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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 - 29. Chapter 29

Kandric knelt next to the gate stone and started touching various symbols even as several powerful beings watched on in awe. Off to the side, Queen Jostallis glanced over at her lead Ruinseeker, "He seems to have a good handle on how to read Mythling."

Duke Mathard gave Queen Jostallis a slight bow, "My Queen, I have seen him read Shamanistic as well. His mentor, Glaster, has spared no expense in Premier Kandric's training and the boy is beyond close to the man from everything he has told me."

Queen Jostallis shook her head, "The scouts I have sent down to this so called city of Rolling Dale say there is a Master Shaman by the name of Glaster, the former whipping boy of King Wyhrem, there, who is stirring up trouble which seems to be aggravating some who lean in the direction of the dark arts of magic. I can only assume this is the same being who has provided Premier Kandric with such fantastic teachings. You may wish, upon getting down to this mostly human inhabited city, to locate this man and find out how he does his training so we may mimic it if at all possible."

"My Queen," Duke Mathard chuckled, "While this Shaman may have helped to push and guide Premier Kandric, no education, nor innate ability, will ever be able to explain this youngster. He simply has a mold and a cavernous drive in himself far deeper than most can hope to understand let alone match. His loyalty to those around him is beyond anything I have ever seen and his ability, as a young one, to critically think past what others see and tell him makes him who he is.

"However, I shall do my utmost to find this Glaster, since if Premier Kandric is as devoted to the man as he is to his Wilderness Scout Commander, then there is a good reason. We will need this Master Shaman on our side if we are really going to rejoin the world of the lower races once again."

Kandric finally stood, "Queen Jostallis of the Combined Alphar Nations and Duke Mathard, I did as you recommended and set the opening of the gate to well over five leagues outside of Rolling Dale. It will open into a particularly overgrown area I explored while I was down there a couple of years ago. The area had some Kobald problems and my instructor thought it would be a good way to get some combat experience. While Kobalds are not by any means a major threat, we did come across a couple of Gnoll warriors as well. This means the lands are not tame and there could be some combat needed to get to Rolling Dale. I only say this for information and to make sure all who are joining me do not have a problem with this. If anyone does, I fully understand and they can stay behind. However, this way we will not suddenly appear right outside the city walls as an invading or attacking force."

Hearing a snorting sound coming out of his grandfather, Kandric stopped and glared at the man, "Is this a problem, Prince? Will such a long walk hurt your feet too much?"

While several faces went pale, others had to fight back chuckles, which only inflamed Prince Rovanall more. "Boy..." Seeing several Dragonlings and even a few Warrior Dragons turn to him with a snarl, he quickly adjusted his tone and started over, "Premier, do not attempt to make me look bad yet again. The idea you would even bother to mention Kobalds as a possible threat is what I found humorous."

A smirk crossed Kandric's lips as a slight, purposefully done, giggle came out of his mouth, "Ah, so now you wish to sound brave, Prince? This, after you hid behind your Captain of the Guard while many of us were fighting to secure Slome? Well, then, I assume you will have no problem stepping up this time." Seeing his Grandfather's face turn crimson, Kandric decided not to let up, "This is good to hear. Since you see Kobalds as such a pathetic foe, should we see any, I expect to find the great Prince Rovanall taking care of them all by himself. I am quite sure, however, Duke Mathard will have your back should you get into any trouble since I have recently learned there is a treaty stating when a member of Alphar Royalty goes into battle so does a member of the Garm Royalty and vise versa. Do you care to place bets on which of the two of you will walk away with the most kills to his name?"

Queen Jostallis cringed as she listened to the exchange, "Premier, if I may, this is not doing much for the morale of your troops." She paused as she caught a flicker of anger in Kandric. To this end she smiled, "No matter how much truth may seem to be behind the words."

She glanced over at Prince Rovanall noting the leader of one of the houses in the Alphar nation was very close to losing it altogether. She could not allow anyone to shame the Alphar nation in such a public way to the world on their first incursion outside of Alphar and Garm lands in hundreds of years. To this end she decided to show some confidence in the Alphar Prince. "However, I have witnessed your grandfather in combat and can assure you, his blade, should you come across any Kobalds, or Gnolls, will drip with plenty of blood. Actually, I will place a 1500 gold bet on your grandfather coming up with more kills then Duke Mathard."

Kandric noticeably cringed. He badly wished he could take the Queen on her offer, but there was no way he could cover such a vast sum. His hand went down toward his pouch but he stopped himself, knowing what he had would be nothing compared to the offered bet.

Pangam saw the look on Kandric's face and smiled, "Premier, if you wish to take the good Queen up on such a gamble, the Red Dragons will be happy to cover it for you until you have enough wealth of your own, which will be very shortly, I wish to add. Besides, the bounty we are sure to pay you for taking out a Great Green Female will certainly be more than 1500 gold coins"

Kandric turned and gave the Red Dragonling a nod of gratitude, "Thank you my friend." He turned with a smile, "I will, thanks to the backing of our Red Dragon allies, take you up on the wager, Queen Jostallis."

Queen Jostallis forced her face to be neutral even though it required a monumental effort to do so. Her play to calm things down and show support to Kandric's Grandfather had turned into a test of prowess between a Garm Duke and an Alphar Prince with another Alphar Prince siding with a Garm. This was dangerously close to breaking the treaty between the two ancient nations. However, there was now nothing more she could do other than move forward, take the boy's hand and look over at a very nervous Duke Mathard who clearly had similar feelings.

To this end, she gave the Duke a reassuring smile while carefully working a response, which would take the bite out any competition between Mathard and Rovanall. She then turned to Kandric's Grandfather with a hint of danger in her eyes. "Nothing like a friendly wager to get the best out of everyone, now is there?"

Although beyond furious, Prince Rovanall realized if he didn't play this to the way of the likings of his Queen, along with both the Garm and Alphar assembled in the clearing, chances were beyond good he would be removed from power, possibly by a blade in the back or a slit throat in his sleep. Neither great nation would allow bad blood to start over something this frivolous, and a bet over who could drop the most Kobalds was about as lighthearted as it could get. To this end he gave Duke Mathard a bow of respect, "What do you say to a side wager between us good Duke? If you win I will provide you with a new, highly enchanted blade out of my forge and if I win, I get something similar crafted by one of your fine Garm smiths; what do you say?"

"Ah, yes," Duke Mathard bowed with a degree of relief, "now there is a good way to seal this betting in a way which will certainly benefit both nations no matter who wins, for a new weapon made by either of our houses will only add to the power of the greater alliance."

Queen Jostallis let out a long breath, which almost everyone took for what it was, a silent sigh of relief. "I am sure realize all of this will probably be for not, since no Kobald in its right mind would ever stand up to a single Garm or Alphar. However, it is nice to know we can still have some fun and make things interesting even after many thousands of years of existence of both our nations."

Seeing several nod in agreement to those words, Queen Jostallis purposefully patted Kandric on the back while whispering to him, "Should you lose, we will subtract the debt from what we owe you for killing King Blathamort. The bounty on his head for killing your ancestor, Prince Amberwood, is well more than five times the amount of our wager."

Off to the side Prince Rovanall noted the conversation and took a few steps back. The fact he would have to dip into his own coffers to pay off his part of a bounty for an event, which took place centuries before he was even born, was just one more serious aggravation and being belittled by the redheaded scamp was the final draw. Kandric needed to die. This whole farce had to stop and stop quickly. Giving a slight nod to one of his court's Mindmasters he started thinking to the young man. He then purposefully dropped a golden bracelet on the ground as he acted to be adjusting his armored shin guard. Making sure no one was watching, he covered the golden item up and stood. The bracelet was actually a signet of sorts which allowed him to quickly promote others and show all those inside his house of the new promotion without him having to proclaim anything. He could either take it back or give formal proclamation of the promotion at a later time. He then rolled his neck and adjusted his gear as the shimmering portal his grandson was making stabilized above the green pyramid of the Mythling Gate Stone. He stepped forward, not at all looking forward to feeling the effects of a second Gate Stone passage.


Sardan moved through the streets of Rolling Dale, noting there was an undertone of edginess in demeanor of those walking down the cobblestone streets. At the same time the city itself was actually very impressive. Unlike most cities, this one was pretty well kept up. There were some back alleys with trash and wandering rats, but the main streets were clean and clear of debris.

The second thing he noted was the lack of beggars. As he moved through the people, no one held up a mug looking for a free coin. There were no street urchins roaming around wearing too little for the lingering cold weather either. He thought back to the child they had rescued from the Dark Mystic's lab, wondering if he had seen where the undesirables ended up. He hoped not, but the feeling of fear in the air was palatable enough for him to suspect he was at least partially correct.

He found himself distracted by Aster as the boy pointed to an herbalist sign hung over a shop on the next corner up. Nodding in understanding, he angled across the street only to see a quartet of city guards eyeing him. He pretended to ignore them as he moved to the entryway while Aster walked inside with his pets and Benam, followed by the very large skunk.

Quavis looked up, "Teacher, why are the guards eyeing us? We haven't done anything, have we?"

"To my knowledge, no," Sardan stated. "It may be Blackie. Even though we paid the extra five copper and showed proof Benam has him trained, seeing such a creature in the streets might be causing them some... Maybe the best word is apprehension." He looked down at Quavis with a slight chirping snort, "Why don't you go ask them?"

"Me?" Quavis gulped. "But they might get mad..."

Sardan nodded, "Very true, which would tell us much. We have not been able to locate Glaster or his people, nor have we located Conner or his group even though we have verified the Thunder Rapids is docked at the river port just outside the walls. We also know, by the amount of activity, the guards are very busy down at the docks. Add in this with what Aster saw, we can only assume Captain Pontarious, his crew, and Conner have gone on the offensive.

"While my enquiry may cause them to clam up, you, even if you make them angry, will be much more likely to get information since their guard will be much lower with you than me."

Quavis sighed, "The Ghoul Drool all over again, huh?"

Sardan snickered, "Yes, but this time I have no intention of taking a barstool, mug, or anything else up side my skull."

"You know I am still mad at you for lying to me and using me when Aster was the one who set us up, right?"

"Quavis, I think Aster has proven he has no ill will toward you several times by now. The scheme he came up with was to destroy your father and even you have to admit, it was needed. It is too bad we did not get him, but you and your younger siblings will never fall into his evil clutches now, so the gods were looking out for you."

Quavis chewed his lip for a moment, "If the gods really cared, they would have never let happen what we saw in the old keep..."

"Instead of looking at the negative, Quavis, look at the positive." Sardan scolded the boy.

"What positive? I haven't been able to close my eyes without seeing the room, the kid, and the spike table since we saw it!"

"But again you look at the bad. Instead, maybe you should try to see we got there in time to save the boy and we had people with us who could do something about it. Aster was able to treat all the wounds with such precision the boy will not have scars all over his face and back. Just before doing so, we hooked up with Conner's friend Avcar, a total unknown to us until then. His knowledge of those who do such horrible acts gave us infinitely more information than we had before. Dabaff, who suddenly broke into Secondary Echelon, was able to vanquish several of the undead because of his link to his god being strengthened. Then he was able to do a much more powerful healing on the child after Aster made sure there would be no physical scars. Finally, Avcar's friend was given the needed treatments by Aster to be able to walk again in the near future.

"All of these positive things happened. Now you can chose to believe this was all a wild coincidence or you can believe, as I do, the gods intruded just enough to put all the needed pieces in place to make it play out the way it did. It is not the job of the gods to do everything for us. Instead it is our job to follow through with the opportunities they guide us to.

"Now, instead of acting like a beggar looking for handouts, why don't you behave like the Swordsman we both know you can be and get us some information."

Quavis cringed, in his heart he realized the words coming out of his teacher hurt more than if the man had backhanded him. He lowered his head, "Sorry, Sardan... I'm acting like a baby..."

"No, no you are not. You just need to adjust your attitude back to being the outstanding young man I know you can be. You did well last eve and saw things I wish you would have never had to experience, yet you didn't let any of it stop you from caring. Even better, at least in my eyes, you still want to stop the leeches who did such horrible acts." Sardan put his hand on the boy's shoulder and turned him so he faced the main street they had been walking down. "Look around, my student. Less than two out of every hundred walking down these streets would still be able to talk coherently after seeing a single walking skeleton, yet you bravely faced and even took down several.

"However, it is easy after such a fight, along with the aftermath, to get down on the world. It is natural to go down the road you found yourself on, but it is no way for a future Swordsman and, hopefully, Watch member to behave or think."

Quavis sputtered and coughed, "Me... I could be in the Watch?"

"You could," Sardan responded empathically. "The Watch needs new blood and all you have to do is look at Aster to see we are not above starting someone out young. I see you as a good fit, but you need to show those above and with me enough to where they see what I do. For, if you continue to prove yourself, when I put your name in as an inductee, they will give you the shot I know you deserve.

"Just think back to the Ghoul Drool. Your first mission as a potential Watch member gained us more information than the entire Watch had been able to get in many moons of hard work and subtleties. You made a name for yourself, even if you did not know it, and you continue to do so. You have a certain ruffian charm to you; it is not something anyone can be taught, nor is it something tangible. It just is. It is what Aster saw when you escaped the building we set up; it is what I saw in you as I led you out of Junsac. But it is not just seen by a few. For your rough edge it is what the cutthroats in the Ghoul Drool felt which opened their lips and spilled secrets we knew nothing about." Sardan smacked the boy on the butt, "Now go use it all over again."


King Wyhrem moved back to his tent after speaking almost thirty minutes with the Black Dragon and Master Lannet. He took a long and deep chug of ale to calm his nerves some before pouring himself another mug and filling a second one. He turned and handed the second mug to Master Lannet then took a seat. "It is just the two of us. Do you concur with my own Mindmaster? Is this Black Dragon, Bormastarm, telling the truth?"

Master Lannet gave a slight bow of thanks, took a sip of the very fine ale, and sat across from the king, "Highness, there is no deception in him as far as the offers he is making. If anything he is underplaying just how desperately the one he sided with in this brewing civil, Prince Bandurlok, wants this deal. Bormastarm opened his mind up, there is no question, but he was hiding something about the whole civil war between the two Dragon princes."

"Any guesses?"

Master Lannet shook his head, "Highness, he is deeply troubled. The number of Dragons who have been killed in the last several days has him reeling. He also is terrified of your young standard bearer, of this there is no question. But the real status down in the Black Dragon Homeland also has him deeply troubled. I just cannot tell you exactly why. As it is, I am exhausted. The inside of a Dragon's mind is flatly disconcerting. He has lived almost nine hundred years and has done some very deplorable things in his time. For a moment, I even knew what an Illorc tasted like just as it messed itself."

King Wyhrem looked away with a cringe, "Sometimes there is a line of giving out too much information, and I think you just crossed it." The King shuddered noticeably, "What about my boy or boys... Is he as certain this Gambra managed to get to and replace my little Zoldon with a Doppelganger?"

"Of this he is positive and so is the Watch. Your former Lead Healthman was instrumental in setting up the whole thing and even poisoned little Zoldon with Mandrake juice then healed him with fresh Rotten Berry juice just before he died. You were holding on to Zoldon when the boy appeared to have died, but then the switch was made when you went to comfort your wife. The former Day Slave overseer of Junsac Bormastarm had brought to us also confirms this.

"I am sorry we did not pick up on this sooner. All I can tell you is we were close. We managed to infiltrate the Day Slave trade and gave false orders to whoever was running the criminal underground within. This caused a pin of someone known as Monarch to get left behind at the site of a Dark Mage attack. While we thought this would lead us to who was really behind it, we seemed to have pushed or forced a different outcome. This Monarch cut ties to the Dark Mages and left them hanging out to dry. This has exposed half a dozen Dark Mages and at least two Dark Mystics in and around Junsac. It has also allowed us to find proof there are still Wraith Sect Warriors, as two of the Dark Mages were Wraiths.

"Furthermore, we gained information which leads to Rolling Dale being a major base of operations for those who play with the dark arts. Both Dark Mystics pointed to getting trained there in a shop called Gloom Fire. While the methods used to extract this information often leads to false claims of knowledge to end the agony, another Watch Mindmaster confirms they were telling what they knew. In addition, the name Gloom Fire was extracted from each without the other's knowledge. The other item we have found out is these students of the dark arts were both shipped down to Rolling Dale from above the Silver Spine Mountains. Both claimed to have been sold to the Mystics by none other than the Governor of the town of Slome.

"It may be of some interest for you to know one of my youngest full Watch members found out about possible trouble up there and was actually on his way up to the pass when new information diverted him to Rolling Dale. Even as we speak, Sardan has taken the boy into his team and is trying to locate Glaster. In addition, another group the Watch has allied itself with also diverted to Rolling Dale. At this point the information is coming so fast and from so many different highly trusted members of the Junsac Watch, we are to the point of being overwhelmed."

King Wyhrem held up his hand to stop Lannet, "So all of this cannot be simple chance, can it?"

Master Lannet took a deep breath, "Highness, I do not believe so. Actually, I can give you a firsthand account as to it probably being something infinitely more. However, in this, I cannot provide proof other than from Lord Falk himself."

King Wyhrem extended his arm and rolled his hand in a way all but demanding to hear the information.

"Highness, while Lord Falk and I were pushing down into Everone, before helping to break the siege of the city, Lord Falk was approached by the High Council. Although I could not mentally read the messenger they sent, I have no doubt as to this being tied into what is now going on."

"The High Council has broken their silence and have shown themselves to Lord Falk? You are certain?"

"I was there. Lord Falk was asked to come to meet with them."

"Then this is a matter of the gods themselves..."

"Lord Falk hinted to this being his feelings as well, Highness. However, there is one more matter I really need to discuss with you. There is a pair of emissaries who will be here shortly, who wish to speak with you."

King Wyhrem grinned at the cautious tone being spoken by Lannet, "After seeing how the sands of time has turned your body back to a vibrant youthful Dwarf and having a Black Dragon come to my camp, the chance of me being surprised about anything at this point is pretty slim, my trusted friend and advisor."

Master Lannet took a long draw from the mug of ale and stood, "Then, with your permission, allow me to test your resolve not to be surprised."


Glaster entered the town square just as the bell on the tower at the edge of the square sounded the time of high sun. The dozen loud clangs echoed over a good portion of the town as a few wispy flakes of snow spiraled downward out of a sky growing more overcast by the moment.

Up at the central square platform, where large auctions and plays were often held, a group of Eaglecrest guards held back a growing crowd of interested onlookers. There had been no announcement of anything special happening, so seeing the central platform being readied attracted the attention of those close by and word spread from there.

Glaster put his hand on Rylan's shoulder and motioned for Tazen to draw his weapon.

Seeing a guard with a weapon out, even though he was a younger teen, the crowd of mostly peasants moved to the sides, parting as if someone was unbuttoning a shirt. Those who didn't move quickly were pulled out of the way by others. The path was further widened as the guards of the King's Judge took notice of Glaster's arrival and moved out from the central platform, further pushing the gathering crowd back.

Glaster nodded at the lead guard as he stepped into the clear. He then pointed for Rylan to move up to the upper stage area. While Rylan climbed the stairs, Glaster tapped Tazen on the shoulder. Once he had the boy's undivided attention, he nodded to the five kids who were sitting under the stage area with their hands tied behind their back and their feet tied with only a half meter of rope separating their ankles. Another rope securing their hands to the rope between their ankles further decreased their mobility. He spoke just loudly enough for the teen to hear, "You grab Devkiln since I do not know any of the five, then the guards will take the other four who were unwise enough to follow his lead."

Although nervous about getting on the bad side of Devkiln's father, Tazen didn't hesitate. He ducked under the platform and moved up to the slightly younger teen.

"You touch me, serf, and my father will force feed you something capable of making your skin melt off!"

This only annoyed Tazen, "You call me a serf again, you sewer-rat turd, and the two of us will get to see how far my gauntlet will fit down your throat." A slight smirk crossed Tazen's features and his eyes glinted as a sudden thought occurred to him, "Oh, yeah, just a reminder, I did warn you I would not forget about you pulling strings to get me moved to one of the colder outer buildings for treating Rylan. Consider this a partial repayment." Without further warning he yanked Devkiln up by the front of his shirt and kneed him in the nuts. As a nearly silent hiss of pain escaped Devkiln's lips, Tazen glared, "Now do we go for round two or do you start walking?"

Devkiln shook with a mixture of fury and agony, but seeing the kid in front of him starting to clench his fist inside his gnome steel gauntlet, he stumbled back and nodded. He would get his vengeance soon enough. He glanced at the other four and jerked his head even as he was given a hard shove toward the stairs to the platform.

Glaster waited with the King's Judge while carefully watching the crowd below. Spotting a few unsavory types with way more than passing interest as to what was going on, Glaster took note of them and started to gage their skills. In this, his Lockmaster ability came center stage. He quickly determined eight were way too obvious, mere distractions to be easily identified by the guards. Six others were skilled, but not dangerously so. They wouldn't get the notice of the guards until they tried something. This meant they may be able to do some kind of damage, but would get no further.

An additional four were definitely trouble. They blended in to near perfection in the gathering throng of beings and moved to gain advantageous positions cutting off most avenues of escape. In this, however, they made a tactical error. By cutting off all but two routes of safety away from the city square, they all but broadcast where Glaster should really concentrate. This took considerably more time, but before the four boys and one girl ever made it up to the upper platform, because their bonds made climbing steps close to impossible, Glaster had identified two well-concealed and potentially extremely dangerous groups. The first was lead by a man in his late thirties who wore a heavy brown robe and didn't stick out at all. The only clue to his being a problem came from the fact he kept moving his hand up to scratch his hair, but each time he did so, a stray finger point directed those with him to the best positions.

The second was a finely cloaked and well dressed merchant with a pair of bodyguards. The man was moving along the eastern-most street exiting the square while looking at goods. The man's walking stick was the key to spotting him. The gemstones making up the eyes of the carved in parrot head were turned and covered way too often and in too much of a pattern to be a coincidence.

Even as the five youths were pushed forward by the guards, Glaster continued to study the streets. While knowing he was not going to see everyone, he managed to find five from the merchant's group and seven from the brown robe's group. All were adults and all looked to be shopping. They were good which meant they were dangerous. On the other hand, they clearly didn't count on being spotted. This was where Glaster held the upper hand and he had every intention of using it. First, though, he needed to handle the business at hand while playing the part of being ignorant of his true surroundings.

He pointed to the guard sergeant who in turn smacked his gauntleted hand on a hanging metal sheet. The racket quickly drew most attention to the platform. Glaster had to bite his lip to prevent cracking even a hint of a smile as this allowed him to spot two other threats, since neither turned to look, instead they moved to better cover exits out of the square.

Glaster stepped forward, pushing Rylan forward by putting his hand on the boy's back. "People of Rolling Dale, today I come to you alongside a spokesman for our kingdom to bring to light a heinous crime against our land, our royal linage, along with the royal linage of another kingdom. This crime is paramount to an act of war, which has not been authorized by our king or any of his royal subjects.

"Since my student is the accuser, I have to bring these charges to light." He grabbed Rylan's wrist, pulled the hand up high, and used a dagger to quickly and cleanly remove the bandage covering the boy's hand. "This injury was not self inflicted. As any Healthman who wishes to examine it can tell, pressure from more than one hand made the burns deeper over the areas where pressure was applied and almost caused my student to lose his hand."

Several people close to the front of the platform cringed; others looked away from the horrible burn.

Glaster continued, "As those close enough to clearly see can tell, there is even a burn of an Orc's face branded into the skin. This was caused by the hilt of a blade heated to very high heat." Glaster lowered Rylan's hand and let go before moving over to Devkiln. He yanked the boy up by the hair getting a scream of pain. He then pointed to the nearest guard, "Show the crowd the boy's blade!"

The guard moved forward and pulled back on Devkiln's winter robe, ripping it as he did so. He then grabbed the boy's belt and used his own dagger to cut it off. He tossed the belt, along with the short sword off the platform for those close by to see it for themselves.

Glaster nodded as those close by took a good look and saw the Orc head on the hilt of the weapon. "Does anyone care to come up and match the two?"

Several people shook their heads while a few others seemed to become fearful. No one volunteered.

Glaster was surprised by this, and let it show since he wanted to keep the look of a person who didn't pick up on the obvious. Those below were afraid to speak up against the boy, which meant they were afraid of the father. There was certainly more going on than met the eye. Still, he forced a nonchalant shrug, "I see no one needs to verify the proof I show, so I shall move on."

Glaster moved back over to Rylan, "The next facts are on record, and I have the scrolls showing both young men were enrolled at the Rolling Dale School of Arms at the time in question. The other young man with me," Glaster gestured to Tazen, "now holds Primary step one pins as a Swordsman and Healthman, having trained at the same Kingdom owned and run school. I have yet another scroll here," Glaster pulled up a paper to show the crowd, "showing Healthman services were given to the injured student by this former student and a note signed by one of the training guards as to the other four you see before you forcing my student to hold on to the hilt. I have yet another scroll, signed by the armor smith Fytog, who was on duty at the forge. Fytog swears as to the owner of the sword heating the hilt in the shop just before the burn took place, which means he knew of the attack beforehand and was instrumental at helping to carrying it out, even if his name is not mentioned as one of the attackers."

Glaster forced himself to look far less angry than he really was, "This alone would warrant grave punishment, for to attack a student under the care of any school within the Kingdom is to say to the owner of the school the attacked student attended didn't have the right to the protections of other students. In this case, since it is a Kingdom owned school, this is a direct insult to our King!

"However, the crime in this instance is even more grievous. The young man injured is not of this kingdom. In fact, he is a high royal member of another kingdom. Because he was attacked in a school while in the protection of our King, this is paramount to a declaration of war. This makes the five urchins before you instigators of a war with and between the kingdoms of Kronarian Isles and Eaglecrest. Because of this, the five in front of you are traitors to the throne and to King Wyhrem!"

Glaster took a step back and gave the King's Judge a bow, "I rest my case on your judgment of this most dire of matters."

The King's Judge moved forward and spoke in a deep voice, "These are indeed ominous accusations backed up with abundant proof. He glanced down at the five children then turned to face Glaster, his voice remained deep and angry sounding, "You do realize the consequences if these charges are found to be false?"

"I do." Glaster gave a slight bow of subservience.

As Glaster stood straight, the King's Judge spoke softly, "I also gather you have seen and identified some of those in the crowd who have no intention of letting us do anything about it, right?"

Glaster gave a nod and spoke up loud enough to be heard. "I can provide other proof if needed, or if these charges are refuted by anyone."

The King's Judge gave a single sharp nod and spun around to face the crowd again. "At this time does anyone wish to put his or her reputation and or life on the line to refute these charges? Understand, bearing false witness to this will result is flogging, stock time, and forfeiture of all property to the one wronged."

A trio of kids from the Rolling Dale School of Arms who were standing off to the side glanced at each other and started to back away. The King's Judge, however, cleared his throat before any of the three could get very far. "Where do you guilty looking youngsters think you are going?"

Before the kids could contemplate what to do, four of the Judge's guards hopped off the platform and surrounded the trio. With wide eyes and the prospect of being flogged hanging over him, the youngest one spoke, "We were paid coin and given better quarters to say it was a bet, between Dev and Ry. We was told ta say them others all be the ones who hurt Ry, but I ain't getting whipped and locked in stocks for no five silver!"

