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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 - 22. Chapter 22

Zeltoss ducked under a dagger thrust of yet another Hobgoblin before spinning and delivering a devastating blow into its back. The captured Mace of the Dead crushed several bones in the snarling beast’s backbone sending it into a twitching heap on the stone floor. Breathing hard he took a moment to eye the progression of the latest fight before moving in behind a pair of Morg which had cornered one of the Step Three students. He wasted no time delivering a massive two handed smash into the larger of the two Morg instantly crushing its skull. This gave the young Halfling an opening and he took it, sliding a dagger into the stomach of the second Morg.

On the other side of the small natural cavern Seldnat barreled into a Hobgoblin knocking it off one of the step four students. The surprised Hobgoblin didn’t get a chance to recover as one of the other students planted a crossbow bolt into its hip. Seldnat wasted no time swinging his spear staff on the crippled and off balance Hob. The low swing took the creature completely off its feet and snapped its right leg.

Seldnat ignored the fallen attacker. Instead he simply nodded to the girl whose crossbow bolt had left it open for his crippling attack. Even as he moved on another Hob he knew the girl would finish off the beast. The other students had slowly begun to see him as one of the best and a secondary leader. His continuous and ever mounting victories along with quick thinking had won most of them over. Those who didn’t see past his Halforc heritage fell in line as one after another they found their lives having been saved by him.

Kandric stayed back. Over the past few hours it had gotten easier for him to let the students do the majority of the work as he realized they were not only up to the task but could be trusted to work with one another most of the time. Still he watched over the entire battle with a throwing dagger in his hand. The second he saw a student in serious trouble with no one close to support Kandric went into action. He whipped the readied dagger into the back of war hammer toting Hobgoblin. The wounded creature dropped the hammer and clutched at the dagger sticking out of its back allowing the young Dwarf to recover and roll out of the way.

The last two students rushed in, one going high the other low. The twin attacks finished off what was obviously a leader before it could recover. Kandric thought back to his discussion with Saslara wondering if this latest intervention was going further than the teacher wanted. Part of him knew Glaster would have allowed him to get hurt in a similar fight before coming to his aid, but try as he might Kandric could not, would not, allow a student in his care to become hurt if he could stop it.

He briefly thought about Jamon. He would need to become proficient at fighting and being able to handle himself. Would this type of intervention make him a better fighter? Kandric shook his head, knowing the answer was probably no. Having to fight through overwhelming odds would. Yet seeing Jamon harmed would be hard. He trusted Kandric, and Kandric knew it. Of course Kandric had trusted Glaster and Glaster had known this as well. Yet when the time had come Glaster let Kandric take a few lumps, but when those lumps and cuts came, the creature doing so was put down with extreme prejudice. Could Kandric learn to do the same thing with these students? What about his slave, his friend, both, neither, Jamon? It was all so confusing and hard to figure out.

Kandric chided himself as he realized thinking about Jamon, actually going to bed with Jamon, was becoming a major distraction. He had to focus on what was best for those in his care now, not what he would demand of Jamon later. Still, if he really wanted Jamon as a friend, could he really continue to order him around?

Kandric chewed on his lip in thought as he again glanced around making sure all those under his care were safe for the moment before returning to the problem of his favorite bed partner. As he did so he suddenly realized he had been in the same type of situation with Glaster. The man had basically owned him for all those years. He had been too afraid to say no to anything since the thought of being gated and left in some far away land had been drilled into him from the first day Glaster had reveled who he really was. Yet Kandric was now totally loyal to him. Could he make the same happen to Jamon? If anyone would know, other than Glaster, it would be Vondum.

This new thought again put Kandric’s mind off the current situation and back onto something more pleasurable, yet slightly troubling. The more he thought about his time in bed with Glaster and Vondum he realized both men were wonderful to be with, but he was doing what they wanted. It was his mouth and his butt doing most of the work. Yet when he was with Jamon, it was totally reversed, He did not have to give the pleasure, he could simply receive everything he wanted and only give what was the most fun for him. In short, he was in command.

Sure, both Glaster and Vondum had given him a great deal of pleasure with their soft touches and tickling, their kisses and their light touches over his most sensitive parts, but only occasionally did Glaster do the work with his mouth and Vondum had yet to do so although he did give in to the request to allow access into his depths, something Glaster had never done, but had paid for Kandric to do so with others more than a few times when Kandric had complained about only being on the receiving end.

Glaster had once told him he would one day be in charge of men, women, and children both in combat and in sex and would understand why Glaster did what he did. Now, as Kandric found himself getting a taste of both, he was starting to realize just how understated those comments had been. Both command in combat and in bed gave him great satisfaction and even stranger there was a close relationship of pleasurable feelings from commanding people in battle as there was in being the dominate one in a sexual relationship. It was weird, yet still scary, to know the lives of others were in his hands. The same thing could kind of be said for the times he had ordered Jamon into bed. There was power yet fear of being so much in control, not wanting to do anything to damage the relationship. Maybe this was what the feeling was; it was an ecstasy of command, an almost sexual excitement from power.

While Kandric was off to the side in deep thought, Seldnat switched his weapon into a spear and plunged it into and through the final Morg in the cavern with snort. “Die ya bastard!” The young Halforc took a quick look around before planting his foot on the impaled Morg and with a sharp twisting tug removed his spear out of its gut. Other than the sounds of heavy breathing from the students and a few gurgling sounds of the dieing creatures they had defeated all was quiet. “Me thinks us be clear again Zel.”

“Double check. I don’t want any of them playing dead again. We lost Anettie’s arm, we ain’t about to let it happen again.” Zeltoss commanded as he took a knee. “Speaking of Anettie, I hope she is well on her way back to Slome by now. The guards need to know about this place!”

Seldnat sighed, “She hurt bad, ain’t likely she got out a the hill yet. Me jus hopes sendin’ her wit the step three be enough.”

“We couldn’t spare anyone else and he was getting on all our nerves with his complaining so he was the perfect choice.” Zeltoss stated with a sense of conviction he had never before found within himself. He glanced around and pointed to one of the Morg bodies still gripping a crossbow. “Someone grab his gear. It looks better made than most. The rest of you fan out and check for other good stuff and make sure we are fully clear. Once the area is fully secure and we re-supply bolts and arrows from those we took down we stop.”

“What ya mean?” Seldnat voice piped up, “We stops what?”

Zeltoss snickered despite how tired he was. “I mean we rest. Once our supplies are back up we are going to take a break. I’m wiped out.”

“Oh, yea, me think ya gots a good plan boss. Me tired too!”

Zeltoss, glanced over to Kandric, “Is it OK?”

Kandric, still in distracted by his own thoughts missed the question. Finally Seldnat nudged him with the back of his spear, “Teach’r?”

Kandric snapped out of his daydream, “Sorry, I was thinking about something else.”

Zeltoss grinned, “Then we must be doing better.”

Kandric couldn’t help but smile, knowing where Zeltoss was coming from. “You are. All of you have really started to blend into a team. I only had to throw one dagger this time. I am still hoping there will be a fight where I do nothing, but I get the feeling the time is coming far more quickly than I could have hoped. So what was the question?”

“I told them we need to take a long break.” Zeltoss responded while dropping some of his smile. “We are wiped out Kandric.”

Kandric took a deep breath and glanced around at the students around him, now all looking at him with a mixture of exhaustion and hope. Ever since Kandric had gotten them past the forge area, it had been one skirmish after another. Four times he had to jump into the fight to take on a Dragonling. Three of them had been Black one Green. Three other times, Kandric had entered the fray to engage a major leader he had judged too powerful for the students to even tangle with.

Up till now he had avoided using any more magic force, but he had a couple of nasty claw scratches to show for it. Most of the battles, however, were similar to this one where the students took on some Hobgoblins and a smattering of Morg and he would jump in when one or more of them got into trouble. If he had kept count correctly, they had taken down more than 4 score of Hobgoblins and at least a full score of Morg. The place was literally crawling with enemy forces.

Kandric found it odd, however, at the lack of skill of most of those they had fought. Other than the Dragonlings and the three good leaders, he seriously doubted even a dozen of those they had killed had been trained and by far the greatest majority of the victories had come against mundane beings.

Kandric retrieved his dagger and glanced around. No matter how unskilled the defenders were, it made little difference to the group of Training Echelon students entrusted to him. All the kids were filthy, tired, and in need of a long rest. Worst of all it showed. They each held several minor injuries which didn’t amount to much alone, but cumulatively the injuries meant none of them were even close to 100%. Coupled with the pure exhaustion he was witnessing, each and every encounter from here on would mean an increasing likelihood one or more of them would make a mistake, possibly fatal.

On the plus side, since they pushed past the barricade at the forge, Zeltoss and Seldnat had done a fabulous job of commanding, gaining more confidence with each encounter. None of the remaining students had been injured badly enough to have to be sent back to the cave entrance except Anettie, and in Kandric’s opinion her injury was a blessing since she was by far the worst performer and Zeltoss had been smart enough to get rid of the little whining brat Jormund. In Kandric’s opinion, using him as her guard out of Bloody Rock and back to Slome to get help had been a truly brilliant move.

Now, however, they were so far down inside of Bloody Rock it would be difficult and very time consuming to extract a wounded student let alone have someone come to their rescue. Taking stock of the situation Kandric shook his head. “We cannot stay here. We are still too close to a main passage. Sooner rather than later someone or something will stumble upon us if we stay here.”

Zeltoss sighed, “Yea, yer right as always. We need to take five then move out.” He paused and looked over the large natural cavern. “You know this would be a really pretty cave if it wasn’t for the iron, Hobs, and Morg.”

Kandric paused to really take a look around. Zeltoss was correct; the cave chamber was actually quite spectacular. Massive reddish brown columns stretched from the ceiling to the floor throughout the area. Dozens of stalagmites and stalactites, some several feet long dotted other areas, while a crystal clear lake with a few pure white blind fish swam aimlessly not noticing the presence of light being put off by some torches on the walls and a few glow coins held by the students.

Kandric moved over and dipped his finger in the water and pulled it out quickly. The momentary destruction of the calm water sent the fish darting away from the pool’s edge. He wiped his finger off on his tunic and turned to Zeltoss. “Those who do not have Elvish blood should refill their water skins here and even wash up. There is still too much iron in the water for Elves though. We will need both food and water if we expect to survive long enough to have any hope of finding Teacher Saslara. Those of you who still have water from up top give it to those of us with Elvish blood so we can have enough non-iron heavy water to drink. As soon as we get re-organized we will move out.”

Zeltoss looked over to Kandric with some skepticism on his face. “I know we are supposed to link up with Teacher Saslara, but we have to stop. Each fight is wearing us down more and there is little chance we could even accidentally stumble over her down here at this point.”

Seldnat took a deep breath, “Him be right teach’r. Us need ta take somethin’ more den a breath. Us need a long stop and we be very close ta bein’ lost erselves down here!”

Kandric nodded without any hesitation but also decided to take full command regardless of what Saslara had told him, "I fully agree. None of us had any clue this place had anywhere near this extensive a complex under it. I used to play out here and checked out several of the small caves, but never went too deep. It never occurred to me this hill was riddled with natural caves and carved out passages linking almost all of them. We could fight down here for days without finding her, and at this rate we very well may have to. However, we have to find a spot we can secure and have at least a fighting chance of not being discovered before we can rest.

“I want all of you to get some water and rest for a few minutes. As soon as everyone has their wind we will have Rylop move up and join us with the Healthman and the injured. Once we are together we will move out, but instead of working down around such a main passage we will take the first small cave or passage and try to find some side area not being used. It may take us three hours or more to get Rylop then find a safe spot which will mean we will all be more tired than what we already are, so we will slow down the pace and try to avoid combat until we are rested.”

Kandric watched the faces of all the students fall in dismay. He took a moment to turn his back on them so they would not see him roll his eyes. With his back turned he spoke, “I will make a deal with all of you. From now until we find a safe spot to rest I will fully join in any fights. Once we link up with Rylop, he too will fight with us until you all get a good sleep and meal in you. Furthermore, I will use up most of my magic to heal all of you who do not complain once we do stop.” He turned back to face the students. “Any questions?”

“Yea.” Zeltoss answered almost instantly, “Then what?”

Kandric took his time before answering. When he did so his voice was low and deadly serious. "Then we rest, take shifts and get some sleep, and completely change tactics. We came in here expecting to take out some Hobgoblins in a few light fights, link up with the rest of the school’s forces and finish off a few last bits of resistance. None of it has or is likely to happen. There is no way we will win the day before the sun comes up. Actually I am positive it already is up. One thing is absolute, there is zero chance we will all link up and stroll back into Slome before high sun like Teacher Saslara had planned.

"Unless I miss my guess we are already well into tomorrow with no end in site so from here on out we are going to re-supply with not only expended bolts, arrows, and sling stones but also food and water. All weapons and other useful equipment we cannot carry will be hidden in small caves and covered with a rock or two so they cannot be easily found and used against us. I want all of you to pay attention to where we do stash the extra gear though. Incase you get separated; this could serve as supply points for you.

“On the plus side the Dragonlings, Hobgoblins, and Morg will not expect us to alter what we have been doing. We have to keep them off guard and expending a vast amount of energy until Captain Vondum and his friends arrive. Even if our two scouts do not make it, he will miss us and will come looking. Teacher Saslara left word with the Slome guards where we were going, so we will get help, but, again, it may be a couple of days or even more. Until then we must continue fight and weaken the defenses of the forces here. What we do here will directly impact Slome and the Swamp Slums, our homes.”

Kandric paused, took a deep breath, and looked over the tired group of kids in front of him. “So do we press the fight and defend family and friends or do act like the useless kids all the adults think we are?”

One by one exhaustion was replaced by grim determination in the eyes of the students looking at Kandric. After a few minutes more of rest they hefted themselves off the floor and adjusted their gear as one.

Zeltoss managed a smile as he glanced around the cavern. He still had the two daggers of light captured in the forge somewhere far above along with a shock spear in addition to a glowing set of spiked gloves Kandric could not identify taken from one of the other Dragonlings Kandric had taken down. He tossed all of them on the floor. “Nylod and Bonif, each one of you take one of these the other two go to our Miner and our Lockmaster. The rest of you will get magic based on current guild ranks as we find it. Teacher Kandric’s plan will only work if all the power we got is being used.”

Seldnat gathered up a couple of water skins before making sure all the others had taken and split up all the arrows and bolts, “Ain’t see no eats Teach’r.”

