf hired by Pocet overheard the conversation and grinned, “Ya buys a couple a good pillows fer yer backside boy!”

Sagell laughed as she saw the Dwarf pull a large stuffed leather cushion from under his butt to show Aster. “Ah, a long held secret finally given up for the world to see.”

The Dwarf chuckled as Aster motioned for Sagell to follow him further off to the side of the road. When they were out of earshot of everyone he glanced over with a bit of nervousness. “Sardan said you might be able to teach me a new type of magic.”

Sagell raised an eyebrow, “Interesting. So you want to learn Animal Magic? How much do you know about it?”

“Nothing, not even a rumor until the other day. I didn’t even know an Animal Adept could use magic other than to control animals until Sardan mentioned it.”

“Did he also mention there would be a price?”

Aster blushed madly as he squeaked out an answer. “Yea. And all you have to do is name it. No one would give away something so carefully kept secret from the vast majority unless it was quite valuable.”

Sagell sighed, “Aster I will not be too demanding, but I have spent the last few years next to drooling over you. The least you could do is give a lady a chance.”

Aster hardened, “I did once when I was still in the orphanage.”

Sagell waited for more, but nothing more was forthcoming. “Aster, I have heard some horror stories out of some orphanages about kids renting themselves out for a chance to get coin before, but I know you and several others had some bad times with men as well.”

“Yea, I got beat up a couple of times. All of us did. But there was nothing as bad as the single time a woman offered me money. Nothing. I will do what you want and I am sure part of it will be fun, but don’t expect me to suddenly start liking female companionship.”

Sagell’s features saddened, “Have you ever considered putting a marker in on finding and dealing with her?”

“NO!” Aster growled fiercely.

The tone of his voice alone told Sagell she would get no more information. She, however, decided the first chance she had, she would find out more. Aster was seldom bitter about anything. So whatever had happened all those years ago had certainly been awful for him to still hold such a grudge. Maybe Aster would not deal with it but nothing would or could stop her from doing so. She rode beside Aster for a good hour before speaking again. “Are you ready to start your first lesson?”

Aster eagerly smiled and nodded seemingly haven forgotten about the past discussion.

“Good.” Sagell paused. “First what animal are you the most comfortable with?”

“Shade,” Aster answered without any hesitation.

“Fine. I want you to slow your riding pace down and hold on. Let the Dragonsteed walk while you focus on my words.” Sagell waited until Aster got comfortable. “OK, close your eyes and focus on the power you have inside you. The power you tap into whenever you are using your abilities, only go deeper. Find the energies of primal rage, of the deepest love. The energies that allow you to be an animal adept. The very powers you feel refresh at the light of the sun or the moon. Find it and take hold of a piece of it.”

Sagell watched Aster close his eyes, but could see him struggling to follow what she was asking him to do. She lowered her voice and repeated her words over and over; finally she saw him relax a bit and sigh.

Aster searched inside himself for the energies Sagell wanted him to find. At first he couldn’t understand but her continued words, softly spoken, allowed him to go into a bit of a trance. As he did so he not only felt the until-now hidden magical powers within his being, but could almost see them as well. Once he found this energy reserve it took him a bit longer to “grab” and separate a piece of it. It actually burned like a bad stomach ache as he pulled and tugged at the powers with his mind. However, once he did pull a section away from the mass of magic he felt a great deal better, and in many ways more powerful as well.

“Excellent,” Sagell stated gently yet firmly. “Now take the magic you separated out and move it to your eyes but do not release it yet. Just get it into your eyes.”

Aster found he could manipulate the energies he held a great deal easier than he would have thought. The power surrounded his eyes and caused a few tears to flow down his cheeks. He could swear he could suddenly see images even though his eyes were closed.

Sagell found herself astonished at how quickly Aster went from holding to manipulating the magic within him. The tears were a sure sign he had properly moved the magic to where he needed it. "Now comes the hard part, Aster. You need to concentrate on Shade’s eyes, not yours, then once you are certain you have Shade’s eyes firmly fixed in your mind, you need to focus on what your pet is seeing. First Shade’s eyes then what it is seeing. Once you have both release the magic.

Aster concentrated for a few moments on his beloved pet. It was no real problem concentrating on Shade’s eyes. It was, however, a great deal harder trying to figure out how to focus on what Shade was seeing. However, as he tried more and more to visualize what Shade two eyes saw the visions inside his head shifted. He saw shadows of trees and bushes along with a squirrel running up a tree. Suddenly he realized he was seeing what Shade was seeing and released the magic.

Aster’s vision switched focus totally. Everything he found himself seeing was not where he was and was not in colors he was used to seeing. No longer did he have heat vision; instead he had Ultravision so the colors were off. Plus he got to see things from the lower perspective of an animal off to his right and in front of him by over 100 meters. The speed at which Shade moved also caused some extra disorientation as the trees rushed by and Shade tried to catch up to the squirrel before it made it up the tree. Aster blinked and lost concentration just as Shade lunged in an attempt to grab the furry critter before it could escape.

Aster would have fallen off his Dragonsteed had Sagell not moved over and steadied him. Aster grabbed onto her hand. “Absolutely wild!” he shouted. “Was I really looking through Shade’s eyes?”

Sagell shook off the shock of seeing how easily the boy next to her had tapped into and controlled Animal Magic on his very first attempt. It had taken her weeks to get a full image from her pet. “Pretty amazing, huh?”

“Very!” Aster bounced up and down on the Dragonsteed totally unable to hide the glee he felt. “What else can I do?”

Sagell snickered at finally seeing the boy inside of Aster break loose. "You can do the same thing with all five senses with any pet you control. Practice and get used to hearing through their ears, smelling through their noses, tasting what they taste and feeling what they feel. Then, once you can easily do the senses, we will move into what Secondary Echelon Animal Adepts can do. Then and only then will we work on what a Teaching Echelon Animal Adept can do.

“After you learn all of those things you will be on your own since I am only a Druid and not an Animal Adept. I am an Echelon behind you in abilities so within a few weeks you will have all the knowledge and abilities I have found for Animal Adepts.”

Aster grinned, “How come I have never heard of these powers before?”

Sagell’s smile twisted into more of a smirk. "I stumbled across an old scroll case in a Green Dragon’s hoard about seven years ago. Inside were a number of very rare mage spells and a few letters. One was written in Mythling. I became curious and had to pay a small fortune for one of the Watch members to read it, translate it into Northman, and then to research the topic before I realized I had stumbled across a very old and powerful type of magic.

"The scroll was actually a letter being sent to a Mythling by the name of Potharus. Judging by the fact the scroll had a great brownish red spot on it I can only guess the scroll’s carrier met with a rather nasty end before it reached the hands of Potharus. Anyway, it was an order from the Mythling high council to kill all those who had the powers of Animal Magic. It went on to say those trying to usurp the Mythlings were using animals as advanced scouts, including small birds and even mice and rats to gain information. It went on to list the powers to be contained and eliminated. The execution order also listed 125 names to be killed in Potharus’ kingdom and it further ordered the deaths of all their students and families. In addition, it made it clear the order had already been carried out in several other Mythling kingdoms and assassins had been sent out to kill anyone with the Animal magic powers outside the Mythling controlled areas. The scroll was actually a quite frightening look into the brutality of the Mythling wars.

“Once I knew such a power existed I went in search of it. It took me four years to track down a few who knew enough of Animal Magic to teach me and give me more background. Of the three I found who knew how to use it, one of them, a very old Elf, was willing to teach me the basics for the price of sleeping with him and giving him an heir.”