Before the other two could so much as nod, a crossbow bolt struck the speaking youngster in the throat, killing him. Even as gurgles of blood escaped around the fatal wound in the twelve year old's throat, a trio of other arrows were fired at the other two kids from other locations in the city square. All three ended up impacting on the shields of the guardsmen, however. Up on the platform, two of the King's Judge's guards pulled up their heavy crossbows and fired at the first assassin. One caught the woman in the shoulder, the other in her left breast. She fell, screaming. Other guards fired at the other archers killing one and wounding two.

At the same time other members of the King's Guard contingent moved to surround Glaster, Rylan and Tazen.

While many in the crowd dove for whatever cover they could find, others made a mad rush to get away. This left many of those who were meant to stop any escape either standing as obvious combatants or forced to join in the panic to keep their identities hidden. Glaster pointed out those who were caught flat footed to the guards even as he put up magical protections. His first spell was on Rylan, his second on Tazen and the final one on himself. Those close to Glaster noticed the order in which the spells were cast with a degree of surprise.

The King's Judge's guardsmen, all being from Junsac and part time guards at Protector's Keep, showed their professionalism. As soon as Glaster and the Judge pointed out those caught out in the open, bolts were fired. Ten of those assigned to prevent anything from happening to the five students being accused were cut down before they could ever start to run while four others managed to get behind some cover, but ended up with crossbow bolts sticking out of various body parts.

Even as all this was going on, the King's Judge's voice boomed out, "It is clear the five are not only guilty of all charges, but are also part of a much larger plot. Their fate is sealed!" He then unceremoniously kicked the back of each of the kids sending them off the platform onto the cobblestone below while directing his guards to pull them back under the platform for their own protection. He then pulled up his shield and drew his bastard sword. With a single world the blade became ice coated, a testament to its highly magical nature.

The four guards surrounding the two surviving students hired to give false witness quickly pulled them under the cover of the platform as well, one of them grabbing Devkiln's blade as they did so. Once under cover, the guard tied a knot in the cut belt and dropped the knotted loop over Devkiln's shoulder. He glared at the boy, "Proof of your crimes against my Kingdom and my King will remain with you until we can properly deal with you! If I get my way, I will brand you with it repeatedly before this is over!"

Glaster motioned for Rylan and Tazen to join the group then snarled as an arrow fired from a rooftop bounced off the magical sheen he had put around Rylan. "Oh, no you did not..." Glaster snarled. He eyed the rooftop, spoke a short phrase and made a clawing motion with his hand. Suddenly, the flat wooden roof sprouted a score of meter long spines all pointing at the archer. The spikes then curved into claw-like structures and pulled the man to the ground. The man's agonized screams gave all the proof needed as to the effectiveness and viciousness of the spell.

Seeing a Rolling Dale guard throw a dagger at one of the King's Judge's guards only to get a war hammer upside the head for his attack by another Rolling Dale guard, Glaster glanced over at the King's Judge, "We need to pull back to my inn! We cannot hope to fight an unknown number of disloyal city guard and those backing this act of treason!"

The King's Judge used his shield to block yet another arrow fired from a back alley while ordering his troops to form a protective screen around Glaster, his companions and the captives. "Let us create a distraction so most of my escort can get to your inn and form a good defense around it."

"Fine, then we will take Devkiln with us, since it is abundantly clear to me, he is the one they are really after." Glaster paused, cast a spell and grabbed Rylan's hand. The young Highman Prince let out a yelp and tears poured down his cheeks, but moments later all damage done to his hand vanished. Glaster used his sleeve to wipe the tears before speaking firmly, "Tazen and Rylan, you two are also with me, each of you take one of the students and try to protect them. I see no choice but to do this since it is clear their lives are now forfeit after breaking their word to whoever paid them. The rest of your men, Judge, need to get to the Green Goblin, there are members of high royalty within."

The Judge's eyes narrowed as he pointed to two guards, "Both of you are with us. Grab the ringleader brat and follow us," He pointed to Devkiln. "I need two others with us to keep the other four moving with us. None of these five leave my sight. Cut the ropes between their hands and feet so they can move at a better pace, but they otherwise remain bound. The rest of you, get to the Green Goblin and defend those in it! If possible get them organized so we can get them all out of the city!"

Glaster's group moved out first. They did a fighting retreat, cutting down as many of the renegades as they could which forced the others opposing them to try to cut them off before they could escape with Devkiln. In this Glaster and the Judge showed no mercy, taking down five city guardsmen and a trio of other attackers. This included the robed man who had been using head scratches to send signals to his men. The man's spell book let out a scream as it died with him, a testament to him being a Dark Mage. This action, and the zeal at which it was done, left a clear path for the rest of the Judge's guard contingent to move out of the square and get to the Green Goblin without any serious fighting.

Just as Glaster thought they were going to make it to a side alley and finalize their own escape, however, they ran into the man with the parrot head walking stick along with a half dozen well armed and armored cloaked figures cutting off the escape path.

Before anyone in Glaster's group could so much as look for another direction to exit the square, the man pointed his walking stick and spoke a short arcane phrase. A single bolt of fire leapt out of the end of the stick, struck the ground behind Glaster's group and spread, creating a wall of flames over two meters high and over a meter wide. Those who were unfortunate enough to get caught within screamed and ran as their clothing and in some cases their hair burst into flames. At least four attackers trying to get to Devkiln were among those to fall to the extremely powerful spell effect. This not only cut off escape for Glaster and those he was with, but also prevented those who were trying to attack him from within the square from getting to them.

The walking stick toting man lowered the hood of his own cloak, revealing his Elvin heritage, when he spoke it was in an extremely formal sounding Northman. "You," he pointed his walking stick at Glaster, "and you alone, my most noble house Prince has interest in. The rest of your group may leave as long as you release the low human boy along with his enchanted Orakin blade. The rest, they concern me not."

Glaster held up his hand to stop the King's Judge from going on the offensive or even speaking. "I will go with you, but I will not allow the one known as Devkiln to go free. He is not only a traitor to my King, he is also the mastermind behind the attack of my student." Just the way the words were spoken, it was clear to all who were listening, Glaster was furious at both acts and in his mind there was simply no negotiations ever going to happen which would lead to the boy going free.

The Elvin man cocked his head to the side as the sounds of combat intensified on the opposite side of the wall, "My understanding of the dynamics of this walled village leads much to be desired, Master Shaman, however, this meagerly walled settlement is infested with the most wretched of beings. From the sound of increasing violence behind us, I would be remiss not to point out, even now, the worst are turning on the others around them and will soon control everything within these walls. Without my help, those you are with will fall prey to these sinister forces in short order. Would you so quickly forfeit the lives of those with you over a mere human?"

"Anyone who disgraces my King and or my student will see punishments the most dire in scope or I will die trying." Glaster stated with growing loathing in his voice. "You are skilled, to be sure, but do you really think taking us down with only seven of you, eight including your roof top friend, is going to go smoothly?"

"Master Shaman," the Elf spoke again, "I have no such illusions. Your reputation is known, even by us. However, your being in my liege's hands will further his ultimate goal. Of this, I am obligation bound to do. To make sure this happens, I allied myself with those you are at odds with, at least in as far as getting you. My liege gets you until your usefulness comes to an end, they get the boy. I can assure you, the rewards for you giving us no trouble will be beyond great and he will provide you with ample boy flesh of your liking during your stay. Such were the decrees of my Liege. It is unfortunate the terms included working with the wretches I have been forced to cooperate with in this and goes much further than I wished to go with such shameful excuses for life, but alas, such were my orders. Once my terms are fulfilled I will guarantee the safety of everyone else currently with you and even make certain they get beyond the walls of this village."

Glaster's eyes narrowed, "Currently with me, but no one else?"

"Master Shaman, I see you understand the situation. You are quite perceptive for a human; you must have some Highman blood within or maybe even some Elvin blood." The Elf eyed the edgy guards with disdain before turning his attention back to Glaster, "Unfortunately, no one else here appears to have such prestigious bloodlines and will fall to us with minimal loss on our part. You and the Judge, as you title him, may take three or even four, but you lose your arms-men, four prisoners, your student, and your young sentry. Are their lives as meaningless to you as they are to me? Do you declare your own student as a non-child and throw the young lamb to the wolves?"

Glaster's eyes narrowed, as the last words were spoken. At the same time, pieces fell into place in his mind. Having spent a fortune on getting Kandric the best Ruinseeker instructors known, Glaster had picked up on a few things. The term non-child was mentioned in one of the lessons he had sat through, paying only partial attention to the class while thinking of a night with this beloved Halfelf in his bed. However, the term had stuck, probably because of the subject at hand and with it the lesson about how the greater races of Alphar and Garm treated children who disgraced their families.

Knowing who he was dealing with came as a shock, but the attitude dripping off those he was negotiating with made him realize they thought way too highly of themselves. "The lives of all of us are meaningless when compared to those in the Green Goblin, and Alphar or not, you know way too little of what you speak to sound so pretentious."

Seeing all seven figures' eyes go wide, Glaster pressed his momentary advantage while guessing at the motivation for this whole attack, "Why come out of hiding now, and why do you do so in a way which puts you in direct conflict with King Wyhrem? Does the mighty Alphar wish to soil their reputation with those they abandoned centuries ago just because I have a young Drow Conclave Prince in my party?"

The jaws of the Alphar fell as if suddenly weighted and several lost a great deal of their bravado. It took almost a full minute before the lead Alphar spoke even though the sounds of combat on the other side of the sheets of flame continued to grow in intensity, "Master Shaman, this is information well outside the scope of why I am here and changes everything. My orders were straight forward; they were without any nuance. We take custody of you, hold you and do so however possible. My verbal contract with those opposing your actions in this walled village's market was equally unambiguous. We get possession of you while they get the whelp. Once this is done, we get passage out of the city as long as we do not hinder their efforts in and around the public house of rest known as the Green Goblin. If there is a Drow Conclave Prince there, then this whole contract becomes something far deeper and darker. We cannot allow the Drow Prince to escape."

Glaster's hand moved to his blade, "You are not after the Conclave Prince?" He managed to ask with a great deal of astonishment.

The Alphar leader glanced over his shoulder at one of those with him, "Do you detect any form of falsehood escaping the Master Shaman's lips?"

"No Lord Othiter, none. He is very difficult to read, but his bewilderment over us not being after this Dark Elf Prince opened up his true feelings for an instant. He firmly believed we were here for this unknown Prince, and he is indeed in possession of one. He does not have any knowledge of this being because he can be used by Prince Rovanall as a pawn against Premier Kandric..."


Conner glanced over and gutted a Rolling Dale guard who had been dragging a beggar child toward the Blazing Brook Inn even as the First Mate of the Thunder Rapids moved to block an attack by a mean looking swordsman on a peasant woman. The older looking, poorly dressed, woman was all but dragging a pair of children as fast as she could toward the outer gate.

Conner made sure the First Mate had things well in hand before he drew back his hand, hardened it with the death of the guard who was lying lifeless at his feet and slammed it into a second guard, breaking the guy's breastbone even though the man had been wearing chain armor. "This is insane, the whole city has gone nuts!"

A couple of other men from the Thunder Rapids moved forward to help those rescued by Conner and the First Mate, but found themselves having to pull weapons instead as three rather dingy and mean looking men came out of a side alley with rusty looking short swords in their hands.

Pontarious moved up and tossed a vial of liquid at a trio of advancing men at arms. The vial broke as it hit the cobblestone and caused tendrils of murky green steam to spiral upward. As soon as the mist hit the faces of those challenging Pontarious' men, all three gagged, dropped to their knees, lost their weapons, and vomited. One fell face first as he was totally overcome while the other two dropped to their knees and crawled away, through their own piles of puke, to get away.

Pontarious glanced over with a gleam in his eyes as Conner looked over at him with a questioning stare, "Hey, once I accidently made Blackie's musk smell worse, I found a way to bottle it. It's what us Mystics do!"

"Ewww..." Sharris cringed and backed away from the alley, "I can smell it all the way over here!"

Conner also backed off, "I think we can safely say nothing living is coming from down there for a while! But I don't get this at all. Why did the entire city just suddenly go mad?"

"No idea, but it may be the break we need to get to this Dark Mage wench." The First Mate added as he grabbed a dagger off the man he had just gutted and whipped it into the face of a Halforc who came out of the inn's stable with a battle sword in his hands.

Another member of the Thunder Rapids crew moved behind the Halforc and shoved his short sword into the guy's neck, dropping him. He pulled the dying Halforc's dagger and tossed it over to the First Mate, "You really need to carry more throwing daggers."

The First Mate snorted as he moved over to the two guards Conner took down, pulling their daggers to replace some of his spent ammunition, "I've never had to toss all eight while still facing hostiles before today." Even as he spoke he spun and heaved one of the newly procured daggers into the chest of a woman who had opened the front door of the inn with a potion vial in one hand.

The woman staggered back and dropped the small vial. The instant it hit the ground, a black ooze formed and took the shape of a mouth, which laughed a nasty high pitched gleeful sounding giggle. It then sent out blood red tentacles at those around where it had formed. The woman was first to get hit by one of the tentacles. She jerked and tried to scream as the tentacle went in her left nostril, came out the right and then went in her mouth. It took only moments for her skin to turn grey, her fingernails to elongate and a black forked tongue to come out of her mouth. Moments later the creature the woman had become let out a scream of pain and the skin started to melt.

Inside the partially open doors to the inn the screams of at least two others could be heard. One fell out the nearest shuttered window, melting much like the woman was doing while the other seemed to back off further into the inn.

Conner pulled the two crew members back while casting a burst of flame at the glob and its remaining tentacles. "Stay back, until it's all burned up, or the same thing will happen to you!"

Captain Pontarious pulled Sharris well back while shielding her as best he could from the horrid sight.

At the same time the First Mate rolled back, well away from the door, and looked back with horror in his eyes, "Since when is a potion alive?"

"A Dark Mystic's living potion," Conner spat with revulsion. "It's commonly referred to as a ghoul maker. This is exactly why we are doing this in the middle of the day and not at night! The ghoul maker is a piece of a living being, pulled out and transformed into a potion. It is not really alive, but it holds part of a life in it and tries to steal enough life to make itself into something living. It does this by turning others into ghouls. However, ghouls cannot live in daylight so its creations fell without us doing anything to them. Any fire burns a ghoul maker quickly and, should you get hit by one of the extensions of one, bite down as it enters your mouth. It destroys the extension and does major damage to the ghoul maker at the same time. If it gets in, past your throat, it is too late."

Pontarious shivered, "I have heard of this kind of hideous twisting of the Mystical Arts, but... by the gods... I didn't think it could be this bad!"

"There are worse ones," Conner warned. "I have seen them and what they do to the living. The problem is, if they are willing to use them out in the open like this, then no one in this city is safe and we need to get well clear of here before sunset."

"Then we only have a few hours." The First Mate stated with concern.

Conner moved up to the door, stepped over what was left of the woman, and took a cautious glance in. He smirked upon seeing the half dozen ghoul corpses in the entryway, "Well, it was awfully nice of this wench to not only unlock the door for us, but also kill off the guards in the main entry."


King Wyhrem took a deep breath and did his best to steady himself for whoever, or whatever, Master Lannet was about to escort in. Hearing his Captain of the Guard demanding those approaching to drop all weapons, he rolled his eyes and started to say something. His words never got out. Instead the words, "What in the name of the gods?" Suddenly came out of his Caption of the Guard. He paused to see if there would be sounds of combat or an exchange of words. When nothing more was said, and he heard nothing, he stepped out of his command tent.

King Wyhrem cocked his head to the side as he saw a very well built Dwarf in Dwarven Blue Steel plate armor and an equally graceful, yet athletic, looking Elf in Elvin Silver Steel Chain. Both had shields and finely crafted weapons made of the same metal as their armor. Both also had crests on their shields. The Dwarf had a duplicate crest on his armored chest while the Elf had a golden medallion with his shield's crest on it around his neck. The men were in formal bows and staying down. As weird as this was, the fact they were bowing to his standard bearer seemed even odder. Neither even twitched as Wyhrem took a few seconds to look over at Master Lannet then over to his Captain of the Guard. Finally he cleared his throat, "Am I missing something here gentlemen?"

The young standard bearer glanced over to King Wyhrem, "Why is they doing this?"

"I am not sure. However, since they are bowing to you, why not tell them to stand or something."

The standard bearer shrugged, "Get up and talk to me king... Please?"

Both the Dwarf and Elf stood, turned and did an equally elegant bow to King Wyhrem and stayed down without saying a word or moving.

King Wyhrem scratched his chin as he tried to figure out how anyone or anything could pull off such a bow in plate armor. After a few seconds, he realized the two would not so much as move until told to do so. To this end, and trusting Mater Lannet fully, he glanced over to his Captain, "Let them keep their arms. They are both showing us such extreme respect, to demand their weapons would be belittling to their show of honor to me... to us..." He glanced over to his standard bearer, "Son, I would like you to be with me as I talk to these two. Remember your speech lessons as best as possible and do not forget to mind your body language as well. Finally, if corrected, I expect you to respond from the start with the speech correction you were told to say."

Getting a nod from the boy, he cleared his throat, "Good emissaries, you show me, along with my standard bearer, great honor. Please stand, come into my tent, and tell me if you need either food or drink."

The pair stood as one, gave another bow of incredible perfection and stood again. When they finally did stand, their military stances of ridged attention were perfect. The Elf spoke first, "King Wyhrem and brother of Premier Kandric, you do us great tribute to offer us anything. However, after traveling through the Mythling Gate Stone above the Silver Spine Mountains, a warm drink and a place to thaw would be very much appreciated."

King Wyhrem almost motioned for his standard bearer to go get the requested items but stopped himself, "Captain, we have need of servants with warm food, drink, and more wood for my tent's stove for our guests." He then turned his full attention to the Dwarf, "Anything you need or desire?"

The Dwarf cracked a slight smile, "My good brother in arms and I have very similar needs at this point, Good King Wyhrem. There is something very bone chilling about going through a Mythling Gate Stone portal. Doing so in metal armor is not something I would recommend to anyone, let alone doing so twice in one day."

King Wyhrem's eyes shot up upon hearing this information. However, making sure his guests were as comfortable as possible had to be his primary concern, especially since both had royal crests the likes he had never seen before. "If you two would permit, I could have squires brought in to help you out of your armor and heavy robes brought in for you to wear while you warm yourselves."

The two exchanged glances and after an uncomfortable moment they nodded. The Dwarf turned, "Good King, in this we will take your offer with abundant gratitude; for, unless I am mistaken, I have ice in a place I really do not wish ice to be."

King Wyhrem caught the meaning and gave an involuntary shiver. "This makes your bows even more impressive than they already were. You indeed show me extreme deference. He moved to the front of his tent, "Captain, two of our best squires, and have them bring heavy robes for our rather chilled guests."

Wyhrem offered to leave the tent, but the Elf and Dwarf refused. Neither showed any degree of discomfort or embarrassment over being totally stripped by the two Training Echelon Swordsmen boys and then redressed by them. Nor did either show any outward signs of discomfort even though both had loincloths somewhat ridged with ice.

Seeing this, King Wyhrem ordered the best food brought in as well and had the squires take all the armor and weapons to get dried and properly oiled by the best Metal Workers he had in his camp. Finally, he motioned for the two envoys to sit. Neither did so until both he and his standard bearer did, however.

The somewhat befuddled King took a bite of food, which in turn signaled everyone else could then start eating. As he bit into the roasted Dagger Boar, he glanced over to Master Lannet, "Would you mind doing the introductions, or should we wait until after the meal?"

Mater Lannet smiled and stood, "Highness, this is your meeting to run. If you wish to do so over this meal, then I will be happy to familiarize you with those who are now before you." He gave a slight bow in the direction of the Elf, "To your right is Count Salostar, ruler of the northern half of Mouth Redfox deep within the combined Alphar Lands. On the left is Baron Greyhammer of the Frost Valley, part of Duke Mathard, of Winter Creek's lands in the Garm Empire.

King Wyhrem partially choked on the hot cider he had just taken a drink of, held up his hand to excuse himself, turned and coughed. After a few seconds he turned back to his guests. "I sincerely apologize for my ignorance in this..."

Count Salostar smiled warmly, "Good King, there is nothing to apologize for. Our respective peoples have kept ourselves secluded for many times your lifespan. Truth be told, we have kept ourselves out of the intrigues of the greater world we live in for longer than the life spans of all but a few of those within our races. However, all this is about to change, has already changed, to be bluntly honest."

"So, I gather this has something to do with me and or my standard bearer?"

This time Baron Greyhammer spoke, "King Wyhrem, have you taken note of the scar on the neck of your standard bearer?"

Next to King Wyhrem, The Elf moved his hand up to the left side of his neck as if trying to hide a scar normally covered by his long black hair.

King Wyhrem glanced over, slid his chair closer to the boy and put his hand on the youngster's wrist, "Let me take a look. Having a scar is nothing to be embarrassed by."

Reluctantly, the King's Standard Bearer allowed King Wyhrem to pull his hand back from his neck. "Please, me... my king, no touch, it burns when others touch."

"Burns?" King Wyhrem asked with a great deal of concern. Carefully he used his thumb to move the boy's hair back. Just below the young Elf's ear was a very artfully done Griffin head with a broken sword underneath. The raised skin also had a bit of reddish gold glimmer to it. Even though Wyhrem didn't touch it, he could feel the heat coming off it.

Wyhrem gently, yet firmly, took the youngster's head and tilted it so he could get a better look. With a scowl on his face, he turned back to the two guests, "This is a magical brand, not a scar!"

Salostar let out a long breath, "Actually, it is both."

"Who would do this and why? It is not a slave brand, at least not any slave brand I have ever seen."

"You are correct, Highness," Lannet spoke while eyeing the mark with a great deal of displeasure, "It is not a slave brand."

"Then why was this child so marked?"

Baron Greyhammer shook his head sadly, "It is a mark of banishment. It marks the boy as a non-child from a royal house. In this case, the mark is from an Alphar house. However, sadly, Garm use this same mark for our own banished royal young. The crest varies per house, but the broken sword does not."

"Banished?" King Wyhrem pulled the boy's chair closer to his own and wrapped a protective arm around him while being very careful not to touch the mark. "What crime could be so great in one this young?"

"He has no crime against him other than being born," Salostar spoke softly. "The crime was Princess Kaylaria's, not Prince Bayne's"

Even as Wyhrem continued to do his best to comfort the boy the words of the Alphar across from him caused some shock, "Prince? This child is an Alphar Prince?"

"He is second born to Princess Kaylaria, of the great Alphar House of the Griffin Spires." Baron Greyhammer confirmed. He then paused and glanced over at Salostar. After a few seconds of uneasy silence he cleared his throat and spoke again. "Good and kind King Wyhrem, since the young prince is your standard bearer and you clearly see him as under your protection, may I ask him a question?"

Wyhrem gave a brief nod, "You may, however, he is more than a little distraught over having to show this mark, and his level of speech is not of a highly educated member of royalty." He gave Bayne a tight squeeze, "At least not yet. Nor has he been given any kind of training with respect to dealing with visiting nobles. Because none of this is his fault in any way, I expect you will overlook any and all breach of protocols, especially given the current circumstances."

"King Wyhrem, Prince Bayne will not be looked down by either one of us. His bloodline is still of a prince, and to be honest, neither one of us wish to get on the wrong side of his half-brother. We have both seen what Prince Bayne's bother, Prince... Premier Kandric is capable of." Count Salostar assured both the king and the youngster. "The last time I last saw Prince Bayne was several years ago. In fact, it was when I handed his sleeping form to the father of his father. Also, you may look to me and only to me for putting the mark of banishment on him. Before I was granted the lands on Mount Redfox, I was in the house of Prince Bayne's mother. I was tasked with putting on the mark of banishment and getting the extremely young Prince to his non-royal family as a tribute, along with five hundred gold coins, to offset the execution of Prince Bayne's father by Prince Rovanall."

King Wyhrem held up his hand, "Before you ask the boy any questions I would request to know what crime could be grave enough by this boy's father to have him executed."

"The crime was not Prince Bayne's father's. Instead it was Princess Kaylaria's. She allowed herself to become heavy with child from a lowly Dark Forest Elf. Not only was the Elf not royal, he was mundane. This, combined with the fact Princess Kaylaria was promised to a Prince of another house, caused Prince Rovanall to make an example of Prince Bayne's father. However, the other Alphar houses found these actions to be extreme and voiced serious concern. Because of this, Prince Rovanall tasked me to make the mark of banishment and get Prince Bayne and the gold over to the other family as form of tribute and repayment for being too heavy handed."

King Wyhrem fought hard not to look totally disgusted. Turning his attention back to Baron Greyhammer, he kept his tone as neutral as possible, "Two final questions, very closely related, then you may speak to the boy. However, understand he is in and under my direct protection and will remain so. This young man's own grandfather threw away a very fine and highly gifted child and will not be getting him back without coming into direct conflict with me."

"To be honest, after seeing the condition of Prince Bayne, I can assure you both Count Salostar and myself are extremely happy to hear you say this and would in no way try to hinder his staying in your service. Now, please ask your questions, for this meeting is under your terms, King Wyhrem."

Relieved to hear this, Wyhrem forced a slight smile, "I am glad we see eye to eye on this fine young man's future. My two questions are one; why is the mark hot and why does it burn him when others touch it? Secondly, if the whole thing cannot be removed, can the burning he feels when others touch it be destroyed without harm to him?"

Salostar stood and gave a deep bow, "The mark itself is enchanted with heat so, even when hidden behind hair, it is visible to those who have Infravision. This marks him as undesirable to all who see the mark and know what it means. In other words, all Alphar, Garm and possibly a few extremely knowledgeable Ruinseekers would recognize the mark for what it is. As for the burning he feels when others touch it, this was not an enchantment I put on the mark. If you allow me to study it, I may be able to tell you more."

"Can you remove the mark?"

Count Salostar pushed his lips tightly together and remained silent. Baron Greyhammer, on the other hand, spoke up. "It can be, as long as we can figure out the secondary enchantment. Unfortunately, Prince Rovanall would have to order it or..."

"Or what?"

Baron Greyhammer smiled as if sensing what would happen as soon as he spoke the second option. "Or someone of higher station would have to take the boy in as his own and then order us to do so."

A smirk appeared on King Wyhrem's face, "I gather a King is still above a Prince in your respective empires?"

"Indeed it is, King Wyhrem."

"And since Prince Bayne is in my kingdom as an outcast from your lands and has been banished from them, no one there can oppose me taking the boy as my own?"

Salostar's eyes went wide, "This is correct, King, however, are you really willing to take the young prince as your own?"

"He saved my life, the life of my Captain of the Guard and took down a Warrior Dragon to protect me. I would say, if anyone deserves to be taken into my home as my own, it would be this fine young man."

Salostar's eyes went wide, "Dragon killing seems to run beyond strong in his bloodline, for his half brother has taken down three."

"So I have heard from a very leery Dragon who saw Bayne, Prince Bayne, no matter what house he is with." King Wyhrem smiled. He then glanced down at the boy in his arms, "So, this has to be as much your choice as anyone's. Do you wish to be brought into my house as my own child, and obey me as your father?

Tears welled up in Prince Bayne's eyes as he nodded.

Wyhrem squeezed the boy tighter. He glanced over to Lannet, "I gather his thoughts confirm the nod was a yes?"

"Much more than a yes, Highness, much, much more."

"Then see to it the Watch knows of this new addition to my family and make sure the entire Kingdom hears this as well. If anyone wishes to contest this, they can face me in the pits of any arena they so choose."

