MoboReader> Adeventure > Maldene: Volume Two

   Chapter 24 Dwingale

Maldene: Volume Two By Mark Anthony Tierno Characters: 88559

Updated: 2018-04-10 12:02


The orain-colored sky shone down brightly upon the narlu and yellow colorings of the tall grass, waving waist-high to the horizon. The foothills were still in back of them, the surrounding snow-capped mountains now a distant memory. The day was bright, the air clean with the fresh smell of mid-Spring flowers in full bloom and grass waving in the breeze, the horizon clear of immediate dangers. Coming out of the hills they'd found a small stream which they were now following, Bronto in the lead as usual, the ever-vigilant Shong bringing up the rear. They were walking as carefree as they dared, for by now they had learned vigilance as an instinct, being wary even in their sleep.

"Now this is the type of country that I prefer to travel through, " Lindel said as he happily breathed in deeply of the fresh air.

The small stream, barely more than a dozen feet across, babbled alongside them in agreement, as it wound its way through fields broken only by the occasional lonely tree.

"I'm with you there, " Eldar agreed. "Nothing could go wrong in a place such as this."

"That's what worries me, " Mauklo interjected, as he kept to himself, a few feet away.

"Oh, always the one to play a dim note in any concert Life and spirma has to offer, " Candol offered. "By the will of Indra, we have escaped all the hazards that have been thrown against us and now find ourselves delivered into this safe haven. We are just where we have wanted to be; of what problem could there be in that?"

"You just summed it up for me, " Mauklo said.

Candol shook his head in mild exasperation as they continued on.

As they walked alongside the stream, they began to see evidence that the valley was not entirely deserted of life, but was indeed teeming with it. Lost to the outside world for several thousand rels it may have been, but of its own world there was no lack. They looked off into the distance as a pack of wild dogs went chasing after something that looked vaguely like deer, while overhead a large Roc soared distantly by, hunting for something large enough for it to call a meal. Their hike through the hilly countryside brought them through fields roamed by packs of wolves the size of small ponies, a couple of large furry beasts looking vaguely like a cross between a large bear and a dog, and the occasional large bird soaring by overhead. They took in the many sights around them as they traveled through this new land.

"Well, " Shong was saying, "this place certainly doesn't look like it's suffered much since the fall of the Kingdoms."

"As are indeed the way with all appearances, " Sheil-Bor(h) nodded, "they can hide the reality that is around you."

"Finally, " Mauklo snorted, half to himself, as they walked through the tall grass, "someone agrees with me."

"Is that large Roc going to come over here?" Quickfoot asked nervously, looking up at the distant Mastodon-sized bird.

"Don't worry little one, " Lindel smiled, "you would make much too small a snack for such a large creature."

"Oh, that's a relief, " the small one sighed, wiping his brow with the back of his hand.

"No, you just have to worry about that creature over there, " Eldar said pointing.

Quickfoot looked to where Eldar pointed. Flying up through the air, perhaps a few miles away, was what looked to be a large tiger-like beast, with a pair of large wings and a coating of feathers mixed in with its striped fur. It soared through the air, looking about for prey, its large clawed paws ready.

Quickfoot gave a yelp and was immediately behind Candol's robes.

Eldar and Lindel laughed as Candol pulled the small one out from behind him. The priest shook his head at Quickfoot.

"After all we have faced, have you no faith in the abilities and protection of your friends?" the priest admonished.

Quickfoot looked around sheepishly as Candol sighed.

"Perhaps I should finally cure your fear-ridden tendencies before they bring you to harm, " Candol suggested.

"Or get us into trouble, " Mauklo added.

Before Quickfoot could wonder and think to escape, Candol placed a hand firmly on his forehead and began reciting a quick incantation.

"May your fears be gone, " Candol intoned, "and may the courage of the mighty Indra be your guide."

The small one began to shake and quiver, eyes rolling up in back of his head as a power seemed to come from Candol's hand directly into Quickfoot's small body. The priest released his hand as Quickfoot dropped to the ground from the convulsive shaking.

"What'd you do to him?" Lorel ran over as he asked, one hand flying to the sword at his side. "Even the small one is deserving of better than just killing him like this!"

"Have no fear, " Candol reassured, "for now he has none. He is okay and shall awaken with no more fear within him."

"That should be an improvement, " Mauklo put in.

"Let us hope, " Sheil-Bor(h) added.

The shaking stopped and Quickfoot began to stir. Lorel was kneeling over him as the small one began to awaken.

"Are you okay?" Lorel asked, as he offered him a hand.

Quickfoot's eyes opened as Lorel helped him to his feet. Quickfoot shook his head clear and looked around, before focusing on Lorel.

"I'm fine, " he said. "In fact, probably better."

"If you need-" Lorel began.

