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   Chapter 5 Journey

Maldene - Volume One By Mark Anthony Tierno Characters: 44151

Updated: 2018-04-10 12:02


Gamri was setting in the distance as, in another part of the sky, the largest moon Gamro was simultaneously rising in the blue afternoon sun. The forest quickly darkened as they journeyed onwards, the thick dark canopy overhead being quite stingy about what little sunlight it let through. No sound, save their own, could be heard by the travellers, not even that of a passing breeze rustling through the trees. Quickfoot was still perched atop the walking wall that is Blag-ak, while Starke led the way with Tinweril and Shong, Bronto still bringing up the rear with Kilgar.

As Mauklo walked calmly along beside Candol, casually being told the benefits of worshipping the "All Mighty Indra", Filmar eyed Mauklo with careful suspicion. He wondered about the true motives about one who, while so calm and amiable appearing, still made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. But still, it wasn't for him to say anything,. . . yet. Filmar just glanced over at Mauklo once again.

This time Filmar was rewarded with a mild pleasant smile in his direction from Mauklo, who then went on with his conversation with Candol, actually appearing to be interested in it. The seeming pleasantness just infuriated Filmar all the more, but he kept it to himself.

Sabu, Eldar, and Sindar were walking together, saying little, although Eldar appeared to be humming some old bar tune while he smiled back at the dark forest closing in around them. Suddenly Sindar pulled Sabu by the shoulder and stopped, a far away look crossing his face.

"What's wrong?" Sabu asked his new friend.

Sindar just stared ahead as his voice drifted out, "I'm. . . not sure. My precognitive abilities are extremely limited but,. . . something feels wrong somehow."

The sound of potential trouble seemed to brighten up Eldar who grew a sudden smile as he questioned Sindar.

"Oh really? Danger? Finally, " he sighed, "a little something to enliven our journey."

Sindar got a questioning look on his face as he turned to Sabu, "His sense of fun appears to be a bit skewed. Tell me, what does he consider to be dangerous?"

Sabu just shook his head and answered, "You really don't want to know."

Quickfoot, atop Blag-ak, was holding on tight, fearful of the encroaching darkness. He casually scratched an itch that suddenly developed around his waist as he looked on ahead.

His scratching fingers encountered something rather like wood. Puzzled, he looked down at his waist.

"So, you see, " Candol was explaining, "the wonders of Indra are-"

The sound of a muffled cry coming from above.

Several puzzled heads turn to look, hands ready with swords.

Dangling in midair was Quickfoot, held around the waist by a long gnarled tree branch, with another one muffling his mouth. Terror was pouring through the poor creature's eyes as he struggled vainly.

"I'll get him, " Tinweril yelled as he started to draw back his sword for a swing.

Sudden peril as tree branches shoot out from all around, encircling arms and feet. Tinweril's sword arm encircled before he can swing, Lindel's arms pinned to his sides as his bow drops helplessly to the ground, Starke wrestling to keep his foot from being ripped off, and Kilinir and Kor-Lebear struggling to dodge more branches than they had moves to counter with. A loud low moan sounds forth as the tree with Quickfoot opens up at the top of its trunk, exposing a hungry hole, the odor of decay rolling forth.

Quickfoot's eyes almost popped out in fright as he saw what awaited him. Closer he was drawn as vainly he struggled. Terror-stricken was his muffled scream, though so many branches were there that he couldn't see if there was anyone around to hear.

Kilgar nimbly dodged reaching branches as several large ones encircled Bronto, striving to tear the big man in opposite directions. Bronto struggled, trying to rip the branches away, but a large branch pulling on his leg prevented him from getting a foothold from which to brace his efforts. He was hopping on one foot as the other one was being pulled away, while trying to counter the opposing pulls of the trees on his arms.

Kilgar dived under his large friend's legs and pulled out his long curved knife. Without a wasted word, he plunged the knife into a branch encircling Bronto's legs. The branch gave a sudden jerk as he sawed it off, freeing Bronto's leg. Still, the other two branches remained, each around an arm, pulling in opposite directions.

His leg free, Bronto planted himself firmly on the ground. Then, with a battle cry that would give a lion reason for pause, he began to pull both of his arms together. Veins popped up as he pulled against the strength of two great oak trees. Kilgar tumbled out of the way as Bronto brought his hands together. Then with a mighty heave, he whirled around in place, the branch he whirled away from tearing off with the sudden force. One arm free, he grabbed onto the other branch and pulled hard.

There was a sudden pop as the other branch was ripped right out of the tree.

Kilgar spun up and around back to back with Bronto, dagger ready for the next assault.

"Thanks for the assist, " Bronto said over his shoulder, as he grabbed up his sword from where it had fallen on the ground.

"I told you that I'd protect you, " the young boy responded, "and a Destir always keeps his word."

