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 - 30. Chapter 30
Lord Anarton looked over his students, then back to those they had captured in the taking of the old fortress. He glanced over at the structure and back to the nineteen remaining captives with a bemused tug on his twirled mustache. This base, while full of horrors, was nothing like some of her other strongholds. Either Gambra was slipping or this was not nearly as an important of a stronghold as he had first thought.
The problem was, it had held the life links of several spell pages and had a demon she had clearly summoned for information. This fact alone made this old fortress significant. So where were the hardened defenses of higher Echelon Dark Mages? Where were the charmed or tranced beasts? There had been Ogres leading to this place, but inside, just the Lava Wolves. One of her favorite things to put in as added security were spiders and snakes. Normally there would have been pits with them, or traps where holes would open and the vermin would come out of the walls. Not here, however. There had been a startling lack of such traps. In addition to the physical traps he expected to find, there was a stunning lack of magical pitfalls. Where were the magical glyphs of damnation to annihilate those she didn’t want entering? Normally at least one of his beloved students would have been gated directly to a waiting demon as the unfortunate youngster stepped into a rift rune.
With all of his students recalled to him, including those on other minor missions for him, he took a knee. Even though he was low on force and tired, he eyed all of his students.
He couldn’t help but to count heads one more time. Once again he found every single student accounted for and very few had any sort of major injury. Only Korom, Sardor and Gledd needed assistance from the Healthman and none of their injuries were life-threatening. While he was not displeased in the slightest to have taken out any operation’s fortification of Gambra’s without a single loss of a student, it simply didn’t add up. In simple terms, he was certain he had overlooked something vital within the fortress.
The problem was, the information given to him by Terigore, a high ranking Demon of Jardkil, held information vital to not only crippling Gambra’s long and short range plans, but maybe even slicing at her underlying power base. Standing here looking over the now burning and empty keep wondering where he had somehow missed something vital was not doing him any good. He needed to use the knowledge gained from Terigore and do so quickly. However, he still had young ones to teach and it was time for another quick lesson.
He glanced down at his students and over to the prisoners. “Boys, the nineteen before us are not Dark Mages, they are not Dark Mystics. They are not guards found in the lower levels where the life links were being housed. Some were cooking staff, others were cleaning staff, and a few were wall guards we found in barracks sleeping.”
Lord Anarton looked over to Tyklor, “What are your thoughts as what should be done with them?”
“They worked for the bitch!” Tyklor growled with eyes so narrow he was only looking out of slits. “They had to have seen, heard or at least guessed some of the things going on in there! They should be killed!”
Upon hearing this, several of the captives shook their heads and some started crying. A few of the tougher ones glared.
Lord Anarton glanced over at the rest of the students, “Anyone care to refute Tyklor’s venomous observations?”
Klonaz, a thirteen-year-old human with skills almost equal to Tyklor, glanced around at the other students and nervously shifted his feet before speaking up, “My Lord, in good conscious, I cannot fully agree.”
“What?” Tyklor growled in a mixture of shock and anger. “How can you say such a thing? You are one of those who found the branded boy up in the guest rooms! You saw how he was treated! Those living in the upper levels had to have seen and heard his screams and pleas! They are all guilty!”
Klonaz glanced over at the child who was still being cared after getting treatment on the brand and the battered body. “Tyklor, I was not there. You may be right on this, but just because they heard such things does not mean they were wrong.”
Tyklor’s fists balled up and had Anarton not put an arm out to keep the boy in check, he would have certainly tried to attack Klonaz. The single move to hold up his arm was all it took to back down Tyklor, however. Forcing his face to remain totally neutral he glanced around to some of his other more advanced students. “Celador, Gilew, Hexthew, Wisym, you are all closing in on being skilled enough to move out of my estate and into the real world. What do you all say and why?”
Wisym, a Dark Forest Elf who had lived with Lord Anarton and his teaching for over a decade was the first to speak, although his voice told those listening he was not totally confident of his own thoughts. “My Lord, there are people out there who would demand you are killed for what you demand of us. I speak not of being taught in the arts of Wraith, but on the bedding of us. It is a requirement for all of us to give not only our minds, but also our bodies, over to you and you have used us for your pleasures repeatedly. This was part of the deal, and we all know this and accepted it. There are some, though, who would see this as a twisting of a teacher’s pledge to protect his students and some could try to say you are guilty of harming your students. Yet we all stand by as you use us. We do nothing to stop you. Are we guilty? I don’t think we are and I don’t think you are guilty. I would sure hate to be put to death should someone come around and make what you do to us in bed a crime, simply because I did nothing to stop it.”
Gilew, a human of only twelve years of age, but a boy who had been rescued by Lord Anarton from becoming a life linked spell page at age nine by his own father, spoke up next. “Many say since my father was a Dark Mage I am of tainted blood and should be killed. Yet I did nothing other than come within a fraction of a centimeter from cutting off my right tit to avoid scalding water being dumped on me by the very same man. Am I guilty of knowing what was going on? Yes, in a way. I heard some things and saw other things, but it didn’t really make sense to me until I saw what a huge barrel scalding water did to my best friend. It was then I knew, but the threat of it being done to me even as my best friend screamed himself into unconsciousness, was what it finally took. Can you hold people responsible for not fitting pieces together? Possibly, maybe even probably. Should they endure a punishment? yes? No? Probably? Whatever you answer there is still no real proof of a crime by those who we have here. So take everything they have and let them go. It is kilometers to the next village and even when they get there they will arrive with nothing. Make them start over, as I was made to do under our Lord.”
Hexthew, Gilew’s scalded best friend spoke up next, “Gilew is right. We both saw and heard things when I was over playing with him. Things didn’t add up. The fact we were taught magic and forced to use every drop within ourselves by his father was not normal, nor was forced casting beyond what we should have been able to do. It hurt a couple of our friends badly, and one became damaged and unable to cast for weeks because of the harshness of the training. We heard things from the cellars, but we ignored them because it was his father, my instructor. Getting the boiling water poured on me was probably the punishment fate had in store for me for not telling others about what went on inside Gilew’s home, but did I deserve it or death… well death would have probably been way better or at least easier than the treatments Lord Anarton got for me to restore my flesh, but had someone killed me I would not have learned from the past and helped to kill two Dark Mages today.”
Celador, a River Elf, was the last of the mentioned students to give his thoughts, "My Lord, many of these in front of us are only alive because they were not on guard or in the line of combat when we stormed the upper levels. This may be luck or just fate. Had these men and boys been on guard duty, they would have been killed like their comrades, but they were not. I for one do not want to play with fate or test the Goddess Serriff’s resolve by killing those fate seems to have dictated not die.
“The other thing I think we should all consider is this. How we would view what we know went on in the upper levels?” At this he moved over and knelt next to the branded boy, “Do not get me wrong. I am sorry you were so tormented, but to those working in the upper parts of the keep who heard you scream, it really matters not what they felt. Unless you can prove they knew you were not a slave, you can hold nothing against them and neither can we. It is the right of any owner to treat any slave however he or she wishes. It is their property and if they wish to break it, destroy it and or discard it, it is the owner’s right to do so.”
He then stroked the boy’s hair. “You were not a legal slave, and if you can point to any in this group who knew this and then knew what happened to you, then and only then will I change my opinion on letting them live. So did any know you were not a slave and still did nothing when you were being brutalized by the man Tyklor tossed off the upper balcony?”
The crying boy extended a finger and pointed to one of the female cooks, “She did. She even teased me about cooking the very last meal I would have as a free person!”
Celador glared at the woman, then glanced over to Lord Anarton, “Her, my Lord, I would take a degree of satisfaction in killing. The others, I tend to agree with Gilew. Strip them of all belongings and let fate decide. Serriff will either continue to shine on them with the mysteries of good fortune, or their luck will turn and they will not make it out of this area alive. We will have at least given them a chance.”
With this Lord Anarton managed a slight smile, “Celador, you will yet get me to pay a temple of Serriff to teach you.” He then glanced back down at Tyklor, “So, have your thoughts changed any?”
Tyklor shook his head, “No, my Lord. If we don’t kill them now, we very well may end up having to fight them later.”
“Or we will have gained an ally to tell the world of Gambra’s deeds. For the more out of the shadows she is, the harder it will be for her to hide!” Wisym countered. “We cannot come out of the shadows, but others can expose who and what Gambra is to the world for us!”
Tyklor tossed up his hands in frustration, “You all do what you want, but if you wish help in quickly and painlessly ending the existence of any of these fools, then I will be happy to help!”
“And there, dear boy, is the problem.” Lord Anarton sighed, "You wish to execute people for being fools. Being stupid and foolish is not a crime punishable by death. If it was, we would all have been killed by now. Just look at me. I was a Dark Mage apprentice and knew what Dark Magic was about. It took me seeing the look in my son’s eyes with my dagger hovering over his stomach in my hand before I woke up and saw the true evil behind it all. I was given a second chance and have ended many, many Dark Mages’ reigns of terror because I was given such an opportunity.
“Just look at what we all did here today! There are many beings free from the life link of pages ripping at their souls because of what we accomplished this day. I learned and would hope you would give such a chance to others in hopes of a similar outcome. Now we know the faces and should any of us come across them again and they are doing such treachery, then we can say there were given a second chance and did nothing with it.”
Tyklor rubbed his forehead, “Yeah, I guess… Sorry My Lord.”
Lord Anarton pulled Tyklor back into him and kissed him on the top of the head. At the same time he glanced over at Celador, “I tend to agree with you. End the taunting woman’s threat to this realm and the next by ending her now. Then get help stripping the others. They get nothing, not even clothing.”
Celador glanced down at the crying boy, “Do you wish the honors of ending this bitch’s life or do you want me to?”
“The boy closed his eyes, ”Just do it… Please."
It took only a moment for the Elvin boy to move up and snap the woman’s neck even as she tried to pull away. Without the slightest hint of remorse, he used her death to augment his strength so he could easily toss her body into the flames licking the door of the nearest tower. Taking a knee, he let go of the death gift just as quickly as he took it, shook his head over the feeling of loss of power and took a deep breath. Without looking back at where he had tossed the body, he nodded with a slight smile over at the badly abused boy. Celador then looked at the remaining captives. “You can either let us cut the bonds holding your feet and wrists, stand and strip and toss your stuff into the fires burning in the gate house or we can cut it all off you and toss it in there. It is up to you, but the chances of getting accidentally nicked with a blade as we cut off your clothing is a very real possibility and we do not wish to add any discomfort beyond what our decreed punishment is. Once nude and your stuff in flames, you can go!”
Once the last of the captives had moved off into the woods outside the keep, Lord Anarton took a deep breath, “Tyklor, you Yulay and Ark’land are with me and our Healthman. Celador, Gilew, Hexthew, Klonaz and Wisym select four others to be on your teams. Take turns and choose wisely. I will then gate us all to just outside of this place called Rolling Dale. You will then split up into your teams and enter the settlement separately so our incursion is not obvious. Instead you will be seen as a groups of boys dealing with whatever we find when we get there and with any luck, some of Gambra’s minions will mistake you for easy targets. This way we can let their greed lead to their downfall. Your primary mission is to find Conner and or to help him deal with the Dark Mages and Dark Mystics. Whatever you do, however, stay clear of the place called the Gloom Fire. For if Gambra is really there, she will happily do horrible things to any of my students. Leave the Gloom Fire for me!”
Seldnat moved up to Kandric as the boy started to move off in the direction of Rolling Dale, “Us no can leave dem like this. It not be safe ’nuff yet!”
Lorthorn moved between the two as he saw Kandric turn to glare at Seldnat, “Look, Premier, we will do what you command and we always will, but look around! We finally found some of the others, and there are more out here! With everything you have told us about your teacher, he is going to be able to handle whatever comes his way. Do you think it is better to go after him, or finish helping here and try to find the others from the school?”
Even though Kandric badly wanted to head straight to Rolling Dale, dearly wanted to run, find Glaster and jump into the man’s arms, he took a deep breath and nodded. “I am sorry. You are both correct. Thank you.”
Before Zeltoss could try to calm him further, Kandric moved over to the restrained Gobling, clearly annoyed with himself. As he walked by, Kandric delivered a powerful shot to its face, shattering the several facial bones and knocking it out with the single devastating blow. Blood ran down the ruined face as it remained standing, held upright by the restrain spell.
Kandric then stepped up on the Gobling with the bolt stuck in its butt cheek. He kicked it in the face hard enough to flip it onto its back, snapping the bolt and sending the remaining part in even deeper, while distributing teeth over the forest floor. Everyone watching realized the savagery of the boot to the face almost certainly killed the badly injured creature. Still showing some inner rage he clenched his fists and glanced around.
After pointing to the young Dragonling who had surrendered while growling, “Do not move and you will live though this,” Kandric walked down the hill. He eyed the large green Dragonling Zeltoss had broken the snout of, noting its chest was moving as it took in breaths. He studied it for a moment, then looked up to the students it had helped to torment. Kandric shook his head with disgust before motioning to the five who came with him. “It is still alive. Move the injured from the Slome schools and the others Tara captured close to it and finish it off. Its death will do some healing to all of them and cut down on what I will need to cast to get them back up to being healthy enough to travel with this group.”
He kind of cringed as he realized how pompous he was sounding. The last thing he ever wanted was to become some snobby royal with nothing but contempt for those of a lesser caste. He ran his hand down his face and muttered to himself about acting like a spoiled brat, then turned and paused to gather his thoughts and temper his anger. Finally Kandric took a deep breath and turned back to face Klent, “My apologies. I should not try to demand or assume anything. I owe you for helping to protect my students while trying to aid those you could. However, with the situation what it is, I am going to ask this of you. If you would be kind enough to be willing to let them all travel with you for a bit, you would have my thanks. For, from what I was able to glean before we stepped into this skirmish, this is your crew.”
Klent eyed the small redheaded boy with a mixture of caution and intrigue. The very fact the boy called this engagement a skirmish, not a fight, would have normally been annoying at best and maddening at worst. This was especially true since two of his party members and one pet had already been captured by the hostile group. His feelings this time, however, only allowed for fear and astonishment all knotted up in a large mass in the pit of his stomach.
The youngster was, after all, in Green Dragon scale armor with a crest of royalty he could not recognize on one shoulder and the crest of the Black Rapids Wilderness Scouts on the other. The Wilderness Scout crest showed him to be an officer and an independent scout. Finally, everything the boy wore was secured properly and the casting and combat skills the child displayed were a few steps above terrifying. All this told Klent this boy was so far above his social caste, he probably shouldn’t be talking to him. Furthermore, this was not just some super-rich child; it was, in fact, a boy who had proven he was as skilled as the armor and insignias seemed to indicate. For the boy was the leader and there was no denying the six youngsters had walked though a very powerful group without breaking a sweat. No one in their right mind, who had witnessed what just happened, could refute the ruthlessness of their actions. Besides, the aftermath was scattered all around him.
Truth be told, all Klent really wanted to do was to remain silent and do whatever this child told him to do. Unfortunately, he was being forced to enter into a dialog with the youngster, so he knelt to show as much deference as he possibly could. “Young lord, I will do as you commanded me to do. If you are giving me a choice, though, I will keep those you just rescued with me until we get someplace where I am certain I can leave them safely. My group has yet to fully come together and the added burden of more young ones would hamper my group’s cohesion. Rylop and the four boys we already took in, however, can stay with me or go their own way. I will leave it up to you and or Rylop.”
Kandric gave Klent a nod, “Thank you. The decision is yours to make. I am not commanding you to do anything more than you have already done. If you wish to get my students out from under your feet quickly, there is a rather large encampment a few kilometers from here just between those two rocky hills.” He pointed to emphasis. “You can take them there and drop them off if you wish to unburden yourself of their care without much travel. They will be safe and well cared for. Do not be alarmed at what you find there, however. Since I can assure you it is unlike any force you have ever seen or even dreamed about. On the other hand, I feel I need to reassure you most of those you now have with you would be able to add a great deal of skills to your entourage. Given a chance, time will show you why I care about them as much as I do.”
“Young lord, may I ask why you say most of them?”
Kandric couldn’t help but giggle, “By asking the way you did, you just asked, so I would have to say yes, you can ask!”
Klent couldn’t help but smile at the child he was kneeling before, “Very true, young lord. Your words give me pause, since I gather you have some questions or concerns with at least one of them.”
Kandric sent a cold stare up at one of those Tarastala had captured, “Not questions, no. But I am starting to think I will be dealing with him one on one. The other two,” Kandric nodded down toward Shothash and Losmock, “are not my students. I do not know them well, but what I do know of them, plus from what I have seen, they are a bit better than most of the Governor’s apprentices. Furthermore, it sounded like you all have seen enough out of them to respect them.”
At this Rylop couldn’t hold his tongue, “Kandric… Um, Scout Kandric, these two be some good kids. I ain’t sayin’ them be perfect ‘er nothin’. They gots lots to learn, but I’ll say I think both of ’em hold a great deal of promise. Besides,” he put a protective arm around Losmock, “they ain’t afraid a hard work and both of ’em listen pretty good ta boot!”
With a nod of understanding, Kandric turned his attention away from Klent and looked over at Rylop. As he did so he noticed Gapon was nodding in agreement with Rylop. “If Rylop and my other students feel they are potential assets, then I have nothing more to say about them.” He did turn and eye both boys, “However, if either of you betray this trust and I find out, I will find a dragon to feed you both to.”
Off to the side, Lorthorn chuckled, “Premier, you would have to leave one alive first.”
This got some laughter out of Seldnat and Zeltoss, followed by some nervous chuckles out of Jamon and Pike. On the other hand all of them nodded in agreement.
Shothash took a knee just like Klent did, “We owe them all for rescuing us. We would never turn against them!”
“Then I say we are of a like mind.” Kandric forced a smile toward the smaller boy. “Just so you understand, should you decide to go back to Slome, you will find it is under new leadership and it took some heavy combat damage. The merchant areas were not hit too hard, so chances are very good both your families are fine. I also know the forge you apprenticed for is untouched.”
Kandric ’s gaze returned to Rylop, “Right now the most important thing is at least some of those I helped to take into Bloody Rock are safe. However, I am very confused. Where are the others from the Swordsman School, and how did you end up with some of the Governor’s students?” Even as he asked the question part of him was pretty sure he didn’t want to hear the answer.
Rylop quickly confirmed Kandric’s trepidation at hearing what had happened inside Bloody Rock as the guardsman told what he knew. He then let the others fill in what he didn’t. Once Rylop and the kids from Slome were done, Kandric found out as much as he could about Glaster from Klent, Jory and the others. After nearly an hour, he looked up into the cloudy sky and let a few snowflakes drift out of the sky and land on his face.
Even as Kandric went into thought over what he had heard, Zeltoss summed it all up to help him clarify the situation in his own mind. “So most of our fellow students are out here, along with betrayed kids from the Governor’s school. A few others are dead or lost within Bloody Rock. Those who were gated here are scattered all over these woods, with guards loyal to the Governor in the same woods we are in. TO add to the mess, they are mixed with possible traitors from the Governor’s school, who they may think are their friends or at least possible allies… Some are almost certainly lost, others recaptured like what we saw here, and still others possibly headed for Rolling Dale, which, from the sounds of things, is probably worse than being recaptured out here. In addition, there are men and women out here hunting and killing refugees fleeing the fighting from down in some place called Everone. This is really bad, since the students from either school could easily be mistaken for such refugees. There is no good outcomes for most of them!”
Rylop looked over at Kandric, “Without you most of them… most of us… would not be alive at all. The trip into Bloody Rock was supposed to be a giant trap to capture all of the most advanced students in Slome and would have undermined confidence in the city council. The Governor would have been able to fake a rescue of those he wanted, show he was the only one ta do somethin’, and use what he fake done ta move more of his people into spots a power, It wouldn’t a took no time for the city ta be his and his alone! You can’t blame yourself for this, none a you. Blame him!”
Kandric let out a long sigh, “The problem is, once I stepped into the pit and showed others I was Teaching Echelon, then started to teach combat classes, I became a Teacher within the Slome Swordsman School. Some of the students out here in these woods are my students, my responsibility. Seldnat was correct in holding back my eagerness to see my mentor. We must continue the search. With any luck we will come across this Moba, and I can kill him slowly… very slowly… with a great deal of pain involved.”
