MoboReader> Adeventure > Maldene: Volume Two

   Chapter 25 Th r T orca

Maldene: Volume Two By Mark Anthony Tierno Characters: 124640

Updated: 2018-04-10 12:02


R.K.: 9, 990, 6 Monw?r:

We have been traveling through the forest for several rises now. Kilio may be over, but still we are not safe from the peering eyes of what roams this land. We came here to try and find something with which to use against Miro, but now I realize that we were cunningly led here. I haven't told the others my suspicions, but I begin to suspect that our lure here may have involved a plan as old as the fall of Th?r T?orca itself; a plan going back thousands of rels! I cannot but guess of what else such a plan may entail, nor our own part in it, but I fear that any control we thought that we've had over our destiny has been a complete illusion. It may even be that the King's plan for recruiting us to fight Miro was unknowingly manipulated by Miro for his own purposes. We may all just be right where he wants us; or I may just be getting paranoid. I don't know.

As for the forest, I'm certain that we are still being watched. From no source that even Sindar can pinpoint, it's almost as if the forest itself watches us; the very trees noting our movements, some of the animals trailing us, maybe even the winds carrying with them messages of our location. It's hard to tell. More than once have some of us heard faint almost-voices enticing one to leave or run, only to discover that no one else had heard them. No doubt a very effective use of simple illusions, but distracting nonetheless. It is perhaps a good thing that Candol made Quickfoot somewhat braver, for no doubt the small one would have long since run away from such ghostly voices.

Evenings have seen more of the undead that seem to own this land, though not as many as during Kilio; perhaps only a dozen ghouls and one or two spirits a night. However, even the daytime has shown us a couple of spirits, powerful enough to brave the dim sunlight of this forest, but apparently not powerful enough to stand against Candol or Mauklo. Mauklo may be right; these encounters do seem to have served the purpose of moving us along faster towards whatever goal Miro may have in mind for us. I'm not sure; it's hard to fathom such subtle thinking.

The best we can do now is to press on with our original intent: that of finding something that we may use against Miro. We shall try to survive through that which he has ready for us, being ready for any opportunity to turn his plans to our own use.

Sindar has started having his visions again, his psychic visitations from our enemy inviting him to join. Eldar and I have had to join with him to fend off this latest assault. We have been successful so far, but if anything dangerous comes up then we may be too distracted to help the others. That may indeed be Miro's plan, but there is no helping it.

"There is an oppressive feeling to this forest, " Lindel commented, as they walked across the needle-strewn terrain, "like unto a weighty burden that the spirit of the forest has carried for too long."

They were traveling through the forest, over a hilly ground covered mostly by blue-green colored pine needles but broken by occasional damp leaves, colored with the orains and tairus of late Fall. Daytime though it was, the forest still held a certain pallor, the high branches of the tall trees screening back the bulk of the day's bright sunlight, dim shadowy darkness being lord over their travels. The occasional small animal would scurry off in the distance as a lonely birdcall would go unanswered. They walked quickly but carefully through the thick forest, having to make their own path through its tortured undergrowth, Bronto hacking away with his greatsword as needed, Lindel just always seeming to find a way to slip through any thick overgrowth of plants no matter how extreme.

"Are you trying to tell us that a forest has a spirit now?" Quickfoot asked, unbelievingly.

"Maybe not as you would think of as being a spirit, " Lindel answered as they started up a slight rise, "more like the collective of the spirits and life-forces of all of its plants, animals, and other inhabitants. In that sense, yes it does have a spirit."

"Okay, " Quickfoot said slowly, with obvious doubt, "I think I'll just stick to what I can see for myself."

"And you can sense this spirit of the forest?" Shong asked curiously.

"Any good elf can, " Eldar put in as he came up alongside of them, "although Lindel's a bit more attuned to it since he's of the forest elves."

"I didn't know there was a difference, " Shong observed, "you both look like standard elves."

"You humans have different species among your kind that you separate according to skin color, " Lindel explained, "we separate ourselves by differences other than just skin color. Perhaps those differences aren't as obvious to Humans, but they're there."

As they were talking, the dim light from above the trees had been gradually getting even dimmer, a slight mist rolling in around their feet, curling around in wispy streamers as they walked through it. The wind was also blowing, as it was wont to this time of the season, but perhaps just a bit colder than one might expect.

Sindar was getting an uneasy feeling.

"Something's wrong, " he said to Sabu, as they walked next to each other.

"An enemy?" Sabu asked.

"A powerful one, " Sindar nodded. "I can feel it looking for us, but its mind is not a living one."

"We're being trailed."

The voice came from Kilgar, who walked up next to them from out of the growing mist, knife in hand as usual. He had a serious adult expression on his face, which may have seemed mildly comical on the face of such a young boy for anyone that didn't know him.

"This mist isn't natural, " the boy continued, "it rolls in with no wind to move it. And the light seems like twilight though it's but mid rise."

"The boy's right, " Sabu said. "Tell the others."

"I don't think I have to, " Sindar noted.

Sabu looked around. He saw Eldar casually taking out his sword, his special sense having already alerted him to the approaching danger, while Lindel's own forest skills had served as warning enough for the other elf. Mauklo always seemed to have his own ways of sensing such things, while the mist alone seemed enough to fuel Quickfoot's innate paranoia. Bronto and Shong always seemed ever ready, while Candol was no fool as he'd noticed the subtle preparations the others made. Sheil-Bor(h) could only be guessed at. Which left Lorel as the only one apparently oblivious to any danger.

Although Sabu wondered if, deep inside of Lorel, Schanter was already gleefully aware of what went on.

A low moan filled the air.

"Oh, how nice, " Mauklo said to himself, "another wraith to add to my collection."

He discreetly took out a small bottle from within his robes. Imprisoned within it were several small ghostly shapes swirling around as they moaned silently from within their prison, expressing a pain of spirit that they only thought they would give, not receive. Mauklo smiled as he carefully put the bottle away.

He'd never told the others what he did with the undead spirits they came across after he supposedly 'killed' them. He had plans of his own for these creatures, once they were out of this valley.

The moan got louder.

"It only sounds like one of them this time, " Candol said. "Allow me to bring down the power of Indra upon this one."

