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    Kyle Aarons
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

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

The Kandric Saga - 26. Chapter 26

Kandric glanced over to his three friends as they made their way past lines of Garm and Alphar, all of whom stopped what they were doing to give Kandric a quick bow. “Are you all alright going back into Bloody Rock?”

Zeltoss was quick to nod as he pulled his Mace of the Dead. “I’d go through a river of fire if it meant staying with you.”

Seldnat quickly nodded agreement, twisting the staff spear so it changed into a spear. “Ya be me teach’r and me friend. Me want to be next to ya Teach’r.”

Lorthorn adjusted the Elvin Silver steel chain shirt Duke Mathard’s men had found and adjusted to fit him. “Prince Kandric, the only way I would not come is if you ordered me not to.”

Kandric took a deep breath, “Thank you, all of you.” He quickly turned to Duke Mathard, “Was there any other magic weapons among all those who we took down before the Great Green showed up? I am not thrilled with the idea of Lorthorn only having a magic dagger.”

Lorthorn started to hold up a hand, but was stopped as one of the Garm warriors next to Duke Mathard spoke up.

“Worry not Prince Kandric, we have already dealt with all the inadequacies of your guards’ equipment, even your hal…” he also most said something more as he pointed to Seldnat, but stopped himself after getting a sharp elbow from the Garm on the other side of him.

Mathard’s lead guard quickly took over as he saw Kandric frown deeply, “My Prince, we would never allow any of your guards to be equipped with anything less than the best. You have chosen them and they are due the respect of any royal guard.” He sent an icy stare at the other Garm warrior and shook his head in some aggravation. "Trust me, when I say we have done our utmost to properly outfit all three with the little advance notice we had. All their weapons are magical including their back up weapons and daggers.

"As far as what we found among those you killed, several had minor magic weapons, but nothing on par with what your other two guards are armed with. On the other hand, we did use much of what you did bring down to replace mundane weapons on all three of your guards. However, when we found you all, we noticed the young man you are referring to was armed with an axe and a hammer. Since both are preferred weapons of Garm and Dwarven warrior alike, we substituted both his weapons for those made by my Duke’s people.

“The Axe is specially made, as it has a pick like point on the back end to more easily puncture armor and thick scales. It also delivers a hard shock whenever it hits metal. Your guard’s hammer is a Lava Hammer; it’s forged out of one solid chunk of Dwarven Blue Steel in the fires of a volcano. With a word, the head will become fiery hot, nothing compared to your Frozen Flame, but still quite impressive. The down side is it draws magical energies from the wielder, so it has limited uses per day of its fiery effects. We have shown all three of your guards how to activate and use all their new equipment.”

Kandric gave a proper Dwarven bow to Mathard, “Thank you.”

“They deserve no less than the best equipment and,” Mathard glared at the first guard as he said the last word, “respect.”

The Garm warrior dropped his head, “My apologies my Prince.”

Kandric also let it go, but stopped and turned back to the guard, “I firmly believe an apology to my guard is also in order.”

A hint of anger flashed across the guards face, but he covered it quickly as he turned to Seldnat, “I am sorry, young royal guard member.”

Seldnat kind of shrugged, “It be OK, me used ta bein’ hated.”

“No,” Duke Mathard spoke up forcefully, “It is not alright. You are a loyal guard of an Alphar prince, and do not let any of my people imply otherwise! My subjects may not agree with Prince Kandric’s choices, but they best respect them and therefore you. Any slight against you is a slight against Prince Kandric and therefore also a slight against all Alphar, and by treaty Garm. There will be no more implications otherwise if my forces know what is good for them.”

As the group continued to move into the upper passages of Bloody rock, a silence fell over the group, Kandric and his friends wondering what had become of the students while the Garm tried to adjust to the fact a Halforc was not only part of their group but one who needed to be treated with respect.

For Kandric, all his thoughts were focused on those he had promised to protect. Out of all the things Glaster and the countless others Glaster had paid vast sums of money to train him had stressed, was the importance of a teacher to be as loyal to his students as they were to the teacher. He shook his head in frustration as he thought back to how all of those he had taken into Bloody Rock had looked to him and treated him with admiration he had never known before. He was not some “Halfer”, swamp kid, or even a child. He was their Teacher and nothing less. Now they were all stuck somewhere in the catacombs of a place no one had ever realized existed all within eyeshot of their home town, a place he had brought them to.

The problem, now, was the amount of damage done by the magical explosions following the deaths of the two Great Dragons had caused countless cave-ins, totally changing the look of everything. A number of times Duke Mathard’s scouts stopped and looked back to him and his three friends, only to find them looking around blankly and shrugging.

Continuing to move deeper into Bloody Rock, Kandric finally sheathed his sword. “It sure looks like your forces have cleaned the place out, Duke Mathard.”

“Do not take this complex as being secure, my Prince.” The lead scout responded instantly. “The upper areas, along with all caves leading to the outside have been checked, and there has been some sporadic fighting, but we have hit pockets of heavy resistance deeper in. As we continue to go down, your sword very well may be needed.”

Duke Mathard nodded, “Also keep in mind Prince Kandric, we have not, as of yet, found the great Green’s hatchery. There are sure to be heavy forces guarding both it and the treasure room. No dragon is without wealth, and certainly not a Great. Also, we have yet to find King Blathamort’s stash.”

“Would he even have one here?”

“Yes.” Duke Mathard stated without hesitation. “We took out a vast number of his guards, so this was clearly a base of his, if not the Black Dragon Empire. Somewhere in this maze, he is certain to have a sizable treasure, probably defended by creatures, traps, and very possibly a Dragon or two. The only problem is, we have no idea if it is even accessible without digging to find it. You created quite a mess down here.”

“So I have noticed.” Kandric grumbled. “Without your scouts leading the way, I would have no clue where I am.”

Duke Mathard chuckled and gave Kandric a hardy pat on the back. Several hours later, as everyone else took a break and sat on a section of collapsed rocks, Kandric paced like he was in a cage. Finally, out of frustration, Kandric kicked at a large rock lying in the middle of the passage sending it skittering across the cave floor. “Almost none of this looks familiar. I occasionally see something I am certain we passed by, but then there is a mound of rocks were I expect to see something else. Above ground I would be able to do the tracking myself, but down here I am all but lost!”

Duke Mathard motioned for Kandric to come over and take a seat next to him. “Being underground is totally different than being in the wilderness above. Let my people take you as far as we were able to track your group, then we can go from there.”

“Him be right, Teach’r.” Seldnat stated. “Der be too much fallin’ rock fer me ta tell what’s what no more.”

Kandric cleared his throat and turned before any of the rather shocked Garm could say anything. “Seldnat, the man you are calling ‘him’ is a duke. When you speak of Duke Mathard it should be with his title at least, if not his full title and name.”

Duke Mathard held up his hand to prevent any from his group from adding to the conversation, allowing Kandric to deal with the matter in the way he felt best.

“Now,” Kandric continued, “I want you to point out what you just did and remember whom you are talking about.”

Seldnat gulped as he saw the look in Kandric’s eyes. “Me sorry, Mister Duke, me no be close ta no royal folk b’fore.”

Duke Mathard again held up his hand to prevent any words from his forces. “Young man, your oversight is totally understandable. But I believe your Teacher requested you speak to my men again, but this time try to use my title when you talk to them. To talk to me, you should first ask permission or be doing so only to warn me of something.”

Seldnat’s thick Halforcish brow scrunched up as he gave it a moment of thought, gave a quick nod, then turned back to the lead scout, “Me sorry; Me no know dis. Da Duke be right ’ough. Too much rock fall all over, me no see same as when me come down first time.”

Duke Mathard gave Seldnat a brief, albeit forced, smile then turned to his small party. “Remember there are no official royalty up here, and regardless of who or what we run into, chances are they will have no clue how to handle being around me. Keep this in mind as we deal with others from above the Silver Spine, and when possible allow Prince Kandric to correct them. There is no reason to see such actions as disrespect to me or our Garm nation, when they would be doing the exact same thing to any other member of royalty. Also remember, as discussed earlier, these three are Prince Kandric’s personally chosen guards. They should be given the respect due any prince’s guards.” He paused as a rather devious smirk crossed his facial features. “You all may also wish to consider the fact the three boys with Prince Kandric helped him in the fight where he killed both the Great Green and King Blathamort. They didn’t back down from a pair of dragons, so my guess is they are not likely to back down from any of you either.”

One of the Garm Miners noticeably gulped and took an involuntary step away from Seldnat, causing both Lorthorn and Zeltoss to fight off a snicker. Noticing this, the lead scout took a deep, rather annoyed, breath and pointed to a side passage. “We had to do some work to reopen the passage, but we lost the trail of your group right down here.”

Kandric glanced over, noting a cave-in blocked most of it, but it was clear a crew of Garm had spent several hours to move much of the debris and open a narrow hole though to the other side. Finally the group stepped though to a massive chamber with bloody smears all over the floors and walls, Black Dragonling scales also still littered the floor. The lead scout spoke again. “My Prince, this is where we lost any signs of the group you came in with.”

Kandric let out a long sigh, “It all looks the same.” He turned to the others in his original group, “What about the rest of you?”

Lorthorn chewed on his lower lip for a few seconds. “Teacher, I think this is where we went back for food, but there was another huge passage where those boulders now are.” The Elvin boy pointed to a section of the cavern now blocked by boulders, some the size of large huts.

Seldnat slowly nodded, “Him be right teach’r. All da dead be missin’ too!”

Duke Mathard nodded, “Yes, this is the last place we found bodies. This is also where we fought King Blathamort’s Dragonling guards, so it was quite a mess. My people have cleaned up the majority of what you all left behind, but in this chamber we ended the lives of most of the Elite guards assigned to the former Black Dragon King, so much of this blood is from our battle. This is also where we first saw Blathamort. He came from the area behind the cave-in, so you are correct about the passage being on the far side.”

Kandric finally nodded, “Alright, we backtracked all the way back up to the kitchen from here, but I didn’t see the way we came the second time. It must be hidden behind another cave-in.”

“I think Kandric…” Noting more than a few of the Garm around him frown deeply he held up his hands, “Um, sorry, I think Teacher Kandric is right.” Zeltoss glanced around realizing even this didn’t totally make some of the Garm happy, but at least took off their angry looks. Finally he glanced over toward Lorthorn knowing the other boy had at least some knowledge of Royal protocol.

After a few moments of uneasy silence, Lorthorn glanced over to Duke Mathard. “Duke Mathard, if I may?”

This time Duke Mathard gave a hint of a genuine smile while motioning with an arm gesture for the boy in front of him to continue.

Lorthorn gave a slight bow, “Duke Mathard, I think our best bet is to get to where Teacher…. Um Prince Kandric?”

Mathard again smiled, "Son, you may call him either, although Prince is more correct. However, I believe Prince Kandric is not totally comfortable with his royal heritage quite yet, so Teacher is fine, especially since it is clearly what you are more comfortable with.

“In due time I hope our young prince will accept the fact he is very high royalty. One thing for sure, all Dragon kind will surly treat him as such. As a matter of fact, since he has killed a Great Dragon… two to be precise, you may also call him Premier Kandric. Premier is an ancient title, predating the Mythling wars, given to those who stood up to and killed a Great Dragon. As a matter of fact, it is widely believed there was no such thing as a Warrior Adept primary field until the first Great Dragon was killed by one of other races. Since Prince Kandric has now fell two, it very well may be the most fitting title, especially since he is reluctant to lean on heritage, instead wanting to be known for what he has accomplished.”

Duke Mathard glanced over to Kandric, “So how does Premier Kandric sound to you?”

Kandric rolled his eyes, “Well if, for some silly reason, I need to be known as something other than just Kandric, Teacher or Premier is much better than Prince. At least it is something I have earned out of merit.”

“My Prince?” One of the junior scouts spoke.

Kandric took a deep breath, “You have an idea?”

“More of an observation, my Prince. My time as a Ruinseeker trainee in Duke Mathard’s Court has given me access to tomes most will never see, some so ancient they are not written on paper, but instead thin sheets of fabric woven with gold and silver to help them to not age.”

“Wow, I would die for a chance to check them out!” Kandric next to shouted.

“Any time you wish to come up to Winter Creek, you will be allowed access, Prince Kandric.” Mathard laughed at how easily it was to get Kandric excited over something new to him.

“I will certainly take you up on the offer My Duke!” Kandric stated with jubilance. He then turned back to the Ruinseeker scout. “So continue. I really want to hear your thoughts. Anything has got to be better than the crazy things swirling around inside me.” Kandric half snickered.

The Garm managed a smile, “My Prince, you need to set yourself apart from others by taking some kind of a title, or go back to the ancient toms and select a second name, maybe even both. You may not want to, but I have more than a few reasons why I say this.”

Kandric took a seat on a large rock dislodged by the magical eruptions he caused “By all means, let us hear it.”

The Garm scout gave a perfect bow, "My Prince, you cannot simply walk around and be known by your given singular name any longer. The name Kandric will spread, and spread fast. Like it or not, want it or not, your name will be added into history as one of great power. By your own hand, you have become one with the greatest known mythic heroes such as the Legendary Highman, Greysac, founder of the first Highman and Human kingdom, and probably even the god Rovnar, as he was famed for killing multiple dragons.

"It will not be long before parents name their offspring after you, most by using variants of your name. Not only do you need a way to set yourself apart from others who will certainly be given your name, but the Dragon Races will undoubtedly select one for you if you do not take one. At least this way, you have some choice in the matter and my Duke is very much correct. In the times of Mythlings, Premier was a title granted the same respect as a low King or High Prince. It is also one your family will certainly take as a title befitting of your heritage as well as your achievements.

“Furthermore, the dragon races will see your selecting such a title as a sign of respect to them. Some will certainly hate you, and always will. However, even those of the Green and the Black Dragon nations will still defer to it and will begrudgingly take heart at the fact you have gone back to Mythling times to find such a title.”

Kandric put his elbows on his thighs and dropped his head into his hands. With a large sigh he finally nodded, “OK fine, Premier it is, but I still want students to call me Teacher… although, I am certain I am well above the level of a teacher now.”

While the others gasped, Mathard simply nodded. “You killed a pair of Great Dragons, Premier Kandric. I am sure you are well into Expert Echelon now.”

Kandric fired a sideways glance over at Mathard and pointed his finger toward the ceiling then put a finger up to his lips so the Garm Duke didn’t say anything.

Mathard’s eyes went wide as he mouthed the word ‘Master?’ without actually verbalizing it.

Kandric nodded slightly and rolled his eyes. He then nodded back toward Lorthorn, so the conversation and attention could be turned away from him.

Duke Mathard gave a slight but knowing grin and pulled at his beard to further take attention away from Kandric, “So young Lorthorn, you were going to say something before we got redirected onto matters of name and title. What was it you were going to point out to us?”

Lorthorn once again gave Duke Mathard a slight bow, “Duke Mathard, if your people could get us back to where Teacher… Premier Kandric… fell the two Great Dragons, we could take you to the vent we took to get down to where we fought them. We should be able to find them if we can find a way back up the shaft we came down.”

Kandric snapped his finger, “Great idea! The air shaft going up may be the best way to find the rest of our group, especially since I sent one of the students back to get the others. With any luck, they could be in the very chamber we climbed down from.”

The miner shook his head, “I am sorry my Prince; we have already checked there after hearing about how you got down to the Green’s inner chamber area. The shaft is now blocked as well, but we have a crew trying to clear it.”

“Get us there.” Kandric commanded as he jumped up. “We found Teacher Saslara’s necklace down there. We can at least look for her and the others while your people try to clear the way so I can link back up with the group I was with.”

The lead scout gave a deep bow, “As you command Premier Kandric.”

 

Conner finally fell back on the bed exhausted. His youth had allowed him to three times achieve a climax, but each time the Head Priestess of Vindayin seemed to move his first willing experience in bed with another to a new level. With his body totally drenched in sweat, he let out a couple of deep breaths. “I never knew…”

The Vindayin Priestess smiled warmly and moved her fingers over Conner’s lips tenderly, silencing him. Even though she was every bit as fatigued after the almost two straight hours of trying to conquer each other, she knew she had to teach one last lesson before she left the barge. Slowly she moved her hands down the body of the youngster. She let her fingers linger over sensitive areas a bit longer, but not long enough to do more than give Conner a bit of a tickling sensation.

Even as Conner shivered with the new sensation of just being touched without any force attached to it, his mind was sent reeling a bit. In the past he had sold himself for the pleasure of others. In the orphanage, it had been the only way to earn coin to buy things needed to survive the bitterly cold winters in the drafty buildings just inside the south wall of Junsac. Then, when Anarton had made the offer to teach him in the arts of a Mage and a Wraith, the only extra price attached had been as a bed partner whenever the man wanted him.

The nights with Anarton were not bad, not by a long shot. He had never beaten him, tied him up or brutalized him the way many of those paying for his body had done. However, just like those who paid to do what they wanted to him, Anarton had always been the one in absolute control. His own pleasure meant nothing to anyone, only their own selfish satisfaction.

This time had been totally different. He had been not only allowed to take the lead but encouraged, yet as he tried to take over he found a partner more than capable of handling him, turning it into a competition, a wild ride of feelings of power mixed with a desire to outperform yet without any real demands.

With the Vindayin Priestess’ hands moving all over him, he found it hard to put all his feelings into categories let alone words. Part of him realized pleasure of not having to be submissive to another was beyond wonderful, making him wonder what it would be like to turn the situation around and pay for someone he could do what he wanted with. Another side of him, however, screamed into his mind’s eye that to do to others what had been done to him would not be nearly as pleasurable as what he had just experienced, was still experiencing. His confusion lingered even as the woman finished her tender rub down.

The Vindayin Priestess saw the befuddlement cross Conner’s eyes as she finally pulled her hands back from him and reached for her clothing, “So, should I take the time to find you once you have dealt with whatever problems face you in Rolling Dale?”

Conner stretched, realizing as he did so, the two hours spent with the woman had been on par with any Sect Warrior workout. “How long will I have to wait?”

The woman snickered softly, “You have important tasks to complete. I will find you again. Until then, I hope you will reflect on what you have learned today.”

Conner’s eyebrows scrunched up, “What I learned?”

The Priestess stood and started dressing, "Young warrior, whenever you lust over someone weaker than you, you will never find the satisfaction equal to a relationship based on more equal terms.

"You have forgotten or may have never felt the unconditional love of a parent, and probably therefore forgotten what such a love even is. You have a huge heart; find a way to open it a little. To do so does not make you weaker, but it will create some vulnerabilities which are needed to really feel for others.

"Now before I go, Conner, I want you to know, what you felt here today is a reward made greater because we were more or less on equal terms. In this case I allowed myself to give you some power, without ever taking control, and took back when you started trying to master me. Until you learn how to do this, you will never be able to fully be a part of anything worth living for.

“My only other advice to you at this point is to first make sure you have everyone and everything fully secured when you all go down the river.” She smiled, “And this time don’t try to play the hero. Just ride this one out safely below decks. I seriously doubt Vindayin would be happy if you wasted the healing the great lady of the forest took time to personally give you.”