Pike looked over with a cringe as he glanced back over his shoulder at the dead Hobgoblin, with its arm still sticking out of its mouth, “We should get word back to your army, Premier. They can send out some scouts to help us. At the same time the bulk will stay on task and move on the walled community of Rolling Dale while we continue to look. Duke Mathard can lead the army for you…”
Kandric cut Pike off, “He already is leading it. I know what I want done, not a clue how to do it.”
This got a snicker out of Seldnat. “Us jus walk in and take it! Dem dumb ’nuff to try to stop us end up dead!”
With most of those in the camp looked at Seldnat as if he was joking or flatly out of his mind, Lorthorn and Zeltoss snickered and Jamon rolled his eyes. Kandric couldn’t help but smile as he turned to his Halforc friend. “It’s almost tempting to try!”
Still snickering, Kandric moved up to the injured kids and looked them over. Only a couple had serious enough injuries to worry him. He looked over Padma before pointing to Tayac, “She is missing the tip of her tongue which I cannot fix, at least not yet. The rest are all minor dings and a missing tooth. Since they are the only injuries she has left, after getting some healing from the Dragonling’s death, it isn’t worth me using a spell on her. Fix her up the best you can before you and someone else figure out a way to pull Tara out of those burning nettles.” Kandric smiled at Tayac, “very well done by the way.”
Kandric was still snickering as he glanced down at Tarastala, quivering from being in the middle of the largest group of burning nettles he had ever seen. He gave a single satisfied sounding snort as he moved over to Nylod, who had managed to stand after getting some healing from the death of the Green Dragonling. Without hesitation, Kandric said a short phrase which caused his hands to glow a lime green, then pressed his palms of his hands into each side of Nylod’s face. The green glow seemed to drain out of Kandric and into the seriously injured boy who, in turn, let out a gasp of pain, as a pair of broken ribs moved back into place and healed. This was followed up by several cuts and scrapes closing and vanishing. Not being able to handle such a quick healing, Nylod’s eyes rolled up in to the back of his head and he fell back. Seldnat had to catch his fellow student to prevent him from crumpling to the ground.
After looking down at Lacate, who was still quite badly injured including massive deep bruises on his neck, multiple broken fingers, and a dislocated elbow, Kandric let out a long breath and knelt, “I am finding it beyond hard to feel sorry for you. It is not just because you were in the Governor’s school, but trust me when I say you being a student there does not help your status with me. However, my resentment of you goes much deeper and you know it. After the way your father and older brother, Velert, treated me when I was looking for work up in Slome, I would be justified in doing horrible things to you as you scream… well wail and cry as much as you can with the damage to your neck, so probably more moaning and bawling than anything.” The smirk on Kandric’s face caused several watching and listening to cringe even as Kandric continued, “So, anyway, if I heal you… no, this is not just about healing, so let me start over. If I do anything, or even give my permission for anyone else to do anything for you other than leave you lying here still in chains, you owe me! If you ask me, I am being nice, just by offering to leave you as you are. So, me doing anything else for you will cost you.”
The boy whimpered as he saw Kandric’s eyes all but boring into him. “What?” Lacate managed to squeak out through a badly damaged throat. “Dad has money…”
“Money? You think I want coin from you or your kin at this point?” Kandric couldn’t help it, he started laughing. "Your family had a chance to offer me a few copper, even a single copper, several times. I would have even worked my fingers raw for a meal or two and no coin! I was not good enough. As a matter of fact, I was worse than not good enough. If I remember correctly, it was you, with your brother standing behind you, who told me I was not worth a copper, even to clean out chamber pots from your home. I believe you even said as a half-breed, I was good for nothing more than testing some of your fledgling potions on. I believe the words you liked to use was me being good for nothing more than a potion tester and a few other things along those lines.
"I know you figured it would scare me, which it did not. However, you had no way to realize your words were nothing more than pinpricks of meanness to me. Looking back I should have seen them for what they really were, nothing more than some stupid words from a somewhat wealthy brat. Now you want to offer me your family’s money, money you are hundreds of leagues from? Take a look at my armor, Lacate, and keep in mind I have another set, only it is black and made of King Blathamort’s scales! The Dragonling who is still kneeling can verify this if you want.
“If the armor and the crest of the Black Rapids Scouts is not enough, look at my weapons. All of them, other than my Dagger Boar knife, are magical. Does it really look like I want or need money from your father? Besides, your money is nothing compared to the pay I now rate. I am an officer of the Wilderness Scouts and an independent scout. I am being paid by them and, because I am an officer, I rate double bounty on all enemy kills! While you may not fathom the rewards I am due, trust me when I say the amount is more than I can carry. Oh, no, coin is not what I want from you!”
Lacate closed his eyes and whimpered again as he swallowed hard, trying to get some pain relief to his throat. It didn’t work much but it did allow him to speak a bit louder. His voice was filled with fear as he managed to croak out. “What do you want, then?”
Kandric rolled his neck then scratched his chin as he thought it over. A few seconds later a glint flashed in his eyes. He looked back over to Jamon and shot the boy a wink, "Since I freed my friend, I need someone to fill in for the duties I was working with him to take care of. You will make a good replacement. Besides, as a Ruinseeker, I know you can read and write so you can help take care of ledgers and other paperwork.
"Here is the deal I offer you and it is the only offer I am going to make. Otherwise I leave you lying here in chains.
"You will give me two moons of being trained by my good and trusted friend as a servant with nothing more than slave rights. Once you are fully ready to take over the duties I have in mind, there will be two years of full indentured servitude. During this time, I will pay you minimum indentured rights of a copper a week. To offset the low pay, I will see you are fully taken care of for the duration and heal you right here, right now. This indentured time includes training whatever slave or servant I decide will take your place; plus at least a few moons up in Slome where your family will have to see you tend to me. In exchange, I will make sure you get enough of a lab to where you can play with potions and advance some when traveling with me. I will continue your training as a Ruinseeker as well.
"This also means you will also do everything Zeltoss wants of you, no matter what it is, since he will be the one helping to advance you in your Mystic Field. The knowledge gifting he received from the last Green Dragon to fall to us was quite impressive. Since it was a Mystic and the only one of us to be able to use such knowledge was Zeltoss, the big lizard let loose with a massive amount of knowledge in the mystical arts to Zeltoss, so you will be able to learn much from him.
“Once you have given me two years and two moons of total servitude, and only then, we will be something close to even. Your time tending to my wants and desires will not, however, do anything to lessen the torment I am going to unleash on Velert when I find him. Because, like it or not, I guarantee you, I will find Velert unless Captain Vondum gets to him first. If Captain Vondum does, there probably will not be much of Velert left for me to play with.”
Just down the hill, Shothash started to speak only to get a somewhat painful thump on the back of his head by Rylop, “Hush up, boy. First off take a look around. Kandric just tore though a group we was all afraid to take on. He has battlefield rights. Him has a right ta be mad at Healthman Velert, too. It was Healthman Velert who ordered us Slome Guards to arrest Kandric to begin with and me heard ‘nough to know there be other things Healthman Velert done ta’ him, ta boot. Plus, if Kandric hadn’t shown up none, all three a them kids would a be real slaves and us may er may not a been still standin’ with what we was lookin’ at!”
Up the hill, it took a few seconds of tears of tears rolling out of Lacate’s eyes before the boy nodded, “OK, I agree.”
Kandric glanced over his shoulder and spoke loudly, “Did you all hear him?”
Seeing everyone nod, many of them reluctantly, Kandric grinned slightly, “Now say you are indenturing yourself to me in exchange for my assistance. Make sure you include this is for two years and two moons.”
Lacate shuddered with a mixture of pain, dread, and shame as he forced himself to speak the words. Once done, he glanced up at the face of a boy he had mocked on more than a few occasions. While he didn’t know what Kandric would want out of him, he realized just by the look in the boy’s eyes it would not be pleasant. For, unfortunately for Lacate, this was the kid he had spit at and called “sewer waste, half-breed, and potion practice,” numerous times. He couldn’t help but wonder why the Halfelf didn’t let it be know he was guilded, even as Kandric started to cast a very powerful healing spell. After all, had people in Slome known he was a fully guilded Shaman, nothing bad would have ever have been said and he would have easily found work. His own father would have paid the boy extra for the honor of employing a spell caster for duties around the home! Fear and bragging rights would have opened pockets and pouches of people like his father. “Why didn’t you just tell us you were a guilded spell caster?” he managed to ask.
“I should not have had to.” Kandric responded even as he grabbed Lacate’s damaged hand and let the healing magic flow into the boy he would have much preferred to punch a few times. Moments later, the thoughts of both kids stopped as Lacate’s body convulsed. Wounds and bones mended from the top of his head to his toes.
Kandric shook his head at the casting of a Master Echelon healing spell and stood. He took a deep breath even as he pointed over to Jamon, “Give him a few minutes to let his body recover then wake him up. Poke him in the butt with something sharp, splash water on his face, whatever. Just get him up and moving. Once he is, let him grab some gear off the dead since he is coming with us. I have heard Master Echelon spells can do some strange things to people. However, I have never cast this spell before, so I am not sure what lingering effects he may have to deal with. He very well may be a bit groggy or even confused, so help him as needed. As soon as you have him fully trained in his duties to me, I will release your brother and cousin from their bonds of slavery to you as well.”
Kandric couldn’t help but notice the looks he was receiving from many of the others, including Tayac and Gapon. He didn’t realize much of the wide-eyed expressions he was getting was for admitting he had cast a Master Echelon spell. Instead he figured it was surrounding how mean he had just been. To this end, he glanced back at Lacate, shrugged, then turned back to Klent and the others. “I spoke the truth. I would not have given permission for you to help him, but I certainly would not have ordered you to leave him. I would have simply left him in chains as I told him I would and let you do whatever you wanted to do with him. However, I also would not have healed him.”
“Not very nice, Teacher.” Tayac stated with a shake of a head and a smirk as the way Kandric had bargained with the injured boy sank into his brain. “You tricked him.”
“He heard what he thought he needed to hear, not what was said. It is no different than the words spoken earlier by your leader to Tara.” Kandric pointed over to Klent. “Besides, I have never once claimed to be nice.” Kandric responded with a big grin. “Cute, yes, nice, not so much.”
Several of the others, including Klent and Jory snickered at both the words and the impish grin on Kandric’s face.
With the serious injuries to the others handled, Kandric moved over to the still kneeling Black Dragonling. This was not something he really knew how to deal with, let alone what he should do. If King Blathamort really gave him some kind of Dragon Aura, then it seemed to him he needed to show some kind of leniency to those who took notice. Yet, to let something who would do harm to others live didn’t seem right either. He studied the Dragonling for over a minute saying nothing. The Dragonling was very close to his human equivalent years, maybe a bit older. Truth be told it was hard to tell with Dragon-kind. The dead giveaway as to it being young was the fact almost all of its scales looked moist and soft, meaning they had a great deal of growing to do before hardening. Kandric let out a breath as he stared down at the kneeling figure. “You surrendered to us; remove all the spells but one out of your spell book. I will look though those you hand me and give you one back. You will then hand me the one page you left in. It is the only thing I will allow you to take other than the clothing on your back. If you refuse I will cut your acid gland tube and brand you as a slave. Which is it?”
With trembling hands and tears rolling out of its eye it did as instructed. The book only held nine pages, but for a fledgling Mage losing spell pages was almost like losing part of one’s self. Kandric thumbed through the pages before he handed one back, then looked at the last page. After a few seconds of thought, he moved over to the dead Hobgoblin and looked through the much larger stack of spells in its now dead book. Three were damaged but the other thirty-four were not. Some were duplicates, however. With a sigh, he moved back over to the young Dragonling, holding out ten more pages. “Tell me what you know of the other students taken out of Bloody Rock and I will grant extra rights to you.” He held up a hand full of spell pages. “These are duplicates of ones I have in my other hand. I will give these to you as well for the information as long as you promise you will not use them on anyone here, ever. Nor will you use any of them, other than Weather Ward, for at least one week.”
The trembling Dragonling knelt down and tried to kiss Kandric’s boot, but a hand to its forehead stopped it. “Your word is all I asked for.”
“Whatever you command, oh, great killer of my king! You have my word not to ever harm any of thosssse in thisss camp, nor to ever employ a sssspell against them! I will obey your command and not employ a sssspell for a week!”
“Good,” Kandric stated firmly switching to the Dragon tongue so the information could stay between him and the Dragonling. The very fact he now spoke perfect Dragon tongue was yet another interesting side effect of the Dragon Death Gifting he had received. “Now tell me what you know!”
The Dragonling bowed its head deeply as it spoke. “Killer of my king, I wish I could tell you more, but the spell cast by the Green True Dragon failed badly and fractured as we were gated here. It is nothing like I have ever even heard of before.” It took a nervous breath as it heard Kandric growl. "We came through the gate and had to run to catch the three you found us with. The Governor of Slome ordered me to follow and do as Tarastala commanded, and I was indentured to him so I had no choice but to do what I have done. I can tell you, Prince Bandurlok and Prince Bassork are now at war and I think Prince Bandurlok betrayed King Blathamort by working with the Red Dragons instead of the Greens like what was ordered. I can also tell you there is some kind of super-secret hatchery inside Bloody Rock, but I do not know where nor why it was kept out of view of almost all.
"Unfortunately, I have no idea exactly where we are, but we are close to Rolling Dale. I can tell you we ran across a small group of the Governor’s guards, including Moba. He had four students, I do not know who was from what school. All I know was they were all Slome students. Moba said he was taking them so some inn in Rolling Dale.
“We also came across a White Warrior Dragon who was sent to find out if there are truths behind the rumors of you allying the Red Dragons to the Silvers and the Blues in exchange for a homeland for the Reds. This is of great concern to the Whites since the lands they took from the Silvers will not stay in the hands of the Whites for long if this is true.”
“Then they will lose some land. I am sure Duke Mathard of Winter Creek will not mind them being pushed, since he is close to their lands as well. It is really not my problem.”
“Killer of my king, if you are telling me you did actually help forge such an alliance, the White Dragon Homeland will send agents to try to kill you.”
“Interesting as a side note and I will be very cautious should I come across any White Dragon kind. However, I am much more interested in the students. You say four were taken to Rolling Dale. Do you know the name of the inn?”
“It was a weird name, I cannot remember but it has something to do with burning water or some similar strangeness. I remember thinking why would anyone name an inn after flaming water. I am sorry I do not remember the exact name. I also saw others in the distance, but they could be anywhere within many kilometers of here. The fracturing of the gate split us up over a very wide area.”
Kandric took a deep breath and shook his head in some aggravation as he pushed the ten pages into the chest of the now crying Dragonling. He couldn’t help but smile slightly as the young Black Dragonling pulled them all into his chest as if he was cradling a baby. Kandric switched into Northman as he patted the Dragonling on the shoulder. “Now gather your pack, a dagger and a second weapon and head south. Do not look back. My army is not far and you will not be given any second chances should you still be in the area when they come through here. He pointed down toward the deep woods to the south for emphasis. ”If you find any students I expect you to try to protect them and try to get them to me. For this task I will allow you to cast whatever spells are needed. If you do find even one and protect him or her, I will heavily reward you."
Once Kandric was sure the lone Dragonling was making a beeline to get well clear and was headed into the deep wilderness, he moved up to Jory, “I see you have a book. I saw you cast a Mage spell and you fought to help protect my students. How many of these do you not have?”
Jory’s eyes went wide as he sorted though the impressive pile of spells. “Of these thirty-two pages I do not have twenty-two of them, um… sir…”
Off to the side, Lorthorn spoke up, “No, it is Premier, not sir.”
Pike quickly added, “Those three are Knights of Premier Kandric, and should be addressed as sir.” He quickly pointed out Lorthorn, Zeltoss and Seldnat.
Kandric decisively waved off the comments, “Title is not important. My students are. Here take these. You have my thanks for helping to protect my students.”
Kandric, didn’t wait for a response, knowing if someone would have offered to teach him over twenty new spells with no price attached he would have been pretty much speechless, too. Instead he moved up to Rylop and handed over the remaining pages including the damaged ones. “These will sell for a whole lot of coin. Take care of the students and stay clear of Rolling Dale. I will deal with those taken there.”
Kandric paused and pointed over to Gapon, “I think you made him a promise?” He pointed at Sorab for emphasis.
Kandric leaned up against a tree as Gapon moved up on Sorab and did exactly as the boy had pledged. Gapon used the chains which had been on himself to secure the demon lord Channeler’s arms behind his back, getting a scream from Sorab as the jerk on his arm moved the not only the broken color bone, but the two pieces of armor digging into his shoulder. Sorab didn’t have much time to complain, however. For as soon as Gapon had the boy in chains, he started kicking Sorab until the young demon lord Channeler puked.
Kandric cleared his throat once Sorab rolled over and lost the last meal he had eaten. “Gapon, stop. You kept your word. You did as you promised in the name of revenge, which you had every right to do, but you are not a follower of Murderic: He is. Keep him alive and collect your bounty when you get him to a place of safety.”
He then turned his gaze to where Tayac, with the help of Jory, was dragging Tarastala back toward the camp. Her unconscious body, so wracked with pain over being tossed into a thicket of burning nettles her body, continued to quake even though her eyes were rolled back in her head and her tongue was hanging out of her mouth. Even this showed the horror she was facing, as the number of nettles stuffed into her mouth had left her tongue swollen and blistering. Her face and even her eyelids told a similar tale. At this Kandric winced, but still nodded to Tayac. “If she truly is a Half-Drow and her father a full Drow, I am sure the Alphar, Garm or both would pay decent coin for her.”
“Alphar and Garm?”
Pike moved forward, “Yes, my Uncle, Duke Mathard, would pay a great deal of silver for her and the information she may have in her.”
Klent looked over with a degree of shock, “You are Garm? Really Garm?”
Pike smiled, “Yes, I am Garm.”
At this point a bit of greed opened Immeck’s mouth, even as his brain tried to comprehend what all he had just seen and heard. “So, um, how do us find this Duke Garm guy?”
Kandric grinned and snickered, “Duke Mathard is helping to lead my forces. He is just a few hills over.” Kandric pointed to the southwest. “You cannot miss him. He is in Dwarven Blue Steel plate with a Blue Steel shield. He shield glows an odd tangerine color and has the Garm Crest of Winter Creek on it.” Seeing the mystified look of faces of next to everyone looking back at him he couldn’t help but snicker, “Oh, yeah, sorry, it is an axe with icicles hanging off of it with a snowflake behind it. The axe has the Garm Crest of a pouncing Lamassu on it. Be nice and ask others in the camp to be taken to him, though. He is a duke and we are at war, so simply walking up to him could be seen as a threat. You may use my name as way of getting an audience. I am not sure, but it is possible he would pay for the Murderic Channeler as well. If not, he would certainly tell you who would.”
Kandric paused as he thought about being this close to where Glaster was and not being able to go straight to him. He so badly wanted to feel than man’s arm around him. Shaking off this notion as best he could, he looked back to Klent, “Once you rid yourselves of these two and any you do not wish to have travel with you, I would recommend continuing on with the mission my instructor, Glaster, tasked you with. He is not one who easily forgives people who give their word, then tries to back out of the agreement, even his students. Should you come across more of my students, however, I ask you get them somewhere safe and send word to me or someone within my army as to where they are at.”
Kandric motioned for the others to grab Lacate and follow him. He paused for a second and looked back at Rylop, “Oh, one last thing. Tara offered to pay you for severance from the Slome Guard, so her pouch is yours. Anything not already given should be left for Klent to split as he sees best since he is the onsite commander.”
Seeing Klent about to say something, Kandric help up a hand to stop the man, "You protected my students. All we did was show up and help take out the trash. Take the spoils. If you feel a bit guilty on not giving us any, then sell some and use the coin to better equip the kids from Slome you decide to let travel with you.
Kandric quickly turned back to Seldnat, “Take point and let us go find some of the others lost out here. Pike, Jamon, all Kobalds and Goblins are your problem. Don’t look for help; just deal with them as best as you can. If we run across any bandits, I expect the two of you to take the lead as well. We are not going to rejoin the army until both of you can pass into Primary Echelon!”
