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   Chapter 4 First Encounters

Maldene - Volume One By Mark Anthony Tierno Characters: 24507

Updated: 2018-04-10 12:02


As everyone gathered themselves, people looked out from their windows to wonder at the strangers that had defeated such a menace. Sabu looked at the two others over at the fruit stand and their two other companions now amongst their numbers. Everyone gathered around as the ones at the fruit stand came over to rejoin their own companions. Of the two approaching, as they came closer, one was seen to be a golden-haired elf, just now slinging his longbow back over his shoulder next to his quiver of arrows. Beside him walked a Human, both hair and skin a light brown, wearing simple robes with markings similar to those on Sabu's own.

"Hi, " the new elf offered his hand, "I'm Lindel, and this is my friend Sindar, wizard extraordinaire!"

"Actually, " Sindar responded, "although I was top of my class, I just graduated, so I'm not all that great."

"Hey, " Eldar smiled, "you did think of that light flash for their eyes. That was pretty good."

"Well, " Sindar began, "it was really only a matter of calculating the maximum brightness that they could withstand based on the ratio of the size of their pupils to the overall eye structure."

"Really!" Sabu approached him interestedly. "And did you take into account their current light exposure for this time of rise at this latitude?"

"Well, " Sindar began, "I did have to approximate-"

"MY GOD! THERE'S TWO OF THEM!!!" Eldar shouted, dismay and surprise on his face.

The two merely looked at each other, shrugged, and then continued on more quietly with their previous conversation.

Eldar just shook his head in disbelief of such an occurrence as the two intellects wandered off to converse on their own. As Eldar was wondering if there existed a demon named Coincidence, the one beside Bronto introduced himself.

"Shong's my name, " he said as he cleaned and put away his sword.

"Bronto, " the big man smiled, "and you got a friend for life."

Candol meanwhile, had gone over to where Tinweril lay shivering on the ground. He placed one hand on his forehead, and one upon the bloody gash.

"Have no fear, " Candol spoke softly. "There is no pain. The poison is leaving your system and you wounds are healing."

As he said this, Tinweril's shaking slowly subsided, he stopped bleeding, and his wound began to heal up quickly. A moment later, there was no sign of any wound and Tinweril was sitting up, as chipper as ever.

"Kilinir, " the dark-haired female offered an olive-colored hand to her new companion.

"Kor-Lebear, " he responded.

And with that simple handshake, thus was born both a love and a partnership that law-enforcers far and wide would always fear and regret.

"That was quite a shot you made there, " Kilgar commented to Lindel as he came out from the shadows. "You're pretty good with that bow there."

"Yeah, well, I could of done better, but I was a bit rushed."

Quickfoot came out from where he'd been hiding, munching on a sweet cake that he'd somehow found somewhere. Kilgar made a disgusted face as he wondered when the small one found the time to find food during combat.

"What are you doing here?" Eldar asked Lindel.

"Oh, just your average very strange circumstances, " Lindel began. "Us and Sindar were out sight-seeing down south over around North Lamika when we bumped into this gold-skinned blind gypsy lady who said that Sindar would meet two others. She said-"

"Say no more, " Eldar interrupted. "That story has a rather familiar-sounding ring to it."

Eldar walked thoughtfully over towards where Sabu and Sindar were.

"Sabu, " he said as he approached his friend, "I think-"

"Eldar, " Sabu interrupted quietly, "Sindar here's our third. It sounds like they met the same gypsy."

"Yeah, I know. Same gypsy, only a mere twenty thousand miles or so away is all."

The three just looked at each other for a bit, seeing their intertwining Fate in each other's eyes.

As they gathered up to leave, Filmar had found some blackened bits of Thorlan's sword to quietly bury in a nearby alley. Even fools need honor he thought to himself. A couple words of quick prayer for a fallen warrior and then he looked compassionately down at the small grave as he spoke softly to himself.

"You were right father; much death shall fall upon them to weed out the few."

The blue sun overhead was a nev further along its daily journey when they came upon a shabby house at the East end of the small town. It was the residence of the old man that Grog had spoken of. He was leading the group up to a door that looked ready to fall off of its frail hinges.

"This old man house, " Grog pointed.

"Does that qualify as conversation?" Sindar asked Eldar.

"Don't worry, " he responded, "you'll grow to love him."