Sagell scrunched her nose. "Well, needless to say I did my part and was taught the magic and given some history on how the Mythlings had all but wiped the world of the knowledge of Animal Magic, but a small kingdom to the north was spared the purge for reasons he didn’t know. However he did say his great-great-grandfather, who had taught him said a Mythling by the name of Potharus was chained to four dragons and ripped into four parts as they pulled him apart because he failed a Mythling order to purge his lands of those who knew how to tap into the full potential of their Animal Adept abilities.

"I would have never believed half of the stories he related about his great-great-grandfather fleeing many assassination attempts from Mythling agents all the while helping those fighting the Mythlings. According to the ancient Elf the murders of those who knew the gift continued for almost a century after the fall of the Mythling capitol, leaving very few who knew how to use it and even fewer willing to admit they did. It seems I had stumbled across the reason this Elf’s great-great-grandfather had not been killed. Quite simply, Potharus never got the command and by the time the Mythlings realized it those who survived had scattered.

“Unfortunately the damage had been done though. The art of Animal Magic was lost to the majority and those who knew it kept it to only their closest friends and family. So now here we are thousands of years later with next to no one even knowing it exists.”

Aster glanced over with a frown, “How come Sardan knew then?”

“Who do you think helped me find someone who could read Mythling?”

“Ahh!” Aster smiled, “so he got to find out what the scroll said too. I doubt Master Lannet could even read Mythling, so who did Sardan find in the Watch to read it for you?”

“The only one Sardan could find, even after looking throughout his father’s court was none other than Glaster. The same one who voted to get an extra team to go to Everone. It is an interesting tie we seem to have to a man who should be nothing more than a Watch member, who up till a few days ago was considered retired. It is almost like the gods are playing some sort of twisted game with all of us, and from what I have heard it all centers around Glaster’s student, Kandric.”

Aster nodded while frowning a bit. “So it would seem. I wonder what makes my Half-brother so important.”

“Only the gods seem to know, Aster,” Sagell commented slowly. “But whatever their reasons, you and Conner are important parts as well. I am sure we will find out what this is all about in due time.”


Kandric sighed as he moved forward toward Bloody Rock. He hated watching, basically doing nothing, while the students of the Slome Swordsman School worked their way down the last safe ridgeline before getting to the upper lit cavern. He knew once the first trainee poked his or her head above the next hill anyone on guard would be able to spot them. He so badly wanted to jump up and take the lead he could almost taste it.

Of course Teacher Saslara had been correct; the students would learn next to nothing if he did all the work. So he continued to hang back and observe. To occupy his thoughts he concentrated on observing each student, trying to spot weaknesses and strengths. The only problem was, he found a great many more weaknesses than strengths. He tried to remind himself of how far below his abilities the kids under him were. This was further enhanced by the fact the Governor had granted approval for the expedition on the stipulation all Step Three students were included as well. Kandric began to wonder if the Slome Governor had done this in an attempt to sabotage the chances of success. After the pressure he had put on the man, it would not surprise him.

Kandric spent several minutes watching each kid, comparing him or her to others of the same Training Step. It took only about ten minutes to find those he considered the best. From there he worked out a pecking order in his mind. Those at the bottom of the list he decided to keep a closer eye on. One girl and one boy were, in Kandric’s opinion, flatly terrible, neither deserving the Step Four Training Echelon pins they wore. He could not help but to snort out a slight grunt of disgust as he realized two of the Step Three kids traveling with them were probably more capable than two supposedly more advanced kids.

Kandric started wondering if he was being too critical when his Outdoorsman training warned him of a possible danger. He waited a few minutes to see if any of the Outdoorsman Students would take note, but much to his displeasure, none did. Again he reminded himself he was comparing his own skills to those way below him in abilities, but it was difficult for him to fully understand since some of those he was “teaching” were older than he was.

Kandric finally let out a low whistle. Much to his surprise every student in the group turned to glance at him. It was nice to know they at least looked up to him for guidance when he gave them a sign of possible trouble. He quickly motioned everyone to take a knee while moving up to a Halfling Training Echelon Step Four Swordsman with a Subfield of Outdoorsman. “Can you feel anything Anettie?”

The girl paused and concentrated then shook her head. “No teacher,” she whispered back. “Should I be?”

Seldnat, a Halforc, inched up closer to Kandric. “Me thinks me do Teach’r. But it be frum behinds nots out der.” Seldnat pointed toward Bloody Rock.

Kandric glanced around to see if anyone else could now sense the danger. None could. Remembering his earlier conversation with Teacher Saslara, Kandric forced himself to hide a frown. Instead he managed a smile at the Halforc. “Very good. I want you to pick someone else, preferably an Outdoorsman, and get me a report. The rest of you spread out and find cover in case we need to pull off an ambush. Half of you are Outdoorsman so pair off with one who is not so you can show them the basics of concealment out in the wild.”

Kandric again forced himself to look something other than disgusted as he watched the small group spread out. From where he sat he could easily select where the students had chosen to “hide”. Instead of doing what he really wanted, which was to select the spots for the students to hide, he made his way over to Anettie who had clearly selected the first spot she saw rather than looking for something besides quick and easy. Keeping good cover between himself and anyone looking on from behind them he moved beside the pair. “What made you select this spot?”

The Halfling looked at him with a bewildered, yet slightly hurt expression. “What do ya mean, Teacher?”

Kandric held up his hand in an attempt to show her he was not as aggravated as he felt. “First off, do not take what I am asking as disapproval. Instead, think of it as a question you are being asked in a class.” He made a wide arc with his hands and arms. “This is your classroom, the wilderness, and your class is setting up an ambush. Now think over the question. What made you select this spot?”

Anettie glanced over at her partner. The female Dwarf shrugged, “You be the Outdoorsman, not me.”

Kandric cracked a slight smile at the comment and looked over to the Dwarf. “Just because you are not does not mean you cannot learn something from this as well.”

The Dwarf chewed on the edge of her lower lip where the very beginning of a beard was just starting to show. “Point taken, Teacher.”

Anettie glanced around and became even more frustrated. “I ain’t seein’ nothing wrong with it, Teacher Kandric.”

Kandric lightly smacked his head a few times, more to compose himself than to belittle the girl, but as he looked back at her he realized it had indeed hurt her feelings a great deal as he noticed a tear slide down her cheek. He sighed, “I am sorry. You have to understand I am very new at being a Teacher. As a matter of fact, you are among the first to find out my true guild rating. I guess I am a better doer than a teacher and I forget, as a teacher, what I do may affect those I am trying to teach more than I ever intended. So let us start from scratch.” He waited until the Halfling and the Dwarf both were calm and looking at him. “Good. Now, do not look around because I am not asking you to locate a better spot. Instead, tell me why you selected this one.”

“OK!” Anettie said slightly louder than Kandric would have liked. “I thought you was saying this one was a bad spot.”

Kandric forced himself to grin, “Gee, am I really such a nasty trollish teacher as to make my words imply something more than I meant?”

The Dwarf managed a sideways half grin. “After what you did to us in the sparring pit, I’d have ta says yes.”

Kandric giggled showing a hint of the boy none of the students had yet to see. “If you think the time in the pit with me was bad you should have spent time with some of my trainers.”

Both girls lightly gulped as they saw the seriousness in the eyes of a boy slightly younger than both of them yet far more skilled than either of them could but dream of being. Anettie regained her composure and got back to the question posed to her. “It was the first good spot I saw. It is above the most likely traveled path, I have some good brush in front of me to shoot through, and there is room to move behind the bush without being spotted.”

Kandric nodded, “You have three good points. However, an Outdoorsman, any Outdoorsman, should also list the disadvantages with the advantages. So what are the down sides of selecting this location?”

Anettie looked around again. “Um, I really ain’t seein’ any.”