Even as Seldnat moved out he spoke just loud enough for the two boys and Klent to hear him, “Ya best both make sec’nd er me’ll make ya spar wit me till ya are!” The Halforc then glanced back over his shoulder, “And it’ll be wit heavy weapon, not no thin wood junk!”
Above the caravan, Dart let out a screech of warning. Aster looked skyward at his beloved Archer Eagle for a moment before moving some of his magical force to his eyes and focusing on his pet. It didn’t take long before he could see what the bird was seeing. “Sardan!” Aster shouted, “We have a group on War Steeds, horses, and even a Dragon Steed on our trail! It looks like one must be an Animal Adept or a Druid. They have a few giant rats with them! They are moving up on us quickly, too!”
Sardan moved up to Glaster’s wagon, looked at the one who was either Klandon or Zoldon, and shook his head in amazement. The boy was identical to the one Pocet and Aster had rescued in Junsac. Had he not known better, he would have sworn it was the same boy. He shook off the rogue thought then spoke, “Aster’s animals have spotted pursuers!”
Glaster looked back, not seeing anything and frowned. “Do we need to form a defense?”
“You have way too much royalty with you to endanger this caravan. Let us take the fight to these wretches!”
Are you sure your team can take them?"
“We are all but uninjured. My team can handle it.” Sardan assured Glaster.
“What of the boys who travel with you. Do you want me to take them?”
“No, this will be further combat experience for them.”
Glaster gave a single hard nod, but did point to a line of woods less than five hundred meters down the hill from where they were traveling. “Fine, let us at least give you some tactical advantage. I will move into the trees before I make my way back to the old keep you wish to establish as a base. I will meet you there in a day or three!”
The second the last wagon had disappeared into the trees, Sardan had the younger ones move the mounts deeper into the woods while the more experienced members found good ambush spots. Ten minutes later the sounds of fast moving hooves told everyone those coming after the caravan were closing with reckless abandon.
Sardan couldn’t help but shake his head. “If you wish to make things this easy, I will not argue.”
A minute later Sardan stepped out from behind a large tree and cleaved into the chest of a War Steed with his falchion, cutting though the barding and deeply into the flesh and bones underneath. The hapless rider let out a squeal of pain as he launched over the top of the already dying beast and slammed into the ground over three meters from where Sardan had suddenly appeared. The man didn’t even get a chance shake his head, let alone recover enough to grab a weapon, before Rage pounced and clamped its powerful jaws over the man’s arm and started shaking it, while the white tiger’s claws tore though the leather torso armor as if it were thin cloth. Blood sprayed over a wide area of the woods.
The next rider fared no better. Even as he tried to pull on the reins of his War Steed, Shade leapt up on a fallen tree, then over the steed’s horns. The man tumbled off the back of the mount with Shade’s teeth digging into his face.
The third rider saw enough of what was happening in front of her to pull an axe, but it did her no good. Stealth extended his wings and soundlessly glided out a nearby tree. The Fairy Dragon’s front claws went into the woman’s neck, while the back claws dug into the hindquarter of the War Steed. The paralyzing effects took a few seconds to take hold of the War Steed, so it was able to buck frantically a trio of times. This spelled doom for the hapless rider, since she had been almost instantly paralyzed and had been bucked off on the first wild kick of her mount. The second jump ended with the back legs of the powerful mount coming down on her chest, decimating the ribcage. Blood all but exploded out of the woman’s mouth before her steed fell a few meters away twitching from the paralytic poison coursing through it.
Cresh and Dabaff moved to ready themselves to aid Benam and Quavis respectively, as the next two riders on much smaller light horses broke to the left and right in an attempt to get out of the well set-up ambush. The first rider jerked the reins of his animal hard to the left, as he watched in horror as a dragon-like creature took down both his teacher and her mount. The jerk caused the horse he was on to rear back, even as it turned sharply to the left. This, in turn, forced the young rider to hold on for dear life and left both the animal and the rider off balance.
Benam grinned, “Blackie, stink em!”
The giant skunk came out from between two large shrubs, spun, lifted its tail, and unleashed a putrid mass of musk right into the horse and the rider. The horse made a screaming ‘naaa’ sound and it thrashed wildly. With the rider already off balance, he stood no chance to stay on. He fell off and landed hard. With the wind knocked out of him he could do very little but did try to rub some of the musk out of his eyes, even as he tried to pull air into his lungs. Both proved to be very bad ideas. The hands of the young rider had been covered in the foul spray just like the rest of him. Because of this, his actions of rubbing his eyes with his hands only ended putting more burning musk into them. At the same time, the air he was trying to take in was filled with the putrid odor of Blackie’s attack. The smell and even the taste entered the mouth of the downed rider. This left him both trying to regain air and puking at the same time, which in turn caused him to start choking uncontrollably.
Even as Cresh backed off a few steps to get away from the smell, he handed Benam a heavy stick he picked up off the forest floor, “Oh, for the pity of the god’s Ben, hit him on the back of the head with this and knock him out or something!”
The rider who tried to peel off to the right didn’t manage any better. Quavis quickly flipped a pair of throwing daggers into the rider and a third into the side of the horse. The last one firmly hit the left hip of the mount. This caused the horse to buck wildly, at the same time the rider was trying to pull a dagger out of her leg. The rider crashed onto the forest floor driving the second dagger in her side in all the way to the hilt. The eyes of the young female rolled up in her head before she could even get the dagger out of her leg.
Dabaff had to quickly dart forward and pull Quavis back, however, as the horse came within centimeters of kicking the boy who was too focused on the person he had just taken down to note the secondary danger.
From up front, Sardan noted this and glared at Quavis, “Boy, you owe Dabaff big time, now pay attention to the entire fight, not just what is in front of you! Dabaff, I also owe you one. Way to watch him!”
Off to the side, Sagell sent a burst of fire out of the tip of her staff at an Elvin woman who had stopped further back and was starting some kind of a spell of her own. Whatever it was never left her lips. Instead, Sagell’s flaming dart hit her in the side of the head and exploded. The incantation she had been speaking changed to a scream as she fell off the back of her own horse.
Two men and twin boys riding close to the Elf, all pulled up crossbows, but only the youngsters got off shots. The muscular Dwarf in very nice chain mail dropped his bow as an axe came spinning out of the forest and buried itself into the center of his chest snapping the breastbone and tearing holes into both lungs. Blood poured down out of the wound coating the War Steed he was riding in a fountain of Dwarven blood.
The other adult rider, an Illorc, was knocked off his Dragonsteed by a massive White Griffon. While Frost’s talons had a hard time getting though the thick plates of armor the Illorc was wearing, nothing prevented its sub-arctic breath weapon from turning the Warrior Adept’s facial skin and eyeballs to frozen solid masses. Its beak then smashed into the frozen face partially shattering it. The Illorc died without losing a drop of liquid blood. The spell book in the Illorc’s pouch screamed as he died, signaling to everyone, he must have been at least Teaching Echelon and it was a player in the Dark Arts.
The last two attackers, both boys on small horses and each flanked by a pair of giant rats, managed to get bolts off. One harmlessly impacted a tree. The flight of the second, however, took it into Pocet’s right shoulder, who as bad luck had it, had stepped in front of Sagell to protect her from what he saw as a potential serious threat.
Pocet cringed and took a knee. Even as he pulled out the bolt, Pocet glared at the boy, “I was just thinking you are way too good looking to kill, but my opinions might a just changed a smidge!”
From just into the woods, Aster saw Pocet twist to the side and heard the man’s words. He snarled, “The rest of you back off him! He’s mine! Dart, Shade, Frost, help but leave the kid to me!”
Foxtol and Elmar both moved on the other boy and his pets, but Sardan spoke up loudly, “Take the boy; alive if possible, but leave the pets for Quavis and Benam!” Sardan dropped his pack, pulled a pair of short swords out and tossed them back over his shoulder. “Boys, pull those blades and move up on the rats. Time to get some real sword practice!”
Aster quickly concurred, “Good idea! Cresh, Dabaff, keep an eye on them but don’t either of you dare help unless absolutely needed, verbal pointers, fine, but no direct combat help!”
The youngster who shot Pocet saw Aster come out of the woods and yank the axe out of the Dwarf’s chest without even slowing down. Seeing the Elf’s eyes were locked on him, the kid pulled back on the reins of his horse to get it going backwards and twirled his wrist. Before anyone could blink, bands of earth and stone came up from the forest floor and wrapped around Aster. From above, Dart screamed in fury and sent down a trio of feathers. All three found the side of the neck of the boy’s horse. The animal let out a gurgling cry, even as it fell to the ground. This forced the boy to jump off before he fell with the mount. He then looked up with panic in his eyes.
At the same time Shade and Frost both moved up snapping at the rats, forcing both of them to back away from the kid.
Elmar and Foxtol let Quavis and Benam move up on the rats belonging to the other boy, before the two exchanged glances and rushed the boy and his horse. Caught off guard, the boy tried to spin the horse he was on to flee, but while this maneuver took him away from Foxtol, it put him very close to Elmar.
“Not very smart, kid!” Elmar grunted as he grabbed hold of the boy’s right leg, and yanked the lad off the horse with a remarkably strong, yet fluid tug. The youngster let out a yelp, but it was cut short as he impacted hard with the ground. While Foxtol grabbed hold of loose reins and got control of the spooked horse, Elmar drug the stunned boy further away from the animal, so there was no chance the boy would get stepped on. He then pulled the dagger out of the boy’s belt sheath, as he used his other hand to hold the boy upside-down by his right foot. “Now, if’n ya be a smart one, you’ll not want ta get cut with yer own knife and will stop fightin’ me. Choice two is ta try somethin’. Ya tries anything, things get lots more bad for ya. Each time ya does, I cut ya until you stop er you bleed out.” He moved the blade very close to the boy’s crotch and smiled with a sinister looking grin. “Me thinks this will be a good place ta start! What’s it gunna be boy?”
They boy looked at the blade hovering within centimeters of his groin and shook his head, while letting his arms and hands go hand straight down.
“Smart one, you be!” Elmar snickered as he glanced over to make sure the boy’s two rats were not a threat. Seeing Quavis had the attention of one and Benam the other, he kept the boy hanging upside-down and moved over to Sagell, “Ya wants ta disarm the lad while me hold him?”
“Sure.” Sagell stated, even as she eyed the last remnants of the fight.
Stealth moved up with a snarl. The Fairy Dragon then used an extended talon and waved it in front of the kid’s face as a warning while speaking to Elmar. “If he tries to stop her, rattle him around until he stops. I will keep my talons out so he gets cut up but good if you find the need to shake him around a bit!”
Meanwhile, Sardan moved up, saw the boy who had shot Pocet cast at him, and used his Swordsman spell throwing ability to counter the spell. The burst of ice shards stopped a meter in front of him. He then stepped up and smacked them down with the flat of his falchion. “Boy, you already angered Aster and Pocet, you really do not need or want to put any more of us on your bad side!”
Sardan then glanced over at Aster, “Come on, get out of those and deal with this urchin before I decide to!”
Aster tried to break the Druidic Earth Bonds without success. After two attempts, he shouted out “Shade, let me borrow your form!”
Shade jumped forward menacingly at the rat it was facing, causing the meter long vermin to leap back, before letting out a bark of understanding to Aster.
Aster focused in on Shade, pulled a hunk of magic out of his own reservoir and tied it to his link with Shade. It took only a couple of seconds for him to become see-through. A few moments later he stepped out of the swirling earth bonds, actually through them.
It was pretty clear Shade was somewhat confused by the loss of its shadow ability, as its attacks were awkward. Still Shade was more than a match for the rat. The rat paid for its attempt to leap at Shade with four bloody claw marks on the right side of its face. It hissed in pain and backed off further away from its master with its tail between it legs.
The other rat didn’t fair nearly as well. It attempted to do a feint attack on Frost by lunging in and then leaping to the side. Frost’s reactions were faster though. The rat ended up with its body in Frost’s beak. Then, as it tried to turn and bite, a single feather from Dart caught it in the mouth. It only managed a single jerk to try to get away before Frost’s right talon closed around it and punctured vital organs.
Frost then flipped the dying rat over to Dart with a screech, signaling it was giving first dibs on the animal’s meat over to Dart.
As the boy saw this, he took a step toward the dying rat with a shout of “No!” but it was already too late. Dart’s beak ripped into the soft under-belly looking for a good meal.
Foxtol tethered the horse of the other boy to a tree then moved up and blocked the boy’s escape by shoving him hard back in Aster’s direction. “Come on, boss, he’s tryin’ to get away on ya!”
It took him a couple of tries to give the power back to Shade, who slashed wildly at the rat in front of it. From behind Aster, Sagell spoke up, even as Sardan moved up and tossed another of the boy’s spells, this one aimed at Aster’s shadowy form. “Aster, release it. Just let it go.”
While Frost closed on the rat Shade was fighting and kicked it into a tree with a powerful kick of it back lion paws, Aster took a deep breath and let go of the magic he was holding. This had a rather unexpected consequence, as everything he had on him became solid and fell to the ground all the way around him, while he remained in shadow for another second or two.
While Shade got its power back and moved clamped its mouth on the rat’s throat, before tossing it over to Frost as a way of saying thanks for the help, Aster once again become solid. The problem was, he was totally nude and had no weapons. As his face flushed in a deep crimson of embarrassment, he shivered in the cold. With a near panicked expression on his face, he reached down and grabbed at his cloak, “Um, Foxtol, if you would… um… please!”
Foxtol busted up laughing at the mortified expression on Aster’s face even as he formed a fist inside his bronze gauntlet and punched the boy he had just pushed. Blood poured out of the boy’s flattened nose, even as his eyes rolled up into the back of his head. Sardan moved up and caught the boy before he could fall to the ground.
As Sardan lowered the unconscious boy to the ground, he glanced over at Sagell with a gleam in his eye, “You always said you wanted to know what Aster’s butt looked like in the flesh. What do you think?”
Sagell roared with laughter even as Aster turned an even brighter shade of red. “Why, it is perfect! I would pay good coin to kneed those buns with my hands!”
The light of day was starting to fade as the Wolfling, Morb and Wentaliss caught up to Glaster’s caravan. With them they had three War Steeds and a Dragonsteed.
Glaster looked over, even as his wagon hit a nasty bump and caused the whole load to shift some. “Where are the boys?”
Morb spoke while shaking his head, "They abandoned the nice clothing and the steeds at the edge of the rubble caused by your spell. The young guard, Tazen, took a handful of the gold coins from a secret compartment behind your saddle and went after them, but told us we needed to go protect the princes, all of them. He also said we would stick out, but if he could get to the whipping boys he could keep them hidden since he knew the city. After a short debate, we agreed. The Prince and the duke’s boys are our primary concern, after all, and this way we were able to get out of the city with these valuable mounts.
Glaster’s knuckles turned white as he gripped the top of his head. Part of him wanted to scream at the Royal Armor Training Teacher, while the other half agreed with everything he was hearing coming out of Morb’s muzzle. With a truly annoyed glare he forced himself to nod, “Fine, then scout ahead and make sure to find us a safe path around the city. Sardan’s Watch Team broke off to deal with a possible threat trying to catch up to us. Once they finished they were heading back to the old keep. It sounds like they partially cleared out some Dark Mystics and they think once they finish clearing it, it will make a good base of operations and a staging point for our King to conduct siege operations out of.”
“So what do you want to do about the whipping boys?” Wentaliss asked, even as she looked back over her shoulder in the direction of Rolling Dale.
“Our duties are to the royal boys. There is nothing else we can do until King Wyhrem gets here and gives us countermanding orders of some kind. Right now, it is these three, plus the Drow and Highman princes we have to be concerned about. We have five very high nobles to protect. Those whipping boys made a choice they will have to live with. With any luck I will see them again, so I can tan their hides until my hands hurt, then give them hugs for their combination of foolishness and bravery.”
With this, Morb couldn’t help but smile a little, “You know, there is often times a thin line between a fool and a hero. For me, those three boys and your young guard are heroes already. What they did, purposefully placing their lives in danger, allowed us out of the city without a single hair on any of the royalty being harmed. In my book, a scolding followed by a hug and a large reward is what is due those four.”
“Had they told me of their plan first, I would agree with you,” Glaster all but snarled. “However, they did so without permission and without the added benefits I could have provided had I been given even a few seconds of warning. This is the reason I feel they deserve to have some pain while sitting for a day or so!”
Wentaliss cocked her head to the side as she stared at Glaster, “You would have allowed them to do what they did if they had told you?”
“Absolutely!” Glaster stated without any hesitation. “Their sworn duty is to the boys they are indentured to. While they are fine boys, very fine, they are still a low caste lot and their deaths, should it happen, will mean much less than the lives of the three boys they are protecting by their actions. Had they come to me with this idea, I would have most certainly agreed to it. Since they did not, however, they will find themselves in a world of hurt for a day or two, then they will be given the rewards they are most certainly due.”
Morb took in a deep breath, “You want me on point, so where to, Commander?”
“We continue to move toward the river, while angling away from Rolling Dale. Once we get to the river, we head upstream until we find some docks. We will then ferry over to the other side before coming back down until we are downstream from the city. Once we get to the old stone bridge, turn and head back across. We will meet Sardan’s team at the old keep and see if we can reunite long separated brothers. It will take a day or three, so we need to keep a close eye on Klandon, Mylan and Lylan. Any one of them, possibly all of them, may well try to sneak away to go after their whipping boys. This we cannot allow!”
Glaster glanced into the back of the wagon to glare at Devkiln and those who were with him, "Once we stop for the night, I plan on dealing with young Devkiln and find out what the little cretin knows. My interrogation is certain be raucous and may cause some to question my methods. Since the royal boys have been protected from this and a few of the guards may find my interrogations too harsh, I need everyone to be on guard to silence dissenters before their actions and words embolden the brats. I also need the guards to be on increased protection watches should the screams, which will unquestionably come forth from the boy and or his friends, attract unwanted attention. This will also be a time where our charges might try to slip away unnoticed to look for the whipping boys, so we need to assign two of the Protector’s Keep guards to be directly responsible for each of them.
“Finally we need to tend to all wounded. We lost several valuable members of the caravan and over half the hired guards. The remaining Protector’s Keep warriors will fill in, but not until all injuries are fully tended. I used a great deal of my casting force to deal with the worst, but we have plenty of lesser injuries left to deal with.”
Conner glanced out of the upper window of the Blazing Brook Inn, then back at Captain Pontarious. “Sir, it will be dark in an hour or so and we lose all advantage over the Dark Mages. We have to leave for the boat now, or we find a place to hole up until morning.”
The First Mate glanced out the window, “It’s hard to tell how much daylight we have left with all the heavy clouds, but I’d say Conner is right. We have maybe an hour, possibly less.”
Pontarious looked over at those from his crew then back at Conner, “On this we need to follow your recommendations. As good as we can tell, the inn is clear. What do you think is best?”
Conner shook his head, “The safe move would be to go to the ship and get out. More meddlers of the Dark Arts will come here tonight. If we are here they will try to take it back. If we are not, they will see what the damage is and try to find survivors and reinforce it. Taking it back from them will not be nearly as easy as taking it was in the first place, though.”
“Easy?” Dostem asked with a raised eyebrow, “We lost six good sailors and we gots over a dozen we needed ta send back to the ship who were too hurt ta fight more!”
“And we killed triple those numbers.” Pontarious countered, “Plus, I have the satisfaction of knowing Treg’s afterlife started at my hands.”
Conner managed a thin tight grin, “I’d bet he was one of Gambra’s top Dark Mystics, if not her lead Dark Mystic. Killing him has to have hurt her organization’s ability to recruit and train more of them. My problem is, since the ground shook and things erupted from the ground, magic is badly off. Most have not been trained how to deal with unnatural magical flows, I have and can use this to my advantage. This Treg, as you called him… If he was as high up as it sounded, then they will want to see if they can rescue him. This could be a chance for me to put a big hurt on Gambra’s whole organization!”