 

Glaster entered the outer walls of the Rolling Dale Swordsman School sporting something he seldom wore. He was dressed in blackened leather armor with Elvin Silver Steel reinforcements over vulnerable areas, a long sword on his left hip and a jeweled dagger on his right. His cloak was even more impressive. Its black back was embroidered with a pouncing tiger in silver, had ruby eyes and what appeared to be real teeth. The inside of the winter cloak was bright red and held dual crests, one at the bottom of each corner. The one on the right showed him to be an advisor to the king, while the other was a royal crest of some other kind, not known to any who saw, but clearly marked him as a member of upper royalty. Finally the twin clasps holding the cloak to the shoulders of the armor, were twin Master Echelon Guild pins. The one on the right was from the Shaman guild and the one on the left was from the Outdoorsman guild.

Those who really took a good look and were observant enough could also make out the fact the clasp holding the sword in its sheath was yet another Master Echelon pin, this for the Lockmaster Guild. Very few, however, got close enough to note this fact. As a matter of fact, most gave him and the boy with him plenty of room. Even the city officials and the wealthiest of those who decided to brave the cold took a step back as Glaster made his way up to the gates leading to the combat pit.

Glaster studied the backdrop with a careful eye, noting the students of the school were lined up along the wooden stockade just outside the main grounds. As members of the upper classes came in, each would point to a student so the youngster could direct them to an appropriate seat. Those of higher casts often times handed over some coin and directed the student they selected to bring them food or drink as well. With a bit of a smirk, he quickly noticed many of those using the students were well below his position, and thus he decided to see just how far he could push what was clearly a rather unique city custom.

He stopped and looked up and down the line of students, noting many of them were looking at him with wide eyes, and many adjusted their stances to become even more ridged than they already were. Finally his eyes settled on a lad of small stature, long golden colored hair, and sad yet not quite defeated looking sky blue eyes. His left eye still had a dark puffiness to it and his left hand was bandaged in thick wrappings which didn’t look the cleanest.

A deep frown crossed his features as he looked down the line, noting quite a few others also looked a bit worse for the wear, but none to the degree the golden haired lad. Finally, his annoyed gaze fell on a Training Echelon step five teen of no more than fourteen who also wore a Training Echelon step five Healthman Guild pin. The youngster’s build was clearly one of a budding Swordsman, but it was the way he held himself, his totally neutral expression, and his unflinching stare which really caught Glaster’s eye.

The teen quickly noticed Glaster’s attention was on him. He approached Glaster and bowed, “Master, may I take you to your seat?”

“No.” Glaster stated with a hard edge to his voice, “I am trying to decide who I want to seat me.”

“Of course Master.” The teen gave a bow and started to back up clearly a bit confused since the man’s eyes clearly had been on him.

“Boy, did I dismiss you?” Glaster barked, stopping the lad cold in his tracks while causing others in the line to stiffen even a bit more. Yet, even as all the other step five trainees flinched, the young man in front of him did not. Even behind Glaster, those coming to get seated also backed up, clearly not wanting to cross a man with Master Echelon Guild pins and royal crests.

The boy’s tone showed a bit of fear, but he held his ground. “My mistake Master, I was just trying to get out of your way so you could take your choice of us.”

Glaster stared at the teen for a few moments but it was more than enough to get beads of sweat to pop up on the young man’s forehead, even as a cold breeze whipped though the area. On the other hand, the student didn’t squirm or turn his gaze away to look for help from anyone. This was just enough for Glaster to hold his irritation in check. “A question first.”

“Anything Master.” The boy stated clearly relieved the man in front of him didn’t seem overly angry.

“I cannot help but note some of the students in this line do not appear to be in nearly the good health of most of the others. What are their transgressions?”

The teen took a deep breath, but after a mere moment’s hesitation he decided to speak the truth. “They are refugees from the south, Master. The school is full and overflow barracks are packed as well. Because of this and the fact there has been no new barracks built to handle the continuing flow of dispossessed students from below the passes, we of the Rolling Dale School have standing orders to see if they are truly worthy of staying at the expense of the city. We also get a coin bonus and extra privileges for each one who bangs the bell because of us.” The youngster pointed to a large bronze bell in a tower in the center of the compound. “Any who ring it are dismissed with a small stipend and their names get reported to the Guild for removal from the list of the Swordsman’s Guild.”

Glaster kept a totally straight face and his tone gave no hint of anger. “You realize to do such a thing, all but blackballs those who do so from ever again being admitted to the local guild, and may even prevent them from testing should they find another way to complete their training?”

“I do Master.”

“I see.” Glaster once again paused and looked down the line to the boy he had first noticed. “Is there punishments for not helping to force out refugee students?”

“Yes Master.” The boy nodded vigorously, “Those who are deemed not to be… pushing… the refugee students with enough… um… zeal… are um… well food rations are cut, bunks in the outer buildings are assigned where there is little heat, and… well the city guard often use them for training and other purposes.”

“What of the refugee students? How are they treated?”

This time the teen in front of Glaster actually had a slight note of disgust in his voice. “Much the same as those who do not try to push them out of the school, except they get full rations, but only after the rest of us eat. They get equal training time, as our teachers refused the request of the city magistrate to do less. On the other hand, refugees seldom get the level of Healthman care the rest of us do. A few of us are tasked with giving them treatment to build on our Healthman skills, but even then, what we are given to work with during the times we are allowed to treat them are not the same quality as what we get when we help the paying students of the school. They almost never get care from our Healthman instructors either.”

Glaster nodded and gripped the teen’s shoulder while looking straight into the boy’s brown eyes. “Honesty is a good trait, son, one which just saved you from a rather painful experience. How close are you to graduation?”

The boy gulped at Glaster’s words but his gaze back into Glaster’s eyes didn’t falter. “I test again in one moon’s time, Master. I failed my first test two moons ago, but was told with just a bit more work on my shield use, I will certainly succeed. I have doubled my workout times with all weapons and took extra shield use classes with everyone I could find who would give me one, even if it meant providing extra services. I am certain I can pass now, but the Guild said three moons, so I will continue to train until then.”

“If I can get you a test tomorrow, are you certain you will pass it.”

The teen’s eyes went wide with surprise, but his voice was very strong and full of excitement. “Yes Master!”

“If I get you the test will you sign on with me as a trained Swordsman guard and trainer for my new apprentice for a period of no less than two years?” Glaster grabbed Perth by the shoulders and yanked him so he was standing in front of the teen.

“My pay, Master?”

For the first time a bit of a nasty undertone edged into Glaster’s voice. “Pay will be fitting of a new Swordsman for a long term contract. It will also remove any taint in you for your actions against the refugees.”

For the first time a hint of guilt passed though the kid’s eyes. With a light sigh he nodded, “Understood. I will be ready for testing whenever you can arrange it.”

“Excellent.” Glaster paused, still gripping the boy’s shoulder. Finally he lowered his voice so others couldn’t hear. “One last item. There is a student down where the step twos are. He is a bit small, has a black eye, and hand wrapped. What do you know of him?”

“Very little, Master. The only thing I have heard is rumors about him being a freed slave, but he has no brands, whip marks, or marks around his wrists or ankles or other signs of being restrained. I treated his hand a few days ago, after some of the others tricked him into grabbing a blade hilt they had heated over a fire. I took the time to give him a full once over since it is rare for a refugee to get unlimited time with even one of us Healthman students, so I took it when given. His face shows only part of what he has been put through here. The rest of him is as badly bruised, if not worse. I have heard some of the others placing bets on him being the next to ring the bell several times over the last seven moons, but he just won’t do it. I’m not even sure anyone knows his name. If it is known, I have never heard it. He did not tell me when I worked on him, but much is my own fault since I didn’t bother to ask either.”

Total fury flashed into Glaster’s eyes. “Who burned his hand?”

This time the young student held up his hand and had to force himself not to take a step back, “I have no idea. He didn’t tell me any names when I worked on him. He only told me some of the older ones handed him the sword by the blade and two of them grabbed him and forced his hand to stay clenched around it. One of the school guards broke it up and brought him to me, but he is out on patrol with his squad, so he is not available to speak with. My guess is, it had to be whoever bet on him being the next to go.” He paused, “If it was, they lost, cause a girl rang the bell the next morning.”

“Good for him.” Glaster stated. “Would you have a problem continuing his training as well?”

“No Master, but I don’t think the school will let you take…”

“Before the pit closes for the night, someone will or there will not be a Teacher left standing to train the rest of the students for the next week or so.” Glaster stated with total certainty. “In the mean time, I want you to make him tell you which students burned him.”

“We are tasked with taking care of guests, Master. I will not have a chance to talk to him.”

“Leave the how up to me, and let him know, there will be no repercussions for him telling you. However, there will be if he does not, and they will be from me. You may also wish to inform him I will arrange a rather fitting punishment for those who did this to him. In exchange, he will belong to me until he reaches Primary Echelon.”

“What if he says no?”

“Make sure he understands his options are very limited and of those he has, saying no to me is not one of them.”

“Very well, I will get you the information you want, Master.”

Finally Glaster released the boy’s shoulder and spoke loudly. “You, boy, direct me to my seat and have the pitiful whelp with the bandaged hand down there fetch my apprentice and me a hot drink. Cider would be nice.” Glaster pushed a pair of gold coins into the shocked boy’s hand. “Should either of us have need or want of anything during the matches the young whelp down there best remain close to provide it, and since I am going to spend a bit of time in the pit, you will sit with us and take care of my new apprentice for the duration of the day. Have one of the others bring a bucket for my apprentice; he may have need of it in short order.”

Glaster quickly gazed down the line of students as the small student made his way up to him. Three stood out as looking smugly satisfied, while a couple others held an almost guilty look as the boy walked past them. Glaster committed all five faces to memory for later before glaring down at the youngster. He then spoke loudly. “I did not bring a servant today, you will do nicely. Until dismissed you are part of my entourage and under my protection.”

The boy gave a slight nod then a bit of a bow, saying nothing. Clearly exhausted, his shoulders dropped slightly as he took one of the gold coins from the older student and made his way past the others to get a warm drink for the man and his apprentice. Those in line, however, realized any prank they may have planned or were planning to make the boy look bad, would be seen as a direct slight to the man standing in front of them.

Glaster glanced over to the older boy satisfied by the looks he was getting from those he had identified as potential problems. At last, he motioned in the direction of where the wealthiest and most powerful were sitting. “Now you may show me to a seat worthy of my position and title.”

Once seated, Glaster pointed to a seat on each side of him, making it clear the two students were now with him and thus those seats belonged to them. Although a few nobles gave him a rather annoyed glare, none of them said a word. More than a few actually looked disappointed since they would not have a chance to sit next to such an obviously powerful and influential man.

Once he was comfortable, with hot cider in hand and the young student seated on his left, Perth at his right and the older Swordsman student on the other side of Perth, he took a few moments to look at the pit. Noting it was clearly a combination Swordsman and magic combat training pit but could and currently was converted into the city’s main arena. The smaller central pit was covered by thick wooden cover, and the ladders to get down to the school pit were hanging on the far wall, directly across from him. All along the sides, shield showed the names of the greatest champions of the arena along with their number of victories.

Next to the shields were hooks which normally held weapons for gladiators to go after, but this time, most were empty. A few still held lethal weapons, but none of them had the potential to be shot or easily thrown. As the crowd continued to pour in through the main gate, Glaster tapped Perth’s shoulder as the boy looked around the large combat pit clearly never having seen anything like this in his young life.

Once he had Perth’s attention, he put on a very stern look. “Before year’s end you will be spending a fair amount of time in pits just like this from one end of the kingdom to the other. All my apprentices do, and you are no different. Because of this, I highly advise you pay attention to what you see here before your time comes to be down in your first one. Most of my new apprentices first taste the bottom of a pit within six moons of me taking them on.”

Perth nodded, “Me…” He stopped cold as Glaster glared at him. “Sorry sir, I understand.”

“Think before you speak and make sure it sounds the way I have been teaching you.”

“It still doesn’t sound right to… I?”

“Me.” Glaster gave Perth’s shoulder a light squeeze, “As long as you ask when you are not sure, it will not be long before you are speaking up to a caste level befitting of what I am sure you will become. Now sit and enjoy.”

Perth shrugged, “I still don’t think it is fair. It will be two on three when Klandon and Mylan goes against them other three.”

“Those other three.” Glaster once again corrected Perth, but this time he didn’t wait to let Perth say it correctly as he found his curiosity peeked. “So, would you join Klandon and Mylan, given the chance?”

“I don’t think I would help much, but I would do what I could. I kind of like Mylan and hope we can be friends.”

“Interesting…” Glaster stated with some interest. “For the record, I am sure they will not need help should they decide to fight, which is still very much up to them and the three they are entering the pit with. However, if you want to taste the pit today, maybe we can arrange something.”

Perth clenched his fist as he realized he should have kept his mouth shut, but he also knew better than to try to backtrack. The training he had witnessed the other boys Glaster had with him, told him, to do anything less than to push on would all but assure punishments well in excess of the original slight. “I do what you think is best.”

“This I know, for I give you no other choice, but in this, I will give you one. Do I get you a match today?”

Perth took a deep breath, “Sure.” His voice, however, said otherwise.

Still it was enough to get a smile out of Glaster. “Excellent. I will figure out something since this is multi event affair.”

“There are other matches?”

"Of course. All these good people would not be showing up for a single event between boys when no one is even sure there will be a fight between them. To make life interesting, the good Judge has lined up a number of pit matches pitting local criminals against each other first. I am sure the local jails need the extra space, and this is a great way to get extra coin for the new ruler of Rolling Dale, so he has some kind of coffer available to him when he arrives. These first fights will be to the death and since I highly doubt you have seen much real bloodshed, if you find the need to get sick, use the bucket I had the students get you. Such a thing is not uncommon for newcomers to the arena, so do not feel ashamed if the need comes.

“After the death matches, my other charges will take care of matters in a satisfactory way to them. If they choose to fight, I expect you to cheer for them, as they are your bothers in arms. Once they are done, there are a few other fights I have yet to line up exactly, but I am sure I will before the blood pools get shoveled up after the criminal matches. Finally, you get to sit here and watch me deal with one of the guards who offended me personally. Hopefully, you will have a better understanding of what happens to those who cross me before this day draws to a close.”

Perth said nothing, but the look in Glaster’s eyes held even more malice than the day he had first been taken by the man. Part of him felt some excitement, wanting to see what the man he had turned himself over to for apprenticeship would do, while another part of him was already feeling sorry for whoever had been stupid enough to cross the man.

As Glaster took a few moments to talk to a city official behind him and off to the left, Perth nervously glanced around as many others continued to show up to watch the spectacle. On the far side, several poorly dressed people started to gather, indicating the Judge had sent criers into the streets and opened up the fight for anyone who wanted to come watch including the peasants of the city. At the same time, people with much nicer clothing were trickling in and taking seats behind Glaster and himself.

The more Perth looked over those coming to watch, he began to see and understand things he had never before noticed. The first was the vast difference in how those with status and money were treated compared with the poor working folks. While those on the peasant side had to stand and pack into the narrow steps made of wood, those around him had seats. Those with the best clothing and social ranking had the best seats, while those who were only modestly wealthy had to sit further back and had smaller seats. Finally those with some money, but little social standing sat in benches behind those with real seats.

It took a few minutes before he realized, by being with Glaster, he was actually right up front, in a position of great honor. Perth couldn’t help but notice those right next to him were city officials, high ranking guild members, and some of the wealthiest business owners, yet he was even in front of many of them. The fact all of those around him didn’t see his beggar status, only him being an apprentice of a Master Echelon being, made what he had already endured, and knew he would continue to endure easier. He was no longer at the bottom of the social food chain. He was suddenly someone others actually wanted to get to know.

This point was driven home as a silk clad boy, very close to his own age, leaned forward, “Did I hear you are apprenticed to the Master sitting next to you?”

Perth glanced over to Glaster, to see if talking was allowed. Getting a brief nod he turned. “Yes; he took me a few days ago.”

The wide eyed lad looked a bit jealous, “How did your family mange to get you on with him?”

Before Perth could respond, Glaster glanced back. His eyes looked up and down the boy, not finding the pudgy dark hair and eyed child particularly attractive nor did he care for the whining sound to his voice. With a bit of a smirk he put his arm over Perth, “His family did nothing for him other than raise him to be of good character mixed with a bit of bravery. He stepped out and asked me for help. As a matter of fact I nearly tripped over myself in astonishment. So now here he sits.”

Glaster paused for a few seconds as the boy stared back with wide eyes. Noting the boy wore a Training Echelon step one Warrior Adept pin along with a jeweler’s pin, a slight glint came to his eyes. Turning away from the boy he glanced at the man who was clearly the boy’s father, as both of them had similar facial features and oversized guts. “Good merchant, what do you say to a friendly wager?”

The man turned away from his conversation and gulped slightly as he saw Glaster’s guild pins. “What did you have in mind, Master Shaman?”

“Well our boys are of the same training level, and I would like to see how my new apprentice does in the pit today. I would be up for putting them in with no weapons and seeing what happens. Say fifty gold to the winner?”

“Fifty gold?” the man nearly choked, causing several others to stop conversations and look at him.

Glaster held up his hands, “My apologies, I thought you were a man of wealth.”

The merchant frowned deeply. “Master Shaman, I assure you, fifty gold is not a burden to me.”

“Good.” Glaster smiled, knowing he now had the man in a spot where to back down would make him look extremely bad to those around him. “So I assume we have a wager?”

Seeing the looks of those around him, the man took a deep breath and nodded, “Very well Master, although, my son has been in training for almost a full year, is a bit bigger and appears a bit older than your boy. Are you sure?”

Glaster waved a rather dismissive hand, “It is the least I can do for my new student, besides it is a wager which makes life interesting without being a major burden to those of us sitting in such a prestigious and central location.”

As the man pulled his son back to talk to him, Glaster leaned over to Perth, “You see, getting you a match was simple enough. Understand, although I am prepared to lose the wager, I would prefer to give you some of the winnings so you can spend time with the likes of Mylan on more or less equal terms. My suggestions are threefold. First, make him move and do not get into a spot where he can use his excessive bulk against you. Second, save the few Autospells I have taught you for last resort only. Let him use his and be ready to dodge when he starts to move his fingers in any sort of strange way. Third, and by far the most important, once you have worn him down some, I highly recommend you use whatever you learned on the streets to your full advantage. For it is highly unlikely the well fed lad behind you has ever had to deal with more than a coached fist fight in his schooling before today and there is no chance he is equipped to deal with a street scrapper.”

 

Captain Pontarious once again replayed the words of the Legendary Echelon Vindayin Priestess. ‘Forget what you think you know and take the branch never traveled.’ With a deep breath he looked out at the river then back to his first mate, “Any who do not wish to do this need to leave the ship at Jagged Point.”

The man clenched his fist, “I will make the rounds again, Captain, but to a man, no one wanted to get off, even when I told them what you are going to do. Two of the newer pole men didn’t come back to the ship, but I believe the rest of us are with you. I mean, all you have to do is look at the Thunder Rapids to know a massive amount of power was unleashed to transform her into what amounts to a brand new ship.”