"Naw, don't worry, " Quickfoot waved him off, "if there's anything I need I'll just steal it from you later. In the meantime, someone should help to scout ahead and, since I'm rather good at that sort of thing, it might as well be me."

Quickfoot took out a knife from one of his many pockets and started to walk on ahead past Bronto. The others just stood and looked at him as he went.

"Someone's also got to teach that young pup Kilgar about how to properly throw a knife, " they heard the small one say as he faded away into the tall grass.

Several sets of eyes looked over at Candol.

"Me thinks, " Sabu was the first to speak, "that you may have overdone it."

In the distance they heard Quickfoot's voice tell Bronto to move aside.

"That's an understatement, " Eldar amended Sabu's statement.

A crack of thunder from overhead interrupted their brief state of shock.

"We'd better find shelter before that storm hits, " Shong said as they started walking again.

"What storm?" Lindel said, looking up. "There's no clouds in the sky, nor rain in the air."

"Then where'd that thunder come from?" Sindar asked.

"It's the wrong conditions for a Heesur storm, " Lindel pondered.

Eldar's eyes began to de-focus momentarily as they walked on wondering. The elf stopped in his tracks as his eyes refocused. Another peel of thunder sounded in the distance.

"Guys, " he said, looking up at the others, seriousness on his usual jovial face, "if my special sense is right, then there's magic in that storm."

"Someone sent it after us?" Lorel asked. "Even in this remote valley?"

"I think it's a natural occurrence, " Eldar shook his head.

"Hmm, a natural magical phenomena, " Sabu pondered as he looked up at the sky. "Most interesting."

They watched, as with another much louder thunderous crack, the sky turned a dark purple with fiery red streaks flashing though it.

"I think we can save 'interesting' for the grove of trees I found for us to shelter under, " Bronto said as he walked up to them, Kilgar at his side, "and what the heck got into Quickfoot?"

"Yeah, " Kilgar added, "he got too pushy so I had to knock him out."

Lorel turned to Shong in mild shock.

"That scrawny solron punched out Quickfoot?"

Shong just shrugged as he answered.

"If he wasn't a friend, Kilgar probably would have killed him."

Green streaks flashed across the sky as a high-pitched whine seemed to come from high above.

"Come on, " Bronto motioned, "this way."

Sabu just stood and looked up at the display while the others quickly ran in the direction Bronto indicated. He looked up as several different colors flashed through the deep purple sky, wondering at the source of such displays, while his mind tried to calculate the amount of magical energy contained within such a display. His musings, however, were interrupted by a slender arm pulling him aside.

"Come on!" Eldar said as he pulled his friend along with him. "This is no time to get distracted; you can analyze it just as well from under shelter."

Sabu looked momentarily distracted as his friend pulled him along, but a flash of green lightning soon cured that. They ran up a grassy hill and over the top, then looked down to see the others already under a grove of perhaps six large leafy trees. They ran down to join them, getting there just as Quickfoot was waking up, a round black circle around his left eye.

"Now remember, " Kilgar was telling Quickfoot, as Eldar and Sabu came under shelter of the trees, "brave does not mean foolish."

"Hey I'm sorry already, " Quickfoot's high-pitched voice whined out, "I'm just not used to being brave is all. It's a new thing for me."

Sindar was looking up as the sky began to display colorful auroras, its colors ranging the entire spectrum from a bright trüb to a deep red. The colors swirled in around themselves, seeming to almost take on definite shapes before being dispersed by a flash of yellow or green lightning. He stared up in wonder at the display.

"Semdo; the magic that must be trapped within this valley, " he said in slow wonder, "to create such a display."

"I just think it looks pretty, " Lindel sighed as he gazed up at the colorful display.

"Now we know why it's called the Valley Of Many Lights, " Candol said, as he too watched the ever-changing display. "Truly one of Indra's most beautiful works."

"Of all the gods in this world, why do you always have to pick Indra, " Mauklo said derisively.

"I am his humble servant, " Candol replied, "it's part of the job."

"The isolation of this bodaln, within a range of such tall mountains, must be what traps such magical energy within it, " Sabu speculated, as the brightly-colored auroras grew ever brighter. "There must be a natural magical focal point within this valley, feeding magical energy into the land, but the mountains stop it from getting any further. Such energy! If one could just but tap into such a display of magic, the things one could do with it."

"Like, for instance, using it as a lens to find things with?" Mauklo suggested, as colored lights flashed around them.

"That would be one possible use, " Sabu agreed.

"That's what I thought, " Mauklo sighed.

Mauklo nodded up towards one section of the sky, as he and the others looked up at what he'd indicated.

One of the auroras was taking on another of the almost-shapes, except this time the shape wasn't dispersing. Rather, it was forming into a most definite shape.

A face.