"I don't know, " Eldar shook his head as the priest made ready, "this one seems different. I sense it's more powerful than the others we've seen."

Directly in their path, the mist suddenly swelled up, swirling around as if to take on a shape. A vaguely human shape.

"I guess we'll soon find out, " Candol replied, as he made his way to the front, planting himself squarely in front of it as the others stopped their marching.

The mist formed into a tall misty person. It towered more than a foot above Bronto's height, its cloak of mist clothing it like a large gown, its true sex not discernible from just visual appearance alone. The face that formed was a vague ghastly horror, making even the now-braver Quickfoot nervous. It rose up, ghostly arms to either side, looking down upon the priest that dared to confront it.

"Uh oh, " Mauklo said to himself, as he saw the creature take form, "I think I may know of this spirit."

Candol boldly stretched up both his arms, ready to invoke the power of Indra.

"Hear me spirit, " he intoned, "be gone to your eternal rest. By the power of Indra be dispelled. I command thee!"

It just looked down at him.

"Okay, " Candol said, bringing his arms down, "so we try something else."

Candol thrust his right arm out towards the creature. From out of his open palm shot half a dozen balls of brightly glowing white light. They zipped through the air, impacting upon the spirit, each detonating with an explosion of light and the crack of thunder.

When the light cleared, it was still there, scowling its horrid face down upon the priest.

"That was my best shot, " Candol muttered with more than a trace of futile exasperation.

Then the spirit reacted. A loud howl it screamed, its sound seeming to carry with it a sudden great force of wind as it came out as a narrow streamer of mist. It hit the priest with the force of a large solid fist. Some of the swift-moving mist seemed to lance straight through Candol's body, coming out his back as it speared through his soul, leaving his body unmarked. Candol cried out as the scream tossed him up and back through the air, landing him full into Bronto, the force tumbling them both solidly to the ground. Candol moaned weakly as Bronto tried to move the priest off from on top of him.

The creature then looked up at the others, malevolence in its gaze.

"This could be bad, " Eldar noted.

"I was right, " Mauklo said to himself.

"No one can do that to our priest, " Sabu said as he raised up his staff. "It is time that this spirit was dealt with."

"Don't!"

Mauklo's shout came just a bit too late. From out of Sabu's staff came a tightly focused bolt of wind, slicing straight towards the creature, while Sindar cast forth his own bolt of energy. They collided with the creature in a single blast of power.

They then watched as both bolts of magical force bounced straight off of it, windy bolt and electrical jolt glancing off the misty surface and ricocheting from it, to the trees, and around back to them. Everyone ducked as their own magic came back to hit them. An electrical bolt almost sizzled Eldar's ear as he gazed up in surprise.

"What in Hades was that!" he exclaimed, as both bolts of power dispersed on into the forest.

"It's the Spirit Of Shandeür!" Mauklo shouted out, a certain measure of his ever-present calm still in his voice. "Trust me on this when I say 'RUN'!"

As Bronto helped the weak priest up to his feet, the creature began to moan; a moan that they could feel in their souls, rising up through the forest.

"Mauklo's afraid of something, " Lindel said as he looked quickly around for a fast exit, "that's good enough for me! This way!"

"I prefer to call it: well-placed caution, " Mauklo corrected.

They all started running off in the direction the elf indicated, trusting to his natural forest instincts to guide them through, Bronto carrying the semiconscious form of Candol. Another howl burst out from behind them, a loud almost physical force that tore through the trees and into their ranks. They heard the splinter of a great tree, its life force blasted away to nothingness, its wood suddenly splintered, old and rotten. From behind them came another scream, as Quickfoot's body was seen to go flying through the air, landing on ahead of them in a cold heap. Beside him landed Shong, also tossed through the air by the same blast of death from Shandeür.

"Eldar, " Sabu said quickly, "do you still have that haste spell of yours?"

"No sooner said than done, " the elf replied.

"Mauklo, " Sabu shouted out, "what is that thing?"

"A powerful spirit, " the yellow-skinned one replied, "older and more powerful than any other spirit that I know of. If it screams its cry of death, then it will kill everything within miles of here."

"You mean, that wasn't it?" Lindel called back, as he stopped, along with Bronto, to help Quickfoot and Shong up.

"Among its many talents is the reflection of magic, " Mauklo continued, "so I don't recommend casting any spells at it."

"Now, he tells us, " Sabu sighed.

"The small one is dead, " Bronto shouted out as the others caught up, "and Shong nearly so. That thing must be stopped!"

"I believe us without the capability to do so at present, " Sheil-Bor(h) calmly offered, "but perhaps later, when we are stronger."

Another howl blasted over their heads. They watched as they saw a fifty-foot tall pine tree suddenly grow old and dead before their very eyes, its wood and bark rotting visibly, the wood starting to creak as it threatened to fall in of its own weight.

"Run!" Lindel shouted.

Bronto grabbed up Shong, to add to the burden of Candol that he now carried, while Lindel struggled with the quiet form of Quickfoot. The tree collapsed around them as they leaped on into the woods, rotten wood chips flying everywhere. Behind them, the spirit closed, floating along faster than any there could run, floating through the trees like they weren't there, each tree it passed through also rapidly dying.

It roared out another howl that streaked straight towards Sabu and Sindar.

"Got it!" Eldar exclaimed as he finished with his spell.

No sooner had Eldar uttered that phrase, then his spell took hold. They all suddenly found themselves running at several times their normal speed. Sabu and Sindar dashed away just before Shandeür's deadly scream would have hit them both. Trees zipped by in a blur as they trusted to instinct to not run into any while moving at such a great speed. But, as fast as they went, behind them they could still hear the howling of Shandeür.

"I hope we lose it soon, " Eldar commented, after they'd been running for several long moments, "because my spell's about to run out soon, and I still hear it back there."

"Let's stop then, " Sabu said thoughtfully, "maybe we can set a trap for it."

"Sounds fun, " Eldar smiled, as he snapped his fingers.

Their movement slowed down to normal as Sabu called the others to a halt.

"Mauklo, " Sabu began, as he faced him, "that immaterial wind you use to disperse spirits, can you set it up as a barrier that it would have to pass through?"

