MoboReader> Fantasy > Maldene - Volume One

   Chapter 10 Th r Glomd ita or

Maldene - Volume One By Mark Anthony Tierno Characters: 86555

Updated: 2018-04-10 12:02


Images, colors, voices, softly flooding through the mind like a swollen spring stream. Beckoning, enticing, inviting. An inviting to join. Enticing images offered. Soft voice, almost heard, whispering of dominance and power. Power in exchange for-

"Sindar, are you coming?"

Sabu's sudden voice snapped Sindar out of his reverie. He was in one of the rooms assigned them, gazing out of the open window onto the tall white spires and majestic trees of the immense castle grounds beyond. He shook the eerie sensation as he turned around towards his friend. The room was of the same white stone as the rest of the castle, polished to a pearl-like shine, covered with large silken tapestries, plush carpeting on the floor, the bed large and round but with an almost conservative beauty about it, and an oaken table and several firm but comfortable chairs spaced around the little apartment. Sabu was standing in the entry-way, his brown robe now looking newly cleaned, his youthful face having the grime of the past several rises now washed off of it.

"Are you okay?" Sabu asked.

"Yeah, sure, " Sindar gave a quick smile as he re-focused on reality, "I'm okay. Let's go."

Sabu noticed normal awareness fill back into Sindar's face, to replace the odd thoughtful look that he'd seen on his friend when he'd walked in on him. A part of him wondered briefly about it as they both walked out into the stone hallway.

Painted carvings were etched into the walls they walked past, adorning the hallway with scenes of half-naked nymphs at play in sylvan forests and cooling scenes of mystical blue ponds. The floors they walked along were barren stone, but carved and polished to a smoothness as if of soft glass, inlaid with occasional intersections of blue or red grooved lines at irregular intervals, as if trying to achieve some sort of overall lazy pattern but failing and just sort of meandering down the hallway. Occasional banners would adorn an intersection or be hanging next to the doorway to some visiting dignitary's suite of rooms. Light seemed to emanate from both no place in particular and from everywhere overhead.

This means of course that Sabu's main thoughts were of the source of the light. He was trying to figure out if the light was magical in origin, or just some cleaver multiple reflection of the natural outside light on into the interior of this building by way of unseen panels in the ceiling. Or perhaps a combination of both. Maybe if-

"As intriguing as are the internal arrangements of this fine castle, " Sindar said, "I feel, my friend, that we shall come across many more interesting things than how the place is lit."

"Huh?" Sabu looked up startled, as they rounded a corner.

"Sorry to eavesdrop on your thoughts, " Sindar smiled.

"No, it's perfectly okay, " Sabu responded, waving it off and bringing himself back to reality, "you are quite right. Besides, you probably need to practice with your new found mental powers anyway."

The hallway was now opening up into a wide hallway-like room, with a single long table, and several banners and tapestries adorning the entire length of its walls. They walked down to the opposite end of this room as they continued their chat.

"Speaking of which, " Sindar said, "where's your new staff? I'd have thought that you'd never be away from that new toy."

"Oh!" Sabu said immediately beaming with enthusiasm. "I've been working on a new spell. Watch."

Sabu held out his hand, fist closed as if already around his staff, and then concentrated for but an instant. Immediately, with nary so much as a flash of light, his rune-covered staff appeared in his outstretched hand. Sabu smiled as he brought it down beside him.

"Nice, " said Sindar, a bit thoughtful, "but, where do you keep it before it appears?"

Sabu stopped and frowned a bit.

"Well, " he began, "for now it's just in my room."

"Sounds a bit insecure to me."

"Yes, but I'm working on a variation of the spell that will allow me to store it in a small closet-sized extra-dimensional space until I've so summoned it."

"I see, " was all Sindar answered as they exited the long room.

The hot blue sun of the first rise of Extar shone down through a cloudless violet to orain sky. The hottest part of summer had now passed, but hot rays of light still let people know that the season itself wasn't quite finished yet. Light reflected in many splendid colors off of the gold and pearly white spires, from bright greens, blues, and yellows, to the orain, tairu, narlu, and trüb colors of the ultraviolet. Streets kept magically clean were filled with the hustle and bustle of daily life, as people of all types and walks of life went about their various businesses between the relatively few but quite large buildings of this open part of the grand castle city. Guards and private folk alike shared these streets, be they Human, Elf, tall, short, the occasional sprite or pixie, young or old. Life marched all around.

Most of which was lost on one half of a pair of individuals strolling along a wide avenue. As a matter of fact, his attention was still held by the prismatic reflections coming down off the tall spires, his interest in them being of, shall we say, somewhat less than scientific.