"Or at least wonder about his lineage, " Sabu put in with a quick smile.

"I'll try and get his attention, " Starke said to Sabu and Eldar, body at almost stiff attention in front of his employers.

Starke whirled around on heel and began walking up to the door, when Grog interrupted.

"Grog get him. Grog know old man."

Before anyone could stop him, he bounded up past Starke and began pounding on the door and shouting.

"Old man! Grog and friends want you help. Come out!"

His fist pounding was sending splinters flying around, threatening to reduce the door to sawdust.

"Chupek! Any louder and they could hear that big rik at the Foot Of The World, " Tinweril exclaimed.

"Since you mentioned it, I think now that his lineage may have involved several cousins and one or two house pets, " Sindar whispered over to Sabu.

As Sabu smiled, and Grog was turning the door into wood chips, there was finally an answering voice from inside the small shack.

"Hold on! Don't pound down my home!"

As Grog stopped, the shuffle of old feet was heard coming closer to the door.

"Such an awful racket, it's got to be that idiot Grog!"

The door opened slowly, revealing an old man in a tattered robe. He looked up at Grog, who seemed a bit sheepish from the reprimand, and then out at the crowd of strangers seeking his help.

"Shakoo! What army do you bring with you to my doorstep!"

He looked out over at fifteen pairs of eyes and then back at Grog. Before Grog could say anything, Starke stepped up.

"We come here seeking information about the beast formerly in your care and about what lies around it, " Starke said, as he jingled a couple of gold coins in his hand.

The old man looked around furtively and then quickly snatched the coins from Starke's hand.

"Inside, but only three of you, " he said quickly, and then under his breath, "Bloody nuisance! Strangers'll get me killed yet."

As he went back inside of his house, Sabu, Eldar, and Sindar just looked at each other and then walked inside, while the others stayed outside. The interior of the shack was a simple single sparse room, with but a table, cot, and one chair. The old man sat down as the other three stood around the table. Eldar started the questions.

"We know that there's two ways there and some sort of beast at the end, but that's it. What else can you tell us?"

He looked them over with both sad and fearful eyes. After a few moments he finally spoke.

"The gold there isn't worth the death that you'll find. Go now and let not greed guide where you go. You'll live longer."

"We don't come here for greed, " Sindar said simply.

"The treasure is nice, but it's not what we're here for, " Eldar said.

"What then?" the old man asked.

"We have our reasons, " Sabu responded.

The man sighed and then said, "Very well, but I absolve myself of any responsibility for your deaths."

"We understand, " Eldar said.

The old man gave another sigh and then began.

"First, while the longer path is safer, that's only a relative term; it's still very dangerous. And no intruder has yet survived the shorter more dangerous path."

"Oh, that's real encouraging, " Eldar rolled his eyes.

"Maybe we should take the safer path, " Sabu offered.

"No, we may need to get there faster to have a better chance of getting in there before they can do anything about it, " Sindar suggested.

"Okay, the shorter path it is, " Eldar decided.

"If I may continue, " the old man interrupted. "While there are many servants and minions guarding the place, there is a rear door, although it's heavily bolted and magiked."

"Oh, I so love rear entrances, " Sabu smiled.

"There are five main subterranean complexes, each filled with all manner of pets and experiments that the Master played around with in the past. All of these are very dangerous in themselves, but are as nothing compared to what you will find guarding the main vault at the bottom."

"Okay, " Eldar put in after a brief pause, "give it to us straight. What is it?"

"The beast is a Son of Traugh."

That simple statement left the room silent for a full trided before Sindar finally spoke up.

"Are you referring to an offspring of that rather large notorious dragon?"

"Yes."

"Is it a lesser or greater son of the beast, " Sabu asked, look of intellectual curiosity on his face.

"For all the good it will do you, it is a lesser hatchling of the Master's favorite pet, " the old man said as he sat back in his chair.

"Oh great, " Eldar rolled his eyes, "that means that it's only about two or three hundred feet long instead!"

"I told you it would mean death, " the old man finished.

"Tell me, " Sabu continued, oblivious to Eldar's reaction, "what do you know of its personal ecology? I mean, what would such a beast eat without stripping the entire countryside bare? And does it awaken at night, during the day, or just once every few hundred rels? If it does hibernate, I'd be curious about its metabolic levels. And what about its mating habits? If it-"

"Tell me, " the old man interrupted, a look of brief astonishment on his face, "does he always get off like this?"