"Yes, " Mauklo nodded as he caught on to the idea, "that way it couldn't be reflected because it wouldn't be coming at anywhere, rather he at it. Consider it done."

With a wave of his hand, the forest behind them seemed to shimmer. Mauklo turned around with a smile as the shimmering effect seemed to stay and float upon the very air itself. Meanwhile, Bronto was examining their wounded.

"I think Candol is okay, " the big man said.

"Oh, " the priest groaned slowly, "may the power of Indra. . ."

"He'll be all right, " Sindar proclaimed, as Candol trailed off, "what about Shong?"

Bronto lay Shong on the ground, turning him over on his back. Several eyes looked down at the unconscious warrior.

He looked like he'd aged forty rels. His skin was withered, his muscles hanging loose and weak, his hair a pale grey. He tossed weakly as his eyes opened up slowly.

"By what magic be this, " Bronto exclaimed in a deadly level voice.

"It's the work of Shandeür, " Mauklo explained, "and that barrier will not stop him forever."

They all turned as they heard a howl behind them. Floating among now-dead trees they could see the form of Shandeür. It had stopped on the other side of Mauklo's barrier, howling its rage at the unseen wall, but not advancing. Not yet.

"If we can get time for Candol to heal, then he can take care of Shong, " Sabu said, as he knelt beside the fallen one.

"What about Quickfoot?"

Lindel was holding the still, and rather pale, form of the small one. The look of death was upon the small face.

"I know he's always a nuisance, " Lindel continued, "but he's still one of our own. We've all been through a lot together."

"Yeah, " Sabu said, lowering his head.

"What's the problem?" Kilgar asked, in a combination of child simplicity and Destir practicality. "Candol raised up Shong from the dead once, he can do it for Quickfoot."

Sabu started to say something, trying to find the usual consoling words that an adult uses to explain to a child why something can't be done, why the world makes some things not possible. He tried to think of a way to explain the things that a child just couldn't understand about life.

And then stopped, as he found that he couldn't. He looked over at the kid.

"You know, " Sabu began, "you're going to teach us adults a thing or two about life yet. Bring along Quickfoot's body; if Indra wants that we should continue, then Candol can just have him bring back the small one."

Lindel was moving a hand over Quickfoot's head as Sabu was saying this. When he was finished, Quickfoot's body took on a faint sheen.

"I've laid a simple preservative spell upon him, so he won't rot away before Candol can get to him, " Lindel explained. "A spell I usually use to preserve meat while on the trail, but it should do for him."

"Good, " Sabu acknowledged, "now, where to from here?"

Shandeür was slowly making his way through Mauklo's barrier, floating through it as if through molasses.

"He'll penetrate soon, " Mauklo said, "and I have not the power to stop him."

"Perhaps I can use my psychic powers to. . ." Sindar began, and then suddenly put a hand to his forehead.

"Sindar, what is it?" Sabu asked quickly, concern on his face.

"I'm okay, " Sindar waved off his friend, "Miro but sends his invitations to me at the wrong time. I can handle it."

"If you're sure, " Sabu turned his attention back to the approaching form of Shandeür, "but with Sindar out of action, this limits our options a bit."

He looked up at the fearsome spirit, its malevolence reaching out towards his soul.

"I'm open to suggestions, " Sabu said, swallowing a slight lump in his throat.

"Quickly, over here!"

They all turned to see the source of the whispered female voice. Standing in between two large oak trees stood an elf. Scantily clad was she, wearing only enough to protect what might be hurt by scraping and clawing branches, a little brown and green cloth around her chest, some around her middle, and some knee-high leather leggings. Five-foot-two was she, with milk-white skin and honey-blond hair flowing sweetly down to the middle of her back. Slim of build, though firm of body was she, with golden eyes sparkling out from a perfect face.

Eldar's eyes almost popped out of their sockets. Everyone else was caught a bit off guard by the sudden appearance of such an angelic vision.

"Come on!" she repeated. "Or it'll get you."

"Sal?esea; and like out of a dream she comes, " Eldar intoned, as he started to walk slowly towards her, "floating through the ether like unto an angel."

Eldar made a sweeping bow, ending kneeling on one knee at her feet. He raised up a hand in which to grab one of her own, bring the delicate back of it up to his lips.

"My lady, " Eldar continued after he'd gently kissed her hand, "I do greet you."

"Me thinks he's smitten with her, " observed Lindel.

"I don't blame him, " replied the usually intellectually reserved Sabu, as his eyes played up and down her overly-feminine form.

The elf, barely looking as much more than a young girl, seemed momentarily caught up with Eldar's gesture. But one glance off into the woods beyond seemed to shake her out of it. She took her hand out of Eldar's and slapped him across the top of his head with it.

"Just hurry while that silver head of yours is still attached to your shoulders, " she said a bit more sternly.

"I think she likes him also, " Sindar smiled, still wincing from the effort of his own private mental battle.

"Then I suggest that we rapidly afford ourselves of the opportunity given us, " Sheil-Bor(h) put in.

"What'd he say?" asked Lorel in puzzlement at Sheil-Bor(h)'s statement.

"Let's go, " Kilgar shouted as he ran past the girl, Eldar still kneeling by her side.

"What he said, " as Sindar followed the kid into the woods beyond.

Bronto followed next carrying Candol and Shong, with Lindel close behind with Quickfoot's body. As they passed by the new elf, Lindel stopped and gasped at her. But it wasn't her beauty that he gasped at.

"I thought them all extinct, " he said quietly, in more than mild wonder.

His reverie, however, was interrupted by the nearby howling of Shandeür; it was starting to break through.

"My lady, " said Eldar, as Lindel finally went on by, along with the rest, "I will not move until I have your name and a promise of gayer times to come."

"I'm Dwingale, " she said in a voice as sweet as the color of her hair, "now go."

"Where do you take us?" asked Sabu, the last of them left, as Eldar got up.

"To an enchanted glade beyond the power of Shandeür, " she said as she started to push them both along behind the trees, "now hurry."

Loud long howl, echoing throughout the forest. A soul-curdling scream, sapping the very essence of life out with its baneful chord. More than even the scream of a banshee, more like a choir of banshees did it sound. For miles around its voice echoed, filling every living thing with its cry of death.