"Purty lights."

Quickfoot slapped his large friend in the face, while sitting at his usual shoulder perch.

"Would you get off with the 'purty lights' already!"

"Sor-ry, " came the long low rumbling reply.

Quickfoot was now probably the only individual who could slap the large Blag-ak and get away with it; that is, live. A position which the short one had grown to like.

"Now, where are all the shops and stuff around here?" Quickfoot asked of no one in particular. "All I see are a bunch of really big buildings."

They walked on down the gravel-covered road, trees and tall colorful grasses lining either side, broken only by the occasional massive expanse of a building.

The large ogre stopped to run his hand over the almost pleasurable smoothness of the wall of a building they were passing. Quickfoot took the opportunity to look around from his high perch until he spotted a passing unimportant-looking man in civilian, if somewhat drab colored, clothing.

"Hey you, " he shouted down. "Where's all the shops and stuff around here. I don't even see so much as a bar anywhere."

The man came over, apparently unafraid by what Quickfoot was on top of, as if tall dumb ogres were a common sight in these streets. He looked up at Quickfoot, smiling a bit as he answered.

"Ah, you're new to Th?r Glomd?ita?or then, " the fellow replied, "Well, there's two places really. To the west of here, just down this road, is a respectable tavern that's used by the castle's troops and guards, and then there's the commerce building over there."

He pointed off to a building in the distance. It seemed to be a hundred stories high, its floor-space at least a couple of hundred feet across. Curved trellises of gold arced out from its sides, with streaks of blue splotching along its height in vague intertwining patterns.

Quickfoot swallowed as he looked up, "That's where the shops are?"

"Yes. The King had a special single building made just for that purpose, to make it easier and more convenient on both the businesses and the customers; for the same reason that there's a separate building just for the residences."

"I'm not sure that I want to know, " Quickfoot said under his breath, and then shouted back. "Well, thank-you for the directions."

The man nodded and then walked on as Quickfoot waved briefly in his direction. Then he went back to speaking to Blag-ak, who had now lost interest in the building wall and had begun walking on towards a small tree sprouting blue bell-shaped flowers.

"Well, somehow, I think that a tavern filled with a bunch of guards isn't where I'd feel comfortable. That leaves that big building over there."

"Big tall rock look purty, " Blag-ak said, looking at the building.

"Tell me, " Quickfoot began, "if something isn't 'purty', you can't eat it, and you can't smash it. . . what do you do with it?"

Blag-ak cocked his head, as if in deep concentration. Of course, deep concentration for him meant that he was about to go comatose.

"Never mind, " Quickfoot slapped his friend awake, "let's just get started over towards that building."

The ogre rumbled his approval as he started walking over in that direction.

The practice field lay in a large open space between several of the castle-city's buildings. In it now hundreds of troops practiced in unison; swords thrusting, coming back to a parry position, and repeat. At the farther end of the field still others were engaged in various physical exercises; from lifting weights, jogging around the field, and doing somersaults, to running through an obstacle course. A drill instructor shouted out commands to the troops in practice with the sword, calling out different positions of offensive and defensive stances.

Bronto, Shong, and Starke had walked, side by side, up to the outer edge of this large practice field, looking on at the troops going through their drills. Bronto, hands on hips, had on his usual jolly smile. Shong, although more confident-looking these rises, still had that almost boyish quality of humbleness about him. Starke, his deep tan shining in the sun, mustache drooping to either side of his mouth, seemed a resolute statue, no smile crossing his lips, even in this time of happiness and relaxation for the others, a vague sense of resolution always about him. They all looked on at the practice field, thinking similar thoughts.

"Well, what say Shong, " Bronto slapped his friend on the back. "My muscles could use a bit of a workout, what about you?"

"I could do with some sword practice, " Shong smiled, almost shyly.

"You two have got to be kidding, " Starke said as he shook his head. "You're two of the best warriors that I've ever known."

"Thank-you for the compliment, " Shong grinned, "but everyone could use some improvement. And it's best to do it before some guy in the street decides to show you that you aren't the best."

"Besides, " Bronto rumbled, "I couldn't have out-wrestled that dragon back on the island, and I want to be ready if we ever encounter that thing's papa."

Starke just gave a grim smile and shook his head as Bronto walked jovially over to the far end of the field with the obstacle course. Shong went over to where the drill sergeant was shouting out maneuvers.

"This ought to be amusing, " Starke said to himself, as he went with Shong.

The sergeant had begun to break the troops up into several small units, and had just started them into fighting small mock-battles with each other when Shong approached him.