“We will be fine for now.” Kandric replied, “We all have a full day of food left in our packs, but from here on, we start looking at food as something to be taken before most other kinds of loot. I want everyone to get their minds set to be down here for days or even weeks if needed. If it is even slightly edible we will have to stomach it. We will strike and move, move and strike. Rest will come when we find an area we can secure and we will not stay anyplace long. Our goal is no longer to win but to simply keep them off balance and weaken their forces.”

Bonif messed around with the spear to get the feel of it as he glanced over at Kandric. “What about Teacher Saslara?”

Zeltoss responded knowing the answer Kandric would have to give, “If we find her or any of the other students great, but the chances of stumbling across her in this mess is next to nothin’. We have to guess we be on our own! We can’t worry about nothing but our own survival now. All of us have to forget the old plan and go with this one or we won’t live long down here.”

Seldnat rubbed his chin for a few moments, “Ya know Teach’r, us could mess em up good and goes all da way up ta da kitch’n, grab all sorts a grub, den goes back down some other ways. You say us need ta get Rylop anyhow.”

A smirk crossed Kandric’s features, “Now there is an interesting twist. Zeltoss, you are the leader. What do you think?”

Zeltoss stretched his aching muscles, “I like it. I just hope they haven’t cleared the eats out of the upper kitchen. One thing is for sure they would never expect us to go all the way back up then turn right back around on them. Let’s do it!”


Glaster woke early and gently rolled the exhausted Jory off him. He took a few minutes to run his hand over the nude body before getting dressed and heading down for breakfast. Before he entered the dining area he stopped one of the barmaids and gave her a stack of silver coins with strict instructions to get some good clothing for the young man in his room.

As he sat down to eat he realized the prior night was not only something he wanted, but needed. His mind was clearer and he no longer looked at every boy and young teen in a lustful way. He smiled and half snickered to himself as he ate a bowl of oatmeal and eggs as he again knew his desire for boys was every bit as much an addiction as those who fell into the Black Lotus or alcohol traps others fell into.

The only difference was boys didn’t cloud the mind like the other things did…or did they? Glaster chewed on his lip for a moment as he realized with his desire for a boy eased he could better work with his young charges and more easily focus on other tasks such as finding the real Klandon. The distractions could be mitigated if not completely ignored, and without glancing at every cute kid around him his mind stayed on task longer. It was an interesting observation Glaster filed away for later. For now he had to follow the few breadcrumbs of a trail he still had. His most interesting and there for most promising clue at this point was the change in Zoldon’s behavior since their arrival in the town.

Tracking down what had caused such a radical shift in the boy had now become a top priority for Glaster. The deal he had struck with Perth’s father was one angle of attack, but Glaster was not going to place all his trust in a mere beggar, no matter how much he had motivated the man. Instead, before going to collect Perth, he decided to once again change the training of all the boys. He would push them harder, put them through more grueling tests, and nudge them to the edges of endurance then a step beyond.

Zoldon had been put through forced casting according to his dreams. If he could create a similar situation, without the innate dangers associated with forced casting then maybe, just maybe, he could crack the memories of the boy open and simply push past the magical tampering Zoldon had endured. For if there was a dream of past events there was a memory. All he had to do was find the key to unlocking it.

In the long run some or even all the boys may grow up to dislike or even hate him, but they would be all the stronger for it. There was no chance he could train any of them as fast as Kandric; they simply did not have the drive, desire or need. Still, as he had found out with countless students in the past, the best training was out in the world not in a classroom.

As Glaster mounted his Dragonsteed to collect Perth, he knew it was too early in the boys’ training for them to get their first taste of real combat, blood, and injury. Yet for him to help Zoldon and possibly find and save Klandon, combat would be exactly the kind of thing which may break down the barriers of magical tampering. The trick would be to set up something they stood at least half a chance of surviving.

As Glaster rode toward the Babbling Brook bath house he made a mental list of what he felt the kids stood any chance of surviving. He came up with a score of ideas but only a few possibilities were really within the scope of something the kids would not have a chance of realizing was a set up. The first was by far the easiest; however it also would create the least chance of putting any of them in enough danger to do Zoldon any good. The chances of another student pushing the boy enough to get past magical tampering was sight at best.

A slightly harder battle would be against a mundane adult or two, but there again such a fight would probably not create enough fear to shatter the repeated magical blocks put into Zoldon.

What Glaster needed was to set up a fight with a real threat, one not expected or in the face of a familiar opponent. A Kobald, Hellcat, or even a Caviling, would be perfect. He couldn’t help but chuckle as he realized Kandric had been able to take on Orcs, Goblins, and even Lizardmen at the same equivalency age. Of course Kandric had also cast his first set of Primary Echelon spells and had complete command over an assortment of weapons suited to his small size as well by Zoldon’s age, so the comparison was not fair.

But still, Glaster could not help but wonder how far he could push the kids in his care. They were not exactly spoiled brats, but their comfortable and safe royal lives had prevented much of the real world edge most boys their age would have to face. The training coupled with the trip had undone some of the pampering they had grown accustomed to, yet to face any real combat was something else entirely. Judging by the street fight Zoldon and Mylan were ready but the others were large question marks.

This in itself was a major problem since the boy he needed to push was also one of the two he was comfortable with fighting in real combat. As he halted his Dragonsteed in front of the inn another possibility came to him. Since the two he was most comfortable with were now teamed up maybe he could figure a way to separate them and test them away from the others.

This would mean Mylan would end up outdistancing his brother by more than he already had, however, it would also allow him to focus his protection on two boys instead of six and allow the two boys to develop a bond far deeper than friendship. The trick would be to do it in a way not noticeable to the others. As a teacher he could not allow anyone to see him as playing favorites, even if it were the case, which in this case he felt he was forced into doing, both for Zoldon’s and Klandon’s sake.

Glaster’s chain of thoughts was shattered as a freshly groomed and well dressed Perth exited the inn and came walking gingerly up to him. The way the slender lad was carefully placing each footfall informed Glaster the poor child had undergone a circumcision as he had ordered and was now in a great deal of discomfort, not only from the cut but from the exposed head no longer having a protective covering.

Glaster nodded to the guard as a way of returning the man’s salute. Each knowing further conversation between them would have to wait until the investigation of the local lord was completed.

Glaster motioned for Perth to move closer. As he knelt to examine the grooming the youngster had undergone, Glaster summoned a powerful healing spell which took care for the physical pain of the cutting. As with the prior night a sigh escaped Perth’s lips as the worst of the discomfort vanished. Glaster patted the boy on the back as he finished the inspection. “It will still be a few days to a couple of weeks before you no longer feel uncomfortable. No magic can take care of over sensitivity of the newly exposed skin, but once you are over the adjustment you will be fine.”

Perth nodded, “The heath guy say same thing.”

Glaster frowned for an instant before forcing his face to a more neutral appearance. “Repeat this. The Healthman said the same thing.”

Perth looked confused for a moment but quickly complied, “The Healthman said the same thing?”

“Better!” Glaster smiled in satisfaction before ruffling the boy’s hair. “Perth I could tell last night you were an intelligent child. This only confirms it. You did as you were told without even knowing why other than I told you to do so. This tells me you understand I am in complete command of you and you can listen and follow quick unexpected instructions. This is a very good start to your new life.”

Perth still looked more than a bit bewildered but managed to smile knowing a compliment when he heard one. “Thank you.”

Glaster lifted the child up onto his Dragonsteed. Without much effort Glaster also mounted the animal and put his arm around his newest pleasure boy. “Hold on, but do not wiggle. This animal is not used to dual riders and it is one of the hardest beasts to learn how to ride. It will not be too long before you will be able to ride all sorts of animals but this is not one to start your training on.”

Perth winced as the Glaster spurred the Dragonsteed forward, more with worry than with discomfort, although there was plenty of each. He calmed as he adjusted to the movement of having an animal under him for the first time in his life. Though less fearful, the movement caused him a great deal of distress.

However being a boy, it didn’t take long for curiosity to overcome both the fear of the man behind him and the pain in his loincloth. “Me do whats you wants now, so what me do?”

Glaster chuckled, “first you learn to talk like an intelligent being. Repeat this, I am doing what you want so what else do I do?”

Perth turned to look at Glaster, “I am doing what you want so whats do I do?”

“Close, but not quite. I am doing what you want now, so what else do I do.”

Perth chewed on his lip for a moment as he replayed the words in his mind before speaking. “I am doing what you want now, so what else do I do?”

Glaster again ruffled the boy’s hair. “Excellent! Starting now you are going to start speaking correctly. Each time you speak in a poor manner I am going to correct you. When I do, I expect you to repeat what I say so you get used to proper grammar. Over the next three moons I will continue to teach you in this manner, after three moons you will start getting punished for incorrect language so you better pay close attention.”

“That’s it?”

“Using the word, that, happens to be one thing I will have you work on. It is far to over used and mostly unnecessary. But for now, I will allow you to use it until you get used to speaking properly. One thing I will not tolerate is the use of shortened words.”

Perth’s confusion could be easily seen as his brows scrunched down and his eyes tightened into a squint. “Huh?”

"Putting two words into one, Perth, is not an acceptable way of speaking when dealing with anyone in the upper castes. Saying that is instead of that’s, does not instead of doesn’t and under no circumstances do I ever want to hear ain’t. You will get the feel for it quickly as long as you repeat what I say when you make a mistake.

"As far as what else you need to do, well, until you fully heal not much other than what I tell you. Under no circumstances will you ever tell me no unless I am asking you a question, nor should you ever move away from me when I am enjoying the feel of your body. After you heal you will quickly discover what more I am interested in. Furthermore, you will start learning how to read and write immediately. I will not tolerate being around an illiterate as it makes you no better than any other two legged beast.

“In the mean time I want to know more about you. Tell me what you enjoy to do, what you like and do not like to eat, and what you feel you are good at along with what you are not. As you tell me about yourself I will correct your speech often. Do not get frustrated, as you have never been taught correctly. All I ask from you is to try to learn how to speak better. It is not something I expect overnight.” Glaster slid his free hand down and gently rubbed Perth’s smooth leg. A satisfied smile crept into his features as he headed back to the inn.


Conner rolled his shoulders and neck to stretch. The work below decks was hard, wet and cold. Part of him, however, was glad he had been made part of the repair crew and not part of the bucket crew. No one aboard Thunder Rapids had been excused from damage duties. Even the youngest family members had to spend some time tossing buckets of water over the side brought up with a pulley system from below.

Those working on buckets were rotated out more often, but had by far the worst of it in Conner’s opinion. There was no way they could avoid getting wet and those above deck had the cold wind blowing on them constantly.

Still, the actual repair work to the hull of the barge was nothing to laugh at. The patches originally put in to simply close the breaches caused from hitting the toll chain had to be removed and properly repaired. So in addition to battling with incoming water once each patch got pried loose the repair work had to be accurate and the quality perfect.

Captain Pontarious saw Conner’s attempt to loosen his muscles out of the corner of his eye as he supervised work on the removal of the next temporary patch. “Conner, take a few hours. You have spent more than your share of hours down here.”

The disheartened sighs from a few of the other ship hands gave testament as to the youngster’s abilities with wood work. The very fact adults were disappointed to hear a boy working with them was getting a break brought a smile to the captain.

Conner shook his head, “Sir, the five of us are a team and we’ll have this finished in less than three hours, then all a us ’ll be happy ta take a break. Let’s get this done first. As soon as it is I’ll toss up another wind wall so number one crew can get the work on the largest patch and even get started with repairs before the water starts rolling in down here again.”

Pontarious started to state the obvious facts about Conner working two crews and taking zero down time other than to eat and sleep but stopped himself. The truth was Conner’s work was top notch and since he was pulling every bit as much of a load as any other crewmember he was gaining acceptance as well as friends. Since this was exactly what Captain Pontarious had hoped would happen he merely scowled and nodded, “Fine. But then I expect all five of you to take a full day off. Repairs are well ahead of where I expected them and I am not going to be known as a slave driver!”

Conner grinned as the others on his crew patted him on the back. All of them took some extra heart at the idea of having a full day off and really put there back and best effort into the task at hand. Less than two hours later the tar was applied to the fully repaired section.

Pontarious inspected the work while Conner tossed up the promised wind wall over the latest repair area. “Good work men. Get some chow and take the break you all earned it!”

Conner started to walk over to the completed work for a final look only to be grabbed by the shoulder and led up to the galley by a pair of his crew mates. The older one wagged a finger at Conner. “The capt’n say we be done, so we be done.”

Conner glanced back at the patch with a frown, “But we could smooth out the…”

“Let it go already!” the younger one demanded. “The finishing crew will smooth out everything once da damned tar dry! The capt’n say we done good work. Let’s eat!”

Conner gave in. “OK, OK already!” He headed up to the galley slightly annoyed yet enjoying the camaraderie. Even as he sat and ate with a table of his fellow crew members, he didn’t realize he was choosing not to eat off to the side and alone for the first time since boarding the barge.


Queen of the Alphar, Jostallis, knelt in a formal Dwarven greeting as Duke Mathard of the Northern Garm Kingdom of Winter Creek removed his platinum winged helm before bowing in a very good Elvish bow. With the formalities out of the way Queen Jostallis smiled warmly, but got straight to the point. “Welcome Duke. You and your warriors are the second arrivals of your nation. Duke Bronze-axe arrived only hours ago and chose the northern tower for his detail. You are welcome to choose any of the other towers or one of the elite barracks. My home is yours for the duration of this conference.”

“Thank you honorable queen. I would prefer an open air encampment, however. We are not used to such warm weather and my troops would enjoy being outside in such beautiful surrounding as your lands provide, preferably close to a lake for some fishing and with some forest for hunting?”

Queen Jostallis found it hard not to blush at such a compliment, even knowing it was probably a ploy on the duke’s part. No compliment could compare to one which gave mention of Alphar lands. “Of course, Lake Crystal is but a four hour hike from here, less than an hour if you and your men would like to use some of our mounts. The land is slightly dangerous, however, it would provide exactly what it sounds like you and your forces are looking for. Feel free to take some tents and other supplies from the central keep as you need. I would also be honored to provide few security forces so your men do not have to worry about anything during your stay.”

“Perfect! But I cannot possibly ask your forces spend extra time guarding a detachment of skilled Garm.” the gruff voice of the Garm leader proclaimed, “I, of course, will not hold you responsible should any of the dangers of the land claim any of my men.”

Duke Mathard then paused and his voice took on an almost worried tone, “Is it true, the dark elf mentioned in the cleansing has appeared?”

Queen Jostallis nodded slowly. “I am afraid so. I know your great grandfather delivered the killing blow to Gardagem’s father and recovered the letter which told our nations of Gardagem’s existence and of the map tattooed on his body…”

The queen’s words were interrupted as a gate opened in the courtyard. Guards instantly closed a circle around the gate while another detachment made a wall between the gate and the queen along with her royal guest.