"That's its big death cry, " Dwingale said, with more than a trace of fright in her voice, "now are we truly doomed!"

"Not if I can help it, " Sabu said, turning around, holding his staff up high. "You two get along with the rest."

"But Sabu, " Eldar exclaimed, trying to urge his friend along beyond the trees with Dwingale, "Mauklo said that it reflects magic."

"That's what I'm counting on; now go!"

Dwingale urged the reluctant Eldar on beyond the trees where the others had gone, while Sabu concentrated on his magic.

"But he's my friend, " Eldar said, "I've got to help him!"

"He's buying time for you and your friends, " Dwingale replied, "now come on; don't let his sacrifice be a waste."

Eldar looked on to his friend, his staff glowing with all the colors of his Hevon Gems, an aura of magic filling the area in front of him as the horrid form of Shandeür finally broke completely free of Mauklo's barrier, shattering it in a single quick flash of light.

"Besides, " Dwingale added with a smile, "it'd be a shame to see you hurt, especially after you did so well with everything else in the forest."

Eldar snapped a look at her, realization filling his face.

"You were watching us, " he said with mild astonishment.

"I was watching you, " she corrected, as she dragged Eldar along towards the others.

Sabu was charging up a lot of magic, his staff glowing with power. But its power wasn't directed at Shandeür but around him. Walls of magic did Sabu form around the creature.

"I hope this works, " Sabu said a bit nervously, "I never tried to use more than one Hevon Gem at a time before."

The walls of magic surrounded him and Shandeür as the creature looked down at the young wizard. It seemed to almost laugh at the attempt to contain it.

Then Sabu's staff blazed white hot, sending forth bright colors of energy. The walls around them suddenly took solid form as fire, earth, water, and wood danced along within its field, only Sabu's magic keeping them at bay from each other. Encasing it all was then a final magical barrier, one which even Shandeür growled at. Sabu was pointing the glowing tip of his staff at the creature.

Shandeür pounded at his cage, but as much as he could reflect its magic away, so did it just reflect back towards him again.

"What's the matter, " Sabu mocked lightly, "don't like your own power used against you? Good."

Shandeür faced back at the wizard.

"Then let's see what this does now."

Shandeür let loose with his deadly howl.

Sabu let loose with his staff.

Along the enchanted path, the others rapidly hurried, Dwingale guiding them in a hopeless run to get out of range of the deadly spirit's scream.

"We won't make it, " Mauklo observed calmly, "and its scream will kill all but the strongest."

Suddenly the scream seemed to get muffled, as if thrown inside some container and buried deeply. Louder the scream tried to get, but still as if screaming through thick layers of cloth.

"What happened to it?" Dwingale asked at the sudden change in tone of the scream.

"My buddy Sabu happened to it!" Eldar smiled. "We've got to go back for him."

"No, " said Bronto in a firm voice, as he gently laid down Candol and Shong, "if only the strongest survive it, then that shall be me."

No one dared argue with the big man when he was in this mood. They watched as he went back along the flower-lined path, back towards the source of the howling.

A double explosion rocked around inside of Sabu's barrier. He detonated the full power of his staff upon Shandeür, while the spirit's own deadly howl was contained within its prison. Instead of killing off miles upon miles of others around, it was all just focused down to within the cage.

Right where Sabu was standing.

Raw magical energy exploded out towards Shandeür as raw death imploded in upon Sabu from every side. Sabu's last sight was of the cage exploding apart from the forces it had contained, and seeing the misty form of Shandeür blown to the distant corners of this valley. Perhaps not destroyed, but at least, Sabu thought with some comfort, it wouldn't be bothering his friends again for a very long time.

The rumble of death that had focused in on Sabu had clapped down on him like a large metal gong. As sight and sound were quickly robbed of him, he felt himself flung through the air, his rapidly withering hands grasping tightly onto his precious staff. He dimly felt himself crash through several bushes and a tree. If only I could have lived to see through to our destiny, he thought with some regret as he came crashing down to the ground, but at least I helped out my friends.

Maybe Tinweril can show me around the Afterlife, he thought.

The last thing he felt, before consciousness and life left him, was a pair of strong hands lifting him up under his shoulders.

Dim point of light in the darkness, faint but growing steady. Vagueness coming into focus; shapes solidifying, light getting stronger. Flickering sight of a wooden room, a figure leaning over.

"Sabu, are you all right?"

Sabu slowly opened up his eyes, squinting as he did so, the soft light in the room still bright enough to momentarily hurt his eyes. When he focused, he saw Sindar leaning over him, sitting in an intricately carved wooden chair by Sabu's bedside. Around him he saw a room, perhaps twenty feet across, its walls a solid barrier of tree branches and leaves, appearing as if naturally growing in the shape of the room. The floors were a solid but smooth mass of living branches, their leaves all growing flat and smoothly together, as if grown to be walked upon. An arch of curved branches formed a natural door out into the bright light of the outside. Sabu weakly felt for his voice, finally finding it to speak to his friend.

"I should be dead, " he said softly.

"You were, " Sindar nodded, "just like Quickfoot. But you can thank the fact that Candol recovered and his Indra seemed generous that rise."

"How long?" Sabu croaked out.

"We've been in the elven village for about three rises now, " Sindar answered. "Apparently that spirit took a lot out of you before it actually killed you, because Candol raised both you and Quickfoot up the very rise after we got here. Quickfoot came out fine, but you've been recovering ever since."

"What about Shong?"

"As chipper, and youthful as ever, " Sindar said as he reached for a finely-wrought glass cup of liquid from a small nearby table, "another gift of Indra. Here, drink this; the elves here say it's worth two rises of rest."

Sindar helped his friend to sit up, and then to drink down the bluish liquid. When he was finished, Sabu propped himself up against the bed's backboard into a sitting position.

"Tastes kind of like blueberries and cheese, " Sabu said licking his lips, "I'm already feeling better."

"Well, you should wait for about a diid or two before trying to get up, " Sindar warned.

"Good, that'll give me time to ask the more obvious basic questions, " Sabu started.

"The answer to your first question, " Sindar said, anticipating, "is that everyone else is fine, although you've been worrying us for a bit. As for your second question, no, Shandeür isn't destroyed, but the elves assure us, after they saw what you did to it, that it won't be back for a while, and no, as powerful as it is, it isn't the master of the undead of this valley."