Meanwhile, branches all around, Quickfoot screaming as he drew closer to becoming fertilizer, it had finally registered on Blag-ak that something was wrong. He looked over and saw the small wriggling form about to be stuffed into the gaping tree maw like some small snack.

"Bad tree get little friend, " he bellowed as several large branches encircled the large ogre.

"Uh oh, " Eldar smiled as he swiped at branches with his sword, "I think Blag-ak's angry."

"Why does that make me more nervous than the trees, " Sindar responded as he was zapping any branches that got near him with small electrical discharges.

Sabu, meanwhile, appeared transfixed with wonder about the whole situation, as he seemed to calmly analyze everything, oblivious to impending danger.

About a dozen branches entwined about the ogre as he looked over at his small friend. His massive face reddened as he bellowed out his rage. Then, heedless of those encircling himself, he charged towards Quickfoot.

Loud multiple crack as a dozen stout trunks holding onto Blag-ak are suddenly snapped to pieces like a stack of small twigs. Muffled scream of terror as Quickfoot is being stuffed into the tree's maw, the darkness of death about to enclose around him. Ground shakes as an earthquake with feet comes charging straight towards the tree, large hands outreaching.

If it's possible for a tree to be startled, then this one would have been, for there are few things more fearful than an enraged ogre.

Suddenly vision returned to Quickfoot as the tree abruptly exploded from around him and huge hands snatched him up from danger. Whimpering, he carefully peeked around. In place of a large tree, he saw scattered piles of splintered wood and an ogre holding him in one hand.

"Little friend stay close this time, " Blag-ak scolded him.

A branch began creeping towards Mauklo, who remained completely calm and passive. He seemed to take some small amount of fascinated interest in watching the plight of his companions, noting how each in turn combated their menace.

"They seem to be handling it all quite well, " he muttered to himself. "No need for me to waste my talents now."

The branch closed about his foot, wrapped around it and squeezed, drawing forth a thin circle of blood. Mauklo showed no sign of pain or reaction, but merely looked down as the branch began to draw his foot aloft.

"Now, we'll have none of that, " he whispered sharply.

He muttered a few arcane syllables to himself, then pointed an outstretched finger at the offending branch. The branch shuddered, seemed to hesitate, and then quickly withered up, from tip to originating trunk, like a long tube suddenly deflating. It lay there, a dried brittle husk.

Mauklo kicked at it as he shook his foot free, sending dried shards flying away from his foot. As he put his foot down, he just looked in disgust at the offending mass. His eyes held the look of one having been bothered with petty concerns that were for others to worry about.

Filmar had his own concerns to deal with. His razor sharp sword cleaved through branch after branch, but more just continued to come at him in an almost endless stream. Sweat pouring down his brow, he caught sight of Mauklo's apparent unconcern for the others. Now he trusted even less, one who stood around unconcerned while awaiting others to die for him. More and more, Filmar began to hate this newcomer, even though he'd once been told that Hate is not an emotion to be entered into lightly.

The sound of swords swishing as Starke and Eldar try to cut Tinweril free while not getting caught themselves.

"Sabu, " Eldar shouted, "what are you doing there? We have a problem here!"

Sabu seemed to snap out of his reverie as Sindar spoke.

"Yes, my small discharges of electricity appear to be nothing more than a minor annoyance to these things. Something more permanent should be done. And with great alacrity."

"Oh, I was just wondering if these trees are magical in nature or natural. Because if they're natural then that would mean that their ecology would have had to evolve from-"

"SABU!!!"

The sound of four or five voices shouting his name simultaneously seemed to bring him around to the real world.

"Oh, " Sabu looked up suddenly, "well, I was calculating how best to deal with them also. The proper spell must be figured carefully for its most efficient use. You see, you need the best angle to-"

In front of him, Candol was being dragged struggling right by him, branches having no trouble pinning the poor priest down, while Shong was trying to cut him free with his sword.

"Oh, well, I see, " Sabu seemed thoughtful. "Well then the best way would be to take into account. . ."

"Sabu. . ., " Eldar reminded his friend, while he chopped away at trees.

". . .with the proper angle from tree to tree. . ."

"Sabu. . .?"

More branches poured in around them.

". . .and the wind direction in conjunction with. . ."

"Sabu!"

Branches encircling limbs as Starke and Eldar are being raised from the ground.

". . .and with the present light intensity, the right amount would. . ."

"Now, or we're dead!"

Sabu snapped suddenly out of his concentration, quickly shaking his head free of mathematical figuring, "Oh, heck with it all!"

With that, he just shot his arms straight up and then shouted.

"Flamar!"