It took only a moment for a pair of wounded Alphar warriors stumbled through the gate, collapsing on the ground, their armor showing multiple spots of weapon and acid damage and their weapons dripping with fresh blood. As the gate shimmered a Green Dragonling’s head poked out only to get over a score of arrows buried into it. It fell lifeless not even getting more than a glance at the surroundings.

Jostallis pulled an Elvin Silver Steel scimitar from her belt at the sight of the Dragonling. As she ran over shouting to guard leaders to get mages to close the gate, Duke Mathard whipped a Dwarvin Blue Steel throwing axe into the face of a second Dragonling, this one black. The instant his axe stopped sinking in it vanished and reappeared in his hand. The Garm duke also shouted orders to his forces to spread out and check for other gates, not wanting any chance this was some sort of large scale attack.

Another pair of Dragonlings were dropped by combined Garm and Alphar forces before one of the palace mages cast a powerful cancel spell to prevent anything else from slipping through the gate. The gate snapped shut on a fifth Dragonling and a trio of Hobgoblins cutting all of them in sections. The parts already through the gate fell on the Alphar palace grounds while the other parts stayed behind from where the gate had originally been opened.

Queen Jostallis moved over to the first arrivals shouting for assistance. “Healthman and Priests Now!” She knelt next to the seriously wounded scouts “Narcary, Veness, by the gods what happened! What about Prince Kandric?”

Veness rolled over and puked before looking up, “My Queen, he is deep within the place known as Bloody Rock.”

The seriously wounded Alphar accepted a quick drink of water from an offered skin and shook off an urge to feint before managing enough strength to find his ever weakening voice. “He was leading a group of students. I do not think he knows what he is up against, but the trail of death he left behind was beyond astonishing… ”

He shuttered in a combination of recalling what he had seen and his injuries. “We lost him about ten hours in and…” A cough brought up a spurt of blood before he continued. “It is…” He again puked showing some more blood. “It is a place of iron and horrors a hundred fold… I think he doubled back somewhere along the way to find a safe spot to rest, but cannot be sure. We managed to find a low iron area and Narcary force casted a gate to get us out of there. I am sorry we endangered the palace, but we had to get word to you. The only chance we had was to gate straight in.”

Jostallis cradled the wounded Alphar’s head as a Garm Shaman moved up and started a healing spell. “You did the right thing. There is no chance you would have survived if you had done anything else. Is Prince Kandric in need of help?”

Veness managed to nod as a deep pleading could be heard entering his voice. “You have to send him help my queen, before he stumbles across the central cavern.” The desperation in the scout’s voice was somewhere between true concern and absolute terror.

Duke Mathard moved over to the wounded Alphar, motioning for his lead Shaman to pour as much force as he could manage into the spell to aid the archer. “What danger is this Alphar prince in son?”

Veness fought back another wave of nausea, “Blathamort…” he managed to whisper, “Blathamort…” the massive injuries coupled with the shock of a Master Echelon healing spell finally took their toll as he passed out.

Jostallis stood and took a step back as if the name itself had been a hammer hitting her. “By Vindayin’s name!”

Duke Mathard also looked shocked but regained composure far quicker then Queen Jostallis. “Your prince is in a place with iron, Queen. It is unlikely your forces will be able to help him as well as mine. Let me honor you by sending me and my entire party to rescue this man!”

Queen Jostallis looked around as if the words were slow in registering. Finally she focused back on Duke Mathard. “He is not a man, duke, but a boy. A boy who has powers well beyond his years from everything I have been told of him. However, if it is a place full of iron and you are willing, I will have my mages gate your force directly to a spot close by, if we can find someone who knows where this Bloody Rock is.”

An Expert Echelon Mage moved up and bowed. “I know of the place, my queen. It is not far from the town of Slome. I saw it from a distance when you sent me to check on local clothing and customs so Veness and Narcary would properly blend in with the locals. What Veness says is true. It is full of iron, natural iron, but iron none the less.”

“Excellent, get a couple of others so the gate will be strong enough to get Duke Mathard’s force and a full palace guard detachment through to this place. Our guards will set up a fall back supply and healing area for those who are going in.” She paused then glanced over to the duke, “As long as you are comfortable with my forces setting up a base for you.”

Duke Mathard gave a sharp nod, “I would be honored. This will also give us a spot to reassemble so we can all gate back here.”

He turned to his troops, “Garm of Winter Creek hear me! Prepare for battle! An Alphar prince is in need! With Golan’s aid, we will rescue him and return here for some of the richest hunting and leisure we have seen in many a year!”

As the Alphar mages assembled to gate the combined Alphar Garm force, Duke Mathard turned his attention to Queen Jostallis, “How will I recognize this young prince when we do find him?”

Queen Jostallis managed a weak smile, hating the fact she was sending in anyone but her own forces for such a perilous task. But the duke was correct. His force would be far more effective in a place filled with iron. “My best hunting and fishing lands will be yours for as long and often as you and your warriors wish upon your return Duke. As for the boy, he has red hair.”

As the gate opened several Garm looked at each other, “Red hair, on an Alphar?” and similar comments could be made out as the entire company of Garm walked into the magical portal and vanished from the Alphar’s palace courtyard followed seconds later by a full detachment of Alphar elite palace guards.

The last to depart was Duke Mathard, “We will bring him home.”

Queen Jostallis nodded, “You are in command Duke Mathard. My people are yours and they are to obey any commands you give. If there are any problems I will gate there myself to deal with it.” She tossed him a glowing diamond, “Just speak into this and I will be there.” She stood at a military position of attention and gave a Garm salute, “Just get him and get out. We need all of you for the coming battles.”

The Garm Duke smiled in acknowledgement, but he knew, just like Queen Jostallis did, the chances of even half his men surviving were slim. He stepped backwards into the gate doing an Elvin bow. For the first time in almost 1000 years a joint Alphar Garm military operation was underway.


Glaster watched the mind scans of Klent and his small band of mercenaries with a degree of satisfaction. The session, at least for Glaster, was made considerably more enjoyable since he had Perth sitting on his lap. Still the intensity of the questions coupled by the seriousness of the matters being discussed kept even him on edge and ready to draw a blade at the slightest hint of treachery.

Things calmed after the first two men passed the Mind Master screening. All the remaining, including Jory, answered a whole series of questions. Each time the Teaching Echelon Mind Master simply nodded, confirming the answer was truthful. After four grueling hours the exhausted Mind Master slid back from the table and turned to Glaster, “None of them made any effort to conceal anything. The answers you got were truthful.”

Glaster nodded, "They are not likely to be given any recognition for piety, however, I heard nothing to suggest they will back stab or double cross us. Truth be told the questions they answered make me every bit as comfortable with them as with the guards each boy hired. Their love for Gambra is zero and they have a vested interest in keeping themselves and our charge out of Gambra’s hands. I am quite sure they will be fine.

“Go get some rest I know you have to be all but wiped out even with them not trying to hide or avoid questions.”

Glaster pointed to one of the other teachers. “He is going to be very weak until he gets some good rest so help him to his room and keep an eye on him until his strength is fully recovered. The rest you need to get with the boys and check on their studies and conditioning work. Our boys should have had enough time to do their merchant work for today.”

Once the others left Glaster turned his attention to Klent. “I have a special contract for you if you are willing. The pay will be good but the duty will require a bit of scouting followed by a bit of restraint yet the utmost of diligence.”

Klent raised an eyebrow. “I’m listening commander.”

“The boy your people were sent to capture has had his memories magically tampered with. The problem I face is one only a high powered shaman or sage could fully understand, but to put it in simple terms the magic cannot be undone with other spells. However, I have discovered a possible weakness in the original spell casting. There is a chance the caster was somewhat careless and didn’t quite do the spells properly. There is a very good possibility we could shatter this magic in a non-magical way.”

Glaster took a sip of mead, “Unfortunately the only way to do so is actually pretty dangerous. We must place the boy in a very hazardous situation, push him to the very edge of his abilities, maybe even to a point of serious injury. He must be made to dig into himself and find the will and desire to not only survive but to be victorious. Then and only then might he accidentally unlock the memories hidden from him.”

Klent felt his eyes grow wide with shock as it dawned on him what the man across the table from him was talking about, “You talking about real combat, are you not?”

Glaster slowly nodded, “I am afraid I am. I can think of nothing else capable of pushing him to a point where he would need to dig so deep within himself where it would make a difference, unless you can, I see no other choice.”

Jory played with the collar of his new shirt as he listened to the exchange. “What about simply scarin’ him without the danger?”

Klent responded, showing a greater understanding of the situation than Glaster figured he would have, “Fear alone will not work. It has to be something physical he can conquer so he can see a reason to dig so deep. Fear alone, while a strong enemy, cannot be seen and fought in the real world as well as in the mind. This must be a battle of both physical and mental. The real question is how much can he handle and how are you going to set it up so he is away from the others?”

Glaster managed a weak smile. "Fortunately he has set things in motion for it to be possible. He and his best, and maybe only, friend have teamed up. In addition to teaming up, he gathered some very valuable information as to what to buy and sell before we move into Everone with our trade caravan. To do this without the others knowledge the pair want to separate for a couple of days to do shopping away from their counterparts.

"I will give you the full details of how this all works and what they are supposed to be learning later. Suffice it to say for now, you need to scout out around the area between here and any surrounding villages. You need to find a suitable challenge for the boys and their guards. Once you accomplish this I will send their two wagons to the location in expectation of meeting another trade caravan.

"As far as their capabilities, I can tell you my own abilities to gauge what others can handle are extremely good, so it is not a simple guess when I say this. The boys in question are the best two of my current students. I figure each could take on and probably beat a single Kobald or something of similar power if they work together they could handle three or even four. Their guards are also capable with Klandon’s being a notch above Mylan’s, each guard should be able to handle a pair of Orcs, so 8 there, figure 10 Orcs total in ability since Klandon hired some really decent guards. In other words the danger they need to face should be slightly greater then what 10 Orcs and a trio of Kobalds could dish out.

“Your group will need to be close by as backup, but only come in if one of the two boys’ deaths is next to certain. I do not want you moving in and saving them before Klandon has a chance to break the chains holding back his memories.”

Klent let out a low whistle, “You are not talking about something easy to locate. Anything so dangerous would be known and targeted by the locals.”

“Normally you would be correct.” Glaster agreed, “However, we are getting close enough to Everone to see refugees, so the threats have to be a bit larger for the locals to really take notice. Bandits, as long as they stick to refugees and do not raise too much hell are likely to be ignored. Also keep in mind there is the Amber Glades only a few kilometers to the east. If necessary scout out in those wild lands. If you cannot find a decent possibility I want you to continue to stay close and scout. I will figure out a good reason to get them to whatever or wherever you find. ”

Klent slid back from the table and slowly nodded, “So what kind of pay are we talking?”

Glaster smiled, “1 gold a week plus food and basic supplies while you shadow us. five gold for the find, five more if you have to jump in and save them and fifty if what you find is successful in unlocking the boy’s mind. If you do not succeed the first time we will have to try again and again, same contract applies per attempt, but each time will make it harder for us to separate out the kids and each danger they face will have to top the prior to force Klandon into a spot where he will need to dig for every last bit of desire to survive. I will bump your pay up to two gold a week if you want to stay with us after we succeed.”

Glaster paused and stared deep into Klent’s eyes, “You get nothing at all if either boy is killed or permanently damaged.”

Klent felt a cold sweat break out on the back of his neck at the thought of such a massive payoff, “Fine, but if we have to come to his rescue, then we will not be able to make another attempt.”

Glaster hardened, "True, so you will have to make sure you wait till the last second before coming to his aid. Understand I fully expect him to get hurt, maybe seriously, but again, death or permanent injury will void this contract. You need to give Klandon every chance to unlock his past. I know it is not an easy contract, but the pay more then offsets the dangers. Also of some note is the fact you can take down other minor threats and keep the loot while doing the scouting you are getting paid to do.

“Under no circumstances will I permit you to engage in any form of banditry, thievery, or other dishonorable actions against refugees or other non-hostiles while in my employment. You should consider yourselves hired mercenaries of the kingdom and under the same laws, guidelines and expectations as a soldier of this land, understand?”

“Perfectly.” Klent stated firmly. “I will take personal responsibility for the actions of all of my group.”

“Good!” Glaster stood and offered his hand, “Consider yourself under contract as of this moment.”


Aster sat next to his wagon and watched Frost take to the air. He focused his thoughts on his newest pet and once again played with the magic he had recently been taught how to unlock. Up till now he had been successful in seeing through all three of his pets eyes, feeling what they felt, smelled what they smelled, and tasted what they tasted. No matter how hard he tried, however, he had yet to hear through their ears.

Sagell had warned him this was the hardest of the five senses to tap into. The other four were similar to his own, but hearing simply wasn’t. Animals were capable of hearing things far outside of what normal beings could, and often this translated into communication differences not easily understood by the mind of the animal adept controlling the animal.

In addition to this, the others were basically straight forward. He could visualize his pets’ eyes, he could feel the same wind on his own body his pets felt, he could imagine biting into food, and the smoke from a fire was still smoke no matter what nose was doing the smelling.

Of course the smelling of the trail of a deer long past being sniffed out by Shade was something he had to adjust to, but since there was other things he could identify with easily all he had to do was blend it all in and accept the new smells.

Hearing didn’t seem to be so straight forward. What his animals heard seemed to be too different to easily match up with his own perceptions and therefore his magic could not make the connection between his ears and the ears of his beloved companions. Even when he tried tricks such as snapping a stick so he could try to hear it through their ears it didn’t work.

Still he once again moved the magic he had deep inside into his ears. The roar of holding a seashell up to both ears told him he had moved it properly. He then focused again on Frost and tried to release the magic only to feel it vanish into nothingness. Aster sighed and smacked the ground in frustration.

Refusing to give up he decided to pull loose a bigger chunk of magic away from his reservoir of power. The second he did he felt it rush outward and flow through his entire body. Try as he might he could not regain a firm hold and push it into his ears, simply put it was too much to contain in one area. Yet, he also realized because of the extreme tingling in his body he had not lost the magic like he had with the failed attempt to hear through Frost’s ears. Not really knowing what to do he focused back on Frost and simply allowed the magic to link with the massive white winged creature.

A sudden rush of power filled his lungs with a terrible burning sensation. It felt as if they were about to explode as pressure continued to build at an amazing rate. He knew he had to let it out. With a massive gasp he exhaled and fell forward coughing.