"Naw, " Eldar answered, "you ought to see him when he's really curious about something."

"I don't know, " Sindar began, "I was kind of wondering myself about this dragon's-"

Eldar gave forth a cry that sounded kind of like a wildebeest in heat. It had the desired effect of quieting the both of them before they could really get into their conversation. After all was silent, Eldar spoke again.

"We thank you for your troubles sir, " he said as he stuffed an extra piece of platinum into the old man's grateful hands, "but just confirm one thing for us, if you would. Who is the master of this place?"

The old man swallowed before he gave the one-word answer that they all suspected but feared hearing nonetheless.

"Miro."

They just looked at each other with both fear and determination and then began to get up.

"But he hasn't been on this island for at least a few hundred rels, if that's of any comfort to you."

It wasn't.

"Oh, and watch out for his symbol: an inverted gold pentagram. It marks places of power and things he wants kept guarded. Stay away from it if you value your lives."

They left to rejoin the others and then, without nary a word, although Eldar did manage a bit of a smile, they led their group down towards the road at the edge of town that marked the beginning of the short dangerous path.

A distant eagle flew overhead as they left the far edge of the small shabby town. Lindel breathed a sigh of relief as the drab scent of that village left them and that of the nearby forest approached their nostrils. Even so, Sabu and Sindar still looked a bit apprehensively at each other as they both sensed the hidden evils about that innocent looking forest. Bronto seemed completely oblivious or uncaring to any of this, for he just walked boldly as he sang an old bawdy country song with Grog who just seemed oblivious to anything requiring a neuron.

Filmar was up in front of the group, sword always at the ready, his seven-foot two hundred and forty pound frame making for a very imposing sight, while Blag-ak was grumbling as he realized that he was running low on heads hanging from his belt. Quickfoot had somehow managed to find his way to a perch on top of the big ogre's shoulders, affording himself quite a view, as the

massive creature tromped onward. Eldar walked beside both Sabu and Sindar, while Candol and Kilgar traveled with the few remaining mercenaries. Shong walked, ever ready, between Bronto and the mercenaries, sharpening his sword with a stone while also keeping an eye out on the surrounding area. At the rear, Kor-Lebear and Kilinir walked, each seeing if they could leave less trace of their passing than the other.

As they marched onward, Sabu, Eldar, and Sindar began to argue quietly to themselves about some matter. Nothing really heated, but just a series of questioning tones being exchanged.

". . .but are you sure? Just how accurate are your visions, " Sabu was asking.

"Most of my visions are usually of the rather very near future and have a fairly limited degree of accuracy, " Sindar continued, "but of this one, I am quite certain; if he stays with us, his ignorance and naivete will bring much death and misery to both us and himself."

"I know he's kind of, well, stupid, but we might need his strength. Plus, he knows this area, " Eldar put in.

"Now that we are on the correct path, we no longer need his limited knowledge, " Sindar said. "He is now a detriment to us. I also think that he's getting more nervous about continuing any further but won't admit it."

Sabu thought for a moment before responding, "You're sure about your visions?"

"Yes."

As they finished their debate, open countryside finally stopped dead at a section of trees marking the beginning of the forest, the road suddenly becoming more overgrown and rocky. At the sight of the forest, Kor-Lebear's perceptive eyes noticed Grog doing a fairly good job of trying to hide more than just a bit of nervousness. Sabu nodded to Starke to call everyone to a halt, who then proceeded to do so. Sabu then turned to Grog, who was fidgeting a bit.

"Grog, " he began, "from here on it's our own destiny; you don't have to come with us. It's dangerous enough for ourselves, you don't need to risk it."

Grog fidgeted a bit more as he answered, "You no want Grog? Grog not friend?"

"No, no, " Sindar put in as he noticed the fidgeting, "it's just something that we have to do. We don't desire to endanger the lives of new found friends."

"But Grog brave! Grog not afraid!"

The big man still looked a bit nervous to the carefully discerning eyes of Kor-Lebear, as the former pounded his chest and tried to look as brave as he said he was.

"Oh, we have no doubt of that my big friend, " Eldar smiled, "it's just something that no one else can help us out on."