"Um, sir?" Shong said as he came up.

The drill sergeant shouted out a final order for the troops to keep on with their fighting and then came over to Shong and Starke.

"Civilians shouldn't be here, " the dark-haired, tan-skinned human said, "you might get hurt."

"Sorry, " Shong started, "my name's Shong, and I was-"

"Oh, you must be one of the ones that just came in with Prince Filmar, " the sergeant smiled as he produced a hand to shake. "Welcome to Th?r Glomd?ita?or."

"Thank-you, " Shong said quietly, "I was just wondering if I could, um-"

"Speak up sir, what can I do you for?"

"Could I practice with your men? I really need to practice more with the sword, and since your men are professional soldiers, I thought maybe that..."

The sergeant smiled, "Practice? With my men? Well, my men can get kind of rough, and I wouldn't want you to get hurt. . ."

Shong just looked at him, innocent question upon his face.

"But, " the sergeant continued, "since you are a guest of the King, I guess I could bend the rules for a few diids."

He turned around as he shouted out to his men, motioning for four of them to come over. They did so, smartly snapping to attention as Shong, looking pleased, drew out his sword. Starke stepped back a ways, to watch what he knew was going to be rather amusing.

"Men, this is Shong, guest of the King, " the sergeant shouted to his men as he walked in front of them. "He wants to practice with you for a bit to better his skills."

The four men got almost evil smiles of anticipation.

"Don't hurt the kid, just teach him what a sword's used for."

"Oh, don't worry sir, " one of the men shouted out, "we will!"

All four laughed in response as the sergeant backed out to allow Shong to approach. The four men then broke ranks and began to circle around Shong, everyone with his sword ready. Starke went up beside the sergeant, and began to speak to him quietly.

"You do realize that they're going to try and rough him up pretty bad, " Starke said to the sergeant.

The sergeant nodded and smiled, "It'll do the kid some good, teach him a few things."

"Oh, I'm sure that someone will learn something, " Starke nodded agreement.

The four circled around Shong, all smiling with the anticipation of a little fun. Shong, though, looked deadly serious, with little of the boyish appearance now about his face. Finally, breaking out of the circle, one of the men made to jab at him and then feinted back as another one lunged full-on from Shong's opposite side. Shong quickly looked from one to the other, deciding, as the sword came swiftly closer.

In a move, apparently meant to prove that the world is indeed three-dimensional, Shong crouched and leapt straight up just as the sword was about to hit him, came down on the shoulders of the one charging below him, and then used him to push off from, away from the first pair to land right in front of one of the others. The one that was charging was pushed, by the force of Shong's landing and subsequent takeoff, straight into the first one that had feinted at Shong. Both men ended up in an unexpected pile of limbs and swords, with one of the two cursing about something sticking him in the gut. Meanwhile, the one that Shong had landed in front of, being a bit astonished at what had just happened, was just a bit too late to properly react when Shong dived for the ground with a circular leg sweep that brought the man to the ground, followed by Shong leaping to his feet in the same motion and flinging the man's sword out of his hands with a swipe from his own sword.

The fourth man, having remembered his training and keeping focused on the fight at hand, slashed his sword at Shong's backside, determined not to let this young pup show him up.

Shong whirled around, and in a single arcing motion with his sword, blocked the other's sword and then brought it up and around, flinging the other's sword off into the sky, and then completed the circle by curving his sword down and around, ending with its point resting on the guy's throat.

Silence reigned for a few moments as sweat poured down the astonished face of the man at the end of the sword point. He looked at the serious concentration showing on Shong's face, boyish shyness now all gone, and knew that he needed a change of undergarments.

"Yep, " Starke said quietly to the astonished sergeant, "I'm sure that they will have learned something."

And then, just as suddenly as the fight seemed to have ended, the sword was gone, as a smiling Shong was sheathing it back into his belt.

"Good fight, " he said gratefully, "but you didn't have to hold back for me."

As four astonished, and somewhat humbler, men began to get up, the sergeant came over to Shong.

"Where did you learn to fight like that my boy? You definitely show great potential and very good training."

"Well, " Shong said hesitantly, "I kind of had to teach myself. That's why I was hopping that you could show me a few things."

The sergeant laughed as he shook his head.

"It wasn't fair, " one of the four men came over, "none of his moves were in the book; they were all illegal!"

This time Starke interjected something, "You know sergeant, in the mercenary unit that I used to have until rather recently, I would train my men to expect unforeseen moves."