"It makes me wonder just what is, " Sabu commented. "What about-"

"Eldar and Dwingale appear equally smitten with each other, " Sindar answered, before it was asked, "he says that she's more beautiful than any other elf he's ever seen. Although, about that Lindel apparently has something he wants to say as soon as you're ready to hear with the rest of us."

"By the way, " Sabu tried for a complete sentence once again, "did you note that-"

"Yes, they do actually grow parts of their trees into the shapes of their dwellings, " Sindar answered the almost-spoken question. "This room here is actually part of the tree it's in. They use some sort of nature magic; Lindel could probably tell you more about the details of how it's done than can I."

"It's just so much fun having a conversation with a psychic, " Sabu began, as he straightened himself up in his bed, "one just never has time to finish a-"

"I'm just trying to help you conserve your strength, " Sindar smiled. "Now, as soon as you're ready, the others will be happy to see you up and walking again."

The late Fall sun trickled down through the canopy of leaves when they finally walked outside, Sabu now strong enough to carry himself with just but a little help from his friend. The room he'd been in was indeed housed up in the branches of a tree, as were the others that he saw around them. In each case did he see a small room or house, the branches of some immense tree growing around to form the needed shape for walls, roof, and floor. Even the doors and windows seemed grown by design. The carefully contoured leaves of the trees also seemed to hide the true size of a given structure, or in some cases the fact that it was even there. To top it all off, not one tool for sawing or nailing appeared to have been used in the entire village. Even natural bridges of interlocking branches formed between the trees, the branches of one tree running into and locking up with those of a neighboring tree, providing an extensive network of catwalks and pathways around the trees. Around this elevated city in the trees he saw elves, all dressed in earthen-colored clothes covering only what need be covered, all looking like young overgrown children at play as they skipped through the branches going on about their daily affairs. On the ground, some fifty feet below, he saw more elves at play and at work, amidst the flowery undergrowth that seemed to cradle all the trees. In the distance he saw a small stream trickling between the trees of the unusual city.

The sounds of elven children at play could be heard all around, as Sindar helped Sabu out along one of the tree catwalks. Sabu grabbed onto the naturally grown handrails, also made of living tree branch, as he was guided along it into a neighboring tree. As they rounded the walkways and headed in for the next tree, Sabu could see through the cloaking leaves the general shape of its ingrown structure. Several times larger than the small room from which Sabu had come, Sindar guided him up a bridge and towards a natural leafy door.

A small figure popped out from behind the door. No more than perhaps two feet tall, a tall brown pointed hat topped its smartly cut brown forest garb. In its mouth it sported a lit cigar, the tip of its one-foot length carrying a slowly expanding cone of ash. It walked up to the both of them, taking the cigar out of its mouth to tap off a small pile of ash before it spoke.

"I see he's finally awake, " the creature said, in a gruff gravelly voice that a child might try to make. "Well, it's about time."

"You're a Brownie, " Sabu observed.

"Oh, he's real smart for a Human, " it replied sarcastically. "Was it the hat that gave me away?"

"This village houses all manner of the Faerie races, " Sindar explained, "there's even a few nymphs around here."

"That ought to make Eldar happy, " Sabu smiled.

"He's too smitten with Dwingale to bother, " Sindar shook his head.

"That's not the Eldar that I know, " Sabu replied doubtfully.

"But, he did once ask Dwingale if she'd make it a threesome with one of the nymphs, " Sindar continued.

"That's the Eldar I know, " Sabu smiled.

"Bronto, though, appears to be doing a good job of showing a couple of the nymphs a good time, " Sindar said.

"Which would leave Kilgar with nothing to do, " Sabu observed.

"Oh, the elven children are trying to show him how to have fun, " Sindar replied.

"That should be an exercise in futility, " Sabu stated. "I think it more likely that he would teach them better ways to fight."

"Ahem, " they looked down to see the brownie tapping his foot as well as his cigar, "if you two are quite finished, they're waiting inside."

"Oh, sorry, " Sindar apologized, "come on."

Together, they went up the bridge and on into the natural leafy door, the brownie taking a puff on his cigar before he trailed in after them. Inside was what appeared to be a large almost palatial room, the cunningly grown branches hiding its true dimensions as well as forming natural stairs and passageways to other rooms. Vines of ivy twisted around the ceiling in curving artistic designs, while elements of the branches in the ceiling seemed to emit the pleasantly bright glow that served as more than adequate interior lighting. Natural growths of branches served as chairs and benches, a low round table formed from the floor itself adorning the center of the large room, and a chandelier of glowing multicolored ivy hung down from the center of the ceiling. Spaced around the room were several elves, male and female alike. Hanging from smaller places up in the twisted ivy of the ceiling were smaller faerie folk, some looking like a cross between a brownie and a miniature nymph, others with long pointed ears and delicate pastel wings, still others with heads disproportionately large to their diminutive bodies. There was a general babble of talk, as elves and little creatures alike held a multitude of conversations.

As they came in, silence fell briefly as all heads turned to see Sindar and Sabu entering. Sabu had a brief moment to be puzzled at this reaction before a chorus of cheers suddenly exploded out from the room. Several elven hands slapped Sabu on the back as Sindar led him towards the central round table, as well as brief kisses felt on his cheeks by swiftly darting faerie forms no bigger than one's thumb. Loudest of all, though, was a voice coming from near the table.

"Well, it's about time you're back from the dead!" Eldar gaily shouted as he sprang up from a soft leafy couch beside the table. "It'd be poor form to use death as an excuse for leaving us. Things also wouldn't be nearly as fun."

"Yeah, well, I wouldn't want to spoil your fun just because I died, " Sabu replied with a smile, as Eldar slapped him warmly on the back.

"Now you know how it feels."

Shong's cheerful voice came from where he sat across from Eldar. It was then that Sabu noticed that all of the others were also there, either seated near the table or scattered around the room, conversing with the various faerie folk assembled there.

"No, death is not an experience I would like to repeat, " Sabu said over to Shong.