Pocet and Sardan both dropped their plates of food as they witnessed a cone of deathly cold air rush out of Aster’s mouth, instantly leaving a frosty film of ice over everything within 10 meters in front of the boy and extinguishing the small campfire.

Above Frost cried out and circled down out of the air as if needing to suddenly land. Shade raced out of the brush totally abandoning the squirrel it had been chasing and Dart dove off a nearby tree and circled above Aster as if protecting him.

For a moment it looked like Frost would crash into the ground but at the last second it extended its wings and stumbled forward for an instant before regaining its composure. The massive beast went straight over to Aster and showed some annoyance by lightly clawing the boy’s side.

Shade growled and Dart screeched yet neither made any attempt to interfere with Frost or Aster, almost like they knew whatever happened was something they should stay out of.

Still, Frost turned its head to look at Shade then back to Aster. More gently it pushed Aster’s side with its huge talon and gave a light squawk, almost like it was concerned about the boy’s current condition.

Aster stayed on all fours coughing and gasping as both Pocet and Sardan tried to talk to him. Finally Aster managed to get some breath back. “Oh crap that burned!”

Sardan looked at the coating of ice, “Burned? You froze your meal and everything in front of you! What happened?”

Aster hugged Frost, “I think I stole some of his power!” He coughed again and shook his head, “I am soooooo sorry!” he next to cried as he hugged the giant creature.

Sagell came out from around the far wagon, “You didn’t steal anything, Aster, you borrowed it. You must have accidentally found the most powerful application of animal magic I know. You tapped into Frost’s magic borrowed some of Frost’s power then used it as a breath weapon. The only problem is when you borrow it, the pet losses it for the duration which is dangerous especially when the said pet is flying and not expecting it.”

Sagell knelt next to Frost. "I think our cold friend here didn’t realize it was an accident at first and was a bit miffed. Now, however, it looks like it understands what happened better than our young Animal Adept does.

Sagell paused and stared at Aster, “Which means you bypassed Secondary Echelon abilities and jumped head first into Teaching Echelon Animal Magic. Amazing, but highly dangerous both for you and your pets dear boy. They need to learn to adjust to your magic and you need to understand what happens to them when you use said powers.”

“I didn’t mean to!” Aster choked out, “I was just trying to hear through Frost’s ears and decided I must need more magic to do it. Then I lost control, the next thing I know my chest is on fire and I had to exhale before I exploded!”

Sagell snickered despite the situation, “Kiddo you need to learn animal magic in steps. You have not even mastered the 5 senses yet. Playing with extra magic until you get past the first stage is not only dangerous for you but to your pets as well. You have more power than you can control, don’t try to use it yet. Let me teach you at my pace. You have to learn to crawl before you can walk, let alone sprint. You tried going directly into a dead sprint without haven taking a full step yet. This time you stumbled next time you very well might fall.”

“I didn’t do it on purpose!” Aster complained, “I just thought more magic would give me a better chance of making it work!”

Sardan gave a chuckling squawk, “So more is always better huh?”

“Well, sure.” Aster muttered, “Why wouldn’t it be?”

Pocet tried hard to keep a straight face as he replied, “So you would recommend using a catapult stone to squash an ant when a boot would do?”

Aster turned a bright red as he realized how absurd his prior comment had been, “NO!”

Sagell put her arm around the now thoroughly embarrassed boy, "Magic needs to be controlled before it can properly be used, Aster. Given time you will be able to warn your animals then borrow their abilities, but until you master the use of lesser powers you cannot hope to understand let alone control something more powerful.

“No harm was done this time, so let this mistake be the tool to prevent others. I do not want you doing any other animal magic until you can easily hear through all three of your pets. Then and only then will I teach you how to control more of your magic.”

Aster hung his head, “OK.” He then paused and gave Frost a kiss, “Sorry boy. I won’t do it again.” He moved off still complaining about some pain in his chest and how unfair it was to have magic and not be able to control it.

Pocet waited for Aster to get out of earshot. “Are you telling us he could learn to use the power of Shade and become a shadow?”

Sagell glanced in the direction Aster had slinked off in, "Unless I miss my guess he could do far more. He could simply have Shade curl up into a ball and go to sleep and borrow its abilities to only be damaged by magic weapons, turn into a shadow, or run on all fours with Shade’s speed. From what I have learned if, or should I say when, he makes Expert Echelon he will be able to borrow two abilities and may even be able to split abilities between different pets. To be honest I really don’t know for sure since I have only managed to borrow my pet’s paralyzing magic a dozen or so times and it requires an incredible amount of concentration and a bit of luck. Not once did I ever accomplish it without many minutes of concentration and very close contact with Stealth. His power may more easily be able to be controlled because he is a straight Animal Adept, but I seriously doubt such talent resides in all animal adepts or some would accidentally find animal Magic without being taught.

Pocet shrugged, “Then again, maybe they do on occasion and never realize it. I have seen more than a few Animal Adepts react as if they had a sixth sense before.”

Sagell paused for a second thinking it over. “Very interesting and disturbingly true. I have never considered it before but you are right. Still, how many times have you seen one able to produce his or her pet’s breath weapon?”

Sardan chirped out a bit of a laugh. "I think you are both right. Aster’s abilities with animals has always been astounding so now that he has found the key to this kind of magic we all may learn just how powerful it can get, but we will also have to keep on him to learn to fully control one aspect before he moves on. He is still a child and children do not set limits very well.

Sagell grinned, “And a cute impatient child he is!”

Pocet snickered, “Truer words I have never heard spoken, good lady. Truer word I have never heard.”


Conner nodded to Sharris as she entered the galley, spotted him, and held up the chopsticks he had given her. The crewmembers he had been working and eating with exchanged grins. One of them looked over with a bit of a glint in his eyes, “Me thinks me knows what yer doin’ with yer time off!”

Conner glared at the man for a moment as he felt his cheeks grow red, but managed to fire back with a comment of his own. “At least I have something to do with my time that doesn’t involve my hand.”

The other three still sitting at the table chortled at the shocked look of their shipmate’s face. The four got up exchanging jibes and light punches. There were a few comments about a youngster knowing a bit too much for his own good as they exited the galley.

Sharris glanced at the men as she walked by them. As she sat, she looked over Conner with a suspicious eye, “I hope ya ain’t talking about me.”

Conner snorted, “Nope, Gagan got a bit obnoxious so I had to spin the table. I am sure he will make me pay for it later though.”

“He is a joker, so yer gunna have to watch it. My Pa really likes him, but says he has a dirty mouth but a completely filthy mind.”

Conner couldn’t help but laugh. “I’m just startin’ to see it. The crew tend to view me as some kid most of the time but it seems to be changing as they get ta know me. I hear you are in Mage training?”

“Yea.” Sharris next to groaned. Her plan to miscast an autospell evaporated before her eyes.

Conner, however, took the disappointment differently than she expected. “Hey, don’t get down on yourself. Learning the mage language is hard. The casting part is easy once you get past the Autospells and lean the language though.”

A new way to have Conner spend more time with her dawned on her as her original frustration evaporated. “The Autospells be easy. I can cast em at will, and I have the basics of readin’ Mage magic down, but the way ya have ta speak all them words to trigger a spell is killin’ me!”

Conner frowned, “Are you strong enough to cast a Primary?”

“My Teacher say so, but it just won’t come. I’ve been trainin’ step five fer almost fifteen moons, but no matter what I try, nothin’ works!”

Conner thought it over for a moment before he looked over at Sharris again, “Do you have your book with you?”

“Uh huh.” She held up the extremely thin book, showing only a trio of pages in between the covers.

“What spells do you have?” Conner asked suddenly a great deal more interested in magic discussions than teaching chopstick handling.

“Light, Detect and Slow Fall.” I get to choose either Web or Wind if I finally do manage ta cast one."

Conner’s whole demeanor seemed to harden as he stared at Sharris, “Not if, when, and not eventually, tonight.”


Conner fiercely shook his head, “NO! Not: Tonight? TONIGHT!” He continued to almost glare at her. “Say it like you mean it!”

Sharris gulped, “Tonight.”

“Not good enough! Say it like you not only mean it but also believe it!”

Sharris took a deep breath, “Tonight!”

Conner managed a bit of a smile while still keeping his face totally serious. “What are you going to do tonight?”

Sharris paused and oddly enough could almost feel her confidence grow as she replied, “Tonight I’m going to cast a Primary Echelon spell!”

Conner gave a hard single nod, “Yes you are. Put all doubt out of your mind. You have never failed in the past; instead you were simply practicing for tonight. Got it?”

“Got it!” her voice showed growing poise. Several crew along with family members at the nearby tables stopped eating to watch as Conner seemed to take total control over the girl’s confidence.

“Good.” Conner yanked his own book out of his pouch, flipped through the hefty tome for a few moments, and then said a single magic word as he pulled out a single page. The bluish glow faded as he handed the page over to Sharris. “Put this in your book. This is the spell you are going to cast. It is one of the few which are automatically memorized after a single successful casting so I want the page back after you cast it.”

Some skepticism could be seen creeping into her face as she glanced at the page, “But I have never even heard of Spider Walk before let alone studied it.”

“Which is why you’re gunna to cast it.” Conner basically commanded, “You’ve spent too much time trying to cast yer spells just right. Forget about them, heck ya probably all but know them by heart. Now tell me what you are going to do one more time.”

“Tonight I am gunna cast this Spider Walk spell!”

“Perfect.” Conner paused, “Now put it in yer book, but don’t look at it. Don’t think about anything but the magic you use when casting an autospell.”

Sharris did as instructed, sliding the page into place in her own book with a single magical word. She then turned toward Conner with a quizzical look, “How do I concentrate on my Autospell magic?”

“Pretend to cast them, do everything but trigger them, go through all of them, one after the other and continue to do so until I tell ya to stop.”

A few tables away the barge’s Mage Teacher looked over to the First Mate, “What does he think he is doing?”

The First Mate snickered, “My guess would be getting Sharris to cast her first real spell.”

“Ain’t no way, I’ve been working with her one on one for weeks. She just ain’t got it yet, maybe never will have. There’s no way some young brat’s gunna be able to teach her nothing.”

The First Mate dug into his pouch and tossed a trio of silver coins on the table as he continued to watch Conner work. “My money is on the so called brat. I’ll bet ya she has his spell cast before the bucket brigade bell sounds for shift change.”

“In less than two hours?” The Teacher snorted while digging into his own pouch, “Fine, you got yerself a bet.”

“You have never once beaten me, ya know.”

“Yea, well this time yer gunna lose. I’ve never even heard of Spider Movement, it must be a very rare spell. All the hard to find spells require difficult to find ink ingredients and are harder than hell to scribe let alone cast. I’ll even raise you another three silver.”

“We shall see, but my money stays on the kids.” He dug out another three coins and tossed them on the table.

Meanwhile Conner watched Sharris closely for a few minutes as she went through all the autospells she knew. Finally he stopped her, “Are you telling me you only know the normal ones?”

She looked confused, “There are only thirteen.”

Conner shook his head, “No there are only twelve to fifteen which automatically manifest as a spell caster’s magic builds within. Most never learn all fifteen unless someone teaches them a couple. There are actually dozens more, but they require some magic knowledge and a little more force then an average autospell to cast. Try this.” He pointed toward a cup recently emptied by a young boy a table away. “Leave the cup where it is and back away a bit kid.”

Conner glanced back over to Sharris as the boy’s father pulled him back away from the table, “Come on, point at it.”

Sharris shrugged and lifted her arm and extended her pinky at the cup, mimicking Conner’s motions, “Now what.”

“Now, pretend you are going to cast a spark including releasing the magic in the same way, only say the Mage word of sand and think wind on a sandy beach hitting the cup.”

Sharris concentrated on Conner’s orders for a few seconds before she twirled her pinky finger and spoke the single word. Instantly a puff of sand shot out of her finger and struck the cup knocking it off the table. It hit the floor shattering. “OH WOW!” she shouted in absolute glee as a few closest to the cup backed away and shook some sandy grit off their shirts with astonished looks.

Two tables away Sharris’ Teacher looked a bit shocked, “Very impressive.”

“Indeed.” The First mate agreed, “I, for one, just learned a new Autospell.”

“Me as well.” The Mage Teacher grumbled. “I can’t believe a brat would have such knowledge, let alone the power to use it. I am beginning to think I am about to lose six silver as well. He is a very good Teacher, no matter how much I hate to admit it.”

Conner wasted no time, he opened Sharris’ book and pointed, “Now follow my instructions with this spell the same way with you did with the Autospell. It is no different then what you just let loose, only this time think about your hands and feet as you release the magic.”

Sharris didn’t even seem to realize she was trying to cast a Primary Echelon spell as she followed Conner’s lead. The spell, in many ways, was very similar to the Sand Puff Autospell, only it required a longer command phrase and she had to move both index fingers in opposite directions. As she finished the spell and released the magic she staggered back as the amount of force she used was considerably more than anything she had accomplished up to this point.

Conner moved over and steadied her for a moment. “Excellent! Now take off your shoes and see what it is like to climb a wall,”

Sharris did as instructed; only she had a great deal of trouble removing shoes which stuck to her hands and feet. Once Conner taught her how to control the stickiness she quickly moved over to one of the walls. Within seconds she found her hands and feet easily stuck to the wooden walls of the barge and she was able to move straight up and even upside-down without having to grab anything. Several members of the crew and their families watched and even applauded as she did a series of cartwheels on the ceiling of the galley.

Conner brought things to a close a couple of minutes later, “It only lasts for ten minutes an Echelon plus 2 minutes a step, so you are about out of time. You may want to come down before you find yourself falling.”

Sharris quickly climbed back down the wall and ran over to Conner giving him a huge hug. “I didn’t really think I could do it!”

“Well you did.” Conner stated as he madly blushed as his shirt was ripped off him because she forgot to control the stickiness of her fingers in the open display of affection toward him. He did his best to cover his embarrassment as he switched subjects. “It is also an automatically memorized spell so you will never forget how to do it. As soon as you calm down we are going to get you to cast one of the others in your book too. In the mean time, I highly suggest you take the Web spell. When combined with Spider Walk, it can be extremely powerful since webs don’t slow you down when you have a Spider Walk spell going.”

The First Mate pocketed the silver on the table, “Now there are two kids who know a spell you don’t and you are short few silver ta boot. Don’t you feel silly?”

“No. Just broke and humiliated. A kid just put my teaching ability to shame in less than half an hour.”

“Look on the bright side.”

The Mage Teacher rolled his eyes as he faced the First Mate, “Bright side?”

“Yea,” The First Mate spoke way too cheerfully for the lead Mage’s taste, “I know you like boys and you got to see him with his shirt off and if you are really nice to the one you so clearly feel is a brat, he may even let you learn a new spell or two. He is a Teacher after all.”