“None the less, we need to let everyone have a second chance to get out of doing this. If no one wants off, we are going to cut off all light and take the break down into the gorge.”

“What about the rocky break water they put up to prevent anything from going down?”

“We skirt it and let the current pull us over and our pole men are going to have to push us around the lines of boulders. Once we clear the placed obstacles we’ll stick to the far right so we go down the smallest of the first sets of falls and into the channel. From there, I am going to sink to my knees, hold on for dear life, and look to Vindayin to provide. Because, like it or not, there is no chance we are going to do a thing to control this barge once we are in the channel. To be honest I will be happy to be able to control my own bladder.”

The first mate let off a loud, yet nervous sounding laugh. “As will most of the rest of us!” He paused and turned serious again. “So once I make the rounds, I should slow us up so we hit the offshoot well after dark?”

“Yeah, the later the better.” Captain Pontarious sighed then managed a tight smile, “While you are making the rounds, tell the cooks to make the evening meal a light one and have another ready to prepare once we get down the canyon since I am certain most of us will lose whatever we eat well before we arrive in Rolling Dale.”

 

Glaster patted Perth’s back in some encouragement as Perth finally used the bucket to empty the contents of his stomach. The last match had been a particularly brutal one, and had finally ended with the loser’s insides falling out of a nasty gash across his lower stomach. It didn’t help much to hear some around him cheering madly while other first time arena goers, like himself, were throwing up.

As Glaster ordered the young Swordsman student to take the bucket and empty it he stroked Perth’s hair and pulled the boy’s head gently to his shoulder. “Criminal matches tend to be the most brutal and those two were murderers of women and children. You need not feel sorry for either one.”

Perth shuddered lightly, “It’s all the cheering, more than the blood. How do you like this?”

“Look at the sport behind it, not the blood and gore. It takes great skill to wield weapons the way the winner of this last match did. Look at the grace and power of the combat, the desperation of two beings facing death at the hand of the other.” Glaster managed a grin, “then look at the animalistic behavior of some of those around us.”

“Why?”

Glaster took a long breath, “Because those who say we are civilized are only kidding themselves. This is who and what we are. We are no less bloodthirsty than many of the lower so called monster races. Some say it is horrible, others crusade to ban such spectacles as this, but deep down, they are revolted at the fact part of themselves crave to see such action. Very few can come to only one of these without some secret longing to come again. At the same time, to be less than this is to become weak, opening ourselves up to enslavement to those who are more bestial in nature. The only other solution is to let those you despise the most to fight for you. There is no way a society can support those they hate the most for any length of time, which will inevitably doom them to being conquered by forces more brutish then they think is civilized.”

Perth looked into Glaster’s eyes, “I don’t know what many of those words even mean.”

Glaster laughed hard at the confused expression of the boy staring back at him. He pulled Perth’s head toward him and kissed the mop of hair. “In time you will. When you do, I hope to have this discussion with you again. In the mean time, go with the young swordsman here, get some food and let him take you to the pit entrance so you can get warmed up. Once again, I want to remind you of my earlier suggestions and to cheer should your young brothers in arms choose to fight since they are up right before you.”

“I will cheer for both of them, but mostly for Mylan.”

Glaster let out a bit of a sigh, “As is your choice, but remember, without Klandon, Mylan would have been all alone against all three back on the street the day they first fought.”

Perth nodded but said nothing as he left with the older Swordsman student.

A glance back told Glaster the pudgy lad behind him was also being escorted to the pit entrance, and looked far more worried than Perth. With a bit of a smirk, he glanced around to those nearest to him, “I will cover any bets in opposition to my boy, and give three to one odds to anyone betting against my apprentice.”

Glaster ignored the next pit fight as he took a decent number of bets from those who were much more interested in being seen with him than were really interested in placing any bets. As Glaster scribbled down the last of those interested on taking him up on his wager, he glanced down at the young swordsman student with a slight smirk, “Should my new student loose, you will need to make a run for me to get the needed funds to cover the last few bets. More took me up on my offer than I had planned.”

The weary lad glanced up and spoke for the first time since Glaster had selected him off the line of students, “How much do you stand to lose, Master?”

Glaster glanced back down to the small scroll and shrugged somewhat happy to finally get some kind of verbal response from the boy, “Including the bet with the other boy’s father slightly less than a thousand gold.”

Those around Glaster stopped and turned back to the man as the figure sunk in. Several others spit out whatever they were drinking as word spread. The youngster’s eyes went wide with shock, “Such a sum would have bought my freedom four times over!”

“So you were a slave?”

“No master, I was indentured to adulthood to pay off a ransom for my two brothers captured by the Green Dragons. The man I was indentured to was killed and I narrowly escaped when his caravan was hit by a huge force of Goblins being led by a Green Dragonling and a pair of Black Dragonlings as we tried to make it to the city of Everone. I think the Green Dragonling set a trap to see who had the type of money it would take for my parents to get my bothers back, as I am almost certain the same one who took the money and delivered my brothers back to my father, was the one who lead the attack against the man who paid for me.”

“For such a price, I gather part of your duties were for his pleasure?”

The boy let out a long breath as he realized the man he was now with planned similar uses for him. “Yes Master Shaman.”

“Worry not. It will be only a small part of your duties. I have others to keep my bed warm and will only enjoy you when I desire a change. So tell me how you managed to get your freedom.”

Hearing he would not have to constantly endure being a pleasure boy gave the boy the first rays of hope he had seen in several moons. He managed a slight smile. “It was a nasty fight, but after the man who I was indentured to fell, the fight swung heavily in the raider’s favor. I managed to get his signet ring and medallion of family leadership off his body before the Goblins finished off the last of the guards. I took it to his brother in the city of Kraytown along with a scroll case telling me who he was related to. In return, I was released from my servitude and sent here with a group of refugees to finish my training. As part of him granting my freedom, I promised the man I would become a Swordsman and come back and fight to reclaim Everone from the Dragonlings and to track down the Green one who killed his brother. ”

“And how do you expect to find a single Green Dragonling raider?”

The boy eyes narrowed and hardened, “It now has a nasty scar on the right side of its face going all the way down to where its neck guard stopped my fang from slicing its neck.”

Glaster raised an eyebrow, “Viper Sect Warrior, with no pin, very interesting.” He paused and stared straight into the boy’s eyes checking for any signs of deceit. “So tell me this, young Viper. How do you still live, if you did such damage to one so powerful?”

The boy didn’t hesitate or flinch. Instead, he stood, pulled up on his tattered coat, and pushed down his ragged britches enough to expose four nasty puncture scars. “I probably shouldn’t have. One of the Black Dragonlings grabbed me, slammed its claws into my hip and tossed me in the river to die. The river was brutally cold and had a strong current, but I managed to finally make it to the far shore and was probably close to freezing or bleeding to death, but a Blue Dragonling found me, cast a healing on me, and carried me to its camp. It and a small band of Pantherlings then tended to me until I regained my strength then smuggled me out of the area with a large group of kids they had rescued and even managed to secure me and several others a cart ride all the way to Kraytown. From there I joined a refugee group and made it up the pass. The school took me in, but…”

Glaster rubbed his hands over the scars and lightly shook his head in some admiration the child he was talking to had the fortitude to survive such a ferocious attack. “I have heard some of what has happened to you here. Now I understand why you have not yet been driven out, and probably never would have been. Now who burned your hand?”

The boy shook his head, “I belong to you now, so it doesn’t matter anymore.”

Glaster clenched his fist and caused and magical fire to ignite around it. “Yes it does, both for your future and theirs.” His voice toke on a bit of a nasty undertone, “Unless you would prefer to be my first choice for nightly pleasure instead of an occasional bed partner to give me some variety.”

The boy’s eyes went wide as he gulped in some fear. After only a few moments he whispered five names just loud enough for Glaster to hear all the while staring at the bluish flames rippling over the Master Shaman’s hand.

Glaster quickly flipped his wrist in one direction while his fingers rolled in the opposite direction extinguishing the flame. “Not nearly as difficult as you thought it would be, correct?”

The boy’s head lowered, “No, Master Shaman.”

Glaster took out a second small scroll out of his satchel, wrote a quick note, used a spell to melt some wax and finally pressed his signet ring to properly seal it. “Relax; you will not even be here when I personally deal with the malicious slight against you. You need to take this to the Green Goblin Inn and find one of the guards wearing my personal crest.” Glaster lifted the edge of his cloak so the boy could see the royal crest. “They will secure the gold for you to bring back here should I lose the bets I have made.”

The lad’s mouth hung open for a few seconds before he finally found his voice. “Master, I can’t carry so much without heavy guard and I don’t know if I can carry it at all!”

“Worry not. One or two will accompany you back here and make sure no harm falls on you. If the load is too heavy to make it back here quickly, I am sure those who have placed their bets in opposition to my student will be willing to wait should they win. If I win, then you will build bigger muscles carting it and my winnings all right back to my inn.”

Knowing better than to complain the boy nodded and left, realizing as he did so, his new apprenticeship would not be much easier than what he was leaving.

 

King Whyrem watched the carnage below him with a practiced eye. His Kalim Barony forces were fully engaged yet holding their own to a much larger force of Goblins. At the same time the Junsac Barony’s main force was decimating the left flank, consisting of mostly humans and a handful of Black Dragonlings. Satisfied by what he was seeing, he glanced back to his Captain of the Guard. “Have the standard bearers motion our archers to pour fire into the gap between the Junsac formation and the Kalim front lines. Shoot long, we do not want to hit any of our brave men at arms!”

Instantly the Captain of the Guard backed up and started shouting orders. Less than a minute later the twang of hundreds of bow strings sounded from behind the king. The sky seemed to turn a bit darker for a few moments as arrows were fired with such intensity they actually created a cloud-like shadow to move across the battlefield. Before the first wave of arrows started striking those below, a second, then a third wave of arrows erupted.

Bodies fell by the scores and screams of the wounded rolled over the open fields below like a huge wind of despair. Still, those commanding the enemy forces showed their own adaptability. Shield bearers with the largest shield raced forward to protect the survivors from the sudden rain of death while many who managed to survive dove under the bodies of the dead and dying for cover. By the time the fourth wave of arrows fell on those below, shields where up and stopping the vast majority of the metal tipped shafts from causing more harm. Whyrem nodded in some admiration at the speed of the opposing commanders to counter his advantage, but those below had done exactly what he had hoped. For even as he watched, Goblinoid foot warriors started to shift from the far side where they were not getting pushed to fill in gaps left by comrades slaughtered by the waves of missile weapons.

Whyrem let two more volleys of arrows streak over his head before ordering his archers to stop shooting, knowing to do more would waste arrows and may even start to fall on friendly forces as they pushed into the voids left by the dead and the dying enemy forces. He glanced at his Captain of the Guard then over to the lead Watch member assigned to protect him. “I hope you are both right about the Holgan forces, for like it or not they are going to get their first taste of battle.”

The Captain of the guard shrugged, “They either get some much needed experience or they fail and we still win the day, just with much greater losses than any of us want to see so early in the campaign.”

“You hold more hope for them then I do.” Whyrem stated with a bit of disgust. “At least their scouts will do decent damage and create some havoc to their exposed flank.” He turned and pointed to his new Elvin standard barrier to send his next set of orders. “Order in the entire Holgan barony force!”

The young Elf gave a quick hard nod, then spun the King’s standard in a large arc back and forth before finally pointing to the far left side of the king’s battle formation. With the proper signal delivered, horn blowers pulled their instruments up to their lips and let out a series of very loud warbling tones to signal the left flank of King Whyrem’s force to move forward into the exposed and weakened right flank of the massive hoard of Goblins on the open field below.

Out of the trees directly to the side of the Goblin held flank, scores of mounted warriors erupted into the growing fight. Showing their skill, scouts of the Holgan Barony used their battle hardened mounts to form a wedge. The rest of the Barony’s less skilled forces quickly moved in behind the Calvary. Fortunately for the basically green foot soldiers, the lead scout ranks smashed into the unprepared screen of Goblins cutting down the best and the bravest, leaving only panicked and poorly lead Goblin footman to face the ridged ranks of heavily armed and armored yet under skilled foot soldiers.

King Whyrem watched in satisfaction as the new arrivals crushed the moral of those who saw them. Enemy ranks folded in on one another creating confusion and in some case outright panic. Others broke ranks and ran, leaving comrades to fend for themselves. As resistance below crumbled, Whyrem pointed back to his standard bearer, “Give the order to Junsac and Kalim forces to hold the line. Let those from Holgan clean up. It will give them valuable large scale combat practice while resting our two best forces!”

Once again the young Elf raised his standard and started to send the proper signals, but a brief shadow moving over him caused him to pause. He looked skyward and felt his eyes go wide. Without another thought he slammed the King’s Standard into the ground so it didn’t hit the ground then dove, knocking over both King Whyrem and the Captain of the Guard.

Before either could do so much as look at the lad in shock over his actions the splatter of acid hit the spot were both had been standing only moments before. The youngster howled in pain as a few of the drops hit his hands as he did his utmost to cover King Whyrem as best as his small body would allow.

The boy rolled off the king, rage in his eyes. Arcane energies, the likes of which the youngster had never fathomed existed, bubbled to the surface from somewhere deep within as he tapped into sorcery powers Echelons above his guild rating. Before either King Whyrem or his Captain of the Guard could regain their footing, brilliant waves of sky blue energies blazed out into the evening sky.

The Warrior Black Dragon snarled in frustration and bewilderment, wondering how it had been spotted at all considering the fact he had been invisible before he had actually unleashed his breath weapon attack. As it spun for a second attack, it didn’t even look at what was happening with the child. Instead its focus was solely on King Whyrem. For to fail in at least harming the king, his own place in Prince Bassork’s kingdom would be as some lowly keep guard instead of a commander of an army fighting Banderlok. So infuriated by the gallant efforts of a child to save the very being he had been sent to kill, it didn’t even notice anything past the fact its sneak attack had failed miserably. Before it knew it was in trouble, it was already too late.

Dark angry bubbling clouds formed out of nowhere and gale force winds cascaded downward out of the spot where the young elf had directed his own rage at the fact something had tried to kill his king. The first gusts caught the Warrior Dragon just as it spun. Its left wing was forced back against its body, causing it to lose control. Then, just as it desperately tried to unfold both wings to regain control and lift, a second, much more powerful, downward burst slammed into it, snapping both wings simultaneously.

Without wings there was nothing left to keep it aloft. It fell out of the sky like a brick. Its horror filled scream caused the last of those fighting Whyrem’s army to turn and flee in total disarray allowing the Holgan Barony force to easily crush the opposition with very little in the way of casualties.

The young standard bearer rolled on the ground as some of the acid continued to burn into his skin. Before he realized what was happening, he found the Captain of the Guard was holding him down while King Whyrem, used his own water skin to wash the burning wounds.

Finally the King hefted the boy up to his feet and glanced down the hill at the shattered body of the Warrior Dragon. The fact its chest rose and fell in ragged jerks, told even the least observant it had very little time left.

The mortally wounded beast forced its head up and it stared into the boy’s eyes. As it realized its own death was drawing near it couldn’t help but notice the swirling of energies around the boy. “YOU! Your sibling is the killer of my king!”

King Whyrem raised his shield to guard against another blast of acid, “What are you talking about?”

Blood leaked out of the Warrior Dragon’s mouth as it trembled with the effort to keep its head up. “You have nothing more to fear from me great king. My time is only moments away.”

Whyrem carefully lowered his shield, but kept it ready just in case. “This boy has no family. He was found in the swamps on the edge of my lands, alone, orphaned!”

“Like it or not, know it or not, in this you are wrong. I can see the power of my king still swirling around him King Whyrem. It is his linage which fell King Blathamort and has caused this civil war, and now, like his kin, he is a killer of my race.” Looking past the King his eyes focused on the young Elf. “May you and yours die, but like it or not, my king must have had great respect for the one who killed him, for in you I see enough of my king to know you are not to be harmed by one of my kind. Young Lord, even as I am required to respect the wishes of my king and respect you and your kin, I can only hope a Dragon of another race kills you!”

The boy growled and moved forward, pulling his sword as he did so. “Let ’em try!”

“Do it, Dragon Killer! My life is yours to take, to finish.” With those words and a cough of blood, it lowered its head to the ground.

The Elvin boy moved forward “Ya talk a me havin’ family. Where be me kin?”

“Find them yourself!” the dragon hissed as it turned its head exposing its throat.

Tears appeared at the corner of the boy’s eyes as he took one more step forward, to stand only centimeters from the dragon’s mouth. “Tell me!”

Blood rolled out of the corners of the Dragon’s mouth, but still it managed to speak rather forcefully “No. you have my forced respect but nothing more. In truth I have no reason to do more than hate you! Now finish what you and your kin have started; become the second Dragon Killer of your line!”

“Fine!” the boy pulled his sword back and slammed the blade straight into the exposed throat of the dragon.

Moments later its eyes glazed over as death finally took its hold and a dark black ball of magic erupted into the last vestiges of the evening, knocking everyone down and healing most of Whyrem’s wounded on the battlefield below.

All eyes turned to the scene, leaving everyone, including a king, looking at the only one left standing within several hundred meters, a mere boy standing over the body of a Warrior Dragon.

 

Glaster glanced skyward, feeling the latest eruption of magic, this one was much weaker than the previous two only a few days earlier and came from the south, but, it was still enough to cause his head to turn and for goose bumps to roll up his back and down his arms. Glancing around he noticed more than a few of the higher Echelon beings at the arena were also glancing to the south, but the vast majority of those in attendance noticed nothing other than the fact five boys had entered the arena wearing nothing.

He couldn’t help but grin at how uncomfortable all of them looked and how their eyes became even more filled with dread as they saw the sheer number of spectators gazing down at them. Of the five, and much to Glaster’s astonishment, only Klandon was not using both hands to cover his exposed boyhood. The other four, had almost instantly pushed their very white bottoms against the nearest wall while putting their hands in front of themselves and crouching slightly, doing their best to hide their nudity.

The voice of the judge stopped much of the laughter and calls for the boys to show themselves to the crowd. "This is the primary reason we are here this cold late afternoon. The two boys coming out of the tunnel under the west gate are of a higher caste than the other three. However, I believe I speak for most of us when I say caste should not matter nearly as much for children as it does for adults. This afternoon, we get to see a dispute between boys settled in a way satisfactory to them with no regard for caste, money, prestige, or book learning. The pit master should only move in should it become apparent interdiction is needed to prevent grave injuries.

“Now you five ruffians, I would highly suggest you either work this out or finish what you started in the streets of this fine city before you freeze to death.”

Klandon glanced back to Mylan. “We were put in jail because of them. It’s time we finish it!”

Mylan shivered from the cold, but finally moved his hands away from his tiny balls and boy tool, which were almost invisible anyway since they were already small and had drawn back even further because of the cold.

Before any of the others could so much as try to shake their heads showing they were not really wanting to go another round with the slightly younger boys, Klandon let out a high pitched bestial screech and charged the smallest of the three he was facing.