Hearing this, Prince Bayne shook his head and forced himself to find his voice, "Let them face me. No one hurts me king, me father!"

Baron Greyhammer gave pump of a fist, "Ah, there is the spirit of a future leader of our world."

King Wyhrem smiled and gave the lad another squeeze. "After seeing the way you took down the Warrior Dragon, my boy, I am pretty sure they would rather face me."

This got a chuckle out of everyone in the room, even Bayne.

Allowing things to calm, Wyhrem ordered wine brought into the tent. Once everyone had a glass in front of them, the King looked over to Baron Greyhammer, "So, let us finish our meal. While we do so, why not ask your questions of my son."

Baron Greyhammer took another bite of Dagger Boar before he focused in on the young man, "Prince Bayne, and let me state for all to hear, I am beyond pleased to hear you are still a prince even if it is not in the house you were born into. You deserve no less. Now, part of this is curiosity, but another part is out of concern for what happened to you over the past forty-four years. We have no information about you since you were given to your father's father up in the Iron Wood Glades right after you had your first birthday. Can you tell us where you have been and how you came to end up here?"

Bayne cocked his head to the side in confusion, "Me... I is fifty-one, not forty-five."

Salostar shook his head, "No Prince, you are forty-five, forty-six in a matter of days. Why do you think you are older?"

The boy looked over with total confusion, "After Grandma and Grandpa was killed in the fire me... um.. I was took to farm of me uncle, Uncle Kola. Uncle Kola tell me I be Bayle not Bayne, say me be small and puny for me age. Him make me wear leather collar round neck with metal to cover up brand. Me grew up there until me be of twenty four years then raider kill everyone and take me with me nephew. We put to work dive for pearl on platform but were raided by pirate ship. We escape, but me lose him when we run. No know what happen to him.

"Me find other orphans bein' made to work by Wolflings. They force to work in peat bog harvest for food. Me cut them loose at night and we run. Me and them lived in marsh until guards found us sleeping in old farm building no one use no more. Got two to drown in slurping sands, but them still catch me. Me join army to no go to jail work house. Now me here."

Baron Greyhammer shook his head as he fought to digest all the information while dealing with the worst speech he had personally ever heard. He had been warned the lower beings of the lands he was entering into were uneducated, but never in his worst nightmares, could he imagine this. Still, the boy's story was rather fantastic and showed the same kind of drive he had witnessed in the boy's half-brother, Kandric. "I think, Prince Bayne, your uncle was trying to protect you from who and what you really are for some reason. The Alphar and Garm both keep immaculate records and I can assure you, you are just days away from your forty-sixth year in this world and you are Prince Bayne, not Bayle."

Salostar waited for the boy to give a sign he understood, which only took a few seconds. Once he saw the boy shrug and mutter, "Ok, me not be a runt after all, this be good." Salostar gave a light bow in the direction of King Wyhrem, "Permission to move closer and study Prince... Um, your son's mark?"

King Wyhrem gave a single hard nod, but followed it up with strong words of warning. "If you are not absolutely sure you can safely remove the mark then do not attempt to do so. However, if you are certain you can, then make it happen."

Salostar knelt and waved his hand over the enchanted brand. It glowed for a moment, which in turn caused Prince Bayne to wince. He pulled his hand back and studied the magic as it faded back to being just a slight glimmer. "The mark I put on was added too, but added to poorly. I can break both enchantments. Unfortunately, I am sorry to say whoever tampered with my original banishment symbol did so by cutting into it. There will still be a scar. Of this I can do nothing about. I must also warn you, it will hurt to remove the second part of the enchantment since it was done so by physically carving it in so I must pull it out from under the surface of the skin."

Salostar glanced over at King Wyhrem, "I can even use some ritualistic magic to see who did this to him, but the pain will be intense."

"No just get rid of..."

"Me King, Father, please... let him. I remember being held down in dreams with someone using a glowing knife on me neck, but not know who... I want to know... Need to know what me did to make someone do it. Me think it was same person who killed me uncle. In dream me see the same glowing blade get stuck into me uncle neck."

King Wyhrem eyed Bayne then glanced over to Salostar, "Then do it, but if any permanent harm comes to this child, my child..."

Salostar held up both hands, "Good King, I can assure you whoever put in the second part of the enchantment was one step up from a moron. I can break both what I did and the second part. Of this I have no doubt. Now, I know this will really be painful, but the more Prince Bayne concentrates on who did this to him the better the image I can force to come up. The whole of the ritualistic magic will take over an hour and will be very painful, though.

Bayne nodded understanding, "Please, Father let him. Me need to know."

"So do I," King Wyhrem snarled, "so I can gut the bastard!"

An hour and ten minutes later a clear image of Prince Rovanall taking a glowing blade to Prince Bayne's neck could be seen, as could the man's words be heard, "Cover my mark again, you little bastardized son of my daughter and it will burn you from the inside out! Now where in the name of my forefathers is my five hundred gold?"


Quavis took a nervous breath as he walked up to the city guards. Not having a good cover story was bothering him some, and the appearance on the men's faces was far from kind looking. If anything, they appeared to be angry about something. The fear this caused was not something Quavis could push aside, but if there was really a chance, any chance he could belong to the Junsac Barony Watch at some point, then he would do whatever Sardan asked of him. To be a secret scout for the Barony of Junsac, and even the whole of the kingdom, was something just too exciting to allow fear to win.

To this end he decided to play dumb and see what bits and pieces of information he could get out of the mean looking men. Walking up to the four men, he fiddled with his Training Echelon step three Sailor Guild pin. "You guys work for the city, right?"

The man, who had the crest of the city on his shoulder with a pair of hash marks under it, turned and look down, "Yeah, kid. You got a problem other than travelin' with a big walkin' talkin' cockatiel?"

Quavis forced a smirk to cross his face and decided since the "dad" card had worked so well in the Ghoul Drool he would try to play it again. "My old man's idea. He said having a Hawkling teach me how to fight will better get me ready to fight creatures out on the far reaches of the Kronarian Islands, and no one says no to my dad!"

The smallest of the four men glanced over with a snort, "Sounds like we got us a daddy's boy, Corporal."

The other three laughed for a few seconds before the one Quavis now knew as a corporal reached over, grabbed him by the front of his reinforced leather armor and pulled him closer, "You a daddy's boy?"

Before he could say more, the strongest looking of the four moved up, grabbed Quavis' chin and tilted his head up, "Maybe he be looking for a new daddy, Corporal. I bet we's could show him some love and teach him who's the real daddy 'round these parts!"

This got another round of chuckles from the men. At the same time the last of the four glanced over to see the reaction of the Hawkling the boy had been walking beside. "Sure looks like your parakeet friend could care less, boy. So you what'a ya say? Ya want four see what bein' around real men be like. We can teach ya up real good like."

Realizing the whole, 'my dad is important' thing was not the right way to go, nor was looking nervous, Quavis jerked back, put his hand on one of his throwing knives and glared at the guards. Picking out the last one to speak, he stared at the guy with anger in his eyes, "I bet you couldn't teach a kid to sharpen a blade and you talk to me about teaching me something? Let's see what you have! What do you say to me and you in a sparing pit so you can call me your daddy!"

Seeing the young guard's eyes narrow, the corporal cleared his throat, pointed at the guard to back him off and held up his hand toward Quavis. "Well, damn, boy! We just be funin' ya!" He snickered then gave a sharp warning point at Quavis' daggers, "But ya pull one of them blades on us, and yer in for a world a hurt."

Quavis moved his hand away from his daggers, but not very far away. "I'm not stupid enough to pull a weapon on no city guard, even if I'm sure I could take your junior guard without breaking too much of a sweat."

This got some hard laughter out of the other three while the youngest one's hand moved down to his own dagger.

The Corporal glanced over and, even though he was still chuckling, managed to speak, "Stay your hand Guardsman Vit."

"But he be shamin' me, Corporal Klug!"

Quavis clenched his fist, "Not real hard from what I can see."

This caused Klug to let out a loud snort while spraying some spittle out of his mouth at the young guard he was looking at. The other two howled with uproarious laughter as their buddy turned bright red.

Seeing Vit move to draw his blade, the corporal moved over and pushed Vit's hand down, fully sheathing the weapon. "You draw on the boy and I'll make this a street challenge ya started and if me do, the boy's bird friend with da big blade will prob'ly be honor bound to jump in. Ya want none a him, all four a us want none a him. Besides, we be teasin' the lad, so what's we dish out we has ta be able to take."

Klug gave the younger guardsman a hard shove back and smiled down at Quavis, "Ya got some grit in ya, kid. Rich dad, er not, I like ya! So you has a question?"

Quavis took a deep breath while still staring at the guard who was a good twenty centimeters taller, twenty kilos heavier, and a good four years older. "All I wanted to know was how to get to the docks, this place is a maze of twisting and turning streets. Now, though, I'd really like to spar with him, 'cause I think I can take him." Quavis stuck his hand out and pointed at Vit.

"Boy, don't go pushin' yer luck." The strongest guardsman spoke while doing his utmost not to start laughing again. "Vit, may not look it none, but him be a legit Primary step two. Me'd hate to see yer pretty face lookin' all black and blue."

Quavis lowered his arm, took in and let out a deep breath, then looked at Klug, "What is wrong with this place? Every guard looks like they are ready to eat babies and spit out their bones at people, and everyone is, like, totally rude! I have been asking around for over an hour trying to find the docks and my Hawkling Teacher think it be funny I can't find them! I'm lost, he doesn't care, and my friends want to shop! I hate this city!"

This got some snickers out of the guards, while Klug moved up and patted Quavis on the shoulder, "Boy, things be a bit dicey in Rollin' Dale right now. Ya may want to tell yer Teacher and yer friends to forgo this shopin' trip and head out through the east gate."

He spun Quavis around and pointed down a street which disappeared from sight as it took a hard left around a cluster of shops. "Stick to this street, it be the widest and stays the widest. You'll get ta the gate in ten minutes er so. Now if'n yer Teacehr is dead set of shoppin' then tell him ta stay away from the square. It's about ta get real ugly."

Klug pointed up to the lantern posts, "All dem have hooks pointin' to the square, just find a way ta tell the Birdman to go any direction but there."

"Why, if he wants goods..."

Vit glared at Quavis, "Yeah, go there. Rid us a you, yer bird, other friends and the skunk!"

The other guard reached over and gave Vit firm smack on the back of the head. "The last thing we needs is to be havin' a Teachin' Echelon bird in the square when them Mystics hit the Shaman. Ya, not have family here, but the other three a us do. I'd like to go home ta them at the end a the day!"

Klug glanced over his shoulder, "'nough talk. This whole thing be bad and ya all know it." He looked back down at Quavis, "Boy, ya be a smart one, me can see it in yer eyes. Ferget what's ya just heard and get yer friends movin' ta the east gate soon as ya can. Once the gates shut, they ain't likely ta open fer a span. Now, once outside the walls turn right and follow the road. It'll lead ya ta the river, then down to the dock."

Klug knelt and whispered, "Me and me patrol might be the last decent ones ya find too, so don't go askn' no guards fer nothin'. Got me?"

Quavis nodded, "Yes sir, thank you."

Klug jerked his head in the direction of the road to the east gate, then motioned for the three with him to move down a particularly dirty looking alley.

Quavis waited until he was sure all four guards were well out of earshot and sight before he moved back to Sardan's side and reported what he had head.

Sardan's eyes narrowed, "So some Mystics are going to hit a Shaman, huh? Well, I bet we just found where Glaster is! Only Glaster can cause this much havoc! Go get Aster and the others, time to move!"


Glaster blinked as he heard the name of his most beloved student with the high title of Premier before it. At the same time his blood boiled at hearing those facing him were planning on doing anything to his most precious trainee ever. "What business do you have with my young student, Kandric?"

The Alphar leader, Lord Othiter, glanced up at the sky with the shake of his head, "Caradol, you were supposed to be here with us to get us information, not hand what we know over on a silver platter..." He let out a long sigh, "My Prince will certainly forgo his plans surrounding the entrapment of Premier Kandric and may even let him live if you give us this Conclave Prince, for any dishonor to my Prince's name or position will be erased if we bring back a Drow Prince to the Alphar Court in chains!"

Glaster had heard enough and was beyond angry. He pulled his blade in one swift motion. Next to him Tazen kneed Devkiln in the groin as the boy tried to bolt, grabbed the boy's blade off his back, handed it over to Rylan, and pulled his own mace off his belt loop.

Before any of the Alphar could respond, Rylan leapt forward, grabbed Lord Othiter's hair and used it to pull himself up onto the Alphar's back. He put the small blade up to Lord Othiter's neck and pressed it in just enough to get a thin line of blood. "I will not allow you to lay a finger on Chark'ash-Shunral let alone put him in chains! He is Conclave and his people and mine were what saved all your pathetic hides from the Mythlings! Yet you and your high and mighty kind did nothing when the Demon Lords sent assassins to destroy those who stayed behind to help rebuild this world!"

Feeling the Alphar about to speak, Rylan dug the blade in a bit deeper; still not deep enough to do real harm, but close. "I did not yet give you permission to speak, Alphar, so remain silent. Besides, if I so much as detect a spell coming out of your mouth, your head will only be useful as a kick toy for a beggar child.

"You wish to kill off a Conclave Prince, a descendant from one of the same Conclave families who risked everything to ally Under River with your kin so your kind could take the world back from the Mythlings. Yet your people said nothing when you had a chance to speak up for the Drow who had nothing to do with the slaughter which led to all of their downfall. Now you come out of hiding again, what could possibly be so important for you to pull your collective heads from under the blankets your kind have hid under for all these centuries?"

Alphar, Protector Keep guards, kids, and even Glaster could do little more than blink at the astonishing speed Rylan moved and the words he so venomously spoke.

Glaster raised an eyebrow, but managed to keep his voice devoid of anything resembling his true feelings, "It seems my student has spoken what the rest of us are thinking far more elegantly than any of us could have. Now, since your head literally rests in his hands, you will step aside and let me go to said inn, or you will find your Silver Steel chain armor stained with your blood by the hand of my student and the rest of those with you will die or be in chains in short order. Do you agree or do you die?"

"Master Shaman," Lord Othiter hissed out even as he felt beads of his blood start to run down his neck, "look behind you, feel the heat of my wall of flame and realize it would take me nothing to encircle your entire group with another such wall and turn all the heat inward. Those you are trying to protect here will be roasted alive. I may die, but you, Glaster, whipping boy of King Wyhrem, will die, as will your red headed student, the bastardized son of my Prince's exiled daughter. His life will be snuffed out when my Prince gets his hands around the swamp rat's throat."

Before more could be said the sounds of heavy fighting came from the other side of the wall and three bodies caught fire as they were shoved or thrown through the intense flames. All three corpses had the remnants of Rolling Dale guard armor on, but only remnants. A squawking voice came from the other side of the flames, "Glaster, my fellow Watch member, who did you piss off this time?"

Suddenly the waves of flame parted as a White Griffin moved from the other side to stand in the middle of the flame. Extreme cold, radiating outward, quenched the flames as if they were nothing more than the flickering of a large candle being blown out by a strong wind. Behind the White Griffin, Aster moved forward on one side of Frost as Sardan moved past on the other side. Behind them, Sagell eyed the group while Stealth and Rage moved past her. Rage's white and black fur had a red tinge, a testament to the number of kills it had, while Stealth's claws dripped with blood.

Stealth spoke with steam coming out of its mouth, "Who dares to call the Dragon Killer, Kandric, a bastardized anything?"

Aster brought up his Eldwar steel axe and pointed it at the group facing Glaster while Dart let out a screech from above and Shade walked through the flames further down the wall in shadow form. Shade then quickly solidified once it was safely through the flames. Sensing Aster's outrage, it closed on one of the Alphar and snarled.

Aster jerked his head, which caused Shade to back off, but not before baring its ebony colored teeth one more time as a warning.

Glaster started to point up at the Alphar archer up on the nearby building, but before he could even snap his fingers and point, it was already too late. The Alphar archer let out a scream of pain as a trio of feathers lanced into the unprepared bowman. He fell off the roof and his skull made a grotesque splattering sound as it impacted on the cobblestone.

Aster's eyes hardened as he stared at the rest of the Alphar in front of him. "Anyone else care to test the prowess of my Archer Eagle? If not, drop your weapons."

Glaster's head tilted upward and let out a slight whistle, "I am not even going to tell you how nervous I am about having one of those flying over me, and what is this about Kandric being a Dragon Killer?"

Aster ignored the question as he focused on the Alphar, "Last chance, drop your arms before I explain to you my feelings about someone here saying my brother is a bastard!" He glanced back at the parted wall of flame, noting Frost was having zero problem standing in the middle of it, "And as for the comment of roasting someone, your wall doesn't seem to be impressing my friend. In simple and direct terms even an Alphar can understand, let me put it this way. Your wall of flames means exactly squat."

Glaster felt his head spinning; none of this made any sense. Still he had other pressing matters which had to be dealt with, "Sardan, the Prince and the others are in the Green Goblin and..."

Sardan let out a shrill screeching whistle, "Sagell! The Green Goblin, either Klandon or Zoldon is there along with the rest of Glaster's caravan!"

From somewhere behind the rippling flames Benam responded, "If we can get word to the docks, my father's crew will pull them out, but there are nowhere near enough of us to hold in this madness. We need to get out of here!"

Lord Othiter gritted his teeth and spoke even as he felt the blade dig in a slight bit more, "Prince Aster you have no right to interfere with this. Your grandfather will see you dead for this outrage.

"I don't have a grandfather, at least not an Elf one. The closest I come is Master Lannet, a Dwarf. Now do you drop weapons or do I leave your dead bodies for the Dark Mystics to play with? I am sure they would love to see what they can do with the blood of Alphar."

"You are a prince of the Griffin Spires!" Lord Othiter snarled, "And you just killed your Grandfather's brother's son! I will see the mark of banishment put on you!"

Aster glanced upward and pointed at the furthest back Alphar warrior. An instant later the Alphar screamed and dropped his long sword as a single Archer Eagle feather slammed into his hand. "I don't care who he was. He is not part of my family since he sure didn't care about the time I spent in the orphanage. Now, last chance, drop your weapons or we will force you to do so!"

"Kill them!" Lord Othiter growled as he tried to pull up his walking stick.

His hand never got past his waist. Glaster blasted the cane out of his hand with a cold snap at the same time Rylan jerked back on the blade with everything he had. The walking stick hit the street only moments before Lord Othiter's head. An instant later, the headless body hit the ground followed by the weapons of the remaining Alphar who, surprisingly, all dropped to a knee and looked to Aster with complete subservience.

Glaster eyed the street and looked back through the hole in the flaming wall. Seeing nothing but combat from one end to the other within the square, with average citizens being cut down in massive numbers, he looked at Sardan. "I do not have time for this, the Prince is danger!"

Sardan let out another whistle, "Everyone to this side of the flaming wall! As soon as everyone is through, Aster, have Frost move and hope it closes! We'll have to fight our way back around to the Green Goblin!"

One of the kneeling Alphar warriors spoke even as he kept his head down while the rest of Sardan's group moved through the wall. A moment later the gap in the blazing wall closed as Frost stepped out of the flames, "Prince Aster, with the death of Lord Othiter, and no one left here to tell us otherwise, command of us falls to you. I can open up a door to the front of the inn!"

"Gates and magic portals are not working..." Glaster countered even as he eyed the kneeling Alphar with total confusion. This whole thing didn't make any sense at all and he was about to jump out of his own skin at the prospect of the son of the King, his King, being unprotected.

"Master Shaman," the Alphar responded, "What works for you and what works for Alphar magic are two totally different things. I can get us to this place of public rest with the unflattering name and do so in mere moments."

Rylan glared at the Alphar as he spoke, "Even if you can get us there, you only do so, so you can into the inn and go after the Conclave Prince you now know we have, I think not!"

"No," one of the other Alphar spoke, "Prince Rovanall gave the command medallion to Othiter, with him dead, our allegiance falls back to the greater House of Wellaras. Othiter is the one who selected us, not Prince Rovanall. All our orders came from Othiter and only him. Because of this, our allegiance must fall back to the greater House Wellaras, of which Prince Aster is the eldest born grandson of Prince Rovanall. Since Prince Aster was never banished formally, only exiled to go out into the greater world to prove himself worthy or not, his word is second to only Prince Rovanall. Prince Aster, our allegiance falls solely to you until we hear otherwise from Prince Rovanall."

Caradol kept his head down but spoke, "Prince Aster, you have no reason to trust us, this I realize. However, the orders to kill you were not legal. None of our actions were, but I owed Prince Rovanall a blood debt for rescuing my wife and daughter from the Harpy raid into our lands a couple of decades ago, so I did what he thought to me to do. His message was if I did this one thing, to go back to the Griffin Spires, give the medallion of command to Othiter, and instruct him to bring Premier Kandric's instructor to the Spires, my debt would be paid in full. This I have done.

"So now I may tell the others the full truth, which is why I said what I did to the Master Shaman in the way I did. My overall allegiance is not to Prince Rovanall, it is to Premier Kandric. All Alphar, each and every one of us, is currently under the command of Premier Kandric by order of Queen Jostallis of the Combined Alphar Nations.

"Even now, Premier Kandric is within a few leagues of here advancing on this settlement with a combined expeditionary force of Alphar, Garm, elite Black Rapids guards, Silver, Blue, Red, and Black Dragons and Dragonlings, Pantherlings, Illorcs, and only the gods know what else. Before nightfall, he will either have his students back or this whole city will be under a siege the likes of which this world has not seen since the time of the Drow wars. Unfortunately, from what we understand, Dark Mages, Dark Mystics, Green Dragons and half of the Black Dragon Empire will oppose this.

"From Othiter's conversations and questionable dealings with those who want one of the children with you, it sounds like there are already some Green Dragon forces either in or under this settlement. To this end, Prince Aster, if you want to get someone out of this village you do not have much time to do so."

Sagell took a long breath, "Aster, our whole mission was to secure the prince Glaster has with him. I say this is a risk to be sure, but it may be our only option at this point."

Glaster clenched his fist, but nodded to Sagell. He turned back to Aster, "There is one thing I have learned about both you and Kandric. You two have a knack of going with your gut and being right which is exactly why I can almost buy into this idea of you being brothers. What do you think?"

Aster moved up to the Alphar who said he could cast the portal. "If we do not end up in the back of the inn, with all our gear and in one piece, my pets will kill you." He then glanced over his shoulder, "Shade you know Green Goblin, go. Dart, Frost, follow!"

Sardan eyed the dropped weapons, "Take your arms, but if you turn them against us..." He left the rest unsaid. The tone of his voice spoke for itself.

Caradol looked at the two dead Alphar. "Their blades, arrows and daggers are magical. You may want to take them."

Aster lifted an eyebrow, "Benam, get the archer's things. Quavis, you like throwing daggers and it looks like the headless one had a fine set of them."

Seeing Sardan nod, Quavis cringed but scurried over to the fallen Alphar leader and, with the help of Cresh, got the bandoleer off the body along with an Elvin Courtsword, quiver of arrows, and a strangely crafted bow. Even as Cresh yanked the body up to get off the bandoleer of daggers, Quavis eyed the bow. It was both beautiful and creepy with lifelike timber rattlesnakes carved into the wood and the bowstring being attached where the rattles were. The snake heads sticking out where the arrow release point was both had tongues out as if hissing. Then there where the eyes; the eyes of the snakes were emeralds, while some of the diamonds along the snakes' backs were actual diamonds. He gulped realizing the gems on the bow had to be worth more than anything he had ever seen.

Before Benam even got back with the Archer's bow, mace and an Elvin Lightsword, the other Alphar was using an amulet to create a shimmering aquamarine colored portal. In the middle of the portal, everyone could see the stables of the Green Goblin. "Prince Aster," the Alphar spoke while staying focused on the portal, "while Alphar magic is powerful, the Master Shaman is correct. Something is indeed making this difficult to keep open. We need to get through before this dimensional rift snaps shut on me!"

Glaster wasted no time; he jumped through. As soon as he verified he was where he wanted to be he waved and motioned for the others to come through. All made it except the Alphar who opened it to begin with. Seeing it was about to close while Aster was still stepping though he jumped in and kept one foot on each side while using a great deal of his own Force to hold it for a few extra moments. It snapped shut with a slurping sound almost the instant after Aster was safely though sucking the Alphar in with an agonized scream of pain.

No one in the group had a chance to say anything, however, as the sounds of fierce combat came from around the front side of the inn.


Conner moved deeper into the massive inn known as the Blazing Brook. The last fifteen minutes had been a game of cat and mouse with a rag tag group of under skilled bandit mercenaries, backed up with a smattering of Dark Mages and Dark Mystics as magical reinforements fighting the best the Thunder Rapids had. While those trying to hold the inn had managed to wound a trio of crewmen and kill two others, they had paid for it with the blood of dozens of bandits, half a dozen mystics, and four mages.

Unfortunately, the Thunder Rapids crew also had to deal with a score of zombies and two ghouls who had managed to make it into dark rooms where the light of day could not harm them. On the other hand, the ghouls had taken some sunlight damage so were relatively easy to finish off.

Sharris shoved a table in front of yet another zombie, this one a girl no older than herself. She looked back, "Are they killing all these people just to make these... these dead creatures?"

Conner nodded as he picked up a spear from one of the bandits he had killed and drove it into a zombie of what must have been a voluptuous barmaid judging by her clothing. After making sure it was firmly pinned to the wall he glanced back. "Yes, this is the work of a Dark Mage Wraith Sect Warrior though. Note the crushed throats, the deep bruises to the sternums and the like. This was done by fists, elbows, knees and head butts. Be extremely careful, because someone in this place has the life-force powers of dozens of kills and may not have let any of it go.

"These poor things are trying to find enough power of life to move on, their essences being wracked with untold pain as it finds itself in a decaying corpse. The problem is, the core of the life doesn't think on its own; the life spark isn't even fully aware. It can't understand or realize the life blood of others will not give it but a momentary release from this torment and will never give it enough to move on. It is locked inside the dead body surrounding it until the body itself is destroyed, and even then it will never be able to fully rest until the being who killed it is killed. Part of its very existence is missing and even dead it knows this."

Conner moved up to the thrashing female zombie, drug his knife down it from neck to stomach and let everything spill out ending the zombie's attempt to pull itself free from the wall. "This place will remain haunted with their pain until the being who did this to them dies and then, and only then, can a Channeler come in and purify this place and send the remnants of the living essence on to some kind of afterlife. For now, all we can hope to do is deliver enough damage to these walking dead to where even the inner spark of life knows it is useless to look for a way to move on."

Hearing this, one of the other crewmen jumped up on the table and removed the zombified girl's head with a single swing even as it tried to take a bite out of his leg. "My own girl can't be much older! How can someone do this to a child?"

"The same way someone can come into the orphanage, pay the headmaster and take a child home to rape, torment and exploit for their own desires while caring none for the damage they cause. They care about themselves and not those they step on. It is no different than what happened to Aster and others at the Junsac Orphanage before Master Lannet rid the city of the old overseer. It was Maser Lannet alone who used his influence within the Watch to make the Junsac Orphanage a place almost worth living in. For he forcefully put in place one who would at least make sure the kids had a say and would get something in return from those they rented themselves to."

