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 - 25. Chapter 25
Duke Mathard led Kandric out of the tent wearing the Black Dragon scale armor. At first Kandric tried to put on the green armor, but Mathard assured him since he was adamant about going back into Bloody Rock the black armor would be a much better choice. Mathard remained a bit closed lipped as to why; simply saying it would become apparent in short order.
Even as Kandric gazed over at the dark green armor with some disappointment he was astonished at how light weight, comfortable, and flexible the black armor was. Even more astonishing, was the workmanship behind it. The Garm craftsman had really gone above and beyond as they had even managed to bend and mold some of the scales to coverings for his weapon sheaths. Everything he normally carried was tucked behind Black Dragon hide or scales.
The second he stepped out of the tent, Mathard’s advice of what armor to wear suddenly made total sense. Instantly he knew something seemed wrong or at least off, but it took a couple of seconds before he realized what the problem was. Glancing around, he suddenly realized he cast no shadows while wearing it because of the careful craftsmanship. All of a sudden he understood why the cavern seemed to become dimmer when the massive Black Dragon entered. Its body actually absorbed some of the light, reflecting little and casting no shadow. It was kind of creepy, but Kandric found he didn’t have much time to dwell on it for the area surrounding the camp was a beehive of wartime activity. Everywhere he looked, there were the sights and sounds of a major battle.
Not very far off, down the hill from the camp, he could see standard bearers and horn blowers marking the back of the front lines. Just behind them massive war machines sent huge rocks hurling though the air. Many seemed to be loaded with fist sized rocks which splattered death over a wide area while others contained massive stones capable of falling even a Warrior Dragon.
Off in the trees volleys of arrows launched upward sending even more death down the hill in airborne waves of destruction.
Above, a Blue Warrior Dragon flew over the camp as if protecting it and a pair of silver Warrior Dragons stood guard, one to the north and the other to the south of the camp. Around them he couldn’t help but notice a great number of heavily armed and armored Dragonlings.
Even with all this going on, all who saw him, Garm warriors, Alphar archers, Pantherling Scouts, and even Blue and Silver Dragonlings knelt when he came close. He noticed many were wounded. At first, he thought they were bowing to the Duke, but as it became more obvious their eyes were directed at him; he nervously glanced at Mathard, “Can you make them stop please?”
“No, actually I cannot. You need to give the order for everyone one and everything around here has been sent because of what you did and you happen to be wearing the proof of it.”
Kandric’s shoulders slumped slightly, “Oh, I did not think about the reaction the armor would get.”
“The armor only verifies who you are, Prince Kandric, for over the last couple of day’s word has spread in this camp and all looking at you, knows you brought down two Great Dragons even though many do not know your name or your title. Your actions, not your title or status, have earned this respect. It is up to you to handle it as you desire.”
Kandric took a deep breath and called out in almost a shout so he could be heard. “Please stand, all of you. I have no wish to be a distraction here, and there are far more important things to do than to honor someone who does not deserve to be honored. It is you all who are now fighting and you who are earning my honor and thanks!” Kandric knelt in a general court bow then stood. “Now please get back to work and push these awful beings away from my home and my family!”
A bit of a cheer went up from those who heard him and they quickly rose to return to their duties surrounding the business of war. Feeling a bit better, Kandric looked over at Mathard, “Do you have any idea how silly this seems to me? I am just a kid!”
“Not to any of us, and certainly not to the Dragonlings. I do not know if you noticed, but even the two Silver Warrior Dragons gave a bow of respect and the Blue above us is now circling right over us, protecting you far more than the rest of us.”
Kandric looked skyward and clenched his fist in frustration as Mathard’s words proved to be true. Forcing himself not to get angry he put a fake smile on and waved his thanks to the Blue Dragon above and then motioned it to go on a wider patrol. It gave a weird nodding motion with its whole body before circling once more. Finally, it headed out scouting the perimeter as it had been doing when he first came out of the tent. “This is really stupid. I did not want or ask for any of this!”
“Maybe not, but like it or not, want it or not, there is a full fledged war being fought right now and you are the primary cause. With power comes responsibility and the greater the power the more careful one must be.”
Kandric made his way over to a stretcher being taken up the hill by Garm Swordsman students as he looked back to Mathard, “But I didn’t know I had any power. I should be just some swamp kid. All I want to be is just a swamp kid.”
“Kandric, look around. You were just a swamp kid when you befriended some Pantherling leader, you were just a swamp kid when you gained the respect of Captain Vondum and earned a Wilderness Scout position. You were just a swamp kid when you developed a relationship and it seems to me even the fear of a large number of Illorcs who are now fighting with us. You had power well before you knew you were a prince. All the Garm and Alphar nations did were to react to what you have started.”
Mathard waved his hand around to all the activity around him. “Most of this happened not because you are Prince Kandric. It happened because you are Kandric of the Swamp Slums. Now stop trying to get away from who and what you are, because there are now thousands of beings fighting for you and thousands more who would really like to get a piece of you or at the very least catch a glimpse of the being who killed their leaders.”
Kandric took a large breath of air and held up a hand to stop the stretcher bearers and motioned for them to lower the badly injured Alphar to the ground. Instantly, he saw a broken off blade sticking out of the man’s shoulder. As he reached to grab the blade, one of the Garm stopped him. “It is iron my Prince.”
“I can see what it is and it is causing him extra torment!”
Mathard moved up, “I will remove it, ready a spell.”
Kandric nodded and started to cast. As Mathard yanked hard, Kandric’s hands started to glow with a light bright enough to light a large tent. Even as blood spurted from the wound, the power of the healing spell cascading out of Kandric’s hands started to close the deep wound.
Mathard watched as the Alphar’s back arched in pain then the man’s breathing calmed. The Garm Training Echelon Swordsmen eyes went wide as the skin closed in around the wound as they watched. Within a minute, the only sign of the near fatal sword stabbing was a pinkish line about twelve centimeters long with a slight bubbling of the skin where the iron had created close to irreversible damage.
Kandric lightly ran his finger across the rough skin and shook his head. “Have one of the Healthmen cut the skin off while he is still out or it will itch the rest of his life. It will have to be pretty deep, at least three or four centimeters all along this area and a good three or four centimeters outside the damaged area. At least this way, he will only have to heal from a deep flesh wound and the scar will be more or less normal.”
One of the Garm whistled softly in amazement, as he figured the wound would surely end up being the death of the wounded archer. Both of them bowed, then grabbed the stretcher and almost ran up the hill to the field hospital.
“Very impressive.” Mathard stated with complete conviction.
“I wish I had the spells to heal everyone wounded here.” Kandric stated rather sadly. This is all my fault after all."
“Do not look at it as such, for if either Dragon had made its presence known and told you to leave you probably would have.”
“Without question.” Kandric managed a slight giggle, “So has there been any word of the other students?”
Mathard shook his head and pointed to Bloody Rock well behind the front lines of battle, “While you were eating and getting dressed we started getting ready to go back in there to find the missing students. We also want to see what else we missed. Are you sure you really want to join us? After all, there are plenty of us and a great deal of iron in there.”
Kandric glanced back to Seldnat who was now wearing Dwarvin Blue Steel chain armor, a Blue Steel shield and had a blue steel axe in addition to his staff spear. “I do not think you could stop us from going back in there my Duke. I gave my word to help lead students and they looked to me as their teacher. I cannot go anywhere without first doing everything in my power to make sure they are safe.”
“Us needs ta find dem others!” Seldnat stated firmly as he looked over to Kandric, “Lore and Zel both wake now. Us should get em too!”
“They are eating and we are finding gear for them right now young man.” Duke Mathard declared while doing his best to hide his annoyance at someone speaking so poorly around him."
Kandric caught the tone and had to hide a bit of a smirk, “Seldnat, would you go check on them and make sure the quartermaster does not go overboard trying to equip Zeltoss. There is no way he could wear heavy armor, nor should he. We need his casting abilities to be unhindered.”
“Me gets right on it, teach’r!” Seldnat nodded hard and headed over to the tent the others were in.
Kandric waited until Seldnat was out of earshot before turning to Duke Mathard, “He is a very capable swordsman student, is turning out to be quite a leader, and I really like him.”
"If he is someone you trust, it is not up to me to disapprove. On the other hand, he and the other two directly helped you in the slaughter of both dragons; I highly doubt any of them are students any longer.
Kandric nodded, “I know Zeltoss was Primary Echelon already and I am pretty sure Seldnat was as well, so I am not surprised.”
Duke Mathard glanced back at the Halforc, “Well, I can say it has caused a bit of a stir in both our camp and the Alphar’s regardless of skill level which is probably high secondary for him if my guess is correct. The problem is Halforcs are not looked on with a great deal of trust by either side, especially since this one is so young and skilled.”
“Too bad for you.” Kandric stated bluntly, “I have fought with some really great Halforcs. Besides, they are powerful and hard to bring down. To exclude them simply because of heritage is a real loss to both you and the Alphar. Besides, from what I have seen one of the reasons they tend to be so mean is they are treated so badly.”
“You are probably correct, but both the Alphar and we have major problems with Orc raiders in our lands and there is a bit of racial hatred you have not had to deal with.”
“Even more reason for me to not want to have much to do with my linage. Speaking of which, can we pick up your history lesson again? I really want to know how is it I have never heard of or seen what turns out to be my family crest? I know dozens of Alphar crests, but not the one I am wearing.”
“I would be only too happy to continue a history lesson unwisely interrupted by one of my sergeants.”
Kandric cringed for a moment then glanced over with a sheepish grin. “How is he, I kicked him pretty hard.”
“If that was pretty hard, I would hate to see really hard. You broke three ribs and we had to send his armor over to our smith for reworking. But he will be fine and word of your defense of your friend has spread like wildfire through both camps. Your actions have guaranteed your friend will only get the best of treatment.”
“Good, then the bruise on my heel was worth it. So tell me about this patch.” Kandric pointed to his shoulder.
“Well, it is an ancient crest even for the Garm and Alphar. One of the main reasons you have never encountered it in your studies is because your house has a history predating most of the other major houses of the Garm or the Alphar. It also tends to be the most secretive of Alphar houses. For it was your line who forged the first items to drive back the evil creatures from the lower planes out of our world. Mathard pointed to Kandric’s blade, ”Pull your sword and take a careful look at the area where the blade and hilt meet."
Kandric shrugged and called to it. “Come.” Instantly the blade leapt off his back and appeared in his hand.
“Whoa!” Duke Mathard half shouted as he took a half step slightly away from Kandric. “How in the name of the gods did you do that?”
Kandric shrugged, “It called to me after a fight and asked me to make it mine. I have no idea how or why. I was hoping to go to Black Rapids to study up on it, but things keep taking me the wrong direction.”
Mathard’s eyebrow arched slightly, “I wonder…”
“Do you know of this?”
“Possibly. Take a close look at the spot right above the hilt and tell me what you see.”
Kandric pulled the blade up to his eyes. At first, he only found an outline of a kite shield but as he tilted it back and fourth he could see what he now knew to be his family crest. However, as he continued to study it he noticed something more, for as he continued to wiggle the blade he could make out the shadow of a figure working on the anvil, pounding on it with a hammer. The more he watched the clearer it became.
Suddenly, the whole sword vibrated emitting the sounds of a forge. Within a few seconds, a voice came out of the blade speaking some kind of ancient arcane phrases, most long forgotten. Finally, the blade itself lit up and the pattern changed to display a series of writings. As it faded and started to return to its normal look state a scene of the Griffin Spine fortress rolled across it followed by a list of names and dates of the Alphar calendar. The last two names were separated by slightly more than 2300 years and Kandric’s name was clearly displayed as the last name and did not have an ending date.
Kandric felt a shiver run down his back, “I do not understand. What was it telling me?”
Mathard closed his eyes and said a brief prayer to Golan before putting an arm over Kandric’s shoulders, “Son, I do not have knowledge of the arcane so I do not know everything it was trying to tell us, but the part I did understand was the names. The rest, I am afraid, is probably of an art long forgotten or lost.”
Kandric’s eyes lit up, “Only part was Shamanistic and was a blend of metals and how to work metal, sapphire dust, and ruby dust forged in the spirit realms.”
Even though Mathard figured he would not be surprised by anything the youngster next to him could do; he couldn’t help but turn with some astonishment. “You can read Shaman?”
“Oh yeah.” Kandric spoke as if it was no big deal. His eyes didn’t leave the blade so he never noticed the look in the Duke’s eyes. “I have been able to read it for a few years now.”
Mathard’s jaw dropped a bit and he shook his head. “Very impressive Prince Kandric. I do not know of a single Shaman in my lands who can do so.”
Kandric shrugged, “Once this is over, we can gather a few and I will teach them. It only took me about a year to learn the basics and another two before I could really read it.”
A hint of frustration rippled over Mathard’s features as the boy’s words held no haughtiness over knowing an art all but lost, while at the same time acting as if everyone should take for granted a mere child was capable of reading Shaman. As he clenched his fists, he forced himself to remember he was dealing with a child who saw a great part of the world through the eyes of youth. A child dressed in dragon armor which he fell, but a child none the less. “I would have many takers for such a class. So the other part was not Shaman writing or was it just too advanced?”
“Too advanced?” Kandric snickered still not realizing his words were providing some aggravation to the Garm leader. “I have not found a Shaman text I could not read in the last couple of years. I know the entire alphabet and how the symbols change the flow of structures. So, no it was not Shaman, not even close. The rest I have no knowledge of so it was probably Mage or maybe even Druid. For all I know it could be both. Do you have one who could read it?”
Mathard found some strange satisfaction in the fact the boy didn’t know everything and was willing to admit it. It helped his demeanor a great deal as he responded with a slightly relieved voice. “I cannot be sure, but it just may be possible. Would you be willing to make it show those writings again and let one of my most trusted mage craftsmen take a look?”
“I would be honored, if it will let me.” Kandric shuddered softly with excitement, “but what were those names and why was my name on there?”