The Mage Teacher’s shoulders slumped as he slinked out of the dining area as quietly as possible more than a bit embarrassed at the fantastic success of a boy after weeks of him failing to teach a student how to break through the Primary Echelon barrier. It didn’t stop him, however, from taking another look at the now bare chested boy to admire his beauty.


Anettie bit back a yelp of pain as she miss-stepped, causing her arm to move yet again. She stopped and wobbled, took a look back. She couldn’t help but notice the early morning rays of sun starting to hit the top of bloody rock behind her as she exited the lower cave they had accidentally stumbled on while avoiding a Morg patrol.

Jormund tossed up his arms, “You’re too bad hurt to go any faster. We ain’t gunna make it. They shouldn’t have sent you.”

Within a few sort minutes the two young future swordsmen were into the woods and heading away from Bloody Rock and the shadows of Bloody Rock behind them seemed to make everything darker.

“We have to speed up.” Jormund complained, yet again. “Is there any way you can walk faster or something?”

Anettie knelt for a moment as she felt another wave of nausea sweep over her. “I don’t think so.” Her badly broken arm hurt more and more with every step. The splint put on by the Healthman student had been fine at first, but it had come loose and now with no support each and every movement sent pain tearing though her whole body. The throbbing wracked her entire arm with wave after wave of agony. Finally she slid off to the side of the path, tears leaking out of her eyes. “Jormund, yer gunna have to go without me.”

The young step three Trainee stopped short and looked back. “Are you nuts? You are gunna stay out here with all the bandits and make me go this alone? We’ll both end up monster bait!”

Before Anettie could respond a new voice joined the conversation from just out into the woods. “You keep yelling like you are and you will certainly attract the very attention you are complaining about not wanting.”

Both kids reached for daggers and turned in the direction of the voice. For a brief moment neither of them saw anything in the dark woods. Suddenly, one pair followed moments later by a second pair of eyes reflected some of the pre-dawn light.

As the Swordsmen Trainees let out fearful gasps the two pairs of greenish gold eyes became the backdrop to two fierce looking black furred faces. A pair of Pantherlings fully came into view moments later.

Anettie felt a trickle escape her bladder as Jormund tried to control his shaking dagger hand. “What are you?”

“Relax kids.” The larger one spoke as calmly and quietly as he could, hoping to ease the terror filled eyes staring at him. “We are Pantherling. We mean you no harm.”

Jormund lowered his dagger slightly but his white knuckles told both Pantherlings just how scared he was. His voice shook badly even as he tried to act tough. “How do we know yer tellin’ the truth?”

The smaller Pantherling answered, some annoyance starting to show “You don’t.” He paused to let this information sink in before continuing, “If we meant you any harm it would have already happened. What do you think a knee shaking tyke and a girl with her arm in a sling who can barely walk would be able to do against either one of us, let alone both? Put down your weapons already and tell us what happened and where you are going.”

The bigger one responded, “Anax, there is no reason to get angry with them. They are hurt and in the outer edge of our hunting lands. It is our duty to give them aid.” He walked slowly over to Anettie. “Young one, I am a healer. Why not tell us what has transpired as I look at your arm?”

Anettie glanced back and forth for a moment before nodding. “OK, but we have to get word back to Slome. Kandric and Teacher Saslara need help in Bloody Rock.”

Anax’s head jerked to look straight at the injured girl, “The red haired Halfelf?”

Astonishment crossed Jormund’s facial features. “You know him?”

“We meet once.” The younger Pantherling responded while glancing toward large hill behind him. “What is he doing in Bloody Rock?”

Anettie let out a small yelp as the older Pantherling started to work on her arm. “He is leading part of the Slome Swordsman School against what we thought was going to be a few hobs while Teacher Saslara took the rest of the advanced students in another way. But there are all sorts of nasty things in there and they sent us out to get help from Slome and find Captain Vondum.”

Anax looked back toward Bloody Rock. He started to say something, then stopped. He looked back to the older Pantherling who managed a slight shrug. He turned his attention back to Anettie, “If you are heading back to Slome why are you walking in the direction of Overhill?”

Anettie looked around, “We are not!”

The Healthman rolled his eyes, “Young one, the setting sun is hitting the top of Bloody Rock as we speak, and we spotted you walking with your back to both.”

Anettie paused, total confusion written on her features as she struggled to process the information being pointed out by the creature gently setting her arm and wrapping it with herbs to dull the intense pain “But we didn’t circle around Bloody Rock when we came…” She paused and shook her head, “Sunset?”

Anax’s nose twitched showing some amusement, “It is getting darker not lighter little girl.”

Jormund glanced back realizing what the Pantherlings had told them was true, “Anettie we have been in there for almost twenty-four hours! No wonder we are so tired!”

Anax looked back at the sun setting behind the large hill with some concern, “We need to get word of this to my uncle.”

The larger one nodded, “You have met this boy and his friend, I have not. Get word to him and I will take these two back to our village for proper care and rest. Wek will certainly want to get more information from them.”

Anettie shook her head, “We have to…”

Anex cut her off, “you just finished telling this constantly complaining little boy you couldn’t go on. Now you are trying to say you need to get all the way around Bloody Rock and back to Slome. Think about it. I can get to Captain Vondum in less than four hours at a dead run which is something I can do on all fours. You are at best twelve hours, and as hurt as you are, probably double or even triple it. Making matters worse it sounds like you have not slept in a full day. Me, I am just up from an afternoon cat nap.”

Even as hurt as she was Anettie giggled, “Cat nap for a cat?”

Anex grinned showing more than a few sharp teeth, “Something along those lines. You stick with Grunn; I’ll get word back to Slome.”

Jormund looked over with a gulp, “We have to do it their way. It’s not like we can say no anyway.”

Anex dropped his gear and glanced back at Jormund, "I expect to get it all back when I get to my village. A second later he took off into the growing darkness at a full sprint on all fours.

Jormund kicked at the ground as he picked up the pack and sword, “Great now I have to carry even more junk.”

The Healthman looked up with some annoyance, “Kid, if don’t have anything constructive to say just shut up.”

“Amen.” Anettie managed to snarl out through gritted teeth as she felt the new and much more professional splint get tied into place.

Jormund started to say something as he noticed an eerie glow flash into view on a hill just north of Bloody Rock, but it was pretty clear he was getting on everyone’s nerves just like he always seemed to do, so he kept his moth shut. A minute and a half later the glow vanished anyway so he dismissed it as just a trick of light from the now almost fully departed sun. Little did he know he had been the only intelligent being to witness the arrival of Garm and Alphar in full battle mode outside their homelands for the first time in living memory of any creature outside of the ancient races.


Gambra looked out over her land with a growing sense of desperation. She had lost contact with Monarch, her agents in the city of Everone, and since the assassination of the agent in Junsac, her contacts there had continued to fall one after the other.

What was far worse was the fact she had learned Monarch had never ordered her to take care of the man which meant not only had she totally failed the Illorc, but also the entire network of informational relays they relied on had been compromised.

This also led her to the obvious fact she had been wrong about who had infiltrated Monarch’s operations in the home city of the Watch. With only a handful of low level people in place within the Junsac city government, information of any value had dried up to simple guard rotations and major arrests within the city. Unfortunately, most of those arrested hand been her final hit squad, who had failed quite badly at their attempt to secure the former Day Slave Overseer’s youngest two kids.

The very fact the Watch had them guarded told her they had infiltrated her personal network and probably knew their former overseer was an operative for her. This was a major problem on several fronts. First, she couldn’t get any of his children for his needed sacrifice to become a full Dark Mage. This alone was a problem since she really wanted him to be a lieutenant in her organization. Second, and far more troubling, was the fact her own pact with the demon lord who gave her most of her extra powers was in danger of shattering since the child to be sacrificed was supposed to be of the bloodline of the future Dark Mage. She had made all the proper preparations, assured the Demon Lord of a new convert, and had placed her own reputation on the line. Failure to bring in a promised new convert would certainly mean she would have to do something to prove her loyalty or lose the alliance altogether. The problem was the task would be set by the demon lord and would certainly be more to its benefit than to hers. Finally the Watch was obviously looking for a renegade Dark Mage. Sooner or later someone within the Watch would make the connection to her and she would be hunted like a rabid dog.

With no support or word from Monarch, Gambra figured he had either realized she had been compromised, which meant she was on her own. Or, far worse, he had decided she had some part in the unauthorized use of his butterfly pin at the scene of a gruesome Dark Magic multiple murder and now considered her to be a direct threat.

Either way, it was time for her to jump ship and seek an alliance with some other power. The question was with whom. It had to be someone or something which had a vested stake in the Everone Barony. What made it worse; it had to be with someone powerful enough to come out with something amounting to a victory so she could maintain her last active base which just happened to sit within the area.

The only other option was to totally cut and run, abandoning all her Dark Mage underlings, her lands, her small keep, and start from scratch somewhere else where she was not known and were there was little to no chance of any past associates finding her. She shook her head knowing such a drastic plan had to be the contingency of absolute last resort, but still had to be planned for.

She figured now was a good a time as any to set it in motion while she figured out who exactly she would support and to what extent.

She entered a chamber to her left where the children she had taken from the home in Junsac were chained. All three had quit trying to beg, knowing to do so would only get them extra torment. Each looked on with eyes full of fear. Their filthy naked bodies thin with hunger, hung letting the chains hold them up rather than stand on their own. Their ribs could easily be seen as could the hundred of bruises covering their arms legs and torsos.

Her smile could not have been more opposite of the words she spoke, “Today one of you is going to be fed to a demon so I can get some good information, one of you is going to be sold to a mystic friend of mine so he can play with you, and the last one is going to be linked to a spell of mine and slowly wither away with each and every casting until you die and become a zombie or some other minor undead. Any volunteers?”

All three of them started to cry as she shut the door and grabbed a set of thumbscrews off a bench. They had seen this played out several times with others who had come and gone out of the room before. The tiny woman never seemed to tire on making people scream and beg, and she had a perverse way of enjoying finding new ways to do it. They all knew they would endure untold pain until one after another they finally called out for what they wanted, which of course was none of the above, but they only had three options and their tortures would not stop until they spoke out for one of the three choices and they knew it.

The boy who had been playing with the brother and sister was quick to speak, “I’ll go to the Mystic!”

She turned and dropped one of the thumbscrews on the table and looked at the other two. “It seems one choice has been made, who is next?”

As she grew close to the other boy he started to cry. He had seen other men, women, and children in the room faced with similar decisions and knew he would eventually be forced to say he wanted to do one or the other so he chose what he thought would be the easier of the two, “Just feed me to the monster so I die!”

Disappointment flickered on Gambra’s face as she turned and tossed the second thumbscrew on the table behind her. She walked up to the girl, “So do I get you to give me your life force for my spell book as easily as the two boys?” Even as she spoke she started to screw the nasty device onto her pinky finger.

The girl sobbed but nodded knowing just like the other two the horrible woman would force the words out of her sooner or later anyway.

Gambra shook her head with a light smile. “A nod is not good enough.” She spun the screw down until she felt it start to crush the finger.

The girl screamed. The words came half out of fear and half out of pain, “You can take what you want!”

“Silly girl.” Gambra snickered fully enjoying the torment she was dishing out, “I already know I can take what I want.” She twisted the screw a bit more until felt the bone under the skin start to crack. “What I want to know is if you are willing to give me your life force for my flesh rot spell?”

The girl screeched, “Yes!”

“Yes what?” Gambra stated as stuck her fingers up the girl’s nostrils and started to twist.

The girl thrashed in the chains holding her to the wall, “Yes you can have my life for your spell!” Her pained screeches seemed to echo off the walls.

Gambra backed away and nodded. "Good then I will have one of my servants let you down. You will go with him to a room below us. There will be a knife next to a silver bowl. You will take the knife, cut off your finger with the thumb screw on it and then be taken to get washed up and cleaned. You will then live in a small but comfortable room deep below us with plenty of food, water and other items of comfort and even some of pleasure.

“Your life will be a good one, but each time I cast the spell part of you will wilt and you will get weaker. I figure a girl in your shape will get me 4 or 5 castings before you will be too weak to stay alive. This could be days, weeks, months or even years of life. It all depends on my need for the spell.”

Gambra then turned to the girl’s brother. “You will be taken by a second servant, washed, put in nice robes and taken to an alter in my casting room. You will lie down on your belly and allow your hands and feet to be secured to the shackles there. If you do not follow through, you will be brought back up here and subjected to pain the likes of which you have never thought of.”

Finally he turned to the first boy to speak. “You will be here for a day or so until your new master gets here. In the mean time you will be taken down, cleaned, fed, and then branded with his mark. You are a slave, nothing more. You have no say over the rest of your life. The other two probably made the better decisions.”

She closed the door leaving them all to think over their fate.


Bandurlok woke with a sharp glare at the Dragonling who had interrupted his dream of conquest over most of Everone. Seeing first who it was followed by the look on the Dragonling’s face quickly brought him into a fully alert and awake mode. The Great Dragon shook its head causing its scales to smack against each other in tremendous crashing sound. “Commander Benalthar? What brings you to the Obsidian fortress?”

The Dragonling glanced around showing a degree of nervousness well beyond what would be normal for any Master Echelon being, “Are we free to talk?”

Bandurlok paused for a moment and cast a powerful spell. Instantly both Dragon Prince and Dragonling General were transported into a new location.

The Dragonling took a second to catch his breath before he glanced around. As his eyes adjusted he realized he was in a very deep natural cavern yet well decorated with Obsidian statues of Black Dragons in combat and several trophy-like cases containing everything from magical items to the heads of slain enemies and everything in between. “Very Impressive my Prince.” Was all the astonished Dragonling could say as he took in the grandeur of the place.

Bandurlok managed a bit of a smile and a nod, “This is my private lair. I find it comforting to have such a secret and private place. You are now free to speak freely.”

“So I gathered.” Commander Benalthar commented as he looked around again. Shaking off what he was seeing he got straight to the point. “Your father’s forward base has been discovered my Prince.”

Bandurlok’s head jerked up suddenly, “Has it been compromised?”

A look of total disgust crossed Commander Benalthar features mixed with deep dread. "It has, possibly on two fronts. We know for a fact two powerful spell casters entered, found what was there, then escaped. I do not know all the details since all those who had them cornered died. I was sent in and found no trace of either of them and there were no exits so they must have fled magically.