Conner pushed open the next door and just as quickly slammed it. On the other side was the sound of breaking glass as a vial shattered against the door. The wicked snickering laughter told everyone in the room another Ghoul Maker had just been unleashed. "From what I understand, these stupid things basically make the same thing as a zombie, only the spark of life is drained from a living person leaving the shell while the spark of life festers and grows hateful. At the same time the body tries to find and take the deep inner spark from others to fill the unfillable void the taking of its life core left behind. So, Dark Mystics are just as bad, if not worse."

Hearing a pair of screams followed by the hisses of pain told Conner at least two on the other side of the door had fallen victim to the latest Ghoul maker. "I can only hope one of those two was the one who made the potion to begin with!"

Pontarious pulled a vial from under his cloak, "Open the door and move back I have just the thing for the nasty little glob!"

Conner did as instructed and rolled back before the Ghoul Maker could locate him and send a tentacle out. Pontarious tossed the vial and watched in satisfaction as it shattered and burst into flame. It burned for only a few seconds before it went out, leaving the floor charred and destroying the vile thing.

Conner grinned, "Nice! Can you make me a dozen of those too? It would sure save wasting spell casting Force on things like this."

"Consider it done, my boy." Pontarious nodded as he peered into the room. "Looks like it got two, but I don't see the clothing of the woman who threw the potion at you.

"Fine with me. This way I get to kill her!" Conner growled as he stepped over the burnt spot on the floor. "Come out; come out, wherever you are!"

The First Mate slapped his forehead, "I can't believe he just said that."

Pontarious formed a grin, "Cut him some slack, he is a kid after all and, even doing this, a kid has to have a little fun."

Sharris looked over, "I ain't finding this fun."

"Look at it this way," Conner called back from the other room. "This is a game of hide and seek. They hide, we seek, we find, they die."

The First Mate rolled his eyes as he moved into the room behind Conner, "Boy, you are finding this way too entertaining for my liking."

"Hey, you are the ones who wanted to take me in and give me a home. You could always withdraw your offer."

"Not a chance." The crewman who was still standing on the table and double checking the whole room from the slightly higher vantage point responded, "We haven't done this much good in the past two years combined as what we have done since meeting you! The number of lowlifes and outright horrible beings we have rid the world of since meeting you will guarantee, even if we die today, we move on to life in the realm of Brandall and not Mercovia."

The First Mate snorted, "Then you better keep Conner alive for a very long time, cause you gots lots to make up for!"

This even got a snicker out of Sharris and a couple of the other younger fully trained crewmembers listening on.

The small talk was interrupted as Conner heard the back door to the room adjacent to the one he was in open and a man shout, "Master Tregasel! The Master Shaman and the Eaglecrest Judge has escaped the square with your son and his sword!"

"Torto, you fool," the voice of a scared sounding female hissed, "we are under assault from one of Lord Anarton's best students! Get out of the door before..."

"Before I show up and end your wretched existence?" Conner spoke with a snarl as he spun into the room and tossed a pair of dives at the woman, one set to fire, the other ice. Both hit. The ice one stuck in her chest and the lava coated one in her left eye. The vial she had in her hand fell to the floor and shattered, sending up a wispy looking ghostly image with a gnome face. It turned and dove on the woman even as she fell back screaming.

The ghostly image suddenly turned into hundreds of mouths and descended on the mortally injured Dark Mystic, while solidifying. The mouths then started ripping into her flesh. She shrieked and tried to crawl away, but didn't even make it a meter before the combination of damage done was too much. She fell twitching.

At the same time the guy who had burst into the back door turned to flee, but Pontarious moved in and pointed to one of his men, "Dostem, we need him alive!"

Dostem, a very quick Halfling, darted into the room between Pontarious' legs and snapped his whip. The strike was perfect. The end of the whip wrapped around the man's right foot, tripping him. The fleeing man fell face first, breaking his nose, but still leapt back up to his feet and tried to bolt to the door again.

"Slow learner," Dostem snickered as he duplicated the move, only this time getting the left foot. Once again the man fell hard, knocking over a table and snapping his left forearm in the process. He rolled over while holding his badly damaged arm with his right hand. Still he was undaunted in his attempt to get away. He got back to his feet and ran toward the open door a third time. Sharris shook her hand and cast a Push Autospell, slamming the door just as the guy got to it. He impacted head first, cracking the door and further flattening his nose. He staggered back totally dazed.

"Very nice!" Dostem grinned as his whip snapped out a third time, dropping the man on his butt. The First Mate pushed past Pontarious while patting Sharris on the back for her well timed casting. He then grabbed the stunned and all but helpless man and drug him as far away from the horrible thing still ripping bits and pieces off the woman as he could. Looking back, he noted there was nothing more than small tatters of muscle and hunks of flesh left on the bones and a massive pool of blood, while the multi-mouth creature continued to pull off what little meat was left from the skeletonized woman.

Conner glanced back, "This is a one kill Dark Mystic creation called Bone Stripper. Once it is done it will soak up the blood and move on to some other realm, which one I really don't want to know. Then we will have to destroy the skeleton's skull before it animates."

Seeing the others looking at him with a mixture of morbid interest and disgust, Conner decided to show those with him the same way Lord Anarton had taught him. He figured it couldn't hurt for all of them to learn as much as possible about some of the nastiest forms of the Dark Mystic arts so they could all better fight them. He moved up and pushed his sword into the horrible thing and withdrew the blade. None of the mouths even slowed their devastation of the corpse even though his blade came back with quite a bit of greenish cruor on it. "See, I could slice chunks of it and it would not stop and what blood is in it is already starting to harden. Now I could stop it by cutting it to shreds with a magical blade or destroy it with a powerful cold spell, but to do so would be a waste of effort or Force, when in a minute or two it will be gone and a simple hammer or mace blow to the skull of this witch will prevent her from even fully animating. Besides, I am kind of hoping she is feeling every bite wherever her life force is."

Pontarious once again shielded Sharris from the grisly sight while letting out an uneasy breath. "Guys I have heard of this Tregasel. He was trained in the same lab I was, but the Black Dragon Prince Bassork took an interest in him and four others. He wanted to take me as well, but because of my brother and what he was, this was overruled by the Black Dragon King. At least this was what I was told and later when I next saw my brother, the Black Dragons did indeed have one final use for me...

"None of this matters other than I know they were taken from the lab where I was taught and I never heard from him again. Until now I thought he was dead... hoped he was dead..." The man's face took on the look of someone remembering something truly unpleasant.

"Look, I know what he was like as a child... After seeing this and knowing what he was capable of years ago, I must say this and be absolutely clear. DO NOT underestimate him, and if there is anything worse than any of these horrible potions, then he will have found a way to make them and happily use them."

Pontarious looked at the badly battered man the First Mate was hogtying, "Now I want some of you to find out what this cretin knows and see if this whole thing in the city square has anything to do with the twin of Zoldon, this Master Shaman we were sent to find, or whatever else he knows. The rest of us, stick close and let's finish cleaning this place out. IF we come across this Tregasel, and he identifies himself as such, I want him for myself, understood?"

Those listening had never heard such a venomous tone come out of their Captain's mouth and a few even backed away a pace or two. Even as the Bone Stripper finished with the woman, let out a scream which seemed to be one of victory, and disappeared taking the blood with it, everyone in the room nodded.

Pontarious pointed to the skeleton. "Someone crush the skull of the bitch, too."


Kandric stepped through the portal he had opened and found himself exactly where he thought and hoped he would. The area had not changed much since he had come through it with Glaster and a pair of Outdoorsmen Glaster had paid a small fortune to, so they could show Kandric everything there was to know about tracking in a rocky deciduous forest.

While Kandric was certain Glaster had selected the area because of its Kobald population, the man had said nothing about them. Instead, when Kandric stumbled onto a trio of them, Glaster pulled the two Outdoorsmen back and simply said, "Boy, if you don't want to be the guest of those mutts, I suggest you deal with them."

It did not take long. The first one fell to a cold snap spell. The second dropped to a crossbow. The third staggered back and collapsed only seconds later to his still very much trusted Dagger Boar knife. While the two Outdoorsmen stood dumbfounded, Glaster merely pointed out the mistake of wasting a spell when one was not needed and had one of the Outdoorsmen, who happened to be a Swordsman, work on better knife fighting techniques since the last Kobald had managed to deliver a nasty slice with its own blade before falling with Kandric's dagger stuck in its throat.

From where he was currently at, Kandric couldn't help but look at the spot just off in the tree line where the three had fallen with a bit of a smirk.

His thoughts of the past were brought to a quick end as Duke Mathard moved up and patted Kandric on the back, "Premier, our passage through the portal has left most of your forces shivering and not in the greatest condition to fight. Those of us who have on metal armor are in even worse shape. I have been told from those who came through from the Alphar controlled Gate Stone to the outskirts of Slome, the effects will last for up to a couple of hours. While we can still move out, it is not something I recommend."

Kandric glanced across the clearing with a confused glance. "I feel nothing..." He glanced around noting several of those who had come through the gate were down on one knee and others on the ground. The Griffins were also on the ground, several of them huddled together. "But I guess I am the only one."

"So it would seem." Mathard stated while gritting his teeth over the extreme discomfort he found himself in.

Even as much as Kandric really wanted to move out, he could see by the look in the man's eyes to do so would not only be seen as ignorant of the condition of his forces, but also unwise as well.

Before he could say anything, however, Prince Rovanall all but staggered over, "Alright, Grandson, you got us here. Point the direction to this hamlet so we can deal with it and get home."

Kandric eyes were the only part of him to move as he glanced over at Mathard, who had to fight hard not to laugh at the look of total antipathy written on Kandric's face. Kandric looked Prince Rovanall dead in the eyes and managed a slight grin, "I am glad you are doing as well as I am. Since you are, you can go out and scout with me while the rest of my forces get some fires started and recover from the Gate Stone passage."

Those around Kandric could see what little blood was left in the frigid Alphar Prince's face drain out, leaving it pasty white. At the same time, Duke Mathard had to bite down on his tongue, hard, to prevent from breaking up in fits of laughter.

Even with the extreme discomfort of ice inside his armor, Duke Mathard forced himself to stand as straight and strong as he could force himself, took a quintet of calming breaths, and spoke with his head turned away from both Rovanall and Kandric to prevent his true feelings from showing. "Premier, I would be happy to come with you and Prince Rovanall, but might I suggest you let both of us tend to our forces and make sure there were no serious complications before we head out. I can see several of your Black Rapids guards are not doing any better than the Alphar and Garm, so you may wish to check on them as well."

Kandric ran his hand through his hair with a loud exhale. "Alright..." he glanced over at the mass of troops and nodded while speaking loudly, "I notice you Silver Dragon kind, probably because you hail from colder climates, are best off. Please spread out and form a defensive perimeter around the camp. Those who are not too bad off gather some wood and get some fires started. The rest of you break out some shelters and help each other out of armor so you can warm it up." He almost turned away, but stopped himself, "I also want this to be a united camp, not several separate ones. I expect a mixture of Garm, Alphar, Black Rapids forces, Pantherlings, Illorcs, and a blend of all Dragon races in each of the camps. While you are with me you live as one and fight as one!"

Not caring what the reactions of those around him were, he glanced over to his friends. "Seldnat, Lorthorn, Zeltoss, Jamon how are you all doing."

Jamon stayed down on one knee, "I am freezing, I have never felt such cold!"

Zeltoss nodded in total agreement, "I think my mace is froze to the belt loop and I can't feel much of anything."

Seldnat shrugged, "Me be cold, but no worser den takin' a bath in the icy streams pa used to make me do when me no not get clean enough. Me learn better, but still remember. Me be ready if'n you want to scout."

Lorthorn, on the other hand, smiled, "My Premier, I felt the lava hammer Duke Mathard gave me use up some of its power as I went though, so I am chilly, but not like most of the others seem to be."

Kandric nodded with some satisfaction, "Fine, Seldnat, Lor, you two with me. Everyone else get warmed up and double check all your equipment. I want everyone in the best shape possible when we do move out, and I still want to be at the gates of Rolling Dale before nightfall."

Mathard looked over, "Premier, where do you think you are going?"

"To scout..."

One of the Garm footmen looked over, "Premier, by treaty, a royal member of a Garm house must be there when any member of Alphar royalty faces danger outside of his or her lands..."

Kandric pointed to his grandfather, "He is the only member of Alphar royalty here. I am Elf by his decree."

"Not true, my Premier," one of nearby Alphar archers countered, "Prince Rovanall removed the banishment off your mother in a meeting of the Alphar High Court just before we thought you were in trouble and Duke Mathard went through to rescue you from King Blathamort."

"So my mother may once again be a member of some royal court. I am not. I am a Wilderness Scout officer, and a Premier because I earned them as an Elf and would wish it no other way. Royal birth did not get me here, the times in the Junsac worker district, the trip up through the pass up to Slome, and living in the Swamp Slums did. My instructor, Glaster, gave me a chance to make something of myself and I did so with his help while paying the price the two of us agreed on.

"Prince Rovanall did nothing to help me, no Alphar did, so do not say I am part of anything other than what I did and what Glaster paid for me to learn. Now, if one of the Garm wants to come with me, just to keep with the spirit of the treaty, I would not mind."

Duke Mathard rubbed the back of his neck and rolled his shoulders. "Premier from what I am seeing, those who are not in metal armor are better off than most. Since my nephew is here as a Warrior Adept in training and standard bearer, plus is part of my royal house, there is an easy solution. While not true royalty, he is both from a royal house and without metal armor. May I recommend, just to keep the full treaty intact and relieve some discomfort from both the Alphar and Garm, you take him with you."

Although clearly not happy by the offered compromise, Kandric gave Duke Mathard a bow. "I would be honored." He then cracked a devious smile, "Besides, this way I will not have some adult telling me what to do."

"Premier Kandric," one of the Griffin Riders spoke with a great deal of humor in his voice, "No one here is going to tell you anything. We all saw you drop a Dragon, remember?"

Seldnat shrugged, "We's watched him gunch two bigger ones. Da last Green wasn't much a nothin' compare to the first two."

Mathard reached over and gave Seldnat an overly hard pat on the back as way of warning, "Indeed you did. I only caught the last moments of King Blathamort's existence and am awed by it. However, while you have been on the front lines for three Dragon kills, most have not, so you will have to excuse their admiration of the death of the True Green Kandric felled in Slome."

Realizing he must have overstepped some boundary, but not really understanding how or why, Seldnat gave a quick nod and what amounted to some semblance of a bow. "Me... um my Duke, me no mean to make bad, just saying seein' the big Black one drop was way more awesomer."

At this, the Alphar Archer managed a grin, "To be honest, seeing a True fall is more than a good enough story to tell my young. Being face to face with an angry Great, no thanks; I will pass no matter how breathtaking seeing such a being fall may have been."

Off to the side, Zeltoss stayed down on a knee, still overwhelmed by the passage through the Gate Stone portal, but managed to speak. "I guess you really had to be there..." With a shiver and a wince, he cast a pair of dry Autospells on himself, then followed it up with a resistance of cold to counter and push away most of the effects and forced himself to stand. "Wearing armor made out of King Blathamort almost makes up for how scared I was at seeing him."

Lorthorn shook his head, "No, no it does not. Every time I close my eyes, I can still see all those teeth coming straight for us. Still, I have to agree with Seldnat on the difference between seeing the one in Slome and King Blathamort. There really is a... well, I guess the best way to say it is there is a stunning difference between the two. To be totally honest, seeing the Green push through the street only made me mad. I was not really scared at all."

"Because you were all Dragon Death Gifted to some degree by either King Blathamort or the Great Green, maybe both." Duke Mathard countered. "All three of you who were with Kandric and fought beside him down there were like gifted. While none of you may have directly fought either of them, you helped. All of you did to some extent. While some may not like this fact, being there and fighting such a tremendous foe places you all among the world's elite and as chosen protectors of Premier Kandric you all have been granted the position and respect due knights.

"At the same time the magic gifting you all received have placed you well into the upper Echelons, none of you are below the Guilded rank of Teacher and my guess is, you are all Experts, especially after the latest battle in and under Slome. This is something we should all keep in mind when we deal with you as a group or individually. You are now at least low royalty by your own hands and deserve the respect as such."

Seeing the others nod, even Rovanall, who did so with a great deal of reluctance and disgust on his face, several of those listening gave the three kids with Kandric slight bows showing they, too, accepted Duke Mathard's words.

One of the Silver Dragonlings moved up with Mathard's nephew in tow. "Premier, may I ssssuggest, sssince we have proof the old Governor of Sssslome was traitoroussss, you call Sssslome your firssst landholding and placssse your three protectorssss in as earlssss of the ssssurrounding lands? Thissss would give them true royal titlessss and as word sssspreadssss, ssshow the world you control a land of your own."

Duke Mathard's eyebrows shot up, "The land is certainly yours if you want it Premier Kandric. You drove out the Dragons from Bloody Rock all the way to Slome and your armies will secure the plateau, of this there is no question. You also already laid claim to Slome when you killed the True Green. It is actually a fine idea."

Kandric shook his head while thinking back to the conversation with the spirits about being able to someday earn his own land. It seemed an odd premonition as he looked back. "No, not until my students are safe. However, Seldnat, Zeltoss, and Lorthorn, I would be honored if you would be willing to be seen as knights. You all deserve no less."

Seeing all three youngsters nod with stunned looks, Duke Mathard glanced over at Prince Rovanall, "Would you care to do the honors or do you want me?"

"Feel free, good Duke." Rovanall responded blandly, yet without hesitation.

Duke Mathard motioned for the three to come forward and kneel, at the same time he pointed to Kandric's sword, "Touch them on the shoulders as I speak, Premier."

Kandric let out a long breath and did as instructed.

Duke Mathard moved up to each boy as Kandric touched their shoulders with the tip of his blade, "Let it be known, from now till the end of times this young man is a royal knight in service to Premier Kandric. I, as Duke of Winter Creek do so swear to all who witness this, as a landowner and Royal Duke of the Garm Nation, these new knights have such distinction throughout the Garm lands and therefore, by treaty, to the Combined Alphar Nation. Now new knights raise and stand as one and pledge to serve Premier Kandric with the honor we have all seen within you."

Even as many fought the effects of the Gate Stone passage, they all took a knee and gave the best bows they could to the three boys, even the Warrior Dragons.

Kandric moved up and gave each a hug as they stood. Once done, he motioned for everyone to get back to setting up a warming camp. He then glanced over at Mathard's nephew. The boy was still down on one knee, his reinforced leather armor wet where the reinforcements had frozen over and his short sword ice locked into its sheath. The boy's Warrior Adept and Sailor Training Echelon step three pins on the youngster's shoulder boards sparkled with a frosty glaze.

Kandric moved up, cast a spell which caused his hand to glow and put it on the kid's head. Moments later all signs of wetness and ice vanished. "Come on, stand. You are the same age as us and we don't bite."

The boy stood with more than a little hero worship in his eyes. Even as he watched Kandric move over to Jamon and cast a duplicate spell so the boy could join them, he spoke with a high degree of awe, "You may not bite, great Premier, but the things you fight sure do!"

This got some hearty laughter out of Mathard and even a chuckle out of Rovanall, while several others snickered as they moved away from the group to take care of other matters.

Kandric put his arm over the young Garm's shoulders, "I really do not think they would find me good tasting. So what is your name?"

The Garm tensed up nervously at having someone with Kandric's reputation get so close. "Pike, Premier, my name is Pike."

"Relax already, Pike, and no matter what you may think you have me beat on something."

"I do?" the boy's eyes went wide as he looked into Kandric's eyes.

"Oh yes." Kandric pointed to the Sailor's Guild pin. "You get me on a boat and you could kick the snot out of me."

Pike's head tilted to the left, "Why?"

Kandric cringed some, "Because Jolan and Crytrall do not like me much. I would do as well trying to stand on the wave as standing on the boat getting hit by the wave."

This got a grin out of Pike, "It's all in the knees, Premier."

"Then I guess Jolan and Crytrall take my knees away as soon as I step on something traveling on the surfaces of what they control. I am not sure what is greener, the Dragon in Slome or me on a boat." Kandric patted Pike on the shoulder, "Now, since you can do something I cannot, how about dropping the Premier every time you say something."

Pike looked back to his uncle. Getting a nod he gulped and turned back to Kandric, "Alright... Um..."

"Pike, I am Kandric, just Kandric, this is Zeltoss, Lorthorn, and Seldnat. We are going to scout out the area and see what we can find while everyone else warms up. Your uncle suggested, just to keep all the Garm and Alphar happy, you join in and I think you will fit in great. What do you say?"

"I am not even fully trained, though. Do you really want me?"

Lorthorn grinned, "Do not worry Pike, you will be fine. Stick around with us for a while and you will be able to pass a Primary Guild test, no problem."

"Probably won't take long either." Zeltoss joked.

"Na," Seldnat snorted, "not long at all. Bet we can get ya inta bronze pins in a couple a weeks if'n not less!"

"Oh, come on guys," Kandric grinned wickedly. "With all the trouble we like to get into, we need to aim to get Pike into silver pins before we send him home!" He then pointed up the hill and guided an uneasy Pike away from the group of adults.

Off to the side Duke Mathard let out sharp breath and grumbled, "My youngest brother is not going to be happy with me if his boy comes home with pins equal in rank to his own."

The Silver Dragonling snickered, "Duke Mathard, you may want to conssssider a large gift of ssssome ssssort then, because I would all but put all my money on your young nephew going back to Winter Creek with at least Sssssecondary Essschelon pinssss."


Klent called a halt to the group as he spotted a quickly moving figure on a hillside to his left, "Lidevar, Dragonling just over a half a kilometer to the north, looks like it's with a couple of smaller human sized somethings and is chasing something or someone."

Gravol shuddered, "Then turn back ta the south and keep clear. I'm in no mood to be a chew toy for the second time in one day."

Immeck nodded, "I'd agree, boss. We had a hard 'nough time taking on the last one and it was on its own. Head south er west and we can try ta wrap around this area."

Tayac looked over at Rylop, "They could be chasing some of the other students if they got away the same way we did..."

Rylop let out a long breath, "Kiddo, we do what Klent tells us. He say he work for whatever kingdom we be in, so him be in charge. Besides, he has higher Guild pins than me."

Gapon swallowed hard but still tried to argue. "But if they get the others to the Dark Mages, like the Dragon was talking about..."

Lidevar cut off Gapon with a snarl, "Boy, yer a tough one, but there ain't no way I am going to go after another Dragonling, and now you be talking Dragons? To the Demon realms with you!"

Klent managed a slight snicker at Lidevar's response, "Hey now, Lid, give the lad a break. He has been through a storm of crap over the last few days and only wants to help. Besides, he's a strong youngster. He even managed to stagger the Dragonling some when he ran into it."

Klent then glanced over to both Gapon and Tayac, "But, my men are right, and I think you are both smart enough to know it in your heart. You know, I admire both of you for wanting to help your friends, I really do, but we are in no shape to fight. Besides, you already told us one of the other Dragonlings was a spell caster, and Jory is all we got. We'll turn south west and try to skirt the area, then head back north and let the Shaman we be working for know what's going on."

Tayac let out a long frustrated breath, "Mister, while I thank you a whole bunch for helping us kill the Dragon-thing, we seen what happened to the girls already. If what we hear about the Dark Casters when we being forced to walk in all them caves is true, then them men forcing themselves on the girls and a few boys may be the nicest part of the rest of their lives!"

Klent looked back at Tayac, "Young'an, as much as I would like to check it out and help, look at this group. You and your buddy aren't in the greatest shape and these other two are in far worse. You also all smell like something straight out of a sewer.

"Making matters worse, theses other two don't even have weapons and their armor ain't in any condition to fight. You two seen to still have decent armor and grabbed the weapons and junk off the Dragonling, and your Swordsman friend is pretty well equipped, but he has been through a rough few days and clearly needs some decent rest as well. Then look at our mounts, two of these beasts are in bad shape and the others are struggling to move with the load we are putting on them."

Gapon held up his hand and glanced over at Tayac, "He's right and Rylop say his word goes so let's do as we be told. Besides, while we both have weapons, and we got a good meal, I'm still pretty hungry and the last few days has kicked my tail. Also, don't forget Rylop took a whip for us, so I know he still must be hurting."

Tayac gulped as he thought back to the whip strikes Rylop had taken on both his and Gapon's behalf. He glanced over to Rylop with a guilty look, "I'm real sorry..."

Rylop jerked his head for the two boys to follow Klent and keep up with the group as he spoke, "Young'an, neither of you have squat to be sorry for. I saw both of you help the others up several times and Gapon, you took a couple of good shots for yelling at those hurting the girls. I actually thought the big dude in the blackened chain armor was going to take you next..."

The younger of the two boys who had been being carried by the Dragonling looked down and spoke softly, "He was going to, but the Governor said he didn't want you out of your shackles because of how strong you look. He actually said the same about me and Losmock too since we are all metalworkers, so he took Livius instead."

Gapon made a deep growling sound and shook his head, "One of these years I'm goin' to find him and when I do, he's dead. I see him take two from yer school and two from ours, and I know Livius, since he come to the forge now and then to help set gems into fancy blade pummels and the like, so if he got grabbed too, the guy in the black mail took at least five."

"More," the second boy from the Governor's school spoke in total exhaustion. "Before your teacher escaped, he had his way with a few who got away. One of the whole reasons the Governor didn't want any of us out of our chains was because well over half of the guards around us were mundane swords by the time you joined us. The Governor sent most of the real Swordsman to find Teacher Saslara and those she got away with after killing two of the swords and using one of their axes to take out the Green Dragonling Miner, Kolom.

"She took Kolom's armor, weapons, money and gear too, so she got away with quite a bit. Between the three other kills she made, there were plenty of weapons to go around to the five she escaped with. But still, you don't want to try to take on Moba, he is one of the lead spell throwers who teach at the Governor's Magic Arts School. I hear he is a Mage attuned Warrior Adept, but I'm not sure if this is true or not. I do know he has a mage book, so if he is a Warrior Adept, he's at least Teaching Echelon."

Klent cringed and gulped at the same time, "With chain armor and casting spells, sure sounds like a Warrior Adept to me."

Gapon spit off to the side while shaking his head in anger, "You know what the worst part is?"

"There's something worse than everything I am hearing?" Lyrod asked with wide eyes.

"Yea," Gapon muttered, "I'm the one who spent a full month making the blackened chain, and did so with five interlocked loops per link instead a the normal four, cause I thought the jerk be one a better ones workin' fer the Governor. Plus, I wanted to show him our forge could put out the best of the best and figured he may even tip me."

"Did he?" Gravol asked with a humor filled snort.

"Yea," Gapon grumbled as he flipped at his own chain shirt, "He paid the forge enough to let me make this for myself. It's also bronzed-over steel so it looks bronze and has five interlocks just like the one I made fer him."

Gravol's eyebrows shot up as he guided his mount closer to Gapon, reached out and fingered the chain, "Nice, real nice. Must be worth a good three hundred fifty silver and look at them clean bends! You got some strength to make this!" He shook his head and fingered the metal with more than a bit of jealously. "If'n ya really made this ya gots some real skill. Me'll be lookin' ta have you make me a set soon as things settle some. If'n ya can make it black, all the better!"

"Give me three to four weeks in a forge and fifty silver or so for the steel, and I'll make it for you. For an extra fifteen to twenty silver I'll even add some reinforced plates with leather under 'em so they don't make much noise."

"I'll help if you want, and I know Shothash, here, is good enough to man the actual forge and keep it hot enough for us." The older boy spoke with bit more enthusiasm. "We owe all these guys more than we'll ever be able to repay them, it's the least we can do."