Kandric expected the answer and was rather relieved to hear it. He was just about to point out a few things, such as the lack of hard cover and the fact there was no easy escape route, but noise from below halted his words before they got started. Instead, Seldnat moved up beside them with his partner. “It be the gov’ner wit his merch’t kids, 19 in all, includin’ da Gov’nor und a pair a city guard plus a real spell tosser. Him bring’ none a him step threes like him makes us. Plus him gots a couple a spell tosser kids.”

Kandric took the report with a sense of annoyance, yet no real surprise. The governor of Slome had his own school, but only trained merchant class or higher. He used a couple of the town Mages to help a couple of budding casters control their autospells which made his school the only place where a spell casting child could go to learn any type of spell casting skills. “Did you get spotted?”

Seldnat snorted and shook his head. “The gov’ner ain’t no outdoors’n and only 2 a his kids be und both a dem be step three and ain’t even wit him none. Makin’ matter worser, him didn’t even bring no Outdoorsman city guard in da three man patrol. Besides, them be makin so much nose they ain’t able ta hears nothin’ but der own armor.”

Kandric thought over his options for a few moments before turning back to Seldnat. “Can you find the other teams and tell them to let the Governor pass by without us being spotted?”

The Halforc kind of nodded, “Sure, but none a the others finded good spots so me can’t help none if’n we gets spotted.”

“I know,” Kandric agreed liking what he saw in the Halforc more and more. “Tell you what. Starting now you are our lead Outdoorsman. Spread the word to the others and find them better spots if you think we have time.”

Seldnat chuckled, “We gots time. Dem kids be more loaded then we be and they all gots chain arm’r. What me gunna tells Gapon though? Him be step five.”

Kandric rolled his eyes. “Considering I can see his head poking up over the rock he chose to hide behind from here, tell him I put you in charge and if he has any problems he can spar with me tomorrow in the pit all blasted day.”

Anettie gulped, “Ain’t no one gunna want that! Even Gapon ain’t that dumb!”

Kandric watched Seldnat move out with an approving smile. He wondered if, like many other Halforcs, he was not given the correct guild rank due to him simply because of his Orc heritage. It was not uncommon, but in this case Kandric wondered if the testing had been extremely unfair since it appeared to him Seldnat was actually fully trained and in the Primary Echelon. As he watched the Halforc move over to the next nearest group without dislodging a single stone on the fairly steep slope, Kandric became convinced the kid probably deserved to be wearing copper pins, not bronze ones. Suddenly, it dawned on Kandric; since he was a Teacher, he could actually award them in his guilds. He couldn’t help but smile at how absurd it would look to the guilds to have a kid having such a power in a world where the vast majority of children were nothing more than the property of their parents. There were only two ways a kid under the Human equivalency of 16 could become independent. The first was to take over a land hold usually from the death of a parent who left written word of the child’s ability to take over without an adult overseer. The second was to get certified as Primary Echelon in any guild. Kandric couldn’t help but to grin at the irony of himself having been considered an adult at the Human equivalency of 9.

Anettie interrupted his bemused thinking. “Teacher, should we move too?”

Kandric snapped back to the current situation. He started to answer yes then stopped himself. “I do not know. What do you think?”

“But yer the teacher!” Anettie squeaked out with a bit of panic in her voice.

Kandric hardened much the way he had seen Glaster do countless times when the man had taught him some of the hardest lessons of life. “You seemed pretty sure of this spot when I first moved up to talk to you, so tell me why you would ask if we should now consider moving?”

Anettie glanced around nervously, “But Seldnat found us real fast and if a Halforc can spot us then the governor sure will!”

Kandric felt his blood lightly boil as he realized the Halfling next to him had just belittled Seldnat simply because he was a Halforc. Instead of lashing out, however, he forced his facial expressions to remain completely neutral. “So let me get this straight. You suddenly become concerned over a spot you had complete confidence in because a Halforc found you? Does this mean you are embarrassed by the fact a Halforc is better than you or are you admitting you were not completely honest about your selection of a good hiding place?”

The lack of an answer permitted Kandric to gain a victory without even having to stare the Halfling down before speaking up, “Your silence speaks volumes as to both being true.”

“Ouch,” the Dwarf half giggled before she put a hand over her mouth to hide a rather nasty smile.

Kandric rolled his eyes as Anettie still didn’t counter. “Fine, stay stubborn. I can tell you from my own time as a student under one very strict instructor, not admitting you were lazy will hurt you more in the long run than the original error ever could.” He pointed to an area slightly further up the ridgeline. “Both of you get up there and keep your heads down. I am going to slip around and warn Teacher Saslara. Until I get back Zeltoss is in command and Seldnat is his second. I will pass the same word on to the others as I head further up the hill.”


Conth weakly sat up as he saw Jamon return with Vondum. Every movement came at the price of massive pain as the beating coupled with the subsequent whipping left not a single area of his body without a cut, scrape or a bruise. The cold of the approaching night and the lack of food only made it worse.

He hated life, and seriously thought about ending it. There were three reasons why he didn’t. The first was fear. Not fear of death, but of failing. If he didn’t die he knew what had happened already would seem like a stroll in the woods compared to what the massive man would do to him. The second was kind of an off-shoot of the first. He had heard Vondum say he could bring someone back from the dead, and since he doubted the man ever lied, he figured if he did die, he would somehow be brought back and then he would really suffer.

The last reason was what really prevented Conth from ending his own life. He wanted revenge. His hatred for Vondum had exploded. He had done everything the horrible man had wanted, everything. His cousin had done nothing yet for some reason Jamon reaped all the rewards. Seeing his cousin walking next to Vondum with a whip on his side, new arm bands signifying his position as lead slave and a strange, almost cross between a tiger and a wolf-looking cub at his side enraged Conth.

Vondum noticed Conth’s eyes almost trying to bore into him. He laughed, “Boy, them blackened eyes just cost ya any food till morning. Sleep on a empty gut and make the cold your friend you worthless brat. Until ya learn what ya are you ain’t getting nothing more from me, no training, no breaks, no clothing, no shelter. Food will be left over scraps if any of the other slaves are kind enough to give you any cause nothing, and I do mean nothing, will come from me. The only food you will get for sure will come from the dishes of the other slaves. You can lick them clean for all I care!”

As Vondum turned away he rolled his head as a quick stabbing pain shot up the back of his neck. Just as quickly as he noticed it he ignored it, continuing his rounds and making sure the ground work for the new fortress was going as planned.

Conth, on the other hand, found he had regained access into Vondum’s memories. As with previous times, the current situation seemed kind of fit with the man’s past. He was Vondum, freshly out of the hellish pit and learning the ways of an Outdoorsman, the woods devoid of leaves and there was snow on the ground.

A Black Dragonling was next to him, pointing to a trail of footsteps. “Tell me what you can about this trail young enforcer!” the voice spoke in Black Dragon.

The revelation of the fact Vondum knew how to speak a Dragon Tongue almost made Conth lose concentration, but he was able to keep the connection as Vondum continued to look over the ground work of what would be a trading post and fortress. Conth gritted his teeth and refocused his Mindmaster powers.

Again the memory cleared up as a young Vondum knelt and examined the tracks. When he spoke it was in Black Dragon and his speech was flawless. “It was a lone traveler, no tread so the footwear is probably soft yet of high quality. The being is light, as the foot falls do not even sink all the way in. The traveler is tired as there are drag marks even in the shallow snow.”

“And?” the Dragonlings voice took on a nasty hiss, letting Vondum know his analysis was not as complete as he thought it would be.

Vondum took a closer look. Taking his time he stood and followed the footsteps for a ways. “Master Golhaod, I know I am missing something, but I fail to see what it is.”