The boy directly opposite of Klandon started to raise his hands, once again attempting to show he was in no way interested in the fight. His eyes showed his fear, but quickly dropped his hands and clenched his fists as he saw Klandon closing on him, while looking to the two with him to make sure they were going to help.

Behind Klandon, Mylan kind of shrugged and moved forward as well, suddenly realizing they should have at least attempted to settle this with words instead of fists. However, Klandon had come to his aid and had stuck by his side, and now was not the time to do anything other than support his prince and his friend. As the other two moved from the wall to intercept Klandon, Mylan broke hard to the left, angling for the kid who had first pushed him down in the street only a few days prior. The attack strategy had been one they had pre-arranged as they both figured the biggest kid had to fall first and fall fast. Also, unlike the three they were facing, both Mylan and Klandon had entered the pit fully expecting a fight.

The older boy’s nose scrunched up menacingly. “You’ll be the one seeing the Healthman this time!”

Before the kid knew what was happening, Klandon broke off his own attack run and made toward the exposed side of the largest kid. He got to the kid just as the other two shouted a warning, but it was too late for the lanky boy who was totally locked on to the idea of causing Mylan a great deal of pain. Klandon lowered his shoulder and slammed into the kid’s exposed side with everything he had.

The kid howled in pain as Klandon used the leverage given him by his position to first pick up the kid then slam him down on the dirt floor of the pit with everything he had. Even as air rushed out of the boy’s lungs Mylan was there to add in a new round of pain. His bare foot rose up and planted hard into the boy’s hand, snapping a couple of fingers. He then followed up by falling down, using his elbow to break the stunned boy’s nose for the second time in less than a week.

At the same time Klandon rolled until he was on top of the kid, planted both his hands on the kid’s shoulders and pushed off with his feet. As he came back down he put his knees together, and let both of them hammer into the boy’s ribs. Finally, as he rolled off he landed an elbow right into the kid’s throat. The gasps for breath and wails of pain were replaced by a series choking, frog like croaks.

Before either Klandon or Mylan could do more to the kid, the other two decided they needed to get involved. The smaller one rushed Mylan. Mylan caught the movement out of the corner of his eye, but didn’t quite get out of the way. The boy’s bull rush style attack missed, but a wild left handed swing caught Mylan’s left eye hard.

Mylan felt tears start falling even as he used his right leg to trip the attacker who was only slightly larger than him. Much to Mylan’s satisfaction the kid yelped in surprise then hollered in pain as he tumbled head first into the side of the pit. Even as he turned, however, Mylan knew his eye was already starting to swell shut.

Off to Mylan’s left, Klandon was also in a nasty one on one fight. The kid he was now facing had a fairly good clump of hair in his right hand and blood was oozing out from a spot on the back of Klandon’s head where his hair had been ripped out. On the other hand, the older boy was limping quite badly from where Klandon had kicked him in the ankle and his opponent’s lower lip was split wide open from a vicious head butt.

Klandon cringed as he touched the bloody bald spot on the back of his head. With another inhuman sounding growl he lunged forward. He went low, letting the older kid hit him with a hard upper cut which badly bloodied his nose, but gave him an opening to the kid’s leg. He rolled into the boy then, just as he made contact, Klandon head butted the knee on the already damaged leg, hyper extending it badly.

The older’ boy’s scream of agony was short lived, however. For, even as he hit the ground clutching at his leg, Klandon fell with his advisory. Using the momentum gained by falling on the boy, Klandon drove his elbow into the boy’s gut and flowed it up with yet another head butt right on the kid’s already bloodied lip.

From there, Klandon moved further up on the staggered kid, sat on the youngster’s chest, and started swinging. Blow after blow rained down on the stunned and all but defenseless child. The few blows which hit Klandon’s sides in return were no match for the leverage or accuracy he got from being right over the other boy’s face. The boy under him had long stopped struggling before the pit master came over and yanked Klandon off the bawling and badly bloodied lad.

Only a few meters from Klandon, Mylan was also showing no mercy. Even though he could only see through a tiny slit in one eye, and tears blurred the vision of his other, his temper had boiled over. Much like the fight with his brother, there was no stopping him. He grabbed the back of the kid’s head who had hit him while the kid was trying to use the wall of the pit to pull himself back up.

Before the boy could react, Mylan wrapped as much of the kid’s hair around his hand as he could and slammed his face into one of the shields marking the numbers of victories of one of Rolling Dale’s best gladiators. Mylan didn’t stop until a guard pulled him off and forced him to let go. The boy crumpled to the ground, curled into a fetal position, and started whimpering.

Behind Glaster, the merchant he had placed the fifty gold bet with looked at the aftermath with a degree of horror. “Master Shaman, those two barbarians are your apprentices as well?”

Glaster turned forcing his expression to remain totally neutral, “Barbarians? I do not think it is proper to insult them. Actually, I think they fought fairly well, although I am most certainly going to need to work on their teamwork a bit more. They took far more damage than they needed to, especially since they managed to take the biggest of the three they were facing down without so much as a scratch.” He paused as a smirk crossed his features, “Something tells me neither of them will be in the best shape for the next few days combat training either.”

The merchant’s eyes stayed wide, “Clearly your methods are much harsher than my son has ever had to deal with. Maybe it was a mistake to…”

Glaster cut the man off as down in the pit, Klandon suddenly turned ghost white and started trembling. “Perhaps, perhaps not. We shall both find out what our respective lads are made out of in the next few minutes. In the mean time I suggest we let our coin do our talking for us, good merchant.”

Glaster’s eyes continued to fixate on Klandon. Terror was etched on his face, but he recovered enough from whatever the initial shock was to clench his little fists as he slowly moved to place himself close to Mylan.

Off to the side of Glaster, a local noble leaned toward Glaster, “Your apprentice seems quite afraid of the Drow slave worker Master Shaman. Has he had problems with the Dark Elves in the past?”

Glaster finally tore his stare off Klandon and looked over the whole pit. Several stretcher bearers were loading the injured boys onto stretchers, but off to the side a pair of youth, wearing a sack cloth and slave collars, were busy with rakes, getting rid of a few spots of blood and smoothing out the pit floor for the next fight. The one Klandon was staring at happened to be a Drow Elf of about thirteen age equivalent.

Glaster continued to study Klandon’s reaction, “I am not sure, sir, but I can assure you, I will be finding out in short order.”

Klandon continued to glare at the dark Elf and his eyes slowly changed from fear to fury. At the same time, Mylan braced himself for a possible second fight, while tying to figure out what was going on.

Across from them, the two young teen equivalent boys exchanged nervous glances and started backing up toward the small side entrance they had come in from.

Glaster stood and moved to the pit’s edge as the crowd started cheering at the prospect of an unexpected and impromptu fight. It was also clear by some of the lewd calls, some of the onlookers were hoping they would continue to see two very attractive nude boys for a bit longer.

A bit of a smirk crossed Glaster’s features as his mind pieced together what he had learned about Klandon. The whip marks, the dreams, the report of him being terrified of the Drow merchant, and the fact he had probably caused the fire at the Drow merchant’s tent. If his past was somehow linked to Dark Elves then he had just stumbled on a possible way to break the memory tampering Klandon had undergone.

His voice boomed out as an idea hit him, "Slaves, feel free to defend yourselves! You will not get into any trouble for any harm you cause my apprentices!

"Mylan you will need to ignore your eye injury a bit longer and assist if there is even a chance of the two much older and bigger fall to the two of you!

“Slaves, if you put up a good fight I will buy you as servants and you will be given a chance to earn your freedom over time. If you win, I will buy your freedom and let you spend five days as masters over the two who you now face!”

Glaster’s voice stayed loud, but dropped sharply to take on a dangerous undertone. “If you two slaves fail to do your utmost to fall these two apprentices of mine, however, I can assure you your next few weeks will be as uncomfortable as my wealth and power can make them.”

As Glaster spoke, Klandon’s eyes first narrowed with dread, but upon hearing if he lost he would be given to the boy across from him for five days caused something long buried inside him to snap. Before Glaster even finished his warning to the two slaves, Klandon charged the unsuspecting dark Elf, slamming into him with everything he could muster. The rake flew high into the air as the older boy pushed hard to get the younger attacker off of him. It was of little use, Klandon was clearly no longer rational. He dove back onto the boy and stated swinging wildly. Two more times the older kid tossed Klandon off only to see the kid get right back up and charge him again.

The other slave looked up with a degree of shock, but finally reacted. He moved to help the Drow only to find his path blocked by Mylan. The teen swung the rake hard, but his totally untrained swing with such a makeshift weapon allowed Mylan to dive and roll under the end of the rake.

Mylan drove his elbow into the teen’s foot as he went by causing the kid’s ankle to roll. Even as the older boy bellowed in pain, Mylan continued his tumble all the way to where the other rake had been dropped. He grabbed it and jumped back to his feet. As he did so, he saw the other, now limping, rake armed kid move over to Klandon. Before he could yell a warning the long wooden handle made contact and knocked Klandon off the Drow child.

Klandon howled as the wood smashed into his side, but pain no longer mattered to him. The only thing he could think about was to never be handed over to a Drow Elf… Memories of the past suddenly surfaced as tears poured out of his eyes and he clutched his side. “I will never go back to Gardagem or any of his people!”

With a wild run he angled for the side of the pit. Many thought he was going to flee, but just the opposite happened. He used his momentum to leap high. He then managed to get a boost off the wall as he found a small foot hold to get even higher. His hand then reached up and grabbed the top edge of one of the shields marking the number of victories of a former arena gladiator. Using the hand hold for yet more leverage he reached above the shield and grabbed the spear mounted above it and yanked it off the wall.

He fell back hard into the pit, but as he stood, blood trickling off of skinned knees, the countless hours of weapon training allowed him to find proper hand holds on the deadly weapon.

Glaster reacted instantly; he muttered a few words and a brilliant crimson light leapt off the fingertips of his left hand. The powerful bolt of magic hit the tip of the spear and sheared it off cleanly. “Blunt weapons only boys! No one dies today! Pit masters if a serious blow lands you will need to guard the fallen child and get him up to me for magical healing!”

Klandon snarled and glared at Glaster, but quickly adjusted his grip to being armed with a long staff instead of a spear.

Across the pit, Mylan looked up through his swollen eye, also sending Glaster a rather nasty, disgusted, and horror-struck look before he swung the tool end of the rake against the ground with everything he could muster a couple of times to first crack the end then brake off the rake part altogether. “Klandon, are you alright?”

Klandon moved to stand next to Mylan, showing a degree of rational thought had returned. “I ain’t being given ta them ever again! I’ll die in here first!”

“Fine, but you have got to focus, because I am not sure what you are talking about nor do I really care at this moment. They are way bigger than us and are going to pummel us unless we think before we swing. Like it or not, we will have to work together if you do not want us to be given to them for the next five days!”

Klandon shook his head as he eyed the two older boys, “I’m suddenly starting to remember all sorts of stuff, Mylan, bad stuff, I’ll never let it happen to me again! But you’re right; we have ta work as a team like we’re being taught!”

“I am with you and always will be, but first things first. We’ve got to get this over with fast. I am freezing and I cannot even see through one eye anymore.”

Klandon nodded as he calmed more, “You are better with a staff than me, let’s switch. You’ll be able to use this longer spear shaft better.”

Mylan quickly handed the broken rake handle over to Klandon as he secured the much longer spear shaft. “Now what?”

Klandon’s voice took on a resolute tone, “Look, I’m not sure what’s really going on no more, but I can take way more pain than you. I know; I have before. Let me be the bait. If they hit me, then they hit me. You hurt the human way more than I hurt the Drow. His ankle is already getting big and he has a bad limp. With the spear shaft you’ll have reach over him too. Let me distract both of them then take out his other foot. With him down, even if I fall, you will be able to take out the Drow, especially since he ain’t even armed.”

“But I am supposed to protect you!”

“We win and you will have. Now, as soon as I charge, work your way around and take out the human kid’s good foot! It’s our best chance!” Before more could be said, Klandon put on a fake mask of rage again and charged the Dark Elf. Unlike before, however, he was no longer going on pure emotion. This allowed him to dodge under the swing of the human teen’s rake while he spun the broken rake handle, hitting the human lightly in the side of the face, while delivering a much more powerful shot to the Drow’s shoulder.

As he had predicted, both kids turned on him as the pain of his blows registered. He managed to block a hard swing with the rake, but not a vicious kick from the Drow. The force of the kick was hard enough to pick him up off the ground and roll him a full meter away from the two slave boys.

Even as Klandon yelped in pain, the opening he created was quickly taken advantage of by Mylan. The Duke’s son used the back end of the Spear shaft to stab the human’s boy’s good foot with everything he had. The wood smashed into knob on the boy’s good ankle, breaking it and causing a total loss of support.

The kid screamed as he fell to the ground, but as he dropped, he still managed to reach out and yank Mylan to the ground. Before Mylan could so much as thrash, the older boy pulled him into a headlock, wrapped his legs around him, and snarled into his ear, “I wanna be free!”

Even as Mylan started choking he shook his head and managed to stick the long spear shaft out, tripping the Drow as he ran toward Klandon to deliver another kick. The attempted punt like boot snapped the long piece of wood, but the Drow’s left foot took every bit as much damage as the piece of wood. He tumbled headlong over Klandon screaming in pain.

Klandon forced himself to stand with the aid of the broken rake handle. He then moved up on the Drow, who was bent over clutching his foot, and smashed the rake handle over the back of his shoulders and head. As the Dark Elf fell, unmoving face first into the dirt floor of the pit, Klandon hit him once more then turned and delivered a sharp jab with what was left of the cracked handle into the boy still holding the now almost unconscious Mylan. The shot hit the kid’s broken ankle a second time, forcing him to let go. With a scream of pure agony he gripped his foot with one hand while throwing a handful of dirt at Klandon’s face with the other.

Klandon jerked back trying to rub his eyes. At the same time the human teen crawled toward him, desperately trying to finish the fight.

Behind the crawling teen, Mylan weakly looked up and with a raspy voice managed to speak a pair of words. Sand erupted out of his outstretched hand, striking the teen in the back of the head. The boy let out a curse as he continued to close on the all but blinded Klandon.

Still not able to see, but clearly hearing where the surprised sound had come from, Klandon swung with a downward strike. The rake handle snapped with the impact of hitting the teen on the head, but was finally enough for the kid to go limp.

Without hesitation, Glaster jumped down into the pit grabbing the badly wobbling Klandon while motioning for stretcher bearers to get the two slaves. As Klandon all but collapsed into his arms, he moved to Mylan and took a knee. “Well fought, both of you!”

With tears rolling out of Mylan’s eyes hard enough to create some mud under him, he managed to weakly look up, “Heal Klandon first.”

Unnoticed, a man sitting toward the back of those in the wealthy section stood at the mention of Klandon’s name and quickly made his way along the back row and down the far side away from Glaster. He waited for the right moment, while clearly enjoying the brutality of the fight below. Once Glaster jumped into the pit, and with a careful glance back to make sure no one was paying him any real attention, he slipped out the main gate of the arena. As soon as he found a back alley, he pulled a spell book from inside his cloak, found the needed page and cast a gate spell.

A gasp of surprise caught his attention. His eyes narrowed as he spotted a beggar child who had been hunting rats look up from a trash pile with wide eyes, staring at him and the blood red outline of a magical doorway. A trio of arcane words and a flip of his wrist was all it took to send nasty shock over the short distance, knocking the filthy child flat.

“No sense wasting you or my magic.” Then man spoke with a sinister whisper as he took a few steps and grabbed the totally stunned kid by the back of his ragged britches. “You will not be missed by anyone important enough to matter and will make a great spell in my book.”

A moment later he stepped through the doorway and vanished from the streets of Rolling Dale.

 

Queen Jostalis looked at the Shaman manipulating the Mythling Gate Stone just outside the Alphar royal palace. “You do not look comfortable with this.”

"My Queen, the text contains detailed information how to lock and unlock the Gate Stone, as well as excellent instructions on how to open a gate where ever we want it, but it has been locked for thousands of years. The last Alphar to operate this died before my great great great grandmother was even a bun in the oven. The very fact the instruction tome was written on silver fabric with gold weave, yet still appears ancient, makes my hands tremble even to handle it. Making matters worse is the fact many of the incantations needed to fully activate the stone are totally unfamiliar to me. Even though I know what to do because the instructions are all in ancient Alphar, the exact meaning and effects have been lost to us.

“Even worse, as many of us just felt, another dragon of some kind has just been killed, and every time such an event happens, the flows of magic shift. If I open the gate and another Dragon dies, it could send our forces to somewhere untraceable.”

“It is a chance we must take. Get it open.”

“At once, my queen.”

The court’s lead Shaman finally looked skyward, said a brief prayer and touched a half dozen runes on the stone, two on each side of the small green pyramid. A moment later a large golden doorway, with waves of green energy around the outside appeared. In the center of the portal, an opaque scene of a huge jagged rocky hill, vast forest, and massive encampment with nearly a score of banners waving in the wind could be seen. Even though the colors were muted by the effects of the magical doorway, the fact the banners displayed the royal crests of both Alphar and Garm Houses, told everyone the gate was indeed right where it was supposed to be.

Queen Jostallis glanced back at Kandric’s Grandfather “Well, Prince Rovanall, since it is your kin who started this mess, I think it only fitting you be the one to lead our first wave of reinforcements in.”

Prince Rovanall gave a deep bow, pointed to his standard bearer and stepped though the magical gate right behind the lad. For a brief moment he felt his stomach flip and sharp pains cascade over his body as if he was suddenly stuck with a wave of ten thousand needles. As quickly as it started, it stopped. The next thing he knew he was stumbling out onto a rock strewn plateau overlooking an immense battlefield below.

In front of him his standard bearer was down on one knee gripping the pole desperately trying not to drop it, as the silver coated wooden pole had turned colder than ice. Fortunately, the next man though, Prince Rovanall’s Force Captain was quick to shake off his own discomfort and secured the standard, ignoring the bitterly cold pole. Looking down at the young Alphar, he nodded approval. “Well done. Most would have allowed the colors to hit the ground!”

The young Swordsman shivered, “My apologies captain, but my armor is as cold as the shaft of our house colors!”

“Mine as well.” The captain stated, “But it is already warming and should be fine shortly. It helps little the temperature here is so much colder than our homelands.”

Even as the Captain of Alphar house Wellaras’ forces spoke, scores of others came through the gate, many shook up even worse than their captain and the still kneeling Standard Bearer.

The captain quickly took control, “Those of you who are fit move forward and help get the others out of line from the portal! Once everyone is clear, those capable of fighting move to the front and give the others time to recover! As you became able, fan out and secure the whole clearing so those coming behind us have a safe spot to catch their wind and shake off the effects of the Gate Stone passage!”

Glancing around, he pointed to a young arrow carrier, “Boy, you look unaffected. Drop your arrows: you are now my runner. I want you to jump back though, send word of our arrival, and have those waiting to come though know to keep all metal away from exposed skin.”

He quickly pointed to a second young arrow carrier, realizing since they had no metal other than daggers in sheaths, they were in the best shape of those who had come though. “You! Drop your load as well. I need you to hustle down to the camp down there and politely, yet firmly, tell whoever is in command down there to send us someone who can put us where we are most needed!”