The sergeant turned and looked grimly at his men, "As do I. I've told you men time and again, that the most dangerous opponent is the one who's never had any formal training, because you never know what they're going to do! Well, now you've just had proof of that!"

"But Sarge. . ." another began.

"Sarge nothing, " the sergeant interrupted, "there's no such thing as an illegal move in a real fight. Now, it's four laps for the lot of you!"

The four men groaned as they went off to run. Starke then noticed that several of the groups in practice fights had stopped or slowed down their fights to watch what had gone on. The sergeant then turned back to Shong.

"Tell you what, " he began, "I'll see what I can teach you myself. How'd you like to go a few rounds with me?"

Shong smiled as he nodded, "It would be a privilege, sir!"

At times it seems that your average army grunt can sense a good fight in the making from hundreds of feet away. These men were no exception as they all formed a giant circle around the two opponents.

At the same time, there was another crowd gathered at the other end of the practice field. People had stopped their exercises and their running of the obstacle course. They were all gathered around a single man, both hands holding out a long metal pole, outstretched at arm's length, with the near end of it braced up against his stone-hard abdomen and the far end having a large round piece of heavy metal tied to it with some rope. The whole thing looked like some large lever, with Bronto at the wrong end trying to hold it back. Sweat poured down Bronto's face as muscles strained to keep the unwieldy length perfectly level with his shoulders. Voices sounded from amongst the crowd.

"He's been doing that for a while now. . ."

"Isn't that doing it the hard way?"

"I think that's the way he wants it."

"That must be close to three-hundred pounds he has on the end of that pole."

"But, that's a ten-foot pole!"

"I thought only ogres were that strong."

"Well, I saw one in town, why don't you ask him."

Finally, Bronto let out a grunt as he slowly swung the pole up over his head, arms still straight out. Then with a loud cry, he heaved the pole straight at the ground.

They all watched as the pole quickly plunged three feet into the ground before it stopped. Bronto let out his breath in a long easy sigh as, with a loud rattle, the weight shook loose and shot down the length of the pole, the rope still looping it around the pole, and landed with a loud bang. Bronto smiled as he looked out into the small crowd of faces.

"Well, " he said, "that was a good start. Now, I could use two lengths of rope and four men interested in having a tug-of-war."

Several puzzled faces looked first at each other and then at Bronto.

"I want to exercise my legs, " Bronto went on, "so I figure, with a rope attached to each leg, and two men on each, pulling in opposite directions. . ."

The world at hand seemed an almost endless series of tall towers, decorative archways, and magnificent buildings, interspersed with gardens of flowering bushes, colored grasses, and tall trees.

Or so it seemed to a small boy, whose main view of the world has been that of a large expanse of seemingly empty desert.

"Hey, Kilgar, " Eldar smiled down at the boy, "don't be so uptight. You can relax around here."

Kilgar was walking the way that he usually did: knife either in his right hand or at the ready in its sheath, eyes constantly darting around in a never-ending contest to see which eye would first discover the next enemy, light-treading feet walking in a subtly shifting pattern that leaves barely-discernible traces of his passage, and with his posture having an ever-present hint of an almost-crouch, as if always ready to do battle.

"I've got to go with Eldar on this one kid, " Lindel smiled, blue-gold eyes bright with the mid-rise sun. "I've never been anyplace safer."

Kilgar casually glanced around while he answered, "My parents always used to say that you can never be too alert. They weren't alert enough once, and now they're dead."

He'd finished the last statement with a completely matter-of-fact attitude, as if it didn't emotionally concern him one way or the other.

The three were walking along the streets of the castle-city, taking in the sights, colorful buildings, and colorful people. There was a slight breeze, carrying with it a slight hint of cooling moisture from the large lake a few miles away. The sun was bright and blue overhead, shining down violet and blue rays of warmth to reflect amongst the large buildings and be absorbed by the cooling blue and green plants.

They walked through the streets amidst the hurrying crowds of people, slow moving through the hustle of the somewhat faster-moving crowd. Eldar was smiling at everyone that he passed, receiving several puzzled smiles and nods in return. On passing an occasional lady of exceptional beauty, he would make a grand sweeping bow of much flourish and a twinkle in his eye as the lady would pass. Lindel, for his part, would seem more interested in the many trees and bushes that decorated various parts of this enclosed city.

Lindel also noticed that, despite Kilgar's mature front and inbred cautiousness, he seemed to be restraining a typical boyish wonder about the place, his swift eyes trying to take in the many new sights while still trying to hide his interest.