“First off, Conner,” Pontarious spoke in a scolding voice, “it isn’t your problem; it is our problem. Secondly the chance to put a hurting on Gambra’s organization is not on you, it is on us. You’re not a one boy crew, you are part of a ship, a member of the crew.” Pontarious put a finger in Conner’s chest, “You are a part of my crew and I will hear no more about you not including the rest of us, or so help me I will beat your ass if it kills me, which it just might, got me?”
For the first time since leaving Lord Anarton’s farm, Conner stepped back from someone out of a degree of fear. The old man’s face was very similar to the one he had oft seen on Lord Anarton’s just before the man had used physical punishment. While Lord Anarton was a much greater threat, all Conner had to do was look at what the man’s strange thunder stick had done to a Master Echelon Mystic.
The power the man commanded, magic or not, didn’t really matter. In Conner’s mind, anyone Conner had willing given himself in command to had to be shown courtesy out of deference and respect. If this was not enough, however, he also bet if he did not show proper veneration to the old man, Lord Anarton would somehow find out. Once this happened, the punishment Pontarious might think of dishing out would be a mid-summer afternoon swim in comparison to the wrath Lord Anarton would unleash on him.
With a deep breath and a gulp, Conner lowered his eyes to eliminate any chance the defiance he knew they held would show. “Understood, Captain.”
Pontarious was a bit surprised by the reaction, but relieved nonetheless. “Good, now we have a few minutes before we have to move, so think this out with us and then we will make a decision based on your knowledge and understanding of the situation at hand. If we decide to stay and you really know how to use the strange flows of magic I feel around us, then you can start teaching the rest of us what you know. One thing I will not allow to happen, however, is for you to try to convince us to go back while you stay here. The Thunder Rapids is a family and we stick together for better or worse.”
Conner nodded and took a knee. He started talking things out, just like Lord Anarton had taught him to do when he was feeling confused. As his trusted Teacher had often said, ‘hearing your own voice is a great deal better than trying to hear your own thoughts’. “Well, they have to know the inn was attacked by now. By what it sounds and looks like, they are also taking the entire city, so they will need to take and hold the walls and gatehouses, the barracks, the magistrate’s home, the jail, and other key locations. Some they very well might have had control or partial control over before this even started. It is how they work, but it is impossible to have controlled everything. This means they will not be able to assault this place with everything they have. This is especially true since they will have expected us to flee or me to stay behind alone, if they know it is me, which I bet they do. It will still not be a small or low Echelon group. They will have enough magical and combat power to where they will be certain they can take me down.”
Pontarious glanced over at his First Mate, while voicing his own thoughts, “So if we hit this scouting party, we further weaken their forces and leave them guessing.”
Conner cringed, knowing this was going to be a long night. Still, he had to at least try to get some of the crew out of harm’s way, "Captain, if we stay, I would recommend, you at least send some back to the ship and get the Thunder Rapids across the river. Gambra will move on the docks tonight for sure. They need to cut off the only unwalled access to the city if they plan on keeping it for any length of time. After all, we are all but dead center in the middle of the kingdom and you even told me Rolling Dale is a major river trading city. The barony, maybe even the kingdom, will not let some outside group hold this city uncontested, and Gambra’s people know this as well.
“It would also be a good idea to get the captives out of here. One thing they will certainly set as a goal is to get all their people back.”
“Why not just kill ’em?” Dostem demanded to know. “They be Dark spell and potion throwers! Give ’em what they deserve!”
Conner frowned deeply, “Then kill me too! I am a Wraith, after all.”
“But you…” Dostem’s voice failed as he tired to find a good counter argument.
“Look around.” Conner responded once he was certain Dostem didn’t have more to say. “What has been done here is horrible. Yet you have only seen the outer shell of the egg when it comes to the Dark Arts. While some of you may feel this is bad, it is nothing compared to what Gambra and her people are capable of doing. There is some we have taken who deserve to die; of this I have no doubt. Some are certain to have information, and at least one was nothing more than a living part of a spell page for his dad. The kid didn’t do nothing wrong.”
Conner voice became more powerful as he continued to speak. "Some of the fledgling Dark Mystics may have been forced into all of this as well. You all say you are ex-slaves and from low castes. You must know how hard it is for a beggar kid to find someone to apprentice under. I all but assure you, at least a few of these kids were thrilled to find someone to train them, then they were moved into the Dark Arts and were confused by it all. At some point they realized what they were being trained as, but getting out was no longer an option. Gambra, or people like her, would see the fear in the student and point out they would be killed horribly for being what they are.
“The one or two who didn’t fold and commit themselves to the cause out of this fear would have been killed as examples to the others. While some have come to relish the power and there are probably one or two who didn’t need convincing to turn their loves over to the Dark Arts, some are not totally tainted by it. We should give them some kind of a chance, cause I assure you, the kingdom guards won’t!”
Pontarious glanced over at Dostem, “How many ships turned you down because of your history?”
Dostem snapped his whip at a wooden mug sitting on a table knocking it back into a wall and breaking it. “More then I have fingers er toes ta count ‘em on. But, come on cap’in, I was wrong. Me took a few things left in the open, got branded as a slave, and worked me way ta being free. I didn’t go tryin’ ta make dead things walk er turning livin’ inta dead walkers!”
“Some of those we took alive might not have done it yet, either.” Conner countered. “I’d bet coin at least one or two were nothing more than Mystic trainable kids who found the wrong Teacher and then couldn’t get out. All I’m sayin’ is we need to do what we can to find out before I snap their necks.”
Dostem cocked his head to the side, “You’d break their necks, if’n them done real wrong?”
“Fast and as painlessly as I could, unless we can find proof they did torture or caused slow death to make a potion from someone. Then, well, I can think of things much worse than anything we have seen in this inn. I’ll tell you one thing, though. Whatever I’d do is nothing compared to what the kingdom does to them before killing them. To me, the nasty things done to the Dark Arts users, is on par with, or even worse than some of what the users of the Dark Arts do. Anyone who is willing to do those kinds of things to another person is so… disgusting… they must be as evil as the users of the Dark Arts are. I would never stoop to such levels as I have heard and even seen on an occasion or two.”
Pontarious fingered his mustache for a few seconds before turning to his First Mate, “I know you are going to try to argue with me, so let’s not. You are hurt, you are limping, and Conner is correct. There are some younger and more junior crewmembers who should get back to the safety of the ship. The Thunder Rapids also needs to get clear of the docks before nightfall, or assassins may well end up trying to take her, while doing unimaginable things to our crew and loved ones.”
“I just said not to argue with me, so just don’t. Get the captives we managed to secure and all junior crewmembers back to the ship. Take Nake, Tobash, Sharris and Conner with you.”
Conner started to say something, only to get a finger wagged in his face, “I’m not done yet, so hold your tongue!”
Once again, Conner backed off from the harshness of the command and nodded.
While still waving a warning finger at Conner, he continued to give orders, “Sharris, I know you have no intention of leaving Conner’s side, so you are going to help him get Tobash and Nake and those escorting the prisoners back to the ship. Then you will come back here before nightfall with Conner, Nake and Tobash.”
Pontarious then turned sharply to Tobash and Nake, "You two, grab my fully stocked backup cloak and all the fire burst potions I have on the lower right hand rack in the upper lab. We are going to need them tonight. Also, I have graduation robes for you both waiting. After what I have seen today, I would say you are ready to test into Primary Echelon, so let’s put them to use. They are in the left hand closet on the right hand side of my desk. The key is under the oil lamp. Each of you take one and stock it with whatever potions you wish to have from the upper lab and any four you know what they do from the lower lab. Don’t you worry about cost and no holding back, boys.
"Also, get Zestolg and Ambrasia. They are newly guilded Primary Echelon Healthmen and we are going to need them if we are going to try to stay inside this demon pit of a city for any length of time! Make sure they bring extra supplies.
“Once you are potion full, let Conner and Sharris help you get back here in one piece. You all have less than an hour, so move!”
Finally Pontarious looked at the First Mate, “You have seen a glow burst shot from my thunder stick, look for a green, followed by a blue. If you see these colors, I need you to pull the Thunder Rapids ten meters off the long dock and wait for us. If it is not those colors in that order, then move up to the same spot and have archers ready to sweep the dock of anyone standing, then get clear. This is not a request, it is a command.”
As the First Mate begrudgingly picked who he was taking back to the ship with him, Dostem glanced over at a couple of the others, “Let’s set up a couple of secure fall back places and a good spot to get some shut-eye rotation. There is no way we can all fight all night long after the day we have had, and I saw a couple of really good bottles of wine to sip while we eat a meal with their food!”
Pontarious sent the crafty Halfling a sideways glance.
Dostem simply grinned back with a bit of merriment in his eyes, “Come on Cap’in, we took er selves a inn, the least ya can do is get some use from it and let us use a room ’er two fer what they was meant for.”
One of the men gave Dostem a light shove, “I don’t know ’bout you, Dos, but when me spend coin on a room it not be for sleeping.”
The First Mate looked over at the man and let out a snort, “That’s cause none a us is willin’ ta let what you sleep with on the ship, Smerl! We don’t want a give the youngan’s nightmares!”
At this Captain Pontarious couldn’t help but join in the good-natured ribbing, “Forget the kids, the men and women are the ones I worry about waking up with night terrors! The last one I saw you taking down the street toward the inn in Westwind had more hair under her arms than I have on my head!”
Smerl sent an icy stare at Pontarious for a moment, then grinned. “Captain, give it another few years and me seven year old ’ll have more hair on his balls then you have on your head!”
Pontarious couldn’t help but run a hand though his thinning hair while snickering, “Why, I do believe we just found our first volunteer for first watch!”
While there was some whistles, chortles and laughter, the crew of the Thunder Rapids moved quickly to clear the inn of their wounded, take the captives back to the Thunder Rapids, and set up ambush points within the Blazing Brook.
At about the same time as Conner glanced down the street, then sent a freezing ray of cold at a man who was trying to drag a woman into a nearby alley, a shimmering brass colored portal appeared on the far side of the river, directly across from Rolling Dale.
Lord Anarton stepped into the middle of the portal and used extra magic to hold it open and stayed there until all his students were safely through. He then sent out another pulse of magic to force it open wider for a moment, before he jumped all the way through. He then took a knee and spoke to all his apprentices, “Boys, careful of magic use. Open your minds and feel the flaws and flows within the magical fabric around you before casting. There are astonishingly strong and unpredictable currents in the area the likes I have never encountered.”
Tyklor moved up and tenderly put a hand on Anarton’s shoulder, “My Lord, are you OK?”
“It took extra magic to keep the gate open, and even then it tried to snap shut on me, so I am close to spent. However, the moon will rise shortly and I will be fine. Worry not about me. Instead pause and feel at the magical currents around us. All of you play with the Mage magic around you. Get a feel and a taste for it. Do not assume you are just walking into an unknown area ready for combat. For, unless I am mistaken, the gods and demon lords are playing here, too, so take nothing for granted.”
Celador blinked a couple of times as he tried to reach out and start a spell without actually releasing it. He had to fight the pull of the magical fabric to not actually use his force and complete the spell. “It is pulling at our spell casting force, Lord. This is just like what you have taught us to deal with when you take us to the Isle of Cyclops, why?”
“This is a very good question,” Anarton responded even as he stood, "One I have no answer for. The magic is off. My best guess is something with close to god-like power was torn asunder, much like at the Isle of Cyclops and it left a void.
“You are correct, in your observations, Celador. The problem is, the magic is not just flowing toward this event, it is also erupting from it. This means there was some kind of happening, which is affecting all spectrums of magic, Mage, Druidic, Shamanistic, and Sorcery. Until you all become used to the feel of the flows, be very careful as you move around this area. For, just like at the southern peninsula of the Isle of Cyclops, if you cast while too close to this rift, you may find the barriers between worlds are fragile enough for something to take notice, latch onto your spell and move through.”
“So do we wait or move in, my Lord?” Tyklor asked softly.
Gilew shot Tyklor an annoyed glance, “Are you kidding me? We know how to work within theses flows of magic and have done so at least a half score of times each. While those in the area may not be as hard hit by this, we know how to use it to our advantage. I highly doubt Gambra has taken the time to teach her underlings what Lord Anarton has taught us about focal or disbursement points let alone how to cast within the influence of a rupture point!”
“Since we do not know how much longer this will last, we need to move now, while we hold this possible slight advantage!”
It took a great deal of effort not to both praise and scold Gilew for his insight at the situation at hand and disrespect shown toward Tyklor, “It again sounds like we have a difference of opinions, or were you just asking me for my input, Tyklor?”
Tyklor looked down, realizing one of his biggest mistakes. He had once again tried to take the easy route rather than look for an answer of his own. “I was taking the simple way out, my Lord. I went to you instead of looking for the solution on my own. Gilew’s words have a strong ring of wisdom to them, almost as if they came from you. My apologies for asking so quickly rather than seek the answer for myself.”
“Which is why you are my second instead of leading a team of your own, my boy.” Anarton pulled a dejected Tyklor into him and wrapped his arms around the boy, “However, you admit your fault, which is something new out of you. Very good. This is a very pleasing moment for me, for I have seen incredible growth out of you today. Take heart in this as we split up, and find our own ways over to and into the city beyond.”
Still gripping Tyklor, he looked at the others he had given team leadership to. "Those under you are your responsibility. You must make sure none hold onto the death gift too long and you must do what you can to tutor each of those under you. Should there be any major infractions, I give you authority to take measures into your own hands and deal with them. You will then report the problem to me and we will deal with the event back at the farm.
“Should I fall, Conner is to take my place as head of the my sect. Should both of us fall…” Lord Anarton took a deep breath, “Then I appoint Avcar. Now go your separate ways and find a way into the city before darkness falls and gives the Dark bastards full advantage of night.” Lord Anarton pulled Tyklor in close and waited until the others were out of both ear and eye shot. He then leaned in to him and whispered, “You show me more of what you realized today, and you will lead a team. Unfortunately, I do not think you will ever to supplant Avcar as my third. But, until you do see more of what your eyes opened to with Gilew, I cannot allow you to lead. For it takes spinning the threads from the rules I have set up, combine them with my teachings, and use experience to be able to see a big enough picture to paint a full web.”
Tyklor whispered back with tears threatening to fall out of his eyes, “I understand my Lord.”
Anarton held the boy tightly and kissed him on the top of the head, "Tyklor, I hear the words come from your mouth, and I know you have your heart set on leadership. You still might find the spark needed to propel yourself into such a position. However, there are some who are soldiers, and in you, I have a near perfect one. All leaders need a key go-to soldier. Should you become one, you will not be the first nor the last who has moved on to help a new sect leader to forge his own school. As a point of fact, should you decide this is your lot, I will demand the next one to leave my farm to start his own school take you for this very reason. In simple terms, there is no shame in being the lead soldier. For every student looks up to the lead soldier for training and to learn the arts of staying alive when the demon spawn or Dark Arts fool comes knocking on the door.
“Now, get a hold of yourself, for I am low on magic for another hour or so. Because of this I need a lead soldier. To this end, I am counting on you and you alone. For we both know Yulay cannot be fully trusted yet, the Healthman is just a step up from an untrained sword, and Ark’land is far too young to know or understand what we are about to face.”
With daylight slipping away, Aster glanced back in the direction of the city as they moved into the old keep. Even though they were quite a ways away, a glow could be seen in the sky where fires burned inside the walls and from villages close to the walls. The glow allowed Aster to make out the fact there were no longer banner’s of Eaglecrest on the walls. As a matter of fact, all flags around the gates were gone, many of them burned, others ripped down. The main gate was shut and the portcullis of the outer gatehouse was down. While there were signs of guards on the walls, it was impossible to make out who they were. In simple terms, Rolling Dale had been taken from within.
Those from the Watch could not help to stare at the fortified walls with a great deal of inner anger. Aster summed it up best and he spat off the wall of the small keep. “I feel we have failed King Wyhrem! We let one of his cities get taken while we were in it! If I didn’t have to get back here to work on Zaffron, we could still be in there, instead of locked out.”
Sardan put a talon on the boy’s shoulder and shook his head. However, even as he spoke the underlying anger all but dripped from his tone of voice, “We had no choice but to leave. We had to get Glaster’s charges out of Rolling Dale before the powers that be within locked the city down with all of us still inside. We also needed to do exactly what we did by keeping close and picking off the few who tried to come after the caravan. By us providing a rear guard action, we wiped out those smart enough to figure out the abandonment of the boys who looked like the royals meant something was off. This means we probably took out the smartest of those wanting the prince.”
Pocet nodded in full agreement, “Keep in mind Aster, by killing the two groups chasing the Shaman and the prince we also did a great deal of damage to those going after Zoldon. He and Klandon must be brothers and the notes found of those we eliminated say the reward is for either of the boys who look like the picture. With their deaths, they can look for neither.”
Sardan quickly agreed. “Pocet is correct. Besides, as it is, it took the deception on the part of the whipping boys to free up the pressure on us just so we could get out the back merchant gate. A gate which is now almost certainly blocked by now. There are no easy access points in or out, so getting the kid out when we did was top priority. Moreover, this is not a Watch failure, not in the truest sense of the word. This is outside the Barony of Junsac and should have been sniffed out by the Baron of Calborone. This is, after all, his second biggest city and largest trade city between here and the kingdom’s capitol!”
Sagell scratched the ears of Rage roughly as her stare changed to more of a glare, “Aster the fault is on the kingdom and as such the Watch since we are part of the greater kingdom. We focused too much attention elsewhere and to blame the Baron of Calborone, when there is war almost within striking range of his capitol city, is not being very fair. However, this is a leadership failure, not yours. The truth is, no one within upper leadership saw this coming and I do not understand how we missed the problems within. This took years to undermine a city’s leadership to this extent.”
Sardan knelt in front of the fire and tossed some potatoes into the pot which was over it. “We can all point fingers and talons but the past is what it is. What we need to do is focus on dealing with this and stamping out what has caused this with a tremendous amount of predjudism. For this is not just about purveyors of the Dark Arts, this is a full undermining of a city from the foundation upwards.”
Aster shook his head while petting Shade, “I don’t understand this. How could the people have allowed this? People had to have seen things and they live there. Where are the merchants and the low nobles? What about the city guardsmen? Did they not know this was going to happen? Do they care so little of their families to have not spoken out?”
Sagell patted the side of Rage hard as she spoke up, "Aster, it is hard to go against the flow. For as long as I can remember, Rolling Dale has been a very successful and wealthy trade city. Certainly some have seen things, but it is easy to just as quickly dismiss it when things are going well. For the merchants, there is never a desire rock a boat when profits are high. For the guards, things are even more difficult, for certainly some of their commanders are part of this, and those who aren’t have been in a city being controlled by a powerful underground, so their jobs are easy. The criminal elements are either part of the infrastructure or are probably eliminated quickly. There are a few street fights, some of the normal thievery and pick pocketing, but serious problems are funneled to and through the underground. Those who are problems are either recruited or eliminated.
"In turn, this means less problems for the skilled peasants since they have good paying jobs which are in high demand because of the trade. For the most part, they don’t even notice a problem. Life goes on and they walk down streets with shops full of goods they can strive to earn enough buy. There is food on the table, clothing on their backs and a chance, no matter how slim, to better one’s lot in life.
“Finally there are the peasants, the squatters, and the beggars. Those who are willing to work, can find work and probably an extra coin or two since the trade is good and crime is low. Those who do not work are window dressing, nothing more. Those who cause problems, any kind of problem, almost certainly disappear. No one who can do anything about it cares. Anyone who tries to speak out, a child, a wife, a father, a husband, are discredited, or maybe even become the victim of crime. This leaves the weakest, powerless, and afraid.”
Quavis shook his head, “I saw this… it was what my dad was trying to do in Junsac!”
Sardan nodded, “Right under the nose of the Watch, and it came way too close to working. It takes certain level of ruthlessness and vigilance to fight back against this kind of thing. Even those of us who trained ourselves to identify such things can overlook the most cunning until it tries to bite us. Thanks to you and Pocet, their first bites were too big to chew on and then the wheels came off their wagon full of plans. For I do not think any of us knew how bad it was within Junsac until those thugs tried to take you and Pocet. Their desperation, and your deadly responses exposed them and a much bigger picture we had all overlooked. Unfortunately, things in Rolling Dale were overlooked past the tipping point, so now we have to deal with the failures of those who should have been more vigilant.”