Seeing the boy’s eagerness to learn and childish excitement over something new further relaxed Duke Mathard. He gave Kandric a reassuring hug, “I do not understand how, but it seems this blade has held the names of all who have owned it. Most I have no idea of, but I clearly recognized the very first and the one right before yours. The first was Lord Gryffon; the one who first discovered how to make the type of weapon you now hold and established the fortress within the Griffin Spires. The one right before yours was Prince Amberwood. In simple terms, you are holding a blade owned and used by the founder of your family’s power. You are now the owner of a weapon almost certainly made by Lord Gryffon himself. It is obviously a blade with some intelligence which has decided you are a worthy owner. All in all I could not agree with it more.”
“Wow!” Kandric gazed at the blade with a new degree of awe. Finally, he pulled his eyes away from the weapon and looked back over to Duke Mathard, “But I thought the one who first discovered how to make these kinds of weapons was an Alphar by the name of Starleaf.”
“Starleaf was his second name.” Mathard snickered at seeing the look of total confusion in Kandric’s eyes. “Remember, most beings had two names back then. His full name was Lord Gryffon Starleaf.”
“Two names, the second was passed down a family line somehow, right?”
“Very good. Your historical knowledge is very impressive.” Mathard praised. “The family name, as it was once called was passed on to all children from the father. Upon marriage the female then took the family name of the one she married, basically being taken into her new family.”
“Weird.” Kandric shrugged. “You say you also know of the last name before mine?”
"Indeed I do. It may well be the reason you have never seen anything about your family crest or linage before as well, for your house’s military might was decimated in the fight he was killed in. The only reason your family kept the power it has within the Alphar Court is the magical forges deep within the Griffin Spires: Still to this day they churn out the best enchanted weapons within the Alphar Empire, maybe the best anywhere, but they are nothing like what used to be produced there.
"Anyway, Prince Amberwood was rumored to have been killed by a young royal Black Dragon in one of the last above ground battles between the Drow and combined Garm-Alphar forces. It is not written about outside of the ancient races because the Black Dragons managed to kill off all those with real knowledge of the events surrounding the last days of the above ground Drow Empire before we forced them to retreat to Under River.
"Part of the reason is simply the Black Dragons did not want it well known they supported the Drow. Dragons are very powerful, but everyone hated the Drow back then and not even a Dragon Empire could have held off the hatred all the lower races would have directed at them had the allegiance become widely known. However, another reason is the Black Dragons did not want to give up everything they gained when the Drow fell. For at the time, the Black Dragon Empire was in steep decline.
"After the Drow abandoned the sun lit world, the Black Dragons moved in. As a matter of fact most of the former above ground Drow Empire is now held by their only allies at the time, the Black Dragons. Even though we had decimated most of the Drow forces and all but leveled most of their keeps and castles, there were some they simply fled from, leaving the walls intact and the people in the surrounding lands without rulers. The Black Dragons were only too happy to move in and did so while we were too busy fighting the Drow to realize it. By the time we did, they were entrenched too deeply and we were too exhausted and low on manpower to fight about it.
"As a way of a truce they paid both the Garm and the Alphar a sizable tribute and released all the Garm and Alphar war prisoners. In return we pledged to let them be as long as they left the surrounding kingdoms alone for at least 500 years. The sad thing is we continued to fight the Drow for another 1000 year or so, meaning the Black Dragons started to expand while we were still embroiled in the war they helped to cause.
"But the fact remains, Black Dragon lands nearly tripled in size and expanded further as they moved rapidly to rebuild some of the keeps and fortresses we did only moderate damage to. The Black Dragon Homeland is now larger than before the Great Dragon wars. As of right now, only the Gold and the Bronze Dragons can say the same.
“Anyway, it is of some note your family has now tilted the scales back into some balance as it is written in Garm history the then Prince Blathamort was who fell your ancestor, Prince Amberwood, and now thousands of years later it is you who fell King Blathamort.”
Kandric’s eyes went wide. “The Great Black was King Blathamort?”
“You did not know?”
Kandric wildly shook his head, then glanced down at his hand and the blade he still held. “There is no way.”
"Well, I must admit, I would be saying the same thing, but I saw it first hand. Your magic shattering the Green’s neck and it spewing poison all over the place and nearly devastating Blathamort’s left fore paw was beyond impressive. We couldn’t help but feel Blathamort’s head crashing into the ground with some sort of magic bubble around his head.
“Alright, yes I managed to kill him. I just do not understand how I was able to. There is no way the four of us should have been able to fight all those Dragonlings and other guardians. Yet we were and we did.”
"Kandric, you do realize every dragon type you killed released some energy, right?
“I have read as such, but do not really understand what you are saying. I never saw or felt anything until the Great Green fell.”
Mathard kind of shrugged, “It matters not if you felt it or not. The death of any dragon kin releases power. It would have healed you, refreshed you and probably given you extra magic. We went by a number of dead Dragonlings you left in your wake and then there was the chamber you killed both dragons in. It was littered with Dragonlings.”
Kandric glanced over in sudden understanding, “So as we killed them we got to stay fresh while those we were fighting were becoming more and more fatigued. By them having so many Dragonlings guarding the Great Green Female, it actually helped us to win!”
“Yes and it has led to a full fledged war between us and the allies of those you killed.”
The change of subjects surprised Kandric, but he was kind of happy he had a way of switching the subject away from himself. “So is this what a normal battle camp looks like?”
“For us, yes. The fighting has been very heavy for the last day and a half. Fortunately most of the others have backed off over the last day. Other than the Greens, some Blacks and a hoard of their Goblin and Morg friends, resistance around Bloody Rock has greatly tapered off. Of course, much of this has been because the dragon races all started fighting each other and then the Blues and Silvers sent forces to directly support us for some reason. However, the fact a Great Green female was killed would explain much as both the Silver and Blue Dragons hate the Greens with a passion. So, they are actually thanking us, you actually, for killing one of their enemy’s most precious resources.”
“They do not know it was me do they?”
“We cannot be sure.” Mathard responded, “One of the Silver Warrior Dragons has asked to see you at your first opportunity, but all he has said is he wants to see the red haired Halfelf, so how much they know is up for debate. However, you have seen the respect the Blue and Silver Warrior Dragons are giving you, so they at are at the very least guessing it is you.”
Kandric frowned in concern. “How would they know of me at all?”
“I cannot be sure. However, the body count inside the cavern where the two great dragons fell was extremely high. My entire company was not able to pull all the loot off the bodies out in one haul so the Silvers saw us come out the second and third times. Then we sent in a detachment to cut up the bodies and move them out and they saw the bodies of both Blathamort and the Green first hand. They very well may have overheard one of my men say something about your appearance. You would have to ask it to find out, for I am not asking any kind of Dragon anything.”
“But you said it was just a Warrior Dragon.”
“Yes I did, but I have not killed a single dragon of any type. I was there to see what you did with Blathamort though. I really have no desire to anger a dragon. Do you realize just how terrifying it was to see Blathamort fall?”
Kandric managed a grin as he shrugged and shook his head. “Honestly, no, I barely remember seeing you behind it as his head fell. The next thing I knew I woke up in your tent.”
"Well young Prince, let me tell you something. So tremendous was his fall, his impact with the ground knocked down all of us in the chamber and many of my troops who were not even in the cavern where he fell.
"Truth be told, all of Bloody Rock shook even before the magic of his death erupted knocking over anyone or anything still standing. There were so many cave-ins it took my best miners almost half a day to find a passage out. By then, the battle out here was already in full swing. It is a good thing Queen Jostallis sent troops to set up a base camp, and even better they called for reinforcements when the Green fell. Because of her quick actions, Garm and Alphar troops were in position to drive back the first assaults.
"Adding strength to our forces we were quickly bolstered by Silver and Blue Dragons here and a massive force of somewhat friendly Illorcs lead by your Wilderness Scout Commander moved into the swamps between Bloody Rock and your Swamp Slums to guard your home. Although we are not totally convinced of their intensions, Captain Vondum has assured us they are loyal to him and you. Still we are covering our flanks with them by using some Pantherlings you seem to have befriended to hold lines between the swamp and the town of Slome.
“You are quite incredible Kandric. For no matter what direction we look, you have managed to gain enough respect or favor for leaders to send men and creatures to die for you. Not many kings can say as much and I know of no other from the caste in which you have lived to have succeeded so wildly.”
Kandric watched as eight Garm loaded a boulder into one of the war machines. Seconds later, the counterweights tossed it high in the air. He shook his head and muttered as it finally flew beyond his line of sight. “If this is success I would hate to see failure.”
Mathard glanced over, “What was that?”
“Nothing important.” Kandric stated, “I just want to get back inside Bloody Rock and find the others.”
“I have two miners and a pair of scouts waiting plus a few more just inside Bloody Rock to tell us what areas have been searched. Let us pick up your friends and move out.”
“Would you be kind enough to get them and make sure they are comfortably equipped for me?”
Mathard nodded, “Sure. May I ask what you are going to do?”
Kandric nodded his head in the direction of the larger Silver Warrior Dragon. “You said they wanted to talk to me, I might as well find out what they want.”
Mathard stood still and watched as Kandric made his way over to the large silver beast, gave a quick bow, got one in return and started talking. With a raised eyebrow he glanced at one of the guards flanking him, “Is it me or does he really not look scared?”
The guard blinked a couple of times and shook his head, “No my Duke, he doesn’t look even slightly intimidated.” With a bit of a smirk he quietly added “He’s got bigger balls than I do.”
Mathard let out a light whistle as he took one more glance at the sight of a child looking straight into the eyes of a Dragon without the slightest flinch. He then turned to check on the three they had found with Kandric. Softly he spoke to the guard. “You need to watch your speech private, but off the record you can add me to the same list you just put yourself on.”
Vondum moved down the front lines holding ground between the lines the Pantherlings had established and Monarch’s Illorc forces. Neither group was thrilled to be beside the other and the fact they basically had to trust each other didn’t help matters. Fortunately both groups had their hands full with a vast number of Goblins and Morg; so tensions were being directed outward.
Vondum flinched slightly as a crudely made Goblin arrow impacted a tree less than half a meter above him. Before he could say something, a trio of arrows slammed into the Goblin scout and four others stuck in the ground and trees around it. A quick glance at the fletchings, told him only three of the seven arrows belonged to Monarch’s forces.
“Keep your eyes open and don’t let em get so close!” Vondum bellowed at the Illorcs. “If they find any weakness, this is where they will hit!”
Less than twenty meters away, a Pantherling leader was growling out almost the exact same words to those under him. The angry sounds of Pantherling speech could not be understood by the Illorcs but they really didn’t have to be. The tone alone told them they were getting admonished as well.
Vondum made his way over to the Pantherling leader and knelt behind some recently felled trees forming a makeshift barricade and marking the edge of the front lines. He couldn’t help but notice these trees had been dropped on top of others that showed deep claw gouges and fire damage. “This is our weakest spot. We cannot let them find where our lines meet. The last time they almost got through.”
“Agreed.” The Pantherling commander stated with aggravation, “But until one side or the other agrees to a force directly behind them composed of either all Pantherlings or Illorcs we will continue to have this problem, and to be honest I don’t see either side trusting the other enough to make it happen.”
“Yea, well that’s why I’ve put the best unit we have butting up to yours, and judging by your forces, you have done the same.”
“You are correct.” The Pantherling gazed out into the swamp then back to Vondum, “So how badly were your lines hit in the last assault?”
“Actually we weathered it pretty well. We lost seven and had another score wounded, but they lost close to a hundred and many of those who pulled back did so only with help. It was no where near as well planned and organized as the assault we had to beat back last night. We were actually able to move forward and took over their front line fortifications. 300 meters ain’t much in a war but in a swamp it’s a major advance.”
"We have noticed the same thing. Either we have killed a couple of good leaders, or they are getting desperate. Either way, we pushed forward almost 500 meters and have managed to pull back an entire clan for rest and should be able to rotate out another clan before dark. This bog we are standing in right now seems to be the only area we have not pushed forward.
Vondum picked up a stick and drew an outline of the area in the snow, “If you can trust us, we could do a combined attack right here and here.” He pointed to the areas where the lines tapered and formed a bit of a pocket centering on where they were crouched down. If we break their lines, those we have here could spread out and encircle this whole bog area and we could straighten out our lines again and not have such an obvious weak point. It is only a matter of time before they figure it out."
“How soon could your forces be ready for such an attack?”
“Probably two hours before dusk. We could do it sooner, but many of the troops I have out here have never done large scale fighting before.”
The Pantherling looked a bit surprised at the admission of a possible fault in the Illorc forces but was pleased to hear a degree of honesty out of a man he had been told to flatly not trust. He decided to get a better feel for the man. “I will see what my commanders say, but you have a good idea and I will tell them as much. Has there been any word from your young scout?”
"Not really. The Elves sent a detachment down with more arrows and some food, and believe me if you think our forces are having trust issues you should have seen the puffed out chests of the Elves and my second line unit.
"Anyway, I asked about Kandric, but all I was told was he was awake and getting ready to head back inside Bloody Rock with some Dwarves. It sounds like the real fighting is up there though, cause they said they managed to bring down a third Green Warrior Dragon this morning with the help of a Blue and Silver.
“The very fact they have had to drop three Greens and a pair of Blacks while we have only had to drive back a single Black makes me happy I am down here. We lost over fifty to that bastard.”
“We lost seventy-one to the Green. It came within a breath of shattering our lines.”
“But at least you took him down. All we did was drive off ours and he is still out there somewhere, wounded to be sure, but not dead. Next time should be different though. We have moved up heavy siege weapons and hidden them just behind our lines. When he comes back he will find weapons capable of puncturing those scales.”
The Pantherling nodded, “We have prepared some surprises too, but from what I know of Dragons, it is unlikely the one you drove off will come back. He has been beaten and will not risk the disgrace of being handed a second defeat any time soon.”