There were none of the small businesses or open-air shops about this place as there would be for most normal towns, Lindel noted. All seemed contained in a few large enclosed buildings. But, rather than this resulting in a messy-looking metropolis, the designers seemed to have used the free ground space for any number of parks, statues, and other eye-candy. They even passed by the occasional street performer, doing acrobatic tricks, playing musical instruments, or performing comic acts for the few spare coins tossed their way by passersby.

Suddenly, Eldar stopped, his head tilting as if to catch a faint noise, his nose taking in the air's odors.

"What's wrong?" Lindel asked.

"Aaaah, " Eldar sighed, taking in a huge sniff of air, "nothing at all! Quite the opposite; it's an odor sure to put joy in the heart of any traveler. A place that I could smell from three miles away; five miles if I'm downwind. A place of cool refreshment."

Lindel looked puzzled.

"He means a tavern, " Kilgar explained.

Lindel shrugged, "What's so special about a bar?"

Eldar smiled, "In a place like this? We aren't talking about just any dive here! This would be a place that serves fine nectar, sweetened ambrosia, and above all, has lots of people."

Eldar started to jog down the street and then looked back.

"Come on. It's over this way."

Lindel and Kilgar both shrugged and then followed after him. All three ran down the street and then around a corner where Eldar stopped, looking onward. There, down the street, they saw a large well kept tavern, mug-shaped sign hanging out in front, and several soldiers coming and going through its door.

"It's better than I thought, " Eldar breathed happily, "It's the local military hangout! This should be some real fun."

Lindel looked on in worried anticipation as they started on towards the tavern.

"Out of my way, short-stuff."

The passing man casually moved around Quickfoot without a thought. The hallways were as crowded as any city that the small one had been to, yet here he was, indoors in the single large commerce building.

When they'd finally come to the large towering building, his pal Blag-ak had opted to stay outside, saying something about not liking to go into "big funny cave". So, Quickfoot had gone in by himself, scurrying around amongst the feet of the taller populous.

"Excuse me, little boy."

He ducked out of the way of the passing woman, not bothering to correct her on the fact that he was fully grown for his race, and worked his way out into the middle of the indoor avenue.

The whole place seemed like the business district of any large city, with open-air shops selling their wares, stone and wood roofed shops all around lining the stone-paved streets, even tall decorative curved archways marking the entry to an adjoining street. All manner of people walked up and down the clean sunlit streets, going on about their shopping. All very much like a busy city indeed.

Except that this was all indoors.

All rather strange, he thought, but he can adapt to any city, given time.

He looked up at the high ceiling, trying to see its height. He might guess around fifteen feet or so, but it was hard to tell. The entire ceiling was painted with scenes of blue sky and puffy streaks of clouds. The clouds looked to be of the right perspective for being high up in the sky, and even seemed to be more solid-looking than a flat painting. All looking very real.

Even down to the fact that the clouds were moving.

Quickfoot shook his head and continued on down the street. Well, he thought, they did say that this King was into making illusions; apparently he was rather good at it. He didn't even want to think about the fact that there were several more similar levels right above him in this building.

He even felt an outdoor breeze brush up against his cheek.

A sudden odor then caught his full attention. The odor of food.

He looked around until he spotted it. It was a booth selling meat rolls. His stomach leaped for joy in anticipation as he found himself sneaking over in that direction.

The vendor was selling the meat-filled pastries for a few small copper coins each to passing customers. Well, he thought, that should offer enough

r from the other side. Unfortunately, the charger suddenly tripped over something he didn't expect to be in his way.

Eldar's foot.

As the man's face speedily met the hard floor, Eldar kept singing his tuneless song. Jikal was grabbing at his face screaming as blood streamed out between his fingers. While all thought of fight had now left Jikal, many others of the troops in the bar had been taking sides, either for Jikal or for Kilgar. Some liked Kilgar's spunk, while others thought that the unruly kid should be taught a lesson.

A difference of opinion among some tired half-drunk soldiers is all you usually need for a fight to break out. So saying, fists were suddenly flying, furniture breaking, insults exchanged, and general mayhem breaking out. In the midst of it all, it soon became apparent to Kilgar that everyone seemed to have forgotten that he was the object of their fight. Knife still ready, Kilgar backed over to Eldar and Lindel.

"I knew I was going to like this place, " Eldar grinned gleefully, as he sheathed his sword. "I haven't been in a good bar fight in too long!"

Eldar rubbed his hands together as he looked around for a good opponent. Lindel leaned over towards the bartender as Kilgar got back up on his stool reaching for, and finally getting, his glass of water.

"I hope the damages won't be too much for you, " Lindel said.

"Don't worry, " the bartender waved the comment away with his hand, "everything in this castle is self-repairing."