Hundreds of small fiery streaks began to fall down through the sky, landing as burning-hot hail to smolder in the thick green grass. The face, sour of expression and grim of feature, seemed to look down upon the grassy plains. Star-speckled eyes slowly glanced back and forth.

"It searches, " Sheil-Bor(h) concluded. "I suggest we not find out if we are the object of its designs."

"Why would it look for us here?" Lorel asked. "We are strangers to this valley. We are not known to any within this land."

"Take a clue!" the usually ever-calm Mauklo spat out in Lorel's direction. "We've been led by the nose to this place all along!"

Thunder cracked from the sky, seeming to form words; words that came upon the wind and the display of magic overhead, words that seemed to speak for the large searching face.

"I know you are out there, " the words said, deep and rumbling, "you have entered my land."

"But, we came upon this land of our own decision, " Sabu corrected. "We read about the place in one of the dimensio-books and came of our own free will. Why, even Lo, servant to the King, seemed to find nothing wrong with our decision."

"Ones such as Lo have no crooked twists and turns to the contours of their thoughts, " Mauklo countered, "he cannot think in terms of deception and cunning. Ask yourself: where did we find the dimensio-books?"

"Why, in the domain of the Dragon Lord, " Sabu answered.

Sparkly lights flashed in the large face overhead as it surveyed the plains around them.

"And the Dragon Lord is friends with whom?" Mauklo persisted, as the storm of magic now raged loud and bright all about them.

No one said a word for several moments, not until Sindar first broke their silence.

"Miro, " Sindar nodded.

"But, we almost died on several occasions getting those things, " Eldar protested.

"Not to mention that we ended up there by accident, " Quickfoot added, "courtesy of a certain too-large whirlpool."

"Accidents?" Mauklo asked scornfully. "Coincidences? We are talking about the same Miro, aren't we?!"

"He's right, " Sindar agreed, "we've been led to this valley all along."

"But, to arrange and plan for so much, " Sabu wondered, "our getting to Devoon, knowing that we'd get past his ally's forces and find the books, harassing us into this valley. . ."

Outside their small shelter of trees, small tufts of the long grass started to catch on fire from the raging storm of magic.

"The manipulations of a true master of the art are subtle indeed, " Sheil-Bor(h) acknowledged, as he sat down cross-legged upon the ground, "and would make one wonder just how far back he did plan."

Green and orain flashes of light punctuated their verbal silence, while colorful three-dimensional auroras swam by overhead. The large star-speckled face looked down omnipotently.

"I would suggest some more cover, " Lindel said, "I'm feeling pretty exposed right now."

"It would be my pleasure, " Sheil-Bor(h) was the first to respond.

Sheil-Bor(h) lifted up a hand and gestured to the trees overhead. Suddenly, between one bright flash of the storm and the next, the leaves and branches of their small grove of trees seemed to thicken and grow together, forming a thick canopy of green between them and the observing sky overhead.

"That should do for a while, " Bronto looked up, examining Sheil-Bor(h)'s handiwork.

"But, what I still don't get, " Shong said, "is why Miro wants us in this valley."

"An easy answer, " Lorel offered, "he seeks to trap us. All around us are mountains to block our path out, while within this valley there is one of his minions to hunt us down."

"He probably wants revenge for that dragon of his that we killed, " Kilgar suggested.

"But, that wouldn't trap us, " Sindar said, confused. "We have the capability to either teleport out of here by magic, or to exit by way of Sabu's portable portal."

Thunder crash, green lightning strike; auroras rolling into deadly shapes.

"Try it, " Mauklo suggested.

Sindar tried a simple teleport spell, concentrating on the lines of magic that would shift him out of this valley.

Nothing happened.

Sabu got out his special sack, to lay it down and open up his portable portal to the island.

It was just a sack, no portal.

Hot hail raining, burning through trees, face looking down, peering intently as it waited for the canopy to burn away.

"We are trapped, " Sabu admitted, "and that face up there is going to find us as soon as those leaves burn away."

Multiple peals of thunder sounded out, running their quick rumbles together as they were punctuated by almost musical whines singing their way through the winds.

"Uh, " Eldar said, suddenly looking concerned as he held his sword out in his hand, looking intently at its hilt, "a rather unsettling thought just occurred to me."

"I'm almost afraid to hear this one, " Sabu sighed.

"But, uh, I was just wondering, " Eldar went on, as the leaves began to smolder overhead, "just who or what really did arrange for us to find our Hevon gems. And why."

Pyrotechnic displays chewed through the dark purple sky as Eldar's pondering went unanswered. Colorful lightning strikes raged all about them, low rumbling thunder and high-pitched whines screaming through the air. An emotion akin to hopelessness swept through the group. Bronto was the first to bring them back to more immediate problems.

"That large face is about to spot us, " the big man said, "and I personally don't like playing the role of a sitting duck."