Seeing the Standard Bearer stand, he nodded approval, “Put on some gloves and resume your duty to our lord!”

The young swordsman took a deep breath, nodded and did as commanded.

It took a few seconds for the captain to force his hand off the still bitterly cold shaft before he could hand it over. He then quickly glanced around. "All our metal is too cold to touch without harm to exposed skin. Anyone with metal armor or weapons touching skin remove it if possible, if not, call for assistance. Arrow carriers, move into the wood line and collect us fire wood so we can warm our gear and have fires available for the other great Alphar houses to do the same.

“Since our bows are not metal, bowman nock arrows and be ready for any kind of attack.” Glancing down at the circling Blue Warrior Dragon over the camp below, he let out a light whistle, “And make sure you only shoot if a dragon is actually attacking us. The last thing we want is to injure a dragon friendly to our Prince Kandric!”

Still badly trembling from the combination of the painful transport, horribly cold metal armor, and cold temperatures, Prince Rovanall fought hard to not lose his dinner. “If my grandson is not dead, I very well may kill him for making me do this!”

The captain gazed down at the massive battle camp, “My Prince, I highly doubt the thousands currently fighting for him would allow such an act.”

Prince Rovanall growled, “This house is mine until I say otherwise. No matter who or what the brat has rallied around him, he is still under my name, a prince because of me and my heritage. Should he say otherwise, I will slap any haughtiness right out of him; if one blow does not do it, a second certainly will.”

The captain rolled his eyes and glanced over to the Standard Bearer, only to see the young man lightly shake his head. With a light smirk and a lighter voice he gave the boy a nod, “Your thoughts match mine, but for our sakes we best hold our tongues and let him say those words to everyone down there.”

The lad braved a slight smile as he whispered, “I am more interested in what this Prince Kandric would do to our Lord should he try to slap him.”

“We can only hope it happens.” The captain snickered. “Something tells me anyone capable of taking down two dragons, no matter his age, would not be the being to slap.”

The Standard Bearer fought hard not to laugh, “Agreed, and if our Lord does it once, I highly doubt, a second blow would land.”

Glancing back to Prince Rovanall only to see their Lord still down on a knee shaking like a leaf well after most of the others had at least managed to get over the initial shock of the magical gate transport, he sighed. “Should it happen, my money will be with Prince Kandric and I have not even seen the child yet. For now, however, you need to move our standard forward and keep those thoughts to yourself. After all, Prince Rovanall is still the leader of House Wellaras, and he is our ruler.”

 

Perth entered the pit through the gate above the wealthy onlookers still reeling over the brutality of the matches he had watched Mylan and Klandon fight. The two had done a spectacular job, and had left the crowd wanting to see more, something he flatly knew he could not hope to live up to. Still, the thought of having real coin to spend for the first time in his life was exciting and certainly worth fighting for.

He stepped out forcing himself not to look around, but he could feel the eyes on him and the blood lust of the crowd made it less than friendly. The very fact many were calling for him to show more skin, a lot more skin, was also somewhat nauseating.

On the other hand, the pudgy, slightly taller, boy who came out the far side gate looked even more intimidated by the crowd than he was. The kid lightly chewed on his lower lip fighting back tears of fear while gazing over those staring down at him. This turned out to be a very bad start, as those closest to the edge started shouting directly at him, calling him names and making fun of his nice clothing and oversized belly.

Above, the voice of the Judge called out, “This is a no weapon fight boys, all weapons and shields are to remain on the walls. Everything else goes, and since this is an added last minute fight, I set the winning standard.”

The crowd turned a bit uglier as many got the impression the fight would not live up to what they had just witnessed.

With a shake of his head, showing his own distaste for his commands he took a deep breath, “But it seems today those who paid a decent gate fee want to see blood, so blood we shall give them. To this end I decree the boy who cannot move is to be the looser. As long as you can crawl you can still fight and will be expected to do so! Begin!”

As the crowd reacted with a perverse glee at the decree, Perth decided to react. He charged the bigger kid, who was still looking up at those hurling insults down on him with tears in his eyes.

Perth’s first blow, a fist to the side of the other boy’s face, taught him something no one had yet to teach him. One does not throw a fist with one’s thumb tucked inside the fist. He was fortunate the bigger kid had been totally unprepared, as Perth was forced to back off shaking his hand as his thumb made a nasty popping sensation inside his clenched hand.

The pudgy boy took the full impact of the fist, and let out a pained howl. Finally tearing his eyes off those above, he spoke a trio of wards and rolled his fingers. A burst of sparks shot out of his fingertips.

Even as Perth fought the pain in his right thumb, Glaster’s warning about the boy he was fighting against using a spell early on allowed him to dive and roll out of the way, totally avoiding the dangerously hot spout of magic. At the same time, he had paid attention to the fight just before his. Before he got back to his feet, he grabbed a handful of dirt and kept it clutched in his left hand while quickly darting out of the way as the boy charged him.

The moment he felt the wall against his back he moved again, as Glaster’s words of advice echoed in his brain, ‘keep him moving and don’t let him get you in a spot where he can use his bulk against you’. Once again, Perth moved, easily avoiding the boy’s charge. This time, however, Perth stuck out his leg tripping the boy. He jumped back letting the kid get to his feet, much to the disapproval of the crowd.

Boos started pouring down, and words of “pussy boy”, “thumb sucker”, “pretty boy”, rained down on him. Unlike the bigger kid, however, Perth had lived with insults his whole life. Being called ‘street trash’, ‘tramp’, ’vagabond, and far worse things had been his lot in life his entire life. While the words frustrated the kid he was fighting, they did absolutely nothing to Perth.

He continued to move, avoiding every closing maneuver, dodging every blow and forcing the kid to continually move. A few times he took an obvious opening, delivering a kick, and once he even used his open right hand to slap the boy’s pudgy left cheek, leaving a red angry looking hand print on the boy’s cold face, further angering him.

This caused the boy to once again try a spell, this time a puff of salt aimed at Perth’s eyes, but Perth jerked back, easily avoiding it.

Finally, as Perth saw the boy starting to sweat and breath hard, he got a little more bold. After avoiding two more long rushes, he let him get close and tossed the handful of dirt he had picked up very early on directly into the boy’s face. He then dropped down to his knees and let the all but blinded boy trip over him. He wasted no time. He jumped up and kicked the kid in the side of the head and even as the boy squealed, he followed it up with stomp directly onto the boy’s back.

The second the boy rolled over, Perth pretended to rear back for another kick to the kid’s face, but as the fallen lad moved both his hands up to protect himself, Perth launched himself and came down with his elbow directly into the boy’s unprotected groin.

The boy’s mouth opened in as if he were screaming, but no sound came out. At the same time both his hands went to grip his wounded boyhood.

Perth once again took full advantage of the new opening. He clenched his fist, this time with his thumb out, and used the outside edge so he wouldn’t hurt his thumb more. This time he aimed for and found the boy’s nose. Blood erupted out the both nostrils as he pounded it a second then a third time before finally getting pushed off the desperately thrashing larger boy.

Perth caught a wild elbow to his side as he rolled away, but the pain, although bad, was nothing like the whipping he had gotten for accidentally tripping Glaster, and he knew it. Still, it hurt and it made him angry. Recalling one of only half dozen Autospells Glaster had so far taught him, he spoke a pair of words and spun his finger and wrist.

A blackish mist shot out of his hand, blasting right into the other boy’s face just as he tried to get up. The horrible tasting and smelling puff was enough to make the boy gag. Perth jumped forward just as the boy leaned over to throw up and delivered a boot directly into the boy’s face. Even though the lad outweighed Perth by several kilos, the force of the kick was more than enough to flip him backwards.

Knowing he had to totally take the kid out, Perth jumped forward and planted a food into the kid’s stomach and sent tremendously hard heal shot into the boy’s testicles. As the kid rolled himself into a ball, Perth got down on his knees and started swinging, making sure to keep his still badly hurt thumb out of the way. Just as he thought he was going to wear out, the pit master came over and yanked him off the unconscious and horribly bruised and battered merchant child.

As Perth took a few seconds to recover his breath, he realized the crowd was no longer calling him names. In fact they were wildly cheering for him, applauding his ferociousness. Looking back at the kid he had defeated, he felt a twinge of remorse, but for the first time he was someone others were looking up to and it felt awesome. Still trembling with some exhaustion, he weakly smiled and took a bit of a bow. His smile grew even bigger as Glaster jumped down and pulled up his skinny arm while the crowd roared in approval.

Glaster glanced up, shooting a look to the guard who had insulted him going into the Judge’s chamber. The look on the man’s face was of pure terror and dread. With a bit of a grin, Glaster pointed to Perth and mouthed the word ‘me’ then pointed to the pummeled lad still lying unmoving on the pit of the floor and mouthed the word ‘you’.

Before the sun disappeared, Glaster’s words came to fruition. Also, as Glaster had warned, he didn’t leave a single tooth in the guard’s mouth, guaranteeing the man would indeed gum his food the rest of his life.

As Glaster exited the arena, Glaster made arrangements to have the two slaves delivered to him with the arena master. Before he turned to leave, he sent a sharp look back at the line of students standing along the wall, picking out six of them he now knew were guilty of burning a fellow student. “Get a good night’s sleep, for several of you it will be your last for a very long time!”

With a very cruel look in his eyes he put his arms over the two students, “Let’s go boys. You two have to get some rest too, for you two will be equally busy dealing with those who will not sleep again until the great goddess Lunara gives us a full cycle of her light.”

No one challenged him taking both the Swordsman students with him, and as darkness took its grip on the land and another round of late spring snow started to fall, the older boy got his chance to pass his Primary Echelon tests and did so.

 

Lord Anarton looked up into the last vestiges of a glow on the horizon, enjoying the pure beauty of the final moments of the day’s last rays of sunshine. As the distant hills turned a golden red color, he noted a magical shift as a weird shiver went down his spine. As he concentrated on the feeling, he felt yet another change to the flow of magic, this one coming from slightly to the south west. He glanced around, noting no one had noticed this latest oddity, so finally returned his gaze to the three lads he was going to magically transport to a town he had never even heard of.

He reached down and lightly stroked the hair of his terribly injured student who remained under the effects of his most powerful slumber spell. After a few more moments he glanced over to one of his most trusted apprentices. “Avcar, I expect you to find a way to get Zaffron the healing he needs. If you need to bend a few arms into some unusual shapes to make it happen so be it, just make sure you do so because you have to, not because you can.”

The teen gave a hard nod, “I am sure the coin you gave me will see to it, but if not, I will not hesitate to use force if it is the only way to get Zaffron the help he needs.” He paused and his voice dropped a bit, “Master are you sure you don’t need me to help in the attack on the Dark Mage stronghold? There are others who could take Zaffron who are nowhere near as skilled as I am.”

Lord Anarton took a deep breath, “Avcar, trust me when I say I wish I could have you by my side for this. However, what was one of the first things I taught you after Conner rescued you from the Dark Mage and brought you to see me?”

Avcar clenched his fist in frustration, “A fellow Wraith Sect Warrior is a brother worth dying for.”

Anarton gave the teen a slightly disappointed shake of his head, "Just like what Conner did for you, I now expect you to do for Zaffron. Conner had a chance to kill the one who killed his stepfather, but chose to save you instead. He could not allow harm to fall on someone he saw resisting the temptation of the Dark Mages anymore than we can allow Zaffron to die in order to do damage to Gambra. You are the best of my current students by a wide margin, and you have the skills needed to get both Zaffron and Janden down to Everone. Janden knows the city and is the best chance we have of all three of you linking up to me and the rest of us. To come with me, to attack the Dark Mage Stronghold, is selfish on both our parts, as there is no guarantee we will succeed, and without either of us, Zaffron will die or at the very least be crippled for life.

"To turn away from each other is only one step away from allowing ourselves to deviate toward being one of those we are currently fighting. Only our love of each other, love of innocence and willingness to see the power of death as a temporary gift from those we defeat keeps us separate from the Dark Mages. We have to put Zaffron first for now, even if it means more danger to the rest of us because you will not be fighting at our side.

“It is these small acts of love for one another which allowed me to first break the circle of Dark Mages. It cost me my son, but saved the lives of countless others, and the willing sacrifice of my own boy by his choice and mine to prevent scores of others from being killed opened a gateway to one of the elder gods and gave me the power to turn the hearts of more than a few former Dark Mage demons. Such is the power of selfless compassion. Remember this as you strike out on your own. To do anything less would be taking you dangerously close to being one of those who killed your family and tried to do the same to you.”

Avcar gave Anarton a slight bow, “Sorry I asked master.”

“There is no reason to be sorry for your concern for me and those with me. Instead, I simply want you to look at the whole picture. Sometimes it is easier to jump into a fight than to protect the weakest of us. It is our mission, our purpose in life, to figure out what the best use of resources are and use them to benefit others. Right now, Zaffron is the weakest of us and needs you to do what is right for him. Besides, I still have Tyklor with me. I know you can best him nine out of ten times in a pit, but he is much better in the shadows than you, while you are much better suited to getting the three of you to the meeting point. All things considered, the use of the resources we have is better suited to doing things this way.”

Anarton ruffled Avcar’s hair as he used his other hand to dig into his pouch. Finding the item he wanted, he pushed the silver ring with a glowing tiger’s eye gem into the teen’s hand. “This is to be used only in the most dire of emergencies as it only has three uses. It will allow you to contact me or me to contact you.”

Avcar gazed at the ring with some awe as he whispered, “How does it work?”

“All you need to do is turn the stone to activate it. Then we have only a single minute to communicate. You think to me and I will hear you. When I think back to you, the voice will be mine, but it will sound like it is in the middle of your head. Put it on and do not let anyone take it, for it must be on you for it to work.” Anarton gave a brief smile, “Once it is used up, feel free to sell it.”

Avcar shook his head as he slipped on the ring. “Never. I will hand it back to you down in Everone.”

Anarton ignored the comment as he looked down at Zaffron and the Healthman, “Is he ready?”

“I have him secured as best as I know how to the stretcher and have braced his legs with wood, cloth, and thick twine. His legs must remain as still as possible, even if it means restraining him once he wakes.”

Avcar nodded, “I will make sure his legs don’t move until I get him to someone who can help him.” He glanced over at the Healthman, “So what can you tell me about where we are going?”

The Healthman shrugged, “The place I am going to envision is a ruined keep within view of Rolling Dale. The room I will hopefully send you to is in the southwest tower. All you will need to do is go though the doorway, up the stone steps, exit into the courtyard and turn to your right to see the main gate out. You will then have to walk around to the back side. The river running behind it has a bridge to the left as you face the river with your back to the keep. The bridge is part of the road to Rolling Dale, cross the river and head down the road. Once you get to the top of the hill, you will be able to see the walls of the city. From there you will need to seek out a Healthman or Channeler. You may want to start at the guild halls.”

Avcar nodded. “Easy enough.”

“It is.” The Healthman warned, “However, as soon as you have your bearings my advice is to get moving and get out of the keep. I used to play there all the time and only saw a few odd things, but it is ancient, and rumors of it being haunted are everywhere. People have disappeared inside it and others who have braved it, come back badly shaken. From what I was able to find out, most of those things happened at night or in the main keep area, but once I heard some weird sounds coming from inside one of the walls and another time I went up into the southeast tower and all the remaining doors slammed shut at the same time. It may have been the wind, but…” his words drifted off as he shuddered involuntarily.

Avcar raised a skeptical eyebrow, but the look he saw in the man’s eyes held no hint of deceit. After a few seconds of uneasy silence he finally let out a long breath of air, “OK, fine. Up the steps, into the courtyard, turn right and out the gate, and do it as quickly as possible. Go to the back side face the river, turn to the left and head to the bridge. Cross over and head straight to Rolling Dale. No problem.”

The Healthman gave the young man a warm smile, “Perfect, just make sure not to jostle your friend too much, he cannot take much more.”

Anarton moved forward and put his hand on the Healthman’s shoulders. “Avcar will make sure nothing happens to him. You just worry about getting them where you want and ignore the pain as my spell passes through you. Avcar, Janden, as soon as the gate opens grab the stretcher and move though quickly. The spell will not have the same stability as when I cast it without help of someone else. You will only have a few seconds and I do not have the energy to do this again until moon rise.”

Moments later the Healthman gritted his teeth in pain as waves of magical energies spilled out of Anarton into him. Suddenly a golden gateway erupted out of the Healthman’s hands as he screamed in pain, not able to properly handle the power of the spell passing though him.

Anarton kept a tight grip on the man’s shoulder and he stated a single word though clenched teeth. “Go!”

 

As things finally settled down, Aster made his way over to Benam and Quavis. “Either one of you want to check out the old haunted keep with me tomorrow morning before we head into Rolling Dale?”

The two boys exchanged glances which pretty much mirrored each other. Quavis was the first to speak. “Haunted?”

Aster jerked his head in Sardan’s direction. “He thinks it is, so I have to go in with others or he won’t let me check it out.”

“And you want to go with us?” Benam asked carefully, not believing what he was hearing.

Aster was genuinely hurt as he frowned, “Yeah, why wouldn’t I?”

Quavis held up his hand, “Well, for one its haunted and I never really wanted to meet a ghost, and secondly, if we do run into problems you’d have to protect me again!”

“I have a couple of spare Daggers of Light since we lost some of our guards early on. Master Lannet gave them to us so all the guards could have a magic weapon. I could give you each one so you both have a magic weapon if you really think we are going to run into a real ghost!”

Benam’s eyes arched, showing a great deal of skepticism, “Aster, we may be the same age-equivalent as you, but neither of us are even out of training Echelon. I mean, we’d both look to you to deal with the problem and we’d try to help, but I’d probably just end up getting in your way.”

Quavis shrugged, “Don’t get us wrong, here, Aster. It sounds like a lot of fun…”

“It does?” Benam asked as he turned to look into Quavis’ eyes.

“Uh huh,” Quavis’ eyes gleamed, “maybe there is hidden treasure of something in there!”

Aster glanced over to Benam, “Come on, we haven’t done anything fun in days!”

Benam took another look over to Quavis before taking a deep breath and nodding, “OK, But if we see a ghost and zombie, you best take the lead!”

Aster giggled and put his arms around the other two boys, “Deal!”

A moment later Aster wobbled as another small burst of energy found him. “Whoa, now what hit me?”

Benam cringed as he felt something like a static shock come off of Aster’s hand, only it was more like twenty of them. He almost jerked free, but realized Aster had been slightly staggered by the effect and needed support for a moment. Dealing with the pain, he put his arm around the Elvin boy.

On the other side of Aster, Quavis shook his head and felt his eyes cross as power flowed out of Aster and into him for a moment. “Wow!”

Off to the side, Stealth’s head jerked up, and the Fairy Dragon hissed, “Yet another Dragon death by the hand of one of Aster’s line! It was a small black one, but dragon none the less! This was not done by the same one as killed the first two unless the one who killed the others is now far to the south!”

Pocet’s hand went to the hilt of his sword, “Do we need to move again?”

“No.” Stealth half snarled, “It was too small of a Dragon Magic release for anyone or anything to track its death power. Only those close to Aster and his siblings will even know it was related in some way to them. We are safe for now, but I am getting a bit nervous being around him!”