"Your father ordered a link gate to reopen the portal but it shattered as it started to open destroying any trace of the magical passage and killing Captain Bordaban, two of our best mages, two dozen troops and a full company of Gnolls, all of whom were waiting to go through the link gate. Your father then blamed the failure on General Bosanad and had him scaled alive.

"Furthermore, a second detachment entered through other passages. Vice Commander Dokagger was killed at the ambush point with most of his best warriors. General Bosanad then ordered a mass of weaker forces to find them. It was his thought this would hide the real nature of the base. Not only was this unsuccessful, it cost us about a third of our mundane forces and more than a few promising junior officers.

“When I left, there had been no trace of them in several hours. It is assumed they have escaped as well. Personally, I think they are still in the base, but I knew better then to refute your father when he is in the mood he was in when he called off the search.”

Bandurlok looked on is disbelief as he listened to the report. “I am astounded my father has not ripped you in half for some perceived failure!”

“I am sure he would have, but I stopped a third group, capturing all of them. They were nothing but a group of glory seeking kids with a few adults from the nearby town, but since I succeeded and no one else did in your father’s opinion, he ordered me to take a patrol out and find those who escaped. I have no clue how to do this, however.”

Bandurlok’s eyes grew wide, “My father is not abandoning the base?”

“Absolutely not. One of the reasons General Bosanad was executed was for suggesting our king do so. He has not informed anyone of the seriousness of what has transpired either. I am the only one who knows the truth as best as I can tell. Everyone else has been killed or executed. I may find myself scaled for saying this, but I would be sorely negligent if I did not first bring this to your attention and second say I think your father has lost his mind.”

Bandurlok looked momentarily shocked but recovered quite quickly. “You did the right thing Commander.” A look of pure evil suddenly flashed in his eyes. “Does this mean Princess Golassera is unaware of this as well?”

“Yes it does. She knows the base was penetrated and some of her Dragonlings were lost, but she has been falsely led to believe the small group I captured was responsible and the base is secure. Making matters worse was the fact I was ordered by your father to murder the messenger she sent back to inform the queen.”

Bandurlok took a couple of deep breaths, "Those who escaped and managed an explosive rune to prevent a link gate from attempting to reopen their portal are extremely powerful. This is some astoundingly powerful magic, Legendary Echelon Magic at the very least. Very few know there is a way to reopen a magical gate. Fewer still know how to prevent a link gate spell from working. There are probably less than fifty who know how to trap a gate to cause a backlash with a link gate, and fewer still who are knowledgeable enough let alone powerful enough to cause major damage which would totally destroy the remnants of the passage. Making such a trap formidable enough to create a backlash capable of killing an elder dragon and all those troops means it was done by something beyond even my abilities. I know of no creature short of those in the upper ranks within the spirit world who could create such a ward. Not even the Obsidian Fortress has such powerful defenses.

“It was wise for you to come to me with this. I highly suggest you accept my hospitality and ignore my father’s orders, since like you I have no idea how you could hope to track down those who fled. It would be far more pleasant for us to ride this out from a distance and see where it leads.”

Commander Benalthar looked stunned, “Are you not going to go talk to your father my Prince?”

“Do not be foolish now Commander. Anything we do will look bad on us and give my nephew a weakness in us to exploit. If nothing happens, then we are no worse off, and we will find you someone to pin it on and keep you in the King’s good graces. If, on the other hand, the whole base falls the allegiance my nephew formed in Everone will be exposed and the whole thing will crumble.”

A smirk replaced the shocked look on Commander Benalthar, “Which would eliminate him from having any shot at the crown. Very well thought out my Prince. I am extremely happy I pledged my support to your camp.”

“As am I.” Bandurlok acknowledged. “Let us see if we can hasten the discovery shall we?”


“Simple. Send word you need extra troops as you have discovered the trail of one of the escapees and need help tracking him down. My father will be forced to send more from his base because to do anything else would alert the rest of the royal family and my nephew’s allies to a potential problem. The only ones he could possibly trust would be his personal elite guard.”

“This will certainly weaken him further, but he is not totally insane. He will want a name.”

Bandurlok paused, using his back leg and claws to scratch some deep itch. A devious glint appeared in his dark black eyes as he came up with a name. “Let us get his full attention. Give it two days then go back to him. Tell him you have found evidence linking the incursion to a Dragonling by the name of Lord Falk.”

Commander Benalthar let out a gasp but recovered quickly. “If anyone, he would have the power and knowledge to create such a protection spell, but he will hear about this and it will invite his wrath and the Watch will fall in line behind him.”

Bandurlok snickered, “It is highly unlikely even he would have such spell casting power and I know for a fact he is actually down in Everone, but you are correct. The Watch will rally behind him big time and they will do even more damage to my beloved nephew.”

The full beauty of Bandurlok’s plan dawned on Benalthar as he stared at the massive Black Dragon Prince, “Which will all point to him and the greens, focusing even more energy against him and his allies. He will be so badly weakened he will not be able to do much when you are named king let alone start a civil war for the kingdom. An amazing plan my Prince. I can see nothing to get in your way.”

“Thank you Commander. I try. However, I have lived to see so many well planned and thought out schemes shatter under the most unexpected and often time small events. This is why I want to sit and do nothing quite yet. Let us see what pebbles will be tossed into our pond of ideas first.”

The Dragonling cocked his head to the side and peered upwards, “What if waiting causes the ripple?”

Bandurlok laughed. “With my luck it probably will.”


Kandric slid over to where Senole slept and gently nudged the boy’s shoulder. It took a couple of times before the Swordsman student grumbled and his eyes popped open. Kandric waited for the boy’s infra-vision to make him out before speaking, "I hate to wake you, but you are our only Miner and I really need your help.

The young Dwarf rubbed his eyes and yawned, taking a few extra moments for the words to register. “Huh, Kandric? Uh, well, um, sure… Ya really need my help?”

Kandric managed a smile, “Senole, you have been a great asset for this whole group. You are the one who spotted the tiny cave we all wiggled through to get us into this section of caves. Without you we may still have been looking for a fairly safe place to rest let alone a place which shows no signs of having been discovered let alone used allowing all of us to get a full round of sleep.”

“I kind of got lucky.”

“Luck or not you got us to a much safer spot then I would have found. Besides, you are the one who made it so easy to get back up to the upper kitchen and grab some food so we could stay down here longer. Furthermore, you and you alone realized the heavier, colder feeling to the air was from extra moisture and meant water was close when we started trying to find a place to bed down. The fact the water here is free of iron allowing all of us with Elvin blood to wash up and refill water skins may have been luck but you leading us here was not. Even better it only took a few Dry Autospells to get our clothing back into shape so not only are we away from Iron as you tired to do. You found us a place to get rid of the iron on us and a safe place for everyone to bed down.”

“Well we needed it. I am still really tired and my arm aches where the Morg you ended up fighting stabbed me. How long have I been asleep?”

“Close to 8 or 9 hours I would guess. I let everyone with a pretty bad injury sleep without pulling a guard shift. It is getting close to my Force replenishing so shortly I am going to use up what I have left to heal the worst injuries.” Kandric paused rubbed his hands together bringing a bluish green glow to the pitch black cave for a few moments. In the sudden light a couple of kids along with Rylop sat up and looked around, seeing Kandric all of them except the adult Swordsman rolled back over. Rylop used the brief glow to make his way over and to find a spot to sit next to the two boys.

Kandric allowed the glow to remain long enough for Rylop to get situated next to them before he pressed his hands on Senole’s arm healing not only the stab wound but all the other nicks, slices and bruises accumulated since they had entered the depths of Bloody Rock. Within moments the whole cavern was plunged back into complete darkness.

Rylop growled softly knowing any loud sounds would echo quite badly and could way too easily attract unwanted attention, “You realize us humans can’t see a blasted thing down here?”

“Neither can the Halflings. But unless there is a direct line of sight infra-vision cannot pick us up either since the cave walls block our body heat. It would take someone squeezing their way through the passage Senole found which you just barely managed to stuff yourself through or swimming in the river that flows in the next chamber over to find us. I doubt either is likely, but we still have kept a guard rotation.” Kandric reminded him before he turned his attention back to Senole.

Senole lightly touched his arm for a moment then grabbed it with a relived sigh, “Thanks Teacher.”

Kandric sighed. All of the students had taken to calling him Teacher and it did not sit well with him at all. The title of Teacher was one of respect and it was just not something Kandric felt he was entitled to. “Just Kandric. I am not a guild certified teacher yet and do not plan to become one for a very long time.”

“It doesn’t matter to me. You’re still a teacher and I know it.” Senole managed to smile, “So what do you want?”

Realizing his plea was being wasted Kandric simply moved on. “First off, I want you to be comfortable with saying if you do not know. I have been expecting a great deal from you and of all the students here I have been pushing you hardest on your limited training. All of us have been relying on your Miner training to help us. Up to this point you have done a great job, but I never want you to be afraid of telling me or anyone else you cannot do something or simply do not know.”

“Sure, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t know and I know there is. Everything you’ve asked so far has just made me pay attention more and look at things more close. I know I’ve slowed us all down more than once cause I wasn’t sure.”

Rylop managed to reach out and patted the boy on the head after missing the first time, “From what I’ve seen you’ve done great kid, but yer handling’ of yer flail could be a bit less wild. Ya waste a lot a energy when charge inta a fight like ya tends ta.”

Kandric managed to put some humor in his voice. “Well I doubt you will be able to teach him any better until you can see. Something tells me you would look pretty wild if a fight broke out down here now.”

Rylop shook his head, “Before I agreed ta come with you guys I made sure the school loaned me a pair a glow coins. I ain’t about to be caught in the dark fer long. I’d be tossin’ a glower down before my blade hilt touched my hand.”

Senole rolled his eyes. “And all this time I thought the Slome guards were good enough to fight with their eyes closed. With as often as you hear em brag when they come to help train us, you’d think they wouldn’t need eyes.”

This brought out a few snickers from those who had been woken up by the soft conversation in the cave. Slowly the whole group was starting to stir as Rylop tried to reach out and grab Senole only to find the youngster was smart enough to move away, staying slightly out of easy reach.

Kandric pulled a glow coin out of his own pouch and tossed it on the floor allowing everyone some light to see and get organized. “Senole, what I want to know is if there is a way you can put some kind of natural looking marks every so often so those who know what to look for can find their way back here. This is the perfect place to drop some of the rations we pilfered from the upper kitchen, some of the extra weapons, and much of the other captured supplies. This could become our resupply and reorientation spot. If anyone gets separated this would be the place I would want them to go.”

Senole frowned in deep thought, “I’m not sure Teacher. I could make a mark with my pick with the mark pointing up when you need to turn right or down when you need to turn left as you face it, and lengthwise when you need to go straight, but anyone could see it. Whoever did would have to know it meant something and most would not even notice it at all. What may be better is to get everyone really used to the area fairly close to here and I don’t make any marks until we are far enough away so no marks point to a spot we want to keep secret.”

“Good idea.” Kandric stood and stretched, then made a quick round using his remaining Force to heal the worst injuries. “Senole, Zeltoss, Seldnat, and I will be gone for a couple of hours scouting out the area and finding land marks we can point out to everyone. In the meantime eat, wash up, then separate out 3 days worth of food and organize your packs. Anything you do not want to carry can be stored here. All loot we have gathered also needs to be left here including coins. It will only weigh us down and make noise as we walk. This will be our last stop before we leave this labyrinth.”

Rylop moved up the small entrance and secured his bedroll to the hole leading into the cave to block out the light from the glow coin. "Take Lorthorn, you have a good chance of needing a Healthman. Karvock will not be able to teach him much anyway since you just polished off any bad hurts.

“Beside I’m gunna have em all put some time into oiling and sharpening weapons while your gone, and I already noticed Lorthorn did his before going to bed. The rest of them cleaned their arms but this is a good chance to really take care of them so they can take care a us.”

Kandric looked around with a sudden realization, “Rylop, make it into a class, this is a school field trip and classes should be given at every opportunity. Also I am sure there are some stiff and sore students down here. Make them stretch and loosen up so they are all in the best condition possible when we do get into a fight. We have been spending too much time on surviving and fighting and too little time with other aspects of training.”

Rylop gave a salute, “You got it.”

Many of those who had been trying to capture every second of rest they could groaned or sighed as they realized the time to sleep was over, but none of them complained as they started to organize their belongings and break out whet stones, oil and food.

As Kandric lead the way down the small passage away from the area they would use as a base Zeltoss whispered. “Some field trip, huh?”

Senole managed a snicker. “It’s been more like a day long voluntary walk into an endless gauntlet!” He then turned to Kandric, “We should hang another bedroll here so it completely blocks out the light from above and cannot be seen from the main cavern below. I can still see a bit of a glow.”

Kandric pointed to Seldnat with a nod, knowing the Halforc would obey without hesitation. “It is kind of odd how hard the fighting was right off then tapered off so much after we made our way back down after cleaning out the upper kitchen of anything resembling real food.”

“What’s so odd about it Teacher?” Lorthorn asked as he waited for Senole to scan the large chamber beyond for a few moments.

Zeltoss answered as he slipped into the large natural cavern, “My screw up on the first battle allowed them to warn the whole place. Every fight we engaged in was at a choke point and was fairly well set. Even after we started backtracking they pursued us, but not long after we raided the food supplies and had Rylop move up resistance faded to almost no trained beings and we haven’t seen a Dragonling in a long time, no complaints there though.”

“Me fig’r Teach’r Saslara attack from da utter side. Them go after her, no after we.” Seldnat snorted. “Us no more big probl’m.”

“I hope you’re wrong.” Zeltoss muttered. “I’d hate to think the whole place turned against her.”

Senole shook his head, “I think you are both wrong. The worst was at the first blockade. Once Teacher Kandric got us through there, we ain’t seen nothing to compare. I think we killed most of the good ones off there.” He took a final look around, “It looks clear Teacher.”

“I do not think the answer is so simple.” Kandric stated as he hopped down the last ledge leading down from the makeshift base above. He rolled his shoulders as he felt his force refresh. “We are every bit as much of a threat as Teacher Saslara, and we have really penetrated deep into the mountain. I have a feeling something else is going on.”

He paused for a moment trying to think what other explanations were possible. Coming up with nothing he quickly switched subjects. “If anyone is interested the moon just came up. I have my full force back.”

The small group wandered for over three hours noting landmarks. Where possible Senole made a small mark to help students identify the area as one of the things to look for since so much in a natural cave looked the same.

Kandric took a knee and checked a pool of water, finding it to be free of iron he took a long drink and refilled his water skins. "I am beginning to think we accidentally found a place they simply do not know about. We have seen no sign of anyone or anything in hours.

As Senole made yet another small circle with a hammer and spike he glanced up. I think you spoke too soon. I smell something."