“Black Dragons are something I know only too well and we left him hurting and humiliated. He ain’t liking either and unless he wants to be slapped around by some other Black Dragon or demoted to slave guarding he’ll be back for more. Still you can’t know how happy it would make me not to see it again.”
The Pantherling snickered, “Honesty makes great humor sometimes.”
Vondum half smiled, “I can kinda laugh now, but when its claws were ripping my armor my reaction was not a cheerful one. Making matters worse, one of my best men will probably be out for at least another day, even with magical healings and Kandric’s favorite slave had to get healing from one of the Elf Shaman or he probably would have died. On the plus side, the Elves seem to know the Swamp Slums are the place Kandric calls home and they are very interested in protecting it. They moved a sizable force down into the upper swamps to keep it safe and they are backed up by a good thirty to forty Silver and Blue Dragonlings. As insane as this is, it is even more so when I look at who and what are fighting for who and what. Kandric really seemed to rally some forces somehow, but all in all this has been the toughest fight I have been part of in many years if ever.”
The Pantherling commander let out a deep breath deciding the man in front of him may not be the nicest man alive but his candor was worth some trust and frankness, “This is the nastiest fight I have ever seen, but I have never done large scale combat before so this is kind of new to me. Classes and practice are great, but I learned more the first twelve hours out here than three years of top notch military training and drills ingrained into me.” He paused then looked straight into Vondum’s eyes, “But from what some of your soldiers have said, they are expecting another fight down south real soon. Some of them have even commented on the fact this is making for some good practice.”
Vondum chewed on his lip for a moment debating what to say, if anything, but figured since he badly needed the Pantherlings at the moment keeping their trust was one step above the need to be totally secretive. “Well, we… Me and a few others, including our young Halfelf friend who started this latest mess, were getting ready to head down to Everone. There are some Lizardmen who have helped both me and Black Rapids in the past. They have kin down there. It seems they are being hard pressed by Black and Green Dragons; so what you’re hearing is correct. This is exactly the type of skill sharpenin’ they need. I am rather amazed we are fighting them up here. I have to wonder what my young scout found out to lead him to them.”
“Could they have been after you?”
“At first I thought it was possible, but there be two problems. First, they didn’t show up in force until the explosions of Green and Black energy out of Bloody Rock, meaning they was reacting to my scout, not the other way around.”
“Good point. What about your second reason?”
"Well, you have to kinda understand I know lots about Black Dragons so when I say the ones we be fighting be from the wrong houses I know what I am talking about. So, while I be expecting to see Prince Bandurlok’s crest on some a these I ain’t. Instead I only see the King’s Guard, Prince Bassork’s, General Duram’s and Count Joccanal’s. With the exception of the King’s Guard, none of them are from the far south of the Black Dragon Homeland, which is where Bandurlok’s strongest allies come from.
“In addition, we have not seen a single Hobgoblin, which is the mainstay of the Bandurlok’s Black Dragon Homeland Army. Whatever Kandric found was not looking to pick a fight with us until the two dragons fell.”
The Pantherling scratched his chin totally impressed with the information he was getting from Vondum. “You know much about the Black Dragon higherarcy.”
Vondum rolled his eyes, “More than you can imagine. But there is another piece to this puzzle I am still playing with, for not long ago Kandric and I had a rather interesting conversation with some Red Dragonlings.”
The Pantherling’s eyes went wide showing some shock at the information. “Red Dragonlings up here? What did they say?”
Vondum quickly ducked the direct question. “What they said is not nearly as important as what they implied.”
“They made it sound like they were working with or at least in league with the Black Dragon Prince Bandurlok. He is the one I thought was behind much of the trouble up here for he and Monarch have been in a side war for years. And yea, I do work with Monarch and no he is not the nicest of beings and neither am I. But he did send all these Illorcs to help defend the Swamp Slums and gave me command so your people and his could fight off a common enemy. He doesn’t like this any more than your people do, but there is room for an alliance or at the least a treaty of sorts.”
“I am glad to hear you understand and admit to Monarch being a problem. It eases many of my concerns about you and when I pass this on to my leaders I am sure your honesty will be well noted. Unfortunately, I still find myself confused. Why are Red Dragonlings working with a Black Dragon Prince and what makes you think this Bandurlok may not be as large of a problem as you originally thought.”
“As bizarre as it is, the Reds we spoke with made it sound like they were helping the people up here and under Black Dragon orders of Prince Bandurlok to do so.”
“There is no way!”
"I would normally agree, and believe me if there is one being I never wanted to say a single thing positive about it would be Prince Bandurlok, but in this case I have no choice. The Red Dragonlings directly helped me and my scout to beat back a large attack on a caravan that had just broken the winter siege of Slome. Both Kandric and I shook hands with them as we met in the middle of the battlefield after crushing the attackers.
“Since then, Monarch and I moved quickly to help the caravan as well. It now flies both Monarch’s and Black Rapids’ colors. Like it or not, though, it would not have made it without the help of all forces including the Red Dragonlings who moved off without asking for a single reward.”
“So what Black and Green Dragon forces will you face down in Everone?”
Vondum tossed up his hands and shrugged, “After all this I can’t be sure. But one thing I can assure you of, if Prince Bandurlok is working with Red Dragonlings, there’s no way he’s allied with the Greens. No other two Dragon races hate each other as much as the Reds and the Greens, with the possible exception of the Whites and the Silvers.”
The Pantherling kind of growled while looking as bewildered as Vondum was feeling. Part of it was his astonishment at someone knowing so much about dragons, but the other part was just as intriguing “So why go south at all?”
“Well, as I said there is the friendly Lizardmen which is a major reason, but I have another goal. For I have managed to gather some very good information on another target. It turns out, one of the biggest enemies of Black Rapids may be down there and part of the whole mess and I am going down there in the hopes of tracking her down and slaughtering her.”
The Pantherling’s head cocked around hard, “Slaughtering? Quite a harsh word.”
“Unless you have some clue who Gambra is or what she has done, you simply would not understand.”
The Pantherling’s eyes flashed from yellow to red as his whole body seemed to harden, “As in the Dark Mage bitch?”
Vondum leaned back slightly as he saw the reaction and heard the words, “Um, yea, I guess you’ve heard of her then.”
“My clan has had a direct run in with her and I take back what I just said. Slaughter is too kind a word!”
Vondum raised an eyebrow, “Well, after we push these bastards back from my young scout’s home and guarantee it is protected, we are heading down there to fight and kill more Black and Green Dragon forces and to do our utmost to track down Gambra. You could join us in the hunt if you like, and since our forces are learning to work together, we’d be happy to have your friends as well.”
The Pantherling’s eyes narrowed, “I will talk to my clan leader, but if you really think there is a chance of getting her I am sure we can find some forces to send with you, but you must allow a Pantherling to make the kill if possible!”
“I could agree under the condition I will not allow her a chance for escape just so you and yours can get revenge.”
“OH, I am sure we would concur, but it is not about revenge it is about justice.”
“You call it justice I’ll call it revenge, but no matter the word she needs to die.”
“On this we see eye to eye. When I rotate out I will talk to the Council of Clans and get back with you, but one way or the other you can have my blade at your side if you will have me.”
“Both me and Kandric would be honored.”
The Pantherling stood, “I look forward to meeting the boy.” He extended his clawed hand, “Happy to have met you Captain Vondum, my name is Rayrek.”
Vondum stood as well and took the offered paw, “I am honored Rayrek and look forward to seeing you again, but I think we best both check on our lines and make sure the home of my scout and the town of Slome stays safe.”
“You handle the Slums we will take good care of Slome and between us nothing will get though here as we have more common ground between us than either of us thought.”
Lord Anarton grabbed the blade of the long sword just before it descended toward one of his students. The Ogre’s eyes went wide as the middle aged man used his left foot to roll the wounded boy out of the way while his right hand shattered the Gnome Stone Steel blade as if it was made out of wood.
The Ogre managed to take only a single step back before an Elvin lad stepped behind it, jumped high into the air and slammed the edges of his hands into either side of the creature’s neck. Much like the man who had stopped a sword with a bare hand, the bare skin of the kid’s hands seemed up to the task of doing damage to a bronze neck guard. The armor buckled under the assault and crushed against the Ogre’s neck. It backed off further making choking sounds as it desperately tried to pull off the flattened neck protection.
Lord Anarton pointed to the retreating Kobalds, “Take a few alive, butcher the other! Tyklor and I will finish off the Ogres!”
Instantly, four of the uninjured kids and a trio of others with only light injuries bolted off in pursuit.
Lord Anarton simply nodded to Tyklor as a way of saying he was handing over responsibility of the staggering Ogre over to him while he moved on the other. A bit of anger flashed in his eyes as he noticed the beast was actually moving on the boy he had protected moments earlier. “Face me in combat or die a terrible death!”
Meanwhile, the unarmed and injured Ogre managed to use its powerful build and hands to rip off the neck guard, but not without cutting itself some. It looked at the boy who had destroyed its neck armor and leapt, ignoring the man.
The Elvin boy rolled forward and thrust up his right hand right into the Ogre’s crotch. With his hands still hardened from the death of trio of Kobalds and a Halfling, he punched though the worn leather armor protecting the tender area and grabbed a handful. As the creature’s momentum from its leap continued it forward, the lad twisted and pulled with everything he could muster. The horrible half bellow half shriek told everyone and everything within a kilometer of the beast’s torment. It hit the ground and rolled into a tree cracking it with the impact.
The young man winced as the pain of collision almost ripped his shoulder out of its socket, but a bit of a pained smile escaped his lips as he realized he was actually still holding on to one of the creature’s massive testacies. Not concerned with the massive amount of blood covering his hand and arm he flipped the lump into the woods behind him and pulled the axe from over his left shoulder. The horribly wounded Ogre did nothing to prevent the axe swing even though it saw it coming. If anything, it looked slightly relieved knowing its agony would soon end.
The second Ogre snorted and took another step toward the boy with a massive club. The injured boy looked up with horror in his eyes as he saw the beast advance. Seeing the large hunk of wood with slivers of glass, large bronze spikes, bits of sharp metal and even sharp chunks of bone raised high and moving his direction was enough to make him roll even though both his legs had been busted and he had a dislocated shoulder. Still he couldn’t help but cry out in agony as he managed a full roll.
Anger turned to rage as Anarton heard the pitiful cry emerge from one of his beloved students. He knelt and whispered a string of ancient words and pushed his hands into the ground. “Servants of the old ones I call in your language to come and show you still have power! Destroy this servant of the Dark Mage Gambra!”
At first the ground shook just a little, but it was enough to distract the Ogre enough for two other badly injured students to pull the other boy out of the way. Then as the Ogre realized what was going on and took a couple more steps forward, the earth itself seemed to explode upwards. Dozens of razor sharp rocky spires shot upward at different angles. All but a few drew blood from the Ogre, but five of the rocky protrusions did far more. Three impaled the legs; one went into and through the right hip and the last one lanced straight into its gut.
Anarton stood and growled, “My thanks to the Ancient ones! Take him while he still sucks in air!”
Another upward blast of rocks suddenly encased the mortally injured Ogre and just as quickly withdrew into the ground. The only signs the creature had existed at all was the blood that dripped off almost a score of rocky protrusions.
Anarton gave a slight bow and said a prayer to a god few had heard of and fewer still knew still had some power. He then walked over to the blood soaked ground and clenched his hand into a fist allowing several drops of his own blood to flow from where the blade had done some damage to his hand. “Take this as an extra gift of life.”
He then backed off scanning the area and feeling a bit drained after the incantation he had helped to invoke. The second he was satisfied he released all the powers of death he had fed upon in the fight and dropped to a knee to recover. “Young ones, let the death gift go now!”
One after the other, the kids around him sighed and took a knee or leaned against nearby trees. Only a couple of them didn’t sag from a bit of exhaustion. Lord Anarton forced himself to stand. The second he did so, one of the two dropped his head and slid down a tree, no longer being able to stand.
The second one held up his hands and knelt, “Master, I made no kills. I’m sorry.”
Anarton knelt in front of the boy and took a hold of his shoulder. After a few seconds he let go and nodded. He reached down and grasped the boy’s chin and raised it to look into the dark brown eyes. His tone softened and he sounded almost fatherly, “You are very new Korom, it is to be expected not do well in a battle such as this. You helped and you arm has a nasty slash which will need a Healthman to look at.”
He leaned forward and kissed the boy’s head. “You did fine.”
Once again, Lord Anarton took a deep breath and stood. All sighs of the comforting caring individual vanished in an instant as he made his way over to the second boy. “Yulay stand!” his tone sent trembles down the spines of all the kids looking on and a few further out in the woods chasing down Kobalds who were still within the sounds of his voice.
The thirteen year old sighed. All those around the blond haired boy kids involuntarily cringed, knowing the man’s anger would only be further inflamed. They were only too correct.
Lord Anarton’s hands crackled with energy as he muttered a quick arcane phrase. Electrical energies burst forth in a small but powerful ball. Even as the kid realized his mistake and tried to dodge the punishment it was way too late. The ball impacted into his chest. Its force first smashed him back into the tree behind him then seemed to sink in.
Moments later the boy’s face changed from exhaustion to discomfort. He tried to roll over and puke, but nothing come out. As his reached to clutch his stomach, his fingers started to tremble. Slowly and clearly painfully the sensation moved up into the arms and shoulders. Tears flowed as his legs started shaking and finally his hips, back and even his jaw stated to quake uncontrollably.
Tears changed to wails of pain. Those watching on first saw electrical sparks dance around the boy’s teeth then they started jumping and arching outward. Within two minutes the boy was flopping on the ground like a fish out of water, small bolts of electrical power bursting out from his mouth, fingertips, toenails, ears, nose, and eyes. A few even danced over wounds new and old. Any opening into or out of the body seemed to emit little lightning bolts.
Several boys shook in fear as the realized the boy’s loincloth was starting to smoke from both the front and the back so even those ultra sensitive areas were not being spared. So terrible was the kid’s cries and terrifying was the spell, a few of the braver ones around Lord Anarton started pleading for him to make it end.