The smack of a whip across the back could be felt by Conth as he forced himself to stay inside of Vondum’s mind. It surprised him a great deal when Vondum accepted the lash without a flinch or even the slightest sign it bothered him. How anyone, especially a kid, could take such a vicious blow and accept it as nothing more than minor disapproval astonished Conth, but after spending time with the man, he knew in his heart the memory was a true one.

Conth closed his eyes briefly as the memory continued and he could feel the blood running down the wound created by the Dragonling. The Dragonling snorted, “An Outdoorsman must see past what is obvious! Look at the whole picture or feel five more lashes, oh mighty enforcer!”

Vondum took it in stride, as if getting five more combat strikes from a whip was something to be annoyed at but not to be dreaded. On the other hand, hearing someone basically mock his position as an enforcer made him angry, but he hid it well as he stood and looked over the entire surroundings. What he had missed dawned on him suddenly. With a note of self disgust he turned back to the Dragonling, “Master Golhaod, the being is wandering, following no trail, going nowhere in particular. The fact the footfalls are so light suggests the being has no weapons to hunt with or no gear so it is probably lost. The size of the footprints suggests Halfling or child.”

“Much better.” The Dragonling showed a bit of a rare smile, “Now your task is to find our unknown lost traveler without being detected, set a trap to capture without too much harm and secure him or her. You complete this and you will be granted your Primary Echelon pins, be given your armor and the magic you selected, inducted into the guards for the mandatory 2 year stint, and will have a captive to do as you will with! If you do this task well enough, I will even see to it you start as a squad leader. If you take too long or do a poor job, then your 2 years will be as a lowly gate guard to the lower forges, taking the new recruits and showing them what they have agreed to. Your future is in your hands, young enforcer.”

Vondum gritted his teeth as he realized the Dragonling was once again mocking his position as an enforcer in the forges below the Black Dragonling Fortress. Being a guard and dealing with the new recruits would put him in a position below what he had enjoyed while still in training. For as an enforcer he often times commanded the junior guards on the handling of the new trainees. The very idea of being ordered around by some junior enforcer was contemptible to him.

He moved out rapidly. It didn’t take long to find the prey, a boy of 8 or 9, wearing nice clothing but clearly lost and scared. Sobs could be heard from the child as he closed in.

The Dragonling put a clawed hand on Vondum’s shoulder. “Remember you must trap him with your Outdoorsman skills, not simply grab him. Any half-wit mundane adult could subdue such a pitiful whelp as this. To make this a true test the merchant brat must not see or hear you until he is in the trap you set. You have until dusk or you fail.”

The Dragonling backed off leaving Vondum alone looking up at the sky, already well past high sun on its way to an early winter night. As he examined his options he realized he knew everything he needed to accomplish the task except one key point, and in his eyes it was something he had no way of knowing. Quite simply, how could he know which way the kid would travel? Without this information he could set 1000 simple, yet effective, traps which would do zero good.

For almost an hour Vondum watched the child grow more desperate and frightened while the sun sank lower in the sky. There was no pattern to the wandering, no thought given to direction, nor was there any sign the child had any plan to deal with his situation. Frustration almost caused him to step on a stick, but at the last moment correction saved him from giving himself away.

Vondum stopped and re-examined the whole situation. Suddenly he realized it was so much simpler than he had been making it. There was a pattern to the boy’s wanderings. He always tried to head up hill to get a better view!

The test he had been given was not to be seen, but nothing was said about the trap not being seen. He shook his head as he quickly moved to get ahead of the child. Once he had made sure he was basically on line with where the boy was going he dug into his pack, pulled out a few items and rigged the simplest of traps. He then set his pack down, put a bit of snow over it to make it look like it had been there for a while and pulled out a section of red cloth so it could easily be seen.

He then backed off and waited.

As expected, the youngster came over the hill looking desperately for any sign of civilization. His young eyes quickly spotted the red cloth and he made his way over to it. Even though the boy was scared and young he didn’t instantly go for the bait. Instead, he looked around and called out hoping to get an answer. A few minutes tensely passed as Vondum stayed still in some nearby bushes, trying to will the kid to step closer.

Just as he started to give up hope the boy took one more step toward the pack. Vondum yanked and the simple loop trap tightened around the boy’s ankle and another yank took him to the ground. The startled cries were cut short as Vondum pulled the boy over to his hidden spot, gagged him and finished tying him up.

Seconds later the Dragonling appeared as if out of nowhere. “I was beginning to wonder if our Prince had been mistaken about your intelligence. I now see he was not. You did well, Squad Leader Vondum. It is one thing to have the knowledge, it is another to judge what you are trying to trap and rig something to get the job done with as little effort as possible. It has been a long time indeed since I have said this to a student. You have done well.”

Vondum glanced up, “What do I do with this one?”

“As I said before, he is yours to do with as you see fit. He is alone in the royal forest, our land, without permit. Therefore his very life is forfeit if we so desire. As a new Squad Leader, you are an officer, able to enforce the laws of the Black Dragon Home Land within the guidelines our Prince has set forth. Plunder is, by decree, the officer’s to do with as he will as long as tribute is paid to the Prince. I will pay a gold to the Prince on your behalf as a gift for passing. The brat is now yours.”

The youngster struggled against the twine binding his hands and feet as tears streamed down his cheeks. Vondum smacked the child hard leaving a hand print on the boy’s face. “Stop. You are mine and will be mine until you die!”

The memory faded as Conth’s ability to maintain the link started to exhaust him. But an image of the boy, slightly older, flickered in segments for a few seconds. Each image showed the boy older then younger, older then younger. It finally occurred to Conth as his ability to hold the mind reading vanished and turned into a massive headache, Vondum still had the boy. The boy was none other than the servant back at Vondum’s base. Not only had Vondum kept him, but he had been feeding the potion of youth to him over and over, never letting him grow up.

Conth wiped a small trickle of blood from under his nose and laid his head down. Again his thoughts went back to what his Mindmaster teacher told him about the power of knowledge. Yet once again he could not figure out how anything he had seen in this latest visit inside Vondum’s mind could help him.

The only thing he could see was the very real possibility Vondum would make him stay a child for many many years and he may never be allowed to grow up. After witnessing what Porma had gone through, the thought of having to drink the potion terrified him. He wept himself into an uneasy, exhausted slumber on the cold ground as night closed in around him.


Kandric started over the ridge but stopped as the Governor’s students came into view in the valley below. He stayed crouched, not wanting to take the chance, no matter how slight, of his outline being noticed by anyone below.

As the column trudged on toward Bloody Rock and turned, Kandric realized the group was not going toward either opening Saslara’s students were attacking. Instead, the Governor was leading his students around to the back of Bloody Rock, to where the old, long-abandoned large mine shaft entered on the far side of Slome. He smiled as he realized the Governor had only been told the target of Saslara’s expedition had been Bloody Rock. The arrogant man had assumed this meant the main mine shaft, not the natural caves or the smaller shafts on the front side.

Kandric quickly dismissed the need to inform Saslara. Instead, he made his way back down the hill to his group. He gathered up Zeltoss and the others, snickering, “They are going the wrong way. Our attack will be well underway by the time they ever reach the big mine. Zeltoss, I want everyone in position in ten minutes and the second the moonlight hits the bridge you have five minutes to have people in the upper cave and making sure it is secure. The second we see two lit torches being waved and crossed over each other the rest will move in.”

Zeltoss nodded understanding and moved forward with the four others he had selected. Ten minutes after the first beams of the moon cast a glow on the old wooden bridge the torch signal was seen by Kandric and the others. It took only minutes to get everyone else inside.

Zeltoss looked over. “Nothing has changed. The bodies are right where we left them and nothing has been disturbed including their weapons.”