"He's right, " Kilgar spoke up, "survive now, wonder later."

Sindar looked around at the display of magic, thinking quickly, as the others began to come out of their reverie. He looked up at the large face and got an idea.

"Sabu, " he said, "if another can make use of this prevailing magic field, why couldn't you; at least for something simple?"

Sabu's face brightened as he thought.

"I've got just the thing, " he said, "the most simple of magics."

As the rest waited, tense, for whatever might happen, Sabu held up his rune-covered staff. Not even muttering any words of magical incantation, he pointed the staff at the sky.

A bolt of light shot up from the tip of his staff, soaring straight up to the center of the magical auroras. The immense starry face watched as its large eyes followed the path of the simple bolt of light. The bolt curved around, like some missile of light, and impacted straight into a waving tairu-colored aurora.

The effect was spectacular. Sabu's bolt blossomed into a large magical torch of light, just like one of the many normal ones he had often used to light their way. But, fed on by the wild magic of the storm, it quickly grew, rapidly expanding, like some swelling plague of light, across the deep purple sky. The different swirling auroras connected into a single bright throbbing pulse of light.

"Shield your eyes!" Bronto shouted.

The light flashed across the entire storm of magic, setting the sky ablaze with a single flash of light. A thunderous scream was heard as the large face-like aurora grimaced in pain, its starry eyes shutting closed from the sudden light. The light flashed through the face, encompassing it entirely as the distant thunder-voice screamed in unexpected pain. For several long moments, the light burned up in the sky, feeding off the magic of the storm. It shone brightly through the trees while those under it closed their eyes against its brightness. Long moments later, the light began to fade, leaving in its wake, not a dark purple sky filled with the magic of the storm, but the normal-looking sky of a bright afternoon.

Several sets of eyes blinked as their sight was recovered. Eldar, grinning ear to ear, was the first to speak.

"Spectacular!" he almost jumped up as he shouted with joy. "How'd you do that one?!"

Sabu shrugged.

"I cast a normal light spell, " Sabu answered simply, "but I just sort of open-ended it; I allowed the magic of the storm to feed it. The storm did the rest."

"It must have also spent the magic of the storm, " Sindar observed. "We need not worry over being found by the lord of this valley."

"Not to mention about that peeper seeing for a while, " Eldar grinned madly. "I'd love to see his reaction to all his great magic being stopped by a large torch shoved in his face!"

"All well and good, but where do we go from here?" Lorel asked.

"We decided that when we killed Miro's pet dragon, " Bronto said, as he started to walk out from under the trees, "we go onward."

"Any objections?" Sabu asked.

All eyes looked at Mauklo.

"I, for one, don't like being used, " Mauklo said calmly as he started after Bronto, "and I intend on finding the source of that face and sticking something long and pointed down its throat."

No objections were heard, not even by the now-somewhat-braver Quickfoot. With nary another word being said amongst them, they picked up their course, walking back to the stream and continuing on up its length as if nothing had happened.

As the afternoon waned into early evening, the stream widened and emptied into a small lake. Maybe a mile or two across, it lay flat and glistening in the midst of the tall field of grass, its still surface calmly reflecting the orange setting of Gamro and the simultaneous rising of the blue-green orb of Gamri. A few trees and small shrubs dotted along the lake's shore, the sun settling down for a long evening's rest as they approached the still waters.

"This looks like a good place to camp, " Bronto said as he looked around. "Camp out close together and remember to ration the supplies; we don't have Sabu's portal for emergencies anymore."

"I'll scout out around the lake and see what I can find, " Quickfoot volunteered.

And, before anyone could stop him, Quickfoot had disappeared into the brush. Shong and Lorel both dropped their backpacks down on the ground while Mauklo sat down and brought out a small palm-sized chest. When he opened up the chest there was a brief flash of light; when the light cleared, Mauklo was surrounded by blankets, pillows, and a small cooking fire complete with cooking utensils and lit fire. Eldar, dropping his own small backpack to the ground, looked at the wizard relaxing back on his pillows.

"I gotta get me one of those, " the silver-haired elf shook his head.

"Naw, you wouldn't like it, " Bronto answered Eldar with a smile. "It eats too much and would just leave left over necromancy stuff all over your floor; hard to train too."

Eldar grinned at Bronto's response, his grin quickly turning into a laugh as several of the others also began snickering. Mauklo looked around him with calm regard about the joke.

"I think, " Lindel said laughing a bit himself, "he meant the box."

"Oh, " Bronto said with mock realization, "that would be better; especially around feeding time."

"If you are quite finished, " Mauklo said as the giggling and grinning died down, "I will attribute the jocularity at my expense to the long trip we have been through."

"As good a reason as any other, " Lindel said, bringing out his bow. "I'll go see about getting us some dinner."