Seated next to where Eldar had been was the enchanting form of Dwingale, looking as young and beautiful as before. Eldar led him over to a seat on the leafy couch, its substance giving way like stiff cotton as Sabu and Sindar sat down, Eldar next to Sabu, Dwingale to the other side of Eldar. As they seated themselves, one of the elves standing next to a bark-lined wall talking to Lindel came over to them. He gave a smiling bow as he stopped in front of them. Gold of hair and eyes, a merry twinkle set within his pupils, like all of his race he looked rather young, though he might be far older than any Human assembled there in that room.

"I am Fawsil, " he introduced himself. "For what little we may have in the way of a leader may you call me such. I do honor to those that can face up to Shandeür such as you and your friends did."

"Not an act I'd like to repeat real soon, I assure you, " Sabu replied, as Fawsil sat down in a chair on the opposite side of the table from them, "but I do thank you for the honor you do me."

"As the others a

lightly through the air had all the usual reds, yellows, and Trübs of late Fall. The Grove was silent except for the heavy footsteps of Bronto walking casually into the Grove.

"Any sign of them yet, kid?"

"No, " Kilgar said, while still sharpening his knife.

Bronto came over and sat down next to the boy, his usual friendly demeanor about him as he lightly tousled the boy's sandy-colored hair.

"Well, don't worry, " Bronto said amiably, "they'll be just fine."

"But, what if they bump into trouble and need someone to guard their backs while they do their magic? You know how Sabu can get."

"He does need a shot of reality at times, " Bronto grinned, "but don't worry. I'm sure that at this very moment they're probably battling nothing more difficult than a late Fall storm."

Eldar dug his fingernails into the cliff-side, trying desperately to hold on. The wind that came out of the dragon's mouth was like unto a hurricane, threatening to blow them all off the ledge and scatter their shattered bodies throughout the mountains. Eldar looked back over his shoulder at the others, similarly trying to hold onto what part of their wide ledge that they could.

"So you say this thing's called a storm dragon?" Eldar shouted over towards Sabu. "Sotüva, I never would have guessed! Now what do we do about it?!"

Sabu's staff was plunged halfway into the side of the mountain with Sabu hanging from its end, feet flying up behind him. He looked up to see Dwingale holding on desperately to Eldar's legs, honey colored hair whipping about like a nest of golden snakes. Candol was to one side of the elf, restrained only by his legs wrapped around a rocky projection, the rest of his body bouncing up and down in the wind like a loose sock. Sindar was desperately holding onto the rock next to Sabu, while Sheil-Bor(h) was slowly sliding across the wide ledge, his fingers digging in deep. Mauklo was trying to flatten himself up against the mountainside, trying to go unnoticed by the tremendous winds but not quite succeeding.

"Well, " Sabu shouted back, "we do have Fire, Earth, and Water, so it just figures that we'd be bumping into this sooner or later!"

"All nice and fine, " Candol shouted above the winds, as his upper body bobbed up and down in the winds like some demented cork in an ocean, "but by Indra could you do something about it?!"

Eldar felt his grip slipping as the wind tore relentlessly at him. Around his legs, Dwingale hung on for her life, as the storm that was the dragon's breath came tearing down at them. Eldar's fingers slipped down some more.

"Hold on Dwingale!" he shouted down. "I think we're going for a ride!"

She looked up just in time to see Eldar's fingers slip completely off the rock, sending them both flying out through the air, over an open ravine, straight towards a spiky wall of rock.

"I don't know, " Kilgar said, as he started sharpening the other side of his knife, "I just get this feeling that they might need some help."

"You're just worrying too much, kid, " Bronto said, as with another stone he now started to sharpen his own big sword straddled across his lap. "About the only thing that Sabu ever needs help with is reality. For such a big brain he sure has trouble focusing on current events."

Kilgar gave a little smile, turned his head and looked up at the big man.

"I guess you're right, " he said. "What's the worst that could happen to them over there anyway?"

Eldar was now holding onto Sabu's feet while Dwingale was in turn holding onto Eldar's. Sabu, clutching onto the end of his staff, the other end still firmly planted into the rock wall, Sindar now also holding onto Sabu's staff for dear life, they made a desperately comical sight, as Candol went sailing by through the air frantically grabbing out for Sindar's legs. Sheil-Bor(h) was now a fingertip away from losing the ledge, while Mauklo tried to dig his fingers into the rock behind him.

"Doesn't that thing ever run out of breath?!" shouted Eldar from somewhere beneath Sabu.

"I just wish that someone would shut that thing up!" came Candol's answering shout as his grab for Sindar's legs was successful.

"I would be most happy to oblige!" came the sudden shout of Mauklo.

The black-eyed wizard concentrated as best he could. Then, Hevon Gem of Earth glowing deep within him, he plunged his right hand straight into the rock wall of the mountain. His hand seemed to merge straight into the rock as he twisted and turned it as if feeling around. Suddenly, up on top of the mountain peak, a large stone hand, fully ten feet across, came reaching up out of the ground straight in front of the dragon. The hand reached up and closed itself around the creature's open mouth, clamping it shut with the solidity of solid rock.

The wind suddenly stopped as the dragon's scaly cheeks bulged outwards, storm-like breath still locked within them. The dragon started to claw frantically at the stone fist, chipping away small pieces of it as it held the mouth firm. The wind gone, Sheil-Bor(h) started to climb back up onto the ledge, while the others still dangled off of Sabu's staff. He got to his feet looking up at the dragon as a huge claw splintered the stone wrist, dislodging it from the mountain, and now started to work on the stone wrapping around its mouth. Another stone fist came lunging up out of the rock, but this time the beast leaped up into the air, spiraling upwards, before looking malevolently down at them. As Mauklo withdrew his hand from within the rock, Sheil-Bor(h) nodded his head, as if deciding something, while he looked up at their foe clawing away at its stony muzzle.

"Sometimes, " he said calmly, "it is but the simplest of spells that is called for."

He gazed up at it, concentrating out his magic, willing his spell to work. Suddenly, the dragon's cheeks began to puff out, its body begin to spasm. It struggled even more desperately at the stone encircling its mouth.

It was about to sneeze.

"Yep, " said Bronto, as they both put away their sharpening stones and started to get up, "they're probably just relaxing in some other grove just like this one, taking a little vacation away from all our troubles."