“So let’s get some sleep tonight and start pushing back in the morning.” Aster snarled. “He then looked over to the four they captured during the ambush, ”You all best get some sleep too, cause I hear the King is coming and you were trying to get to one of his sons. I’m not one to tell you much when it comes to our King, but being nice, not trying to escape, and not mouthing off may get you the only breaks you will get for the foreseeable future."
Tazen moved out of the rubble as night shroud fully enveloped Rolling Dale. He looked over at his right shoulder and held up his hand, to make sure the three boys would stay put while he moved more into the open. While it was dark, there were several small fires still burning in the ruins of the streets adjacent to the Green Goblin Inn. This gave enough light to see; yet still provided plenty of dark and shadowy places to hide. After a careful look around for any dangers, he knelt and looked down at a few pieces of bodies lying in the open and cringed. He hoped he would find something useful, but wasn’t really willing to touch ripped apart bodies to see if there was anything of value left on them. Because of this, he moved deeper into the maze of destroyed buildings and shattered streets around the Green Goblin Inn.
He was about to give up when, suddenly, his foot went through a cracked door lying on top of a pile wood and stone, and revealed a few bodies half buried at the edge of a collapsed storefront of a furrier. He knew the store and realized he had traveled beyond the first street and was actually a street back from the edge of the eruption. The problem was the destruction was so total and compete, there was no easy way to tell where one street started and another ended. The rubble covered all of it. only those who knew the city would be able to realize he was behind the first line of totally decimated stores. Shaking his head at the realization of just how massive the damage was, he knelt and tapped the bodies looking for any sign of life. None of the four gave any reaction to his prodding, so he pulled the easy-to-get-to body out by its feet. This proved more difficult than he expected, partially because of the dead weight of the body, but it didn’t help matters when he ended up dragging a few bricks along with the corpse.
He looked down at the smashed in face of what had been a man in his early twenties. While the majority of the body was remarkably intact, the left side of the man’s skull was caved in and the eye socket destroyed to the point where the eyeball hung out secured only by a cord attaching the inner eye to something deeper in the head. Even for a Healthman, Tazen found this beyond disgusting and had to fight the desire not to puke.
Once he mentally forced his stomach to calm, he proceeded to pull off what he could salvage. The guy had been a merchant, so there wasn’t much gear. The man’s street sword told Tazen the man had probably never had to use a blade in his life, and carried it to look good and feel protected. He tossed it off to the side. It was still worth coin and since the three boys had fled with little, even the poorly balanced blade would be better than nothing. He then secured the man’s cloak, two pouches and silver necklace before moving on to the next body.
This one was quite a bit more promising. It was of a Halfling woman who had not died from the shattering of the earth by the powerful Shaman, but had died in combat with the forces fighting with the man who had caused all this carnage. The bolt fletching of a Protector’s Keep guard sticking out of her stomach told of her fate. Her clothing, although female, was small enough for one of the younger boys. The reinforced Dwarven Steel chain armor, the Dwarven Steel light mace at her side, and the pair of Gnome Stone Steel daggers were all in great condition. The blood radiating outward from the gut wound and the breast guards would have to be dealt with, but with just a little work, one of the boys could wear it. It was unfortunate the woman’s crossbow had been damaged in the building collapse, but since the rubble had fallen on her face and stomach, the quiver and bolts over her back had survived, so he took them as well. Getting her out of the armor was not easy, and leaving her semi-nude body lying in the open bothered Tazen some, but he moved on, knowing time was of the essence.
The last two bodies were considerably harder to get out of the rubble. One was an apprentice at the furrier, and had nothing of use but a belt knife and a fur lined cloak, but with the night temperatures rapidly dropping and heavier snow starting to come out of the sky, it would bring some warmth to one of the kids he had promised the Shaman he would protect.
The last body was of a big man with wearing a bronze chain shirt, carrying a pair of throwing axes, a flail, and wearing a full pack. This was the real target for this search, since Tazen could see the bedroll partially sticking up from the rubble, and they needed things to bed down in. Even better the pack had a pair of water skins, something none of them currently had. The pack was extremely heavy, telling Tazen it had much in it, but he didn’t want to stay in the open for too long. For already, he could hear others moving not far away looking for loot in the mass of toppled buildings and dead bodies. Even though he was badly weighed down, he managed to scrounge a couple of larger fur cloaks out of the rubble as well before sounds of approaching horses forced him to back off.
Grabbing everything, he moved deep into the shadows before he made his way back to the three boys cautiously, making sure no one followed. He stayed in front of the partially caved in entrance to the street sewers to protect those behind him as three riders rode by. The trio ignored the looters; instead, they turned and headed straight for the Green Goblin Inn.
Tazen tossed the pilfered gear back into the hole, “I need you all to pull all this back to the high spot we found back down there with the older kid and stay out a sight. We are almost out of candles, so just keep one going and hang up one of these cloaks to block anyone else who may be down in the sewers from seeing it. I’m going to try to get us a bit more gear and something to eat before we get out of here!”
Behind Tazen, Yarnay moved up and ended up having to drag the heavy pack deeper into the sewer, while Kaznal and Sibler grabbed everything else. All three boys looked at the bloodied female armor with a questioning glance at each other, but said nothing. All three had barely gotten away from the mob and had Tazen not showed up when he did, and killed a woman with a spell book by gutting her with a short sword from behind, there was little question all three of them would have been prisoners of the mean looking woman. Instead it was the three of them who were watching over the trussed up apprentice of the female spell caster. The older kid had tried to flee, but Tazen managed to knock him out with large hunk of thrown cobblestone followed by a sword hilt shot to the back of the head of the stunned teen.
Even as they eyed all the gear, the teenaged apprentice groaned and stirred, but had yet to wake. The gashes on the teen’s head had stopped bleeding badly a couple of hours before thanks to a quick bandage from Tazen, but as was evident by the new wet red spot, it was still seeping some. Kaznal looked at the heavy pack, as Yarnay pulled a water skin off the side of it, took a drink and passed it around. It was the first drink any of them had been able to take in hours and it helped all their spirits as they started sorting through the gear.
Up on the street, Tazen darted out from behind the large pile of debris closest to the open sewer entrance, and ducked down as two more riders came perilously close. Fortunately, like the last three, they also angled over to the inn. Tazen stayed down, as an old man and two older teens stripped a pair of bodies all the way down to nothing. From his position, Tazen shook his head as the bigger of the two teens went so far as to pull the loincloths off the bodies and roughly shoved them into his pack. Even as this happened, the old man pointed in the direction of a mostly buckled, but still standing building further up the street and the trio moved off.
With a sigh of relief, Tazen moved closer to where he now knew where the debris marked what was behind the main street all but annihilated by Glaster’s spell. From on top of the piles of shattered buildings, he could make out a few torches lighting up the backside of the Green Goblin Inn. He paused and found a good spotting position. What he saw made his blood run cold. The innkeep and a couple of the workers were hanging off of the back beam to the barn where the pulley system normally hung to move hay up to the loft. The innkeep had a rope around his neck and was standing on his tiptoes on something small under him, while the two workers were hung by their ankles. They all thrashed wildly and helplessly as a very large figure in dark armor hit them repeatedly with his whip. While Tazen could not hear anything but some screams from where he was at, he was certain they were being interrogated.
The torchlight also revealed something else almost as bone-chilling, for even though the group watching was quite a ways away, Tazen had no problem identifying two instructors from the Rolling Dale School of Arms. Making matters worse, at least four of the others, including the last two arrivals, who had just ridden by, were guards from the school. This meant they were also city guards. “The whole place has gone insane,” Tazen whispered to himself as he edged back a bit deeper into the pile of ruins of what had only hours before been a butcher shop. As he stepped back, his foot once again found something he had failed to spot. It first sank into a small void before it came into contact with something soft. With a shot of fear, he yanked his foot back even as he looked down. Not seeing anything dangerous, he knelt and moved a piece of roofing. At first all he saw was a hand, but it was enough for Tazen to realize he had just stepped on the body of a kid his own age. This one was very dead, as was evidenced by the hilt of a dagger protruding out from just under his right ear.
He knelt and started to pull out the dagger, but stopped as he noticed nasty, blackened bands radiating out from where it had sunk in. “Poison…” he muttered with a shiver, “nasty!” He moved his hand well away from the blade, pulled the boy’s body out from under a crossbeam of a roof. It was at this point he noted a few things. First was the kid’s dagger sheath was empty and the blade sticking out of the side of his head was a perfect match for the sheath. This told Tazen the boy had probably had the blade taken from him, then used on him. The next thing of interest was the cloak the boy had on. It was a Mystic cloak with the patch of the Gloom Fire Mystic Shop on it. The boy also had on a combat pack, was wearing a nice set of chain armor, and hand an Elvin Silver Steel short sword on his hip. Finally the teen had a crossbow with an over the neck sling, so it could hang down inside his cloak and a small ten bolt quiver on his back.
Moving the body to get everything of value off proved extremely fortuitous. For under the boy’s body, were three more bodies. The first was a boy from the Rolling Dale School of Arms. It was a boy Tazen had known for a couple of months and had even helped with weapon parrying practice once. The kid had been good friends with Devkiln’s younger brother, and had thus been given a slot in one of the best bunkhouses, even though he was only a Training step 1, Swordsman. The boy appeared to have died quickly, possible early on in the fighting, for he had on school leather armor, a standard school field combat pack, two daggers, and a light flail, all of in perfect shape with every weapon still on the weapons’ belt. From the odd angle of his head and the deep hand print bruise on the boy’s neck, it didn’t take Tazen’s Healthman skills to realize someone big and strong had snapped the boy’s neck with bare hands.
Just off to the side, most buried by a wooden desk, was yet another young Swordsman trainee. This one a step 2 judging by the guild pins on the collar of the leather armor. The kid had the same gear, except his primary weapon had been a fighting axe and the boy had died with the axe still gripped in his hand. There was no indication of what had killed him, as Tazen found no obvious marks or slashes as he stripped the boy down to the loincloth. because of the lack of noticeable injuries, had the kid’s body not been cold, Tazen would have actually thought him to be sleeping or unconscious.
The last boy was one Tazen was actually pleased to see lying in front of him with his dead eyes open and his hands reaching down toward his right leg which had been totally crushed under a heavy chunk of stone. It quickly became obvious why the boy had become pinned, for it took Tazen everything he had to push off with his feet so he could fully get at the kid’s gear. Even as he took off the boy’s reinforced leather armor, he found it hard not the throw a punch or two, for this was Devkiln’s younger brother, Guelech. The kid had been pampered and got the best of everything, just like Devkiln always did. Guelech had also been every bit as mean to the refugee Swordsman trainees, as his brother had been. Seeing the boy dead was in reality pretty satisfying. Knowing the little jerk had a magical dagger of light, made getting it off the body a primary target, too. The magical light source would allow them to stay down in the sewers without trying to figure out how to see. Almost as good, was the boy had an Elvin Silver Steel light mace, a good pack, water skin, and bedroll still on him and it was all undamaged.
The Mystic’s gear was also quite nice, but Tazen had to be careful and he knew it. Not wanting to deal with any of the potions in the cloak, Tazen carefully pulled them out and left them in a small pile between the shattered desk and a section of the wall before using the cloak to roll up everything else. This way he had an easy way he could carry it all in one massive bundle. As he started to move out, however, a smallish bloodied hand reached out from between a hunk of a wooden display case and what appeared to be the head board of a large bed. “Please… Help… Help me.”
Tazen pulled his dagger and started to swipe at the hand, but stopped as the voice become high pitched, “No, please, Tazen, it’s me!”
Tazen stopped the blade and pulled it back just in the nick of time. With the boy mostly covered in wood roofing from the butcher shop and the only light coming from small fires burning in some of the ruined buildings, Tazen had to kneel to see who knew him. While the face was filthy and tear stained, the narrow face, light colored skin, messy, long, silverish-white hair, and hazel eyes, combined with a thin left arm sticking out from under the wood, with a jade and silver ring on the ring finger of the hand quickly allowed Tazen to identify the boy. Taking a rapid, yet careful, glance around to make sure no one was looking his direction, he put his shoulder into a largest beam pinning the boy and shoved. He couldn’t help but roll his eyes, as he was able to shove it well clear with his first attempt. “Dario, what are you doing out here?”
The thirteen-year-old Warrior Adept Training Echelon step 4 glanced around nervously before using his left arm to shove a section of a doorframe off his legs. Having seen the rolling of the eyes, he spat off to the side as he continued to extract himself, “Sorry if I’m not as strong as you, and before you ask, my shoulder is hurt bad and I used up most of my force just to stay alive, so I got stuck. Making matter worse, I don’t get force back until sunrise.”
“So you couldn’t augment your strength with magic to get unstuck?”
“No. I used up my last augmentation ability to increase my coordination so I could grab Alkoris and dive into this building even as the street bucked upwards and started spewing rocks and steam.”
A note of hope entered Tazen’s voice, “Alkoris was with you? Where is he?”
“We both made it through the door. I pushed him over there somewhere, then…” Dario stifled a yelp and cringed as he tried to point in the direction he had last seen his fellow student. At the same time he grabbed his right shoulder. Fighting off a wave of pain, he continued speaking, “I would have died, except we were trying to run away from Protector’s Keep guards. They appeared suddenly and came around the south side of the inn Teacher Wilmot made us attack… It was all so we could get to the kid we saw fight in the pit. We were told the kid who was afraid of the Dark Elf was…” Pain forced him to pause and let out a breath as he once again grabbed at his shoulder… “Um, we were told he was part of a known thieves guild who took something from Devkiln’s dad. Whatever it was, could prove Devkiln was not guilty…”
“All lies.” Tazen snarled as he moved closer and looked at Dario’s shoulder.
Even as Dario fought back a yelp of pain as Tazen moved his arm around some, he managed to nod and murmur out, “Some of us figured out it was all smoke and mirrors when we saw guards from Protector’s Keep show up. There is no way they would try to stop the taking of a thieves’ guild kid. From what I’ve heard from my dad, they normally only protect nobles, so some of us tired to back offfffffff!” the last word came out as more of a hiss as Tazen gave no warning, but instead, smacked the back of Dario’s shoulder; popping it back in place.
Tazen spoke as he gave Dario a few seconds to recover. “I treated what they did to Rylan’s hand…” Seeing Dario look up with a questioning look, Tazen sighed, but firmly understood, “I didn’t know his name either. Rylan is the kid Devkiln burned with his sword. I bet none of us bothered to learn his name. We were real crappy to all the refugee students.”
Even though Dario was lightly rubbing his shoulder and testing it out, while he fought back crying with a quivering upper lip, he nodded in agreement.
“We should have never done what we did no matter what we were told.” Tazen clenched his fist in anger, “The whole forcing them out thing was stupid and we all were too afraid of Devkiln and his younger brothers and sisters. I was also in the square with the public trial of Devkiln. Someone in the school paid Beema, Lort, and Kamen to lie about what happened. When they heard they could be facing whips and time in stocks for saying false statements, they backed off. Lort even started to say they had been paid to lie, but didn’t get a chance to give say more. Instead, someone put a bolt in his neck. Devkiln was rightly found guilty of all of it.”
Dario took a few deep breaths and took a knee, as the pain of getting his shoulder put back in place caused him to see stars in the corners of his eyes. After a few seconds, he looked up only to see Tazen pushing and pulling at lager sections of debris in the direction he had pointed. “They killed Lort?”
“Yeah, sorry. I know he was a friend of yours.”
Dario closed his eyes and bit on his top lip before speaking with rage in his voice, “Who killed him?”
“No way to know who fired the shot. The bolt came from out from somewhere in the crowd. Me, I blame Devkiln. The whole square was full of people trying to get him away from us. All I know for sure is Lort and the others were paid to lie, but things got so bad, so fast, we didn’t even find out who paid him and the other two. Although, the Master Echelon Shaman still has Beema and Kamen. I bet he finds out. But one way or another, it all leads back to Devkiln, and the Master Shaman is not going to go easy on him.”
“Good.” Dario stood, "Most of us figured it had something to do with him, but you know who and what Devkiln’s dad is and what happens to those who don’t do what the Teachers and other instructors tell us to do. Besides, Teacher Wilmot had some of apprentices from the Gloom Fire with him, along with two of the upper guilded Mystics when they came to get us. They pretty much took everyone from all the outer barracks, even the real young and new ones.
“A few tired to argue, and Alkoris tired real hard to get them to keep the step 1’s and 2’s from our barracks out of this. Most of us didn’t bother, though. I’m betting most of them were thinking the same thing I was.” Getting a scowl from Tazen, Dario went on to explain. "I mean, think about it. You know what happens when we try to push back. Besides, with all the guards, instructors and students, I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to grab one little kid who was beaten as bad as he was. This was especially true since we were told the merchant wasn’t even at the inn. As usual, though, Alkoris wouldn’t back off. It actually kind of worked, though, so I guess he ended up saving some.
“Teacher Hodir shoved Alkoris out, but did keep the step 1’s from our barracks with him and they didn’t march out with us. Once we were outside, one of the Gloom Fire apprentices pulled out a potion and pointed at Alkoris when he started to argue for the step 2’s. After all the rumors about Gloom Fire potions floating around the school, none of us were willing to find out if anything we heard was true, so we told Alkoris to shut up and moved to the armory. We geared up, but the Gloom Fire Mystics were really mad at Alkoris. They didn’t let him take what he normally does. They stuck him with one of the old bronze chain shirts, a couple crummy damaged bronze weapons, and a basic pack.”
Dario managed a slight grin; “Alkoris took care of it in a way only he could get away with. As soon as the fighting started, he slammed the bronze short sword they stuck him with for a primary weapon into the back of the neck of the apprentice who pulled the potion on him and grabbed all his gear. He was just pulling on the much nicer Gnome Steel chain shirt when the ground heaved up. I augmented my reflexes with what little force I had left and yanked to two of us in here; then the whole world seemed to unleash on us.”
“It was a spell by the Master Shaman. You all should have run as soon as he showed up!”
“It was stupid to take on a Master Echelon caster.” Dario sighed, “But I never knew there were spells so powerful! Still, some of us figured we should have run for the nearest gate once the first reinforcements showed up. Those of us who know what the patch of a Protector’s Keep guard is and what it represents, knew as soon as they rounded the corner up and ordered us to back off, it was time to go. We were already in a way worse fight with some caravaners than we expected. One group was really good and they all had powerful backup, including spell casters. When the Protector’s Keep force showed up, too, it went from bad, nasty, and not wanting to be involved, to no way in the name of the gods was this something I wanted any part of. Several others agreed. Plus, I figured the Protector’s Keep guards had to see who was fighting who and when they turned to fight with the caravaners… Well, I knew the fight was going to go way bad.”
"Moreover, while I didn’t know what was really going on with the Gloom Fire Mystics wanting the kid; I already saw what the Shaman the kid belonged to did to the guardsman. The guy left a city guardsman in a puddle of his own blood and knocked out all the guy’s teeth, then took them with him so there was no chance of getting them put back in by a good Healthman. When he came out from around the back of the inn, I was done. There’s no way I am going to live the rest of my life with no teeth!
"Since I knew I was on the wrong side and things were going from bad to worse, I decided to exit stage left. A few others were already pulling out, so I hooked up with them, and like I said, Alkoris took out one of the Gloom Fire Mystic apprentices. Even before he got the kid’s armor on, he moved behind one of the Secondary Echelon Mystics who tried to block us, but didn’t get there before the guy tossed a potion at Xerana. It exploded and got her and one of her friends. I swear, it caused their skin to start to fall off!
Alkoris gutted the guy before he could throw anything else at us, but Teacher Wilmot noticed and ordered a group of junior students to chase after us. By then there were all sorts of people fighting all over the place. There were city guards, some rougher looking people, a bunch of city folk, merchants, and even some from the robber guild Alkoris belongs to. Some of them started fighting with Alkoris once they saw what side he was on, while others fought against us. The same thing was going on with the city guards. There was no telling what side anyone was one. It was crazy.