As the elf went out beyond the surrounding bushes, Sindar got a momentary vague look on his face. The young wizard shot a meaningful glance over to Sabu, who discreetly began to finger his staff. Eldar, noticing the quick exchange, casually sat down and brought out his sword as if to clean it. Kilgar was nowhere to be seen.

It was then that Lindel came backing out of the brush, looking at something still out of sight to the others. His unnotched bow was in one hand as his face held more than a trace of concern on it.

"Uh, guys, " the elf said, "there will be a slight delay in getting that dinner."

Following Lindel out of the brush, came a tall figure. Over six feet tall, with brown fur from head to toe, clawed fingers grasping around a longsword, cat-like facial features giving no doubt as to its ancestry. On two legs it walked, like any normal man, but with a slender tail curled behind it and a feline grace of movement, this figure looked like one of the family of large cats given bipedal form. Around its torso and legs it wore a stiff leather vest, laced about with several scattered scales of leather. A belt-pouch was tied tightly around its middle as it held its sword aimed at Lindel's throat. If one could tell from its facial features, then this specimen was a male.

It was joined by six more, coming out of the grass and bushes around their camp, each holding a sword, walking in a half-crouch as if ready to either fight or jump. Lindel quickly backed up to the others, the creatures now forming a half-circle around them, the lake that they were camped up against forming the other half of the circle.

One of the creatures held the struggling form of Quickfoot, one large paw cupped over the small one's mouth.

"They're felinians, " Sabu explained, "I don't know the exact species."

"Do you speak Selgish?" Sindar called out to them. "Or Tradespeak?"

"We mean you no harm, " Lorel said, standing boldly forth, "we mean only to seek out and vanquish evil in all its forms. To boldly stand against- Umph."

Lorel found himself suddenly bound head to foot with thick rope, his mouth having about three layers of thick white cloth gagging over it. He fell to the ground with a thump as Mauklo brought down the hand that he'd just pointed to Lorel with.

"Uh, " Mauklo said, smiling pleasantly as Lorel wriggled around on the ground, "he doesn't speak for any of us."

The felinians growled amongst themselves in their own harsh tongue before one of them stepped forward.

"We speak your Selgish, " he growled, holding his sword out in front of himself. "You travel through our territory."

"We didn't know it was yours, " Sabu said.

"Everyone knows of our territory, " the felinian growled back, "you come to invade."

"We didn't know, " Sabu insisted, "we're from outside of your valley."

Several deep chuckles began to arise from the felinians. Their leader once again spoke up as he laughed.

"No one comes from outside this valley, " he grinned. "The mountains cannot be passed; they are too high and the dragons within them too hungry. Your lie traps you."

"We did so come from outside, " Quickfoot said, getting his mouth free as he was struggling against his captor. "We got by the dragons, met with the hawkmen, and everything."

"Hawkmen!"

The one holding Quickfoot growled out that statement as he tossed the small one across the camp. Quickfoot landed hard against a tree as his former captor glared at him, crouching down as if making ready to jump.

"They are friends of those cowardly winged pests, " he said. "Spies!"

"You ally yourselves with our racial enemy, " the leader growled angrily. "By your own words, you call yourselves enemies!"

The one that had held Quickfoot suddenly jumped from his crouch, leaping out towards him. Quickfoot, still lying on his back from being tossed there, tried to quickly scramble aside.

Thump!

Just as the felinian was in mid leap, a long curved knife buried itself deep in his forehead. The felinian's eyes bulged wide as his body fell unmoving to Quickfoot's side. He was dead.

Kilgar stepped out from behind the very tree that Quickfoot was lying up against. The other felinians watched, teeth bared and muscles tense, as he calmly walked over and pulled his knife out of the dead cat's skull.

"You know, " the boy said, yanking out his knife, "you're braver than before, but you still get into trouble."

The other felin

boy's shoulder, as he then looked up in Schanter's direction and whispered out louder. "Hey Schanter. There's some ghouls out there for you to chase."

Schanter spun around, looking at Bronto, then sniffing the air as he slowly turned around to the several sets of staring eyes around them.

He smiled.

"Schanter like funny stinky creatures, " he said, licking his sharp teeth.

The ghouls continued to leap and howl, staying just at the edge of the camp. Schanter grinned as he then gave off a howl of his own. Crouching low, he suddenly sprang off into the darkness.

The sound of ghouls scrambling fearfully away was soon heard, along with the distant howls of delight from Schanter.

"That should keep him busy until morning, " Bronto sighed.

"You gotta feel sorry for the ghouls, though, " Shong smiled.

As the sounds got more distant, Bronto gave an almost fatherly hug to the boy's shoulders.

"Sorry he woke you, " Bronto said quietly.

"It's okay, " Kilgar responded, "all that howling kept waking me up anyhow. I don't see how the others can sleep with all this noise."