"You're probably right, " Kilgar nodded his head, as they started to walk around the Grove, "but you can't blame them; all the magic and figurin' stuff they do, they should relax once in a while."

"I imagine this Hevon business has just got them all tired and restless, " Bronto pointed out, as they walked slowly around the Grove. "Why, they probably just went over to some forest, grabbed up some more of those Gems lying on the ground, and have been just relaxing ever since."

"They're showing Sabu how to turn his brain off for a little while, " Kilgar smiled as he kicked at a blade of grass, "instead of analyzin' everything."

They walked around for a bit more, the silence broken only by the distant call of a bird seeking its mate. As they passed by in front of the Path, looking down its empty length, Bronto looked down at Kilgar, a twinkle in his eye.

"Or maybe they're just trying to get Eldar and Dwingale a chance to be alone, " he winked. "Perfect excuse, hijacking them to some other world and leaving them alone for a while."

"Girls, " Kilgar snorted in reply, still at the age of treating them as a species to be tolerated at best. "Girlfriends just get in the way of things."

"Dwingale, you're in the way."

"Sorry love, but your lovely rear is in the way."

Eldar and Dwingale were trying to climb over each other in an attempt to get over Sabu and back onto solid ground. Candol was already up on the ledge pulling up Sindar. Far overhead, the dragon was convulsing violently as it struggled to contain the sneezes building up within it.

"You're both in the way, " Sabu called out, "and someone's foot is in my eye."

A thunderclap sounded overhead, silencing all discussion. Heads turned up to see lightning crackling from around the dragon. In full tribute to the storm dragon's kind, a true storm was building from around it to match the storm building within it.

"Enough of this, " Sabu said, as Eldar and Dwingale tried to squirm over him like ants.

Sabu gave a twist to his staff and the next moment they were all standing on top of the wide rocky ledge, nary a quick flash of light to show the transition of Sabu's spell. As they started to dust themselves off, a loud KABOOM sounded from overhead.

The dragon could finally no longer contain both the sneeze and the winds building within it. Jets of air went streaming out at supersonic speeds, coming out from its ears, nose, and exploding out through its mouth as the rocky clamp was finally shattered. It tumbled back through the air from the violence of the sneeze, the sky overhead crackling with large thunderous peels in response. As it tried to right itself, they could see the large pools of water welling up out of its eyes from the violence of the sneeze. Stunned, it hovered there overhead a moment, shaking its head to clear it.

"Well, at least that distracted it, " Eldar acknowledged, "that one sneeze may have saved us."

Sheil-Bor(h) turned to the elf, expression of mild puzzlement on his face.

"One never said that it was to sneeze just the once, " Sheil-Bor(h) attempted to clarify.

All eyes looked up as the huge beast made ready for another sneeze.

Thunderous crack, scaled dragon shooting out across the sky, lightning erupting from stormy skies in response. Second thunderous crack as once again a sneeze explodes out from a large toothy maw. Explosion after explosion, thunderous peel after thunderous peal.

"This show I like!" Eldar smiled, as they watched the hundred-foot dragon give sneeze after violent sneeze, tumbling itself around in the sky, unable to control the forces of the winds and storm at its disposal.

"I must admit to a certain originality in its use and implementation, " Sabu nodded in agreement.

"There's just one thing missing from it, " Mauklo smiled almost evilly, as he reached up with a pointed hand to cast forth his spell, "and that would be if it had an itch."

"Do you think they'll be much longer?" Kilgar asked, as they strolled across the wide grove.

"Naw, " Bronto answered. "Of course, you never know with wizards; they have their own time scale. They have stuff to figure that the rest of us couldn't possibly understand. You just have to trust them."

"The only thing I ever trusted before I met Sabu and Eldar, " Kilgar said, as they walked along in the quiet, "was my knife. It never fails you and never leaves your side. It was the only thing that I had left after my parents died."

Someplace two songbirds sang forth their melodious tune while the breeze rustled through the trees. Bronto looked down at the boy, sudden appreciation at what the boy had been through in his young life.

"By the way, " Bronto asked, "you never did tell us how they got killed or how you ended up on Cenivar. That's a bit far away from any desert."

"It was at the great desert on My-Thov, " Kilgar answered, "some of those pig-faced orkai thought they could march in on our home. A thousand of those things came into our desert; none left. My parents were two of the five casualties."

"A thousand of those things, " Bronto nodded in appreciation, "and only five lost? That's not bad."

"They didn't have those blue flaming swords back then, " Kilgar shrugged, "and without those they were pretty lousy fighters. Even servants of Miro's must respect our deserts."

"How'd you get over on Cenivar then?"

"I wanted to track where the creatures came from that killed my parents, " Kilgar said expressionless as he stopped walking and looked off into the trees, "so I followed their tracks out of the desert. But I was young, only six at the time, so I got lost and ended up as a cabin boy on some ship. When it finally docked at the Harbor in Cenivar, that's where you guys found me."

Bronto put an arm around the boy's shoulder, as Kilgar continued to look at distant images of times past that only he would ever see.

"That's quite some determination for such a young boy, " Bronto admired.

"You guys have been the only family I've really known, " Kilgar said, finally looking over towards the center of the Grove.

"Don't worry, " Bronto said, following his gaze, the Path unseen from their present angle, "they'll be back."

The dragon groaned limply on top of the mountain peak, its body still twitching and convulsing from the intense itches, its eyes watery and nostrils quivering from some residual sneezing. Its great wings hung limply to either side, so tired was it from all the sneezing and itching. The others were on their wide ledge looking up as they watched Eldar fly up, courtesy a spell from Sabu, and land beside the large dragon.

"Adding in that itch was excessively cruel on your part, " Candol was saying, "but, by Indra, it seems to have worked.

"Cruelty, " Mauklo explained, in a pleasant manner, "is never a matter of having enough excessive force to apply, but knowing just how to apply but the minimum force needed to get the most. . . satisfactory results."

"It was cruel, " Candol agreed.

They heard the dragon groan overhead as Eldar knelt down beside its head. Too tired now to care, the beast just lay there and groaned while Eldar walked around it.

"Hey, " came down Eldar's shout, "they're here, all right."

"Good, " Sabu shouted up, "just bring them all down."