“Teacher Wilmot and the younger ones were almost to us and we had turned to fight them, when the whole street heaved up. I saw just enough to get me and Alkoris into this building. The rest had to get tossed around like snowballs in snowball fight. I can’t see many, if any, of those who didn’t get to the buildings still being alive. The heat from the steam was hot enough to burn my hand and I was behind a wall before it fell on me. There was quite a bit of screaming for a while, but most of it stopped after only a few minutes. Some continued to cry out for an hour or two, but voices started going silent one after the other. Teacher Wilmot was one of them. He stopped moaning just before night fell. The teen pointed over toward the center of a totally wrecked weaver’s shop. I am pretty sure his voice was coming from over there.”
“If he was working for the Gloom Fire and Devkiln’s dad, he can stay buried.” Tazen growled. “I’m confused, though. Why aren’t there more bodies lying out in the open? The spell tossed at least a hundred, probably more, all over the place. There should be bodies on top of the buildings, not just buried inside them.”
“Quite a few were looted by the few who lived and could walk after the fighting stopped and then by others. I know it including at least one group of beggars who converged on the area. I could hear them moving around, looking, and talking. They were driven off by some city guards, though. From what I could hear, the guards then finished looting the dead and dying, even killing a few. Not long before I saw you, a wagon came by and grabbed all the bodies I could see and some who were still crying out for help. They were dug out by some low ranking city guards and a few of the students, including some who were in walking shackles. They left just as it started to get dark.”
“Then why didn’t they get you?”
“Because, when I saw some of our bunkmates in shackles, I decided to shut up and moved more stuff over me. I didn’t want to get found and put in chains, or worse yet killed. And I sure didn’t want to have some potion tossed at me for running and helping to kill one of the Mystics. They had a Gloom Fire Mystic with them, after all. I did overhear one Mystic say Devkiln had been seen escaping the caravan and was spotted running into the rubble with his sword. The weird thing was, the Mystic was telling the city guards with him Devkiln’s blade was what they were really after.”
“The one with the Orakin head on the hilt?”
“Yeah, unless he had some other magic edged weapon we didn’t know about. But the way Devkiln bragged, he would have said something about it if he did.”
“Good point,” Tazen conceded. “So why would they want the sword and not Devkiln? His dad made it a point to show how important Devkiln and his younger brothers and sisters were every time the man came by the school!”
“No clue. The only thing I heard was the Mystic say was ‘the blade was the key, not the boy’. I think he said something like ’given time, the boy could be replaced, the blade couldn’t.”
Tazen glanced back at the body of Guelech, “Well, at most he only has one brother left, and with any luck the other one is under all this mess somewhere.”
“Hopefully his three sister’s too,” Dario managed a hint of a smile as he pulled his gear out from where he had come all to close to being buried alive. “But since one of them is a Mystic and works out of the Gloom Fire, I don’t think we will be so lucky.”
Tazen pushed aside a busted up section of shelving and knelt, “Alkoris!”
The Halfelvin boy gave off a light moan, as if hearing his name registered, but not enough to pull him into consciousness. Tazen pulled away more debris off his friend, even as he motioned for Dario to come over and give him a hand. Between the two teens, they managed to dig their bunkmate out. Dario then used his water skin to splash some water on Alkoris’ face. The boy sputtered and jerked his head while reaching for his dagger.
Tazen grabbed the hand before it got to the sheath, “Whoa, it’s me and Dario!”
Alkoris blinked a few times before speaking with a horse sounding voice, “Tazen? Are we dead?”
“No, but from the looks of you, you may wish you were.”
Alkoris shifted and looked over at Dario, “I am amazed you are alive. You pulled me into the door and shoved me back, just as the cobblestone heaved up… then… I… Wait, Tazen, you were with the caravan! Did you all really win?”
“Let’s just say we didn’t lose, at least not here. But we need to get out of here.”
Alkoris tried to get to a knee, but didn’t make it. Instead he fell into Tazen’s arms as he blacked out again.
“COME ON! I don’t have time for this!” Tazen growled as he tried shaking his friend. Before he could say more, Kaznal and Yarnay moved up. Yarnay spoke to get the older boys’ attention “What’s going on Tazen?”
“What are you doing out of the sewer?” Tazen demanded, even as he knelt and put his best friend over his shoulders and stood.
“You didn’t come back and wanted to make sure you were alright.” Kaznal stated with wide eyes, a scared voice, and a few tears threatening to spill out of the corners of his eyes “And the high spot has a breeze and we could not keep the candle going.”
Even with Alkoris over his shoulders, Tazen managed to flip Guelech’s sheathed Dagger of Light over to Kaznal, “We have all the light we need. Since you are here, you both can help grab things, too.”
Dario looked at the two boys and back at Tazen, “OK, who are these two?”
“Two of three brave little guys.” Tazen answered quickly, then jerked his head at the gear he had acquired then dropped to find his best friend. “Come on Yarnay and Kaznal, grab everything and make sure to grab pouches off of them too. They sure won’t be needing whatever they had in them!”
Even as Yarnay did as instructed he looked up, “Did you find any food? We are really hungry!”
The words seemed to break through to the Halfelf over Tazen’s shoulders. “Under me… chickens…”
Dario moved over to the spot Tazen had pulled Alkoris from and started digging deeper. Within a few seconds he heard some clucking sounds so he dug deeper and faster. It took just over a minute before he uncovered three small cages, each with a healthy chicken and four others with badly injured ones. There were also five other totally crushed ones and a small bag of grain seed. “Dinner! You two little guys grab them and the grain. Since he got my shoulder to work again, I’ll take the stuff.”
Yarnay looked at the burned and bloody left hand, “Are you sure you can take all this with your hand the way it is?”
“It’s just red with a few blisters. The blood came from trying to dig myself out. I think lost a fingernail or two. I’m OK. Now, I out guild rank you, so do as you are told.”
Seeing Kaznal about to argue, Tazen moved up and used his index finger to tap the boy’s nose hard enough to make it sting. “Right at the moment we are going by guild rank, just like we did in school. No complaints. Now hurry, we need to get back inside the sewer and away from here!”
Ten minutes later and with the help of the illumination from the Dagger of Light, Tazen dropped Alkoris on a dry high spot deep inside the sewer and started looking him over while Dario wasted no time cutting off the heads of the four injured chickens and cleaning them.
While the three whipping boys cringed, they all paid close attention and after some debate, Tazen had Dario go back up to the edge of the rubble, grab some wood and bring it back down. They used the wood to make a fire, cook, and used the extra light to check out their surroundings. Tazen then went to work on his best friend.
While they ate and talked, Yarnay looked over somewhat confused, “You said they took the bodies, but I do not understand, Tazen.”
“Because, when we came to look for you there were parts of bodies all over. I even got sick when we saw a leg lying in the street.”
Tazen brushed off the questioning looks, “Guy’s, I’m betting they were really after loot and the ripped up chunks of bodies don’t have anything useful. This way they got some of the dead and the best chance of getting some salvage.”
Dario shrugged as he poured some seed and water into cups out of the packs for the live chickens to feed on. “Most of the dead had already been looted, but I bet Tazen is right. The chances are better to find things of value off of the full dead bodies and they were probably told to fill the wagons they had. They did it and didn’t have to get all nasty in doing so. I’m sure they’ll send in some peasants to clean up the real mess in the morning. Besides, there are lots of others buried in the mess, so they will have to dig to get some out. Knowing the instructors and guards at the school, they will make the students do it as punishment for letting the caravans get away.”
Tazen spoke up in complete agreement, “They will try to make it as bad as they can on the students.”
Nothing was said for quite some time. Sibler finished off the food he had been given and looked over at the captive, “What about him, Tazen, we cannot let him starve to death, can we?”
“It takes a long time to starve,” Tazen assured the concerned boy. “We’ll give him some water, but no food. We didn’t end up with much in the way of rations in the packs I found. Once I get done with Alkoris, I’ll give him some water, while one of you keep watch in case he wakes up and tries to cast a spell.”
Tazen then pointed to all the gear and jerked his head in the direction of Dario, "I know you know the basics of armor crafting since you work with metal in the jewelry shop and are great with leather. Use what you know and help them get as geared up as possible. We need to see how close we can get to the docks by moving under the streets, so we can find a way out of Rolling Dale before the Mystics of the Gloom Fire take over the city.
"Kaznal you’re the thinnest and smallest of us, so help Dario get the breast guards off the Halfling’s armor and get it on. Dario, see what you can do about the small hole in the stomach area. If you have to, use a couple of reinforcing plates off school armor to cover up the weak point or something and get him into it. You will have to make do with the rest of the armor on the other two, but I bet Yarnay will be able to wear the armor I pulled off Guelech, since he is pretty good sized and Guelech was a shrimp for an eleven-year-old.
Kaznal started to shake his head, but Dario flipped him hard on the back of the head, “No back talk, kid. This is Dwarven Steel, and it is the best armor we got. You’re really lucky you are small enough to fit into it! The only reason it got breached was all Protector’s Keep guards use magical bolts. The hole is small and will easily be patched by any Metalworker since the links are all there.”
Yarnay reached over and patted Kaznal on the shoulder, “Without the boob guards, no one is going to know you are in girl armor.”
Kaznal shot Yarnay a nasty smirk as he let Sibler help him get the armor on. He looked and at himself and tested movement. With a sigh, he reluctantly accepted the fact it didn’t look too bad, but it did hang a little strange in the front and was a bit loose around his hips. Fortunately one of the weapon’s belts took care of the second problem without causing him any real discomfort. With a note of deviousness in his voice, he barked out, “Ok, fine!” Seeing the others all looking at him, he pulled a nightshirt out of the heavy pack and slipped it on. To add to the look he tied a piece of rope around his waist, making it look like he was wearing an oversized dress. “There! You all happy now?”
Even Alkoris, who was badly battered, started laughing.
King Wyhrem looked over at Count Salostar and Baron Greyhammer while putting a protective arm over Prince Bayne. "Gentlemen, I cannot, will not, order either of you to join me.
Count Salostar gave a bow as he spoke, “Good King Wyhrem, my former liege has to be brought to justice for what we have seen. I could not be a royal member of the Alphar Court and ignore what my breaking of the added part of the banishment spell showed me, showed us. The ritual incantations and spells of release and hindsight cannot provide forged visions. A decent caster could have built in protections to make the hindsight ritual give me nothing, but it cannot be falsified. This means Prince Rovanall has lied to the Alphar Court and in turn has caused us to lie to the Garm Council. This requires me to seek him out and bring him to justice in front of the entire Court.”
Baron Greyhammer duplicated Count Salostar’s bow as he spoke, “King Wyhrem, by treaty when any Royal Alphar goes into combat outside of Alphar lands, a royal member of the Garm must give aid. I also fully agree with the good Count. The actions of Prince Rovanall tarnish not only the Alphar, but also the Garm since we have a full and mutual defense pact with them. To lie to one is to lie to both. To have this kind of criminal act attached to a lie makes it as if both the Alphar and Garm courts permitted such a transgression. This was not just an unlawful torment added to an Alphar Prince, now your son, but also one of theft and murder of Prince Bayne’s guardian. To not join on this would be the same as if I ignored this kind of crime from a high member of the Garm Council. Making matters worse, Prince Rovanall is one of the leaders of the combined Alphar-Garm force moving to deal with Premier Kandric’s missing students at your city of Rolling Dale. With this kind of treachery in his past, he cannot be trusted to lead any Alphar or Garm. I must humbly ask for you to allow us to join you.”
King Wyhrem returned the bow, “I am beyond honored to have both of you at my side as we move to deal with the situation within Rolling Dale and bring the one who has so terribly wronged my son to justice. Having you with me would also allow for lines of communications between the force you say is moving on my city and my own forces. Understand, however, Prince Bayne is now my son and the primary crime was against his flesh, so I expect right of first trial and punishment. I will, with some reluctance, give you my word. I will not purposefully kill him. While I cannot guarantee he will not die in combat to take him, once he is in my custody, he will remain breathing and able-bodied enough to travel. This way you can have a second right of justice. Should he live following whatever justice the Garm and Alphar have in store for him and he is found within my kingdom, I will see him dead by my own hand.”
The venomous words and the underlying tone caused the two to exchange glances with only eye movements while they remained in their respective bows. There was an uncomfortable few seconds of silence before Baron Greyhammer finally cleared his throat and spoke, “King Wyhrem, we are in your lands and we fully accept the offered terms. With your permission, we will send couriers back to our respective leaders to inform them of the treachery, your diplomatic solution, and our agreeing to it. This way there will be a record of this treaty within both the Alphar and Garm records, while also informing our respective sovereigns of the situation at hand. Should our forces manage to capture him, he will be turned over to you for first right of justice.”
“Bargained and done, then.” King Wyhrem pointed over to his seneschal as a way of commanding a document prepared for signing, “I will be have the documents drawn up under your supervision and sign them once you are both satisfied as to the wording. In the meantime, I need to get with Master Lannet and see if he is willing to take leadership of my army as it moves into Everone, while I prepare a smaller force to gate to Rolling Dale.”
Three hours after nightfall a shimmering portal allowed King Wyhrem, Count Salostar, Baron Greyhammer, Prince Bayne, and the entire force from the Junsac Barony, to first gate to Junsac. Then, an hour later, another portal was opened from Junsac to a clearing in the woods. This put King Wyhrem with his best force less than an hour’s ride from the old keep where Sagell’s Watch team was finishing their sweep of the passages to clear it for his arrival.
As Count Salostar stepped through, he glanced over at Baron Greyhammer, “I am not sure your thoughts, but I would prefer to walk all the way back to our lands, than take one more of these Mythling Gate Stone passages!”
Baron Greyhammer shivered as he pulled an iced over cloth out from under his armor, which he had carefully stuck around his groin area, “I will be only too happy to keep pace right next to you, good Count!”
Klorna shook groaned and sat up. Her head was pounding worse than the last time she drank a trio of rum bottles she had picked up from the Dwarven fortress of Flat Rock. She started to move her hands up to her throbbing temples, but found she couldn’t with her right hand. Confused, she tried again and forced her eyes to open. Once again her right hand stopped before it got to chest level. Her left hand, however, remained unhampered. Looking down she noticed her wrist was shackled. This brought her fully conscious. She pulled at the band around her wrist again as she blinked and looked at her surroundings. She was in a stonework room with a bed. The room was small, and the door out iron with window of only half a meter squared with four iron bars going in each direction. “Oh, what in the…” She muttered as she tried to remember how she had ended up in a jail cell.
While this was not the first time she had found herself in one, this was actually one of the nicer ones. The bed had a mattress, it was not too cold or too hot, and the chain on her wrist was actually plenty long enough to get around the small room. She had just wrapped herself up in it some while she was sleeping. It took only a few seconds to get herself untangled. At this point she noticed a small food tray on a tiny table with a stool, which was bolted down to the floor. She moved up to the table and sniffed. The juice was peach and the jerky deer and smelled remarkably fresh. It was then she spotted a chamber pot in the far corner, and it even had a lid.
“Real nice for a jail…” She muttered to herself. “OK, Klorna get your head on straight. The last thing…” She let out a long breath, “The last thing was the caravan being attacked!” With those words and a flash of a memory of one wagon burning and another being shattered by a whip, she jumped and pulled at the chain, but there was no real point. It was firmly anchored in the wall next to the bed. She pulled one more time just to be sure it was as strong as it seemed, before some of her memories seemed to surface. She had pushed two of the guards into a magical door. Yes, it had appeared just after the woman took Gablon and the three boys. Then… Klorna growled, “Come on, think.”
Even as she tried to focus, the rest was in memory flashes. There were the two figures who opened the magical door. This was followed by the sickening feeling of falling. She hit the ground hard. It was stone. There was a massive statue of a Dwarf, or maybe many. Yes, several statues of Dwarves. Her mind’s eye also gave her a flash of an Elf and a Dwarf looking back at her, even as a hoard of Dwarven guards encircled her and the two guards. Words were said, but she could not recall what they were. One of the guards she had grabbed jumped up and pulled a weapon… Was it the new guard, Morwar, the Avgon Channeler? Suddenly the memory took shape. Klorna rolled her eyes which only increased the pain in her head, “No, it was Mokel! Why in the name of the gods did I ever agree with Gablon about those four brats.”
She moved over to the juice and took a healthy swig then tore off a huge hunk of the smoked meat with her teeth. Even as she chewed, the rest of what happened became clearer. It had been Mokel who jumped up and pulled his flail as the mass of Dwarven guards encircled them. He demanded they give back Emroc and the two Elfs. Yeah, he had said Elfs as if it had been a dirty word, but this was a great improvement over his former bigoted mindset of not caring about Rathiter and Darmoth at all.
She took another drink as she recalled Mokel raising his flail for a strike on the closest Dwarf, but the blow never got a chance to get started, let alone land. Instead a female Dwarf in really fancy clothing moved up and sent out a cascade of sparks out of her hand. As soon as the cloud hit Mokel, it was as if he had been hit with a hundred small bolts of lightning. He started jerking around uncontrollably and there was even some sparks arcing between his flail and the top of his hair which had been sent straight out from his head by the spell. Unfortunately, the wave of sparks continued on, first dropping Morwar, then enveloping her. There was the pain of every part of her body being shocked then… nothing.
She ran her hands down her face, rolled her neck and moved up to the door, “Guard! Guard! I need to know if my two people are OK and to talk to someone in charge!”
It took three attempts, but finally two female Dwarves in heavy Dwarven Blue Steel half plate armor moved up to the door. The one without a shield pushed a key into the lock while the other moved to block access to the hall with a shield which was almost as big as she was and as wide as the door. The woman with the shield spoke in a form of Dwarven which seemed off or old. “Ye, retreat four paces and hold hands unfurled to show proof of no ill intent. Follow commands, and ye shall be fairly treated!”
“The youngsters who were with me, are they OK?”
"Your Human underlings remain without consciousness as of this moment. They will awaken when their fragile willed bodies allow them to do so with no extended tenured ills. Now, stay without words on your tongue. Ye will be given chance to address both your concerns and transgressions with Count Steelhand.
At this point Klorna didn’t know what to think, so she did as instructed. Hearing she would soon be in front of a member of high royalty was pretty terrifying. The professionalism of the guards also gave her pause. For even as her wrist was released from the shackle, the female Dwarf at the door kept the shield in place as if it was a second door. The other female had no weapons other than Dwarven Blue Steel gauntlets, which had thick metal knuckle bands, meaning a single punch would undoubtedly break bones. This was something she had never seen, but was a fantastic idea. With guards so equipped, there were no weapons for her to attempt to grab should she have had any desire to do so, which she definitely didn’t.
The woman who unlocked Klorna’s wrist turned and stared into her, "Ye will remain flanked by me and the shield guard, three paces behind me and three paces in front of the shield guard. There will be no words to come off your tongue and ye shall not even look at the cells on either side of the passage as ye march to the questioning chamber. Should any endeavor to grab ye, move out of reach of their assaulting hands and halt. Ye are under our defense when outside the cell for as long as ye do as commanded, so anyone attempting any transgressions against your person will be dealt with by guards, not by ye. Nod if ye understand.
Klorna gave a single nod and moved out into the hall. It was narrow. As a matter of fact it was just slightly wider than the door she had just come through. Once again, she realized this was done deliberately. One strong person with a big rectangular shield could hold the whole hall, even if a number of people managed to get out all at the same time. It would then just be a matter for a soldier behind the shield wielder to push a spear or pole arm weapon past the shield and into those being blocked off from getting out. It was ruthlessly efficient. The downside was the fact a couple of prisoners did try to stick hands out though the bars and grab at her. The cells were offset, so only one set of hands could get to her at a time, however, and most either figured it was a bad idea to try or had learned not to bother. Of the two foolish captives who tried, one ended up with a couple of badly mangled fingers as the lead guard moved over and punched the outstretched hand. The other had her arm snapped as the Dwarf with the shield moved up and slammed her shield into the arm sticking out though the bars. The arm had nowhere to go, so as it was pushed against the bars it broke. Bones burst through the surface and blood sprayed the shield. The screams from within the cells told Klorna the inhabitants had both been female and probably Dwarven.