“Why?” Sardan asked, as he removed his talon from his own blade’s hilt.

“Because Dragon Kin do not seem to have a long life expectancy when around Aster’s linage.”

Aster finally nodded his thanks to both Benam and Quavis and shook his head to clear it before turning back to look at Sagell’s pet, “I would never hurt you Stealth!”

The Fairy Dragon arched its neck and stared at Aster for a few moments, “The power given to you by the first two deaths has settled enough for me to see your kin killed a royal Black Dragon of fantastic power, boy. It granted your entire line a taste of its own essence, and like it or not you are now gifted with Dragon Magic and are kin to all of us. Until you know what abilities you now have within you and can control them, I cannot say for sure I am safe and neither can you.”

"Black Dragons are enemies of Fairy Dragons as, in the time before the Dragon Wars, they had enslaved most of my kind. During the Dragon Wars, a combined force of Silver and Blue Dragons wiped out the largest of the fortress where my kind were forced to breed to produce soldiers for the Black’s army. My kind then teamed up with the Blues and Slivers to drive the Black Dragons from the Blue Dragon Homeland and then moved to help the Silver Dragons push back the White Dragons out of the Silver Dragon Homeland. Without my kind the White Dragons would have certainly defeated the Silvers and they would be with Green and Red Dragons, having no Homeland of their own, and the Blue Dragons may have gone the way of the Sand Dragons, and been wiped out.

"The deep hatred in both White and Black Dragons toward Fairy Dragons is something drilled into them from birth, and as long as you, Aster, hold any Black Dragon Magic we cannot identify, there is a chance you now have somewhere inside you such a lingering hatred.

“Until I am sure you have not been seeded with some underlying hate for my kind, neither one of us can fully trust the other.”

Sagell’s eyes narrowed, “How do we find out, and if it has happened, is there a way to reverse it?”

Stealth’s front legs pushed up, making the shoulders move in a way resembling a shrug, "I have no clue if it can be reversed, but what little I do know says once it is found, it can be controlled. How this is done, is nothing but a guess on my part, but it would probably be something akin to a battle of wills. The resolve of Aster fighting whatever lingering motivation was put into Aster through the Dragon Magic gifting. On the other hand, it may have left nothing other than the magic gift. To know for sure, he would need to be read by a very powerful Mind Master to see if there is a hint of the royal dragon’s… well, spirit… is about the best word I can come up with.

“The other option is to find whoever made the kill, for he would have been left knowing whatever this royal dragon wanted imparted to him. The only problem is, he may not even realize it yet. At least, since he made the kill, his strength of character would have been deemed too strong to attempt to take over so he is the only one in your line who is safe from any possible control hazard. He would also be able to see if you are under the Dragon Death Spell, as it is called by my kind.”

Stealth continued to keep a careful eye on Aster. “Another aspect to consider with all of this is, we do not know how many siblings Aster has. Each of them probably got an equal Dragon Magic gifting. So it is possible all of them will have to be together to see if any sort of Dragon Death Spell exists or if any message was passed on. As violent and unexpected as the death felt to me, it is very possible, whatever royal dragon was killed, didn’t have time to do more than try to send a message as it passed on. If this is the case, then it had no control and any message it was trying to send very well may have been accidentally split up between all of the siblings. Again only the slayer would have the full knowledge and there is very good chance he has no clue he has it.”

“I don’t feel any ill will toward you Stealth.”

“This is a good start, but it may not manifest until you are under great stress, like a battle.”

Aster shook his head, “I guess we have to find a Mind Master we can really trust somewhere and until we are sure I’m OK, we should not pull watches together nor should we fight close to each other.”

“I agree.” Sagell stated, “But I highly doubt Aster would ever let anyone or anything control him enough to where he attacks a fellow watch member.”

“In this I agree.” Sardan chirped in. “Still, until we find a way to know for sure, we should play it safe. We will all keep an eye on Aster too, just in case he starts to act oddly. So, Stealth, what kind of message would a dragon want to send?”

Stealth kept its eyes on Aster as it spoke but seemed to calm a great deal as it realized everyone was taking its words seriously. "A secret of some sort or message to a family member would be my guess.

“If it wanted to do something like pass down information on where it hid its main treasure so its family could have it, it would have been part of its Death Spell. Unfortunately, the knowledge may only come out once Aster and all of his brothers and sisters are in the same room at the same time.”

“Great,” Aster complained, “I may have the secret to a real treasure, and I need the help of people I don’t know, have no clue where they are, and haven’t a hint on how many there are. How unfair can you get?”

Quavis patted Aster on the shoulder, “Hey, maybe we’ll find a treasure in the keep tomorrow.”

Benam shot his friend a sharp look. “What is it with you and treasure? Ever since I met you on my dad’s barge, you keep bringing up looking for treasure.”

“And you have not?” Sagell asked, happy to have a change in conversation. “I have yet to meet a boy who has not dreamed of finding a treasure!”

Benam blushed, “Um… well…”

The youngest guard Aster had taken from the Junsac jail snickered, “Yeah, me too. Matter of fact I still do.”

Pocet glanced over to Sardan, both of them clearly surprised the young guard had joined in the conversation. Up to this point the only time he had said anything was to answer questions or to find out if everyone was OK after a fight. On the other hand it gave him an opening to put someone else who was fully trained with Aster in case of trouble, so he took it. “Then maybe you should go too Dabaff. You never take a break and on the off chance something jumps out of the floor your Channeler powers might come in handy. I mean if there really is something haunting it or some walking dead in there…”

Quavis quickly nodded, “Yeah, join us.”

Dabaff shook his head, “No, I’d just get in the way of you kids having some fun.”

Benam quickly shook his head, “Oh, come on! You aren’t much older than we are. I mean you are primary Echelon, but you ain’t even reached age of ascension yet. Besides, you never seem to do nothing with anyone else.”

Aster could tell by the look on both Pocet’s and Sardan’s faces they would both feel a great deal better with another trained being going in with him. Mostly to make them happy, but also out of some of the same curiosity showed by Benam he turned to Dabaff, “You just said you want to find treasure. Why not give it a shot?”

With a deep breath Dabaff finally nodded, “OK, but if we do need to fight, Benam and Quavis you two get behind us and watch our backs. Let us do the fighting.”

Quavis held up his hands, “You take the ghosts and we watch your backs. Sounds like a great idea to me!”

Sagell burst into laughter, “Smart boy!” She then looked around the camp seemingly satisfied by the way it was set up, “Since camp is organized and you four are going to head into the ruins at first light, you all should take first watch so you get some uninterrupted sleep.”

Benam’s shoulders slumped, “Great, so we have to cook tonight too.”

Aster lightly elbowed Benam, “I bet she was planning it the whole time.”

A playful smirk crossed Sagell’s face, “The offer for cooking lessons are still open… Even to you Dabaff.”

Pocet moved up to Sagell and spoke with a whisper, “Anything to get a chance to get a hand on their butts, huh?”

“Absolutely.” Sagell snorted as she moved toward the boys.

 

Vondum entered the Swamp Slums and glanced around. The place was rapidly becoming less of a slum and more of a village. The Elves had moved in and instantly went to work transforming it. The fight only two days before had been a brutal one, but with the assistance of the Pantherlings and a very determined and well armed company of Dwarves, the attacking forces had been utterly crushed.

Now, as he nodded to a guard manning a gate to an outer makeshift stockade, he could already see large timbers being moved in to make a real wall, and most of the ramshackle huts were being swarmed over by young Elvin and Dwarven workers and watched over by seasoned builders and even more seasoned guards.

With a deep breath Vondum made his way over to Kaylaria’s home. The Priestess was busy tending to the injured while supervising both his and Kandric’s slaves who were busy cooking, washing bandages, mending clothing, and all sorts of other activities to help those troops now stationed to protect what had been one of the most dismal places above the Silver Spine Mountains.

Vondum waited as Kaylaria finished wrapping a bandage around the lower arm of a Pantherling soldier before speaking, “How is your daughter?”

Kaylaria looked up and shrugged, “Loopy would be about the best word I could come up with Captain Vondum. The magical eruptions out of Bloody Rock have left her with far more power than a child her age should be able to control. I have been told from Pantherling scouts Kandric’s brothers were likewise effected. A report I got from the caravan master they turned themselves over to says neither has fully recovered and both have done damage with the magic they now seem to be able to handle, but cannot yet control. The Pantherlings say they have rallied a large contingent to protect the caravan and Kandric’s brothers, because Kandric demanded they be protected.”

She took a deep breath, “So, Captain, has there been any word of my suddenly very influential boy?”

“Only what we both suspected. He was indeed the one responsible for all of this. My sources tell me two dragons fell by his hand, one Green one Black. Other information is hearsay at best and wild speculation at worst. The only other hard facts I have about him are he is seen as being in overall command of this mess, so any word from him is law right now, he is back inside of Bloody Rock, and he has had a conversation with a Silver Warrior Dragon….”

“How can this be?” Kaylaria asked in a near pleading voice. “He is just a boy!”

Vondum couldn’t help but snicker, "I said those same words when I first saw him with a sword in his hand taking on and beating a Hobgoblin well over three times his weight and a full meter taller than him. My men had the same question when they saw him standing over the fallen form of some kind of Ice Demon, and the Illorc leader, Monarch, had the same question when he saw Kandric basically gut one of Monarch’s generals.

"Kaylaria, like it or not, this is your son’s doing, all of it. Kandric is a boy in size and age, but all similarities end there.

"Right now there are at least seven armies fighting for him, and I am not including the town of Slome, since forces have been moved to protect it instead of it joining in with us. We have Pantherlings, Dwarves, Elves, some of which I now believe are Garm and Alphar, Dark Forest Elves, Silver Dragons, Illorcs, and Blue Dragons fighting a massed army of Black and Green Dragons and their allies.

"The battle lines are now over fifteen kilometers long and expanding as both sides continue to try to flank the other. At the same time reinforcements are pouring in on both sides. I am hoping to have the first troops from Black Rapids here by week’s end as well, and I have already sent word to send as many of my Black Rapids Wilderness scouts here as possible.

“My liege will have to approve direct military action, but I suspect he will have little choice as the conflict is growing and everything above the Silver Spine Mountains will soon be affected in some way.”

Vondum let out a long breath and took a seat, “The real question is, how is Jamon?”

Kaylaria frowned slightly, “My son really likes the slave boy.” Her tone made it clear she was not asking a question, but was curious how attached Kandric was to him.

“Very much so.” Vondum stated without any hesitation. “Jamon is his first slave and unless I miss my guess he has a bit of love for the boy beyond the physical.”

“I had guessed as much.” Kaylaria sighed, “The first attack on the slums took us off guard, but the Garm drove them off quickly.” She paused as she saw the look in Vondum’s eyes, “Yes, they are Garm and the Elves are Alphar. So am I… So is Kandric.”

“Is this why he has such amazing abilities?”

“No.” Kaylaria stated quickly, “I have never heard of any being as astounding as my son. Although, if what I have been led to believe is true, all of my children are amazingly gifted. Still, none compares to what Kandric has achieved.”

She glanced back to her house’s front door. “Jamon is inside. Somehow word came down of Kandric’s concern for the slave boy, so a Blue Dragonling Shaman came in to check on him, and is attending to the boy. The dagger wound he got from the Black Dragonling is bad, but something in the eyes of the Blue Dragonling tells me not only will they not let Jamon die, they will not be satisfied until he is fully healthy and back tending to Prince Kandric. The real problem is his spirit also needs mending, for he is somewhat heartbroken over the fact the pet you bought him was killed trying to save him.”

Vondum barley acknowledged the last part as his mind focused on a pair of words. “Prince Kandric?”

“Yes, by birth, but now it is far more than birth right. He is royalty by his own hand and as the Blue Dragonling Shaman said, he is their prince too.”

Vondum’s face betrayed the fact he had a million questions, but was simply too stunned to verbalize them.

Kaylaria managed a bit of a smile, “He has allowed me to reclaim what was once mine without knowing a thing about his heritage. Grab some food, I’ll tell you about it, and while we are at it we need to discuss getting Jamon a new pet.”

 

Kandric’s head jerked as he felt a tiny bit of magic suddenly flow into him. With a glance he could tell Lorthorn, Zeltoss, Seldnat, and Mathard had also felt something as all of them had lowered their hands to their weapons and were looking around. After a few uneasy moments, Seldnat finally spoke up, “Teach’r me think ’nother Dragon just die.”

“Me too, Teacher.” Zeltoss stated, “I felt it.”

“And I just got all my force back, and I know the moon has yet to come up.” Kandric admitted. “What is going on?”

“Premier Kandric,” Lorthorn spoke up, once again showing he had a better grasp on how to talk to a member of royalty than either Zeltoss or Seldnat, “I wonder if you killing the Dragons have made us more sensitive to Dragon deaths.”

“Interesting thought.” Kandric stated. While thinking to himself: ‘I will have to find somewhere to do some studying on it when I get a chance.’

Duke Mathard raised an eyebrow, but remained silent as all of them moved their hands away from their weapons and continued to move deeper into Bloody Rock.

 

Avcar almost slammed into a wall as he stepped though the magical gate. With a growl of aggravation he carefully pulled on the stretcher allowing the young Pantherling, Janden, to make it through the gate still holding onto the back end. The three boys and the stretcher Zaffron was strapped to ended up scrunched into a tight corner of a room with flaking stone walls and a very dusty stone floor. Moments after the three of them exited the gate it snapped shut with a strange sucking sound leaving them in pitch blackness.

Janden turned “I’ve never heard the master’s Gate spell make any sound before.”

“Me neither.” Avcar grunted as he worked himself out of the corner being as careful as possible with Zaffron. Once he was no longer crunched into a corner he rolled his fingers and touched the edge of the stretcher. Instantly a warm golden glow flared from the point he had touched, it grew to a large ball finally bathing the whole room in a glow slightly brighter than torch light."

“I can’ wait till me can cast real spells!”

“A couple more years.” Avcar stated as he looked around. With a deep frown, he pulled out his sect warrior weapon called a wolf jaw, the mace like weapon, had a smaller ball than normal on the top and was slightly longer than a normal mace, at the tip of the ball was a strong sharp spike, designed to go though gaps in armor plating or punching holes in chain armor. “Something’s wrong. The only stairs here go down.”

Janden gulped and extended his claws. “What’a ya want to do?”

Avcar slipped his wolf jaw into his belt loop for quick access, “We have to get Zaffron to a healer. Let’s get him out of wherever we are at and see if we are even in some old ruined keep.”

“It looks old.”

Avcar glanced around, noting the conditions of the stone walls and the dust coating the floors. “Agreed, so with any luck the gate got us to where we are supposed to be, but in a slightly different place inside it. If we come across something we have to fight, I’ll set my end down first and you lower him carefully and guard him. Let me do the real fighting, got it?”

Janden’s head weakly moved up and down. “Yeah, but I don’t know how long I can carry him. I tried to tell the master…”

“Lord Anarton couldn’t send anyone else. He needs all of the rest to hit Gambra’s base. You’ll have to do the best you can and we’ll rest when needed, but you are going to have to really push yourself.”

Janden let out a weak sigh, “OK, but…”

Avcar turned, “Janden, knock it off. Lord Anarton tried to keep you back at the farm, but you insisted because we are doing this for Conner. Now, deal with it. Zaffron needs you to suck it up and force yourself to do more and last longer than you thought you could. If he dies because you…”

Janden’s tail dropped along with his head as a few tears welled up in his eyes. “Conner carried me for hours after rescuing me.”

“Now it’s your turn.” Avcar stated, forcing his voice to become softer and less mean sounding even though he didn’t want to. “You can do this, or Lord Anarton wouldn’t have sent you.”

Janden let out a soft sigh, “OK, let’s get out of here”

It took some work, as the stairs were narrow, and turned three times, forcing them to carefully wiggle the stretcher around the corners. Finally they made it down and found a rickety, all but rotten wooden door with heavy bronze bands, holding it to the stone door frame. The moment Avcar pushed on it a soft voice seemed to come from everywhere, yet nowhere. “Leave the dying one for me and you can go.”

Janden once again extended his claws and snarled, clearly sounding like a little panther.

At the same time Avcar pushed hard on the door with his shoulder, forcing it open. “You ain’t getin’ none of us!”

The voice snickered, only this time it sounded a great deal more sinister in nature, “Child, leave him for me or you can all join me!”

Avcar could barely make out the inner court yard of a ruined keep beyond the door, but it was enough to give him some hope, “You try to touch any of us and I will remove your hand!”

The voice took on an angry tone, “The three of you will join the rest of my minions then!”

Avcar kicked the door the rest of the way open while shouting, “Janden, let’s move!”

 

Not far from the old keep Quavis glanced over at the fire then stood. He hated guard duty, but Sardan had made it abundantly clear, part of his apprentice as a Swordsman Trainee to Sardan, would include duties expected out of any Swordsman. At least this night he was on first watch, so he would get the rest of the night to sleep without interruption. He really hated when he had one of the middle watches, because he found it hard to feel really rested the next day after getting woken up in the middle of the night for a two hour camp patrol. Making matters even worse, Quavis had a hard time falling back asleep after a middle of the night watch so he was even more sleep deprived than most of the others seemed to be.

He glanced back toward the road where Benam was standing. Once he had the boy’s attention he motioned to his best friend and now step brother of his need to take a squat behind some trees.

Benam snorted and nodded, moving over to cover more of area between his zone of responsibility and Quavis’. At the same time, he motioned to his giant pet skunk, Blackie, to move a bit closer to Quavis so even as he did his business he would be guarded. Shivering slightly because of the nasty freezing drizzle, he pulled his cloak tighter around himself and took a quick glance in the direction of the ruined keep. For a moment, he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him, as his eyes detected a flash of light from the back left tower, but a few moments later a glow appeared in the same window.

His hand went down to his short sword as he glanced around, only to realize at the moment he was the only one in a position to see it. Even as he saw the light start to move, he briefly debated with himself over what to do. Part of him said it was nothing, as the keep was well over a half a kilometer up the hill from the camp, but another part of him found it just troubling enough to let out a pair of light “fizzt” sounds through his teeth, knowing his animal and at least one of Aster’s would hear the sound. He was not disappointed.

Even as Blackie poked its head up for where it was keeping an eye on Quavis, Shade materialized out of the darkness and looked up at him rather quizzically.

Still rather uncertain as to just how intelligent Shade was, he knelt and pointed at the tower, “See the light boy?”

Shade instantly glanced up in the direction Quavis was pointing. The moment it saw the light it let off a soft growl and sniffed at the air, while its pointed ears perked up even more. It took only a few moments for it to gather enough from its incredible senses to realize there was indeed trouble. Even as its hackles went up, forming a ridge of raised hair all the way down its back, its forepaws pushed forward forcing its head low. At the same time it arched its head up and let out its deepest warning howl.

Even as the rest of the those in camp struggled to wake up and arm themselves, Shade went back into its shadowy form, Dart took to the sky from a nearby tree and Frost started shape shifting from its cute rodent form to is white griffin form.