"They're just tired, " Bronto said, "even Eldar's sleeping."

"We elves don't need sleep, " Lindel put in, "at least not as do you Humans. We just sort of rest our eyes a little. Eldar wouldn't be asleep."

"Well he's doing a pretty good job of it right now, " Kilgar said pointing. "He's over there dreaming with the rest of them. They're all even having nightmares; except Quickfoot."

Sudden concern came over the others' faces. They leapt to their feet, leaving the boy to wonder. Shong went over to Quickfoot, while Lindel bent down over the sleeping form of Eldar. Bronto went to examine the others.

They were all tossing and turning, eyes moving rapidly beneath their eyelids, as they each tossed quietly. Each, except for Quickfoot, who slept quietly. Shong roughly jostled the little one's shoulder.

There was a sleepy murmur from Quickfoot. Shong jostled him some more. Finally, Quickfoot's small hands came up to rub his eyes, as he stirred awake.

"Wha. . .?" he said sleepily. "Whas wrong? Jus lemme sleep; the big bad monster can come and kill me in the morning."

"Are you awake?" Shong asked.

"Of course, although I shouldn't be."

"Good, " Shong ordered, as looked up for the others, "go back to sleep."

"Huh-wha. . .?" Quickfoot muttered. "You woke me up to tell me that?"

"The small one's okay, " Shong said, as he got up to go over to Lindel.

"Eldar, " Lindel was shaking his elven friend almost violently, "wake up! Come on!"

Shong sat down next to Lindel, watching him trying to unsuccessfully wake up the tossing form of Eldar.

"Any luck?" Shong asked.

"No, " Lindel said, finally gently releasing his friend, "he's asleep and having some sort of nightmare. I can't wake him."

"They're all having a nightmare, " Bronto said as he joined them. "I couldn't wake any of them."

"What's wrong with them?" Kilgar asked as he walked quietly up next to Lindel. "I was supposed to guard them."

"They fight something in their sleep, " Lindel answered. "The same nightmare has taken hold of them all. A creature of dreams pulls at them, it was nothing you could have protected them from."

"What do we do then?" Kilgar asked. "We've got to do something."

"This may be something that only a wizard can fight his way out of, " Bronto said, kneeling down next to the sleeping form of Eldar. "They are battling something that only they can understand. We can but wait, and hope."

Off in the distance they could hear ghouls howling in pain and fright and Schanter's distant screams of pain and joy mixing with the night. Nearer to hand, Sabu tossed and turned in his sleep, his hands moving as if he would cast a spell, while Mauklo growled angrily at some unseen indignity. Bronto, Shong, and Lindel sat down, holding guard around their sleeping friends, while Kilgar rested against Bronto's shoulder. Quickfoot was already fast asleep, ignorant of what went on around him. They watched as the sleeping forms struggled against unseen foes, tossing and turning as if in the middle of a life or death struggle. They waited in the quiet, its stillness broken only by the constant songs of howling and by shining blobs of light, peering balefully from outside of Candol's perimeter. But a single comment from Shong broke their silent vigil.

"Am I the only one to notice that the only ones sharing their nightmare are those with Hevon Gems?"

Night and day were the same. Swirling colors flashed like lightning around those gathered at the top of the hill of green. Below them gathered a moving forest, filled with trees that steadily walked up towards them. Trees with faces that grinned balefully as their tree-branch hands reached out for their quarry, marching steadily up the hill. A bolt of lightning leapt out from Sabu's outstretched hand, sizzling one of the trees into a charred stump, only to have it replaced by two more, crowding ever closer. The six of them gathered close together.

"But if this is all just a dream then, " Candol was saying, "how can we all be in the same one?"

"Yeah, " Eldar spoke up, "especially since I don't sleep!"

"Some sort of shared telepathic phenomena, " Sindar answered, "sourced from some common foe no doubt."

"Something too cowardly to strike at us physically, " Mauklo commented calmly, as a black bolt of energy leapt out from his hand off into the swirling green night beyond, "or too smart to."

"If it's just a dream, then why can't we just ignore it, " Candol asked, "or even just wake up?"

"Dream it may be, " Sindar answered, as Candol fought off an encroaching branch tearing at his priestly robes, "but believe me when I say that it is real enough for us; if we die here, then we will die."

"I'll take your word for that, " Candol said, as he beat back the tree with a blast of fire from the Hevon Gem in his forehead.

"How do we fight a dream, then?" Eldar asked, sword in hand, as with it he tossed off firebolt after firebolt into the encroaching forest.

"The battlefield may not be of our choosing, " Sheil-Bor(h) interjected calmly, "but perhaps the weapons may be."

"You got something in mind?" Sabu asked, as he readied his staff for another spell.