Korom even moved forward in an attempt to help the kid, but a single touch sent him flying backwards by almost two meters. He bit his lip and looked at his fingertips realizing they were slightly burned.
Lord Anarton ignored their pleas and the slight sob from Korom as he continued to watch the lad with arctic cold blue eyes. "Yulay, I know you can hear me even as you thrash about. What you feel now is only a touch of what I will do to you if you ever again try to hold onto or play with the life force of another creature. The only being who has the right to play with life force is the being whose life force it was to begin with.
"The discomfort you feel is only a taste of what the life force of an undead creature must endure and it does so until the undead creature is destroyed which may be centuries. By then the life force may direct its rage on the living, becoming a creature from the lower planes up to and including a demon.
“We are at war with the Dark Mages and I will slit the throat of even my most beloved students should they start to turn away from the true path of a Wraith Sect Warrior. Now think over those words as you continue to endure what you have brought on yourself. The spell should only last another couple of minutes. Oh, and in case you are wondering, it is not doing what it seems as it is a special spell. Like it or not it is actually healing you while it moves though your body. Unfortunately you will haves a few burns as the last of the energy jumps into the ground because it has to move over a burn to heal it, but so be it.”
Lord Anarton glanced back at Korom, “In case some of you do not believe me, take a look, you will find your arm is no longer bleeding nearly as much even after the briefest of contact with Yulay.” He couldn’t help but snicker as several of his boys looked over seeing for themselves his words were truthful.
Less than ten minutes later Yulay was laying face down in the dirt drooling slightly, unable to move after the spell finally jumped out of his body and dispersed into the ground. Most of his clothing was somewhat crispy and there was not a single part of his body that didn’t hurt in some major way. Making matters worse, his throat was parched after the electrical burns kept moving around his mouth only to be healed by the next wave and then re-burned again. Then there was the fact he had spent several minutes screaming uncontrollably which had worn his vocal cords raw. He badly needed a drink, but all around him a camp was being established while he was ignored.
Lord Anarton first made sure the wounded were being treated. He then focused his attention on those who had returned and the three Kobalds they had captured. Under his careful watch uninjured students tied small reptile headed creatures to posts so securely they couldn’t even move their heads.
Lord Anarton continued to ignore the moaning Yulay as he made his rounds double checking all the other students had indeed let go of all the life force they had pulled from those they had killed. At last satisfied, he moved into the Healthman tent and knelt next to the boy he had saved from the Ogre. “You fought bravely today Zaffron, but your injuries are just too severe. I will gate you back to the farm to recover and continue your training under those who stayed behind.”
The fourteen year old pulled him into a sitting position clenching his jaw to prevent from screaming in pain the whole time. Once he finally managed to get somewhat comfortable, he managed to speak, albeit through tightly clamped together teeth “Please Lord, let me heal and rejoin you. I owe Conner my life!”
Anarton looked over to the Healthman, “How long?”
The hireling shrugged, “It took everything I know just to put him back in one piece. For any sort of quickened recovery he would need someone well above high Primary Echelon, preferably a Channeler or a Shaman. Personally I am astonished he is conscious.”
Zaffron shook in some pain, "I am a Sect Warrior not some helpless whelp who runs to mom when a knee gets skinned.
Anarton gave the boy a reassuring smile, “You have proved as much. Now lay back and rest.” The moment he saw the boy’s head fall back on the mat he cast a powerful slumber spell guaranteeing his student would not wake for several hours.
He then turned his attention back to the Healthman, “So what do you recommend?”
“Sir, when you broke me out of the slaver camp I promised you I would serve you and your students and keep total secrecy about who you are, but this is just too far above my level of ability to make more than an educated guess. His legs are mangled and I think I put them back together properly, but there is no guarantee. He needs someone of Secondary at the very least and Teaching or a bit higher would give him a better chance. If you move him, I just don’t think my work will hold. I am sorry.”
Anarton chewed on his lip for a moment, "Your honesty is very refreshing. All you can do is your best and from your tone of concern and regret I am certain your very heart has been poured out in your efforts here. The problem is we are very close to finding one of Gambra’s bases. I am sure of it. We killed three dark mages and the pair of Ogres had to be close to a last line of defense for something important to her. For us to back away now would be a victory for Gambra. For it might allow her, or at the very least those she has guarding it, to prepare or even worse, flee. We cannot allow either. Yet I cannot chance one of my students being crippled for life.
“You are the only other adult here, so tell me Healthman, what would you do?”
"This boy needs a high Echelon healer, and he is my real concern. I am sure if I knew more about this Gambra my view would be a bit more torn, but even then I cannot see me doing anything to harm this brave child. From what I have seen, you could gate him to Everone with one or two of your students, but there is no guarantee he would get the help he needs there as to them he is just one more critically wounded and a child is not going to get high priority when there are hundreds of soldiers who need such healings.
“You would be better off transporting him to a city further from the fighting. Maybe you could send him to a place just outside the barony yet close enough for him to rejoin you… Us… if he can be healed well enough to do so. Of course, I have no idea how he would find us again.”
Lord Anarton reached down and gently stroked Zaffron’s hair. “Your plan has merit and I have a young student who has direct knowledge of the city or Everone and another back on my farm who can help them to cross the wilderness. So, if Zaffron can get healed, the three can make their way back there and we can arrange a meeting spot. The only problem is I have no idea where would be a good place to send them.”
“I do.” The Healthman responded, “The walled town of Rolling Dale is just up the pass leading from the Everone Barony. But can you gate someone to a place you don’t know?”
“If you are willing to assist and know of a good place close but not right in the city we can get them there. It has to be a place where people would not be and preferably where no one would see them suddenly appear. It will take some concentrating and a great deal of knowledge of the place, however.”
The man managed a grin, “There is a small ruined fortification about 3 kilometers from the city. It is rumored to be haunted so no one goes there, but I played there as a child often. I know of a couple of spots no one would see even if they had rebuilt the place which there is no chance of. The town guard didn’t even go there.”
Anarton nodded, “Perfect. I will be back shortly. In the mean time, I want you to prepare a way for Zaffron to be safely transported by a couple of students. Then I need you to picture the place you think it best I send them to. The more you visualize the better and every detail must be close to perfect, at least as best as you can. The spell will move through you and place them right where you are picturing, so envision a place slightly away from walls and the floor, but not too high. I do not think poor Zaffron could handle a fall from very high, but at the same time I do not want to gate them into a wall or something. While you get things ready here, I need to get the two boys and brief them.”
He then glanced out the tent and noticed Yulay was sill lying in the dirt, “Oh, yes, I also need to deal with my problem student.”
“What you did was not enough?”
Anarton’s facial features seemed to ice over, “Not at all. He has not been punished yet. Now start concentrating.” With those words the former Dark Mage stepped out of the tent and grabbed Yulay by his hair and yanked him to his feet. Most of the boy’s clothing fell off basically being nothing more than charred rags after the electrical spell.
The boy stood, half supported by the handful of hair, wobbling. He remained too weak to complain let alone struggle.
Anarton let out a whistle getting everyone’s attention. Once all eyes were looking at him, he pointed to the young Pantherling Janden, “I am going to bring Avcar to us. I need the two of you to go on a mission out of Everone. It may be the only way to heal Zaffron. I want you to ready your gear.”
Not waiting to see if his words were being obeyed he turned back to the others, “Who made the most kills today?”
All eyes turned to look at the Elvin boy who had taken down one of the Ogres. Lord Anarton gave a quick single nod and smiled. “Well done Tyklor. As a reward, I give you Yulay for the next week. He is your slave and should be treated as such. You may use him as you wish and if you want him to take your turn sleeping with me it shall be allowed.”
The Elvin boy managed a bit of a smile, “Can he be passed around for the enjoyment of everyone?”
“He is yours to do with as you want. I am sure the others would enjoy a few hours of pleasure once he recovers. I also suggest he does most of the hard camp duties. Maybe allowing everyone else to get a break from duties and some pleasure from his suffering will impress upon him just how wrong his actions were even for the brief few seconds he held onto the life force of another for no reason other than his own perverse enjoyment. After this week, the scales will be back in balance and this will not be discussed or held against him. Is everyone clear on this?”
Quickly all heads bobbed up and down, knowing Lord Anarton would not hesitate to reverse roles should his decree be violated. “Excellent! I will be back shortly. In the mean time, Tyklor is in command of the camp.” A moment later a gate opened behind him. He dropped Yulay and stepped though.
Aster let out a large sigh of relief as he heard Olinday call for the draft horses to stop for the first time since he woke well over a day ago. The constant jostling inside the wagon stood as a testament of the fast pace, but had proven to be hard on everything from his butt and back to his arms and legs. His one attempt to switch over to his Dragonsteed for a smother ride had proven fruitless as even the slightly intelligent animals seemed spooked by the events and tended to jump and twitch at every sound. As a matter of fact, he and Sagell spent most of time trying to keep all the animals calm enough to travel at a pace slow enough to where the wagons didn’t come apart. Unfortunately, they had not been totally successful as he knew a few boards in his wagon had cracked and Pocet reported the same from at least two other wagons.
Looking over the others in his wagon, all of whom looked to be as happy as he was to have finally stopped, he waved his hand to stop them from unpacking. “All of us need a break to stretch our legs and relax. We still have a couple of hours of daylight.”
He jumped off the back of the wagon and rolled his shoulders. He couldn’t help but snort out a bit of a chuckle as he realized he was wobbling back and forth slightly as if he was still in the wagon. His observations became even funnier as he realized he was only one among many. Only a couple of the Dwarven drivers and Pocet seemed immune to the effects. Another look around told him there was one other who, surprisingly, seemed to be unaffected by the speed and savage nature of the overland journey. Little Zoldon didn’t waste any time jumping down to attend to the exhausted Dragonsteeds. With a brush in hand, he quickly led them to a stream just off the road and went to work on their coats.
Aster raised a curious eyebrow as he noted how easily the young boy handled the still slightly edgy beasts. He continued to watch for a couple minutes, making sure none of them turned on the boy, but whoever had trained him on their handling had done a fantastic job. He knew exactly how to move the brush over their front legs first which was a sure fire way to settle them, then he moved to the head and chest of each animal, talking to them the whole time.
Finally, he shrugged and looked over at Frost, who had finally landed and was kind of playing with Dart. They had teamed up on a squirrel and had it pinned between them. Every time it tried to dodge and dart up a tree, one of the winged pets would flap a wing and send it back toward the other. Aster found it kind of malicious but after the long time airborne, obviously terrified, he decided to let it go and let them play. Besides, he already knew the squirrel would end up as a meal for one or both of them.
Sardan finally moved up to Aster, “How are you feeling?”
Aster glanced up and kind of shrugged, “The ride was brutal, but I feel kind of strange still. The one nap I managed to take was only a couple of hours long, but I had some really strange dreams. It must have been pretty bad, because Molic actually shook me awake and asked if I was OK, and as skittish as he is about only doing what he was told, I must have really been thrashing about or something.”
“Can you tell me what the dreams were about?”
Aster let out a long breath and watched as it went pretty high in the cold air, "Well, to be honest it was just one, but it was too crazy to make any sense. On the other hand it was so vivid, so real; I could smell it, taste it and feel it. Making matters even worse, I was speaking in Dragon Tongue to some kids about my own age equivalence. It was a totally insane group too; one was a weird colored Dragonling. Its scales were speckled with brown, tan, white and black. Another was a Drow Elf. Then there was a Dwarf, a Human, a Halfling, an Elf, and another kid who I think was a Halfelf, but had eyes almost the same color as the Dragonling.
"There equipment was beyond astonishing, for all of them carried at least one Eldwar Steel weapon, their armor was crafted in a way to where it was nearly flawless and was made out of dragon scales of various types, mostly Green Dragon and Red Dragon, but the one with the strange eyes was wearing Brown Dragon and the Human was wearing Brass Dragon hide. In addition, their clothing was made to where you could not see any seems. Yet when I commented about it they all seemed disappointed and even a little ashamed to look so poor. The Elvin kid said something about their gear was scavenged off the dead and what they were given was more or less what was left over.
"We were on a set of rocky hills, some very sharp and rippled with cracks and appeared to be of an old volcanic flow. Down from us in all directions, was a marsh or swamp and it was very warm and humid. Yet up the hill from us was the body of a massive Brown Dragon that was being picked over by a large flight of Griffons. Just beyond the dead dragon I could see hundreds if not thousands of bodies of all sorts of races. Most were nude or nearly so, clearly picked clean of all useful items. As I looked down in the crags and cracks in the rocks, I could see the extent of the battle as the blood from the bodies was still slowly flowing attracting flies and other nasty bugs. The smell was brutal, but it was draining down deeper into the earth, almost like something was feeding on it.
"Still there was more to see, hear and smell. For there was the smell of burning flesh from pyres set to dispose of many of the bodies further up the hill, and above that, barely visible was a massive city with huge walls, but they appeared to be horribly damaged and a few areas looked to be burning or smoldering but I could not tell if part of the city was still on fire after such a massive battle or if they were simply burning their dead. If I close my eyes, I can still see it and my guess is it was a combination of both.
“Even though we were talking in some kind of Dragon language we were having a hard time understanding each other. It was as if we knew the same basic language, but it was still not quite matching up right. I tired asking them questions but they were more interested in what I knew. They made all sorts of inquiries and were praising me for having the powers of great dragons in my blood. At least the one with the weird eyes was. At the same time, they were trying to figure out where they were, or maybe when they were.”
Sardan used a talon to scratch some feathers on the back of his neck as he cocked his head to the side and looked down with a skeptical eye, “When they were?”
"Yeah, they didn’t think they were where they belonged or when. They said magic was much weaker and different. The one with weird eyes said it was actually stale, like it was not being fully used any more.