Blackie wasted no time either. It quickly bounded across the short distance to Quavis to guard the boy as he did his best to quickly finish his personal needs.

Sagall was first of those sleeping to react. She grabbed her staff and with a display of power, cast a powerful light spell bathing the whole camp in a warm colored golden glow. “Aster, what did Shade see?”

Aster’s voice came from the other side of the camp, “I don’t know but his howl was not just to alert us to danger, but telling us someone else is in trouble!”

Benam quickly spoke up, “There is light coming from the old keep! I hissed so I could alert the pets to warn everyone, but Shade didn’t give me a chance to tell him to warn you all. He howled instead. He vanished, but I think he took off toward the keep already!”

“Then he heard a voice he recognized.” Aster shouted. “We have to move to help!”

Dabaff spoke up, “Guys, hold where you are until everyone can get into armor and gear up. Our first job is to guard the camp and give everyone in it time to get ready.”

Sardan stood, "Good call, Dabaff, but Sagell and I can cover the camp especially since none of us were really sleeping yet. Boys, move up to help whoever is stupid enough to go in there at night. Just do not enter it until all of us are there.

“Pocet, you and Sagell have the camp since we want to keep Aster and Stealth apart for now!”

“Got it. Go help the boys!” Came a muffled reply from inside one of the wagons. “All other kids stay where you are and yell only if attacked!”

Sardan pulled the last buckle of his leather armor tight before hefting up his falchion, “All other guards move up to assist the boy’s as you get your armor on!”

 

Avcar almost got to the gate, when he spotted a pair of human shaped figures dressed in ratty looking armor moving to block the path. It took only a couple of more steps for his own light spell to put enough illumination on the figures to note their faces had no skin, instead there was only bone, and a nasty blackish red glow coming from their eye sockets.

The armor was in no better shape than the bodies, as the chain shirt on the one showed a long tear, telling Avcar the killing blow on the body had been a sword slash from a very powerful swing. The war hammer it held was rusty and the wooden handle looked a bit rotten. The other had only remnants of leather, barely held together with bits of metal reinforcements, but its bronze shield, although green with age, still made it a perilous foe. The fact its flail looked to be in pretty good shape also made it much more dangerous than the other one.

Even as he lowered his end of the stretcher to the ground and pulled his wolf jaw he glanced back, “Janden, you are going to have to drag him out of here!”

“But we were told to…”

“If we don’ get him out of here, he’s as good as dead anyway.” Avcar took a couple of steps forward and pounced, swinging his wolf jaw at the head of the one in the tattered leather armor only to get his attack blocked by the shield. His eyes went wide with fear as two more skeletal figures came out of the tower he had just exited, “Go before they envelope us!”

 

Lord Anarton wasted no time snapping the neck of a young guard carelessly throwing rocks into a rather swiftly moving stream, rather than really watching the small drawbridge he had clearly been tasked to keep an eye on. Even as he lowered the older teen silently to the ground, he saw Gambra’s tattoo on the young man’s right wrist. “This is the base we have been seeking, my students.”

As he took in the lads’ death gift, he yanked the small warning horn from around his twisted neck and tossed it into the water. He put the death gift into his hearing, giving him the ability to hear as well, if not better than a wolf. Hearing nothing other than the water below and the sounds of a couple of beings moving rather carelessly on the upper walls he motioned for his boys to move across the bridge while he cast a deaden sound spell over the wooden bridge, preventing any of his students from making sounds to alert those inside.

Still, his death augmented hearing was enough to be useful even over his own spell. For as he stayed kneeling on the bridge, he could hear the gasps of two more guards as his apprentices dealt with them. Satisfied they had all breached the small stronghold, he finally moved in. Once out of the effects of his own spell, his hearing once again picked up sounds unheard by those with him.

With a motion of his hand he sent four of his best up onto the walls, two on each side of the gatehouse. At the same time he made a downward motion with his hands, telling the others to take a knee and stay as silent as possible.

It didn’t take long for the sounds of more death to reach his ears. The first was the snapping of neck bones to his right followed only a moment later by gurgling sounds of something choking on its own blood from the left. Less than a minute later the four older students appeared, nodding.

With the walls now clear, Anarton motioned for two of his sneakier students to make their way across the small inner yard. The two quickly vanished into the shadows, proving they were indeed very good at blending into the night. Still, Anarton’s hearing was enough to tell him Tyklor had found and eliminated yet another threat.

A minute later Tyklor appeared at the main door to the inner main building. His hands, now hardened with the death of a pair of kills, were easily strong enough to crush the Hobgoblin guard’s throat, dropping the vile creature instantly.

With all resistance outside the main building crushed, and no other sounds of threats, Anarton let the death gift he took from the incompetent gate guard go, allowing the being to pass on. There was a slight smirk of satisfaction, knowing Gambra’s servant would find the next life filled with horrors untold as he would certainly pass on into the realms of one of the demon lords.

He moved across the courtyard and grabbed the key to the main door, having to remove part of the chain from inside the wound Tyklor had made to the Hobgoblin’s neck. “Nice work, now all of you let all death gifts go. Gambra will be able to sense anyone with an active death even better than I can.” He sent a rather cold look in Yulay’s direction as he finished speaking.

Yulay gulped. “I have made no kills yet master.”

“You are not to take a death gift until your punishment time has ended, got it?”

Yulay’s head dropped, disappointment clearly etched into his voice, “Understood master.”

“Good.” Anarton handed the key to one of the younger students. “As you open it, stay behind the door until we eliminate all the guards and you get the all clear, your evasion of missile weapons is the poorest of all of us. I don’t need you taking an arrow or bolt this early into the fight!”

The small Halfelvin boy took the key and turned it without a single complaint.

At the same time Anarton cast his most powerful protection spell, putting a dome of magic around himself. As the door was pulled open, he stepped inside.

A pair of guards jumped to their feet, but their hands never reached their weapons. A burst of flame out of Anarton’s hand ended their existence before they could even scream.

Behind him, the rest of his students entered the building. All stayed behind Anarton, allowing anyone left in the room to fire whatever weapons they had at the man. Even as a trio of arrows and a pair of bolts bounced harmlessly off Anarton’s magical dome, his students moved from behind him and fired their slings and crossbows back at those who had shot at their teacher, their master.

Both Crossbowmen and two of three archers died before they could get off a second shot. The last archer managed to send an arrow at Tyklor, only to see the young man catch it. Even as his eyes went wide, a pair of sling stones slammed into him, knocking him off his feet. He tumbled down the stairs only to end up at the feet of Anarton.

Anarton’s face and eyes hardened as he reached down and grabbed the wounded man by the front of his shirt. “Where is she?”

The man shook his head, “I don’t know!”

“Tell me or die very slowly, a gift to the ancient ones.”

The man didn’t know what the guy holding him was talking about, but the fact the kids he was leading were spreading out over the upper floors, and killing everyone giving them even the slightest sign of resistance told him, his life was totally in his hands, “Below, but most of us are not allowed to go down past the upper cellar. I don’t know the way down any further, but we often hear screams through the grate in the fireplace in the main hall!”

Suddenly the sound of a man screaming interrupted the conversation. The scream ended as quickly as it started as the nude man slammed onto the stone floor and a pool of blood spread out from where his head met the stone floor with a sickening thud, much like the sound of a watermelon being dropped off a bridge onto rocks below. From the upper balcony where he had been thrown, Tyklor looked down, looking at his handiwork with little in the way of emotion. “Master, there is a freshly branded slave boy up here who says he knows where the door is.”

“Send him down here so he can show us!”

“He’s chained to a bed and is in bad shape.”

Anarton glanced over to the dead man with a shake of his head, then turned his attention back to Tyklor. “We don’t have time to pick locks or look for keys, ”Break the chains off the bed or break the bed away from the chains and carry him down here."

 

Avcar slammed his shoulder into the shield of one of the skeletal figures while dodging its rather clumsy attack with its flail. He then spun and smashed his wolf jaw into the leg of the undead horror wearing the all but useless remnants of a chain shirt. This time his blow hit perfectly, snapping the bone and causing the skeleton to fall to the ground. “There is your opening, get Zaffron out of here!”

Janden made for the gate, shaking with fear and crying. “What about you!”

Avcar dodged another attack, narrowly avoiding the flail. “Forget about me! Get Zaffron and yourself to safety!”

Even as Janden made it past the remains of the old gatehouse, he knew there was no chance Avcar would make it out alive. “Someone help! Help us!”

From within the walls Avcar shouted, “Get out of here!”

At the same time two more all but nude Skeletons emerged from the walls and moved on Janden, both armed with rusty blades. He screamed as they started to close on him, but he refused to let his end of the stretcher go. Just as he extend his claws and started to lower Zaffron, a rather terrifying screech came from above.

Before he could so much as look up, a massive white critter swooped down, talons extended. Janden dove thinking it was coming for him, but it continued over him.

Janden watched in stunned silence as the new arrival went to work. It slammed its powerful talons into the skull of the closest skeleton and crushed it. At the same time its lethal beak clamped around the second skeleton’s skull. With a vicious twist of its head and a powerful flap of its wings it snapped the skull off where it connected to the backbone. It then flipped its head violently to the left and released its grip on the head sending it flying into the woods.

Janden’s jaw fell open as the creature quickly pushed off with its powerful back, lion like, legs and took back into the air with a second screech. This one sounded much less angry and more victorious in nature, even to someone without the slightest ability to communicate with animals.

Inside the keep, Avcar rolled out of the way, narrowly dodging the attacks of the two newly arriving skeletons one of which looked more ape like than humanoid. It was also considerably faster than the others. Rolling again to get more distance between him and the vile formally living thing, his eyes fell on yet two more, these coming out of one of the front towers, cutting off any chance for escape. At the same time the voice echoed over the courtyard. “You will make a fine replacement for those you take down, once I am done with your life force.”

Avcar was about to respond when the shield carrying skeleton suddenly collapsed to the ground after losing a leg and the ape looking thing fell back, half a dozen feathers sticking out of its skull and eye sockets. With the eye sockets damaged, the magical bond keeping it tied to the realm of the living was cut off, allowing it to finally pass on to the next world. As the last of the magic swirled out of its eyes, forming a little dust devil of nasty reddish black light, the bones fell apart, no longer having magical energies to hold it together.

Shade formed again slashing its claws across the glowing eyes of the skeleton it had just taken the leg off of, ending its ties to the world of the living as well.

At the same time, one of the two skeletons at the gate shattered as a large Hawkling appeared swinging a brightly glowing falchion. The new arrival brought the weapon down and through the formally living man without any loss of momentum. “Benam, Quavis, there is another coming around the right side of the wall: Switch to smashing weapons, blades do not do well against skeletons unless they are very heavy and the wielder is extremely strong! Once you two take it out then move to protect the small Pantherling!”

Avcar wildly glanced around as he heard orders being shouted from multiple directions. Finally he looked at Shade with wide eyes, “Are you Aster’s….”

Shade nodded and vanished as it took to its shadow form again.

Another voice joined the battle, as a young man boldly held up a silver pendant in the shape of a tree and pointed at the second skeleton cutting off Avcar’s escape path to the gate. Wind whipped around the young priest for a moment then blasted outward, first knocking the skeleton to the ground then roots came out of the ground, holding it firmly in place.

Dabaff spoke, “I have not yet been granted enough power to fully vanquish these foul things, but it is held; your path back to us is secure. Fall back through us young man!”

Aster advanced on the held skeleton and slammed the back of his axe into the skull shattering it. “Come on, Move! There are more coming!”

Avcar shook his head and pointed to the back tower, “There is a Dark Mage here!”

“I heard the words, boy!” Sardan squawked with anger, “Night is not the time to fight this battle, especially with undead minions coming out of the walls. Fall back through us. Tomorrow we will tear this place apart and crush all resistance!”

“But he will probably escape!” Avcar shouted in outrage.

Aster stepped up put his hand on Avcar’s shoulder, “And the Watch will hunt him down and destroy him!”

“Aster!” Avcar shouted in amazement, “It really was your Shadow Hound I saw!”

“Indeed it is, Shade must have heard your voice and recognized it. His howl alerted us to your plight. So what brings one of my orphanage brothers here?”

“Zaffron, the one in the stretcher, he needs help. Conner’s teacher gated us here so we could go to the city of Rolling Dale in an attempt to save his life!”

Aster managed a smile, which vanished as he looked up to the tower the voice had come from. “We have the Pantherling and the injured boy. My friends, Quavis and Benam, are protecting them! Come with us. Tonight I will work on your friend and tomorrow this place will cease to be a base for the Dark Mages…” A bit of a sly smile crossed Aster’s face, “And it will be nice to have a Wraith to help us fight one who certainly is a Dark Wraith.”

A look a pure fear spread over Avcar’s face.

“Relax. We all know about Conner and the clear hatred you have for the Dark Mage here tells me you and him are on the side of life. Your secret is safe with us, my orphanage brother.”

 

Lord Anarton pointed for a pair of his students to pull a soft looking couch over as Tyklor struggled to carry a sobbing child, only a pair of years younger than him, down the stairs. Around the boy’s wrists and ankles were thick bands of iron, and hanging off of each were lengths of chains.

The boy’s left shoulder had a fresh brand of a pair of intertwined snakes around a bear and the bear held a shield in one paw. The flesh around the brand was badly blistered, not having been tended to at all since the branding had happened. Making matters even worse for the kid, the bottoms of his feet showed bloody welts where they had been repeatedly beaten with a thin rod or cane. Elsewhere on his naked battered body, were more welts and even human looking bite marks were scattered from head to toe. Tyklor finally got some help from one of the other older students to get the child onto the soft cushions.

The weeping child at first didn’t want to let go of Tyklor, but Anarton reached down and gently, yet firmly pried the boy’s interlocked fingers from around Tyklor’s neck. Anarton kept his voice soft as he gently ran his hand over the battered body. “I know you are terrified, hurt worse than your mind can fully comprehend, and in need of food and water. We will tend to all those needs, but if you really know how, you have to tell us how to get into the lower areas.”

The weakness of the child showed as the weight of the bands and the chains proved too much for him to even pull his arms up to rest them on his chest. As Tyklor helped him, the boy shivered from a combination of fear, the coolness of the large room, and the chill of the iron shackles and chains against his naked body. Still he found enough courage to speak. “The man took me through a passage he opened in the study by pulling on the green book with the star inside a star symbol and then he pushed in on the grey one with picture of a skull with a dagger in the left eye. He always took me to the room with all the chains, but I could hear my friend’s sister crying from further down.”

The boy took a sip from a water skin offered by one of the younger students and coughed weakly, spitting some back up. It took a couple of moments but he finally looked back at Tyklor, "Not long before you tossed the man off me, he had just chained me to the bed again after bringing me up from down there.

"When I was down there this last time, there was sounds of my friend screaming, a horrible snarl and a burst of very hot air through the vents in the chain room. I heard my friend shriek really loud in fear again too. A nasty, roaring voice demanded it be given the boy, and my friend screamed again, but the awful tiny woman laughed and said her questions hadn’t been answered yet. There was an argument, but then I heard the voice of some other guy. The guy was out of breath, but said he had found him.

"The tiny woman then said something about having to wait to feed and I could hear my friend screaming and pleading not to get fed to something again. The other snarling voice got even madder, demanding he be freed from the circle and allowed to take his prize, but the tiny woman laughed again, saying it was too late and it should have answered her questions sooner. It would have to wait until she had another question it could answer before she would let it claim its prize.

"I think she then was speaking to my friend as she said he could look at his new master a bit longer while she dealt with another matter. She then demanded to know where some prince kid and someone by the name of Glaster was.

“The last I heard, other than the snarling and my friend crying, was the new guy say he had found the prince but there was no sign of a one armed man, the prince’s teacher had two arms and was of a very high caste.”

Anarton continued to softly stroke the boy’s body, “Son, you are very badly hurt. Are you sure you heard everything correctly?”

The boy let out a sob, “I was trying to find a way to escape before I was branded, so I paid attention to everything, I thought if I was careful enough and good enough I could find a way to escape before he branded me.”

The boy trembled, “I let him chain me up and beat me without fighting him. I sucked on him and licked him everywhere he demanded. I didn’t fight him when he ran his hands all over me, and tried not to scream when he chewed on me.” As he continued to sob, he glanced over at his shoulder, “But after the tiny woman and the other man left, he said it was time. He tied my feet up and pulled them into the air and started hitting them until I couldn’t stop screaming. Then he dropped me down onto the rack, strapped me in and had one of the guards brand me while he stuck his manhood in me. All he kept saying is my feet would never heal in time for me to run and said I would soon make a great prize for his best gladiators while I trained to be one.” The boy’s head fell on the cushion as he cried, “I didn’t want to be a slave!”

Anarton shook his head and gently rolled the boy onto his side so he could look at the brand. “Relax, young one. You are still a free child. The brand you currently have means nothing other than the fact you have been tested to be trainable and pressed into the service of a baron, although I do not recognize this mark, so he is not from any nearby kingdom. Now, had he gotten the second brand on you, circling his heraldry in chains or the bear had chains on it, then you would have been permanently marked as a true slave. He was probably going to add in a second brand of chains and an option of a third, being some kind of weapon in the bear’s other paw once you got fully trained to fight in the pits as one of his men of sport. However, he must like his property to be marked with brands of high quality. To do so, the first brand would have to heal first. So, fortunately, you are not yet branded as a slave.”

The boy shook like a leaf as more tears rolled down his cheeks, “My parents will never take me back with this on my arm. Such a mark is an affront to someone in the merchant class in the city of Junsac. At best I am now a beggar, at worst…an…an…orphan.”

“Nonsense,” Anarton spoke forcefully, “your bravery tells me you would be a good fit back at my farm as one of my servants in training. Then, once you become Primary Echelon, you can make your own way in the world and reclaim your caste or even better it. We can talk more once you have healed and have regained some strength. In the mean time, a couple of my younger apprentices will work at getting the chains off you, find you some food, and get you clothed while the rest of us move down and clear this stronghold.”

The boy weakly nodded. “I will do whatever you want, just don’t make me a slave.”

“You are too good and decent a boy to be a slave, so worry not. Now is there anything else you heard or saw? Anything could be helpful to us.”

The boy managed a pain filled shrug. “Well, there are at least ten big guards down there and there is a pair of flame breathing dogs chained to the wall just down from the room of chains. The tiny woman was the only one I ever saw go past them. I think I heard the screams of at least five other voices too, only one of them sounded like a kid though.” The boy finally managed to look into Anarton’s eyes. “You have to get my friend out! I don’t want him being eaten by a monster! Please find my friend and his sister before the tiny woman gets back.”

“Your loyalty to them is very admirable. We will do what we can to free your friend and his sister.” Somewhat annoyed, Anarton barely managed to keep his voice neutral. “Are you sure the tiny woman, as you called her, is not here?”

The boy gulped and shook his head, “She left with the other man. It was kind of hard to hear through the screams of my friend, but I think the man said they had to go to someplace called Rolling Dale.”

 

Captain Pontarious took a deep breath as he ordered all lights on the Thunder Rapids killed. With no light at all and the pitch blackness of a bitterly cold freezing rain filled sky, he ordered his best pole men out to keep the barge off the rocks as they rounded the last turn before the Canyon of Cardova.