Kandric made a quick check over the dead Hobgoblins. “Good work. We will let Rylop gather up their belongings for the beginning of a loot pile. Zeltoss, you are in command. But our objective is to work our way down from here taking out any opposition as we go. With luck, we will meet up with Teacher Saslara somewhere in this hill. All those with Elvish blood remember this is natural iron and will cause your skin to itch, so do your best to keep it off of you and do not scratch when it does get on you. The mines were shut down because as they went deeper the amount of iron got less and less. So any fresh water streams in the depths of this place will be safe to wash off any irritations.”

Zeltoss quickly took command having a miner trainee take the lead along with the best Swordsman. Right behind them he put two kids with glow coins on sticks providing light, armed with short swords. The least experienced Step Threes he put in the back, armed with crossbows. Zeltoss stayed in the middle with Kandric in the rear.

For almost twenty minutes the group worked its way down a narrow, rough-carved yet clearly not natural passage. At times it narrowed to less than two meters while in other places it was easily ten meters across. This made for slow going as Zeltoss moved up the only Lockmaster to check for traps along side the miner.

Finally the passage opened into a more square passage with a smooth floor and the slope decreased to almost level. A pair of torches could be seen flickering lightly around the passage as it bent to the left. Zeltoss called a halt and had the students take a knee. Barely audible sounds of a conversation could be heard echoing off the walls.

Zeltoss glanced around. He spoke just loudly enough to be heard by the small group of infiltrators. “Does anyone here speak Hob?”

Seldnat nodded with a deep frown, “Me do, but it ain’t Hob. It ain’t even close. Me can’t pick no words out.”

Zeltoss chewed on his lip for a moment. “Can anybody tell me what language we are hearing?”

Kandric, up till now, had remained silent, allowing Zeltoss to lead and others to follow. For a few more moments he struggled with where to draw the line as a teacher. He kept hearing Saslara saying he was a glory hound and should step in only when necessary. Yet to not speak up would be to place the students entrusted to him in extra danger. Looking at the uncertainty of those around him he decided keeping quiet would do a great deal more harm than good. “I am somewhat surprised the two Dwarves cannot identify some of the base words. You are hearing a rudimentary form of Dwarvish, normally spoken by Morg.”

“Morg?” Zeltoss asked with a gulp. “What are they doing down here?”

Kandric shrugged, “At this point, does it really matter?”

Zeltoss shook his head. “I guess not. We are here and we have to try to link up with Teacher Saslara, so what we have to face is what we have to face. Can you tell us what they are saying?”

Kandric sighed, “Not all of it, but enough to know they are Metal Workers on a break from iron work. They are saying something about bad metal, but I am not sure of the exact meaning in the context they are speaking. It is either they are using bad metal or are getting rid of lots of bad metal. It certainly sounds like there is active mining going on inside of Bloody Rock again.”

Zeltoss shuddered, “Iron? I already itch and the idea of us dealing with an iron forge really makes my skin crawl.”

Kandric took a deep breath as he once again wondered where to draw the line between being a teacher and flaunting his abilities. He finally decided putting forth a few ideas would not interfere too much. “If I were you I would make sure to avoid the forge, but if I did have to end up fighting inside the forge I would keep all those with Elvish blood out with ranged weapons. Let the others go in.” He paused and looked over the whole group. "I know most of you have heard nightmare stories about Morg doing everything from stealing and eating babies to skinning captives alive to make armor out of their skin.

“Although some of those stories are rooted in truth, the average Morg is not as tough or smart as the average Hobgoblin. They are small and stout, but tend to be far more clumsy and stupid than their more agile and intelligent Dwarven cousins. They tend to be mean and nasty. Do not take them lightly, but do not fear them.”

Kandric paused and looked at Zeltoss, “It looks like it is time to get your part of this attack started.”

Zeltoss hardened. “You all heard teacher Kandric. Let’s take em down.”

Kandric hung back and watched as Zeltoss ordered his strongest two swordsmen to literally run past the Morg and anything else in the room and get to the far passage to prevent anyone from escaping. The next best two were stationed just inside the passage leading up while the rest were ordered to ready missile weapons and hit the hopefully surprised Morg in the back as they turned to face the two who would rush across the passage.

Kandric had to bite his tongue. He saw lots of flaws in the plan. There were no advance scouting reports so there were no guarantees of there only being one other passage out from where the conversation was being held. The fact bows and slings were being used in a fairly tight area meant there was a danger to the two who would rush across and distract the Morg. Lastly, there was no telling how many enemies they were about to face. Just because only two voices were talking didn’t mean there were only two enemies in front of them.

This, however, was clearly a situation where his input was outside of the scope of what Teaching Saslara wanted from him. Mistakes were to be expected; the key would be first identifying a mistake once it had been made and then learning from it. He backed up, watched and waited.

Moments after the battle began Zeltoss realized some of the things Kandric had already thought about, but it was too late. The selected students rushed down the passage only to find four Morg and a pair of Hobgoblins around a table eating. Two other Morg were standing on the far side of the room next to a large barrel of water washing some of the grime from the forge off while talking in somewhat angry sounding voices.

The passage out of the room turned out to be a pair of doors, one on the right wall and the other directly in front of them. The table made getting to the far side quickly next to impossible. Still, the two did the best they could. The young man broke left, swiping a sword at the nearest Hob and opening up a nasty gash across the startled creature’s face. The girl went to the right, kicking the chair out from under a Morg while thrusting her dagger into the chest of a second Morg who started to stand at the sound of footsteps coming down the passage.

The confusion allowed both Swordsman trainees to get past the table, but the boy found himself tripped and then kicked by the second Hobgoblin while the girl did her best, but failed, to make it to the door next to the two talking Morg before one of them managed to escape through it.

Zeltoss entered the room just as the Morg slipped past the girl and slammed and barred the door with a loud sounding thud. He reacted quickly, ducking under the wild swing of a Morg’s flail while using his mace to knock the Hob away from the fallen boy.

A pair of bolts fired from behind found their mark, one striking the already injured Hob trying desperately to hold its basically bear-like face together, the second one knocking down a Morg.

On the other hand one of the sling stones missed, bounced off the wall and hit the first girl in the side with enough force and surprise to make her drop her weapon. The Morg facing her took full advantage, using the iron ladle in the water bucket as a makeshift club. He smacked her on the side of her face knocking her out and sending a pair of teeth into the water barrel.

It didn’t get a chance to finish her off as Kandric whipped a throwing dagger into its chest, imbedding it all the way to the hilt.

The terribly wounded Morg staggered back and slid down the rock wall clutching at the dagger.

Kandric readied another dagger but forced himself not to use it. Instead he watched over the battle and tossed the second Dagger only when he saw the last standing Morg take a bite out of one of the Step Four student’s arms.

The fight lasted only a couple of minutes but the results, at least in Zeltoss’ opinion, could not have been much worse short of losing altogether. Both of the original on-rushers were injured, one still unconscious. Two others had injuries which needed quick attention, one caused by “friendly fire”.

Zeltoss knelt next to the girl lying in a small pool of blood expanding from her mouth where the teeth hand been knocked out. “Kandric, I really blew it!”

Kandric forced himself to harden. “And it matters how?”

“What do you mean? I didn’t think this through well at all!”

Kandric moved next to Zeltoss and yanked the Elf back to his feet and got right in his face. “Look commander, and like it or not you are the leader for this squad, you made a mistake. Right now it means nothing. You will have to live with it. However, every second you waste crying about it is another second a Morg has to spread word of your attack. You need to get your act together and make some snap decisions!”