“Anyway, we were interrupted by a pretty large brown dragon. It broke out from between a few of the rocky crags covered in the nasty blood still flowing deep within them. It charged us and breathed, turning one of the kids to stone with its petrifaction breath, but it was countered by some really bizarre spell from the kid with the weird eyes. At the same time, I saw Dart’s wing turn to stone and started going crazy. Just as the kid with the weird eyes started to fix Dart and the others went on the attack I was shaken awake, but to be honest, I’m really glad Molic did, cause I was kind of freaking out and was covered with sweat when I woke.”
Sardan’s beak clicked a few times as he opened and closed his mouth rapidly before he finally spoke, “Well, I have heard of some wicked dreams in my time, but never one quite like this. It must have been quite something because even as you retell this dream your arms are shaking and your forehead has a few beads of sweat popping up just under your hairline, and it is way too chilly for you to be warm let alone hot.”
Aster shivered, more from unease than the cold, “It is crazy. As I was telling you about it I was almost reliving it. It was so real!”
“It sure sounds intense. Just be happy it was just a dream.”
Aster let out another long breath, reached down and petted Shade, then pointed across the large stream all the animals were now drinking out of. “What happened to the fortress over there?”
Sardan shuddered a bit, but was glad the boy next to him was focusing on something less troubling to him. “Well, we are only a few kilometers outside of Rolling Dale and it so happens you are looking at the original Keep of Lord Roland Dale.”
“Wow, it must be pretty old; no one has two names any more.”
“A few do, but you are correct. If I remember what I was told correctly, Lord Roland Dale died sometime between the end of the Mythling Wars and the start of the Dragon Wars. So yes, it is a very ancient structure.”
Aster seemed to calm a great deal more as he become totally engrossed with the keep, the dream no longer occupying his thoughts. “So why did the town move if the keep was here?”
"Rumor is it is haunted. The town has been over the next hill for over 500 years now, and no one goes to the old keep. The last time I was here the town guard refused to go anywhere near it even though we knew there were bandits hiding inside.
“I was a junior Watch member at the time and our team leader decided to go it alone rather than argue with the guards.”
Aster eagerly looked up, “Awesome! What happened? Did you get the bandits?”
Sardan kind of snickered, “Yea, but it was really odd. We moved up and our team leader called out for them to surrender. Less than a few minutes later six of the seven came out shaking like leaves begging us to take them away saying they would surrender as long as we took them away from the keep and Rolling Dale. We agreed, figuring it was the easy way out, so we took them back to Junsac where they were found guilty. Four were sent to prison and the other two were executed. We tried to find out why they surrendered so easily, but none of them would talk about it.”
Aster frowned, “What about the seventh one?”
Sardan shrugged, “We never found him, but we did find his belongings including a full coin pouch just inside one of the rooms below the west tower and we found the rest of his clothing on the second floor of the tower. It was laid out as if he had been lying down and simply disappeared leaving them behind. The pant legs were still tucked into the boots and shirt tucked into the pants all the way around. Inside the pants, the loincloth was secured just as if he had been wearing it. Even the boots were tied and the belt with a dagger and magic short sword was still buckled.”
Aster’s shoulder’s sagged as he looked up with an aggravated smirk, “Oh, come on Sardan! You expect me to believe something so silly?”
Sardan shook his head and held up his hands, “Honest Aster. We spent like eight hours looking all over the place, but we were all kind of spooked so we took his stuff, including his clothing, and left. He has never been seen or heard from again even though he remains as someone wanted by the Watch.”
Aster’s annoyed look slipped away, slowly replaced with a bit of an eager grin.
Sardan frowned and shook his head, “Something tells me I am not going to be able to talk you out of checking it out am I?”
Aster’s smile increased in size, “Not a chance!”
Sardan sighed and dragged his talons across he feathered head, “Alright, but you do not go in alone, and you must stay with someone else at all times.”
“Oh, come on!”
Sardan stood firm, “No Aster, You have someone with you at all times or you do not go. I have been in there once and it still sends shivers down my feathers when I think about the way the clothing was laying there. You find someone who wants to go with you and stick with them at all times and you may not go in at night.”
Aster tossed up his hands, “OK, fine. I’ll find someone and go at first light.”
“Then, begrudgingly, I will allow you to check it out.”
Captain Pontarious watched with a careful eye as his crew slowly guided the Thunder Rapids toward the dock. This was always the most dangerous part as the magic sail had to be lowered and the ship was put under control of men with long poles. Physically pushing a barge in calm water was bad enough, but the currents of the river made it much worse.
Twelve of his strongest men shoved the long poles into the muddy bottom of the river and used all their weight and muscle to first spin the barge so it was in line with the dock then force it close enough for those on the docks to toss securing lines to others waiting to grab them. Shove by mighty shove the barge crept closer to the dock.
Pontarious nodded to a couple of extras holding poles in case one snapped and pointed aft. “We are getting some swirling. Give them a hand!”
The two men quickly jabbed their long wooden poles into the cold muddy water until they felt the tips stick into the bottom. Once certain they were firmly planted, they widened their stance on the deck and pushed with everything they had. After nearly two minutes, the barge finally broke out of the current and into the relative calm of the break provided by the dock. It took only another minute for the men to get the barge close enough for those on the dock to toss securing lines.
Younger deck hands quickly secured the thick ropes and tied them to four support posts on the starboard side while the final group of the dock party pulled on the ropes. Finally, the Thunder Rapidsbumped up against the side of the dock lightly, the boarding planks were lowered from the deck and all ropes were tied to prevent slippage.
Pontarious double checked all the knots and verified the ropes holding his craft were in good repair while his first officer checked the ropes and the pilings the barge was secured to. Once both men signaled their approval, the crew settled down and made preparations for trade with the town. Empty crates were brought up out of the hold in preparation for buying goods while those with the poles did a quick wipe down to removed the mud and then oiled them so they didn’t crack.
As Pontarious made his way forward, he noticed seven heavily armed and armored guards surrounding a rather beautiful female and a pair of kids, one boy and one girl. The three being escorted all wore emerald green colored robes and had silver necklaces in the shape of a tree but the woman’s was adorned with gemstones and her bracers shimmered with a greenish gold and appeared to have the tree symbol on it made out of pure emeralds. The guards were by no means left out for all six of the flanking guards’ breast plates and shields had the tree symbol while the tree on the leader’s shield seemed to actually move as if the leaves in the engraving were being blown by the wind.
The captain raised an eyebrow and looked down to his first officer, “They certainly got here quickly, did you send a runner before we docked?”
“No captain. They were waiting at the edge of the dock as we pulled in. Besides, I seriously doubt this town, albeit large, rates a Vindayin priestess on this magnitude. Those escorts are all from the forest legion!”
“Well then,” Pontarious stated firmly, “show them aboard.” He then turned so all those on deck could see and here him, “Thunder Rapids crew, if you are armed please place your weapons up on the aft deck. Those getting ready to go into town need to get below and store their weapons as well. It appears we are going to have the honor of a visit by a high priestess of Vindayin and her Forest Legion guards.”
The guard commander nodded his thanks even while he motioned for three of his men to move up the plank and verify everyone had complied with the stated commands. Once given the all clear by his men, he simply pointed to the two gang planks while he personally led the women and the two children up to the barge. Without a single spoken command, the six guards split. Four of them took up positions guarding the boarding ramps while the last two each moved up to the side of one of the children. The leader never strayed far from the woman, but stayed back enough to let her approach the captain without interference.
Pontarious spotted the fire opal guild pins on the woman’s arm bands and instantly took a knee. His voice shook slightly as he kept his gaze firmly on the deck of his ship. “Lady, you honor us by your very presence!”
A bit of a smile accompanied her nod, “Please stand good Captain Pontarious.”
Even as Pontarious stood, he could feel his knees shaking lightly. Only two other times could he remember being in eyesight of a Legendary Echelon being. The first was when his brother took the Black Dragon Prince Bandurlok’s offer of magic over the freeing of himself and the second time was when he was sold by the Dragon Prince Bassorak to the man who would eventually free him and his son.
Neither time had they spoken to him let alone indicated they knew his name. The fact this woman knew anything of him at all was somewhat terrifying to the barge captain. “My Lady, what can we, of the Thunder Rapids, do for you?”
The woman’s smile tightened some as her eyes flashed a brief hint of confusion, “Good captain, I was sent to help you. It is my understanding, you have someone who is in need of a powerful healing?”
Pontarious nodded before he realized what he was doing. “Um, yeah… Yes my Lady. He is below decks, in our Healthman’s area. How did you know?”
“Lead the way and I shall tell you.”
Pontarious beckoned for the small group to accompany him down into the ship. At first the guard leader became a bit suspicious, but a quick glance from the priestess stopped any arguments before the man was able to speak a single word. Still the man’s hand slid down to rest on the pommel of his sword and his eyes scanned each and every crew member with an apprehensiveness bordering on outright mistrust.
As they entered the center structure, the priestess glanced down at the two kids with her. "It is a rather odd happening which brings me to your ship captain. One of the things I established shortly after I became the lead Channeler of Vindayin, was to start a program with orphans. From a time shortly after I became a fledging priestess I believed one of the greatest travesties of our world is the way we look at and treat orphans.
"Instead of being given compassion and love, the world discards them, pushes them into forced labor or sells them as society’s outcasts. In my opinion, this is not only wrong but harmful. An orphaned child does not choose to loose his or her entire family, does not desire to be herded into a barracks like building and forced to churn out goods for a local ruler or pushed into some camp to all but fend for themselves.
"Yet, for whatever reason, orphans are looked at like they are a kind of criminal and often times treated worse. It has taken me a great deal of time, diplomacy, money and in more than a few cases outright coercion, but the Order of Vindayin now runs dozens of orphanages. I hand select those who work there and it is their job, their mission, to be as if they were parents to all the kids under their care. We teach them to read and write: We nurture their bodies with real food and give them skills to better not only their own lives but the lives of others.
"Over the last couple of years, my efforts have really started to pay off. We have seen more than a few kids break the mold and find apprenticeship jobs simply because their abilities to read and write puts them in a position to help with keeping books, allows them to deal with merchants who come in with lists and they have a drive a non-orphan simply does not have. In addition, we have found more than a few interested in directly joining our order since I started the program and took over the first three orphanages just over six years ago. The full effects are yet to be known. However, we are already starting to get everything from trained swordsman guards for our temples to new Channelers to spread the teaching of Vindayin.
"Anyway, several of our orphanages send me their most promising young acolytes once every three months so I can work directly with them and see just how devote and serious they are in becoming Vindayin Channelers. I was in the second full moon with a group of twelve youngsters when just over a day ago a most unusual event occurred.
"We were going over the prayers needed to put young trainees in touch with the full power and glory of one of Vindayin’s minions, for all Channelers get the vast majority of their powers not through the goddess herself, but one of her minions. As they grow and gain more understanding of the holy lady of the forest, higher minions become available for them to channel the powers of and thus what they can do and what they can heal increases.
"Normally this is a very difficult and demanding class for first and second year students. Many get a taste of a lower minion and pass out while others are left dizzy and feeling slightly ill. This class started out no differently. Of the twelve students I was working with, four managed to make the breakthrough fairly quickly and were left a bit stunned by the event, three others failed to make contact at all, most because they were still too unsure of themselves for a minion to find them worthy. Three others were on the edge. I could tell they had found the needed path but they were either scared by what they were experiencing or were just not quite devote enough yet to actually channel the power of my goddess’s lower minions.
"It was those three I was working with when I noted these two students standing next to me had done something far more spectacular. Their holy symbols were glowing brightly and the power surrounding them was… well I believe the best word would be otherworldly. Between the two, they happened upon a very powerful minion, maybe even something as high as a Nature Lord. The power level in the open space between the two of them took on a manifested form showing your ship, this town, you, and what appeared to be an Elvin boy.
“Just as suddenly as it appeared the swirling images blew apart in dazzling display of multi colored bolts of energy. Every student in the room was hit by at least one, but these two where hit with numerous ones and fell as if in a trance. They took turns speaking, telling me not only where to go and when to be here, but also to be prepared to render aid to the child who is terribly injured. In exchange for my services, the words they spoke, told me you would be willing to provide a service to the Order of Vindayin.”
Pontarious opened the door to the Healthman area before he turned, “My Lady, if it is within my power I would be only to happy to help you with a task.”
The woman held up her hands, “Please understand, good captain, this has nothing to do with me. For I know nothing more than what they spoke and what the vision showed. The task, as you put it, is one which confuses me greatly, but where the great goddess of the forest and healing guides me and I follow. Rarely has my devotion to her required for me to go forward blindly, but in this case it has. She has kept any and all plans hidden from me.”
The priestess entered the room and gazed down at Conner. She ran a finger lightly over the boy’s cheeks and traced his lips. Her own abilities gave her a glimpse of power bordering out what she, herself, could channel when in contact with the power of Vindayin’s greatest minions. Between the physical beauty of Conner and his massive reserve of magical power, the priestess found herself more than a bit taken in by the boy.
She managed a smile, “Even as injured as he is, this young elf has a truly stunning beauty.” Her smile faded, “However, outward appearances hide a disturbing darkness for underneath I sense great power coupled with pain, frustration and anger. On the other hand, there is an inner drive I do not think I have ever encountered in one so young, and truth be told seldom encountered at all. He walks a dangerous line between doing great good and terrible evil.” She stepped back and shook her head lightly. “The power flowing through him is beyond astonishing.”
Pontarious knelt and used a damp cloth to wipe Conner’s forehead, “Your perceptions could not be more accurate, my lady.” He turned his gaze upward, “so what task does Vindayin wish me to perform?”
She cocked her head slightly as a genuine smile reappeared, “You love this child.”
Pontarious realized it was a statement, not a question. As he gently rested his hand on Conner’s uninjured shoulder, it dawned on him just how correct the priestess was. His feelings for Conner rivaled those he held for his own son. He spoke softly as the realization took him a bit off guard, “Yes I do. So please tell me what is required for you to heal him.”