Tayac glanced over showing considerable surprise, "I didn't think any of you uppity types from the rich boy school ever cared 'bout no one else."

The younger boy, Shothash, frowned deeply, "Losmock and I are not like most of the others. We work in a forge and are not afraid to get our hands dirty. We also know when we owe others. Our folks are big on repaying debts and would expect us to do so..."

Losmock held up his hand, instantly silencing his younger friend, "Shothash, remember both of these two ran down the hill to help us and it was our school's owner who betrayed all of us. Besides, even you have to admit we did kind of look down on the Slome Swordsman School of Arms, since we had a higher Echelon instructor, had a magic side of our school, and we had to go through extra steps to get accepted."

"What extra steps?" Rylop demanded to know. "I thought yer folks paid for you all."

"Some did. Not mine." Losmock let out a long breath, and I do not think Shothash's did either."

"Father paid fifty silver to get me accepted to the forge, but not the school," Shothash managed a weak smile. "Ulimid said I was way too much of a pretty boy to be working in a forge. He said I should be a Gem Worker with my looks, so Father paid for me to be in both schools."

Losmock gave the younger boy a slight grin, "Ulimid said the exact same thing about me, but since my Uncle is a Channeler and runs the shrine of Hertzel, and I was already an acolyte in training, Ulimid gave me a shot. I am pretty sure he did it because he did not want to anger Hertzel."

Klent glanced over, interrupting the conversation, "You are a Channeler of Hertzel?"

Losmock nodded, "Yes, sir, but I am not the only Channeler here." He pointed over to Gapon, "He is a spirit touched Channeler to Golan, and from what I heard at my uncle's shrine, Gapon has already made contact with the spirits beyond the ones those of us in Training Echelon get to utilize."

All heads turned to look at Gapon who turned more than a little red, "I think it had somethin' to do with all the effort I put in ta the armor. Until then, all me did was help out and clean the temple and stuff. Me never even studied to be one of Golan's focuses. But I guess Golan took a shine to me 'er somethin'. One second me know nothin' about channelin' to bein' a full Channeler a Golan when me woke.

"Tayac was with me, and the same kind a thing happened ta him too, but Tayac, didn't get no channelin' like me. From what me heard, Tayac just staggered around and took a knee fer a bit. But when he stood, he knew how to fix people up real good like. My Uncle spoke like in a weird voice sayin' we was touched for the commin' storm. None a us knew what him be talkin' about, but me is startin' to think this be it.

Tayac looked at those staring skeptically back at Gapon so he spoke up. "I know lots more too, and can use a healing pouch and the Healthman up in Paws taught me all sorts of neat stuff. He say I could pass into Primary, but never heard a no one with three Subfields before. He wasn't real sure how the guilds would handle it. Still he paid my guild dues after helpin' him. So I have my Primary Guild pin as a Healthman even though I ain't tested in nothing else.

"I still think it be all Gapon's fault, since everyone who saw the black armor said how good he make it."

Gapon managed a grin, "Many at the shrine say same thing. After I finished makin' the blackened armor I felt real weird then when me went ta clean the temple area the statue eyes glowed and me wake up in a bed, but knew me was able to heal and stuff. I even did it on a pretty bad cut on this merchant kid who came into the shrine right after me woke up. It wasn't just one a them stop the bleedin' heals either. It closed the whole thing and left me all loopy fer a bit. Since then, I've done pretty good and even got ta fix one of the new apprentice's fingers when he busted it with a hammer. Still not real good at it 'er nothin' though. Healin' cuts and stuff only happens 'about one out a five times er so. Actually, I'm thinking I be a bit better, now, but don't know why."

"God touched..." Klent eyed the young man carefully. "Did you have any strange dreams on the night of a full moon?"

Gapon shook his head, "No, me fell flat on me face and woke up knowing all the teachings of Golan. It's like him give it to me fer free..."

"Doin' armor the likes you can make gots ya seen. Golan no give ya nothin' ya earned it." Gravol stated forcefully.

Jory glanced over with an impressed look, "My mage teacher used to say if you work hard enough you can catch the eyes of the gods, sound like you did. Were you two ready to test for Primary Echelon in Swordsman?"

Gapon shrugged, "I thought I was, but Teacher Saslara didn't like my shield use er long weapons like spears yet, so she wouldn't let me test till I got them things a bet better. I'm just not a spear 'er polearm fighter, and smacking someone with a shield when they be up close ain't my thing neither."

"Tell Betha you aren't a shield fighter!" Tayac busted up snickering.

Gapon looked down, "I didn't mean ta knock out three of her baby teeth!"

"Maybe not, but most of us were glad you did, because she didn't talk for almost a week and when she did, she didn't brag about getting to step three so fast anymore... and you haven't hit anyone with a practice shield since, so I don't think Teacher Saslara even knows how good you are with it!"

Immeck shot Gapon a smirk, "Don't ever go feelin' guilty 'bout smacking the snot out a someone when trainin' boy. The bestest teacher any a us get is a wooden er padded sparing weapon upside the head! Sound to me like ya be a Primary Echelon Swordsman. Also, judgin' from the way Gravol be eyein' yer armor and wantin' it you got what it takes ta pass in ta Primary in Metalwork and it sure be soundin' like Golan agrees."

Losmock could see the skeptical looks so he spoke up, "It was big talk over at the Shrine of Hertzel, big talk. Some even said Golan was getting tired of being second best to Serrif up in Slome and found someone worthy to guide more to him."

"Well, I'd normally be shaking my head, but I was sent here by power beyond what I can understand, so I'd concur with what you are hearing Gapon," Klent stated with a hard nod. "And if you really are Golan touched or even spirit touched ya both should be guilded better than you are. Besides, from what I have seen, hardnosed teachers are always pushing to make sure their students look good on their first tests, so the fact she wanted you to work on just a few things tells me, she just wanted to hold you back a bit, especially as young as you are. Still, you got more muscles than a good percentage of fully Guilded Swordsmen do, so I'm thinking you should go ahead and test. Since you both put a hurtin' on a Guilded Dragonling, I'm thinkin' both of you should."

Rylop chewed on the inside of his mouth for a few seconds, making sure the conversation had settled before speaking again, "Gapon, Tayac, I think Klent is right, you should test. However, I still would like an answer to my question. What EXTRA stuff did ya' other two have to go through to get taken inta the Governor's school?"

Losmock gave a shrug, "All of us had to agree to be practice dummies of the spell casters and learn how to counter the spells being cast on us. It is called throwing spells, and is not taught to most new Swordsmen because it uses up what little Force we have and makes many of us think we are better than what we really are. Just because I can toss off someone's Autospell, does not make me a super Swordsman, but lots of the Governor's students let it go to their head."

"Big time," Shothash agreed. "I almost got caught up in it too, but Ulimid pointed out how, when I got back to the forge, I was pretty much useless since I used up all my magic. He was right, too, I was nothing more than a better trained mundane without magic. He then cast a Brain Freeze Autospell on me and snickered as I staggered around trying to breath in hot air from the forge to heat up the inside of my mouth and head."

"Exact same thing he did to me," Losmock grumbled. "One thing the Governor does not teach is once we use up all our force, our magic defiance drops by a whole lot and we can't use the extra power we have inside us to fight better like we are supposed to. Ulimid also said it opens us up to other spells effects we may have been able to naturally fight off and I know it made his Brain Freeze Autospell hurt way worse than one does when I still have Force inside me. He proved it the next day. I never let the magic school teachers make me use up all my Force after Ulimid pointed it out. Instead I dropped my Magic Defiance like Ulimid showed me how to do and let the spells hit me so they thought I was out of Force."

"Same for me," Shothash nodded. "I guess Ulimid took you for a hike too, huh?"

"Sure did," Losmock managed an exhausted snicker. "He told me there were some serious problems with a new Swordsman learning to toss spells, and while nice to know, it was leaving me open to magical effects I didn't want to leave myself open to. He also added he could show me things way worse than the Brain Freeze, but did not recommend it."

Klent raised an eyebrow, "I have never heard of this spell tossing... Did your Metal Worker teacher tell you what kind of worse things you were opening yourselves up to?"

Losmock shook his head, "No, sir, not really. He just said it could be very bad and to never let anyone make me use up all my Force ever again. I have not either. I always trusted Ulimid way more than the Governor. Now I am very glad I did, but I don't know if the other kids from his school were worse off for having no force left or not. We all got captured, so I really don't see what difference it made to us down there."

Tayac rubbed his chin for a second, "When he took you into the main passage, did you come across spellthowers or something?"

"Oh yeah," Shothash let out a really long breath, "like five or six of them. Most of the others moved up and tossed the Autospells directed at them, and we drove them back and killed a bunch of their guards and stuff, but then a couple more better casters showed up and they took us out real fast. We were not even in the main cave for half the turn of an hourglass before we were all in chains.

Tayac frowned deeply, "Let me guess; those you killed let the casters get away and I bet they where young or weak, right?"

Losmock glanced over at Shothash while turning a bit more pale than he already was, "Yes... All but one caster gat away and those we took down were young Morg..."

Klent saw Tayac nod as if he expected the answer and shook his head as he suddenly pieced it all together. "It was a trap. The first wave was set to make you use up force against expendables. Then, when your group was badly weakened, a couple of better spell casters pretty much took you all out and captured you all without having to fight much. Had all of you been able to fight properly, you may have been able to drive back the second attack."

Losmock closed his eyes and shook his head as he replayed the fight in his mind, "Only three of us were able to really fight when the two Hobgoblin spell casters came around the corner, and I got knocked to the ground by either the Governor or Moba from behind... None of us were even really hurt, but he got all of us!"

"Sounds like he was setting you all up from the start to me," Jory sighed. "One of the first things my Mage instructor taught me was to never, ever, let go of all my Force, even if tortured hold on to some no matter how bad it gets or whatever. Until now I didn't really know why, but it makes sense. The whole difference between us and the mundane is our magic. If we use it up, we are mundane until it comes back."

Pulon nodded, but cocked his head to the side, "If Swordsmen can do magic stuff, what about Animal Adepts?"

Losmock shrugged, "I think they can do some stuff, cause I know they had Langken doing special stuff, but I have no idea what. He was the only Animal Adept in the Governor's school. He was pushed through the gate right in front of us, hooked to one of the kids from the other school, but they didn't pop out of the same tube we did."

Tayac cringed and wiggled a finger in his ear as if he could still hear the weird giggling sound, "So who in your school is one of them mindtalkers?"

"Yea," Gapon responded with a bit a snarl, "Someone in your group sure thought the whole thing was fun!"

Shothash held up both hands, "Not one of us. Weaver Omiga's girl is a Mindmaster, and the Governor refused to take her in, even though she had Shaman potential too. I even saw Omiga offer to pay for spell control classes, but the Governor refused. Last I heard, Omiga sent her girl down to Silverton to the school down there and she was not happy about it."

"Stands to reason someone who was doing plenty of questionable things wouldn't want a Mindmaster around." Klent stated, seeing some tensions between the kids start to flare up and wanting to cut it off before it really got going. "Now, all four of you seem to be darn fine kids and have been through quite a bit. I also get you have some disagreements and some rivalry between your two schools, but you were all screwed over by the same guy.

"Now, before any of you start giving me any backtalk, let me point out I actually have some questions and some degree of suspicion about you two." He pointed over to Gapon and Tayac, "Had you two not helped so much with the Dragonling and happen to have Rylop speaking up for you, I would have left you behind."

Tayac's jaw fell open, "Huh?"

Gapon fared little better, but at least was able to verbalize a question, "What'd we do?"

"It's be yer armor, boys." Immeck responded, "Me be thinkin' pretty much the same thing. Yer armor be in way better shape than them other two from the other school."

"I made both sets, and made them good!" Gapon countered only to get cut off by Lyrod.

"Good armor or not, you two be in way better shape. Shot and Los have also seen way more combat than you..."

"Hey, hold oh here!" Rylop spoke up, "I was with these kids until the magic bangs happened. I saw them..."

At this Losmock shook his head and interrupted, "Hey, Guardsman Rylop, I think it may be better if this comes from me or Shothash."

"Really, why?" Gravol snarled, "You don't want 'em speakin' er somethin'?"

"No, nothing like you are implying," Losmock shook his head. "There is a whole lot they do not know since they were not there at the start after we got caught. They don't know much of what happened and while their armor dings came from fighting those who captured us, most of ours did not."

Shothash jumped in. "Losmock is correct, they and their school killed way more than we even thought about. From what we heard, they pushed through a huge upper section and even doubled back at some point killing even more and freed some captives who killed a bunch as they fought their own way out of Bloody Rock. Remember us saying we were not even in Bloody Rock for half an hour before we were all chained up? Well, we did not get much of a chance to get our armor messed up." He pointed at Gapon and Tayac, "They did though."

Shothash frowned deeply but continued to speak only because he was seeing several of the others about to ask questions and he just wanted to tell things his way. "It was those guys from the Slome Swordsman School doing all the damage. It even got so bad the Governor was getting into some serious trouble from a couple of the Dragonlings about all the damage the Slome Swordsman School was doing. They were blaming him for the deaths of several Dragonlings because; the way I understood the conversation, one of the reason the Governor brought us out to Bloody Rock was to screw them up. I didn't even know this until I heard it many, many hours after we were in chains. The Governor was supposed to take us in at the same place the Slome Swordsman School group went in. They wanted us to end up fighting each other, but when you did not show up, the Governor decided to have us go in, thinking Teacher Saslara saw something and backed out. I may be one of the few who understood since most of the conversations were held in Common Dragon tongue, something I learned up in Black Rapids before we moved to Slome and never told anyone about."

Klent held up his hand to halt the conversation, "OK, hold up here. Now I am totally confused. What do you mean your damage didn't come from fighting? I can see the slashes and bashes in your chain and scale armor. I bet both of your suits are beat up enough to where it isn't giving you but maybe half the protection it should!"

"Oh, it came from fighting." Losmock sighed, "Each other...."

Several in the group all spoke up at the same time. "What?"

Losmock hung his head, "Before the big explosions of magic, those who captured us made us fight each other and took bets on who would win. At first we refused, so they took Gobull, the oldest and strongest of us, hung him up by ropes attached to his wrists and started hitting him with gauntleted fists. He was not really even a student since he was Primary Echelon, and added to the group as a guard, but..." Losmock shuddered, "I think he was brought along as an example... Anyway, after he lost consciousness, Moba used his fighting hammer, broke both his legs, and cut the ropes holding him up. When he dropped on the ground, his broken legs went in the in the wrong directions and bones popped out to where we could see them. The Governor then pointed to the next oldest. We all got the hint..."

"So you had to fight each other with real weapons like gladiators by the one who was supposed to teach and guide you?" Even as Klent spoke he was clearly sickened by what he was hearing.

Shothash nodded and let out a light sob, "One of the Hobgoblins was a Shaman and some of the others including the Governor's Healthman healed us up after the fights, but two of us still died, probably three since we don't know what happened to Gobull. They drug his body into a side cave, but he was still moaning when they did so.

"The next day, at least we think it was the next day, we did it all over again. We had to fight until we were too badly hurt to continue and then, and only then were we drug out of the pit. I thought I was done for. I couldn't hardly see out of my left eye and my right arm was broken for sure, but they still pushed me forward to fight again since me and Livius weren't considered to be beyond fighting yet. I knew Livius was better than me and even though he was limping really badly and his weapon hand was messed up, I did not stand much of a chance.

"But as we faced each other and the Governor shouted he would whip us until we had no skin on our backs if we didn't fight, the big magic blasts happened and totally healed all of us. It also scared those making us fight. One moment they wanted us to try to kill each other, the next they wanted us all in one piece, since we wouldn't be worth much if we were all beaten and bloodied. We changed from fighting each other to being forced to flee. A few got away too, including Teacher Saslara, since no one was watching them since they were so badly hurt from all the fighting... But the Dragonlings didn't really care. The spell casting Dragonling kept saying something about their lives being forfeit if they got caught inside the fortress since they were supposed to be protectors, but I never heard enough to fully understand what he meant."

Losmock hung his head and spoke softly, "They split up too. Some of the Dragonlings and Hobgoblins took five of the others from our school and several other captives from the other school down a side passage while the rest of us went with the Governor."

Tayac glanced over with a shake of his head, "So by the time them jerks catch us, you'd been runnin'. We never see no fighting or nothing."

Gapon let out a long breath, "I also got a chance to touch up my armor and Tayac's when we rested for the night in the hidden upper cave. I only had a small travel kit, or I would 'a totally repaired the damage, but we didn't fight but a couple more times until me screwed up and banged against a wall. The noise I made got us caught."

"I shouldn't have pushed you to move so fast, so it was as much my fault as yours." Tayac countered.

"They were on to you, and would have found you anyway." Losmock responded. "You are lucky you were caught by the spell."

"Lucky?" Tayac looked over with a nasty glare.

"Yes, lucky." Losmock spat with a shudder, "They knew someone was close and they found a couple of the Hobs you killed. Because of this, Moba was on your trail with a Dragonling Miner. Had he caught you, he would have added you to the others he... he enjoyed..."

"I can't believe I made him armor, the best I ever made..." Gapon grumbled it total disgust. "I made him harder to see in the dark and way harder to kill."

"I will see him dead before I die or I will haunt him." Losmock snarled. "I will never get the screams he caused down in those caves out of my head."

"After seeing Jarl after Moba was done with him, then knowing he took him and one of the Slome School boys with him when he entered the gate, I will be by your side." Shothash growled.

Gapon glanced over to Tayac. Getting an angry nod from his best friend, he angled the horse he was riding over to the two kids from the other school and extended his hand, "Los and Shot, you will have two others at your side if you want."

Klent watched as the kids exchanged handshakes. Relieved there was not going to be an internal struggle within the group allowed him to breath a bit easier, but only a bit. "OK, guys, let's try to pick up the pace some. As I already pointed out, we are not in the best shape to take anyone on and I'm in no way interested in fighting a spell casting Dragonling.

"I'm in no mood ta be facin' any more Dragon nothing'!" Lidevar barked out, "So move yer cute prissy school boy hides!"


In the gods' viewing room, A Gnome paused and cringed. His eyes flared red and heat radiated out of him as he snarled. The messenger spirit even backed off from his master is it saw and felt a sudden burst of pure anger out of the being it had delivered the message to.

The Gnome moved forward pushing his way past others and took control of the portal without asking. "Oh, no you didn't Frexla!" Vaneuben spun and glared over at Rovnar, "I am tired of you having all the fun, now back off and let me have a spin!"

"OH, really?" Rovnar snickered even as he backed off from the sudden heat coming off of the crystallized diamond armor worn by the Gnome. "So far you have not done a thing, not raised your hand once. You have also been basically against bringing Kandric into our fold. You have a change of heart?"

"No, but Frexla just sent in one of her most powerful spirits to investigate and instigate, so it is time to remind her to keep her nose out of my business or get burned."

"You cannot burn her..."

Vaneuben snorted, "No, not in the truest sense of the word, but she will still feel as if she has been!"

Vaneuben then peered into the viewing portal and located one of his strongest spirits, Argoth, his lord spirit of geysers to deal with this newest problem. "Argoth, Frexla just sent in your half brother, Descrom. He was ordered assist the Dark Mystic attack at the Green Goblin Inn inside the gates of Rolling Dale to support Gambra. Take some of my force and do your worst!"

There was a snort of rage as Argoth's face appeared in the spinning disk. "Then watch, for my worst has never been seen before!"

"If you happen to kill your half brother, I will not mind. We are about to go to war with Frexla anyway, so let me be the one to strike the first real blow in this war!"

"Consider it done!" The face then vanished leaving a view of the street just outside the Green Goblin.


Glaster moved around to the front of the inn and let out a long exhale. The fighting retreat in the square had worked to perfection. While there was sustained combat all across the front of the inn, it was the Judge's Protector Keep guards facing the attackers, not his students or caravan guards. Still, right behind the line of Protector Keep guards, several of the instructors and caravan guards were helping. Others were down, so it was clear the guards had come in just in the nick of time.

Glaster eyed the mob, knowing he needed to buy as much time as possible. The prince and the duke's boys had to get out of the city. At the same time, the other two princes had to be protected as well. It was the responsibility of the hosting kingdom to provide security to any visiting royalty.

He knelt and focused on the mob of undertrained rabble just behind the more skilled combatants attacking the inn. As he did so, he took note of a figure wrapped in black egging on the masses, shouting out how the rich were what was causing all of this and how they needed to go down in flames, "Feed them to the fires of Frexla and cleanse the world of their self-righteousness!" Glaster heard the figure shout out at one point.

Glaster rolled his eyes, wondering how anyone with a gram on common sense could buy into such a line of nonsense. With the wealthy, and therefore most of the smartest, dead, most of those screaming and throwing things would have no chance at a paying job, let alone a future. Instead they would turn on each other and their lives continued a downward spiral until, once again, a royal class took over and they once again bowed their heads while uttering the words, 'Hail to the King!', most likely to the guy in the black robes. 'Well, so be it' Glaster thought while letting out a long sigh. 'If they want to follow the fool wrapped in black then they are all enemies of my King and therefore the boys I have sworn to protect.' Even as Glaster thought this he realized many would have to suffer for their stupidity and ignorance.

Glaster knew what he had to do, but it would be such a waste of life including more than a few boys of beddable age and looks. 'It is too bad I do not have time to debate the guy who is about to get so many around him killed for his attempt to gain power'. Of course the guy in black had to go too, he was the dangerous one, after all.

He glanced over his shoulder as the Judge came running around followed by the others. "Have your men do a fast pullback and hold!"

"There is not much room to pull back too..."

"They'll be able to push the line forward again, just order it!"

The man dropped all pretenses of being a Judge and switched back to what he did best, being a captain in the Junsac Special Guard tasked with keeping the most important complex in the kingdom, the school over eighty percent of royalty attended for a least two years, Protector's Keep, safe. He moved forward and took the arm off a man who was getting ready to cast a spell on his troops, then spun and took the leg off a potion cloak wearing woman who was trying to sneak forward in the chaos. He ignored their screams as he delivered an offhand gauntleted fist to the face of a teen who tried to move up to help the woman. The kid's eyes rolled up into the back of his head before he hit the ground. This left a small gap where he could move though the lines to get himself to the center of his men.

It didn't prevent him from dropping four other major threats. His path around the front of his men left several troopers and other attackers with an excess of blood splatter on them. He did, however, pause to gut punch, disarm and toss a fairly nice looking boy who had a dagger with black goo on the blade over his line of soldiers. Even as he picked up the dropped dagger and thrust it into the face of a man who rushed forward, he shouted. "Someone grab and hold the lad! He had poison, but something tells me our merchant friend will like the looks of him. The rest of you, fall back ten paces on my mark and solidify the lines!"

The Captain took another step forward and grabbed the throat of yet another spellcaster with his gauntleted fist, clamped down with everything he had, twisted and pulled removing the man's Adam's apple. He then tossed it into the face of a woman, totally screwing up her spell casting attempt. With a smirk, he shoved his bastard sword all the way through the next man in front of him and shoved him back into the woman skewering her as well. He twisted and jerked the blade in and out a few times just to make mush out of both of their guts before taking a step back. "Now, men, thrust!"

As one, the wall of highly trained men pushed forward a few steps totally taking those in front of them off guard and dropping almost a score of front line fighters. They then pulled back as one, with shields raised, and formed what amounted to a wall of held steel in front of them leaving no real gaps. Even as half a dozen potions rained down on them, the flames, globs of nasty slime, and other things did nothing of consequence to the men behind the expertly formed shield barrier. While a few were burned or splashed with acid, they all remained fully combat effective.

With the turmoil caused by such a rapid advance and retreat of the soldiers, it left a five meter line free of anyone for a few seconds. This was all Glaster needed. He pushed his hand hard on the cobblestone and spoke a few words while shoving a large amount of Force into the street through the spirit realms. Moments later the whole street in front of the guards exploded outward, away from the Green Goblin with ferocity on a scale no one thought possible. Even as half a dozen incredibly powerful geysers blasted upward, ripping apart bodies and even toppling buildings which then fell back on those attacking the Green Goblin, Glaster felt power whip around him the likes of which were terrifying. Well over a hundred died and four times their number were left buried in rubble, clinging to life, or screaming with injuries too grievous for their minds to fully comprehend. Yet the devastation didn't end there. Buildings over two blocks from where Glaster knelt continued to crumble killing far more and trapping countless others.

In the middle of the carnage, the black robed figure let out an other-worldly shriek as its body was shredded with bits and pieces of cobblestone, mud, dirt, and even the body parts of those in front of it. It pulled what was left of itself back into the Spirit Realms only to find the gushing of magic was there too. Before it could look for a magical method of escape it was far too late. Its Spirit body was torn asunder just as its physical body had been.

The Captain's eyes went wide as he turned to look at Glaster in total shock, "For the love of the gods, man..."

Glaster stayed down on one knee with his mouth hanging open as he felt the Force leave him, enter the Spirit realms, then feedback into him with much more power then he sent out. Even as he knew in his heart he had suddenly made the breakthrough to Legendary Echelon, all of his Force was replenished. Glaster also knew this was not his doing alone. The gods were not only paying attention, they were with him here in Rolling Dale. "In this, Captain, you nailed it. Now let us get my charges out of here!"


Vaneuben watched with a smirk as almost two full blocks of buildings radiating outward from the Green Goblin fell and paused to watch the forces of the spiritual explosion radiate outward from Glaster. Since it was both Mortal and Spirit Realm in creation, this allowed Argoth to twist it, multiply it, and send it out on his half brother. The half brother who had killed his father and sent Argoth to a deep dark dungeon for the crime several centuries ago.

Because the spell was Mortal based and the Demon Spirit was in no way prepared for such an onslaught, it caught him totally off guard and destroyed him, not only in the mortal realm with rocks, steam, dirt, mud and body parts, but also in the spirit realms as well, utterly destroying him, not just sending him back to the demon realms to heal and return in a century or two.

This death of such a major Spirit flowed back into Glaster since it was, after all, his spell which had allowed the death to happen. This left Glaster a Legendary Echelon Shaman, fully healed and with more force, fighting prowess, and skill than he had moments before.

Vaneuben glanced over at the shocked looks of the others gods. He grinned. "Just keep in mind Frexla is not going to take this sitting down; she is going to be all hot, bothered, and fiery enraged!"


Inside the Blazing Brook Inn, Conner paused as he felt the whole building physically shake under him. He glanced over his shoulder, only to see the First Mate glance out a window and looked back at him with wide eyes, "Something just... there is all sorts of dirt and junk falling out of the sky and there is a huge line of dust and clouds over to the east!"

Pontarious glanced out and shrugged, "Nothing we can do about it and it is several blocks away. Now stay focused because I do not want to have to tell any of your families we had to re-kill you because something in this building turned you into a walking corpse!"

Sharris moved to a window and looked out, "But Captain, part of the city looks like it bursted upward!"

"Let us hope a few Dark Arts morons were in the middle of it then." Pontarious growled. "In the meantime, we are here to find and kill as many of these Dark Mystics and Mages as we can. Now stay focused!"

Conner glanced over at the First Mate and Sharris, "The Captain is right. A mistake now could mean we take back what is left of you and do what we can to bury you with the help of a Channeler or two so you can properly move on, which may not even be possible. Once we are done here, we'll see what happened out there."

Captain Pontarious pulled open a door and spun out of the way as a crossbow bolt with a potion vial tied to it whizzed by his right shoulder. It hit the far wall and hissed as the vial broke open. Conner eyed the slimy hissing bright blue glob, as it started moving down the bolt toward the fletching. "Brain borer," Conner rolled his eyes, "If it does not find flesh to burrow into real soon it will start twitching and die. They are among the first Dark Mystic potions a fledgling Dark Mystic learns to make. Leave it alone. It won't last long. Even if you get hit by one, take a knife and dig it out, since you can not only feel it move just under your skin, but see it as well. You don't even have to dig very deep. Then flick it away from others and it will die before it can find a new host. If it gets to your head, just do not let it get to your ear, if it does it will eat at your brain until it takes over. If it gets to this point it will stay in there and you will be under its control until it eats too much and kills you, but a Channeler or Shaman who can destroy diseases can get rid of it any time before then."

Pontarious gave a twinge of a shudder as he yelled out, "Let the captive go or so help me..."

The voice of a young sounding male responded, "He belongs to me to do with as I please! I bought him!"

Even as the blue slug-like thing started shaking and fell off the bolt onto the floor, Pontarious pulled out another potion, "Last chance, kid."

"What, you going to try to take all of us on?" A young sounding female shouted from somewhere deeper in the room. "You try and not only will we put things into you to eat your brains, we'll turn you into zombies!"

The panicked sound of a woman could be heard as well, "Leave, or they say they will put some of those things in us!"

Pontarious made a light growling sound as he switched potions, putting the one he had been ready to throw back into a slot inside his padded cloak. He then used his free hand to pinch his nose and tossed in the other one he had pulled out into the room. He didn't hesitate in the slightest as he darted around the doorframe, grabbed the handle, then slammed it. He quickly backed off as his eyes glinted with an almost evil sparkle, even as the sounds of three crossbow bolts could be heard hitting the door he had just closed. A few moments later the sounds of multiple people puking could be heard.

Conner cringed, knowing Pontarious had just used another super stink potion, only this one had been in a much larger container. He glanced over at the Captain, "You know, I'd prefer to get hit with a brain borer than one of those. Actually, I think I'd prefer to get hit with both the bolt and the borer before having to inhale one of those."

"So would I," Pontarious stated while drumming his fingers on the door. He waited for several seconds, pulled another potion, plugged his nose again, opened the door, and tossed it in. He backed off closing the door again as he did so. "Give it a few and when you go in there do yourselves a huge favor and don't breathe in air close to the ground. The stink is heavier than the anti-stench, so the air close to the ground will still smell quite bad. The only reason it doesn't settle right away, is I learned to add something to make it lightly explode and the minor wind turbulence formula I mix it with forces it to go upward for a bit first."

Mostly because he really didn't care, but didn't want to say it to Pontarious and hurt the man's feeling, Conner grinned, nodded and pointed into the room. "Well it doesn't smell too bad, so I want to check it out.

Conner didn't give anyone a chance to argue, but still not wanting to take any chances with such a horrendous smell, Conner wrapped a cloth around his mouth and cast a Moist Autospell on it before he moved into the room. Even as he did so he made sure he was ready with a dive in each hand. He cringed as he noted several people with copious amounts of puke around them and a one particularly skinny Halfelf who was still suffering from dry heaves in the corner.

Conner eyed the kid, noted the robe with a few potions still in it and nodded in satisfaction. "Without further hesitation he moved up to the kid and kicked him in the gut, watched as the young Dark Mystic both gagged and tried to let out a scream, all the while attempting to roll away. The only problem was the roll took the kid under a heavy table. As the future Mystic tried to sit up, his head smacked into the underside of the wooden tabletop with enough on an impact to knock himself out.

"Couldn't have planned it better." Conner snickered softly. Seeing no other threats, he took a count and glanced back into the room Pontarious was in, "I have ten down in here. Six are kids who look like they all have the same kind of cloak as you do Captain, only nowhere near as nice or with as many pouches. There is also a woman, a man, and two other kids. The guy and two kids are hogtied and the woman appears to be heavy with child, and is chained to a wall. There is also a passage going down with bodies on the stairs, but I didn't go down since there is still some of your nasty mist down there, too."

"It's heavy and I tossed an extra large vial in there, so some of it sunk. Those who went down those stairs or were already down there are in far worse shape than those who didn't or weren't. I would NOT go down there, Conner."

"I don't even want to be in here with the lingering smell! No way I'm going down! I am pretty sure I even saw some rats that tried to run up from down there, but didn't make it!"

This got a snicker out of Dostem, "The first time he dropped one of those, the stench made flies fall out of the air, and those things normally feed on crap! I'm sure it did knock out a few rats."

Pontarious poked his head around the corner and looked into the room with a bemused grin, "The crew wouldn't even let me back on my own ship for almost three days, and even then none of them would let me eat in the mess area until I stopped smelling."

"None of us could eat without getting sick when you were down there!" The First Mate snorted with a great deal of humor in his voice.

Pontarious couldn't help but snicker, "In the grand scheme of things, it was worth it. I have taken down several ruffians and lowlifes with it, all without anyone really getting hurt and it is pretty cheap to make. However, we need to get those aspiring potion makers secured and what liquids they have with them taken well outside their ability to grab them. Once they are well secure we can continue our search, but the rest of you need to keep your eyes open. One tossed concoction could do a great amount of damage to us."

Conner eyed the six with potion cloaks as he moved back into the room with Pontarious. A couple of them moaned, but none showed signs of recovering any time soon. Satisfied they would not be a problem for the foreseeable future, he moved deeper into the room and peered past the open trapdoor in the floor and into the passage going down. He paused and launched a Flare Autospell down, clearly seeing a large lab with a couple of women strapped to tables and several cages, a few holding people, but the flare went out before he could see more and the stink potion cut down on his ability to use his infravision.

He moved back into of the room, "So how long will the stuff last down there and will it kill those who are breathing is so much of it?"

"A long time, and I don't think it will kill, but I have never had someone stay in it for very long." Pontarious responded with a raised eyebrow, "Why?"

"Because," a truly wicked expression crossed his face. "I have an idea. How about you take off their cloaks so I don't mess up and accidentally break one of the glass tubes? Then you may want to leave me be for a bit while you clear the rest of the main floor, what da' ya say?'"

The First Mate eyed Conner, "Boy... I have seen the same expression in my own kid just before he is about to do something he knows is not..." Seeing Conner only grin more, he rolled his eyes and shook his head, "Captain, I really don't want to know what he is thinking, let alone about to do."

Pontarious shrugged and pointed to a couple of his apprentices, "Go get the cloaks, but be careful. We will take them back to the Thunder Rapids and I will show you three how to dissect them and figure out what they are and how they are made. It is rare to get so many to practice on, so this will be a great learning opportunity. Sharris, I want you to hang back and keep an eye on Conner's back, but do us all a favor and just forget to tell us what he is up to."

Sharris gave a devious little grin, "Happy to!"

Conner turned a bit red at the eagerness of Sharris to be around him as he cast a spell around himself and went back into the room.

Sharris started to move in, but wrinkled her nose. "It still smells kind of bad in there..."

Conner stopped, closed his eyes and forced himself not say something obnoxious. The last thing he wanted was a girlfriend, and certainly not one who was endangering herself so badly just so she could stick close. Taking a deep breath he forced a smile on his face and turned, "This light glow around me is a shield bubble, and blocks out the smell. Let me cast one on you, so we can get the locked and tied up people out from down stairs. You can watch them while I deal with the Dark Mystic trainees."

"What are you going to do to them?" Sharris demanded to know as Conner cast the spell on her.

Conner moved up, pulled out some lock picks and made short work of the manacles holding the woman to the wall. "Something my teacher would call back alley justice, only this will be cellar justice." He then pointed to the three who were hogtied and glanced over at the trio of slightly older boys who were quickly, yet carefully, removing the Mystic cloaks off the six kids. "Don't worry about tying their hands. Just get these other four out of here, but don't let them totally loose. We have no idea if they have a brain borer in them or something worse."

"But Captain Pontarious said to secure the Dark..." the oldest of the three Mystic trainee's Pontarious had tasked with getting the cloaks started to argue.

Conner smirked, "Trust me, they won't be escaping any time soon."

The three Mystic apprentices of Pontarious glanced at each other, shrugged, and started dragging out the former captives.

Conner then looked down the dark steps again. Finding the stink mist was still hampering his Infravision, plus realizing Sharris needed light, he pulled out a glow coin and held it in one hand while keeping a dive ready in his other. Reaching the bottom, he darted under the steps coming down to make sure no one was waiting in ambush, then quickly reappeared.

Finding three more in Mystic robes and four captives in cages he shook his head in anger. He moved over to a set of candles and tapped the first with a spark spell, igniting it, then used it to light the other four in the holder. He quickly lit the other four candle holders sitting on the long Mystic lab table and spread them out around the room. With enough light to keep everything illuminated, he dropped his glow coin into his pouch and moved up to one of the cages and examined the girl inside. "This is really weird."

Sharris moved over to Conner's side and looked into the cage, "She's close to our age, but other than her being locked in a cage, I don't see what is so weird."

"Her armor is mangled with sword slashes, hammer blows, what looks like a couple of axe cuts and even punctured with some kind of spiked weapon. It is also full of dried blood which were attracting rats." Conner pointed to a few small bite marks, "The cage is so small she had a hard time fighting them off, so she got bit a few times, but other than the bites and some deep bruises on her face and neck, she appears to be fine. She should be all cut up and have at least a few broken bones with armor in the condition it is."

Sharris moved over to the next occupied cage and knelt, "The girl here is the same and so is her armor. Do you think this is some kind of trap or something?"

"If it is, it is a good one, because the boy over here was badly beaten recently. His right eye is swollen shut." He moved over to the final occupied cage and shook his head, "And none of them puked, so they have empty stomachs. If they are supposed ta take us by surprise after we let them out, they are not in any condition to fight. We should play it safe though. Once I pick the locks, we'll use the shackles and keep them from easily being able to attack us."

"Then what?"

Conner grinned deviously, "Then we take our nine wannabe Mystics, cut off all their clothing, toss them in these cages, break the locks so they can't be easily picked, and clear the room of everything down here."

"You want to leave them locked up in these tiny cages in this stench?"

"Look at these kids, they are filthy and have certainly messed themselves multiple times. They can't really move let alone try to undo armor and relieve themselves. You got a better punishment for what they have done and are doing?"

Sharris looked at the girl in the cage and shook her head with a horrified cringe. "No, but doesn't doing this make us just as bad as them?"

Conner shook his head, "Not in my way of thinking. This isn't even about revenge, since they didn't do anything to us. This is about getting all those they hurt a measure of payback. And I really don't care about two wrongs not making a right. There is no such thing as two wrongs; there is only a crime and fitting punishment. If the nine Mystics get some rat bites before we come back to get them out, then it is nothing more than turnabout being fair. The scales need to be balanced. My instructor once said, an evil man rarely does nothing but evil and a good man never does all good. Our lives are nothing but well weighted scales. The evil man tilts more to evil and a good man tilts more toward good. But in the middle of it all, there has to be a balance. In the end a good man should get more rewards and a evil man more punishments. But someone has to deliver the punishments or the good man will never have a chance. As a true Wraith, at least the way I see it, is to make sure there is a center point. In simple terms, it is my job to balance those scales, to use life force or not, but never to play with it. My job, as I understand the rules my master set down for all of us to follow, is to rid the world of those who would do what is going on in this inn, and to give enough leeway for the good men to have more room to be good without having to worry about this kind of evil. For allowing good men to be better, we better the whole world."

"Why not just be one of the good guys?"

"Because then no one does what has to be done to get rid of the evil and it flourishes. The war has to be fought and no one can fight a nice war and win. Some have to get dirty and play by a harsher set of... values... would be about as good a word as I know. Otherwise the tarnish of the fight wears on the good man and he is no longer as good as he once was."

Sharris scratched her head, "You know, I think you almost made sense, but I am really going to have to think this whole thing over."

"Well, while you do, how about helping me drag these four and the two women up and those six Mystics down here so I can try to balance the scales in my own way?"

Sharris let out a long breath. "Yeah, sure. They really do deserve it even if it doesn't feel right to do this to anyone."

"And this is where I have to wonder where the balance of the scales tip the wrong way, but this puts the scales I see in my own head closer to even than doing nothing or even killing them. Since to kill them wouldn't give them no punishment for what they have done here."

Several minutes later Conner sliced the clothing off the last fledgling Dark Mystic, kneeing him once in the gut to eliminate the kid's token resistance, and shoved him into the cage. As the boy gasped for air, his lungs filled with the nasty stench and he gagged. Conner grinned slightly as he pushed the boy's hand inside so he could close the cage door without doing serious damage to the hand. Finally, he locked it with his lock picks.

He paused to rattle the cage to make sure it was properly locked, then he jammed in one of the bronze stirring spoons from the assorted Mystic tools he had found on the long table on the far side of the room. Once the end of the spoon was deep inside the lock, he started bending and twisting it until it snapped it off in the lock so it would take a very good Lockmaster to get it open. Making sure the lock was good and screwed up, he nodded then made his way around to the other cages and did the exact same thing.

Even though the smell was beyond bad for those in the cages a couple of them tried to shake their heads; one even tried to beg, but the taste he got by opening his mouth made him gag. This got zero sympathy from Conner who had Sharris take everything she could lift up the stairs while he checked for secret entrances. He found one, noted it opened inward and glanced in once he found how it opened.

Seeing an iron rung ladder leading down to the sounds of running water he backed off, closed the door, pounded a metal spike into the stone floor to prevent it from opening, locked it, then took a couple of minutes to mess up the opening mechanism. Satisfied the only other way in or out were the steps going up, he picked up the pile of rags, once the clothing worn by the nine kids, and pulled the pouches off the cut belts. At the same time he noticed, by opening the trapdoor, most of the cloud of Pontarious' stink potion had gone down and the room was much fresher. He shook his head in some aggravation and briefly thought about asking Pontarious for another one so he could throw it down the steps as he left, but decided to do so would be overly cruel. "Just so you all know, your coins are going to those you wronged. As long as we live through today, we will be back to decide your fates."

With a smirk, Conner moved up the steps, but paused long enough to glance down. With them not being in the stink cloud, he decided on another form of punishment. He sent a strong burst of wind out of his hand to blow out all the candles. "Don't go anywhere, now, you hear?"

Getting some very frightened sounds from those below, he jerked his head in Sharris' direction so she would leave the room. With a slight snicker, he dropped the lid to the trap door down with a purposefully loud thud, knowing the sound would have to echo in the confines below while plunging the whole cellar into pure blackness. Just to make doubly sure the room below didn't get any light from around the heavy trap door, he moved a heavy, basket weave, blood stained, rug over it.

Sharris looked back into the room with a shake of her head, "I would be scared so bad if I was locked down there..."

One of the girls who had been in one of the cages tried to pull her hands out from behind her, but quickly realized she couldn't. With a long sigh she hung her head, "I was terrified, especially after hearing them talking about what they were going to do to and with us. Do we belong to you now?"

Conner moved out of the room and over to the shackled girl offering her some of his water skin. "Are you a slave?"

The girl gratefully took a drink before responding, "I don't even know what we are at this point. We were taken captive inside Bloody Rock... I think several days ago... we were part of a school group... But now... I don't even know what I am anymore."

"Bloody Rock?" Sharris asked while looking over to Conner

Conner shrugged and looked over to one of the two boys who was moving around some, "Relax, we put the manacles on your wrists for both yours and our protection until we figure out what is going on. They are heavy with sharp edges, so if you keep struggling they will cut up your wrists."

"But there's rats!" the boy croaked out.

Conner moved over to the boy and helped him sit up. "You are out of the cellar, ain't any rats up here. Now stop struggling. You are beat up enough as is without messing up your wrists."

The kid tried to struggle one more time and cringed as he found Conner's words were beyond truthful. He set out a small sob and tried to lick his badly cracked lips. "OK, you win. I'll do whatever you want, but please I need food and water."

Conner tilted the boy's head back noting the kid was missing several teeth from the right side of his mouth. He poured in a little water and let the kid take a swallow, "Did they put any potions in you or on you?"

The boy shook his head and managed to nod in the direction of the older girl who was still unconscious, "Only Kesha. They held her nose and made her drink something. They said it would not let her cast spells. The guy in the orange colored robes punched me in the side of my face with bronze knuckles and made me pull out all my loose teeth and give them to him though. The tall kid with the scar on his face has them in his pouch..."

Conner gave the boy another drink while he debated what to do. After several seconds he stood and looked back into the room where the trap door was and shook his head. He then dug through the pouches until he found one with four teeth in it along with a vial of blood. He moved and knelt next to the kid again and pulled open his mouth, noting four teeth were missing. He let out a sigh knowing he probably prevented the kid from being turned into a Dark potion or spell page. He gave the boy another decent sized drink and rubbed the boy's shoulder to provide at least some level of comfort. "Look, kid, I believe you, but I have dealt with Dark Mages and Mystics before so I have to be real careful. I got all your teeth and the blood they took, but even then, I can't just release you yet. I am going to find someone to feed you and, if you want, get you out of your armor and clothing so they can clean you up some, but you will stay in chains until we really have time to check you out."

Clearly dejected, the boy gave a nod, "I really need to get clean..." He turned a bit red, "I think I have some kind of rash, I really itch around my loincloth."

"I am sure you do, and it's nothing to be embarrassed by. For now, just do whatever those I send in tell you and do not fight them. I know in my heart they will not harm you on purpose, but if you fight, flee or hurt one of them, I will not be nearly as nice the next time you see me."

He glanced over at the other boy and the conscious girl, "Understood?"

Seeing all three nod, and making sure Sharris gave the other boy a few healthy swigs of water he moved out of the room and found Pontarious glancing up a set of steps with several shattered glass vials on them, many had burn marks around them, telling Conner a few more Ghoul Makers had been unleashed. "Bit of a standoff?"

"More than a bit!" the First Mate growled as he peeked up the steps and just as quickly jumped back. A second later another glass container broke and caused the wood on the steps to smoke and sizzle.

Pontarious rolled his eyes, "Acid? Really? Come on you can do better, I know you can!"

"Show your face old fart!" a voice of a young sounding girl shouted from somewhere above, "I'll give ya' something better!"

"Promises, promises, promises!" Pontarious shouted back up the steps. "I bet you had to have someone cook up the acid for you as it is!"

Another container was hurdled down the steps, but it gave one of the Thunder Rapids crew a shot at the extended arm. Even as the container shattered and unleashed another ghoul maker, the girl screamed as the crossbow bolt stuck into her arm deep enough for the bolt head to come out the other side.

Pontarious flipped another fire burst potion at the nasty concoction and watched it quickly burn up before shouting back up the steps. "How about extending your other arm so we can even you out?"

Conner snickered, then glanced over to a group of the junior crewmen, "Captain, can a couple of the... Um... Primary Echelons..."

"Conner, you are at least a Teacher," the First Mate smiled at the fact Conner was faltering over ordering someone to do something, "and we all know it. If you want a couple of the lesser trained crew to do something, point at them, tell them what you want them to do, and I can assure you they will. Now if you let it go to your head, the Captain or I will step in, but I really don't think it'll be an issue."

Conner took a deep breath and pointed to two young men, both older than him in equivalent years, "Nake, Tobash, there are four kids in the other room, the oldest girl was fed something so stay well away from her, but the other three need food, water, and if they want you to, to get them out of what they have on and cleaned up, but they stay chained for now."

The fifteen year-old, Tobash, looked at Conner with disgust, "You mean I have to strip and wash them?"

"Unless you would prefer mucking out the stables the next time we take on animals." Pontarious spoke with a great deal of authority. He then stared at Tobash, "Alone, I might add."

The teen's eyes went wide and he gulped then grabbed Nake, who was a year younger, and all but ran to take care of the three in the other room.

"Huh, kind of thought so," Pontarious snickered.

Conner forced a smile even though he felt guilty about telling other, older, kids what to do. Wanting to take his mind off of it, he glanced up the steps only to get a potion thrown at him.

Without hesitation, he caught it with his left hand and tossed it back up the steps. It hit, broke and let out a loud bang sound. This was followed by a scream of a girl. "And here I thought you wanted to play catch with me!" Conner shouted up the steps as he backed off. Seconds later three more potions shattered on the steps. One exploded and sent some glass into the First Mate's face, the second one caused the stairs to sizzle some more, and the last formed into a brain borer which died when it fell off the step it landed on and into the acid on the next one down.

Conner rolled his neck and pulled out his spell book; finding the page he wanted he nodded in satisfaction. He glanced over to the First Mate who was getting help pulling some glass out of his face, "How about a loud discussion about racing up the steps with the weakest ones out front?"

"Are you nuts?" Pontarious gasped.

Conner gave another truly disturbing mischievous grin, "Somewhat, yea, but for this to work I need them to believe it is going to happen."

The First Mate shrugged and looked at a couple of the other younger young men and women from the Thunder Rapids and whispered, "I want you to argue until I threaten you, then agree..."

"Just don't actually go charging up there." Conner whispered with a gleam in his eyes.

Conner knelt and read the spell just loudly enough to cast it, letting the arguing of the younger members of the crew drown out his spell casting. Finally the First Mate shouted to the younger crew members, "Knock it off and get going!" Conner then released the spell.

Suddenly a dozen duplicates of those in the room below the steps formed and rushed up the steps.

Conner stayed focused on the spell and moved around to where he could see the literal rain of potions falling on the steps. He concentrated deeply. As he did so, five of the leading duplicates fell. Two appeared to be turned into ghouls, one fell to acid and the last two simply fell. A moment later the next one of the younger ones in line, a duplicate of Sharris, jumped up and let out a breath of flame.

While the crew of the Thunder Rapids found themselves stunned to see near exact figures of themselves appear out of thin air and charge up the steps, they recovered quickly enough. However, those above didn't. There was the sounds of breaking glass and shouts of pain, agony and fear. One young Mystic even jumped over the rail to get away from the 'flames' and broke his ankle when he landed. He didn't get a chance to do more than scream before he was pounced on by a pair of Thunder Rapids' crew members.

Conner let go of his illusion and ran up the steps before those above could recover. He found one, and only one man who had not totally fallen for the fake assault. The man's hand raised a wand and managed to point it at Conner, but didn't get a chance to use it.

A whip snaked passed by Conner's right side and smacked the hand holding the wand. The wielder let out a string of curse words as he dropped the wand and backed off holding his bleeding hand into his stomach.

Conner didn't even bother to glance behind him as he moved on the guy, "Nice shot, Dostem, thanks!"

"Not a problem," Dostem responded from behind Conner. "But the next time you make one of me, tell me first so I don't think my soul just jumped out of my body er somethin'!"

The wand wielding man started to speak and use his non-injured hand to cast, but never got a chance. Conner delivered a spinning kick to the side of the man's skull and sent him through the wooden railing. He slammed into the floor below with a sickening crunch. A moment later the man's spell book let out a scream as it died along with its owner.

Even as the rest of the crew of the Thunder Rapids advanced up the steps and took out others, Conner glanced at the pile of pages lying on the floor with a grin. "Nice, more pages. Before this is over Sharris will have a real book!"

Conner snorted as he caught movement out of the corner of his eyes. He darted around into the hall and found a kid struggling to get up. The kid's Mystic cloak was lying off to the side smoking from where the kid had fallen on the acid potion he had been trying to pull when he dove out of the way. Conner took no pity on the struggling Mystic. He advanced on the older teen who had dove to get away from the fake flame coming out of the replica Sharris' mouth. Before the kid could stand, Conner grabbed the door of the doorframe the kid was still lying in and slammed it with everything he had, snapping the young man's arm. Even as the kid screamed and grabbed at his mangled arm, Conner stamped down on the other arm with a well-placed stomp of his heel. The other arm audibly snapped.

Conner then stepped over the grievously wounded older boy and set a Force Bolt into a man in the back of the room. The guy was knocked out the back window and landed on a fencepost in the stable below impaling himself. A few seconds later, the spell book on the desk on the far side of the room let out a scream and fell apart. This time the number of spells was quite impressive, signaling the man had a very large book.

Conner glanced out of the room and shouted a reminder to those he was fighting with, "Remember not to touch any spell pages with blood on the edges until I can look at them. Some Dark Mage spells pages can be dangerous if touched with bare skin!"

"We're not touching a single page of any spell book until you give the all clear, Conner!" Pontarious assured the boy from somewhere down another hall. Moments later the scream of yet another spell book came from the same direction.

Conner almost exited the room, but caught movement from under the bed. He spun just as a young boy in fancy clothing tried to dart out of the room.

"Going somewhere?" Conner asked with a great deal of annoyance as he raised his hand and made a slashing motion with it. The 'Trip' Autospell got the youngster on the right shin and he fell face first into the coat stand, knocking it over and sending a fair amount of coins and gemstones spilling out of one of the hung-up cloak pockets. Sharris entered the room and stepped onto the boy's back. She then pulled the cloak's soft belt off and dropped it on the kid.

Even as the boy hollered, cried and struggled, Sharris shot Conner a silly grin, winked and made a twirling motion with her hand. The 'Tie' Autospell took hold of the cloth and wrapped the belt tightly around the boy several times before it tied itself into an unyielding knot.

Conner gave Sharris a slight smile and a nod, "Nice casting."

"Thanks for showing it to me. What do I do with him?"

"He looks a lot like the guy I just caught flat footed and launched out the window, which makes him the offspring of a Dark Mage. We'll let the Captain decide." Conner stated as he picked up the thrashing bundle and hung the boy on a lantern hook on the wall. He then smacked the kid across the face, "Your old man was a Dark Arts user which makes you the spawn of darkness. I should just kill you and get it over with, but you have not done anything I know of yet. Now knock it off or I will find a lantern and hang it off your teeth!"

Seeing the kids eyes go wide, he moved over to the desk and held up the lantern, "Now, be still and shut up or so help me I will hang this off your bottom front teeth and tie it around the back of your head so you can't spit it out!" Conner advanced with the lantern held up by the top loop threateningly.

The kid quickly closed his mouth hiding his two bottom adult teeth with no teeth on either side and shook his head as tears of terror rolled down his cheeks.

Conner eyed the younger boy for a few more seconds then put the lantern back on the desk, "No second chances. One word, one yell, one thrash and you become the lantern hook."

Conner gave the bedroom a quick once over, taking a few seconds to separate the seven Dark Mage spell pages from the other thirty one. He handed the whole stack over to Sharris, "Here, there are probably some duplicates, but they will sell in trade for ones you want."

"What about you?"

"The spell book they took when I was sentenced to the Day Slave block was only my backup book. The chance of there being anything in those pages I don't already have is... well, it ain't gunna happen with such a small book."

Sharris stared at all the spell pages in disbelief. Finally she pointed to the book pouch on Conner's side, "Your book is big, but not like..."

Conner pulled down on his collar showing a weird tattoo in the shape of a massive tome over his left shoulder, "Take a close look. Mine pretty much looks exactly like this one."

"You have a painting of your book tattooed on you?" Sharris asked with total confusion.

"Something along those lines." Conner grinned, "Now let's try to circle around the back way and go help the others."

He started to move out into the hall, but stopped. Instead he moved up to the boy he had hung up on the lantern hook, "You, do you know Gambra?"

The boy's lower lip trembled upon hearing the name but seeing Conner's hand moving back toward the lantern, he nodded.

"Where is she!" Conner snarled

Tears of fear rolled down the kid's cheeks, but seeing the lantern moving toward his mouth he whimpered, "The Gloom Fire... She is at the Gloom Fire! It's where Dad holds all his Dark Spell page captives and where she teaches the others how to make them..." Tears rolled down his face, "There is a secret door in the cellar on the back wall. She uses it to move between here and the Gloom Fire, but I don't know how to get there or nothing. They never took me down, really!"

Conner glanced back at the remnants of the Blood Wood cover of the former spell book, "The voice of the scream sounded young and male. Was it your brother?"

The boy shook his head as more tears fell and he totally broke down, "Deknal has not been made a demon yet. Gambra said Dad isn't ready until he shows more control of what Dark Magic she has already taught him. I think he is being held somewhere in the Gloom Fire and four of those pages are his friends who everyone thinks died in a fishing boat accident on the river a couple months ago. Their body parts are in the lower drawer of the desk in the study, but the door is trapped. I don't know no more!"

"How could you let this happen?" Sharris demanded to know. "Your own brother and you didn't tell someone who could stop it?"

The boy's head dropped on his chest, "If I say something, anything, Dad said he would use the spell page he made from me."

"What's missing?" Conner demanded to know.

The boy turned his head to the left, "Lift up my hair."

Conner pulled a dagger and used it to lift up the boy's long wavy blond hair, clearly expecting it to be some kind of trap. However, as soon as the hair was clear of the boy's right ear, Conner could see the earlobe was missing. "What did he do to make you cut off part of your ear?"

The boy whimpered, "He tied twine around my upper arm and put one of them blue slugs on the back of my hand..." A sob and a fresh round of tears cascaded down the boy's face. "He and Gambra made me watched as it moved up my arm and tried to find a way around where the string was tied. It hurt real bad as it tried to go deep and moved around the string to find a way up. It finally came out of my arm and was getting ready to crawl over the string, when Dad flipped it off to the side and put another on my hand. He said he would not stop the second one..."

Conner grabbed the boy's right hand, saw nothing then moved over to the left. This time he saw a round scar with a weird line going up the boy's arm. He cut the sleeve so he could trace the movements. It took only another couple of seconds for him to clearly see where the vile thing had circled the boy's upper arm several times before an exit hole scar could be seen. "So it was either remove your lower ear or let a brain borer get into your head."

The boy said nothing as he sobbed, but did nod.

Conner shook his head. "We'll see about finding the spell and the body part, but you are still the offspring of a Dark Mage. Stay put and don't try to escape or I will make sure you get turned over to someone from the Junsac Barony Watch."

Conner waited to get a nod of understanding out of the distraught youngster before moving out into the hall.

Sharris quickly followed but couldn't help but to ask a question, even as yet another giggle of a ghoul maker could be heard, followed by the scream of a dying spell book. "I don't get it, Conner. What happens if you turn him over to a Watch member?"

"The penalty for being in the direct family line of any Dark Mage or Dark Mystic is death in the arena. There is never a chance of freedom, only death and they tend to be the most brutal types of matches, like whip fights."

Sharris was sickened, "But he is like four years younger than me and was turned into a spell page!"

"Doesn't matter." Conner stated as he grabbed the arm of a woman who had come out of a door swinging a Wolf Sect Warrior Jaw at his head. Keeping the arm in his hand He extended his left foot, kicking her in the armpit. As the woman howled in pain, he balanced himself with his right foot, kept his left foot in the woman's armpit and pulled with everything he had on the still held arm. A moment later he was rewarded by a popping sound as the shoulder came out of its socket.

Even as the woman dropped the mace-like weapon with a rounded blade coming off the back of the spiked ball, Conner nodded to the short blade in Sharris' hand.

Although somewhat taken aback at what Conner clearly wanted her to do, she took a deep breath and after only the slightest of hesitation, slashed into the extended arm, cutting it off midway between the hand and elbow.

Conner tossed the hand back over his shoulder while pushing off with his left foot sending the woman back into the room she had come out of. Her screams stopped about the same time she hit the ground as she lost consciousness. He then turned sharply to Sharris, "This is not a game. It is life and death, the hesitation you just showed could have gotten both of us killed."

Sharris was badly stung by the words and it showed. She backed off a step and almost said something, but stopped herself. A couple of seconds later with Conner still staring at her with a great deal of anger in his eyes, she nodded. "I won't let it happen again."

"Good," Conner snarled, "see it doesn't!"

Off on a side hall the fighting intensified greatly, bolts, arrows, and daggers went both directions, as did a few potions. The First Mate even had to bite one of the tentacles of a ghoul maker as it managed to get one into his mouth. He backed off spitting it out, "Oh, for the curse of Rovnar, I have never tasted anything so horrendous!"

Pontarious flipped another small fire blast killing what was left of the potion as he looked over, "Better to taste it and live to talk about it, if you ask me."

At the same time Conner and Sharris moved down the adjacent hall. Conner eliminated four adults and one young Mystic while Sharris managed to drop an Animal Adept. It only took another few seconds for Conner to use his bare hands to rip the throat out of the woman's War Dog as it tired to maul Sharris. Noting the next hall took them back around in the direction of the fighting, but behind it, Conner quickly pushed on. Not wanting anyone to know he was coming from behind, he used a couple of spells to eliminate two Swordsmen guards before they even knew there was a threat. He then moved up, grabbed a boy his own age who tried to run out of the next room up, clamped his hand over the boy's mouth and hit him in the throat with the edge of his hand.

The boy's hands moved to his throat as he made a soft hissing wheezing sound as he tried to scream in pain, but simply couldn't. Instead he slammed his heel into the floor causing a small spike coated with sticky looking red gunk to pop out of the tip of his shoe.

Even though Conner noticed and stomped on the boy's foot hard enough to break bones, Sharris found herself enraged at the fact someone was trying to poison Conner. She stepped around the two. Taking Conner's words to heart about not hesitating, Sharris shoved her hand down the front of the boy's pants and loincloth and fired off a 'Flare' Autospell.

As the bright red glow came out from around the boy's waistline, the kid's eyes rolled up in the back of his head even as he tried to scream again. The only sound to emerge was a strangled sounding whistle, however.

Conner let the boy go with both a shudder and nasty cringe, "I don't think you know how much seeing what you did to him caused me to all but feel it."

Sharris cocked her head to the side, "Why?"

"Trust me, it's a guy thing." Conner stated as he gave another noticeable tremble before looking down with a measure of pity in his eyes at the boy and the still smoking loincloth.

"You told me not to falter, though!"

"Hey, you did great, not saying you didn't. If anything, to shove your hand down his pants took a great deal of guts and a certain... Moxie..." Seeing Sharris grin, turn an interesting shade of red and turn her head, Conner once again looked down at the smoke coming from around the boy's groin area. Not being able to stand it, he knelt, put his hand over the boy's groin and cast a pair of 'Moist" Autospells while whispering, "Poison user or not, kid, no one deserves THAT!"

Standing, he quickly darted around the corner to catch up to Sharris. Hearing movement behind a door one up from where he was at, Conner held up his hand to signal Sharris to stop and ready herself. Conner then bypassed the door he was about to check out, spun and kicked the next door open with everything he had. He was rewarded with a grunt of pain and the sound of someone falling.

However, before he could enter the room the door behind him flew open. A man in a dark orange coat grabbed Sharris in a very good Sect Warrior choke hold. At the same time his other hand went into his cloak and withdrew a vial and held it up to Sharris' mouth. "Surrender or this bitch gets eaten from the inside out by a Mummy Creator. It will spread out inside her, and pull her heart, lungs, intestines and finally her brain out through her nose and uses those same entrails to mummy wrap her. Only her life force will remain inside!"

The First Mate glanced around and noted Pontarious was nowhere to be seen. Knowing the man well enough, he was sure the man was close by and had every intention of doing something so he dropped the throwing dagger in his hand and held both hands in front of himself. "What do you want?"

"Other than to get out of here, I want my son and his sword back. I can only assume, you are part of those who have Devkiln, since no one in these parts would dare to challenge us. You get me those two things and I give you back this... this breedable bitch..."

Before more could be said, Pontarious stepped out of the room Devkiln's father had been in, grabbed the man's hand, and yanked it back from Sharris' mouth. Then, as Conner spun and grabbed her to pull her to safety, Pontarious spoke with an icy cold voice. "So we meet outside of the Dragon's lair, Treg!"

Tregasel managed to pull free and spin back while ripping Pontarious' cloak off him, "Why, Pon, I have not seen you in several decades. It looks like you are still the weak one!"

"I may be weaker than you, Tregasel, but I am still smarter." Pontarious spoke with pure disdain in his voice.

Tregasel gave a gleeful look into Pontarious' eyes, "Oh, but how those merchants liked your pretty golden hair and loved the way you screamed in bed!" He snickered, "And since I decided who was available I made sure you were on tap for those two men who loved you ever so much." He then pulled a potion out of Pontarious own cloak, "And now I get to see what you leaned to make with all those brains under that pretty golden hair."

Pontarious pulled out a strangely shaped stick with a metal tube on top and a curved handle from behind his back. "And while you became a master of making people scream I learned the ways of a true Mystic."

"We can't use wands!"

"No, but had you focused on true mysticism, instead of the Dark Arts, you would know we can learn to make and use a substance called blast powder." With those words, Pontarious pulled the small metal tab in front of the curved part of the stick. With a deafening boom, and a large amount of smoke, the front of the strange stick seemed to explode. A moment later a huge hole appeared in Tregasel's forehead while brains, blood and chunks of the man's skull blasted out from behind his head.

Pontarious shoved the still lightly smoking stick back into his belt, moved up to the dead body and spat on it. He then knelt and removed the very nice and magical orange Mystic cloak. "I always liked the color orange." Pontarious smirked as he started removing his potions out of his ruined cloak and putting them in empty pouches in the much nicer and heavily magical cloak he had just removed from the dead Dark Mystic.


Klent continued to move to the south, further down toward the Everone Barony and away from Rolling Dale, but he continued to angle west away from the pass. After nearly two hours of seeing no one, he took a long breath, scanned the area, held up his left hand and made a fist. "Alright let's take a breather. We got a stream and some ground cover we can kick up for the mounts.

"Garvol, with the speed we are moving, there is still a chance we could have been followed. Take watch with one of the others and give us quick scout out to about half a click."

Klent turned back to the others, "While he gets us a good recon, Lidevar and Lyrod uncover enough for the mounts to find a bite or two. The rest of us need to break out some food and organize both weapons and armor a bit better."

Off to the side Lidevar jumped off his mount and shot Lyrod a grin, "Come on, my boy, you hear Klent; you're with me."

Jory and Pulon both saw the teen let out a sigh, but said nothing. Pulon couldn't help but snicker softly which got him an annoyed look from Lyrod. Before anything could be said, Garvol pointed over to Pulon, "Boy, yer pet's the best ears and eyes we's got, so adjust yer gear. We's gunna scout and see in'f we can round us up some meat while's we's at it."

Klent quickly dug into his saddlebag and pulled out a very small traveling metalworker's kit. He turned to Gapon, "Hey, you talk a good game, let's see what ya got."

Gapon caught the slightly over ten kilogram kit with a light 'oof' as it hit him in the gut. But his eyes quickly went wide as he unrolled it. "Nice! Hey, Shot and Los, get yer armor off. Some of them cuts and bangs in the chain and scale I can tighten up without a forge with this kind a gear!"

Klent's eyebrow went up some, but he nodded, "Good thinkin', out of everything we got, their armor is the worst. You givin' it some repairs will also let me gauge how good you really are."

"Oh, he's good." Losmock stated without hesitation. "Way better than I am at least."

"Good to hear, but there be enough in my kit for you to touch up a few of your blades so what you have to fight with is ready in case we need it, so get to work, boy."

Losmock's eyes went a bit wide at the firm tone, but after the last few days, his status as a merchant born person had been pretty much shattered. While, in the past, he would have been insulted to be told what to do by some mercenary like Klent, his attitude was now quite a bit different. So, instead of saying something, he simply grabbed the worst of the captured daggers taken off the Dragonling, took the sharpening stone out of the kit, and nodded while responding, "Yes sir."

Klent eyed the two boys for several minutes until he was comfortable they both knew enough to let them be. Even then, he paused to take hold of Losmock's hand so he could guide the boy's efforts for a few seconds. "Don't try to get the big nick in the blade out all at once. Sharpen the whole blade evenly. The nick is deep and may still remain, but at least the rest of the dagger will be good. We'll need a forge to properly fix the blade or maybe, since it is bronze, recast it entirely. Still, it is in pretty good shape and will do you good in a fight with a nick."

Losmock nodded his understanding, and let the man's strong grasp guide his hand in nice even pulls across the stone a few times. "I have never had to do field repairs before, sorry."

Klent moved over to Lidevar's mount and pulled off a roll full of other weapons. "Well, between all of us we have over a dozen bronze blades, mostly those we captured off of raiders, so you have a great chance to learn. They will get you all something to defend yourselves with until we get you someplace safe, so the rest of your group is going to be counting on you doing them right." He then unrolled the leather wrap revealing four street swords, a short sword, a long sword, a hand axe, a set of spiked gauntlets, and half a dozen daggers, all bronze.

Losmock's shoulders sank as he looked at the mass of weapons, which only caused Klent to snort with a degree of humor. "On the plus side, since you are the one getting them back to being fully serviceable, you get first choice."

Losmock reached over and held up one of the street swords, "Why did you even keep these?"

Gapon glanced over and almost said something rude, but stopped himself. Instead, he swallowed what he really wanted to say, took a breath and spoke with his head turned away from the boy so neither the kid nor Klent could see the aggravation in his eyes, "Los, you really don't see things the same way as some of the rest of us. While you see a street sword, a poorly balanced and badly shaped blade carried by most unknowing mundanes to make them think they are tough, we see money. With a bit of work, those four blades could bring in eight to ten silver each. Right now, the only coin we got is what Tayac managed to snag off the Dragonling. We are who even knows how far from home and we are going to need to survive somehow. As it is, I am going to need to come up with twenty-five silver to test, so is Tayac, or we'll never get hired."

Tayac nodded in full agreement, "Gapon is right. Every weapon is a form of money to be able to test and at the moment you are kind of stuck with us. I don't have no idea how far Slome is from here, but it could take months to get up there, so you can get back with your folks. Until then, you be nothin' than a trainee with no teacher, no family, no coin."

Klent saw the boy's eyes go wide at the implications of what he was hearing, "You have guild pins young'an so chances are good you could find someone to take you in, but your new buddies are right. Until you do, you are either part of a traveling group, like mine, or..."

Shothash's lip started to tremble lightly as what he was hearing started to sink in, "We will be seen as orphans..."

Rylop clenched his fist, "Not if'n I have anything to say about it boys. If Klent here wants to get rid of us, you'll just have ta stick with me. Now, I have a pretty good feelin' both Tay and Gap will be able to pass their primaries, and if they stick around then we's can travel as 'er own group. Money will be tight, but we can make a livin'. But, me'll tell ya all right now, ya stick with me, there be no way you'll be seein' Slome anytime soon. I've had my fill of the Governor and the town council, 'specailly after they done stabbed all us in the back."

Shothash glanced over, "Guardsman Rylop?"

Rylop gave a nod as he grabbed the short sword. Finding nothing other than a dulled edge, he pulled out the sharpening stone from the kit he had taken of the guard he had killed and went to work on it, "I'm not goin' back."

"But my mother and father would pay a reward..."

Rylop shook his head fiercely "We will try to send word so they can come get you, but you are not a ransom..."

Rylop's words were cut off by a female voice from up the hill, "Oh, I would not be so sure, Guardsman Rylop."

Klent turned sharply with his hand on his sword. Before he could draw the blade, however, a Black Dragonling stepped up next to the dark skinned girl holding Pulon in one claw and Pouncer in the other. Next to the Dragonling, a pair of well armed Hobgoblins stopped dragging Garvol, each letting go of an arm as they got to the top of the hill.

Behind them, a smaller, younger looking Black Dragonling crested the hill next to a trio of young Goblings and a Green Dragonling leading three kids who had their hands chained behind them and had ropes around their necks.

Tayac eyed the three captives with wide eyes recognizing all three, but focused on two of them, "Nylod, Padma..."

The Green Dragonling yanked hard on the ropes causing the three to make choking sounds and fall to the ground. "Ssssslavessss nothing more. They are not to talk and you no talk to them. Bring good coin to replace my petssssss killed in Bloody Rock."

"They is students of the Slome School." Gapon countered, "They wasn't in the Governor's school..."

"They are from Slome just like you are." The girl cut off Gapon. "Which means you all fall under his rulership."

Next to Klent, Jory ignored what was being said as he whispered, "The smaller Dragonling has a spell book pouch, as does the taller Hob."

"I noticed." Klent whispered back out of the corner of his mouth.

Rylop focused on the girl and shook his head. He tossed the short sword he had been working on back to Shothash, then pulled his own morningstar. With a glance over to his left, he nodded for Losmock to grab one of the other weapons. "We ain't around Slome, girl, so yer old man ain't got no say."

"You still work for the Governor, guardsman..."

"Not after he stuck a knife in my back, I don't." Rylop spat back venomously. "And I thought your old man took a body part of yours and your blood to give to the Dark Mages. How can you support him?"

Tarastala laughed and pointed down to Padma, "Hers, not mine. Sleight of hand to get you all to trust me, nothing more; and you all fell for it. Moronic humans, so gullible!"

Klent eyed the dark skinned girl with silverish colored hair and glanced over to Rylop with a mystified look and totally changed the subject, "Your town is run by a Drow?"

Gapon picked up the mace he had secured out of the pack the dead Dragonling had been carrying and moved to stand in front of the unarmored Losmock and Shothash, "No, the Governor's got real dark skin and black hair and ain't got no pointy ears, but both Tarastala and her brother look like Drow. No one ever says nothin' though, cause they belong to the Governor."

The girl chuckled, "Because he would rip out the throats of whoever would be stupid enough to say it, no matter how truthful it may be."

"So you are Drow?" Tayac gasped.

"Half, actually." The girl smirked.

"I ain't never saw no Drow wench in Slome..." Rylop stated with confusion.

"Humans are so stupid," The girl openly laughed. "My father is the Drow, moron. My mother... who knows or cares."

"But yer talking about yer mom, Tarastala!" Losmock shouted.

"Human scum, nothing more. A good piece of meat which I am sure is nothing more than an old hag by now." The girl rolled her eyes. "Now, enough of this." She pointed to Gapon and Tayac, "My Father was told to deliver you two to the Dragon. While I am sure father could take it if he had to, it would be easier to simply get you two to it in the good condition it wanted. I will take the two merchant boys to ransom back for good coin. The rest of you, I will let go. She nodded in the direction of the unconscious Pulon and Garvol. "You can even have them back."

She then grinned at Rylop, "And you, guardsman... I'll give you severance pay and let you go on your pathetic human way."

A boy moved up to stand next to the three captives, kicking the youngest boy who was trying to stand, "Stay down, slave."

Tayac glared at the new arrival, "Nylod is no slave! He be a student..."

The boy kicked Nylod hard causing the boy to fall and gasp for air, "Shut up, thief boy. Both him and Lacate, here," The kid grabbed the other boy with the rope around his neck by his strawberry colored hair, getting a yelp of pain out of the boy, "are going right back to Moba when we find him." The boy shoved Lacate fully to the ground and stepped on the back of his neck, "You're lucky the Dragon wants you, or you'd be going to Moba too. He liked the looks of both you and your Golan loving buddy."

Seeing more tears pour out of Nylod upon hearing he would be getting more attention from the massive Halforc, Gapon snarled. "By the work of Golan, I am going to kill Moba for what he did to Nylod and all the others!"

This only got a high pitched laugh out of the girl, "You and what army? He'd bend you into all sorts of interesting shapes as your bones snapped! But, unfortunately, Sorab is correct, you are lucky. The Dragon wants you, so Moba will not be able to get pleasure out of hearing you scream as he takes you."

Behind Gapon, Shothash looked up the hill at the kid standing on the neck of Lacate. "Sorab, you are one of us! You trained with us. You were even forced to fight in the pits after we were captured... How come you are doing this to us?"

The boy grinned from ear to ear with a truly nasty smile, "Tara is right! You really are stupid. I was never put into the pit until it was time to fight one of you who were too beat to win. It was me, you fool, who hit you on the back of your head and dropped you to your knees after you killed the Morg Mage trainee!"

"Why?" Losmock demanded to know, "We trusted you!"

"Because I follow a different set of beliefs, one much more suited to the Governor and those around him. It is not my fault you are fools following the likes of Hertzel and the other weak gods who care nothing about you."

"Golan cares!" Gapon fired back.

"Then where is he, oh so wonderful Channeler of the Master of Craftsmanship? For that matter, where was he to warn you about making the armor for Moba?"

The girl reached over and patted the boy on the shoulder, cutting off his growing rant. "They will never understand the power and magnificence of following the likes of Murderic, Sorab. Let it go."

Sorab took a deep breath, but couldn't help but preach a bit more. "Murderic understands power comes to those who take it however they can, though. These fools know nothing and need to see from which true power comes."

Klent took a deep breath feeling caught between a rock and a dragon's claw. Even hearing those he was facing praising the Demon Lord Murderic was beyond anything he ever wanted to have to deal with. But he was badly outmatched by those he was facing, and he knew it. "While I appreciate your views to a degree, you two, you are a long way from home. These four boys are really not yours to take. As a scout for the Kingdom, I simply cannot allow you to take them."

"So you forfeit your own life?"

"Some a you will fall if'n we end up doing this." Immeck stated with certainty. Still, he didn't look any more excited about the fight than Klent. To this end he glanced over to Klent, "How 'bout a trade?" he nodded to the slave boy.

Klent raised an eyebrow, glanced over at the terrified boy and let out a long breath, "Not a bad idea." He turned his attention back to the girl, "So, Tarastala..."

"Make it easy, call me Tara."

"Tara, then." Klent quickly bent to the girl's desire hoping to come to a peaceful resolution to the situation. "How about we settle for some middle ground here?"

Tarastala's right eyebrow shot up, "I am listening."

"You let us be, all of us, including my two party members up there, and I give ya the whelp here." Klent grabbed the terrified boy. "He is a true slave and I can give you the paperwork on him. This would allow you to auction him or keep him for yer own devices. Since you already have those three and they are not from this kingdom, we will not contest possession. We will leave such things for others to deal with as they see fit. Any party I command will simply stay out of the question of ownership."

Upon hearing this, the two boys and the female dwarf burst into tears.

"But they have two of our school mates and one from the other school!" Gapon protested only to be grabbed by Rylop and a hand clamped over his mouth.

Rylop whispered softly yet firmly, "There be time fer tryin' ta get 'em back later; this ain't it. Now hush."

Sorab's eyes glimmered as he saw Rylop grab Gapon, "You tell him, guardsman. Show him following the likes of Golan is a waste of time!"

This got a snicker out of the taller Hobgoblin, "Tara, it not be bad deal. Yer father will find them sooner or later and get them to the Dragon in his own time. If we do things this way, we come out of it with somethin' to sell so we can get clear; for sooner, rather than later, the death taint of the Great Green will be traced to this area. I do not want to be here when the Green Queen sends in her forces to round up those who so badly failed her."

The Green Dragonling also nodded, "Like it or not, Tara, all our vitality be forfeit for letting the breeding Green die, even your father. We failed to be the defender of the Great Green and your father, being an ally of King Blathamort, wassssss duty bound to help protect her by proxy. By leading a group in and failing to halt the attack which led to her death, he be partially at fault and will be judged in equal light with all the many who failed in their duty to sssshield our Great Breeder."

The bigger of the Black Dragonlings nodded, "While the Green Dragon will be angry at not getting the two it found intriguing," it pointed to Gapon and Tayac, "the True Green be in a duplicate boat we are in. He failed to protect. If caught, the Green Queen will likely have or take no pity."

The Green Dragonling shook its head, "A True male may not to be in the chamber with a Great female by decree, however, he failed to protect. Only the Green Queen will be able to determine what fate awaitssss the one who claimed the two youth. However, I think he will run to keep hissss own ssssscales intact, for there be no guarantee what fate he will have put upon him by the Green Queen. In thissss he be no different a place than we have been burdened with. Worry for our own external coating need be paramount. My vote, if you want to hear, be to take offer."

Gapon shook with rage and tried to pull free from Rylop, but was stopped by Tayac. "Gettin' killed or took ain't gunna help us or them."

Gapon clenched his fist, as he finally stopped trying to pull away from Rylop as Tarastala nodded in agreement and held up her hand to signal her group to stand down.

As Klent pulled out the paperwork on the slave boy and moved up to hand it and the horrified boy over to the Dragonling towering over Pulon and his pet Pouncer, Gapon glared at the girl. "If it is the last thing I do, I'm going to help Kandric find you, Tarastala, and when he does..."

"I ain't worried about no Slome swamp rat..."

A lone figure moved out of the dense underbrush further up the hill, the Black Dragon scale armor absorbing enough light to keep his presence all but hidden until he spoke. "Ya wanna rethink them words?"

"Seldnat!" Tayac shouted out in astonishment. "Watch out! They got spell casters!"

Before more could be said Zeltoss, Lorthorn, Pike and Jamon crested the hill. Lorthorn's eyes narrowed as he saw Nylod and Padma, "So do we, and those are our friends down there. They best not be hurt."

"Or what?" Sorab scoffed as he moved over and kicked Nylod as hard as he could. He reared back for another only to get knocked down by an incredibly strong wave of air, but he didn't catch the worst of it. Those in his group did. They were all picked up and tossed over two meters back, even the Dragonlings.

Sorab, on the other hand, paid no attention to the plight of those behind him. Instead he made a slight snarling sound as he moved back toward Nylod, reared back his foot and lashed out with the hardest kick he could muster. The problem was his foot didn't make contact; instead it went into a glowing magical portal. Caught totally off guard, he tumbled into the magic rift only to reappear flat on his face a few meters from Gapon.

Kandric stepped out from behind a pile of rocks only fifteen meters from where Tarastala was trying to pick herself up while holding out his hand so the portal he created stayed open. "Gapon, let him get up so we have a fair fight, then he is all yours.

"I want to see how a Murderic worshiper really stands up against a Golan Channeler student of mine. If he wins, I'll make him pay for what he just did to Nylod, then let him go free. If not..." Kandric let his words trail off with a nasty smirk.

Gapon pulled loose from Rylop as the guardsman loosened his grip and eyed Kandric with a mixture of astonishment and awe. Gapon didn't hesitate to cut off an easy escape for the stunned and totally terrified young Murderic follower. He then motioned for Sorab to get up. "Once I get you in chains I am going to kick you until you puke."

"You can't! You are a Channeler and your leader finalized negotiations..."

"Only as long as I was the group leader were my last words," Klent fired back. "After seeing what the red haired Halfelf just did, I'd say he is in charge, so this whole agreement is concluded. But just to be fair, I will stay out of it as long as my three are not harmed. If they are, then, well then you broke the contract with me and I will do what I can to kill you."

Kandric snickered at the words, "Your concession skills are quite good, I caught the meaning you embedded in them instantly. You even left it open for you to be part of the group to track these parasites down as long as you were not in charge of your own group. Very well played."

Jory blinked and shook his head as he watched the magic of the twisting and churning portal, "How can you keep it open and talk?"

Kandric glanced down at the slightly older boy, "Concentration can be split if you really understand the magic behind it. Now, if you really want to see something interesting watch this." Kandric focused in on and adjusted the magic surrounding the portal so the glowing gateway moved from being where Sorab had been deposited to where his friends further up the hill were. "Time to take out the trash, guys. Jamon, Pike, time to deal with something a bit more challenging. Drop those Kobald heads and stay clear of the Dragonlings, those are for Zell, Seld, and Lor to deal with. The Hob spell caster who dropped the kid, his pet, and the big guy is their most dangerous, so he is mine.