Two parallel walls of blue flame shot straight up from either side of their path, spraying back away towards the menacing trees, flame passing harmlessly over his companions. Trees flailed, branches dropping whatever and whoever they'd been holding onto as they attempted to put out the sudden holocaust of flame. Sabu stepped back a bit in sudden exhaustion while Eldar looked around at the flame admiringly.

"I never saw you do that one before, " Eldar said to Sabu.

"Neither did I. That was the first time that I tried it, " he responded after regaining his breath, "Although, it was a bit more wasteful than I would have wished."

"Hey, it looked great, " Eldar smiled.

"It did seem to have a certain pyrotechnic flare to it, " Sindar responded.

"Yeah, well, it also wore me out, so I suggest that we maneuver to a safer location."

"Agreed. This way!" Starke shouted as he cut a way out in front of them.

Lindel retrieved his bow and then began to run after them as the others picked themselves up with speed. Flaming branches waving about made their flight difficult. Mauklo, meanwhile, had not started running.

"I so hate undignified exits, " he said to himself.

With that, he muttered a few syllables under his breath. When he was finished, a great breeze rose up around him deterring the flames and branches from getting too near him as he walked at a fast, but dignified, pace after the others.

Onward down the narrow path they ran, swords occasionally hacking at passing branches just in case. As they ran, the path narrowed ever more while the encroaching darkness just but grew. Finally, after a diid of running, Starke shouted a halt to their flight.

Lindel looked around at the trees as they all came to a stop. He seemed to sniff the air and look around.

"These look to be normal trees, " he finally said. "They don't have quite the dark feel to them as the others had."

"If you could feel the trees, why didn't you tell us about those others back there before we tangled with them?" Tinweril asked exasperatedly.

"I was about to, " he replied simply, "when the little one cried out."

Filmar walked angrily up to the ever-calm Mauklo.

"How dare you endanger us all by your inaction, " he shouted into Mauklo's face. "We were dying back there!"

Unperturbed, Mauklo just calmly looked up and smiled at Filmar as if to a small child, "Ah, but no one did die. I saw that everyone was being capable enough,

e with the hinges. He bent his knees, tensed his muscles, and gave forth a loud primeval roar.

"AAAAAAAGGGGHHH!"

"WRAAAAAAAGGGGGG!"

His muscles bulged forth to three times their normal girth, as his body shook with strain.

"WRAAAAGGG!"

They could feel the wind coming from its wing beats now.

Then Sabu had a sudden idea.

"If I'm right about what's down there. . ., " he muttered to himself.

The sounds of snapping began to come from the door frame, as magic strained to withstand against muscle.

"Blag-ak!" Sabu shouted. "The egg, toss it down the hole!"

"WRAAAAGGG!"

Sounds of a door frame snapping and wood and masonry giving under intense pressure.

The ogre looked fondly at the egg he'd found.

"Now!"

"It wants its mama, " Quickfoot nervously offered into his ear. "Now you wouldn't want them to stay apart."

The big ogre paused a moment, and then, "Okay; Blag-ak throw into hole."

The ogre easily lobbed the egg over to the hole with one hand. It went straight down into the center and out of sight.

The large Roc quickly changed course for the hole in its efforts to retrieve its lost young.

Thunderous crack as a massive foot-thick oak door is ripped from its magical hinges and torn away from its now splintered frame. A mighty cry as it's tossed high away and overhead, to land with a crash almost fifty feet away, in the two splintered halves into which it was torn.

The Roc dived down the hole.

"Okay, everyone inside!" Starke shouted.

Everyone ran in, as Bronto relaxed his muscles and wiped the sweat off his brow.

Mauklo paused briefly looking at what was left of the door frame, sensing its now dying magics.

"I think that it's my turn to be impressed, " he remarked to himself. "That door had more magic holding it than any four normal wizards could counter."

Everyone's migration through the door was interrupted by a sudden immense gout of flame streaming skyward from out of the large hundred-foot hole. The flame leapt a hundred feet into the air and was quickly followed by a large roughly bird-shaped blackened lump of charcoal soaring in a great arc out towards the sea.

All eyes watched in amazement as what was left of the Roc hurled out of sight. Then the ground rumbled, waking everyone out of their reverie, as they scrambled to hide in the doorway. Several sets of eyes looked out from hiding at the large hole.

Slowly, majestically, out of it arose an immense, roughly triangular, head. Brick-red scales, each the size of shields, covered its horny head. With teeth the size of small trees, it reached more than fifty feet from nose to ear, and almost that much wide.

What showed was bigger than any dragon the well-travelled Starke had ever heard of, and that was just the head showing!

As it turned around, atop its nose could be seen the remains of the large Roc egg, having apparently landed there from Blag-ak's casual toss. It looked around slowly as everyone remained motionless and hid as best they could. Finally it gave a short snort of smoke through its nose, sending the egg splintering away in several directions, and then lowered back down into the hole.