The priestess glanced over at the two kids and back to Pontarious, “To be honest, I would heal him regardless of your agreeing to help. However, I firmly believe Vindayin has a great purpose in this so here are your instructions.” She took a firm hold of the boy and girl and pushed them toward Pontarious. “These two are yours. You are to take them with you, for what I do not know and neither have been either able or willing to speak since the trance ended.”
Pontarious noted a bit of apprehension in the priestess as she first looked down at the two children then back to him. He frowned deeply, “When and where shall I return them to you?”
She shook her head, “No good captain, should you accept them, they are no longer under my guidance or protection. They belong to you to do with as you please.”
Pontarious felt a bit of anger creep into his voice, but could not hide it. “Good Lady, there are no slaves kept aboard this ship and as long as I breath there never will be. I may occasionally allow passengers with slaves, but any mistreatment of them guarantees they will be let off at the next stop and a second warning is never given. More than one man and at least one woman have gone for a swim because of their handling of their human property. My only personal dealing with slaves is to very occasionally hire one from his or her master to attend to needs after a battle or when damage to my ship keeps my crew from normal duties.”
His anger caused the Guard leader to edge forward but a single icy glance from Pontarious stopped him in his tracks.
The priestess raised an eyebrow at this and managed a pained smile, “It is seldom I have seen a Forest Legionnaire stopped by a mere look. In this case, however, I think the decision was a wise one, for never in all my travels have I encountered such a determination. Good captain, your words warm my heart for to hand over these wonderful acolytes as slaves was causing me a great deal of heartache. Nevertheless, it is the will of Vindayin for me to hand them over to you.”
“Then I will accept them, but not as property. Can they follow instructions?”
“Yes they just cannot speak, or are choosing not to. I tend to believe they either cannot or have been instructed to hold their voice until a certain time. Hopefully you shall be able to unravel this mystery over time.”
Pontarious reached up and took hold of the boy’s left shoulder and then girl’s right. “I welcome you aboard the Thunder Rapids. While you are with us, you shall be helpers to the cooks and be respected as part of the crew. You will bunk in the cabin just aft of mine. It was a room originally designed for cabin boys, but I do not and will not have personal servants, so it has remained open. I expect you to do tasks assigned to you and I expect you to attend classes with the other children. Hopefully you will find your tongues soon, but if not so be it. I will have the crew keep an eye on you so the other kids do not tease you for your silence, but how much you integrate yourselves into this crew is in a great part up to the two of you. Do you understand?”
Both kids gave a slight bow and nodded.
Pontarious pulled them to him and gave them a hug. “If there is anything you need during your stay, come see me and we will find a way to communicate.”
He kissed both kids on the forehead and stroked their hair for a moment before turning to Sharris who was still diligently keeping an eye on Conner. “Take them up to the cabin boy’s room and give them a hand getting it dusted and cleaned, for I do not think it has been opened since shortly after I took ownership of this vessel. The key still hangs from a hook in my room.”
Sharris stood but Pontarious stopped her. “Once you unlock the door it shall remain unlocked. I want you to get one of the men to remove the lock entirely. Secondly, you need to make it crystal clear to the other kids, these two are to be treated as part of the crew and there will be no teasing them about not talking. Should I hear of such, the offending child will be punished publicly by me, understood?”
Sharris’ eyes went wide, “Absolutely captain!”
Pontarious started to say something but a glance at the priestess told him she was already focused on Conner. As she went into a deep prayer, her holy symbol started to glow.
The pure emerald pendant first shimmered in a dark green light, as if the jewel itself had power. But this was just the start, for within moments the glow was no longer coming from just the gem, but the silver and gold chain holding it around the priestess’ neck. Warmth soon accompanied this ever growing power level, pushing all the cold and dampness out of the room, the upper decks, and finally the whole ship.
Almost a minute past with her hands gently wrapped around Conner’s head. Suddenly the glow of the symbol intensified to a near blinding power, her eyes snapped open and a deeper, albeit female, voice came out over her mouth, “When the boy wakes inform him his brother has once again come to his aid through us and now more than ever will need help to face the coming storm. Although we have still not equaled what he has done and continues to do for us, we hope this aid will allow him to get the resources needed for him to gain the following he will need should he become what he seems capable of.” The voice and the light faded as the priestess took a couple of steps back clearly a bit overcome by the experience.
She knelt, fingers trembling. Where she touched the wood of the deck, all signs of aging vanished from the wood then spread through the whole barge, including the wooden furniture, leaving anything wooden looking brand new. While the look of the whole barge was transformed, power continued to spill from the priestess, for even her breath held the lingering power of Vindayin. With just a couple of deep breaths, the scent of an evergreen forest after a rain filled first the room then the entire deck.
Before she could recover, Conner’s eyes snapped open and he reached up to touch his head. A bit confused he sat up slowly and moved his arms, legs and tested taking a deep breath. Finding everything working without pain he slid around and hung his feet over the edge of the bed and glanced around. Spotting the priestess he instantly understood what had happened, but at the same time couldn’t help but notice how beautiful the woman was. With his breath nearly taken away by the woman’s stunning splendor, he quickly knelt and managed to gasp out, “Lady of Vindayin, thank you for your healing touch!”
The priestess managed a nod as she regained some bearings. “You are most welcome young man, but I think you should thank Vindayin herself, for it was the Lady of the Forest, not one of her minions, who came to heal you. I may not understand what exactly is going on, but one thing I am certain of is this. When the great goddess finished healing you and backed out of me, she made it abundantly clear your brother, a red haired lad slightly younger than you is behind almost everything of importance going on right now. She also left me with two messages. The first is for the good captain but means nothing to me.”
Pontarious quickly moved to Conner’s side to verify the boy was indeed totally healed. Once certain all damage done to the boy’s body had vanished, he took a knee and looked up. “Please tell me, for this healing gift I will do my best to make good use of it.”
She gave a brief nod. “The exact words are: ‘Let the river take you quickly to where you will be needed. Forget what you think you know and take the branch never traveled. It will get you to where you need without any damage.’”
Pontarious turned a bit pale as he stared at her in total disbelief.
The priestess held up her hands, “I can tell by your look you understand the context of the message but are not at all comfortable with it. Unfortunately, I cannot relate at all for the messages is totally meaningless to me.”
Meanwhile, Conner stood and continued to test his body. Every movement came without pain. In some ways it was odd. Conner realized almost instantly he could not ever remember being totally healed since the Sect Warrior’s body itself was a weapon. There was always some aches and pains from the countless hours of practice. Bumps bruises and other minor injuries were expected and actually needed for a Sect Warrior needed to get used to being hit and fighting through pain.
Finally, Conner noticed Captain Pontarious was not speaking and neither was the Vindayin Priestess. He put a hand on the captain’s shoulder, not realizing he was touching someone for the first time in well over a decade out of pure concern. “Sir, I don’t think Vindayin would have sent a priestess of this echelon of ability to heal me then do anything to jeopardize where she wants us to be.”
Pontarious glanced up and took the offered hand to help stand from Conner before he spoke. “As much as I tend to agree, Conner, I cannot see how this barge could make it without damage let alone in one piece. The Canyon of Codavia would take us straight to Rolling Dale, but has a steep drop of over a thousand meters in a very short distance. The rocks, rapids and even waterfalls make passage impossible for any craft of any type.”
The Vindayin priestess took a deep breath and sighed, “Captain Pontarious, the message was very precisely worded so all I can say is let Vindayin provide, for I have no clue of the message’s meaning and even less knowledge of river travel.”
Conner turned away from Pontarious for a moment, “Good Lady, you said there was two messages. What is the second?”
Her gaze shifted to the boy she had just healed. She took a moment to study his whole body and found herself strangely taken by his darker colored skin long black hair and piercing eyes. The young man, wearing just a loin cloth, showed just the beginnings of a boy becoming an adult. As her mind took in this fact, she couldn’t help but admire the way she could make out ever muscle as he moved. It was almost like looking at a stalking Viper Tiger. There was no question the lad was in the best shape of anyone she had ever encountered. She had to force herself to focus on the reason for her visit as thoughts of asking him to bed filled her head. “Well, young warrior. I believe the second message is for you and you alone.”
Conner couldn’t help but grin slightly as he detected a note of lust in the woman’s eyes. He had seen the look before, but nothing like what was burning into and almost though him currently. At the same time revolted at her barely contained desires for him, he couldn’t help the fact he was actually fighting the same feeling coming from somewhere deep in his own chest. “Maybe you would like to go up to my room and tell me then?”
The woman blushed for an instant but covered it very well. Instead of focusing on Conner she made a quick motion toward the door and nodded to Captain Pontarious. Once out in the hall she paused and turned to her guard. "The message is for this young man’s ears only. I will see you topside within an hour or two.
The guard growled but relented with only a slight glare being directed at Conner.
Conner smiled with a hint of a smirk, “Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of her.”
The priestess chuckled softly as the pair moved out of earshot of the guard, “Teasing a Forest Legionnaire, is a very dangerous thing to do. They do not have much of a sense of humor.”
Conner pushed open his door, “Who said I was teasing.”
“We shall see.” The priestess declared, “However, I first need to pass on this bit of information. For the calling of Vindayin is my life and it is her who is passing this on to you.”
Conner gave a slight nod and gestured with his hand for the woman to continue as he started to remove the no longer needed bandages from his body and reveal more of himself to her.
The woman felt her pulse quicken, but stayed focused on the task given her. “Much like the words to the good Captain, this means nothing to me. So here it is. Her words to you are: ‘You have tasted the powers of death, but this is not enough to join the coming battle, you must go further, stop playing with it. Instead, embrace it and learn to exhaust it in single bursts. The effect will be the same for you will not wake the dead, but you will find the power generated by such releases devastating to even the most terrifying of foes.’”
Conner paused and looked a bit uncertain, “I have a basic idea of what you are telling me, and know exactly who I should use it against, but no idea of how to do so.” He continued to expose more skin but his voice no longer carried the same certainty as it did only moments before.
The woman noticed the look and voice inflection which made Conner appear more like a child from one of her orphanages than a powerful young man. She gulped lightly. “Young man, I have dedicated a large portion of my life to helping kids…”
“I am guilded as a Mage, therefore no longer a child.” Conner stated, not realizing the woman had detected some of his uneasiness.
She paused and looked down at Conner for a few moments. “This is true…” She turned and closed the inner door.
Conner sat on the bed looking up with some expectation.
The priestess cocked her head to the side, “So you are just going to sit and wait for me?”
Conner’s eyes went wide and showed confusion and even some fear, “I… well… What do you want me to do?”
She sat next to the now rather vulnerable looking boy, “I am sorry, I thought you had been to bed with a woman before.”
“I have.” Conner whispered softly, “but never willingly. I have never been to bed with anyone willingly…” He glanced into the woman’s dark green eyes, “But I want to. I want to now.”
“Then you need to show you are going to be part of this, for you suddenly look more like a child then an emerging man.”
Conner frowned as he detected a bit of a challenge in her voice, “Oh, the man part of me is definitely emerging.” He suddenly dropped his loin cloth reveling at least part of him was eager to move to the next step.
“Then prove to me the rest of you is as well.”
Noting Conner had forgotten some of his reluctance, the high priestess hid a satisfied grin, but realized as she started to undress, she would have to provide a bit more than the guidance of her goddess’ words to the young man. For even as Conner pushed into her, it was clear he was only able to go this far because of the challenge she had put forth. In her mind, Conner’s future would be a grim one unless he got over his fear of real relationships.
The woman moaned as Conner’s hands roughly pushed down her under garments and entered her without any foreplay. Yes he was a magnificent find, and since Vindayin herself had set up this meeting, the High Priestess figured it was her job, her duty, to teach Conner how to love, not just conquer.
Of any task she had been ‘handed’ by Vindayin, this one would definitely be one of the most pleasurable. The only problem would be finding ways to get Conner alone. Her arms wrapped around the young elf as she started chewing on his neck. Even as Conner clawed at her back, she realized this would be a huge challenge with great rewards, so she would find a way. Rational thoughts vanished at that point as she gave into the passion all the while doing her utmost to cure Conner’s overwhelming desire of conquest of everything and everyone.
Glaster escorted Mylan and Klandon toward the central hall of the Rolling Dale Palace. As he caught sight of the two door guards in their ceremonial armor, he once again he looked down at the two boys, "This is the last time I will speak to you or even look your direction boys. Remember you are both to remain absolutely silent. I am your instructor and I, by the king’s very decree, am responsible for your actions and well being. Even if asked you may not answer any questions during this hearing.
“Also, a word of warning, if this man is half the leader he should be, he will speak out against the two of you and say things both inflammatory and derogatory about you and or your families in an attempt to get you to say something. Should you mess up and let your anger or fear get the best of you and either of you do speak, the local lord can then demand a Mindmaster scan which would reveal who you are.”
Glaster paused. When he resumed his voice took on an absolutely sinister tone. “You have both seen me a bit angry, and Klandon, you in particular have seen a touch of my darker side, but let me assure you; your lives will be beyond miserable if either of you mess this up. For I have an ace up my sleeve, but I can only use it if all the attention stays on me and this incompetent piss-ant Magistrate of Rolling Dale.”
Both boys nodded and gulped at the dire promise of their futures should either do more than breath during the coming hearing. They both adjusted the high merchant clothing Glaster had bought for them the day before, lowered their heads slightly as per earlier instructions and followed Glaster into the large hall.
At the door, one of the guards snorted and coughed in Mylan’s direction, clearly on purpose, sending some spittle over the boy. Glaster stopped dead in his tracks and turned to the man, “When this is over, the two of us are going to have words soldier, and when they have to cut you out your polished armor to tend to your wounds, these two boys will be there to laugh in your face. With any luck, and as long as they behave properly, I will even let them finish kicking out the few teeth I leave in your skull.”
The guard’s hand slid down toward his dagger only to be stopped by a clearing of the throat and a slight shake of the head of the other guard.