Lindel's eyes widened slightly as he responded, "An admirable function for a castle to have."

"Oh, and kid, " the bartender turned towards Kilgar, "I guess it's okay for some young ones to be in here. But, still I ain't serving them alcohol."

"Agreed, " Kilgar said, as he sipped at his water.

Eldar finally spotted an unoccupied opponent. Rubbing his hands together, gleeful smile on his face, he made ready to charge at him.

"Eldar, the King would like to see you in his chambers now, " a low male voice interrupted him from over his shoulder.

Eldar whirled around, annoyance on his face. His first good fight in a long time, and someone had to come and interrupt it. He expected to have to verbally land into someone for the intrusion.

But there was no one there.

"Who said that?" he asked out, puzzledly.

"It is merely I, " came the same disembodied low male voice, "the castle intelligence."

"Castle intelligence?"

"Yes, I am the embodiment of the awareness and intelligence of the castle-city Th?r Glomd?ita?or in which you now reside. It is my function to perform any needed maintenance, transmit any messages instantly, and perform any other necessary menial tasks."

"Hm, " Eldar conceded, "quite handy."

"Thank-you. Now, the King would like to see you, Sabu, and Sindar at your earliest convenience."

"Sodotüva!" Eldar spat out. "I can never get in just one little bar-fight!"

As he sulked out towards the exit, he paused for a moment, thinking.

"Some magic; an intelligent castle, " he muttered to himself. "I'll have to ask Sabu to explain that one to me."

He took a few steps towards the door and then stopped again.

"No, " he said, "on second thought, that would probably confuse me even more."

Eldar casually ducked a flying mug and walked out the door, leaving Lindel and Kilgar to calmly sip at their own drinks.

"I especially appreciate the way that they've managed to combine architectural aesthetic design with functionality and purpose."

"Oh, indeed. I don't see one unplanned aspect of this entire community."

Sabu and Sindar were casually walking along the wide-paved avenue, Sabu using his magic staff as a walking stick, other people and creatures bustling too and fro as they pointed out different observations to each other. Most of what they exchanged would have been considered rather uninteresting by any listeners that could even have understood what it was that they were talking about. But, they both seemed to revel in the intellectual observation and discussion of just about anything, although Sabu's mind seemed a bit more apt at putting specific equations to everything that he saw than was Sindar's.

But not by much.

"This community does seem to have a definite modular approach to the planning and layout of their constructions, " Sabu agreed.

"That rather tall building over there, " Sindar pointed, "appears to be labeled as some sort of indoor farming complex."

"Interesting, " Sabu nodded, as they walked on past, hand absentmindedly massaging his chin as he spoke. "That would tend to lessen the effects of any stoppages in food shipments from the outside."

"What about that one, " Sindar pointed.

Sabu squinted at what Sindar pointed at before he answered.

"According to its sign, it appears to be some sort of large alchemy supply, manufacture, and storage building. Hmm. And that would lend even more support to a hypothesis of mine. You do realize what this all means?"

"Yes, " Sindar nodded agreement, "this castle-city can easily house fifty thousand troops or more, plus support facilities and an internal food supply to allow them to stave off a siege of most any length."

"And the alchemy building and the library that we passed by earlier, " Sabu continued for his friend, "make for a solid research infrastructure."

"To perhaps be able to research and develop new weapons and methods of vanquishing an enemy when in a protracted encounter. Not to mention the sheer size of the outer walls and the other more obvious military paraphernalia."

Sabu paused for a moment, finally removing his hand from his chin, then looked up and spoke.

"They're preparing for a war, " he said.

"I agree, " Sindar said, as they turned left to an adjoining street, "and a big one from the looks of it."

"And I don't think we have to guess with whom, " Sabu added. "It makes me more curious about what the King has to say to us about all this."

Suddenly something interrupted their conversing. A fleeing brown-haired male figure ran straight into Sindar, nearly knocking him off of his feet. Sabu helped the figure separate from Sindar as the latter straightened up his robes. The figure looked up, quickly facing Sabu then Sindar's face.

"You've got to help me, " Shong said breathlessly. "You've got to hide me from them. They're relentless!"

"What's chasing you, " Sabu asked, somewhat shocked, "to make you run so?"

"He's faced off a dragon, " Sindar said. "Surely, anything worse than that, that would make him flee, wouldn't go unnoticed in this place?"

"That would make it a very insidious creature indeed, " Sabu added thoughtfully, as Shong was pulling at his collar.

"Look, " Shong said, trying to go back to his humble polite self but also struck with a kind of terror that no monster could ever hope to bring about, "they're after me, but I don't want to hurt them. Now, can you hide me?"

Sindar looked past Shong at the road behind him. Spotting something, he smiled and nodded to Sabu to look as well.

Sabu looked. He saw three straw-yellow female heads bobbing their way through the crowds, eyes frantically searching, but coming in their general direction.

Sabu smiled as he answered.

"Me thinks I spy three mighty ogresses ready to tear him apart, " he said.

"Oh yes, " Sindar joined in, "fierce opponents that surely no man can hope to best!"

"Come on guys, " Shong said, looking back over his shoulder, "they're just too much. I don't want to hurt their feelings, and to make matters worse, they're the King's daughters! You've got to help me."

"Three of his kids, is it, " Sabu said, getting a thoughtful look in his eyes. "That would make them the triplets. I hear that they can be a bit overzealous at times."

"That's an understatement, " Shong said, "nymphs would be hard-put to best them."

"I've heard so little about Filmar's other siblings, " Sabu continued, "I would be most interested in asking them about-"

"Sabu!" Shong gave the startling shout.

"Oh, uh sorry, " Sabu snapped out of his reverie. "I know what I can do."

With that, Sabu concentrated, his fingers moving in quick odd motions. Meanwhile, as the girls got closer, one of them spotted Shong as she pointed towards him. The three then jumped in glee and started to run through the crowd straight towards him.

Shong looked like a small field mouse trying to spot a place to hide from some large predator.

Then Sabu finished his gestures and Shong stared at what happened next. He saw an image of himself step out from around him and stand in front of him. The image solidified, and looked around nervously. Spying the three coming towards them, the image suddenly sprinted down the street and around a corner out of sight.

Much to Shong's amazement, the three girls ran right on by them, turning around the corner around which the image had fled. He just stared in amazement towards the street down which his pursuers had disappeared.

"There, " Sabu said, "that should occupy them for a while. But, I'd still get out of sight if I were you though."

Shong faced towards Sabu, relief and gratitude easing across his face.

"Faw?r'mo, " he said, straightening up to his old shy self, "I just couldn't handle-"

"It's okay, " Sabu interrupted, "you just better get going."

"Agreed, " Sindar added.

"Right. And thank-you again, " Shong said, backing away.

Shong then turned and ran off down the street in the opposite direction from where the girls had gone.

"Nice little illusion that you managed there, " Sindar said.

"It did the job, " Sabu shrugged, as he started to walk forward again.

His travel was short, as his face meeting with the ground was testament to.

"What's wrong?" Sindar said as he bent down to help his friend.

Sindar, however, also found himself tripping instead of bending, as he too landed upon the ground. Both of them lay upon the ground as they tried to straighten up both themselves and their dignity.

"It appears, " Sabu said as he looked down by his feet, "that I tripped over that."

What he indicated was a small piece of thin rope that tied his feet loosely together. Seeing this, Sindar rolled over and up into a sitting position and looked at his own feet. Sure enough, they too had a small length of rope tying them together.

"But how did they get there?" Sindar asked.

Giggling seemed to answer them from nearby.

They both looked around, but saw nothing to be the source of the laughter.

"Hmm, " Sabu said. "Well, first things first."

"Allow me, " Sindar said.

Sindar gestured at the ropes. The ropes fell apart untied, allowing them both to get up to their feet, Sabu picking up his staff from where it'd fallen. As they brushed themselves off, Sabu continued his musing.

"It would appear that-"

But he was interrupted by the bottom of his robe spontaneously igniting into small purple flames.

"Sabu, " Sindar said alarmed, "your robe-"

"I know, " he answered as he bent down to start to beat out the flames.

Suddenly he stopped, looked more closely at the flames, and then straightened up as the flames danced up his robe.

"But Sabu, " Sindar said, "you'll burn up."

"Look at them more closely, " Sabu said calmly.

Sindar looked at the translucent flames, beneath their destructive promise, to the material underneath.

"Your robe isn't burning, " he said calmly, "they're fake."

"Yes, a rather poor illusion, " Sabu said.

Childish laughter echoed nearby them.

"It appears that we have some pranksters, " Sabu observed. "Any idea where?"

Sindar concentrated for a moment before responding.

"I sense two minds over that way, " Sindar nodded in the desired direction.

"I got something ready, " Sabu whispered quietly.

"I'll let you know when, " Sindar nodded.

Together they casually strolled on down the street, eyes and ears alert, Sindar's mind probing out like a searchlight.

Faint childish laughter could be heard following them a few feet behind. Sabu looked casually over at Sindar who gave a slight nod towards their rear. Sabu gave no response but looked straight ahead and concentrated.

Suddenly he whirled around, left hand outstretched, palm forward, pointing directly behind him, right hand clutching onto his staff. Springing out of his hand a stream of glistening silvery threads spun out. Ten feet they went before they seemed to hit upon something unseen, spinning around its invisible victim. Giggling quickly turned to shouts and screams of fright as struggling forms were encased in a circular ball of sticky silvery threads. Sabu straightened up as he and Sindar walked slowly over to the struggling ball.

"I got the idea for that spell from those spider caverns we were in, " Sabu said to Sindar.

"I wonder who our troublemakers are?" Sindar wondered.

There was a brief flicker in the ball of webs, as of a shield of light cascading downward, to suddenly reveal two small boys stuck in the strands. They were both dark-haired and looking quite pained, as only small boys can.

"They can't be more than six, " Sabu observed.

"We appear to have the source of our little troubles, " Sindar smiled.

"It looks like we'll have to deal with them right away, " Sabu replied. "Do you think we should turn them into fleas or just have them stuffed and mounted?"

"Ah, come on, " one of the boys pleaded, "We were just kidding, "

"Yeah, " the other one said, "no harm meant."

"Tylar! Tilar!"

The shout interrupted any remark Sabu was about to make. The source of the shout stepped out through the passing crowds, dressed in light clothing topped by a finely-woven cloth-like chain armor, with a shiny silvery breastplate. The breastplate had a stylized image of tall twin mountain peaks with a small star at the base between them.

"Uh oh, " both boys said simultaneously.

"Filmar, " Sabu said as the figure approached, "you know these boys?"

"Two of my younger brothers, " Filmar said as he came to a stop in front of the webbed mass, "the two youngest in our family. Pranksters both of them."

"Oh, I didn't know, " Sabu apologized, "I'm sorry if I hurt them."

Sabu waved his hand through the air, between himself and the boys. There was a flash of light, leaving only a slight odor of old glue as any trace of the webs. The two boys got up and stood side by side, looking sheepishly at Filmar.

The two boys looked exactly alike.

"They're twins, " Sindar remarked.

"Yes, " Filmar nodded, "my father went through a period of having several sets of twins and triplets."

Filmar looked down at the two boys.

"Do you want me to tell Father that you were pulling jokes on two of his honored guests again?"

The two boys shook their heads in unison.

"Okay then, " he continued, "apologize and then get on with you."

The boys nodded then turned and went over to face Sabu and Sindar. They faced up to the two wizards.

"We're sorry, " they said together.

"Apology accepted, " Sabu said.

"Okay, " Filmar scolded, "now on with you, before I change my mind."

The twin boys scampered off as Filmar came up beside Sabu and Sindar.

"I'm sorry about that, " Filmar said, "they're always using what Father teaches them to pull pranks on people."

"It's okay, " Sabu said, "that's just what boys do."

"You ought to have seen what they did to one ambassador's quarters, " Filmar smiled a little. "He got so flustered that he accidently confessed that he was actually a spy."

Sabu smiled at this as Sindar spoke up.

"You must have quite a large family, " Sindar commented.

"Large enough for only a king to handle, " Filmar responded. "I know that I could never handle such a brood. Now you know where my father got the practice for ruling over millions of people."

"Yes, " Sabu agreed, "after dealing with your siblings, the rest must have been relatively easy."

They started to walk down the street as, after a brief pause, Sabu continued.

"You really admire your father, " Sabu observed.

"Yes, " Filmar replied, "I could never do what he does. He's the only true King that I've ever seen. He truly does care about his people and not about some pompous royal vanity."

"You're the Crown Prince, you know, " Sindar said. "Some rise you'll have to take over for him."

"Oh I hope not, " Filmar exclaimed, "as much as he tries to train me for it, I could never take over for him. That doesn't mean that I won't try if I need to though. But replace him? Never."

"He sounds to be a clever and wise ruler, " Sindar commented.

"He is, " Filmar said, "as he is a father."

"Which reminds me, " Filmar said, suddenly breaking the mood with a more cheerful tone. "He wants to see you two along with Eldar in a meeting."

"It looks like it's time to get down to business then, " Sabu said to Sindar. "The meeting that we've been anticipating."

"Or dreading, " Sindar said, "but you can't put off Destiny for too long."

"Very well, " Sabu said, "lead on."

"If you'll just follow me, " Filmar directed, "I'll take you there."

So together the three walked, on down the wide avenue, soon getting lost amongst the people; a Prince and two of three faces of Destiny.

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