"Like that drinking contest we had, " Bronto put in, "it was our contest, so no one else could interfere."

Grog seemed to turn this around in his slow mind, and then breathed a small sigh of relief as his limited mentality found the reasoning satisfied the requirements of his self image.

"Grog understand, " he said half frowning, half smiling. "Grog be back in town if you need him."

"Good man, " Eldar beamed as Sabu signaled Starke to start everyone moving again.

Bronto was about to move out with the rest, but then, as a sudden afterthought, began reaching for something as he turned back around towards Grog.

"Grog, catch!" Bronto bellowed in his hugely friendly way as he took something off of his belt and tossed it to Grog. "Something for later on."

When Grog caught it, he found it to be a large ceramic flask that smelled of highly potent alcohol. Grog waved back in appreciation as everyone proceeded on into the forest. As their figures faded into the eternal blackness of the woods, Grog let loose a small tear running down his large face. He spoke quietly to himself as he hugged the flask tightly in his massive hand.

"Grog going to miss you when you die."

"I'm going to miss that big mutant, " Eldar remarked after Grog was out of sight.

Sabu turned to Sindar, "Does that satisfy the vision you had?"

Sindar concentrated briefly before responding, "Yes it does. I no longer foresee as many of us dying because of his foolishness."

"What do you mean 'as many'?" Eldar frowned.

"There is still a certain amount of danger up ahead, " Sindar responded, "just not as much of a risk now as before. Although I should say, that my psychic abilities at precognition are far from being an exact science and rather limited and subject to much interpretation."

"Great, " Eldar rolled his eyes widely, and then suddenly smiled brightly. "Oh well, just the type of thing to spice up an otherwise dull predictable day."

"Well, " Sabu said, "that old gypsy did say that our journey would be dangerous."

As they traveled on, the forest got much darker and even more foreboding. Noon it may have been outside, but beneath the trees it may as well have been dusk. Nevertheless, onward down the rugged road they went. Then, not but about ten trids or so later, an unknown odor began sweeping by everyone's nostrils.

"Hmm, smells like some sort of stew, " Tinweril remarked.

Blag-ak seemed almost eager as he sniffed at the possibility of food. A couple of sniffs later though had him wrinkling his nose in disgust.

"Hgggmmm! Bad odor in smell. Someone put bad leaves in stew. Kind that make you sick!"

"It probably means that we'll be having some guests camping out ahead of us, " Sabu remarked.

"In this forest?" Eldar exclaimed as he looked around at the blackened trees. "Who'd be camping out in this black pit?!"

At the rear, Kor-Lebear sniffed unnoticeably as he spoke quietly to his companion, Kilinir.

"It carries the scent of blood with it, " he remarked.

"And how would you know?" Kilinir quietly replied with a slightly wicked grin.

Kor-Lebear just smiled.

Kilinir put one hand in his and the other on a long dagger as they continued on.

As they rounded a twist in the road, they came upon a small campsite. There was a small bedroll to one side and a small pot on a campfire. Stirring the pot was a man in dark robes, breathing in the fumes that issued forth. At the sound of Filmar's approach, he suddenly turned around.

"Who are you?" Filmar asked of him.

The man had the intense yellow skin of those from the area of Lamika, with deep black hair, and black eyes that could hide both cunning and innocence. He was but a few inches shorter than the seven-foot frame of Filmar, but not nearly as massive as the large youth.

"Why, what are you doing here, if I may ask, " was the reply. "After all, this is my campsite."

Though spoken in flawless Selgish, the voice had carried with it just a trace of an accent. The almost singsong accent of Sileesh, thought Sabu, though only a careful ear could discern it.

"He's got you there, " Lindel smiled.

Eldar stepped up in front of Filmar as he spoke, "Now, Filmar, we are his guests. Let's be polite. My name's Eldar."

"I don't trust him, " Filmar responded glumly.

"Since when does trust have anything to do with civility, my young lad?" the stranger smiled amiably.

"What brings you here?" Starke put in.

"Stew smell funny." Blag-ak said as he pointed towards the pot.

"Bokchu!" Tinweril exclaimed. "That stuff smells awful."

The yellow-skinned one gave a warming friendly smile as he covered his small pot and strolled over to his bedroll as he spoke.

"My name, if it pleases you, is Mauklo. I am but a humble wizard offering my services wherever my travels happen to take me."