Glaster smiled and nodded at the other guard. “Very well done. Should this work out as I plan, you may well find a bit of an increase in rank and pay. Now if you two gentlemen would kindly open the door in a proper manor without trying to trip anyone, we can get this done with so you can both move on to your new lives: one of you as a leader of men, the other gumming your food for the remainder of your days.”
Glaster waited until the doors were fully open taking the extra moment to glace back. He noticed both boys were trying very hard not to outright giggle at the expressions on the faces of the two guards. He snickered very softly. “Not a sound boys. There will be plenty of time to play with the door guard later.”
Glaster’s facial expression changed the instant he entered the large inner chamber. All signs of humor vanished replaced by a stern, almost angry, frown and his eyes looked more like a man ready to enter a gladiatorial arena as a contestant than a merchant filing a formal grievance. He went to the right of the judge’s chair, so he would be on the judge’s left and pointed for both boys to stand behind him. “You will remain standing heads down until the judge calls for a seating then, since the two of you were deemed to be the aggressors, you two shall be the last to be seated.”
He then turned back to face the judge’s seat and kept his eyes fixed forward, but didn’t totally ignore the city’s magistrate and the three peasant boys who came in and stood behind him. All three still showed signs of their altercation with Mylan and Klandon, but were very well groomed and in garb well above their caste. This didn’t go unnoticed by Glaster, who found the squirms and awkward walks caused by the fancy collars and heeled boots amusing.
As the King’s Judge, the Regional Captain of the Guard for the Barony of Junsac, entered a series of chimes sounded alerting everyone, including the scribes and inner chambers guards to stand. The man, who had assisted Glaster in taking Perth, made no sign he had ever met anyone in the chamber. Instead he brought the hearing to order as he smacked his gauntleted fist on the arm of the judge’s chair. Still not looking at anyone he cleared his throat and spoke in a very commanding tone. “The five youngsters who initiated me being summoned here are to remain standing for the entire duration of this hearing. Everyone else may sit.”
Glaster sat somewhat surprised by the command, but quickly glanced back. He smiled in satisfaction as both Klandon and Mylan remained standing with their heads lowered in total subservience. He quickly nodded his approval and turned his attention back to the judge.
The judge then smacked his gauntleted fists together making a very loud metallic clapping sound. Moments later a quintet of Junsac Barony guards entered the chamber and moved rapidly, each taking a spot directly behind one of the five boys.
The judge sat allowing an extended period of uneasy silence. He said nothing as he continued to stare over the small assembly until the tallest of the peasant boys started to fidget, having a hard time dealing with the hard soled heeled boots he was wearing. The judge pointed at the guard standing behind the boy. “Obviously, the lad has a problem with his feet. Remove his footwear.”
The huge guard reached out, yanked the boy up by his collar, and yanked off the boots tossing them to the side. He then lowered the very startled kid back to the floor.
Almost a minute past before the slimmest of the three peasant kids couldn’t stand the discomfort of his own boots and shifted. Instantly, the judge pointed and the process was repeated. The last boy behind the magistrate lasted almost 10 full minutes, but finally he too could not stand still. His boots ended up with the other two pair in the corner of the room.
Still the judge said nothing. Instead he grabbed a parchment scroll and appeared to be reading it until one of the peasant boys moved a hand up to the collar of his shirt to get a bit more comfortable. The judge glanced up shook his head and pointed to the guard, “Cut it off, it clearly is not something he likes wearing, just be careful of his sling. There is no reason to provide him any discomfort.”
Time dragged on in the hall for all five boys. Each time one of the kids made any signs of discomfort, the item of clothing was forcibly removed. After nearly two hours Mylan and Klandon remained almost fully dressed, Klandon lost his cloak and Mylan his belt pouch while two of the three peasant boys were down to loin cloths while the other still had his britches. The judge finally tossed the scroll he was looking over behind the judge’s chair and glanced around the hall. "I find, even after all the interviews, all the evidence of what happened, and all the contradicting stories on who started the altercation, this whole matter comes down to a few very basic facts.
"First, five boys got into a fight. Of this there is no doubt, no one disputes this. Second, it was two against three. Again, everyone concurs on this. Third, the two smaller boys, both wearing guild pins, handed the three bigger ones a sound thrashing. Lastly, aid was offered to the three injured lads by the charges of the two smaller ones. To be honest, it should have ended right there, especially since aid was offered. However, it did not. The real question is not the guilt or innocence of any of the five boys, for boys will, by their very nature, be boys.
As a matter of fact, once this hearing is over all of us are going to see firsthand just how strong a dislike these five have for each other. The three who are still injured will be given a healing by my Shaman. Once my Healthman deems they are fully healed, all five boys will be escorted by my guards to the local Swordsman school. Once there, they will shed all clothing including loin cloths to eliminate any chance of weapons, and be tossed into the combat pit, and no I really do not care how cold it is today, so don’t bother me with such petty details. They can then either renew their dispute or make amends. The cold will simply help them make up their minds on which way they want to go more quickly so we will not have to wait around as long, while they figure it out.
“The guards behind the boys will keep watch over the child each is standing behind and will prevent permanent injury or death, but that is the only protection any of the five will get. One way or the other, it will be settled today by those who started it.”
He then pointed to the guards. "You may now remove the boys from the rest of this hearing. Their crime is of being boys, nothing more, nothing less. Since everyone in this room currently is a male, we are all equally guilty of doing very similar things if not worse. None of them are criminals and all five should be praised for the way they have handled this hearing.
“On the other hand, since their dispute was so rudely interrupted by adults, this matter is not over. Until we are all there to witness its conclusion, they are to remain separated. The next time they will see each other will be at the school and none of them are to utter a sound until dropped in the pit. My guards will make sure none of the five have any injuries and they are all to be given a decent meal of their choosing. We shall use my discretionary funds to pay for their meals. Should they choose to fight, which is their right, all need to be in the best of health so no one can say any favoritism was being directed one way or the other.”
“I understand the two guilded boys have guards. They will each be given two minutes to let their guards know of my decision and the guards may shadow them if they like. However, no conversations may take place beyond the first interaction. Likewise, the other three will be given two minutes with their parents so they can inform mothers and fathers where to go and where they will be, should any of the three wish to do so. Once this is done, no further interactions with anyone other than my guards will be allowed and the five boys are to remain silent. Speaking to one of my guards will guarantee a full day in stocks for each and every word spoken. Furthermore, make sure all five are in decent and warm clothing until they get undressed at the side of the pit. It is far too cold for any of them to be without proper clothing. Again, use my funds as need to make sure they are properly outfitted. Just make sure you buy clothing they are comfortable with.”
With a wave he dismissed the five guards. Each one, placed a hand on the back of the boy in front of them and pushed them toward different doors leading out of the large chamber.
Glaster glanced back only to see both his boys looked totally shocked by the judge’s decrees. On the other side of the room, the look on the other three boys’ faces bordered on terror. One had tears streaming down his cheeks well before the guard assigned to him got him out of the chamber.
Glaster took a deep breath, not having expected anything close to what had been announced. At the same time, he could find no fault in it. The whole clothing thing was a bit mystifying, but he figured the man would soon give an explanation. He was not to be disappointed.
The moment the kids were gone, the judge stood and stretched. He then looked at the large pile of sliced up clothing by the Magistrate of Rolling Dale and the two items next to Glaster. "Now I can deal with the real problem at hand, and the guilty party does not have to say a word for his own foolishness has given away who was at fault.
“Five boys came in here dressed as merchants, only two left. The fault of this lies not with the boys, for they were only doing what was instructed. Instead one of the two of you tried to hide the truth, covering it up both literally with clothing, and figuratively with basic behavior training. Neither was successful and both very foolish.”
He walked over to the pile of clothing, “Children are not born able to be comfortable in fancy clothing. Instead they get trained to deal with it.”
He reached down and picked up the collared shirt with the ruffles in the front. “The blond boy wearing this was not used to the way the collar rubbed on the back of his neck. He pulled at it trying to make it comfortable.”
He dropped the ruined shirt and picked up the puffy pants. “I had my guards leave the doors open so there was a bit of draft going though the chamber. The blue eyed lad wearing this found out the loose light fabric blew around a bit when the air circulated in here. It started making his legs itch so he scratched. It was not his fault; you scratch an itch, so did he. The problem is, he was not used to it.”
Once again he dropped the sliced up britches and picked up one of the boots. “It takes more than a few days to learn to properly walk in a heeled boot let alone stand unmoving in them. The back of the foot is held off the ground at a strange angle unless one is used to wearing them. The tall boy was first to falter under the unusual way he had to stand. His lankiness and still small feet contributed to his quick discomfort. He was doomed from the moment some fool forced him to stick his foot inside something he had never worn before.”
He dropped the boot and moved over to where Mylan and Klandon stood. “Now over here, we have the opposite effect.” He picked up Klandon’s cloak. The lad wearing this pulled it back off his shoulders after nearly an hour, not because he was not used to it, but because I gave the rest of my men orders to shut the outer doors once quite a bit of clothing was removed to prevent anyone getting too cold. He got hot and wanted to get more comfortable. Understandable, but not proper when in front of a judge."
He quickly exchanged the cloak for the pouch. He smiled widely as he hefted it up. “Now this is the most humorous of all, for this is simply a matter of having a pouch way too full to be standing for well over an hour. This is simply a boy who has some coin and wants it with him. Not the greatest idea, but it clearly shows he has some wealth.” He tossed it over to Glaster. “You should remind him about thieves and pick pockets in a city of this size.”
The judge took a deep breath, “Now, just out of interest, I would like to know why you,” He pointed in the Magistrate’s face, “felt the need to hide what caste the three boys who stood behind you were in?”
The magistrate’s face turned ashen white, “I… I… Well they needed to look good for the hearing and I…”
The Regional Captain of the Guard glared at the magistrate, “No, they are peasant boys; they didn’t need to look like anything more than what they are! You arrested two children of a higher cast, a much higher caste, because you wanted to look important. This whole farce is of your doing. As I stated, boys will be boys. If you had ordered all five into stocks I could have even dealt with such a decision since no one wants fighting and brawls in their cities. This, however, reeks of a selfish pompous ass who only cares about himself and his position of power.”
The magistrate shook with fury, “I care about this town and everyone in it!”
“Really?” Glaster asked in a very calm voice.
“Of course I do! They are all part of this glorious kingdom.”
“What about the refugees?”
“What about them?” The magistrate snorted, showing a measure of disgust.
Glaser kept his voice and face totally neutral, “Are they not part of this glorious kingdom as well?”
“Well of course they are.” The magistrate answered slowly.
Glaster bowed to the judge, “Well then, by his own admission he is doing something far more detrimental to the kingdom than simply having merchant boys locked up.”
The Regional Captain of the Guard frowned deeply. “Those are strong words. You best have some proof of treachery before you go one step further.”
“I do.” Glaster stated, “If I may be allowed to summon witnesses?”
“You may take your leave.”
“What is this!?” The magistrate shouted as Glaster exited the hall.
The judge pointed at the magistrate. “Not another word until I hear what is going to be said. If it proves to be false the man accusing you will be whipped bloody, if not… Well, I will deal with this as a king appointed judge and take appropriate action.”
He turned to a pair of his guards, “I do not like the sound of this at all. Gather the rest of the troop and secure this palace. As of now, all city guards are to be moved out, forcibly if necessary.”
As his men exited the hall Glaster re-entered. Behind him was Klent along with Jory who was next to dragging the boy they had captured back in the woods."
The judge’s frown deepened and he lowered his hand to rest on the pommel of his sword. “What are the crimes of this boy?”
Glaster held up his hand, “Give me a moment and I assure you all will become clear.”
Glaster then glanced back at the Magistrate, “So you, by the king’s decree are supposed to help protect refugees from Everone and you say you have the best interest of our King at heart. Is this correct?”
The magistrate swallowed hard but said nothing seeing the way both Klent and Jory were looking at him and the absolute terror in the eyes of the well tied and gagged child with them.
Glaster shrugged. “As the king’s judge, I would like to introduce you to the leader of a mercenary group I hired. Klent, please step forward.”
Klent advanced and took a knee.
The judge nodded and motioned for Klent to stand while looking deep into Glaster’s eyes. “Why, exactly, did you hire a mercenary group?”
"They are actually looking for something for me, but while they do so, I tasked them with getting rid of bandits in the area after I found out many refugees were being attacked as they fled the fighting. From what I found out in the camps just outside the walls many have been beaten robbed and even killed as they moved up the lower passes toward Rolling Dale. Being a former member of the King’s court, I took it on myself to give a commission to this man and his party to help those poor souls.
“Late last night Klent came to me with some rather disturbing news. It seems some of the guards and a large section of the local royalty are paying bandits to dispose of those fleeing Everone. The reason for this is to cut back on having to render aid, food, and land to them. This young captive was part of one of these groups and has firsthand knowledge of this. A mind master can, with a bit of probing, gain proof of this.”
The judge shook with fury. Without another word he stepped forward and grabbed the tied child and lifted him by the front of his blood caked shirt. “Is this true?”
Tears poured out of the boy’s eyes as he nodded.
The judge yanked the gag off the boy taking out a hunk of hair that was tangled in the knot holding it in place. The child screamed in pain but didn’t get a chance to do anything else as he found himself being shaken extremely hard. “Do you know who?”
The sobbed and wildly nodded his head, “They killed him”
“So you are useless!” The judge drew his dagger.
“No wait!” The boy wailed.
“You know more?”
The boy again nodded as he saw his refection of his face on the huge man’s dagger. He fought to speak between sobs “Me saw …the fat man… him paid us… But get money…. from the guy over there!” he nodded in the direction of the Magistrate.
The magistrate’s eyes went wide, “You little runt, I’ll kill…”
The judge flung the boy across the hall and turned smashing his gauntleted fist into the Magistrate’s gut cutting off the rest of the words. “You will do nothing other than tell me why you would defy the King’s wishes while telling me you have the best interests of the kingdom at heart!”