"The weapons are where this battle field cannot reach, " Sheil-Bor(h) continued, "that which is within us all."

"He makes sense, " Sindar said, as Sabu peeled off a cone of fire from his staff, "this dream already links us together mentally; we have but to use our combined efforts on a common goal."

"Well then let's pick something besides fire, " Eldar said, as he stopped tossing out firebolts, "'cause they're starting to like it now."

The green carpet of trees surged around them, the trees seeming larger and more numerous than they had been but moments before, their thick bark now darker than before, looking almost stone-like as they casually shrugged off the varied bolts of fire.

"They've switched to petrified trees, " Sindar observed. "They wouldn't be affected by fire, or electricity for that matter."

Mauklo stretched out an open palm, his Hevon Gem of Earth shining within him. Springing out from his hand flew a small rock, quickly growing in size until it was a large boulder more than twelve feet across. The rock landed on a large tree, smashing through its thick branches, flattening the tree as it landed. Mauklo looked on with a satisfied smile, but only for a short moment. Around the smashed tree, several more grew together, merging into a single much larger tree. They watched as the new tree picked up the boulder and crushed it between two branches as easily as one would crush a small clod of dirt. Mauklo frowned at the result.

"You can rule out earth now, too, " he said.

"Perhaps then, a wind storm, " Candol said, putting away a coin he'd just flipped as he stepped forward, then raising up his voice, arms stretching above him. "I call upon the mighty power of Indra to bring forth a storm of wind to hurl back our enemies. Splinter them unto matchsticks!"

But the only response he got was a loud peal of laughter upon the slight breeze around them. The trees below them only surged forward the faster.

"That should have worked!" Candol frowned as he brought down his hands. "It doesn't make sense."

"This is a dream, " Sindar pointed out, "it doesn't have to make sense. It has it own rules."

"Indeed, it does appear to have its own rules, " Sheil-Bor(h) observed, "if I may point out the one thing we all have in common that has worked consistently."

A brief moment of silence in the flashing green and purple night before several voices blurted out the same answer all at once.

"The Hevon Gems!"

"It would appear that the Gems are so connected to reality as to work properly even from within a dream, " Sabu theorized.

"But we don't have any type that's had any lasting effect on the trees, " Eldar pointed out. "Those trees keep changing: one moment they're normal, the next their petrified, then they're too large for even large boulders to affect. You never know what's coming next."

Sabu's eyes lit up as sudden realization hit him. Beneath them, the trees now pressed closer to each other, crowding around the larger tree.

"Ah!" Eldar brightened, seeing his friend's face. "I know that expression; Sabu has an idea that's goin' to let us kick some tree bark!"

"This dream does indeed have a consistency, " Sabu proclaimed. "Everything used to thwart us has been some extreme variation on what types of trees it would take to withstand our assault. Our enemy has chosen a specific battlefield and must play within its own rules."

They backed up against each other, as the baleful ambulatory trees surged forward, just but a scant dozen feet away.

"Then, " Mauklo continued for Sabu, as he picked up on the idea, "we just have to find something that will affect any tree, no matter how extreme."

"But it has to be something that our Hevon Gems can do, since they're the only things that work right in here, " Eldar added, "but between our fire, water, and earth Gems, what is there that could truly be of use?"

"Whatever it is, we'd better think of it quick, " Candol said, "for by the Face of Indra, that's a mighty big tree out there."

Sure enough, before them the malevolent trees were all merging, walking one into the other, growing larger with each such meeting, all combining towards a large central tree, its topmost branches growing higher and higher as it reached up past their hill. As all finished combining, an evil twisted face grew upon the large tree, as it now towered far above their high vantage point, the width of its trunk being greater than their entire hill. It grinned as it reached down immense clawed branches, ready to grab them up as if they were but small toys.

"Think fast guys, " Eldar said, sword out defensively in front of him.

"It is said, " Sheil-Bor(h) said calmly, "that there exists a Hevon Gem for Wood."

"As in woods and trees?" Eldar asked.

Sheil-Bor(h) nodded.

"That would be nice if we only had one, " Mauklo sneered, "but we don't."

A grin spread over Sindar's face, while beneath them the ground shook from the giant tree's movements.

"Then, let's get some, " he suggested. "Everyone, hold hands and concentrate."

"Are you saying, " Eldar said, cocking an eyebrow in shocked realization, "that a dream can be a guardian?"

"It's possible, " Sabu put in, as they all linked hands, backs to each other. "Why else would such a dream have such a consistent and strong theme of trees."

"Can it be done?" Candol asked. "To conjure up such Gems out of nothing?"

The giant tree hand reached closer.

"I know too little of the nature of Hevon Gems to answer that, " Sindar said quickly, "but remember that dreams are of the mind, and that's my territory. Now, concentrate on the Hevon Gem."