Kandric backed away taking a few seconds to pull his daggers out of the Morgs he had dropped. He then ended the life of the one breathing Hob with the ruined face with a quick slash across its throat before he used the water in the barrel to clean the blades and returning them to their sheaths with deadly confidence.

He then took a few moments to fish out the teeth from the barrel and tossed them to one of the Step Three students. "Get her and those up to the Healthman. With any luck he will be able to put them back in before the wound starts to heal. If you do not hurry she will certainly lose both of those permanently.

Zeltoss gazed over at Kandric with a stunned expression for a full thirty seconds before snapping back to the problem at hand. As he ordered the uninjured to make sure the rest were indeed dead, he realized just how terrible combat was. Part of him was sickened by the fact he was ordering the deaths of a now defenseless enemy while another part was angry at the fact the beings in this room had caused serious injury to those entrusted to him. Lastly, he was furious with Kandric for being so cold and harsh while being thankful someone had shown needed strength when he had failed to provide it.

On the other hand, Seldnat didn’t waste any time. He grabbed an axe off the table and took a couple of swings at the barred door while telling two of the uninjured students to check the right-hand side door. With a couple of more swings the Halforc opened a hole big enough to stick his hand through and knock the bar on the other side loose. His efforts were rewarded with the sounds of half a dozen bolts slamming into the other side, one narrowly missing his hand as he quickly withdrew it.

“Me think them be ready fer us, Zel. What’s ya wants ta do?”

Zeltoss looked nervously toward the other door. “I sure don’t want to fight on two fronts. Keep them busy. Fire a few arrows and bolts through the hole you made while I check out what we have behind the other door.”

Seldnat grinned, “No prob, boss.” He pointed to the last two step three students then over to the dead Hobs. “Ya two, grabs them bows and keep em loaded. Pass em ta me so me can keep em guessin’! Make surest a keep out a da way a dat hole er ya might get hits by a luck shot too.”

The kids close to Seldnat looked over to Zeltoss then to Kandric.

Zeltoss snarled once he noticed Seldnat’s words were being ignored. “Do as he asked you! He may be our best chance to succeed down here!”

Those close to Seldnat reacted slowly at first, but after a few quick instructions from Zeltoss they got a system down and managed to form a mini bucket brigade only this one was loading and passing crossbows over to Seldnat while the Halforc passed the fired ones back.

Kandric glanced over to Zeltoss then back at Seldnat as the Halforc fired a quick shot through the hole he had made to knock the bar loose. The rather satisfying sound of a bolt striking soft flesh and a grunt of pain following told everyone in the room the shot had done more than keep heads down. “The next time I see Teacher Saslara, I am going to demand you get retested for Primary Echelon. Your skills are way above Training Echelon.”

Zeltoss was quick to agree. “I think we would be better off with Seldnat in command than me Kandric.”

“I disagree,” Kandric stated flatly. “You have made some mistakes, but those are to be expected. Seldnat has done extremely well and should be your second, but those in this patrol listen to you. There is no better test of leadership than seeing who others are willing to follow. Maybe after tonight those here will be able to take quick commands from Seldnat without being ordered to. Only time will tell and time is something we do not have. Now check the other door and let us get moving. The longer we stay here the easier it will be for those below us to muster organized forces against us.”

Zeltoss nodded understanding as he pointed to one of the Step Fives to check the door. He was nervously surprised when it opened with only a pulling back of the wooden deadbolt.

Two students entered followed by Zeltoss. Seconds later one of the students came out looking a bit shaken. “Teacher, it is safe, but I think ya best get in there.”

Kandric entered with sword drawn. He quickly lowered it as he saw six females, all nude, all of them showing multiple bites, scratches, claw marks and other physical injuries of repeated rapes. Each one had a single chain going from a loop on the wall to a heavy bronze ankle ring. Two of them were clearly pregnant while one of the others had a slightly misshapen infant in her arms that appeared to be half Hobgoblin and half Human. Two of the other three were too young for child bearing while the last one appeared, at least to Kandric, to be in early pregnancy.

Making matters worse for the females, all of them wore fitted bronze masks over their mouths with a small lock on the side. Kandric quickly guessed they were two-fold in nature. The first job of the mask was probably to stop them from eating until allowed to do so. The second was almost certainly to eliminate screams, curses and bites. One thing was certain, Morg would never have been able to craft such devices so there was certainly more than met the eye going on below.

The rest of the room was clearly a kitchen with an attached pantry. The pantry was just out of reach but the rest of the kitchen was accessible to the females. It was well equipped, but with the exception of a few large pots and pans, all the equipment was wood. It was pretty clear the Hobgoblins designed this room around the fact the “kitchen staff” were not willing workers.

Kandric made a quick attempt to pull on the bronze band around one of the girls’ ankles, but it was way too thick to bend. The chain and wall anchor proved to be equally well-crafted. Kandric switched to Elvish. “What now, Zel?”

Zeltoss bit his lip, “I hate ta leave em, but I see little choice. The blond lady was in the Slome guard, but I don’t know her name. Maybe if we could find a hammer or something we could give it to her to beat on the chains or something.”

Kandric shrugged, “Whatever you do, make it fast.”

The others all turned in astonishment as Zeltoss exited the kitchen and pointed to one of the injured students with a stern look, “Gather up the captured weapons and toss them to the captives. They will have to fend for themselves.”

Low whimpering cries of pleading started to echo off the walls once the weapons from those killed were tossed into the room with instructions to free and fend for themselves. In many ways Kandric was grateful the masks were so well-crafted because the sounds of the screams and pleading would have certainly made abandoning the females next to impossible.

As he entered the other room and watched Seldnat continue to fire bolt after bolt through the door, Kandric realized the assault was at a virtual stand still which bode well for the defenders and poorly for the students entrusted to him. With a sigh he moved forward. “Listen up!”

Instantly everyone in the room stopped and focused their attention on Kandric. The pause allowed the students to hear a couple of bolts strike the door with a loud thud.

Kandric rolled his eyes. “You guys keep feeding him crossbows. Seldnat, keep shooting, just listen please.” He waited for a few moments then continued as soon as the crossbow brigade got back to work. “I know even without my help you would get passed this, but we need to do it quickly, so I am going to jump in and get us past this point, but do not expect me to do so again. Understand me and get this set in your minds; once we are through this door whatever else we encounter is up to Zeltoss, with your help, to handle.”

He stared at each Swordsman trainee and got a nod before he gently nudged Seldnat aside. “The second I give the go I want you in there securing the area.”

The Halforc gave a quick nod. “Ya gots it teach’r.”

Kandric took a deep breath and called upon one of the new spells taught to him by the mist spirits. He knelt slowly and exhaled a huge cloud of fog into the opening.

Voices on the other side sounded confused and a bit scared. Even the students who could not understand the words themselves had no problem understanding the tones. Several bolts could be heard impacting around the door, but the fact only one hit the door told everyone how thick the fog spell was on the other side.

Once finished, Kandric backed up for a few seconds and summoned the greatest amount of power he could manage and then cast a second spell through the hole in the door and into the fog cloud beyond. The results were instantaneous. Screams, howls, and even some strangled hisses could be heard. The air coming through the hole in the door was suddenly hot enough to lightly scald both Kandric and Seldnat before they backed away. Steam poured out through the hole for well more than three minutes after all sounds on the far side ceased.

Kandric managed to smile as he snapped his fingers to eliminate both spells. “A quick word of advice guys; everything in the room you are about to enter will be extremely warm. Metal and rock in particular will certainly be hot enough to burn if touched with bare skin.” With those words he kicked the door open.

A wave of hot air and some steam billowed out of the large chamber beyond. Seldnat entered after a few moments. The smells of cooked flesh, urine and solid waste greeted him. A quick glance at the nearest victim explained the smells. The Morg’s skin was partially cooked and covered with open blisters from the intense heat. The agony the creature had suffered through caused him to mess himself before or during death.