"And today, they just happen to take you here, " Filmar said, disapproving frown on his face.

"Not entirely by chance, this time, did I happen upon these rather bleak woods and yourselves. For you see, this isn't any stew, my rather large friend, " the stranger looked at Blag-ak as he went on, "it's a special brew of rare and hard to gather ingredients that I make to see visions in. I dare say that if you tried to drink it that you'd be quite sick for a while. Nevertheless, it was my visions that led me here."

"I don't need a smelly old pot for my visions, " Sindar put in simply.

Eldar hid a smirk at Sindar's reply

"And to what purpose do these visions bring you here, " Filmar asked, suspicion drawn upon his face.

"Why, for pretty much the same reason as you yourselves are here for, of course, " he said, looking towards Eldar as he said this.

"And just what reason might that be?" Sabu asked.

Mauklo looked around, as if seeking listening ears in the trees, his foot casually shuffling some leaves as he finally turned around to speak.

"I don't think that you would want me to mention that around in the open, now do you?"

As the others talked, only Kor-Lebear's keen eyes had glimpsed the well-hidden tender flesh of a child's bare foot, dried blood caked to the large toe, which Mauklo had been discretely covering with leaves as he'd shuffled. Only the barest of smiles on Kor-Lebear's lips gave any clue to that which he'd spotted. He said nothing, but inwardly grinned at Mauklo's choice of ingredients for his brew.

Mauklo picked up his bedroll as he approached Sabu. He held close to him as he whispered in his ear.

"Now, we both know that you haven't told most of them the real reason for your being here. I sure don't want to spill anything by answering your question in front of them; what about you? And we do have limited time, now don't we?"

Sabu, Eldar, and Sindar went aside to confer.

"The gypsy made no mention about a fourth one of us, " Sabu whispered.

"Prophecies and Fates can often be rather indefinite about such things, " was Sindar's reply.

"I say we need all the help that we can get, " Eldar said, "and if he's with us then we can keep a better eye on him just in case."

Sabu looked over at the smiling figure.

"I don't know. I've never met a Sileen before, I don't know what they're like."

"Hey, Sileen or Katoan, all you Humans are always pretty much the same, " Eldar smiled as he slapped Sabu lightly on the back.

"That worries me, " Sindar frowned.

Sabu thought a bit, and then broke away to rejoin Mauklo.

"Okay, you can come with us, " Sabu said. "We could use all the help that we can get."

"Ah, thank-you much! I shall endeavor to prove my usefulness, " Mauklo smiled broadly as he clasped Sabu with a forearm handshake. "I pack immediately."

As he said that, he casually pointed a finger at the bubbling pot. A quick flash and it vanished, the hot coals now but cold smoldering stones, bedroll now also vanished. At the same moment, a small four inch long box appeared in Mauklo's outstretched hand.

"There, I'm packed and ready to leave."

"Well, he's got at least a little useful talent, " Candol commented as they started to continue on down the road.

"Parlor tricks, " Sindar muttered, half to himself.

"Have you ever noticed, " Kor-Lebear said quietly to Kilinir, "how much one man can seem to say while actually saying nothing? He's got style; I think that I'm going to like this guy."

As they all began to file on down the road, Kor-Lebear stealing one last secret glance at the casual pile of leaves, Kilgar tugged at Bronto's shirt to get his attention. The big man looked down at the young sandy-haired Destir.

"I don't trust him, " Kilgar said simply.

Bronto was about to just dismiss this as the observations of a mere child, but then remembered how accurate that the boy's desert instincts had proven to be.

"Why not?" he finally asked as they walked.

"He smiles much and says little when he talks."

"He does seem to be too much of a politician, " he frowned. "Hmm, well then, we'll just have to keep an eye on him."

The boy thought a bit as he got out and fingered his dagger.

"If he proves untrustworthy, then I shall protect you, " Kilgar finally nodded decisively.

Bronto smiled at such serious responsibility in just a small boy. It made him wonder what the adults of Kilgar's race were like. He thought of putting a friendly or fatherly arm around the boy's shoulder, but then began to wonder if a boy who could fight like a panther and be so practical-minded actually needed it. Besides, he wasn't much good with fatherly-type stuff.

In the end, they just walked side by side, boy with his dagger, big man with his sword, both at the ready.

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