Off in the distances a few lights stood out showing the outline of the town and a pair of magical glowing orbs marking the proper path and warning of the danger of the steep offshoot of the river heading down into the gorge.

With a brief prayer to a multitude of gods, but primarily Vindayin, Pontarious quietly ordered his ten strongest men to push the barge out of the proper channel while once again ordering his best pole men to keep their poles out so they could find the large boulders making the break water set up to prevent exactly what he was trying to do.

“Let me know as soon as you feel the gap in the wall, we have to be getting close.”

The lead pole man shook his head, “We are real close to the wall Captain.” The lead pole man spoke with some trepidation. “I am scraping rocks less than two meters off the side here.”

“I know. But if we don’t stay close, we’ll miss the…”

“No rocks here Captain!” the lead poleman suddenly shouted out.

“No rocks Captain!” the second man back called out a moment later.

“Turn her now!” Pontarious shouted. “Front starboard plant your poles. This is going to snap a few; deck boys, stand by with new poles for the men!”

Even as the back end of the Thunder Rapids started to swing outward the first pole snapped with a loud crack. One boy ran forward with a new pole while a second anchored a rope tied around the boy’s waist in case he got bumped and slipped off the edge.

The man whose pole had snapped yanked the new pole out of the boy’s hand and quickly slammed it into the deep swirling water. Almost the second he got his planted, the pole behind his snapped. “Captain, we need more men up here!”

Even as a second boy moved forward with another pole, Pontarious shook his head, “Just a bit more and we can put poles in the water aft to straighten us out! You have to hold if this is going to work!”

The men gritted their teeth with the strain of trying to spin the barge. Even as the rain continued to freeze, coating the deck in a sheet of ice, the pole men had sweat mixing with the bitterly cold rain running down their faces.

Two more poles audibly started to crack before Pontarious made a downward motion with his left hand. “All poles in! It’s time to stop the spin and head down the canyon! ”

Pontarious moved to the back of the barge as he felt the Thunder Rapids come to a virtual halt. “Ok men, we are still caught in the flow away from the canyon. We are going to have to do this the hard way until we start getting pulled down where we want to go. Starting with the lead man, I want every other man to push us toward the canyon while the rest of you hold us from slipping past the opening in the rocks! Pole boys stand ready; we are certainly going to lose a few more! Now push!”

Meter by agonizing meter the Thunder Rapids moved closer toward the opening in the rocks. Finally, Pontarious himself had to jump forward with an extra pole and help push the barge back upstream slightly to prevent the side of the barge from slamming into the rocks on the downstream side. But finally the current heading down the canyon took hold of the barge and they broke out of the currents fighting to take them down the normally traveled path.

With a few deep breaths Pontarious grabbed his sides. “OK, secure poles and get back from the edge. Light crew, get those lanterns unhooded. This is going to get really rough really fast. Rudder men, keep us as straight as you can for as long as you…”

Pontarious stopped in mid-thought as the two children handed over by the Vindayin head priestess appeared on deck and moved forward. He started to cut them off, but as he got closer he noticed the stinging sleet and rain was deflecting off of a greenish hued bubble around each child. Also, each step they took left a dry footprint, as if the sheet of ice coating the entire barge moved to get away from each of their footfalls.

He held up a hand, preventing those closest to the children for hindering them. “Hold, Vindayin gave them to us for a reason and the words of the high priestess was ‘Let Vindayin provide’. This may be what she meant, but two of you move up and don’t let anything happen to them!”

As two of the senior deck hands moved forward, the boy moved to the left front edge of the barge and sat with his legs crossed, only centimeters from the edge. At precisely the same time and with the exact same movements, the girl duplicated what the boy was doing; only she sat on the right front edge.

Pontarious cringed nervously as the pair then reached out and placed the flats of their hands on the deck. A moment later the Thunder Rapids plunged down the first small drop-off and entered the swirling rapids of the Canyon of Cardova. All around Pontarious, items secured to the deck shifted slightly and those on deck tumbled. Amazingly enough, however, none of those on deck did more than fall. As they hit the deck they found it dry and just rough enough so they could stop from sliding all over the place.

The boy turned, his eyes glowing a dark forest green. The voice coming out of the mouth of the lad was clearly way too deep to be his. “Captain, get everyone below deck. If you wish to stay up here, grab hold of the upper rail and touch nothing else; you will be protected there and only there. They have the power needed and will take it from here!”

“Everyone below deck, NOW!” Pontarious screamed as the front end of the barge once again dipped down tilting the whole barge at a treacherous angle.

Even as those on the deck scrambled to get below decks, Pontarious forced himself to climb up to the upper observation deck. Three times he felt his ship take a dangerous plummet down another set of falls before he finally made it up and turned to see what was in front of him and his ship. As he turned his heart sank, for directly in the path of the ship was the outline of a huge rocky outcropping.

He gripped the rail and watched as the image got ever closer, finally, emerging out of the gloom of the front mounted lanterns, a ten meter tall and twenty meter wide rock stuck straight out of the middle of the river, forcing the churning waters to go around it. Unfortunately, the narrow canyon walls prevented either side from being wide enough for the passage of his beloved barge.

Just as he sank to his knees in terror, the children’s hands pulsed a bright green. Suddenly, the forward edge of the barge started to change, not in shape, but in color and texture. As the phenomenon rolled back over the whole ship, the roughness of the deck under Pontarious’ feet vanished, only to be replaced by a very smooth and extremely hard substance. Moments later the Thunder Rapids slammed into the rock formation with a tremendous roar of smashing rocks.

It took a few seconds for Pontarious to open his eyes, but even before he did so he could feel his beloved ship was still moving down the gorge, and if anything, it had picked up speed. As he finally forced his eyelids to part, all he saw was bits and pieces of rock littering the deck. Reaching down to grab a fist sized chunk, his hand made contact with the deck, only to find it no longer felt like wood.

Taking a few deep breaths he ran his hand over the deck, noting he could still see the grains of wood, but replacing the wood feel, was one of smooth stone. Suddenly he realized the power flowing out of the two youths had altered the whole ship into stone, petrified wood to be precise.

Before his mind could fully comprehend the astonishing transformation, the bow of the barge once again smashed into rocks, shattering them as a sledgehammer would crush pebbles. Bits of rock continued to rain down, mixing with the sleet, making it beyond uncomfortable to stay on top of the ship, but Pontarious refused to leave.

Several times the whole barge would drop several meters over falls only to slam into the bottom of the river bed, creating monstrous echoes off the narrow canyon walls, yet nothing aboard the ship broke. If anything, with each passing collision the ship became harder and it picked up even more speed. Only Pontarious’ eyes and the eyes of the two children given him by the Vindayin Priestess saw the Thunder Rapids earn her name while it created a thundering path down the formally impassible gorge others could follow, but few could safely navigate.

Just before sun-up the ship exited the canyon and entered the main channel of the river only an hour out of Rolling Dale. The children fell back too exhausted to do more than sleep while those below deck made their way up to survey damage only to find there was none. The only thing they saw was the Thunder Rapids was no longer wood, but stone, and the deck badly needed debris swept off it.

Pontarious took a full minute to force his fingers off the rail before stumbling to check on the children. Both were fast asleep, but clutched in the boy’s hand was a scroll made out of leaves of various plants. He carefully unrolled the remarkably strong scroll, noting the writing on the scroll was made of leaves of smaller plants with different colors. It took him a few minutes to grasp what secrets had been revealed, but as he did so he couldn’t help but chuckle. For within, Vindayin had provided an alternate explanation as to how his ship had become a giant floating rock. The scroll held directions to make a potion to transform wood into petrified wood, yet would still float like wood.

Picking up both children as carefully and tenderly as he could, he said a brief prayer to Vindayin, “I will take care of these two as my own and will mix up a few of these brews so I can make it look like this was my doing which is clearly your intention, although I have no idea why.”

 

Kandric and those with him finally moved into the cavern where he had killed both the Great Green and King Blathamort, most had dismissed the weird feeling and concentrated on what was left of the two Great Dragons. Huge pools of still sticky blood coated the areas where the two dragons had fallen and, even though most of their bodies had been removed, the massive boulder sized heads still remained.

Kandric couldn’t help himself. He stared at the heads for a few moments before finally finding the courage to walk up to Blathamort’s head. Shaking his head at the still terrifying sight, and with a bit of trepidation, he reached out and ran his hand down one of the massive teeth. “How could I have killed such a creature?”

“Premier Kandric,” Duke Mathard spoke up, "You used cunning, courage, skill, training and even your innocence of look to your fullest advantage. I was here to see King Blathamort fall. Until the final moment of his life, he never believed you where the one who killed the Great Green Female, no matter what you or the others said. It was only after you punctured the Green’s poison sack which shredded Blathamort’s front paw and leg, did it realize both the Green and he had badly underestimated your abilities and bravery.

"King Blathamort had no chance to counter your spell, and even as he fell he knew he had been bested by a boy. As a final act he gifted you with the vast majority of its power instead of letting it go to everyone. Those with you were also granted some of its death gift, while even though I was in the chamber, I got only a slight bit of the overflow. In some ways King Blathamort saw you as someone worthy of his power. It is very likely your siblings also gained a vast amount of magic, as there is no way you could have held it all. From now until you and your siblings pass, Dragons, especially Black Dragons will be able to see the power gifted to you and your siblings.

"It is also possible Blathamort did this to mark you and your siblings, so all Dragons will know instantly you are a killer of a Great Dragon. Either way, you are Premier Kandric and have been marked as such. Even the Dragon hide armor shows you have the power of Dragon Magic in you. For most who wear dragon scale armor it would protect the wearer from the breath weapon, but would not grant the wearer the camouflage ability. You, however, can wear dragon scale armor and get its full benefit. We tested this as you still slept. The Green armor grants you the ability to blend in with any color of greenery. In any forest or jungle you would be all but invisible, just like you now can stand in any shadow while wearing the Black Dragon armor and all but vanish from sight.

"Your three guards have been granted like abilities, meaning even as King Blathamort died, he saw in each of you beings worthy of a death gift only a Great Dragon can grant. For all I know the same applies to the Great Green, but I was not here to see it fall and simply do not know if she granted you the same honor as King Blathamort. My guess is she probably did, since the explosion of Green Dragon Magic did not bring down the whole mountain on our heads.

"However, I can say for certain King Blathamort did indeed grant each of you enough of his own essence to have some basic Dragon Magic, maybe more than the basics, only time will tell. This also means, much to the horror of any Black Dragon, killing you or any of your siblings would be seen as a slight to Blathamort’s very name. Once a dragon kin sees you or your siblings they will see the flow of energy around you and know you have the right of dragon gifted royalty.

“This is one of the reasons I warned my scouts and guards to tread lightly when around your young guards, for they have been similarly gifted, only to a lesser extent, the Dragon Magic gift. Otherwise the tests we did with the dragon scale armor would not have given them the ability of camouflage. I was going to keep silent for a bit longer on this, however, since it is clear you have chosen the Halforc, Seldnat, as one of your guards, and he has shown you nothing but the greatest respect, I feel it is time to point this out. He is now low royalty to all the Dragons, and thus should be treated as an Earl or Baronet by all. Unfortunately for both him and you, Premier Kandric, he will need much schooling to get him to an education and refinement of speech level to be seen as one. And even then, most will have a hard time believing it.”

“Me no care what other think. Teach’r Kandric be me Teach’r, me boss.”

Kandric shook his head, “No Seldnat. If you were found worthy of being royalty by a Dragon King the rest of the world should show you the same respect. It is not your fault no one has worked with you on reading, writing and speech. With the proper teaching, you could become a powerful spokesman for Halforcs everywhere. You could be the very person to change at least some attitudes towards Halforcs as something other than front line grunts and monsters to be feared.”

“Premier Kandric is correct young man.” Duke Mathard stated firmly. “If you spend some time leaning to talk well, learn proper royal protocols, and even read and write, you could be a stepping stone for all of your kind to better themselves.”

Seldnat starred and Duke Mathard for a few seconds with a degree of shock. “Mister Duke, you think me can really be teached to read?”

“Yes. You are very intelligent and even the way you have changed the way you are talking to me as quickly as you have, tells me you could quickly learn to read, write and speak with a refinement well beyond what you give yourself credit for. All you have to do is agree and be willing to change your perception of yourself. If you do so, I will personally assign some of my best instructors to teach you, but it will not be easy nor will they always be nice about it. In fact, I expect some will even be quite mean when they think they can get away with it.”

“Me have put up with badder things, Mister Duke. Me want ta be teached.”

“Then, between Premier Kandric and myself, we will see to it…” Duke Mathard paused as he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned to see Kandric’s hands race down to his sword. Before he could get his hands down to his own weapon, Lorthorn and Zeltoss were already pulling their own weapons. “Kandric?”

Kandric held up his non-weapon hand as he slowly drew his blade. He remained silent as he continued to study markings around a passage almost totally blocked by a cave in. Beyond, he could just make out a massively thick iron gate bent and ripped open by the destruction of a massive cave in.

Unlike most of the other areas blocked by stones, this one looked much older, even to his untrained eye. The rocks didn’t have fresh breaks marked by coloration differences and many of the largest stones didn’t have fresh cracks where they had smashed against each other. While most of the edges remained rough because there was no weather to erode them, the cracks had long ago been filled in with dust and in spots drips of water had caused smooth coatings on some while yet others had small stalagmites showing where water dripping from above had built up rock formations over the centuries.

At the same time Kandric’s Ruinseeker training told him something none of the others would or even could notice. Suddenly he was very thankful for the few hours spent in the Slome Jail. He took a few tentative steps back while motioning for those with him to cover the ancient passage. “My Duke,” he whispered, “how long does it take for those tiny rock things to form on fallen rocks?”

Duke Mathard pointed to one of his Miners to move forward and take a look while he frowned deeply, “Probably hundreds of years, why? What is the problem?”

Kandric continued to keep his voice very low. “There are two, actually.” With a gulp he pointed to the side of the passage where there was just a bit of a column still remaining. “There is writing on the framework of the passage; it is a language I only have a passing knowledge of, mostly because it has an ancient Elvin base. As a matter of fact it predates both Alphar and Garm, and is only slightly newer than Mythling. Even worse, the construction on the other side is the same style as what I saw when I explored the lower levels below the Slome jail, and explains why all the doors in the catacombs below the jail were bronze, when iron was more plentiful in this area.”

Mathard frowned in confusion, “I do not understand either point you are trying to make.”

“Duke Mathard,” Kandric whispered urgently, “The passages here lead to Slome. If my guess is right, one of the reason we have not run into any more hard resistance is some of those fleeing us could very well be heading underground only to emerge inside the walls of Slome!”

The Duke’s eyes went wide “By the gods! The city would be defenseless!” Mathard pointed to two of his scouts, “Send word, the town is in grave danger. Find forces to reinforce it and prepare for attack from the inside!”

Even as the two Gram scouts took off at a dead run, Mathard paused as he saw Kandric nod while still looking at the passage. “What else am I missing Kandric? Why, after killing a pair of Great Dragons, do you suddenly look so terrified?”

Kandric forced himself to take a couple of deep breaths. Still, when he spoke his voice trembled slightly. "Duke Mathard, the writing shows this place has been here longer than most of written history. The writing is one of the earliest forms of Elvin. Unless I am totally off on my translation, which I highly doubt, since I know both Mythling and ancient Alphar, and both are incorporated into pre Mythling War Elvin, the passage on the other side of those stones leads to a place of great horror. Even worse, the latest cave-ins are not what damaged the thick iron gates meant to block it. Furthermore, it explains why there was a second massive iron gate built into the walls which ultimately allowed us to defeat the hoards of protectors assigned to the Great Green female.

“On the other side of what is left of those pillars is a means of access to a place us kids have been told we would be sent for being bad for over a thousand years. If even half the rumors are true, it is place of the greatest evil to sweep the land since the Mythling War. For past those stones is a passage to a place I highly doubt you ever wanted to hear spoken aloud…”

Kandric took a deep breath and stared straight into Mathard’s eyes. “Beyond those stones is an unprotected opening to Under River!”

Copyright © 2000-2021 Kyle Aarons; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments

Thank you for another chapter in this excellent story.

 

While I would wish that you could post more than once a year, I understand life happens and you can only do what you can. It's still worth the wait, and I will continue to check every week or so just to see if there is anything new!

 

It's really a shame the world won't accept the themes because this could be the next Lord of the Rings!

 

Jim P

 

(PS this was supposed to be here and not on Re-Emergence, but I like that one to so all's well!)

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That was a wonderful chapter. I know there will be a long wait, but I really am aching for more, and I hope that at some point, your pace for this story picks up, because I am really anxious to read the great battles to come!

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In all honesty this is a tremendous piece of work so far.The story itself was kinda slow to start, but once it got going you just can’tstop reading. I like the way you switch perspective, certainly keeps us on ourtoes as well as breaking up the long chapters nicely.

 

Really, really can’t wait for the next chapter. )

 

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I love this story!!!!! I can't wait for the next chapter, I hope it will come out soon. I was lost in another world while reading this, I could see it and feel it. What a work of art.

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Guest RJ Keith

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Just finish reading this story again, but damn i cant really get enough of it.....

 

 

 

I got so many question really some of them was answered by reading it again but there still more

 

like "What really happen to kandric's other brother?" "was he also in the mine when it collapse and killed his father?"

 

 

so many questions

 

cant wait to read the next chapter!!!!!

 

kudos again to the author of this really great story

 

ps. i hope glaster could meet up with kandric soooooooooooooooon

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This story is so amazing and so this chapter. I just get lost in the story, it is almost like i am there along side of all of these characters. When is more coming?? I agree with Tiger about picking up the pace of this story when you have time, but then all good things take time and are usually worth the wait. So until that time i will just have to continue to reread. thanks again for a great story

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I just wanted to congratulate you on a superb story!

 

You have created a world in this story that draws you in and holds you captive. In other words... I can not stop reading!

 

specool.gif

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This is without a doubt one of the top stories on this site. It could be the top story, but being unfinished. sadly cannot be. After 9 months, I'm left to wonder if it ever will be. And that is even sadder. aleric-cry.gif

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On 10/08/2011 10:58 AM, Billy Martin said:
This is without a doubt one of the top stories on this site. It could be the top story, but being unfinished. sadly cannot be. After 9 months, I'm left to wonder if it ever will be. And that is even sadder. aleric-cry.gif
hey, it take a bit for me to get a new chapter out, but I have lots of other web storeis and Kandric is by far the hardest. I sure plan on a new installment for the end of the year.
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So what the Garm and Alphar have been hunting for over the last thousand or so years was just found and by a child?  LOL, this just keeps getting better and better...

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It appears that Kandric has found something that's been hidden for possibly centuries. Especially since the writing predates the mythling writing, as it's a form of pre Mythling war Elvin writing since Kandric is able to read Alphar and Mythling he was able to tell the Duke there was a very serious problem with the iron gate that was used to seal the entrance Kandric found. It's going to be very interesting in the next chapter of the Kandric Saga. 

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