"Tayac, I would hate to see you without someone to practice on, so why don't you deal with the Governor's mistake, but do not kill her. I think Eyan will have a special spot in the Slome jail's brothel for her."

"How dare you!" Tarastala screamed with rage as she finally managed to stand. "My father will see you jailed for even saying such words!"

"Really? Where?" Kandric snorted as those he had been traveling with stepped into the portal and appeared close to the three captives so they could be protected

Tarastala quickly moved back as the Dragonlings moved forward. "You will be in the Slome jail, not me! My father rules Slome!"

Lorthorn snickered even as he moved up to better defend the three bound and leashed captives. "He will have to take it back from Kandric's army, and I just do not see him finding such a force."

Before more could be said, Zeltoss advanced; deciding to go on the attack just like Kandric had shown him back at the Slome Swordsman School. The Green Dragonling didn't even get a chance to extend its claws before Zeltoss' Mace of the Dead shattered its snout and sent its unconscious form rolling down the hill.

The larger of the two Black Dragonlings fared no better. It doubled over as Lorthorn slammed the Lava Hammer into its gut then delivered an overhand slam across the back of its head. It fell unmoving in front of Lorthorn with its clawed hand on its partially drawn bastard sword.

The last Black Dragonling, the smallest of the three, held up both hands and backed away from Seldnat shaking its head wildly, "Me can make out the gifting of King Blathamort on all of you, no fight!"

Tarastala's eyes went wide as she backed off, "So this kid really did kill King Blathamort?"

"Yesssss." The young Black Dragonling hissed out as it dropped to a knee and lowered its head in surrender while its legs and arms trembled with fear.

Somewhat aggravated by the fact his chosen opponent surrendered without a fight, Seldnat twisted his staff spear so it became a spear and thrust it into and totally through the closest Hobgoblin. He held it in place then lowered his shoulder and drove the impaled Hobgoblin warrior into the nearest tree. He backed off, leaving it hopelessly stuck to the tree and dying. Seldnat saw it reaching for a dagger on its belt and quickly stepped forward again. He grabbed its weapon belt and sliced it off with his dagger. "Ya hurt me friends, no get ta take own life. You not die quick!"

"Time to leave!" The tall Hobgoblin stated in a clear panic, as it extended its hand and started to cast a spell.

Kandric dove and rolled so he was right in front of the startled Hobgoblin. Before it could get the spell off, Kandric jumped up so the arm was over the top of his head, spun around so his back was to the Hobgoblin, grabbed the extended arm and pulled down. Since the creature's elbow was over the top of his head it stopped and dislocated, then made an audible snapping sound as the bones broke.

Even as the Hobgoblin screamed, Kandric didn't let go. Instead he pulled the ruined arm forward, put the break over his shoulder, and yanked down a second time. Bones burst through the surface of the skin and even through the Hobgoblin's leather armor.

Still Kandric was not satisfied. He spun around with the forearm still tightly in his grasp and twisted, causing the broken bones to further mangle the flesh and armor. His free hand then pulled one of his throwing daggers and he made a single cut right at the break, removing the arm at the elbow. In a final act of anger, he shoved the detached arm, hand first, into the screaming Hobgoblin's mouth. "Chew on it, and shut up!"

The creature fell, blood pumping out of the stump, its own detached arm sticking out of its mouth.

This was the final straw. The few remaining tried to run. Pike quickly dropped to a knee and put a crossbow bolt into the left buttock of the fleeing Gobling. The young half Human, half Hobgoblin, screamed and fell holding on to where the bolt sunk in.

"Nice shot." Jamon stated he lashed out with his whip at the second Gobling. The strike was a solid combat strike and left a bleeding stripe on the creature's left cheek.

The Gobling howled in pain, spun and started to throw a dagger, but Jamon's new winged bobcat landed on the Gobling's back and bit down on its right collar bone causing it to drop the blade and scream a second time.

Seeing the Gobling blast a Spark Autospell into his pet's side, forcing it to let go, Jamon clenched his teeth in anger and snapped his whip a second time. This time the shot was extremely well aimed. The whip wrapped around the Gobling's neck. A satisfied smirk crossed Jamon's lips as he yanked back with everything he had. The whip tore off flesh all the way around the Gobling's neck. The youngster fell gasping for air and making strangled sounding croaking noises. "Finish it!" He commanded his new pet.

Pike cringed as the winged bobcat pounced, raked claws down the Gobling's face, and bit down on its neck. He glanced over at Jamon, "Yours was better!"

Down the hill, Sorab launched himself at Gapon, only to find the boy was much stronger than he was. Gapon tossed him off as if he were tossing a bale of hay. Sorab yelped as he hit the ground hard. Even though he was seeing a few stars, he jumped back up to his feet, and went to pull his light pick. His hand came to rest on an empty weapon loop on his belt.

His eyes went wide as he glanced back, only to see it had been jarred loose and was a full meter off to his left. He spun back toward Gapon just in time to take a fist to the jaw and a mace shot into the side. Had he not been wearing high quality armor the shot would have certainly broken rib bones. As it was, it caused him to stagger back and hold his side while blood trickled out of the corner of his mouth.

Knowing he had to do something drastic, Sorab pulled his dagger and held it up, "Lord of Hate, Murderic, I call on you for aid!"

A swirl of dust blew around Sorab for a split second, healing his bloodied mouth and coating his dagger with a reddish brown sludge. He lunged forward, but Gapon spun out of the way just in the nick of time.

Gapon's eyes narrowed, "So you ain't just a follower of Murderic, yer a Channeler!" He took another step back, "Golan, Lord of Craftsmanship, I call on your aid!"

Even as Sorab started to lunge forward, Gapon felt a calm come over him. At the same time his eyesight changed. All of the sudden he saw everything worn and carried by Sorab in a whole different way. Every flaw was evident, as was every strength. Seeing a major flaw in the now poisonous blade, he let Sorab get into striking distance and slammed his mace down on the extended blade. It didn't just break it shattered.

Even as Sorab pulled up short and let the multiple chunks of the formerly expensive blade fall from his hand, Gapon used his sudden "Craftsman's Eye" to strike at a weak point in Sorab's armor. The mace slammed into the boy's shoulder and folded the reinforcing metal plate inward while snapping it in two. Both, now sharp, edges dug deep into Sorab's shoulder, while the mace blow continued downward unhampered by the weak spot in the armor. A split second later Sorab's collarbone snapped. He fell screaming.

Up the hill, Tarastala tried to run, but Tayac caught up to her and hit her with a flying tackle, taking her off her feet and sending both of them tumbling down the back side of the hill. Those watching heard the sounds of cursing and grunts of combat even as they plummeted down and out of sight.

Not being able to resist, both Lyrod and Jory scrambled up the hill to watch. However, Jory paused to cast a restraint spell around the last fleeing Gobling. The two boys got to the crest of the hill just as Tayac snarled, "Wench, bite this!" The two peered down the hill just in time to see Tayac rip out a small purple bush out of the ground by its roots and shove it into Tarastala's mouth just as she tried to take another bite out of his arm. Her scream, as the inside of her mouth suddenly felt as if it was skewered by a thousand burning needles, caused birds two hills over to take flight.

Tayac jumped back up to his feet, grabbed the girl by the back of her armor and tossed her into a large patch of the purple plants. The more she thrashed around, the more plants found their way into the chain armor she wore. Tayac did his best to blink tears out of his eyes as he knelt and pulled up a few red stemmed plants next to the large patch of purple bushes. He quickly broke them open and swabbed some of the juice from the roots on the hand he grabbed the first purple plant with. He let out a sigh of relief as the plant's sap took the sting and pain away from the dozen or so nearly invisible thorns in his own hand.

Jory raced down the hill and eyed both the plants and Tayac's hand even as Tarastala continued to scream in total agony. "You really are a Healthman, and way better than me! What did you do to her and your hand?"

Tayac shook his head, "I was lucky the Healthman from Paws was an Outdoorsman too, so he showed me a few not so well known ways to deal with things. Them are Blazing Nettles." He pointed to the deep purple colored plants, "And this is Gum Weed. Gum Weed root juice stops the burnin' from the nettles and even melts the tiny things so ya don't have to scrap your skin till it bleeds to get the stupid things out. My Teacher from Paws showed me about these two plants on my first month with him, after I accidently stepped on a small Blazing Nettle bush with bare feet on a campout." He then held up the bright red stem, "and during the summer, when the plant is growing, it is real chewy and has a sweet taste too."

Lyrod glanced over at Tarastala, "What about her?"

"What about her?" Tayac asked with no remorse in his voice. "She will eventually pass out from the pain and we'll hook her arm with a rope er somethin' and drag her out. She'll scream every time she moves and be real sick for a week er so, and no way is she's gunna eat nothin' solid for at least two weeks. Teacher Kandric didn't really seem like he cared none, as long as she stays breathin', so I'm good."

Jory pulled his Healthman kit out of his pouch and started cleaning the deep bite mark on Tayac's arm. "We met his teacher, Glaster, Master Shaman... after seeing what he did to the Hob, I am not sure who is more vicious."

Kandric moved down the hill with a grin, "He taught me everything I learned; did you really meet him?"

Lyrod nodded even as he backed away from the smaller red haired boy out of pure fear, "Yeah, the Master Shaman, Glaster. When he wasn't questioning us to make sure we were not going to do nothing to his charges, he was talking about you. Still, I really didn't believe there was a red haired Halfelf until now."

"Is he close?"

"In Rolling Dale..."

Kandric turned a bit pale, "We need to get there; he is in massive danger!"


Glaster rubbed his hands down his face as he shook his head yet again. Even though he had progressed into new Echelons before, this one was quite different. The power flowing through him was incredible, and part of it, to be sure, was the fact he had full access to spells only a smattering of beings in the world were strong enough to cast.

He once again looked out over the destruction caused by the twisting and manipulation of his spell by something or someone extremely powerful inside the Spirit Realms. He glanced back over his shoulder as the Captain and his guard contingent pulled survivors up and onto the wagons of the caravan. He cringed as he noted several of the injured and a few of the dead were the teachers given to him to insure the boys in his care got the best of instruction and stayed well protected in any emergency.

They had done well, but paid for it in blood. Of the eleven men and women, only four were standing as the last of the draft animals were hooked up and the wagons moved out of the stable behind the Green Goblin Inn. They had not even moved out into the rubble strewn street before the first attack from within the rubble dropped one of the Protector's Keep guards.

As the offending archer was cut down with a trio of bolts, another Protector's Keep guard moved up, sliced his battle axe into the gravely wounded woman, and pulled a parchment out of her belt. He moved back to the caravan and handed it over to his Captain.

The Captain glanced at the parchment and frowned deeply. Even as he handed it over to Glaster, signs of another mob could be seen growing in the distance. The Captain let out a long breath, "I see no way we are getting out of the city with a five hundred gold reward for the dark haired boy and an additional one hundred gold for each of the two blond haired twins. Every merc and self-aggrandizing dreamer is going to come after a reward of this size. This is especially true with likenesses as well made as is on the parchment. I understand you wanting to keep their identities a secret, but it seems someone has figured out who they are already..."

Glaster looked back at the lead wagon with a guard driving and Yarnay gripping his wolf cub focus as another pair of arrows bounced off the shields of the guards trying to protect the animals pulling the wagons. "Captain, the three boys are King Wyhrem's son, and the Archduke of Eaglelonia's twins. We must get them out and to a safe location."

The Captain's eyes narrowed, "I see no way we are going to get them out in the wagons..."

As the caravan crept along over the dead and dying from the twisting of Glaster's spell, near constant missile fire continued to be directed at it from every nook and cranny. Yarnay chewed on his lower lip as he looked at the held up parchment. The Guard Captain was right, they would not make it out with the wagons, probably wouldn't make it out at all with everyone between where they were and the gates of the city trying to claim so much gold. He glanced into the back of the wagon and noted it held three guards, two of them his hired guards and one Protector's Keep guard, along with one of his instructors. With everyone else occupied, he put a blanket over his injured Druidic focus pet and slipped into the back of the wagon.

With the extremely slow speed and the persistent attacks, he hopped out the back, made it around to the next wagon, and jumped in without being noticed. He cringed at seeing the body of Bal'lay, the Royal History Teacher, pushed up against the side of the wagon. The woman had taught him so much over the past couple of years... He let out a silent sigh and wiped away a tear for the fallen Shaman.

This only increased his determination, however. The woman had died protecting the Prince, the same boy he had indentured himself to and sworn an oath to protect. It mattered not how many times he had felt the bite of a belt on his backside because of Prince Klandon's behavior. He still felt duty bound to follow through with his promise to protect and serve, for if it had not been for King Wyhrem selecting him as the whipping boy of his son, there was no doubt in Yarnay's mind he would be living as a beggar with his family. Instead, the great King had seen something, and had, instead of dropping a coin, or, as many upper royalty did, kick him out of the way, he knelt and really looked past the small outstretched hands looking for a handout.

To Yarnay, it was the first thing in his life he actually remembered, since at the time he had been but three years of age and was near starving. However, even as his horribly sick mother moved back and trembled in fear over who was coming down the street, Yarnay only saw a chance. Without fear, and not knowing any better, Yarnay slid out from under a water trough with tiny hands held out in hope of getting anything. As he appeared, he did so in front of none other than the King. The strike of the whip hitting the icy cobblestone only centimeters from his bare foot on the cold snowy ground was actually Yarnay's first full and clear memory.

Yarnay's second was the man with the shiny headband moving to stand between the man with the whip and himself and actually taking the shot rather than let him have to feel the bite against his way too thin body.

While he had only limited memory of the man with the shiny head band turning and there being a scuffle, Yarnay clearly remembered the next thing to happen. This memory was something Yarnay thought about every single time he had to take a belt to his backside for Prince Klandon's actions. It was of the man kneeling and scooping him up into his arms. It was the King wrapping his extremely thick, warm, and soft cloak around Yarnay so all his bare skin was covered and holding him as he cried in fear over the whip.

Yarnay had little to no memory of the King taking him in to the large shop where he and his family had lived under to stay warm. All he could remember was the warmth of the cloak and the man, as he protectively cradled him as he shivered and cried.

The next part was nothing more than a blur to Yarnay, but a few things did stick in his mind from the day he had first met Prince Klandon. There was the food, the first real warm and fresh food Yarnay had ever eaten to the best of his knowledge. Then there was the woman who checked him from head to toe, took care of the bugs making his head itch, and fixed all his hurts. Finally there was the man, who came in and cast the weird glowing spell that made him want to yawn, but it felt wrong somehow and he fought back against it until he could no longer stand it. Once the yawn finally came, another Elvin man off to the side said the words, "Druid" and "Highly gifted". While this made no sense to the Yarnay, the next action sure did. The King once again picked him up and wrapped a very soft and warm child sized robe around him and took him to play with Klandon for the first time. Two weeks later, King Wyhrem officially offered his mother a servant spot in the palace and a large stipend for Yarnay's services as a whipping boy.

It wasn't until a year or so ago, while on the ship coming back from the islands, did Yarnay fully understand what the King really thought of him. For as he worked on his studies in a room directly below where the King was, he overhead the King talking to one of the Watch members about having to get treated for lice for a second time in his life. It turned out the first time was none other than when the man had picked him up on the cold street, knowing full well the chances were beyond good of him getting infested. The King's laughter over the fact so many of those with him were mortified over his actions kind of hurt until he heard King Wyhrem tell the Watch member, "Yarnay was the best decision I ever made, and if it meant getting lice or blood maggots, I would do it all over again. From the moment I saw him, I knew he deserved better and he has shown me nothing to make me feel otherwise. If anything, Yarnay is proof to the whole of the kingdom of the price we pay when we ignore those below us. For to overlook such great potential and to miss out on the possibility of loving another fellow being is paramount to a crime against one's self."

The Watch member seemed a little taken aback by the response as she asked, "My King, are you saying you love your son's whipping boy?"

"Without question," King Wyhrem responded forcefully, "and if you do not in some way love him for who and what he is, then I need a new lead Watch member to travel with me."

It was the last time Yarnay heard or saw the woman.

Yarnay let the memory go as he moved up inside the wagon even as he heard an arrow strike the outside of it. He moved up to a very nervous Sibler and whispered, "They are after the Prince, Mylan and Lylan."

Sibler gulped, "Are you sure?"

Both boys ducked out of instinct and cringed as another arrow or bolt smacked into the side of the wagon with a reverberating thud. Yarnay glanced out the back, watched one of the Protector's Keep guards fire a cross bow and turned back to Sibler, "Positive. They have pictures of all three and hundreds of gold in rewards are being offered. The Guard Captain does not think we will be able to get out of the city, and there are more big mobs forming just a few streets up."

"So what are they going to do?"

"I have an idea, but we could help... it will mean risking our lives and it will take convincing Kaznal to join the two of us, though."

Sibler's lower lip quivered as he listened to the plan, but as Yarnay finished he reluctantly agreed. "O...O...OK, but... what then?"

Yarnay shrugged, "We will have to figure it out."

Still shaking like a leaf at the prospect of what Yarnay wanted to do, Sibler slipped out of the back of his wagon and the pair made their way down to Kaznal's wagon and slipped in. This time they were seen, but the guards all but ignored them. Instead they focused in on keeping the draft animals protected.

Couple of minutes later the trio of whipping boys slid out of the back of Kaznal's wagon wearing the best clothing they had in Kaznal's wagon and cast Color Autospells on each other so their hair and eyes matched the Prince's, Mylan's and Lylan's. Since their hair was the same length and they all were the same age they ended up very closely resembling the boys they served. Before any of the guards could react, the three boys hopped up on the backs of the three black Warsteeds, cut the reins from the wagon and took off. As they did so, Yarnay shouted as loud as he could, "Mylan! Lylan! Let's go!"

Even as the three Warsteeds tore off down the street back in the direction of the Green Goblin, those attacking the caravan stopped and pursued as best they could. Others made their way back to the mob blocking the street and pointed in the direction the three boys had fled.

Glaster spun as his eyes went wide, "What the hell?"

Morb, the Wolfling Royal Armor Training Teacher, sprinted up next to Glaster, "It's the whipping boys! They made themselves look like who they serve!"

"We have to stop them!" Glaster roared. "They will get themselves killed!"

The Captain grabbed Glaster's shoulders, "No, what they are doing is already working!" The man pointed up the road, "Look!"

Glaster spun again, this time facing forward. True to the Captain's words the mass of people blocking the street in front of them was already breaking apart. At the same time the number of arrows and other missile being fired at the caravan was rapidly dropping off. "For the love of the gods..." Glaster clenched his fist, "Crap, we still need to make this look good, Morb, grab Wentaliss and as many guards with good mounts as you can and go after them. For this to work, we need those leading this revolt to believe those three are who they appear to be. The rest of us will push on! We only have to make it ten blocks to get to the trader gate on the north wall!"

Morb didn't hesitate, "Wentaliss," he screamed as loud as he could, "grab the fastest mounts we have. We have to get to our charges and protect them!" He yanked himself up on the nearest Dragonsteed before shouting again, "Guardsmen with the best mounts follow! We'll have to abandon the caravan and hope it makes it out!"

With a snarl Glaster ran back to his wagon and jumped in. As he did so, he pulled off his cloak and moved over his accumulated trade goods. Once he got to the front he tossed his fine cloak to the Guardsman driver, "You, you are now me. Take my Dragonsteed and catch up to those going after the three boys. Those in charge and wanting the Prince will never believe this ruse if they do not see me chasing after them."

Even as the man pulled the clock out and flipped up the hood to hide the fact he looked nothing like Glaster, Glaster grabbed a peasant cloak out of one of the boxes he bought as trade goods and pulled the hood up to hide his own features. He then looked over at the guardsman, "If you happen to find them and can keep them safe, tell them they have not felt the whipping I am going to give them, nor the rewards I will make sure they get, for pulling this stunt on me!"

Rylan shook his head, "They will still come after us as long as we have the boy, Devkiln. Someone really wants him and for some reason this stupid blade. Rylan pulled the Orc head pummeled blade. "Use a spell and make me look like him..."

Tazen took a deep breath, "No, you are a prince and need to be protected. Commander, change me into Devkiln, I'll go."

Glaster shook his head, "No! I will not lose more..."

Tazen smacked his fist into the side of the wagon, "I'm leavin' one way or the other, so change me!"

Glaster let out a snarl as he handed the reins of the wagon over to Rylan. He pulled a key out of his pouch, unlocked a chest and pulled out a magical blade and cast a spell on it making it look like the Orc blade. He then cast a spell on Tazen making him look exactly liked the bound and gagged Devkiln who was tied to the side of the wagon. "I want that blade back, so don't die." Glaster commanded as he took the cloak the guardsman had ripped back at the square and tossed it to Tazen, "Put this on and take my backup Warsteed. There is fifty gold in the left saddlebag in a hidden compartment under the armor plate. Here is the key."

Tazen took the key, nodded, then shot Rylan a nod as he tossed him a crossbow. He then turned and kicked Devkiln in the face as hard as he could before jumping out the back, onto Glaster's backup mount and used the sword to cut it loose. He then turned the mount toward the closest ruined building.

Rylan shouted, "Stop!" then fired the crossbow at the rapidly departing Warsteed, purposefully missing, but not by much.

The ruse worked to perfection as the few remaining people trying to attack the caravan backed off, most going to help track down the "royal children" who fled in the direction of the Green Goblin.

Less than half an hour later, and having to crush only token resistance, Glaster cast his first Legendary Echelon spell, as he sent an Elemental Storm on the small gate normally used to let single wagon traders in and out of the city from the farming communities to the northeast. The storm of huge flaming rocks smashed the gate and decimated those trying to defend it. The rubble strewn gate caused one wagon to shear a wheel, so it was quickly discarded and burned.

Two hours later, with the walls of Rolling Dale a mere line on the horizon, Glaster called for a halt. He hopped off the wagon and scanned the open fields around him. Nothing other than a couple of big horned cattle grazing on the sparse winter vegetation moved.

Mylan was the first of the royal boys to jump out of his wagon. He cried as he pointed back toward the city. "Yarnay is back in Rolling Dale! We have to go get him!"

Glaster moved up and secured the boy in a tight hug knowing he was going to get resistance even as he spoke. "Mylan, to go back would be to waste what he, Kaznal and Sibler did for the three of you."

As expected, Mylan tried to break free, but was no match for Glaster's bear hug. "Stop Mylan. If you fall into the hands of the people who are after you, everything Yarnay and the others are going to endure will be for not. Do not let their heroic actions be for nothing!"

Mylan slowly stopped struggling and sunk to a knee, "Yarnay and Kaznal are two of the best friends I ever had!"

Glaster knelt and pulled Mylan into his chest, "Do not count them out, Mylan. There is still a chance. As soon as I get far enough away to contact the Watch or cast a Gate, I will make sure to bring in enough forces to find them and get them back if at all possible. If not, those who do them harm will wish they were facing Kryplok rather than me. For so help me, I will slap a Demon Lord in the face, if I have to, to get those three back!"


Gablon let out a long sigh as the road widened enough to call for the caravan to stop. The snow was really taking its toll on the animals pulling the wagons, and the whole caravan needed a break. He moved up to the lead wagon and patted the draft horses hard on their sides, "Let's unhitch them and let them take a break."

Emroc hopped down from the wagon he was in and helped Darmoth and Rathiter down from the wagon directly behind his. He motioned for the two to help him grab a bale of hay off the next wagon back as he scooped up a handful of snow and sent it in the general direction of one of the other teens who was only too happy to toss one right back at him. He giggled as he ducked under the cold white projectile.

Gablon rolled his eyes, but said nothing since all the kids were doing what needed to be done, and even he had to admit the younger ones needed a chance to goof around some. Still, he moved down the line of wagons so they could see him. As expected, his presence alone was more than enough to get the hay pulled down for the animals and spread so they could eat.

It was then he felt it; a building of incredible power close by. Without hesitation he sprinted toward the three boys and threw up the strongest protection he could muster, a planer shield, only instead of putting it on his arm he formed it into a bubble around himself and the three boys.

A moment later the snow around them vaporized and the nearest wagon caught fire. A woman wearing only a thong, long boots and a strap around her very large and firm breasts stepped out of a rift. In her left hand was a flaming whip and her right a cutlass with liquid fire dripping off of it. "Gablon, give me the two younger whelps and I let you go."

Gablon felt pure terror roll down his spine even as he shook his head, "You.... You are not supposed to be here! The gods will...."

"The Gods are already making their move and they, with the help of a rather annoying Shaman, helped to kill my greatest Spirit Lord, and it is the brother of those brats who is ultimately responsible! Now give them to me or I take all four of you!"

"No, Frexla, they are my students, under my protection!"

"Fine!" the Demon Lady of Fire snarled, "Then one of your underlings can get the word to this Kandric. I have his brothers. If he wants them back he gives me the Dragon gifting he was given to make up for the destruction of my Lead Spirit!"

A moment later the bubble with the three boys and Gablon was pulled into the rift Frexla created and she stepped in, right behind it, but not before striking out with her whip, shattering the wagon in front of the one already in flames and sending the burning remnants flying in all directions.

Up on the hill a Garm Scout glanced at his Alphar partner, "Did we just witness the Frexla?"

"Yes, and we need to get word to Kandric!", the Alphar all but shouted as he jumped to his feet.

Even as Klorna shouted for members of the caravan to put out the flames with snow, she glanced up just in time to see the Garm and Alphar scouts jump into a glowing portal. Before it could snap shut she grabbed the nearest two guards, pushed them in and jumped in right behind them even as she shouted for one of the other teachers to get the caravan into the safety of Black Rapids as quickly as possible.

Copyright © 2000-2021 Kyle Aarons; All Rights Reserved.
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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. 
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  • Site Administrator

You left it there?! great chapter though

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Absolutely amazing chapter...I have been waiting for this for ages and it was well worth the wait! I cannot wait now for the next installment!

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I just stated reading the book this year...and despaired over not getting to know the ending....thanks for the new chapter...keep them coming...in on the edge of my seat here waiting to see how things go with the war and the fall out!!!

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Thanks for gifting us with chapter 29. I took my time reading it as I savored each segment.

Please do not make us wait so long for the next part of the saga!

Thanks again! DDK

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As always Kyle, incredible. I am going to back and re-read the chapter again, and then the entire story.

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Thank you so much for this chapter. Yet again you have done an amazing job. But i agree hopefully not so long for the next installment!!

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I spotted the new chapter and nearly wet myself with excitement. Kandric is one of my favourite stories and I was getting close to despair thinking that you had forgotten him.

Just re-read from start to finish and loved the new chapter. Please, please do not make us wait as long for chapter 30!

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I agreed with the guys glad that you're back. One of my favorite best reread is Kandric, imagine when rereading it thru the end when I noticed a new chapter. It's like an early xmas present. Thank you.

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I think Kandric is going to be more than slightly pissed that this Frexla grabbed his brothers; the bitch may have just bitten off more than she can chew.  Once again, I really can't get into Glaster, but I like much of those that are with him.  I still worry about Connor, which way will he turn in the end.

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I have not read this awesome piece of work since 2012. And now I'm swamped with so much chapters. More than 800k words is literally longer than the Bible. Time to re-read the whole thing! 🤪

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