As Seldnat continued to look over the room he counted a total of 16 Morg, many of them lying over a makeshift barrier of furniture they had been hastily constructing. It was pretty clear most of them died trying to climb over the debris to escape the effects of the spell. It quickly became apparent their attempted flight would have been unsuccessful as he pushed a table out of his way to get around the partial fortification.

Seldnat quickly checked out the side rooms finding a large and well equipped forge, still fiery hot and a half score of half-made weapons around it. Two other doors led to what appeared to be barracks, one of which held two Morg with crossbow bolt wounds. Those he dispatched with a slice across their throats. Finally, the fourth door led to a storage and laundry area with two more females chained the same way the ones in the kitchen had been. Both women had been overcome by the heat, but since the door had been shut they had been spared the scalding burns.

On the other side of the wall of furniture, barrels, and other assorted equipment the sights and smells of death continued. In addition to the Morg littering the side they had attacked from, the other side held a full dozen Hobgoblins. Many of them appeared to have recently come from a passage behind the piled up tables and chairs. Over half of them had died as they tried to flee the room judging by the fact they had no weapons with them and there were weapons all over the floor close to the barricade.

Finally, at the edge of some steps going down, the bodies of two black and one green Dragonling could be seen. The chest of the green could be seen raggedly moving up and down. Seldnat wasted no time plunging his dagger into the throats of all three of the huge beasts, not wanting to take any chances.

Those who doubted Kandric’s abilities or were even slightly skeptical before now feared him as it became apparent the red-haired Halfelf boy standing next to them had spellcasting powers far exceeding their wildest dreams or worst nightmares. Over half of the kids knelt to hold back nausea while a few vomited outright as their eyes and noses took in the full scope of what Kandric’s magic had done.

Zeltoss, on the other hand, remained calmer than most. He quickly moved up next to the Halforc and verified all the bodies in the chamber were indeed dead. Twice he used his own dagger to finish off Hobgoblins who showed limited signs of life. His eyes went wide at the sight of the Dragonlings but he forced his voice to stay more confident sounding than he felt. “Kandric, I think you better get over here.”

Kandric kicked a couple of chairs out of the way, noticing another pair of Morg bodies half buried under the blockade. Both had bolts sticking out of them. He grinned knowing at least the students under him had done some of the work. His grin faded as quickly as it had spread. The sight of the Dragonlings verified his worst suspicions.

He rubbed his hand over the top of his head nervously for a few moments before shrugging. “We do not have much choice guys, we have to press on. Saslara is counting on us to take some of the pressure off her and her students. From now on any Dragonlings must be your primary targets in a fight. As soon as one shows up I will join the battle to even the odds, but I cannot continue to toss magic like I did here. This used up the force required to cast two Teaching Echelon spells and I simply do not have an endless supply. I already used about a third of what I normally have until next moonrise.”

Seldnat managed to smile, “No matter Teach’r. Ya fights as good as you toss magic. Us’ll be OK.”

As he listened Kandric noticed something and knelt down next to the Dragonlings. His suspicions were confirmed the second he spotted the engraved runes on the weapon held in the clawed hand of the Green Dragonling. He yanked the mace out of its dead clawed hand and smiled handing it over to Zeltoss. “Congratulations, you just got yourself a mace of the dead.”

Zeltoss took the offered mace with a note of surprise. “Wow, this is really light!”

“It is made that way,” Kandric quickly confirmed. "It’s large head is made for smashing bones and slamming into rotting flesh while its magic disrupts the powerful flows of magic which allow undead to continue to exist in this realm. There is a good chance every time there is a combat hit the undead you face will be stunned for one to ten minutes. The lower the form of the undead the better the chance of the effect happening. Skeletons and Zombies almost always fail against even a touch of such a mace while vampires and mummies seldom feel the effects. Still, any damage the hit does is tripled when it hits any undead.

“Better yet, the mace is also effective against non-undead targets and its light weight means it is a very fast and easy to control weapon.” Kandric returned to examining the Dragonlings while leaving unsaid the fact Zeltoss’ lack of strength made it an ideal weapon for his friend.

Kandric then grabbed a spear lying next to one of the Black Dragonlings. “Seldnat, your bravery has been key to this group’s success. This is a staff spear. By twisting the tip it changes into a shod staff and another twist changes it back to a spear. It acts just like the weapon you choose except it gives a light shocking damage to those it hits and it is effective against creatures normally only damaged by magic. It is a heavy weapon so its momentum will take some strength to control, but it also means a hit will do more damage simply because it is heavier than an average spear or staff.”

Kandric tossed the spear over to Seldnat as he smiled, “Remember though, if you change it to a spear and throw it someone may throw it back at you.”

The Halforc quickly changed it into a staff and looked at it with some awe. “Not gunna happen teach’r. Me’ll keep it bein’ a staff most a da time!”

Kandric moved over to the last dead Dragonling and removed a pair of daggers with their sheaths from its waist. “The next two who show true bravery will each get one of these daggers of light. Until then Zeltoss will hold on to them. He and only he will decide when they will be awarded and for what.”

Zeltoss took the offered daggers with wide eyes. “Will we really get to keep all of this?”

Kandric nodded, “Saslara told me magic spoils should be awarded as we go and all coins and other stuff split equally after the assault. I do not think she expected this much magic, but it is here and we can certainly use it.”

Zeltoss quickly shook off his surprise. “We better get moving. By now this whole mountain must know we are here.”

Seldnat shook his head while kneeling next to the body of a Morg. “Maybe not. Dis be da one dat bar dat door.”

Kandric shook his head, “We cannot assume we have been lucky. Just because we killed the one who saw us attack the room behind us does not mean the word of our assault has not been passed on by another. Zeltoss is correct, we must press on and do so quickly.”

Zeltoss pointed toward the stairs beyond the dead Dragonlings. “I just hope Teacher Saslara is doing better than we are.”

Kandric rolled his eyes, “And I hope the Governor is doing worse.”

Several of the students snickered at Kandric’s remark as they moved out, their youth blinding them to the seriousness of the situation and the dangers still in front of them.


Conner left his small cabin aboard the Thunder Rapids totally confused. From the time he first set foot into the Junsac orphanage, family and compassion vanished from his life. The orphanage master and staff certainly never cared about them other than as a source of extra income to keep their pockets lined far better than the Baron of Junsac was willing to do. In fact the Baron did everything in his power to keep the orphanage self-sustaining by having the kids produce enough goods to pay for food and upkeep. Only the initial buildings and wages of the orphanage master, the cook, and the three handlers came directly out of barony coffers. On rare occasions one or more of the local lords would send extra goods such as clothing, food or toys, but this was rare and only done when they needed to show how “good” they were.

This stinginess on the part of the local lords created a simple problem. The wages allotted to the workers were barely enough to live on let alone live comfortably so they found other ways to augment their meager earnings on the backs of those they were entrusted to care for. This basically translated into work contracts being bid out to outlying land owners for needed laborers. Of course this was exactly how Conner ended up becoming trained in the arts of magic, stealth and combat, but it didn’t change the fact compassion and family had been put under the boot of commerce and wealth and stamped out of the lives of the youths living there.

Of course it could have been much worse; orphans were, by their very nature, the lowest of the low in cast. Even slaves held status over them as they were at least owned by someone and did work. Orphans were neither. They were either discarded property of parents unable or unwilling to care for them or the unfortunate products of a dead family line. Many kingdoms ignored them until they came into notice by committing a crime. Most of the time this meant becoming a slave to the kingdom destined to work the rest of their lives doing the bidding of the lord where the crime was committed. Many a mine, mill and tannery were worked by the hands of orphans, their bodies wasting away in the small, often dangerous, spaces. Some mines were dug out by bare hands or the simplest of tools until those doing the work eventually died only to be replaced by other orphans as they were found.