The lead guard moved up to a checkpoint, ignoring the screams of pain from down the hall. She looked down at the guard sitting at the desk. "Cells nine and fourteen need healing. Food rations are to be reduced by half until expenditure of healing has been accounted for. Relock undamaged appendage to the walls as punishment. Cell eighteen is with us. Relock. Cell eighteen has food and drink remaining.
“Should cell eighteen find freedom, partition remaining provisions between cell eleven and nineteen for increased obliging behavior. This shield needs to be unsoiled as well.” The woman then put the massive shield on a hook clearly meant for it and picked up a much smaller and more manageable shield
Even as the guard smacked her breastplate armor in a signal of understanding, the shield guard moved up and nudged Klorna toward a door to her right. The guard at the station stood, unlocked the door, and moved back to her post. As she did so, she pulled a leaver, which in turn caused a portcullis to slide down from the ceiling, cutting off access to the wing Klorna had just been removed from.
Klorna did her best to track the turns and distance traveled, but to say the place was a labyrinth was a major understatement. At some point she gave up trying to track the turns and simply followed. A quarter of an hour later she emerged into a building with a steeped roof and over a hundred beds along the walls, each with a trunk at the foot, an armor stand on the left and a weapon’s rack on the right. In the center of the massive room were tables where various games were being played, most Klorna couldn’t identify. Dozens of Dwarven heads turned as she came out from behind the iron bound wooden door. Several moved to get close to weapons, but none drew.
The shield guard pointed to one of the tables where the five Dwarves were playing something with a cup and oddly shaped metal disks which Klorna took for coins of some sort. One of the Dwarves stood, “Sergeant, she woke much faster than I expected. My apologies.”
“I found myself as astounded as ye now appear,” the female shield guard responded. “My duty shift is below, however, and yours remains to deal with our uninvited guests. Escort under sentinel status to the Count. Stay vigilant, nonetheless, she seems accommodating and hails from well outside our realm, so give a degree of leeway. Also, before letting her speak, give proper council to Count Steelhand of what we have learned of those from outside the civilized lands of our empire. Disrespect may be seen when none is meant.”
The man motioned to those with him to gear up as he moved up to Klorna. “Ye have caused quite a commotion here. However, I find myself curious of something I find a hard time not inquiring about. Would ye feel slighted by me soliciting a single query?”
“No, not at all, but um, I have several questions of my own…”
“Once your status within our lands has been decreed by our lord, ye very well may be able to ask. Until then, ye are a trespasser, one step up from an infiltrator. However, what we understand tells me this misunderstanding will be cleared up in short order.”
Klorna took a deep aggravated breath, “I hope you’re right. Now ask your question.”
The Dwarf waited until his men came over, armored up and were all listening before asking his single question, “Ye were seen traveling as a crucial associate within the caravan with Prince Darmoth and Prince Rathiter, did ye ever meet Premier Kandric?”
Klorna cocked her head carefully to the side and eyed the Dwarf, “Um, prince… Ah, geesh, um, are ya talking about their brother, the ginger? Yeah, fought side by side with the little rug rat a couple of times now.”
The lead guard nearly choked on his own saliva, as the other four’s eyes went wide and their mouths dropped open in unison.
Word of Prince Rovanall’s treasonous deceit arrived at the Kandric’s main encampment by royal courier an hour before dawn. The Alphar courier flanked by one Alphar and two Garm upper Echelon guards did not know what message he was handing over to Duke Mathard. However, he knew from the look on Emperor Bloodstone’s, overall ruler of the Garm Empire, face, it was about as far away from good news as possible. The fact the Garm ruler had the remnants of a smoldering table around him and his hand still glowed with the remnants of magical flame, had been more than enough to tell the messenger he really didn’t want to be the one to have to deliver whatever message was in the wax sealed bone scroll case with both Queen Jostallis’ and Emperor Bloodstones’s personal seals on it.
Seeing the anger in his Emperor’s eyes, plus a royal tapestry of some sort ripped and tattered in Queen Jostallis hands and standing next to Emperor Bloodstone, looking every bit as angry, only made this whole thing worse. Emperor Bloodstone had addressed the messenger first, saying this was a matter of honor to both great nations. He went on to inform the fearful herald of the need to hand the bone tube to Duke Mathard and only Duke Mathard.
Queen Jostallis added he was to take the life of anyone, Alphar, Garm, or anyone or anything else who tried to get hands on the case. She even made it a point to add “You kill anyone who puts a hand, paw, or claw on this other than Duke Mathard, no matter or rank, stature or title. Failure to do so will result in not only you, but your entire line being removed from the Alphar kingdom with the status of Elf. Complete the task and accomplish whatever Duke Mathard commands, no matter what it is, and there is a hunk of land bordering our two empires in need of a military force to tame it and an earl to rule over it. For the land in question sits in the pass and will be a good trade hub for the rest of the world at large since we are now emerging back into it. With your prior service as an emissary between our races, Emperor Bloodstone thinks you would be a good fit and has even offered a battalion of young Garm footmen to help you claim it. I will do likewise with a battalion of young Alphar warriors. This mission and your service to Duke Mathard will either prove or disprove our decision to grant you such a critical future role within our lands is correct.”
While a few guards tried to question him, the former Alphar diplomat assigned to the Garm court pointed to his gold and diamond cloak clasp showing him as a ambassador. While this got him up to Duke Mathard’s tent, it did not get him inside. The two guards, one Alphar archer and one Garm heavy footman, blocked his path, while another guard came over and held out his hand to accept the message.
The Alphar envoy held up the bone case, “I put this in Duke Mathard’s hand or I die trying. This decree comes personally form the highest levels within both our lands.”
The two tent guards scowled and shook their heads in unison, while the one who moved up to accept the message, slid over to stand slightly in front of and between the two guards.
At this, the two Garm and one Alphar with the courier moved forward. Hands on both sides went down to weapons, showing neither side was willing to back down. However, the Alphar guard assigned to Duke Mathard, saw the wax impressions on the scroll case, held up his non-weapon hand, and took a single step to the side so he could move the tent flap without taking his eye off the group, “My Lord, you have an ambassador with scroll case marked by the rulers of both courts.”
Duke Mathard grumbled as he woke up from a deep sleep, “Bring it in and give the messenger a meal.”
“My Lord, the Garm guard spoke with a cautious voice, ”He comes with protectors and they are not using normal protocols for message delivery. This appears to me to be a very high level communication."
Duke Mathard let out a long aggravated breath, “By the gods, this is worse than when my wife had our first child and had me getting up at all hours to tend to his incessant bawling! Give me a moment or five!” He then protested to his sleep being so rudely interrupted as he rummaged around. A few seconds later a glow came from under the tent flap, “One of you search out Prince Rovanall so he is part of this. Send the courier in and allow his escort to help with security until this is done. Emissary, come on in, but do not expect me to receive you as I normally would or even should. You woke me and I am only in a robe!”
“My Lord I can wait…”
Duke Mathard’s voice became very deep and gruff. “Get your butt in here before I beat you and your guards to death with whatever the message is in! I did not get woken up before the crack of dawn, on the morn before we march just over a league and a half to start a joint assault on a city outside Garm and Alphar lands for the first time in recent history, just to hear someone or something say it can wait!”
Seeing everyone around him, both his and Duke Mathard’s guards, cringe the Alphar stepped into the tent, took a knee, bowed, and stretched out his hands with the scroll case in it.
Duke Mathard flipped his wrist as a way of acknowledging the bow, even as he turned away from the Alphar in his tent. We will wait for Prince Rovanall."
“My lord, when they brought me before them, Queen Jostallis and Emperor Bloodstone made it very clear to me this was for you and you alone.”
This caused Duke Mathard to turn sharply back toward the Alphar, “They were both in the same place at the same time and spoke to you about this?”
“Yes, my lord. Whatever is in this, is for you and only you. The room was cleared from all except Queen Jostallis, Emperor Bloodstone, and myself at a building within the walls of the village known as Slome. They even ordered their personal guards out. My orders on this were clear and very concise. I am now under your direct authority for whatever you require, no matter what it is until you release me, and those with me from your service. This was decreed by both Queen Jostallis and Emperor Bloodstone. I was summoned directly from the Ambassador’s estate on the grounds of the Garm Palace and gated by Gate Stone to my audience with them.”
Duke Mathard took the scroll case and waved it in front of the Alphar’s face. “What is this about?”
“My Lord, I know not. I was told once you read it you are to wait until Princess Syrissia arrives before you go into battle.”
“Why are they sending an Alphar Princess and who is her Garm counterpart for combat?”
“My lord, you now know everything I know. I can only hope the information in the scroll tube provides more information”
Duke Mathard pulled the top off the scroll case, pulled it out, and unrolled it. After only the first few lines he felt the blood leave his face. By the time he was half done his knees started to shake, which forced him to sit down. The last lines where the instructions were, made the disgust he was feeling turn to a cold rage. Forcing himself not to throw the scroll case at the nearest table he pulled on his beard and looked at the scroll again. By the time he turned to look at the Alphar, beads of sweat popping up on his brow.
He stared at the Alphar ambassador for a few seconds as he tried to come to grips with the details of Prince Rovanall’s crimes and the unconscionable lack of follow up by the Garm Court on making sure Prince Bayne had been properly cared for upon his banishment from Prince Rovanall’s Court. The blame was on both empires and showed a stunning lack of concern for the peace treaty, which had brought prosperity to both the Garm and the Alphar since the Drow Wars. For, by treaty, it was the responsibility of the other race to make sure any banished royalty is given opportunity to thrive outside of Garm and Alphar lands. Clearly this had not been done, or the Garm would have known and reported Prince Rovanall’s transgressions to the Alphar. Looking at what he now knew, the same applied to Princess Kaylaria and all her children. No one had given assistance to any of them, as was evidenced by where they were living. The starting crime may have been perpetrated by an Alphar, but the larger black eye was one the Garm would have to wear for a very long time.
In Duke Mathard’s way of thinking, it had been his race who was really at fault. The Alphar had a single criminal; the Garm had a court full of them. Of course, he realized by the way the message was worded; Emperor Bloodstone had similar thoughts, while Queen Jostallis was utterly horrified the criminal was one of her princes. As it was, she had decreed him the winner of the side bet and had awarded him the magic weapon by whoever took over the lands around the Griffin Spires. In addition, she had sent for Princess Syrissia, one of the highest guild rated royal Sorceresses in the Alphar court, to be by his side since he was about to go into combat outside of Garm or Alphar lands. This meant he had to wait for her arrival before he could march on the city of Rolling Dale. The letter said the Princess had already been summoned and would be arriving ‘with all due haste’, but this meant those within the settlement would have more time to fortify, since there was no question scouts had to have seen his forces by now. It was simply too large to remain unobserved.
The secondary problem was finding a good successor for the Griffin Spires, for Princess Kaylaria was still seen by the court as tainted, even though she had been reinstated into the Alphar nation. There were just too many children from too many different fathers for her to be seen as having a stable judgment. Besides, as a royal breeder who had a track record of birthing highly gifted children, it was thought better to approach her with an offer of Vindayin Princess and building her a temple of her own to run, in exchange for her becoming a long term, titled child giver to the Alphar Nation. Her children could then be trained by the court and given low titled postings in places in need of a new Knight, Earl or even Baron. This was especially true now, since the Alphar and Garm were about to come out of seclusion and expansion was a very real possibility again for the first time in a millennia.
Looking at it, chances were good one of the first Alphar expansions would be to lay claim to Slome and the deplorable Swamp Slums. Already Alphar and Garm engineers and architects were busy making plans to change Kandric’s home from a place of destitution to a place worthy of an Alphar hero to have hailed from.
He knew for a fact, discussion were already going on to find just such a female for the same kind of role within the Garm Empire, but they had no one comparable to Kaylaria.
Kandric was the logical choice to take leadership of the Griffin Spires. Unfortunately, he had all but dismissed his heritage in favor of his own achievements. This left Aster, Bayne, or Conner, all of which were about as far from loyal Alphar royalty as princes could get according to the scouts who looked in on them. Aster had membership within the Junsac Barony Watch and therefore had his first allegiance to King Wyhrem. Bayne had only been found by chance and was now the adopted son of King Wyhrem because of his Grandfather’s deplorable acts. Last but not least, Conner was last seen working closely with a barge full of ex-slaves and ruffians with criminal undertones. It was a nightmare for the Alphar Queen and her whole court.
This left the next two children of Kaylaria. However, word from Count Steelhand said they had first hand reports of Frexla coming into the mortal realm and taking both boys for reasons still to be fully determined. This part of the message was deeply troubling to Mathard, since he knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Kandric would go after Queen of the Demon Realms of Fire for this once he found out, which was exactly what the Demon Mistress seemed to want. Making matters worse, the task of telling the boy had been handed to him, since Queen Jostallis noted the youngster seemed to look up to him and only him within the Garm and Alphar courts. What was the best way to tell the boy and when…
Duke Mathard’s thoughts were shattered as one of his guards burst through the tent flaps with panic in his eyes, “My Lord, Prince Rovanall is absent from the camp!”
Mathard stood with a deep scowl, “How is this possible? What of his tent guards?”
“Still on post. They are confused and quite concerned. They all swear he never left the tent, but he is not there. We even had an Alphar mage cast to check for hidden or invisible. His tent has neither the Prince nor his gear. None of the guards on station around the perimeter saw him leave, but he is not anywhere within the encampment! We even checked with the Dragons, Black Rapid detachment, Pantherlings and Illorcs. There were two empty potion vials on the floor of his tent. We are having your Mystics check to see what was in them, but they are dry so they were used quite a while ago, and she says a dry potion vial makes it close to impossible for a determination of what properties the potion within bestowed.”
Duke Mathard looked down at the letter, then back at the still kneeling Alphar Ambassador. “You, your first and your only task for me, is to track down and arrest former Prince Rovanall for crimes against the combined courts! You are to take him alive so we may deliver him directly to King Wyhrem. Should King Wyhrem or any of his agents get to him first, you are to assist them in getting Rovanall to King Wyhrem. As of this point, Queen Jostallis has decreed Rovanall as renegade. Here is the paperwork showing this and it has been seconded by none other than Emperor Bloodstone!”
He then turned to his lead tent guard, “You, get a team of Griffin Riders up and find Premier Kandric. There is dire news I must deliver to him. The rest of you, empty Rovanall’s tent and make it ready for Princess Syrissia. Queen Jostallis has summoned her to by my battle tested Alphar compatriot during this engagement outside our lands! We will move out once she arrives and has a chance to get updated as to the full situation.”
Outside the tent, Rovanall’s eyes went wide at hearing his decreed fate. He glanced down making sure the ring of disguise still had him looking like one of the junior Alphar Archers. Seeing the illusion was starting to fade, he twisted the third gemstone on the ring, using up the last charge before new moon and concentrated on becoming a lowly arrow carrier. Before those in Mathard’s tent could get over their shock, he re-entered his tent, slit the throat of an un-expecting Alphar standing guard, who only saw an Alphar arrow carrying youth, and grabbed all his wealth and gear, including his huge satchel of extra potions. He quickly downed a potion of Whisper Step, a potion of Invisibility, and third of Elemental Masking, all potions made in the large Mystic labs within the Spires. This left him silent, see-through, and his body heat diffused. The former prince then moved slowly out of the encampment and into the woods. He had plenty of coin, all his gear, and over a hundred potions. It would have to do. With nowhere else to go, he made his way back toward the White Dragon cantonment he had just returned from. It was nestled in a small valley with a frozen-over lake two leagues away. He would stay with them, watch Kandric fall, and make contact with the Dark Mystics within the village of Rolling Dale, for their fight was now fully his. Before this was over he would see all his bastardized grand children dead, then go after the whole of the Alphar and Garm courts!
Vondum slid off the back of the Warrior Black Dragon he had been riding, stepping onto the back of an Alphar squire just as the sun peaked over the snow-covered top of Bloody Rock. The fight to push back Prince Bassork’s forces was going extremely well. The Green Dragon forces assisting the Black Dragon Prince had crumpled under the combined assault of Blue, Silver, and Red Dragon forces and the Black Dragons were slow to fall back to reform lines.
There was a small contingent of White Dragon forces which had caught the Blues off guard, but were no match for the Reds who had thrown in a great deal of resources to the greater alliance. The White Dragon forces had been wiped out, but in doing so had allowed Prince Bassork’s forces to fall back and reform, so the fight was far from over. Still, Garm and Alphar battle formations were pushing forward with a relentless drive, showing they were still races to be feared. Bloody Rock was now three leagues behind friendly lines and the distance was growing. The Swamp Slums and the town of Slome were all but safe from assault, but both areas had heavy forces in place to make sure they stayed secure.
Vondum patted the side of the Black Dragon he had been riding and spoke to it in Dragon tongue even as he ruffled the hair of the Alphar youngster. “Thank you, Ornam. It has been quite a while since I’ve had the honor of riding on you or your kind, so your first gentle turns made getting the feel back a great deal easier than I remember my training at the Obsidian Fortress.” As he spoke he extended his arms and motioned for Conth to jump down off the Dragon and into his arms. The boy was so exhausted he all but fell off. Luckily, Vondum was prepared for this and caught him.
The Dragon turned its neck to look back and down on Vondum, “You did not lose the knack, Officer Vondum. It only took a few minutes before I could feel your boots slide deeper under my neck scales, just the way I like a rider to do since it rubs a spot very hard to reach. Getting it scratched does not happen nearly often enough. The fact you know this, remember this about me, is of credit to you. It is also good to have you fighting with us again. I look forward to a game of Dragon Jousting with you on my back again. Your seventeen victories remains the second highest of all trainees. Though there is a young Elf who has made it to fifteen who none of us care for because he concerns himself not in the slightest about what having him on our back is like for us. Maybe you could take one of his challengers under your guidance, so someone could knock the little bastard off.”
“As long as you give your word not to let him hit the ground as you did with Trainee Lonomag back in the day.”
The Dragon laughed, “You know as well as I, Officer Vondum, Lonomag purposefully used his lance to bloody us while trying to knock off his opponent. Besides, to say I was deliberate on missing him is not very kind. I simply missed him and I am sooooooo sorry about it.”
Vondum snickered, “Interesting, since I saw a great amount of coin moved to your quarters while you were put on forge gate guard duty for the six moons for failing to catch him.”
Ornam gave Vondum a wink, “While not a pleasant duty, it was rather enjoyable to threaten to eat some of the boys in the forge and make them mess themselves. However, I found it just as entertaining to threaten them with sending you down to deal with them.”
With this Vondum laughed hard, “Surely there were enforcers more dangerous than I was…”
“More dangerous, possibly. More ruthless? No, none I have ever heard of. To this day rumors about you abound down in the lower forges. No human has ever had the reputation you gained in your years as an enforcer and Metalworker.” Ornam looked down at Conth who was swaying back and forth. “How about him, although scrawny, he stayed on me even as we entered into battle. He has some potential, if you ask me.”
“Maybe as a Dragon rider, but his intestinal fortitude is on par with what my brother showed. He would never survive down in the forges. I must agree with you about his ability to stay on you, though. He seems to have a knack for it.”
Ornam grinned widely at the still swaying Conth, “It looks like he got his air legs but is having a difficult time finding his ground legs again. This is quite the opposite of what I am used to seeing with a new rider. I would say he did well and for one so young, he does not seem nearly as intimidated to be around me as boys his age. So I say cut him some slack, let him get some rest and go find out what caused you to be called back from the front lines. This way you can catch some shuteye yourself. Bassork’s forces will undoubtedly try to push forward or try to flee once night falls. We cannot allow them to do either or they might well join up with those fighting against Prince Bandurlok below the Silver Spine Mountains.”
Vondum shook his head, “I have no intention of leaving enough of them alive to do anything but crawl into the deepest, darkest holes they can find, so I can leave them for you all to search them out. This way you all can scale them one by one, while I move down to Rolling Dale to help my young Wilderness Scout. You are correct, however. Tonight will be quite a fight and I need some rest. Would you mind taking care of my young toy while I find out what Commander Kyltoss found so urgent to pull me off of the front line?”