The giant hand scooped them all up, hill and all. They tumbled around with the dirt and rocks of the former hill as the ridiculously huge hand swept them all up towards its huge twisted mouth. But still they kept their hands gripped tightly one to the other, a circle of one tumbling about in the huge hand. A deep rumble erupted from the huge tree, deep enough to shake the ground as if from a small quake, loud enough to be heard clearly throughout all the small dream world.

They concentrated, trying to ignore the reality of the dream world around them, the dirt in their eyes, the choking earth in their lungs, the nearness of the huge bark-like maw towards which they now tumbled. The hand brought them up to the large mouth.

Within each of them, their Hevon Gems glowed, filling their very being with a power that called out.

The huge hand stuffed them into its mouth. Teeth the size of oak trees chewed at its meal as it rumbled with laughter over its victory. Thunder echoed around it.

It stopped chewing.

Its twisted face looked puzzled. Two large branches grabbed at its midsection, as one would with a bad stomach ache. It rumbled out in pain as it stomped earthquake-causing feet around the domain of the dream world.

As it was holding onto its large tree-belly, several of its branches twisted down, weaving their way around its two main hand-like branches. The large tree looked up in astonishment as its own branches pulled against it. It plucked at the offending branches, but still more branches grew anew from atop itself, growing like ivy down the length of its immense height.

It was fighting itself.

It screamed and tossed madly on the ground, its own branches wrapping it up tight, squeezing it as if to crush. Several loud creakings were heard, the sound a large piece of wood makes when straining under immense pressure. The tree creature could barely rock itself back and forth now as its own enclosing branches encased it within a solid crushing shell of bark and wood. It screamed a loud muffed cry which shook the very ground it was laying on, as the shell tightened ever inward.

Thunderous crack, like unto Creation giving way, splintering asunder its hold upon Reality. Shower of wood chips, each the size of small trees, flying apart; an explosion of lumber. Thunderous peal, ringing out loud, echoing.

As the sawdust settled gently to the ground, in the middle of what had once been the large tree but was now a large scattered pile of wood and lumber, stood six figures, hands still linked, a greenish glow surrounding them like a large halo, faces aglow with victory.

Kilgar was just nodding off to sleep when he saw it; faint but definitely there. He watched as a small green gem appeared on Sabu's staff, its bright glow fading as it melded into the head of the staff. He looked over to Eldar to see a similar glow fading upon the elf's sword. Each of the others in turn saw their own faint glow of green as a new gem melted into each of their bodies. The sleepers' tossing and turning then stopped as they drifted off into a more natural sleep. Kilgar, tired but smiling, looked up at Bronto, whose shoulder he was still leaning against.

"It's okay now, " Kilgar said.

"What?" Bronto turned his face down to the boy. "What'd you say, kid?"

"They're okay now, " Kilgar pointed out to the sleepers, "they made it."

As the boy, content that things were now okay, quickly drifted off into sleep, Bronto looked on as he saw Eldar stir awake. The elf stretched out his arms with a wide yawn. Lindel was quickly by his side as Eldar sat up.

"Are you okay?" Lindel asked, not bothering to whisper. "What happened?"

"Shh, " Eldar put a finger to his lips, "you'll wake the others; you know how Humans need their sleep."

Bronto shook his head and chuckled quietly while Lindel puzzled at Eldar's casualness.

"I suppose, " Bronto said quietly, "that you'll have to tell us what went on."

"In the morning, " Eldar leaned back in the tall grass, "but let's just say that it was different."

At the edge of camp, as Eldar looked up at the stars overhead, and the searching points of light streaked by through the night, Schanter walked back in, dragging the torn carcass of a ghoul behind him. It was then that Eldar noticed that there were no more pairs of baleful yellow eyes surrounding their camp anymore. He smiled as he watched the warty one tear an arm off the ghoul, biting into a repast that even the ghouls would find distasteful.

Eldar looked up at the stars while the night slept on around him.

Morning came, breakfast having with it a quick exchange of stories concerning the night's events, followed once more by an early start on their journey. Through the early morning and most of solrise they saw the same as before: endless grassy plains. Degrise, though, finally saw a welcome change of scenery. As the bright blue sun arched across the sky, they saw before them some trees.

Followed by some more.

A whole forest of trees, spread out before them, a horizon-embracing forest. Lindel fairly leapt for joy at the promise of cover, the tall forest trees perhaps promising better shelter from the valley's dangers.

For no reason that he would explain, Candol cringed at the idea of being surrounded by trees.

It was still daylight when they finally passed into the forest of the Valley Of Many Lights, marching past pleasant-looking trees with nary a suggestion of a nightmare about them; pleasing to the eye, innocent in appearance, yet perhaps still holding unknown dangers.

But then, thought Shong as they marched under the canopy of trees, so far that's the way this entire valley has been.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares