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   Chapter 15 Discovery And Escape

Maldene - Volume One By Mark Anthony Tierno Characters: 50060

Updated: 2018-04-10 12:02


"BY OURS!"

The thunderous reply came from overhead. Weapons leapt to hands, legs went into battle stances, and eyes turned upwards.

Hovering a good hundred feet above them, flying but by the power of their own magic, were two black-robed brothers, anger deeply etched upon their countenances.

"Uh oh, " Eldar said to himself.

"Torai and Ba-Rayl, if I remember, " Sabu shouted up.

"Names you will not have long to know!" Torai exclaimed.

"It is your names that I shall carve on the hilt of my sword, " Bronto shouted back, "after I kill you!"

"You are traitorous spies!" Ba-Rayl shouted. "Come for our master's own."

"Yeah, well, everyone needs a hobby, " Eldar smiled, flippant as ever.

"You at least should be one of us!" Torai pointed down to Mauklo. "Why betray the very god that you serve?!"

Mauklo calmly shrugged.

"I guess I just have bigger plans, " he said. "Besides, I serve Set, not you."

"I guess it doesn't matter if we tick them off now, does it, " Kilinir commented.

"We could always work for the winner, " Kor-Lebear offered back.

"Good point, " Kilinir admitted, as she and Kor-Lebear started backing away from the bulk of the group.

Candol stepped boldly out from their midst.

"Know you, " he shouted up, hands raising skyward, "that I am a priest of the mighty Indra! I am his chosen vessel, come to bring his might down upon you!"

Winds swirled around the priest, faster and faster, as if to form a shield of wind. Lightning crackled from his fingers as he incanted.

"I call upon the full force of my Lord, " he continued, "his humble servant here to strike you down!"

Thunder seemed to boom forth from around the priest, as lightning crackled along his outstretched arms, aiming skyward.

"This looks like it could get messy, " Eldar smiled, sword in his hand.

An ebony-colored bolt sizzled forth from Ba-Rayl, striking the humble servant of Indra. The force of the blow scattered the winds whirling about him, the lightning forcefully expelled from his body. Candol went flying backwards a dozen feet, landing on top of Quickfoot.

"It was, " Sindar said back to Eldar, "but not as we would have hoped."

"Are you okay?" Lindel asked as he rushed over to the priest's side.

Candol stirred, his opening eyes first seeing Lindel kneeling over him. Slowly, he started to sit up.

"That hurt, " he finally said.

"What about me?!" came the muffled voice beneath him.

"So much for your mighty voice of Indra!" Torai shouted. "Who's next!"

"We can join against them, " Eldar offered quietly to his friends, "the way we did against the golem."

Sindar shook his head.

"To what purpose?" he asked. "They are no dumb golem, and their power is greater than our own, even combined."

"Just get me a clear shot, " Lindel offered, bow in hand, getting up from Candol's side, "and I'll pluck at least one of them off."

"I'll get you your shot, " Bronto said, coming up next to the elf, anger contained within his face. "I imagine that killing one of them will make for a very good distraction!"

Before anyone could tell him otherwise, Bronto marched out boldly, away from the others, big six-foot sword held in a single hand, to stand in the center of the large stone patio looking up at the two priests.

"I challenge you!" he shouted, "You killed my friend, which makes you dead right now. You just don't know it yet!"

"Mildly amusing, but of no use, " Torai said smiling slowly, as he began to point a finger towards the big man. "You'll make a great zombie. . ."

Flash of light, as bolt of lightning leaps across the patio, trail of ozone in its wake. Roar of pain, as large man sent flying several dozen feet through the air, to land with a hard thump upon a rocky hill, sword by his side.

"Bronto!" Kilgar shouted, running over to his side.

"I'll get them, " Lindel said, notching not one but two arrows at once.

"Who threw that lightning?" Ba-Rayl shouted, Torai stopping his own spell as the two appeared as surprised as anyone.

Two arrows went streaking through the air, both launched from the same bow. Dead center upon their intended targets they were, about to hit both priests upon their foreheads. But a foot away from them, the arrows then swerved away at a drastic angle, as if some force casually batted them aside.

"They both have magic about them to protect from the likes of arrows, " Sindar said quietly to Lindel, "your arrows will do no good."

"I repeat, " Ba-Rayl went on, "who is responsible for that spell?"

"Of course, " came the ever calm voice, "my plans are amendable."

Mauklo came across to the center of the patio, the scent of an expended spell still about him.

"Ah, " Torai spoke up, "you would have us believe that you are still loyal to the mighty Set?"

Mauklo spread his arms to either side, palms facing emptily outwards, head facing up as if in supplication.

"Have I not always been loyal to Set?" he answered. "I only wanted to see where their plans would take them. For but that reason did I pretend to follow the path of my enemies."

A groan came from the side of the hill as Kilgar propped Bronto's head up in his lap.

"You baited them a trap, " Torai smiled, "with which to lure them."

"You have cunning about you, " Ba-Rayl added.

"I knew he couldn't be trusted!" Quickfoot exclaimed as he went over behind Candol, who was now finally on his feet, weak but steady.

"Hey Sabu, " Eldar whispered to his friend, as his quick elven eyes darted amongst the wreckage of the golem, "wasn't there another of those funny red gems around here somewhere?"

Mauklo then started to float a few inches above the ground, as if lifted by the air itself.

"I am but your humble instrument, " he said, arms still thrown back, head back, chest forward, "to be used as you wish."

Sabu's eyes discreetly searched the wreckage, then over towards Mauklo, now floating above the ground.

"Very well, " Ba-Rayl spoke, "come to us that we may then dispose of your former companions."

Sabu exchanged glances with Sindar. Sindar's mind spoke to Eldar's.

"Treacherous dog!" Candol said weakly. "Had I the strength, the curse of Indra would now be upon you."

"Masters, " Mauklo smiled, "can I have the pleasure of shutting up the priest first?"

Sabu casually turned his staff top down, carefully poking it through the wreckage.

"That we would all be glad to see, " Torai grinned. "I tire of that one."

Eldar's sword discreetly poked through the small pieces of golem rubble, while Sindar bent down to his knees as if weak.

Kilgar, meanwhile, still knelt by Bronto's side, the big man moving but little. Kilgar brought his head close to his friend's, small boyish tears forming in his eyes.

Mauklo started to float upwards, ascending in his supplicant's pose, not dagger, wand, nor spell within reach of his open hands.

Sabu's staff touched upon something hard, as crystalline form pressed into the top of his staff, one becoming one with the other. A soft red glow quickly suffused through the staff's length, disappearing in but a moment. Similarly, the blade of Eldar's sword gave a brief glow, as it too contacted something.

Mauklo rose high above the ground, upwards towards Torai and Ba-Rayl, narrowing his distance from them to within a score of feet.

"As you wish it, my master, " Mauklo smiled, "the priest shall be first."

Sindar's hand cupped around a small object, as his mind now thought-projected out towards Candol.

Palms facing still upwards, Mauklo smiled his most wicked smile and looked down at Candol.

Or maybe it was the two slim shadows trailing in the hills behind the priest that he actually looked at.

Torai and Ba-Rayl looked down at the assembled group, both raising their hands to cast forth their own spells, smiling in anticipation of the coming slaughter.

Fire, thin beam of heat, lancing out from out-thrust palm, searing its hot path through chill air. Scream of pain and surprise as thin chain of gold rapidly melts into a slag pool of molten gold dribbling upon the black priest's neck.

Torai's cry spurred the others into instant action. Sabu brought up his staff, a fire-red gem now atop it, while Eldar swung his sword up into the air, a red gem now also decorating its hilt. As Sindar stretched out his palm, dim red glow now deep within it, Eldar's foot gave a kick at the last gem amongst the rubble.

"Candol, " he shouted, "this one's yours!"

The gem went soaring through the air, its red facets gleaming, just as the melted golden chain slipped from about Torai's neck, sending his jeweled amulet plummeting down towards the ground.

Ba-Rayl's eyes widened as he saw the red gleam arc over to Candol.

"Those gems!" Ba-Rayl shouted. "Where did you find them!!"

The gem struck Candol square in the forehead. But, instead of bouncing off of the puzzled priest's head, it stuck there, its red glow absorbing into his flesh as it seemed to slide beneath the surface of his forehead.

Sabu suddenly sniffed the air, as if catching a scent.

"Lindel, " he said, "that amulet is what stopped your arrows from reaching him."

Needing no further word to spur him to action, Lindel's bow had an arrow in it faster than anyone could see.

"Where!" Ba-Rayl exclaimed angrily, as he raised up his hands.

As Torai, grabbing at his wounded neck, recovered himself, thunder sounded around Ba-Rayl as magic formed about him as dense as fog for those that could but see it.

Crack of thunder came forth, but from magic not did it come. Metal blade come through the air, fast as sound itself, or so it seemed. Scream of life's last moment, as six feet of metal buries hilt-deep through cloth-covered chest, two halves of a broken amulet dangling loosely to either side of the wide blade. Red blade slowly spilling blood from its tip, to start its long journey to the ground.

Bronto stood standing upon the hill, now without his large sword, Kilgar by his side. The big man didn't even look injured, nor did a trace of a real tear now grace the child's face.

Ba-Rayl's body shivered a couple of times, as if indecisive of if to die or not. The priest's face looked weakly down at the hilt sticking into his chest.

"I guess that was a bit much for your amulet to stop!" Bronto shouted out.

Torai looked angrily over to Mauklo, his free hand coming up to point a deadly promise of a spell at him.

Mauklo calmly shrugged, as he gave a slight smile.

"I guess that I wasn't too clear as to which priest I said would be first, " he said.

From several sources then did death come. From Sabu's raised staff sprang a beam of fire, as likewise from the tip of Eldar's pointed sword. Sindar's pointed finger gave forth fire as did Candol's. All four beams pierced through the air, focusing down upon Ba-Rayl's flailing body.

Simultaneously, from around Candol, several sets of knives went through the air, two from a pair of shadowed figures, a third from a short figure at the priest's side. Three arrows, launched from but the same bow, also sailed through the air, to join the knives on their deadly course towards Torai. A final curved knife then came out to join the rest, sourced from a small boyish figure standing beside Bronto.

Skewered body pelted as if from the rays of four small suns, fire lancing through its body, enveloping it with the heat of a forge. Gory flash, as priest turns into flaming bits of meat sailing upon the winds. Metal blade, fire-cleansed of the stench of death, tumbling over through the air.

Other priest now, giving life its last look. Body spasming, as death greets it with several metal fingers. Like pins through a cushion came they, knives into his face, chest, and groin, arrows piercing through chest, abdomen, and neck, and a final curved knife to imbed itself deep into an eye. Thence like a fallen angel it came, the body plummeting to the ground. Dead.

Floating back down to the ground, Mauklo then bent down and picked up Torai's fallen amulet.

"I think I can get its chain fixed, " he smiled as he pocketed his prize.

Bronto walked over to pick up his sword from where it had landed.

"Bull's-eye!" Eldar exclaimed as he brought his sword slowly back down to his side.

"You look mighty healthy for one that was struck by lightning, " Lindel noticed.

"Yeah, " Bronto answered as he carefully picked up his still-warm sword, "Mauklo's spell fooled me for a bit too there. It caused me pain and then immobility for a short time, but damage me? There was no force behind that bolt of lightning."

The two shadows walked out from behind Candol, taking form as Kor-Lebear and Kilinir.

"That groin shot was mine, " Kilinir smiled proudly.

"You could have said you were faking it earlier, " Quickfoot said angrily, as he went to join Kilgar over by Torai's body in the retrieval of knives.

"In front of the two priests?" Mauklo responded in mock shock, "Besides, you were more convincing this way."

"You just stay on the border of being trustworthy, don't you, " Eldar said to Mauklo.

Mauklo just shrugged innocently.

"I'm wondering about the nature of these gems, " Sabu put in, as he looked at the new gem upon the tip of his staff. "It attached itself to my staff, a separate item, yet faintly can I feel its presence within myself."

"I know what you mean, " Eldar said, giving his sword a couple of test swings through the air, "it seems to have tempered my sword a bit."

"And how can this gem be in my forehead, " Candol indicated, "yet I feel it not, except maybe as a slight presence upon my soul?"

"A more pertinent observation, " began Sindar, "might be the fact that those priests seemed surprised to see them here. As if they didn't know about their presence in the golem any more than we did."

"The Fates would seem to have put them here, " Lindel said.

"I feel more and more like I'm being manipulated or used in someone else's greater game, " Sabu commented.

A sudden clash, as of the heavy sound of metal thrust into solid stone, interrupted their ponderings. All heads turned towards the source of the sound.

Bronto stood there, his mighty sword thrust a full foot deep into the stone ground beside Shong's pale fallen body. The warrior stood there, no expression upon his face.

"None of this will bring back my comrade I fear, " his deep voice rang out, "or ease the loss."

Glad faces and victorious expressions quickly turned sad, as they were reminded of Shong's quick, pointless death. Candol and Sabu walked over to the fighter.

"And I think that this time, no light out of the North will come to his aid, " Sabu said sadly, lowering his head. "I shall miss him greatly."

"We all will, " Candol said as he came up beside Bronto.

"Priest, " Bronto looked Candol, "is there nothing that you can do?"

The wind seemed to still and grow cold as they stood there, Candol giving his helple

d, " Sabu said decisively, as he walked swiftly towards the Captain's cabin, "Bronto, get this ship to sailing. As soon as I give the Captain the course I calculated, we're sailing back home."

As Sabu ran into the cabin, Bronto pulled a couple of sailors aside, telling them what he wanted, he and Shong then helping as best they could to get the ship ready to sail. Candol stood to one side, holding onto his sigil, praying to Indra while sailors bustled about him. Lindel kept an arrow notched, staring up for any threat that would come at them from the sky, while Kilgar scurried up a mast towards the crow's nest. Even Kor-Lebear and Kilinir pitched in with the sailors a bit. Mauklo, though, just stood by the railing, staring out at the peninsula, as if he might see through its dark, silent walls.

"Think we can make it?" Sindar asked Eldar, as they stood out of the way of the sailors.

"If Sabu says he's figured the correct course, " Eldar answered, "then it's a given fact. It's just a matter of getting there in time. Of what do your premonitions tell?"

Sindar shook his head in negation.

"Only of what would happen if we don't make it, " he answered, "and you wouldn't like that."

He didn't, though, tell Eldar of the other things his visions gave him. Of the beckonings and enticing, he said naught.

Two sailors were over cranking the wheel that slowly raised up the large anchor, a wheel planted firmly upon the deck, with four long metal rods projecting out from its sides. It was these rods that the sailors were using to turn the large wheel when Bronto came over to them.

"That's too slow, " he said. "Here, allow me."

The sailors quickly stepped back as Bronto grabbed onto two of the wheel's rods. With a loud growl and a mighty heave he gave the wheel a strong spin. The sailors watched as it spun like a kid's toy top, reeling up the anchor faster than they'd ever seen before, and then heard it clang into place but a moment later.

The Captain walked out onto the deck, Sabu by his side. Map in hand, he shouted out orders in his native tongue of Osan. Sailors ran around deck carrying out his orders as, sails up in record time, the ship began to turn about and pull away from the peninsula.

Thunder raked across the sky, now with a visible scar of light piercing across the grey expanse overhead.

"Let's move it!" the Captain shouted. "I want speed. On course and full ahead!"

Thunderous peal, as if world at an end. Sudden lightning fingering its way across the sky. Ocean churning, waves rising as large sleem slices through towards her course. Wind promising the cold passive embrace of death.

"This is going to be close, " Sindar said.

"We might make it, " Eldar said hopefully.

"That all depends, " said Mauklo, coming over to them, "if you're taking into account that!"

They looked to where he pointed. At the Captain's side, Sabu looked up, as he too saw of what Mauklo now pointed.

Dark shadow of death, growing out over tall gloomy walls. Distant sky turned brick-red with man-sized scales. Sailors looking on in fright, as evil yellow eyes peer out from a scaled skull the size of their own boat. Wings slowly flapping; wind increasing. Immense mouth calling out; thunder given voice. Breath spilling out from cavern-like nostrils; grey fog issuing forth. Part beast, part force of Nature.

It rose.

Suddenly, it seemed to them all as if their sleem couldn't possibly sail fast enough to save them. All eyes looked on at the great dragon rising up from beyond the tall impassive walls.

"Holy mother of Indra!" Candol exclaimed.

"Well, " Eldar put in, "at least now we know what caused the thunder. If that's any comfort, that is."

Mauklo just scowled back at Eldar as Sabu came up to them.

"The Dragon Lord's big pet I take it, " Sabu said.

"Um, correct me if I'm wrong, " Eldar said, moistening his lips, feigning calm, "but those priests we killed did say that that thing is second only to Traugh, right?"

"Correct, " Sabu responded, as the dragon rose up majestically towards the sky.

"Then, " Eldar began in a quiet voice, before he suddenly raised it in exclamation, "what the heck is Traugh like!"

"Enough, " the Captain shouted, "get this ship moving. Come on you slackards, unless you want to be dragon kibble!"

As the crew ran about their duties with a renewed energy that only terror could produce, Quickfoot crawled out from behind a cabin door. He looked about to see what was going on. Slowly he looked up at what arose in the sky.

Quickfoot fainted.

As only a Thirdocian crew could make her, the ship sliced through the growing waves with the speed of an arrow. The waves grew higher, the sky foggier as they sailed on. In back of them the large dark winged mass took flight.

"How much farther, " Lindel came over and asked apprehensively, as he put away his arrow, utterly useless against what took to the sky, "until we transfer back home?"

"Assuming my calculations are correct, " Sabu began, raising up his staff to the sky, "we should hit the dimensional rift we came through in a few moments. I just have to use my staff to open it up for us."

Sabu concentrated as he held his staff aloft. Blue light crackled and danced along its length as he held it up high.

"The rift should be responding to my staff now, " Sabu said.

"Are you sure?" Lindel asked, glancing towards the immense creature that had taken to the skies, "That thing doesn't look too friendly."

Sudden fog began to wall up around them, fog almost too thick to see through. Fog unmoving, despite the growing wind around them.

"Quite sure, " Sabu grinned as they all noticed the fog.

One flap of immense wings and the flying promise of death was halfway to them. Another flap would set it upon them.

"Let's just hope we make it in time, " Sindar added.

"Will it be able to follow us?" Eldar asked.

"I would think not, " Sabu answered, lowering his staff. "It doesn't follow us on our exact course, and didn't come through the way we did."

"You mean, we came through, so we're the only ones that can go back, " Eldar finished for him.

"Something like that, " Sabu said, "although it's more a case of the dimensional rift closing behind us."

"That's all I wanted to know, " Eldar said, brightening.

Evil yellow eyes glared down at them.

Eldar reach into a pocket and pulled out a small round ball of earth, the size of a pea. This he took into his right fist.

Death gave another flap of its wings.

Eldar threw his small prize.

"Just a little something I keep around for party tricks, " Eldar explained.

The small ball went through the air, rapidly expanding to many times its size as it also increased in speed. Very quickly, it was a large ball of mud, over a dozen feet across, sailing swiftly through the air.

Fog grew thick around them, as if closing in.

The dragon glared down at them, immense yellow eyes seething hatred.

A large ball of mud suddenly hit the flying beast square in its left eye, covering up its yellow hate for a short time.

"Got him!" Eldar exclaimed.

The dragon angrily shook its head, sending the mud flying to either side.

"Do you think that was safe?" Lindel asked.

The dragon bellowed out thunder, drawing in a large intake of breath.

The waves stopped churning beneath them, the wind too still.

The dragon breathed out, immense plume of fire billowing out at them like a small star come to rest upon their ship. Through the air it went, swifter than flight. Down upon them. Closer.

The fog closed in around them completely, sealing out that other world, while somewhere else, an immense fiery ball splashed down upon empty water, turning up several thousand cubic feet of superheated steam.

"Perfectly safe, " Eldar answered confidently.

"Eldar likes to live on the edge, " Sabu explained.

Feeble yellow sun gave way to large blue one. Grey skies gave way to bright violet and orain ones. Bland face of ocean gave way to a living one, filled with the currents of life. Fog, settled about them for a while, now finally lifted, revealing behind them Tedelnosho, The Great Whirlpool, while in front of them stretched a sea of seemingly endless varieties of small islands, their diversity surpassed only by their sheer numbers. Small dots fading off to the horizon.

"The Sea Of A Thousand Islands, " the Captain announced at last.

"Now maybe we can finally see our island, " Eldar sighed.

Dark veil of evil. Cloaking darkness, hiding all but dim movements. Two figures in the darkness, twin souls of night, one infinitely blacker that the other. Hushed whispers in the darkness.

"It happened as you said it would, " came the dark voice. "They took it all!"

"I did warn you, " came the infinitely darker, ever patient, voice.

"Yes, well it all happened just the way you predicted, " said the dark voice, "except for a few gems that weren't supposed to be there."

"Gems?" came the darker voice. "What type?"

"You know what kind, " responded the dark voice. "This ruins everything!"

"Not if you remain calm and prepare to deal with them, " said the darker voice calmly. "They will have to return to your domain sometime. You merely have to wait for them to come to you, then you gain them and the gems."

Silence gained dominance for long moments, before it was broken by dark whispers.

"That is why I ally with you, " said the dark voice at last, more pleased with itself than before. "You perceive the advantage in everything."

"A minor talent."

"Very well, " the dark voice decided, "I will prepare for their return. They shall not escape me!"

One dark presence leaves, another remains. Slowly, silent at first, then louder, an evil chuckle breaks the darkness. Mild amusement fills the inky blackness.

"Ally indeed, " the darker voice said calmly. "The universe is but an opportunity, its inhabitants merely instruments to an end."

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