“Not a problem, my favorite rider. He did very well on my back, and as I already said, I think he holds a great deal of potential as a rider. It almost seemed he knew what I was going to do just before I did it. Truth be told, I would pay a great deal for him to be my apprentice rider.”
“High praise, indeed.” Vondum patted a wobbling Conth on the shoulder as he looked back up to Ornam, “I will consider it.”
As Vondum moved off toward the some Alphar youth who he had used as a stepping tool to get off Ornam and up to his steed the day before, Ornam glanced down at Conth, “Young Mindmasssster, getting insssside a Dragon’ssss brain can be quite overwhelming. You need to let go before you do yourssself permanent damage.”
Conth sank to a knee and blinked his eyes, “How… how did you know?”
"Boy, sssslave boy, I let you in. I merged your mind with mine. You need to learn how to use your power to feel others like you. You are not the only mind talker here, but you are one of a very few. I am amazed Vondum failed to note your gift, but he really only looksss at you for your body and the enjoyment it will provide when he finally takessss you to a bed. He hasss no admiration for you, for your fear overtakessss all rationale with you. The tool of fear obliteratesss a foe, or a boy, like no other weapon. You have let him control you the way he did all within the lower forgessss of the Obsssdian Fortressss. While you are far from alone in being controlled by Vondum, you can gain enough knowledge to break free of the hold he put on and in you.
“But…” Conth looked up as he blinked his eyes feeling his mind link with the Warrior Dragon slip away. “I saw what he did in the forge, what he did to his brother, what he did to the apprentices…”
“You did indeed. And he can do to you what he did to them. You cannot prevent him from doing it. You know it, therefore there be no reasssson to fear it. Deal with it, accept it, hate it, but do not fear it. Fear only makesss what will happen more harmful. Look at it in another way. I can claw you.” Ornam suddenly and without warning grabbed Conth with one front claw while he extended a long claw with his other front foot and put it to Conth’s face. “I can remove your eye.” The claw moved within a fraction of a centimeter of Conth’s eye. Will fear of me removing the eye help you now?"
“No…” Conth squeaked out, even as he felt the Dragon link back with his mind and forced him to look at the claw even as it moved closer to his open eye. So close did the horrid claw come, he could feel it brushing up against his eyelashes.
“Then do not fear it. Accept it. It be fact. I can remove your eye. The identical can be put forth for Vondum. He can do much with you, with your body, with your very being. You can do nothing but accept and deal with it. Fear of what he can or will do cannot help you. Looking at the fear, dealing with it, not backing down from it, will help you. Fear will cripple more than the act. For if you fear me taking an eye, I have more power over you than if I take the eye and you accept it. Your fear is nurisssshment for Vondum. It be food to him. The more you feed the fear craving creature within Vondum, the more he will want and the more he will crussssh your very being. For Vondum gainsss more from your fear and with a great deal more zeal, than doing anything to you will give him. You fearing him taking you to bed be more powerful for him than the actual taking of your body will eventually give him. And he will take your body. Nothing you do can prevent him from doing it.”
Ornam let Conth think this over for a few seconds before he stroked Conth’s eyelash with his claw, “Do you know what a good flavor an eye will give, even a little one like be in your puny head?”
At this terror over having his eye removed gripped Conth.
Conth felt the Mindmaster power of the Dragon reach into him even deeper, take hold of the terror at the thought of his eye being removed and pulled the fear away, just for an instant. He could feel the drain of doing this within the Dragon, but for an instant, just an instant, he saw a glimmer of understanding. For if his eye was removed or not was totally different than the fear of it happening. Fear was both the tool and the weapon. The removal of the eye was a given should the Dragon holding him wish to take it.
Ornam dropped Conth and shook his head. “Did you feel it, boy? I gave you a moment with no fear. I pulled it in to me, the flavor be bitter, revolting, and corrupting to your very core. Learn to let it go, boy. Do it one time. Vondum will tire of you. I will take you under my wing. Train you to be my rider. Make you a man and teach you what a mind talker can do. But you need to get the taint of Vondum and his fear out your life on your own before I will do any of thissss for you!”
Ornam glared right into Conth’s eyes, “For think about one thing. You were, are, more afraid of Vondum than you were to ride a Dragon. How much hold do you want to give him over you, boy?”
Vondum moved toward the heavily guarded entrance to Bloody Rock, passing a group of Alphar including two Animal Adepts, one with a trio of Shocker Lizards and the other a pair of Snow Lions. The animals took a few moments to sniff at Vondum and the young Alphar escorting him, before their masters ushered the beasts to the side.
The young Alphar eyed the shocker lizard closest to him as it let out an odd sounding hiss and made a slashing motion with its claws. While the youngster leaned back, he didn’t turn his eyes away or hurry past. Instead he took a deep breath and stared directly into its sapphire blue eyes. “I may not be powerful enough to control one of you yet, but do not try me. Do it again and I will backhand you. Now back off you nasty tempered, overgrown, iguana!”
While the Shocker Lizard reared back as if getting ready to pounce and before the Animal Adept controlling it could more than tell it to heel, Vondum moved to stand between the boy and the Shocker Lizard. He clenched his gauntleted hand into a fist and spoke in Dragon tongue, “Stand down as you have been commanded by your owner, or I will break your snout!”
At this the Lizard hissed and moved, so it could try to get an angle at the young Alphar behind Vondum.
Vondum’s eyes narrowed as he stepped up on the two meter long tan and blue lizard and slammed his elbow into the top of its head. Still speaking in Dragon, he grabbed the stunned creature and lifted up its head so he could look right into its eyes, “Knock it off and speak to me if you have a problem, or I will have you roasting on a spit for dinner!”
The lizard shook loose from Vondum’s grasp and backed off. As it did so it spoke in crude Dragon, “Him chained me to post when all I want was go talk to other who me can talk. No knew me could until hear what other talk. Brother and sister not can. Me want to know why and talk!”
Vondum waved a warning finger at the Shocker Lizard as he turned to look at the boy behind him. “Why’d you chain him to a post last night?”
“Part of my training as an Animal Adept is to deal with creatures above my ability, General…” The boy glanced over to the Alphar who owned the three Lizards, “He told me to keep an eye on it because it was acting strange. Um, General, were you talking to it or something?”
The Alphar controlling the three lizards, looked at Vondum skeptically as the man nodded. Seeing this, Vondum turned sharply at the guy, “Hey, dumb-ass, did my Wilderness Scout, who can speak to your Griffins, not teach you anything? You all need jump down from your pedestals and realize you don’t know nearly as much as you think you do. Yes, your pet can talk Dragon and wants to visit some in the camp it can talk to. Why are you not letting it?”
Seeing the Alphar Animal Adept turn red and move his hand toward his weapon, the other Alphar Animal Adept cleared his throat to stop his fellow guard. “He is not only a general, but Premier Kandric’s trusted advisor and even commander, Qurneth. You best rethink where your hand is going.”
Vondum raised an eyebrow and looked over at the other Animal Adept, even as the one he had been dealing with shook with rage but did move his hand well away from his sword. “I’m not used to your rules or laws. Is there a way for this moron to legally challenge me?”
Kyltoss came out from the mouth of the cave, “While it is not great for morale, General Vondum, if you are willing to put aside rank, he can challenge you for the insult, real or perceived. Winner, assuming both of you live, then can demand apology and it is normal for the apology to be both verbal, as well as in the form of something of value. However, as an Animal Adept, his pets are free to fight for him.”
From behind Kyltoss, Waviked moved even as Vondum’s face turned into a smirk, put up both his hands and motioned for the Alphar Animal Adept to come at him. “Qurneth, I would not…”
Before the Garm Commander could say more, the Alphar pulled his blade and charged Vondum while screaming, “No lowly Human refuse will ever speak to an Alphar in such a way and not pay for it!”
Even as Kyltoss and Waviked shook their heads and Kyltoss cringed, Vondum made a single step forward. He didn’t even bother to pull a weapon. Instead he blocked the sword swing with the metal guard on his wrist of his right hand, while his left hand grabbed the front of Qurneth’s armor and threw him face first into the rocky face of Bloody Rock. He then spun and stamped down on the tail of the larger of the two Shocker Lizards, which had moved up to assist.
Before the other lizards could react, Vondum dropped and rolled under the one he had just broken the tail of, planted his feet under its belly, augmented his strength, and launched it into the second lizard while speaking in Dragon. “I do not what to hurt you, so stay out of this. I think you would make the boy a good and loyal companion given just a little work from both of you!”
Vondum didn’t wait to see what the speaking lizard was going to do. Instead he moved up on the bloody faced and stunned Qurneth. An elbow propelled the Alphar’s face into almost the same spot of rocks. He then wrapped his arms up under Qurneth’s armpits, pulled his arms up and locked his hands behind the Alphar’s head even as he spun around to face the Shocker Lizards. “Now be a good little Animal Adept and order your pets to back off, or I will swing you around each and every time they try to bite me, so they take chunks out of you instead!”
Blood poured out of Qurneth’s mouth as he managed to spit out the order. It took a couple of times to get the one with the broken tail to follow commands, but it finally did after it lunged at Vondum, only to end up raking claws down Qurneth’s leg and sending a shock through its master. It actually looked almost guilty as it back up and hissed, while trying to lick at its tail.
Vondum didn’t let go of the Alphar, “So, I have a proposition for you. You give the boy the talking lizard and I apologize to you for insulting your race. I won’t, however, retract any insult against you. But this way you will not have to apologize to me either and we can go our separate ways; you to a Healthman tent with your wounded lizard and me to find out what was so important as to call me back from the front lines. What do you say?”
Qurneth’s spit out a large amount of blood and nodded as best he could since he was still in Vondum’s very strong hold. “Agreed, General.”
Vondum motioned for Kyltoss to move forward even as he released the Animal Adept. It surprised no one when the badly bloodied Alphar crumpled into Kyltoss, not being able to fully support himself.
Vondum then moved around and took a knee, “I meant no insult to your proud Alphar race or its traditions. From everything I have seen, your people fight very well and there is much your race can teach us.” He then stood, “I assume you are releasing the talking lizard to the boy?”
“Yes…” Qurneth stated as he spat out some more blood, “Blue Streak is as stubborn as he is young! It has never learned to be a good pet since I bought it shortly after its hatching nine moons ago. The damned thing just will not train like the others I own. I have thought about selling it several times in the last moon or two. So take it. I will get another.”
Vondum rolled his eyes and tossed Qurneth pouch with a quintet of gold coins, a trio of opals, and pair of pearls he had taken off of one of the Green Dragonling officers he had gutted only hours before, “Let it be known I am not simply taking the creature without some compensation. Hopefully this will cover much of the cost. When you do buy your next one, realize there is a chance the new one you get will be smarter than your average lizard. Don’t overlook it, and it will be a much better pet, just like the Griffin Riders have missed out on just how incredible their steeds can be. Hopefully you have learned something from this lowly human standing before you.”
Vondum quickly turned away from Qurneth who was being loaded into a stretcher by a pair of Garm and a single Alphar youngster who had Healthman pouches on their belts and were being instructed on how to carry a stretcher, while also being giving instructions on caring for extensive facial injuries. Vondum looked skyward so no one could see the disgust he knew was in his eyes. Once calmed, he pointed to the Alphar youngster. He used a finger to motion him over. At the same time, he moved over to ‘Blue Streak’, knelt, and spoke in Dragon. “I would like you to give yourself over to this cute child as long as he learns your language. We can get some of the other Dragons to help and find out why you can talk when your brother and sister cannot. I am betting it’s like some of the Dragonling hatchlings I have dealt with in the past. Some are gifted with the Dragon tongue almost from birth and they are more magically inclined than their counterparts. Every one of them turned out to be highly talented and tested to be fully Field trainable. Those who were not gifted with knowing the tongue and had to learn it also had a much less chance of being trainable. Whatever the reason, I would think you would be better off serving one who understood you are so gifted.”
“He learn to talk like you?”
“I will make sure of it.”
“Then yes, I will be his.”
“Good. Do you like the name you were given by your former owner?”
“It is the only name I know.”
“Then I recommend we keep it.” Vondum eyed the youngster who didn’t look terribly interested in getting too close to Vondum or the Shocker Lizard, but reluctantly did as instructed.
Vondum nodded as he looked the boy over with more than a little yearning, “You show a great deal of bravery and while I see fear within, you don’t let it control you. You have great potential. What is your name?”
The young Alphar smiled warmly at the complement even as he gave a bow, “My name is Cam’ris, General.”
“Well, Cam’ris, I’d say you now owe me. Come over here and meet Blue Streak. He is going to be your friend.”
Cam’ris gulped, “Um… General, there is no way I am good enough to control a Shocker Lizard!”
“You will not control him, you will befriend him, learn his tongue, and in exchange, he will submit to you.”
“So this was not a jest? Shocker Lizards talk? Really speak?”
“From what I was just able to find out, not all, but this one does. Maybe the others can learn. This is the first time I have heard of one, let alone seen one. While only a guess, I’m thinking Shocker Lizards, as you call them, are a form a Blue Dragon kin. I say this since they have electrical powers, and thus must get some of the magic behind their kinship, including speech. His name is Blue Streak.” Vondum paused and repeated the name in Dragon. “Your first lesson is to learn how to say it in his tongue.”
Cam’ris moved close and tried repeating what Vondum had just hissed out. In turn, this got a very odd sounding hissing giggle out of the lizard. It then spoke to Vondum, who in turned busted up with laughter and patted Cam’ris hard over his shoulders causing the boy to wince. “He says not to call him blue turd, now try it again.”
It took five tries before the Shocker Lizard extended a paw in congratulations.
Cam’ris took the paw even as others looked on, “Wow, it really can understand. I need to learn how to really talk to him!” He glanced over his shoulder at the other Animal Adept who was watching the entrance with his two Snow Lions. “I am not sure the guild will allow me to claim him, though. He is way more than I should be allowed to handle.”
“I guess we will have to get you an animal to command while Blue Streak accompanies you, then. What is your guild ranking?”
Cam’ris gave Vondum an odd look and held up his left arm, “Um, right here.” Seeing a bemused stare from the big man and not wanting to annoy him in the slightest, he added, “This is my rank plate, sir.” The youngster’s hand moved up to his bracer. In the center of the bracer there was a copper rectangle with an insignia of a howling wolf in the middle, only this one didn’t have chevrons or slashes like Vondum expected to see in a Guild pin. Instead it had a twin boarder around it with six diamond shape marks coming off the inner line all pointing inward. The outer line had the look of interwoven symbols which were mixed with what appeared to be some kind of lettering, possibly old Elvish, combined with stars while the inner line was just a raised thin line.
Vondum frowned at the forearm piece, but before he could say anything, Garm General Waviked moved up and showed Vondum his shoulder patch, which was very similar. There was a difference however, for Waviked’s was made out of gold, plus had the pair of swords over a shield insignia surrounded by five raised lines. The outer four were interlocked long thin triangles mixed with anvils while the innermost was a single line with seven diamonds pointing inward. “We use old guild markings and ranks, General Vondum. Cam’ris meant no insult by trying to point out his guild plate.”
Vondum raised an eyebrow, “Old rank and guild plate? Um, I think I need quick lesson here. I have spent the last several hours in combat with your peoples and have seen these, yet looked for Guild pins, which I never did see except on some of your officers, so I just let commanders move their people where they thought best. I had no idea I have been staring right at Guild rankings this whole time!”
With this Kyltoss grinned and moved up and tapped his weapon belt, which looked a great deal like Waviked’s shoulder patch. The metal spot on the belt was made of gold and had five lines bordering twin crossed swords, but instead of a shield behind the swords, there was a skeleton. The four outer lines had pine trees followed by fish while the inner line was solid with three diamond pointing toward the center insignia. Kyltoss motioned for Cam’ris to stand. “We send some of those who need to travel outside our lands to your guild halls to test, so a few of us have the guild pins you know and are generally accepted. However, once we pulled back and fortified our borders from all incursions, we brought back the much more accurate and harsher Guild standards of the time just after the Mythling Wars.” He nodded toward Cam’ris, “Since he is one of our senior officers, and he has taken an interest in you, I would recommend you take a moment and tell General Vondum what each of our Guild plates mean.”
The youngster looked over at Kyltoss with a totally befuddled cock of the head, but quickly shook it off, “Very well… Um…”
Waviked pulled on his beard and snickered before moving up to Cam’ris, spinning him to face Vondum, and speaking, “Young Ruinseeker, both the Garm and Alphar know what our Guild plates are and what they mean, General Vondum does not. It his him you need to be addressing. Once done explaining it to him, it may be in your better interest to find out what his Guild pins are and how to identify them on sight, for, unless I miss the look he is giving you; he would dearly love to have you attending him for the foreseeable future. Should this be the case, you will need to know the ranks and marking of those in his world.”
The young Alphar looked absolutely stunned, “You have interest in me?”
Kyltoss quickly spoke up, knowing Vondum would not fully understand the question the young Animal Adept was asking, “General Vondum has already expressed verbal interest in you, and since you are of Premier Kandric’s house and General Vondum was Premier Kandric’s commanding officer, I highly doubt Premier Kandric would be pleased to find you refused such a position. However, you being family-less has an even greater taint outside our lands than it does inside them. While we say orphan with a degree of pity and sadness, most outside our lands say it with contempt. Also, General Vondum’s interest in you goes beyond the interest you speak and into what we call physical desirability.”
The boy took a deep breath and gave a bow of understanding, “Does this mean I am no longer under Sergeant Kendor’s services?”
Vondum actually detected a note of hope in the way Cam’ris spoke the words, which made him raise an eyebrow, “While I believe you were just told this, I want to make clear being my squire would not be easy and the duties go well beyond battle. My bed will include you on many nights.”
“As is your right.” Waviked stated with no disgust in his voice. “What you are offering him is a large promotion of sorts. For in our lands a squire is seen by who he squires for and right or wrong, it is highly unusual for any orphan, let alone one of a lowly footman as Cam’ris’ linage, to be given a chance to squire for a high level officer of any kind, let alone a joint army commanding general. Some measure of payment should be expected and even demanded. While I do not indulge to the degree I suspect you will, my squires have duties to me beyond those related to battle and training, I assure you.”
Vondum could feel the growing lump under his armor, but hardened. “I am making the boy an offer, not demanding it. From everything I have seen, he has too much potential to demand such things. However, once he agrees, there will be no backing off or down. This is why I await his response.”
Both the Garm and Alphar offices turned to look at Cam’ris. Kyltoss, however, spoke, “Cam’ris, as a commander of your father, I feel I must point out as plainly as possible what I see. For right now, your future lies in one of two paths. One is with the sergeant, who you had to beg for a squire spot with; the other is with someone who is asking for your decision and full dedication. While I know your current slot is less than most Alphar youth wish to have, it remains basically uncomplicated. Even though your mentor is far from kind, life with him is relatively straightforward and is a known to you. You also get protections when your mentor pushes harder than he or his rank says he should. A slot with General Vondum could not be more opposite. Life will be dangerous, extremely challenging, and as we just witnessed, no one is likely to tell him anything and remain standing. This means you would go into his tent with no level of protection whatsoever. So, while this offer is amazing, it comes with serious risks. Granted, this also means taking the slot may well lead to possible rewards far above what is possible staying with a sergeant who is unlikely to see more than one or two more promotions in his lifetime, let alone in the time you squire for him. Just realize no one, not even myself, will lift a finger to help you should you go with this man and end up not liking what squiring for him means or leads to.”
Cam’ris gave a slight nod of understanding to Kyltoss before turning to face Vondum. “General,” he bowed deeply, “You give me great honor with your offer. I accept with no reservations.”
“Excellent!” Vondum’s voice boomed with a degree of praise, “Now let me go see what could be so important as to drag me off the front lines! Cam’ris, you are now with me at all times unless doing something I order, and as of right now, I want you to take Blue Streak over to the largest of the Blue Dragons over by the main campfire and see what he knows of Shocker Lizard Dragon speech. I also demand you request of him to take you on your first training flight and start working with you on speaking Dragon tongue. For any squire of mine will need to know how to ride on the back of, and speak to, Dragons.”
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