Before anyone could make comments Senole whistled softly letting everyone know to keep quiet. “Kandric, come here!”

Kandric moved around the large rock formation to find the lad crouched down looking at a cut out rounded shaft. The smell of smoky air and some heat could be detected as he got closer. “What is this?”

“I can’t be sure, but I thinks it’s a air shaft. I have heard of them and seen drawings but have never been in a mine big enough to need one. This could lead down to the main shaft where the mine used to be!”

Kandric looked down getting a good smell of wood smoke while seeing how wide the passage was. As he scoped it out he could see a flickering of light and the sounds of a raspy sounding voice, but could not make out what was being said. “We could probably fit down there. It would be a bit tight for Seldnat and very tight for Rylop though.”

Seldnat took and look, a frown spreading over his face. “Me hold rope so’s ya can get out. Ya four check. It ain’t too deep.”

Zeltoss pulled a rope out of Seldnat’s pack before taking off all his own gear, “lower me. I’ll take a look. When I give three tugs pull me back up. If there’s a problem I want Kandric and Senole to toss down my mace and come down fast.”

Kandric remained silent but couldn’t help but smile. Zeltoss was starting to learn from past mistakes, using caution and coupling it with better use of his people. Since he was one of the lightest yet highest ranking, he was the logical choice for being lowered and Seldnat was by far the strongest so he was certainly the best choice to hold the rope. Furthermore, the young mystic carried only a dagger with him to eliminate the chance any his equipment would make a noise to alert those below.

For ten minutes Kandric stood by nervously when suddenly the rope went slack and there were sounds of a struggle. Kandric dove headfirst down the airshaft taking Zeltoss’ equipment as he went. The slide was a fast one taking him only a few seconds to reach the bottom. He tumbled out hitting the ground pretty hard, but recovered quickly.

He paused in some astonishment as he saw Zeltoss standing over a pair of dead Hobgoblins, one with guild Primary step 4 Warrior Adept guild pins the other with Primary step two Swordsman pins. Before he could speak Senole tumbled out of the tube crashing to the ground with a noisy thud after the two meter drop to the floor followed seconds later by Lorthorn, who out of all of them did the best job rolling and coming up into a crouched stance without so much as a scratch on him.

Kandric moved to assist Senole as he spoke to Zeltoss, “What happened.”

“The Adept was right under me but I dislodged a pebble. I knew I had to act so I let go and cut his throat as I fell on him. The other went for his spear so I tossed my dagger into him and then used this one’s ax to finish the job, but its handle is iron so my hands really itch.”

Kandric used his water skin to wash Zeltoss’ hands then used a light healing spell to get rid of the effects of the iron.

Senole looked around with wide eyes, “Zel, you really are way better than any of us thought!” His gaze then extended further out, “Kandric this is not what I expected. This is a lower natural cavern. There is no reason I know to have an airshaft down here. Something is wrong.”

Kandric looked around and realized the young Miner trainee was correct. The small guard post was dug out, but it opened into a natural passage with dozens of stalactites and stalagmites. Looking around a bit more he could see this was a fairly wide yet sloped area. Up hill there was a glow of a fire and down there was a steady light, not like a fire, probably magical in nature.

As he looked around a bit more he noticed a large lever in the guard post area. Looking around further he finally spotted a large straight slit in the ceiling, clearly dug out as several natural cave features had been removed to make the gash.

“Senole, is this a gate lever?”

As Senole looked it over sounds and shouts in a language Kandric could not even identify could be heard. “I think so, but it is only to drop the gate quickly, like an emergency release. There has to be a way to raise it up again, but it ain’t in here.”

“I do not think this attack went unnoticed.” Lorthorn stated the obvious as the sounds grew closer. He pulled out a pair of backup crossbows he had captured along the way out of his pack, loaded them and set them on the ground next to him before readying his own crossbow.

Seldnat appeared a few moments later. “I tie und spike da rope so us got way up.” He grinned as he saw the dead hobs. “Ya done good Zel!”

Kandric held up his hand in warning as he heard the sound of someone or something running with chain armor on, “You four get back up the rope. The fight has definitely attracted some attention!”

Zeltoss shook his head, “Kandric, there ain’t no way. I can’t even climb a tree very well. I’m just not strong enough to get up a rope fast!”

“Me be tight fit ta make quick. Me take time too.” Seldnat added.

Kandric paused for a split second then nodded. “OK, then Senole get up there and mark the way so you can get back to the rest and bring them here easily. Point out some of the landmarks we talked about and you marked as you do so. Zel, Seldnat, Lorthorn and I are going to push forward and secure an area down here. I want you to pull up the rope as soon as you can so nothing down here can follow you.”

Kandric waited, listening to the approaching sounds and stepped out of the small guard post swinging low. He timed it perfectly, slicing into a Green Dragonling who was running up the passage to see what all the commotion was about. The cut was precise, taking the running Dragonling by surprise, cutting off both legs right below the area the chain shirt covered. It fell to the ground with a half howling half hissing sound.

Blood pumped out of the leg stumps creating a pool of reddish green foul smelling goo on the passage floor. Even though Kandric got a face full of the Dragonling’s blood he still spun his sword and stuck the point right into its skull ending the awful sounds.

Kandric didn’t have time to think about the taste of Dragonling blood in his mouth as three more greens came into view.

Zeltoss and Lorthorn each fired a crossbow at the lead one while Seldnat moved to the far side. He and Kandric did exactly the same thing. They ducked under the swings of the Dragonlings’ weapons and spun to the side. Each then continued the spin to gain power cutting deep into the backs of the charging creatures. Seldnat’s axe buried so deep in severed the backbone and made it so hard to pull out he had to switch to the magical staff rather than fight to get the axe out. Meanwhile, Kandric’s swing took off the tail of the one he had targeted.

The third one took one bolt in the side and saw what happened to its comrades. It took a deep breath and let out a cloud of poisonous gas. Zeltoss reacted very quickly with a wind spell. The gust blew the cloud right back on the Dragonling. This didn’t harm it but it did prevent Kandric and Seldnat from having to breath any of the deadly vapors.

Seldnat switched the staff into a spear and hurled it at the wounded Dragonling while Kandric flung a dagger. Both hit dropping, but not killing it. Behind them, Lorthorn jumped forward with his fangs, making twin thrusting attacks on the Dragonling with the removed tail. It didn’t see the young attacker till one of the fangs was sinking into its eye. It never finished it poison cloud attack, but it did exhale enough to cause the young Halfelf to get a face full. He fell back coughing quite badly.

Kandric pointed to the downed Dragonlings letting Seldnat know he should finish them while he turned his attention to Lorthorn. “Don’t rub your eyes. I will wash them out.” As he pulled out a water skin he spoke to Zeltoss. “I know you don’t have much force, but you need to use an air spell, directed into his lungs, to clear them or he could suffer serious injury.”

Zeltoss shrugged, “My Force comes at sunrise so it is not too long till I’d have to use or lose it anyway.”

As Kandric and Zeltoss worked on the young Healthman student the sounds Seldnat first removing his axe from the back of a Dragonling followed seconds later by a swish then splattering sound which was repeated only a couple of seconds latter.

Zeltoss paused for a second as he noticed something on the dead Dragonling Lorthorn had finished off. Quickly he pulled a necklace from around the dead beast’s neck. “Kandric!”

Kandric turned and looked blankly at the silver necklaces with several silver plates, but Lorthorn and Seldnat both let out a short gasp. Kandric glanced around and frowned, “Alright, someone mind filling me in please?”

Zeltoss angrily stuffed the necklace down into his pouch as he spoke. "This is Teacher Saslara’s. She tells all her students about it. It is some sort of family protection and heirloom. Her request to all her students is when she dies to get this and a body part and take it to a temple of Pelgrin. Then to return a month later and get it to her oldest daughter who lives in Silverton. I have no idea what it does, but she says it holds the power of her family and each one of the silver tabs contains ashes from a past female Swordsman from her direct family line. She said every first born female in her family for the last 18 generations became a swordsman so maybe this passes it on or something.

Lorthorn regained enough of his senses to speak. True fear could be heard as his voice squeaked slightly. “One way or the other she’d never hand it over freely!”

Kandric slowly shook his head. “Then we must assume all of Teacher Saslara’s group is dead or captured. We also have to find her body if she is dead to honor her request.”

“How us gunna find her?” Seldnat responded with frustration in his voice. “Dis place a maze!”

Kandric turned to face the three he was leading. All of them looked shocked and more than a bit scared. The thought of someone or something besting their teacher made them all the more vulnerable. He forced himself to stand as tall and straight as he could and put on a determined look and tone as he answered. “We are going to tear this place apart if we have to. Every passage will be checked every chamber and cavern searched, and until we find her and the other students we will capture any we can and force them to talk. Every creature in this hill is going to regret the day they ever faced the Slome Swordsman School!”

First Zeltoss nodded slowly as he replaced his fear with anger. This was followed by Seldnat and finally Lorthorn within a few seconds of each other. Zeltoss spoke for the other two as he secured the gear he had removed to check the vent. “Then let’s get moving and kick some Dragonling butt.”

More sounds and flickering torches could be seen coming down the passage. Seldnat pulled a handful of javelins out of one of the dead Dragonling’s packs and started hurling them down the passage. “Kandric!” he yelled, seeing a massive new wave of attackers, many of them Dragonlings.

Kandric spun out of the small alcove, saw the threat and glanced around. A sudden idea came to him. He spoke in Elvish hoping the onrushing force would not understand his words. “Zel, get to the lever Senole pointed out. Pull it down on my mark, but only on my mark!”

Kandric then tossed his bow and quiver of arrows on the ground, before dropping his pack to completely lighten his load and prepare for hard combat. “Lor, grab my bow and shoot arrows up at them. Crossbows take too long to load.”

“I’m not very good with a bow.”

Seldnat surprised everyone showing he had the basics of the Elvin tongue as he answered, “You don’t have ta be. Jus shoot at em. Der be so many ya can’t miss!”

Kandric nodded, more to himself than anyone before he continued to give battle instructions. “I want everyone behind some of these rocks, keep your head down and when the Dragonlings breath. Also keep your eyes closed and hold your breath for a few seconds. The Black’s acid will splatter on the rocks, so give it a few seconds. They cannot run and breath so the second you see one pause you have to get down!”

“Er kill em fast.” Seldnat snarled as he tossed another javelin into a lead Black Dragonling which had stopped as if getting ready to breath.

Kandric managed a grin despite the situation. He tossed one of his daggers into it, making sure it was too badly injured to get back up before he spoke again. “Save some of those Seld, I want you to look for those who are about to cast, appear to be spell casters, or are hanging back like they could be the magic reserve!”

“Got it boss!” The Halforc stated as he hurled another one with everything he had at a Hobgoblin with a book pouch. It struck the charging best dead center in the chest, knocking it back into some of its fellows, but the wave of attackers didn’t even pause. They simply continued the charge, trampling those who had fallen.

Kandric also found the newest attackers were acting desperate. He finished off all his throwing daggers, dropping three and wounding five others, but the hoard didn’t seem phased by their mounting losses.

With no more daggers, Kandric rolled out from behind this stone protection, grabbed the crossbow hanging off one of the dead Dragonlings and fired it into the face of a Green Dragonling in the process of letting loose a cloud of poisonous gas. The bolt was a perfect shot entering the mouth of the green scaled monster. It fell straight back exhaling its poison, taking down a half dozen Hobgoblins around it and causing some of the Black Dragonlings to scatter away from the suddenly deadly cloud.

Kandric grabbed a handful of bolts out of the dead Dragonling’s quiver as he rolled back behind the stone. Less than a second later the splattering of acid fell on his armor causing several smoking spots. This was too much and the attacking wave was right where he wanted them anyway. “Now Zel!”

Zeltoss yanked down on the lever but it didn’t budge.


Zeltoss’ eyes went wide as he gritted his teeth hard enough to chip one and pulled down again with everything he had. For a moment nothing happened then some of the rust broke loose and the lever budged forward.

“Zel!” Kandric screamed again as he managed to load and fire the crossbow, this time at a Black Dragonling which had gotten way too close to Lorthorn.

Zeltoss tossed aside the cloth he had wrapped the iron handled lever with and used his bare hands to pull. As the iron burned his skin he placed his foot on the wall and pulled down with everything he had. The long unused lever finally gave way and snapped downwards, crushing 3 of Zeltoss’ fingers as it snapped against the stone wall.

As Zeltoss screamed in a mixture of pain from iron and broken fingers the whole cavern seemed to shake for a moment. Everything and everyone stopped in mid stride as they looked around. The sounds of a massive chain could be heard rolling off of some long forgotten metal gears somewhere deep within the walls. The vibrations were powerful enough to knock many to the ground.

Kandric and Seldnat half stumbled, half rolled into the small cut out guard post alcove as sections of the ceiling started to break loose.

The whole roof seemed to start to fall. Lorthorn was the last to make it fully inside the guard post as several large stalactites fell followed a few moments later by a massive old iron portcullis. Dozens of attacking Dragonlings and Hobgoblins were killed or seriously injured by falling rocks from the ceiling and a half dozen where killed outright by the massive, long forgotten gate. A large force of Morg behind the first wave was caught as a massive chunk of rock broke loose behind the gate, killing all but a few of the ones in the far back.

Kandric waited crouched down in the alcove until he heard nothing more falling then came out with his sword in hand followed seconds later by Seldnat. The dust in the air was terrible, causing all four boys to cough.

It took almost 30 minutes for the air to clear enough to see, even with infravision. At a glance Kandric could see the gate had done far more than cut off access to the upper cave. It had created a massive cave-in, blocking everything on the far side of the gate with a massive pile of rock. Satisfied there would be no more threats from there for quite some time he moved to the task at hand.

Seldnat didn’t need to be told what to do as he also took quick stock of the situation. The two didn’t take time to show mercy as they moved methodically over the debris. Any creature with even the slightest signs of life was dispatched without a second thought. Finding prisoners would have to wait till they were secure and safe.

Occasionally both kids stopped to grab weapons to supply what they had used in the last battle. Kandric, in particular took time to re-supply his throwing daggers from a few bodies.

Inside the alcove Lorthorn washed, bandaged, and splinted Zeltoss’ hands and fingers. “You did good Zel, you really did.”

Zeltoss puked on the floor crying from pain, “I took to long!”

“No.” Lorthorn stated, “We are all still alive!”

Zeltoss took the words and managed a very pained smile then swallowed hard and took a swig of water offered by Lorthorn. Tears still freely flowing out of his eyes he looked out of the small guard post. “Let’s help finish this.”