The Magistrate took almost a minute to recover, just to be able to stand. “Those so called refugees are fleeing their lands instead of fighting for them. They deserve no less! They come up here expecting someone else to protect them and feed them when they should be down in Everone fighting for their own lands!”
Glaster growled, “Most are peasants and have no land of their own! I should kill you right here.”
The judge held up his hand silencing Glaster, “Hold good merchant.” He then turned back to the Magistrate. “So, I want to get this straight, you are loyal to our King?”
“Of course I am.”
“Interesting. So, since I have been given commission by our King and have complete say over this whole matter you are also loyal to me, correct?”
The Magistrate looked a bit confused and it showed as he slowly nodded, “Well yes, you have our King’s direct authority.”
“Good. I am glad you are so agreeable to getting your new assignment then.” The judge’s lips twisted into a truly wicked grin.
The magistrate’s eyes went a bit wide, “What new assignment?”
The judge glanced over at Glaster with a sinister wink, "Why a promotion of sorts, my most loyal subject. For it seems the city of Ash Glen was over run and the entire royal family killed save for the earl’s youngest boy. Since we cannot expect a lad of only fourteen years to organize the shattered troops of the area let alone lead them in the retaking of Ash Glen I am making a change. The boy will come here and be given Rolling Dale. In exchange you, most loyal member of our kingdom, are to be granted the title of Earl of Ash Glen. All you have to do is retake it. As a guilded Warrior Adept, such an undertaking is perfect for you and once it is under your able hands you will have gained a true royal title. Until then, you are a landless ruler, so you have no power or authority outside the area of your lands until you get them back and start paying taxes to the man you have sworn you are loyal to, our King.
“Now leave this palace and meet me and the Silver Maple Inn before sunset. I will get you all the needed paperwork and the signet ring of Ash Glen.”
“I need to get my things…”
“What things? You are Earl of Ash Glen. Your property and wealth are down there, only a couple of leagues from the Black Dragon Homeland. All property up here including everything in this small palace is the property of the new Lord of Rolling Dale.” He dug into his pouch and pulled out a trio of gold coins and tossed them on the floor. This is to aid you in your journey, for my love of the kingdom and our king is great and I feel I must support your efforts to reclaim our lands. He crossed his arms, “You are dismissed good and loyal Earl of Ash Glen.”
Glaster’s eyes danced with merriment as he tossed three more gold coins on the floor and gave a proper bow to a member of low royalty. “Here is my contribution to your war effort as well. For I too love this kingdom and our King. Congratulations, Earl of Ash Glen!”
The shocked man shook with anger and fear as he chased down the six coins before leaving the room.
The Regional Captain of the Guard pulled off his judge’s collar and grinned, "I am glad you approve of my actions. Would you care to be the new Lord of Rolling Dale’s guardian and advisor until he receives his Primary guild rating?
“I am sorry. I have other tasks and I am on a royal mission.”
“As much as I understand, it is too bad. He will need a great deal of help and guidance. Any suggestions?”
“No one off the top of my head, but I will certainly give it some thought. In the mean time, I do have a couple of requests, however.”
Glaster pointed to the still bound and sobbing boy. "Give him to my mercenary troop as a prize for uncovering such treachery. I will continue to employ them and pay them since they are actively working for me. However, since they are also dealing with the bandit problem, it would also be beneficial if you would grant them military scout ranks. This way their actions will not be questioned by any soldiers they may come across.
“Lastly there is a pair of guards I need to speak to you about. One should be given a promotion and may be a good officer for the new Lord the other… Well let me just say I want to deal with him personally. As a matter of fact, I would not at all be opposed to having the two of us fully armed and armored in the pit after the five boys conclude their business.”
The Regional Captain of the Guard shrugged. Very well. You point them out and we shall make your requests happen.“ He then approached Klent. ”Mercenary leader, how many are in your group?"
Klent lowered his head showing proper respect, “Seven including the two of us here.”
The Captain gave a nod, “Well, the boy is young, but I see his guild pins. It is good to see one so young willing to take the fight to those opposing our King. I want to thank you both for your service to this kingdom.” He counted out 14 gold coins and handed them to Klent. "Distribute as you feel is right, but I hope at least one coin will go to each member of your team. This is my way of thanking you all for uncovering this horrible conspiracy.
“I expect you all to eat at my table tonight at the Silver Maple. Any willing to pledge their allegiance to this kingdom will be given the rank of advanced scout in our military as long as you are one of them and are willing to take on the rank of Scout Commander. Once your work for this merchant is done, you can send word and be added to payroll of the army if you so desire.”
“I will be only too happy to pledge such an oath. We will all be there Captain.”
“And you?” the Captain looked over to Jory.
Jory’s smile was huge and showed his pride at being asked. “Count me in, sir!”
“Excellent! But I am not a knight, so the proper title is Captain.” He patted Jory on the shoulder to show the boy he was in no way angry. “Now if you would kindly take this bawling whelp out of here. He is giving me a headache with his girlish shrieks. Do what you wish with him. He is your group’s property. I will have the paperwork for him with me tonight as well.”
Sergeant Tardot looked down from the walls of Slome with fear in his eyes. It was bad enough being the highest ranking non-injured guard in the city, but making it much worse was the fact the Governor and the Teacher of the Swordsman school where both outside the walls, and had not been heard from since the dual eruptions of magic from Bloody Rock. The first assaults against Slome had almost overwhelmed the gate defenders and had decimated the ranks of the remaining city guards. Fortunately, but somewhat disconcertingly, a vast force of Pantherlings and Dragonlings showed up and offered assistance.
With little to lose and the fate of thousands in his hands, Sergeant Tardot met with them and realizing the whole city would fall under another assault, he begrudgingly decided to take their offer of assistance at face value. Now he was beyond glad he had done so.
He looked out and cringed as Morg and Goblins with Green and Black Dragonling support poured out of the woods for the fourth time in less than three days. At the same time a pair of Dragons launched out of the woods and made straight for the main gates of the city. The city’s walls were impressive but were certainly not meant to handle a full military assault let alone one with Dragon support.
“By the gods, Dragons!” he shouted, “Load the siege weapons!”
A Silver Dragonling moved up shaking his head, “Hold. They want to find your heavy weaponssss! We are more than ready for thissss!”
Sergeant Tardot took a deep breath, clenched his fists then motioned for the Dragonling’s orders be followed then closed his eyes and said a brief prayer to Zerris.
The Dragonling pointed to a rank of Blue and Silver Dragonlings hidden behind the outer walls and yelled, “Hornssss! Dual Warrior Dragon Attack!”
Without further instruction the leader of the Dragonlings gave a hard nod and pointed to his squad. The 9 Silvers all hosted huge swirled horns and blew into them creating a weird, yet very loud, warbling tone.
A response was instantaneous. Two Dragons swooped from the clouds and dove on the two coming out of the woods, catching both by surprise. The first pass of the diving Dragons ripped scores of scales off the two coming out of the woods and left deep bloody wounds, cutting off the main support of the attack before it got started. Once certain the threat of a breath weapon assault had been dealt with, or at least stalled, Pantherlings outside the Slome walls leapt out of trenches hastily dug over the last few days and braced against those charging them.
Less than 300 meters from the front gate, Pantherlings, aided by a sizable force of Silver and Blue Dragonlings held firm as another brutal assault slammed into their lines. At first the lines bent slightly as Morg and Goblins alike tried to breach a single spot, but within minutes the much more agile Pantherlings shifted forces from less pressed areas. Before the assault had really gotten started the attackers lost momentum and quickly found themselves in retreat.
At the same time, those in the lead ranks found escape routes cut off. Surrounded, they did their best to fight out of the encirclement, but very few made it. The vast majority were mercilessly beaten down or killed. Only a handful of those coming out of the woods were taken captive without grave injury.
Slightly behind the larger two warring Dragons, another Dragon, a Blue, roared in victory and circled the carcass of a Black Dragon it had just brought down only 200 meters from the west tower. Still, half a dozen archers on the walls screamed in pain as they felt some of their skin being eaten by the acidic cloud of death the Black Dragon had gotten off before the Blue Dragon’s teeth had found its wing and snapped it. The Blue didn’t let up. It came in hard with claws fully extended slicing through the armored black scales of the Black Dragon before it could recover from its tremendous impact with the ground. A final clamping of its teeth on the neck of the mortally wounded Black Dragon finally finished it off.
Above, a Warrior Silver Dragon and a slightly larger Warrior Green Dragon fired off breath weapons at each other and did an aerial ballet of death with claws extended and teeth glistening off the late afternoon sun. Blood of the Green Dragon rained down on those below, as the wounds from the Silver Dragon’s first surprise attack continued to openly hemorrhage. Although badly injured it showed no willingness to back down or flee, but once it realized it was two on one, it made an attempt to back off.
It dove sharply, angling away from the battle only to find the Silver Dragon’s claws ripping into almost the same area it had on the first surprise attack. The Green turned its head to snap at the Silver only to get a face full of the Silver’s breath weapon. The steam cloud was so hot it fried the eyes of the green inside its skull. It blacked out in a haze of pain, spiraled out of control and slammed back into the edge of the tree line. Trees snapped as did most of the bones in the Green Dragon’s body.
The defeat of both Dragons was the final straw. Morg, Goblins, and Dragonlings turned and fled. Many found the tables suddenly revered as both the Blue and Silver Warrior Dragons swooped in and let off their breath weapons, cutting down over a hundred of those fleeing.
The Silver Dragonling smiled as both the Blue and Silver Warrior Dragons angled back up into the safety of the clouds. He waved his arms signaling the horn blowers to send out another instrument generated command. With the triple horn blasts the Pantherling defenders and their Dragonling supports dove back into the trenches.
The Silver Dragonling pointed to Tardot. “Now fire your heavy weaponssss at full range!”
Tardot wasted no time, “Reset max range and fire!”
Within seconds over two dozen catapults sent everything from huge rocks to barrels of sharp spikes to flaming balls of Mystic created death hurling though the air. Those still in range of the weapons of war fell by the scores as rocks, spikes and fiery pitch slammed into their unprotected backs.
Tardot took a deep breath as he suddenly realized the battlefield had basically gone silent save for the distant crackling of the burning woods and the cries of wounded. Looking over the carnage, he had the sudden urge to puke. Hundred of bodies, the vast majority of them, Morg and Goblin, littered the once tranquil farm fields that normally surrounded the town. He closed his eyes and whispered a quick thanks to Zerris.
The Dragonling Commander patted Tardot on the shoulder, “You sssshould be thanking the red headed Halfelf, for he issss the one who managed to rally all of the reinforcementsss to defend the whole area including your town.”
“You mean Kandric?”
“You know of him?” the Dragonling asked in some awe.
Tardot swallowed hard, “Yeah, my men arrested him not too long ago.”
“And you lived?”
Tardot managed a half snicker as he saw the look of astonishment on the face of the Dragonling. “Only because he let us, I assure you. We worked out a business deal with him once we realized our mistake…” He paused as he suddenly realized what the Dragonling had said, “So you are fighting for this boy?”
A Pantherling scout nodded. “We all are, per orders of our respective Princes. Beyond the hill toward your Swamp Slums there is a large force of Dark Forest Elves and wrapping around to the north there is an army of allied Illorcs.” The Pantherling then pointed to the west to the outline of Bloody Rock, “My tribe, along with three others, is holding the line all the way to the river. Then there is massive contingent of Garm and Alphar cutting off all access to the Silver Spine passes and holding the red colored hill.”
“Alphar and Garm? I didn’t know they existed anymore!”
“Well, they do.” The Dragonling announced as he continued to scan the area for more threats.
Tardot gazed over the walls again noting the Pantherlings had emerged from their trenches and were sweeping the battlefield, collecting loot and tending to wounded. “OK, so your various Princes and leaders sent you all, but who is in overall command?”
“We have individual generals for our own forcesss. However, if you are looking for a distinct leader, you would have to find Kandric. It be him and him alone we were sssent to defend and protect. Therefore, he would be the overall commander of this combined army and any commands given by him would have to be followed.”
“How does a slum urchin garner this kind of support?”
The Dragonling snarled but his response was halted before he could make one.
Instead the Pantherling next to the Dragonling patted his comrade on the shoulder as he shrugged. “I know nothing of what you speak, but it would be in your better interests to not speak poorly of Kandric again. If he hails from a slum those days are past for he has more support than most kings. The whole reason this town is under our protections is we were told he has business interests here and after what he has done, we owe it to him to defend those interests.”
Tardot’s eyes went wide, “Well, he does have a fledgling business here, he negotiated it with me and a couple of my men, but what event could possibly give a mere boy such support…”
“He be no mere boy!” The Dragonling growled cutting off Tardot. “He be Kandric, Lord Kandric to you!”
The Pantherling shook his head in warning to Tardot, “Sergeant, let me caution you one last time, as his name starts to spread, it would be in your best interests to refrain from saying anything about the young man in a bad light, especially in front of any kind of Dragon-kin. Like it or not, he is now loved by some and hated by others of the dragon-born lines. However, it matters not which light Dragon-born see Kandric, he is to be feared and respected. To portray him as weak or something less than a leader of men and beasts is now, and will ever be, an insult to all Dragon races everywhere.”
Tardot looked stunned, “I don’t see how anyone, let alone a slum b…” he paused as the Dragonling growled. Taking a deep breath he glanced over at the Dragonling with a slight gulp, “A um, lad from the swamps could be so well known and gain the support of… well of all this!” He waved his hands as he gestured toward the battlefield going far as the eye could see in both directions from the top of Slome’s main gates.
The left side of the Pantherling’s mouth curled up into a half grin half snarl. “Well sergeant, the young man your people arrested is now acknowledged as Lord Kandric by Dragons who know what he has done and will be known by all the rest in short order. For it was he, with some assistance from his comrades, who cause all this. From what we are being told, it was by Kandric’s hand that two Great Dragons within the red hill fell.”
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