Others became free labor toiling in places like prisons, cleaning the cells and dungeons, feeding the captives and then returning to their own cells each night until they reached the age of ascension and were released with no real skills and only knowing the coldness of a cell at night or worse the abuse of countless assaults by perpetrators of the vilest crimes.

There were even a few kingdoms which took possession of orphans and sold them openly. The practice, although quite profitable, was not really in the best interest of the kingdoms which practiced such policies. Regardless of truth, rumors of creating orphans by treachery or even murder plagued such kingdoms, weakening them from the inside as well as making it harder for diplomats to show such places in a good light.

Conner, of course, knew all of this. What his time in the orphanage had not taught him the endless hours with his mentor had shown him what being an orphan meant to the world at large. Over the years he had not only come to accept he was a member of the lowest caste but had learned to embrace it and even take a weird pride for coming from the gutter to being one the trained elite of the world.

Unlike most other trained beings, he did it on guts and determination. He took some satisfaction at not belonging to some wealthy family. Most trained kids like him got to take the easy way of posh high social class schools to learn in sissy classrooms where any injury was instantly tended to. Sure he had been healed more than a few times, but more often than not his mentor had let injuries be the teacher and lasting pain be the lesson.

Now, however, Conner was forced to confront a long forgotten part of himself as he moved down into the depths of the Thunder Rapids towards the galley. Crew members, thankful for his help in not only defending the ship, but also for the hours of labor he put in to help fix it nodded to him and a couple even gave him a pat on the back as he walked by. Kids smiled at him, some slightly older than he was and moved to the side for him; a sure sign he had earned a spot within the crew.

Finally he made it to the large galley and was slightly disappointed to hear noise of several people. Even at this late hour he could not simply grab some grub and sit and eat alone. Crew coming off of repair shifts were eating with their families and cooks were on duty to feed the exhausted men and women.

Still Conner managed to slide into a corner table with a bowl of fish and rice unnoticed. As he ate he thought over the conversation with Captain Pontarious. His mind could not shake the fact the man really had no desire to sleep with him or use his body. Instead, the guy cared and wanted to get to know the real Conner.

A real problem started to emerge as Conner slowly came to realize where a great deal of the confusion was coming from as he spent time with the man. The real Conner was as much a mystery to Conner as he was to anyone else. Feelings were something he had taught himself to eliminate or at the very least, ignore. Having someone to care about and for was as alien to him as casting a power magic spell would be to a mundane being. As Pontarious talked with him, Conner tried to hold onto his hardened side. Yet after the man finally left his small cabin Conner found he had a few tears in his eyes. Not the tears of pain he was used to but tears of sadness and of happiness all rolled into feelings long ago abandoned as useless to life.

As he ate, those feelings Conner had hoped to lock back up behind the stone wall he had built around them over the years refused to be buried again. Even as he tried to rebuild the internal barriers the fact the Thunder Rapids was a barge with families, not just crew, continued to remind him of what he was trying to forget.

Conner’s eyes could not help but take in the sights of a young girl cuddling up to her father as the man’s wife rubbed his exhausted shoulders. His ears couldn’t shut off the sounds of a young teen crying on his mother’s chest as other crew members tried to soothe the boy’s pain of losing his father in the attack that led to the barge being crippled. Nor could his nose cut off the scent of a cake being baked by the ship’s cook for one of the crew’s young men who had reached the age of ascension and was being formally inducted into the crew as one of their own.

No where to be found was the familiar. No one shouted for the whining brat to shut up. There were no jibes about how fun it would be to have the little girl on someone else’s lap. There was no roughness to the age of ascension party only fun. No one tried to shove their way into line to get the best food, and no one pushed someone else off a table once they were seated. Gone was the bullying he was so used to, replaced by compassion and camaraderie.

Confusion continued to plague him as he played with the chopsticks he used to eat his healthy portion of food with. His choice of eating utensils had been forged out of the thousands of hours of training with his master. The man made the art of eating with the two sticks to be a lesson in control. Every child had to be able to pick up a single grain of hard rice with a 95% consistency before the man would even allow them to begin formal Sectwarrior training. Of course there was a secondary practical side as well, as the use of chopsticks eliminated the need for a wide variety of utensils to be bought and washed every night.

His choice of eating equipment seemed to attract the attention of a human girl about his equivalency age. The girl sat down across from him and watched him for a few moments. She frowned when Conner glanced up then went back to his meal without saying anything but she grew up on the Thunder Rapids and being ignored was simply taken as a challenge. “What are those?”

Conner glanced up again. “Huh?”

“What are those?” She pointed to the twin sticks in his fingers as she used a fork to take a bite out of her own fish.

Conner rolled his eyes. “Chopsticks. My instructor says they are used by almost everyone on the Isles of Jolan’s Belt to eat with. Why?”

“I ain’t never seen em before. They look very hard to use.”

Conner took a deep breath realizing he was kind of trapped into a conversation. “These are easy actually. I have some that are much harder than these normal wooden ones.” He dug into his pouch and pulled out a set of metal ones. “My Instructor makes these at his forge for all his students. They are made of Gnome steel and have sharp ridges on the back side so they can even be used for cutting larger hunks of meat. I guess the people who live on the isles very seldom need to cut meat, and when they do the meat is cut up before serving so there is no need to cut nothing while eating.”

The girl paused to watch Conner take a couple more bites. “So can you teach me?”

Conner paused and looked up suspiciously, “Why?”

“Cause my ma is always on me to learn new stuff and it would kind of be fun to stand out eating with em.”

Conner shrugged, “I don’t see why not. I have about ten sets of these in my cabin and I can make more with any good straight sticks and a carving knife. But it won’t be easy, you’ll have to learn how to hold them and move them before you eat with them or you’ll make a mess.”

“OK, I’ll come to yer cabin tomorrow and you can work with me there first.”

Conner’s eyes went wide. “Well, ah,” he sighed as he realized he had maneuvered himself into teaching the girl. “Yea, tomorrow after I help remove the patch on the number three hold and properly fix it. Once it’s fixed we can get moving and make the rest of the repairs on the river.”

“I know, my pa says your magic casting saved days of work and lots a extra damage cause water ain’t coming in as fast. I hear even Capt’n Pontarious started working on some new mixes to match what you do.”

“Good for him,” Conner grunted as he took a few more bites. He glanced up before speaking again. “So what’s your name anyway?”

The girl smiled, “Sharris. My pa is the second on the repair crew.”

Conner quickly shoveled in the last of his meal just to get away from the conversation. As he stood he nodded, “Mister Kansnor is one of the best wood workers I have ever worked with.”

Sharris watched Conner leave the galley with a smile. Shortly after Conner was out of sight the First Mate walked up to her and nodded, “You did good. What do you think of him?”

She grinned, “He seems OK and he sure is cute. I figure I’ll miscast an autospell when he is working with me on those eating sticks. Maybe he will help me with my mage skills too.”

“Don’t push too fast. He is really smart and will catch on if you aren’t careful. Still, Captain Pontarious was right; you are the perfect choice to get him more active with the crew.” He tossed down a small pouch. “You earned it girl, just don’t get caught.”

“I won’t.” Sharris stated sincerely, “I actually want to get to know him so I really ain’t acting.”

Copyright © 2000-2021 Kyle Aarons; All Rights Reserved.
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I have to wonder who all will be lost in this battle for this mountain.  Bloody Rock may well earn it's name before this is over with.

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