Seldnat found a couple of the Hobs were not as badly wounded as most. They had managed to get up against the wall protecting them from the falling death from above. One of them managed to cut his leg with a long sword before he stuck his spear into its groin. Its screams echoed badly throughout the cavern. The other started to flee, but ran straight into Kandric who had come over to assist. A single deadly slice from Kandric’s sword removed the Hobgoblin’s head before it realized it was in danger.

He then moved over to Seldnat and cast a healing spell on the wounded leg, wanting everyone to be in the best shape as possible. Without the rope hanging down the airshaft, they were stuck down here without reinforcements. He could use up what would almost certainly be all his force to levitate everyone up, but since none of the others knew how to control such a spell it would be too dangerous to attempt in all but a last resort action.

Zeltoss managed to stand. He grabbed his mace off the floor and moved out to the main passage coughing, choking, and still crying. He took a second to do a back handed swipe into the face of a still raggedly breathing Black Dragonling the other two had over looked.

Before he could take a moment to take full stock over the situation, however, he saw a full baker’s dozen new threats come up from the lower passage. “There are more coming boss!”

Seldnat didn’t pause for a second as he moved to engage. He used his spear staff to block a thrust from a strange short javelin like weapon only it had a much more dagger like blade at the end. The weapon was carried by a weird furry dwarf sized almost ape like creature with a face which looked almost human. “What dis be Teach’r’?” He asked as he spun the staff low sweeping the feet out from under the creature. He then turned it back into a spear so he could plunge the tip into and through the chest of the stunned thing lying in front of him.

Kandric rolled out from behind some of the fallen rock and moved down the passageway where the latest threat was coming from, sticking a dagger into the hip of another one of the strange beasts. He snarled as he whipped another throwing dagger into the face of a third one coming up the passage which carried a strange crossbow like looking device. “Cavelings. They are normally from warmer weather areas. I have never seen one anywhere close to here.” As he finished his statement he blocked a swing from a two handed weapon which looked like a cross between a mace and a walking stick. His frozen flame vibrated with the impact with the weapon, but he managed to lash out with a foot catching yet another one in the ribs, knocking the wind out of it.

Kandric moved rapidly to get out from the debris so he had good clean footing. The last thing he wanted was to fight this latest threat on a battlefield filled with rocks and huge stones, corpses, and dropped weapons. As soon as he got into the clear he thrust the tip of his sword into the one with the two handed weapon and slammed the palm of his hand in as the blade tip hit its chain armor. The links parted like butter as the magic blade cut through metal, flesh and bone, emerging from the back of the wide eyed creature. Its expression told of its shock at having been so easily bested by someone so young before all signs of life flickered out of its dark green eyes.

This wicked attack allowed Zeltoss to come from the side using his Mace of the Dead to crush the skull of the one Kandric had kicked. He then wasted no time finishing off the one with the dagger it its hip, allowing Kandric to move forward taking the fight to this newest wave of attackers. Zeltoss figured he could not do much head to head fighting with his hands they way they were, but he could certainly finish off what Kandric or Seldnat had started

Even though Lorthorn was still shocked at the level of destruction and death, he reloaded his crossbows. He then took a knee and fired the first one down the passage striking what appeared to be the leader of the Cavelings in the shoulder. The fancy dressed Caveling with ornate bracers dropped its strange heavy looking crossbow as the impact spun it halfway around.

Kandric delivered another kick sending a small Caveling sprawling before he glanced over to Zeltoss, “Get the one Lor shot, but do not kill him. Leave the rest to us! Seld, open him up a path! Lor, get any of them with those bows! I will show you why later!”

Seldnat didn’t hesitate, he slammed his staff down across the throat of the one Kandric had knocked to the ground before turning the handle and impaling the next nearest one.

Zeltoss felt the bite of a good short sword like weapon open up a cut along his arm. He gritted his teeth and smashed the face of the offending Caveling in. A second crossbow bolt from Lorthorn prevented what would have certainly been a successful attack from doing serious injury to Zeltoss as he rushed past the last of the Cavelings to prevent the wounded leader from escaping.

The wounded Caveling Lorthorn shot forgot all about its crossbow, instead clutched at the bolt sticking out of is back.

Just as Zeltoss got close the injured Caveling spun and spoke a single phrase while spinning its fingers. A wave of sparks showered Zeltoss causing him to fall to the ground thrashing in pain, his hair smoldering.

Kandric felt anger explode as he saw his friend fall. He dropped his sword and slammed the open palm of his right hand into the opponent nearest to him, knocking it back and giving him an opening. Before the Caveling hit the ground Kandric had already started a spell of his own. This was a new one for him in combat. He had been told by one of the teaching spirits this was a vicious seriously nasty spell. It seemed perfect for this occasion however. After speaking a short string of words he thrust out both hands and wiggled all his fingers. A grayish green light arched out between his extended hands then rolled outward like a small wave of twisting bubbling grayish energy. It surrounded the leader for an instant. Then, as it took its next breath, the spell entered its lungs. The creature jerked a couple of time then fell to the ground shaking uncontrollably. Within seconds it started fully convulsing, its head, arms, legs and chest jerking as smashing down into the stone floor over and over.

Seldnat managed finished off the Caveling Kandric had hit with his open hand. The Halforc student then spun to face the last three only to see Kandric jump high into the air and deliver an amazing spinning jump kick into the face of one of them. Everyone still standing heard the jaw snap and watched the furry beast’s teeth fly out of its mouth.

Behind them Lorthorn took advantage of the distraction, shoving his short sword into the back of one of the others.

The last one dropped its javelin like weapon and tried to run.

Seldnat cloths-lined it with his staff then put his foot down on its chest. “Ya stay!”

Kandric took stock of the situation as he picked up his sword and ran over to Zeltoss, slicing the throat of the one with the bolt stuck in its back as he did so. He started to bring up a healing spell then stopped himself. “Lor, I already healed him once today when he touched the iron. I could hurt him worse if I try again. You will have to treat him as best as you can!”

Lorthorn moved up and poured water on a cloth, wrapping the burns on the side of Zeltoss’ head and neck. “It looks like he managed to turn his face so at least he didn’t get his face or worse his eyes burned. We need to get him somewhere where there is good water so I can…”

A hissing snarl cut off the young Heathman’s words, “Sssssso you can what Halfelf child?”

Time seemed to stop for all four kids as a truly massive Green Dragon came up the passageway. Even Zeltoss who was only half aware of what was going on felt his eyes bug out. Lorthorn dropped his Healthman pouch and held his breath for so long he almost passed out and Seldnat put so much pressure on the fallen Caveling he was standing on he accidentally snapped several ribs and killed it.

Even Kandric felt his loincloth grow damp as he pissed himself a little.

As it grew closer the passage shook slightly with its foot falls. With each step the true size and scope of the creature came more into view. At over 25 meter in length it was by far the largest single living thing Kandric had ever seen. Some of the chest scales were large enough by themselves to be a breast plate for a full grown man, and there was little doubt in Kandric’s mind they were every bit as hard, if not harder then metal armor.

The green scales went evenly, all the way down to the feet and a sharp set of ridged scales guarded the nose and mouth. Even then, all four boys could make out dozens of teeth some almost as long as they were tall. Its very breath moved the air in the massive chamber, while a single quick movement of its wings was enough to swirl the hair on all of them.

The Dragon continued to close, “It sssssseemsssss I was not told the truth. There were more of you after all.” The massive green neck and head glanced around, looking at the carnage. “I find it impossssssssible to believe four boyssss did all of this. Where are the otherssssssss.”

Kandric forced his breathing to calm so he didn’t hyperventilate. It took him a moment to find his voice. When he did so, he decided to act far braver then he felt. “All of this? We hardly broke a sweat.”

A snarl large enough to blow Kandric’s hair back roared out of the dragon. “You mock my personal guards! You puny…”

Kandric felt some of his confidence return. As he did so he could not help himself, a wise crack came out, “A bunch of lizards and furballs are the best you can do and then you talk about us being puny?”

“Lizardsss and Furballssss! Lizardssss and Furballssss!” the Dragon roared. “You insult elite Dragonling protectorssss with your wordssss child!” Kandric was literally blown on his butt by the force of the growl.

The more angry the dragon became, the calmer and more confident Kandric grew. As his fear vanished, clear thought returned and with it his Ruinseeker lessons also came into play. As he stood It dawned on him most suddenly the dragon’s words had given away a major secret. He was facing a great female dragon, for only female dragons had personal protectors.

Great Dragon females were beyond extremely rare, each race only having a half dozen or so. The birth of any female Dragon was a glorious event. However, the birth of a Great Dragon female was something truly spectacular for any dragon race. The smaller female dragons never laid eggs capable of becoming Great Dragons, so each Great Dragon female got protectors assigned to it. These protectors were never dragons for fear one of the dragons may mate with it and ruin a mating cycle, so lesser Dragonlings and other creatures got the task of being personal protectors. Failure would bring a very nasty death which explained the desperation of those who continued to press the attack even as the roof was caving in on them.

As soon as the female was able to care for itself it was taken to a secret location and only the most powerful of the Great Dragon males were allowed to breed with it. Often times fierce competitions were held by the male Great Dragons for the honor. Each female only laid about 1 to 4 eggs per breeding with 2 or 3 being the norm.

Each breeding and egg laying took about fifteen years from start to finish then it took another two years for the eggs to hatch. On top of this only about one out of fifty eggs become true dragons and only about one out of every twenty-five true dragons were the truly elite Great Dragons. The vast majority were much smaller Warrior Dragons with life spans less than the average Dwarf.

These Warrior Dragons were often times referred to as Dragonettes by the Great Dragons. This was probably an appropriate description, although highly insulting. The fact was Warrior Dragons were what most saw and fought. Some of the world’s greatest dragon slayer heroes never faced a true dragon at all. Still even one of the smaller Warrior Dragons was highly dangerous, capable of wiping out villages by themselves. Yet, truth be told none ever grew past eight meters long and only had limited powers when compared with the much more dangerous and powerful true or worse yet Great Dragons.

Since the last Dragon War, the reds and greens were known to be very short on females. This was simply because each race had lost at least four during the war. The greens overall leader was a female and there was two or three other breeders, and the reds were thought to only have two or three great females. Yet here he was facing one of the great females, although still pretty young. The interesting part was she was so angry she was not paying any attention to her surrounding or her own safety

Kandric forced a smile, deciding to go for broke as a plan formed, but it had to be timed perfectly. One misstep and he and the other three would die instantly. Still dying was better than what this dragon would do to them if it had its way and he knew it. “Give me a break lizard lips, your forces are pathetic! If these were your personal guards then you must really be a worthless dragonette.”

Pure fury could be seen in the dragon’s eyes as it reared up on its back legs, getting ready to pounce. It extended forward claws reminding Kandric of eight curved swords, each almost a half meter in length.

Kandric reacted instantly, casting a levitate spell. He shot up all the way to the cave ceiling.

The move caught the female dragon off guard. It leapt, using its powerful wings to get off the ground and sharply extended its head to snap at the red haired boy. This would have certainly killed Kandric had it not been for a rather large and particularly sharp pointed set of stalactites Kandric had move up into.

The massive Green Dragon showed she had never had to fight for herself and had up to this point been given everything in life. Her complete lack of combat skill and common sense coupled with her anger prevented her from even noticing the danger. She should have simply let out a breath of deadly gas, but it never occurred to her. Instead she chose an ill advised attack which sent her humongous head right into the sharp stones above her. Her skull impacted with the hanging rock protrusions, partially puncturing her skull and shattering a dozen of the thick stones. As quickly as she sprung upward in the attack she crashed back to the floor of the cave seriously wounded.

Kandric wasted no time. He moved himself directly over the staggering dragon and grabbed his sword with both hands.

The injured dragon staggered back to its feet, blood running down its face and into its eyes. It seemed to see and understand the gravity of the situation, but not comprehend what the boy had in mind or what to do about it.

Kandric pushed off the ceiling with his feet as the stunned and bleeding dragon below tried to see where he went. He activated the flaming ruins and swung at one of the surviving stalactites over her. The blade sucked out enough force out of Kandric to cast 6 primary echelon spells as it became white hot. It sliced through the stone like a glowing poker would melt ice. The massive mineral spike fell piercing her left wing and opening up a huge gash on her side. It pinned her to the ground as effectively as if he had stuck a pin through a dragonfly into a wooden board.

Even though Kandric nearly lost consciousness from the terrible magical drain, he managed to move directly over the helpless dragon, point the blade straight down then descend. The position was perfect. The still very hot, yet rapidly cooling blade went right through one of the relatively soft puncture wound from the stalactites. It took only a little extra effort for Kandric to send the blade straight into the brain. He didn’t simply stop there, however. He rapidly jabbed up and down and twisted the blade turning the brain into mush, killing the Great Dragon.

As he withdrew the blade, blood gushed out of the massive hole he had opened in the skull in geyser like spurts for a few seconds as the heart pumped a few more beats. Kandric tumbled to the ground, knocked back by the force of the bloody fountain.

Huge magical waves visibly pulsed out of the Great dragon’s mouth as it made one last exhale. All four youngsters were knocked to the ground by the unexpected release of such incredible energy. In mere seconds all found their wounds healed, force completely refreshed, and knew they had gained some power. The legends of the great dragon slayer heroes coming back from their quests with much more abilities than they had left ceased being legends to all four as each realized within moments even the knowledge of the Green Dragon tongue had been passed on to them.

Kandric in particular realized he had gotten a huge amount of power, similar, probably even greater than the power he had felt following the death of the Ice Demon. Coated in dragon blood from head to toe Kandric stood and grabbed his blade. He spat out mouthfuls as he realized the salty, bitter taste in his mouth was dragon blood. “Yuck!”

Seldnat was the second to stand and collect his thoughts. The Halforc was partially shocked at what he had witnessed. The subsequent powerful magic outburst he had felt also had him reeling. Still he was the first to find his full voice and speak. He even managed a snicker as he looked over at Kandric who was retching at the realization of how much dragon blood he had ingested. “Me think a better thing er two ta drink, dat fer sure.”

Lorthorn also managed a chuckle as he picked himself off the ground and knocked some of the dust off himself, “Not my first choice for brunch!”

Zeltoss brought the moment of humor to a close as he tossed Kandric his water skin. He added a wink and a smile as he touched the side of his face which had been badly burned only a few minutes before. It was as if he had brand new skin, even the scar received a couple of years earlier from a wooden sword had vanished. “OK, now what showoff.”

Copyright © 2000-2021 Kyle Aarons; All Rights Reserved.
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This is huge; a death like this suffered by the greens will reverberate not just through that group but so many others...

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