Several moments passed before anyone dared speak. The first to give comment was Candol.

"We're going up against THAT?!"

"And that's only a lesser Son of Traugh, " Sabu half-whispered to himself in amazement.

"Hopefully, we can surprise it, " Sindar offered.

"Yeah, right!" Quickfoot said sarcastically.

"Speak for yourself, " Kilinir said quietly.

"Well, I made a vow and I'm not going back on it, " Starke pronounced. "I'm still going forward."

"I'm staying with my friends, " Bronto pointed to Sabu and Eldar, "and they have to go on, so I'm in."

Candol took out a coin, flipped it, caught it in his hand, and then looked at it before responding.

"Okay, " he sighed, "I guess I'm in too."

"Okay then, what about the rest of you?" Eldar asked.

"Big lizard squash Blag-ak's egg, " the big ogre frowned.

"I'll take that for a 'yes', " Eldar said, "so I guess it's onward we go."

A smile back on his face, Eldar went in behind Starke as everyone piled in through the rear entrance, interior darkness enveloping each in turn as they disappeared into the structure's depths.

Quickfoot discovered that he needed a change of pants.

Two darkly robed figures, walking down a dark but amazingly clean stone corridor, an intense sense of evil about the both of them. The same two sinister faces that had peered through the crystal to observe the intrepid adventurers. Down the corridor they walk, towards a door at the end. The door is of pure platinum, inlaid all over with magical runes in some hard jet-black combination of rock and metal, smooth to the touch. In the middle of the door is an inverted pentagram of the purest yellow-white gold, a shining scintillating brilliance emanating from the whole design.

"I told you that we ought to have told Him earlier."

"We didn't know then that the intruders would get this far."

"Well, so how are we going to tell him without getting obliterated? Hope that he's in a good mood I suppose!"

"We'll just tell him that they were a bit more elusive than they had at first seemed."

"Sure, " the first one said sarcastically as they approached the door.

They stopped at the door, paused to regain their composure, and then knocked three times.

"Enter!" came ringing out loud, deep, and evil.

"That doesn't sound all that happy to me!" the first one observed.

"QUIET!"

The door opened of itself to reveal a room, a cloak of darkness hiding its true size. Black satin drapes hung all around, with the only other furnishing peering out through the enwrapping darkness being a large dark ball of crystal at the edge of the darkness, resting atop a small round grey stone table, a layer of red silk spread out beneath the crystal. To one side of the crystal's table stood the dark shadowy outline of a man. Shadows wrapped around him like an extra cloak, hiding all but the most general of features from view. What little could be seen of him suggested one of a tall and well-muscled bearing. A suggestion of a small trim triangular beard peered out from his deeply shadowed face, but of no other facial features could the two cowering before him discern. Scintillating flashes of color occasionally flashed off from the contours of his robe, the suggestive shape of a turban-like hat atop his head in the shadowed darkness. A single tanned hand could be clearly seen, various rings and pieces of jewelry adorning his fingers as they wrapped around the tall staff which he carried; a staff heavy with magical runes and a skull on its top.

The second one stepped up to speak.

"Master, there is a-"

"What! How could you be so inept as to let them through?!"

The voice rang like a long claw, dragging itself through their souls. The second one, scared already, was now puzzled at his question being answered before it had been asked. Nervous, he began to think of his next question.

"Don't even ask it. Your mind is as easy to pick as the rind off a piece of fruit. Your task was to keep all dangerous visitors away from there. Such a simple task and you failed!"

"But Master, they-" began the second one.

"Silence! I know your excuses before you even think them, " the shadowed one said in a cool, crisp voice. "Come here."

The second one, who was by now a pale white and kind of twitchy, came up to the Master while the first one, who by this time was a total mental and physical wreck, looked on.

The Master grabbed him by the chin with just two fingers and slowly lifted him off of the floor, until the unfortunate one was a couple of feet above the Master's head.

"You are inept, and I don't like inept servants, " he said calmly, his voice softly resonating throughout the room.

The first one watched, and hadn't even batted an eyelash when he saw that, instead of his companion, the Master was now examining a plump juicy piece of fruit in his hand. He then brought it to his mouth and slowly took a bite out of it, teeth biting through the soft fruit that was once a man. He chewed a short while before he once again spoke.

"I trust that you can do a lot better job than your tasty companion here."

He took another bite.

"Uh,. . . yes, " the first one swallowed nervously, "Definitely. No more mistakes."

"Good, " the Master said calmly, his voice a practice in measured serenity, "then leave me while I finish my snack."

The shadowed one smiled as the first one backed out of the room faster than most people ran.

Oh yes indeed, he thought to himself, things are going perfectly according to plan.

His smile gleamed out from the encompassing darkness as he took another bite.

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