Tear drops welled up out of the dragon's large round eyes. Trickling down its scaly cheeks, they dropped down to the ground, forming into swirling sky-blue crystals landing on the ground. Eldar scooped them up as, one by one, they fell out of the dragon's eyes. When he had them all, he shouted down at the others.

"Got them, " he called down, as then he stood up and looked around. "Hey wow, what a view you get from up here."

"Just bring them down, " came up Sindar's voice, "we must leave with all due speed."

"Hey, wait a tid, " he said looking around. "I can see for miles up here, why I can even- Oh great mother of all elves!"

Down on the ledge, the others caught the sudden shock in the elf's voice.

"What is it?" Sabu shouted. "What do you see?"

There was silence for long moments as Eldar just shook his head back and forth before answering.

"Just go along that narrow footpath and look towards the valley, " Eldar shouted down. "I'll be down with the Gems."

"He probably just saw another lost village of elves, " Mauklo said dismissively as Sabu leaped across the ledge.

"No, " Sabu pointed out, as he edged his way along the narrow footpath. "That dragon did seem to try and keep us from going over here when it attacked. Its wind blew us away from this direction remember."

Back on the ledge, Eldar landed, handing out the newly found Hevon Gems as Sabu slowly made his way along the narrow path. Slowly the valley it overlooked began to come into view. A desolate and bleak countryside he began to see, with a couple of far scattered villages just as scattered as the land upon which they were built, grey skies hanging a pallor of bleakness over it all. Farther along he walked, being careful not to slip, as more of the wide valley came into view.

Then he saw it.

In scattered clumps sitting on the ground, in groups of twos and threes in the air, spread all throughout the wide valley in front of him, there they were.

Dragons.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of them, stretching throughout the valley, farther than the eye could see. Sabu just stared at the sight, unmoving until Sindar came up behind him.

"Here's your Storm Gem, " he said, putting one of the Gems into Sabu's hand, "the others already have theirs."

"Fine, " Sabu said absently, the Gem just melting into his palm. "What do you think of that?"

Sindar turned to finally look at what Sabu saw. His eyes widened as his brain strove to take in the massive quantities laid out before him.

"There must be thousands out there, " Sindar said quietly, "maybe more."

"Now we know why he's called the Dragon Lord, " Sabu said, just as quietly. "There's no telling how many more lay beyond our sight."

"With all those dragons under the Dragon Lord's control, " Sindar said, "there's no one on this world he couldn't invade."

"He already owns this world though, " Sabu pointed out, "so who would he invade with such an army?"

They looked at each other as, a moment later, they both came to the same conclusion.

"He is allied with Miro. . ., " Sindar began.

"But, how would they bring them all through?" Sabu wondered. "The path of Cassandra is too narrow for even one of them, and Tedelnosho is too uncontrollable."

"Unless they have their own portal erected, " Sindar suggested, "but then who would they invade?"

"With Traugh and his dragons to team them up with, " Sabu theorized, "and the other forces that we've seen evidence of Miro gathering, there isn't anyone on Maldene that he couldn't invade. Even the King would be in danger."

"We've got to get back to the others, " Sabu decided, as he started to move them both back along the ledge.

"This just doesn't seem to get any better, " Sindar added, as they walked back around towards the wide ledge.

"Guys, " Sabu called on ahead, "we have a problem!"

Lindel came walking on into the grove, shining golden bow slung over his shoulder. Kilgar and Bronto were sitting down at the front of the Grove, glancing down, from time to time, at the golden path before them. Lindel walked over to them, unslinging his bow from over his shoulder.

"Hey guys, what do you think?" the elf asked. "I've gone through so many bows lately, that some of Fawsil's people helped me make a new one."

"It looks pretty good, " Bronto said, eyes admiring its delicate form as he ran a light finger along its length, "like no bow I've ever seen."

The bow gleamed golden in the late afternoon sunlight, its smooth curves looking almost seductive. Even Kilgar was entranced by its magical form.

"I designed it myself, " Lindel went on, "had it made special."

"It looks great, " Kilgar said in slow awe.

"You ought to see the way it shoots, " Lindel smiled, "they even gave me a few new arrows to go with it."

"Good, because we're going to be needing it."

Three heads turned around to see the source of the voice. Standing at the head of the Path was Sabu, Eldar coming up behind him, followed by Dwingale, Candol, Sindar, Sheil-Bor(h), and Mauklo.

"You're back!"

Kilgar leaped up to his feet and ran over towards Sabu and Eldar. His short boyish reach tried unsuccessfully to embrace them both as they walked out into Cassandra's Grove. Bronto got to his feet, as he sensed an urgency about those coming off from the path. His feeling was confirmed by what was said next.

"We've got to leave immediately, " Sabu said, "get the others; we leave at solrise."

"What'd you see over there?" Bronto said, all seriousness, as they walked out of the Grove.

"Let's just say, that coupled with what we saw over in Devoon, " Sabu answered, as the whole group walked out into the approaching evening, "whatever Krey's up to in this valley, can't be good."

The Path faded away behind them, the Grove now but a normal glade, as what was apparently a shadow of the real Grove after all was lost with the setting sun.

"You just remember your promise and come back!" Dwingale chided Eldar.

They were all assembled at one edge of the elven community, Fawsil even present along with several of the village's inhabitants. Elves, brownies, and all manner of Faerie Folk, survivors of a better age, surrounded them as they faced out towards a forest path leading off into the distance. A small multitude of faerie voices sang and twittered out through the early morning daylight as they saw the group off. Many a new friend these strange new visitors from outside the valley had made, and perhaps at least one new love. Shong was checking his sword, and Lorel his backpack full of new supplies given them by the elves, as they made ready to leave.

"At least wait until we're married before you start nagging me, " Eldar smiled. "Don't worry, I'll bring you back Krey's head as a wedding present."

"This path, " Fawsil was saying to Sabu and Sindar, "dates back to the times of the Kingdom. Its magic will get you to the site of Th?r T?orca, safe and unobserved. Deviate not from its path and even Krey will not find you until you reach its end."

"It's that 'end' part that's kind of got me, " Lindel commented, as he slung his new bow up over his shoulder.

"We wish you luck on your trip, " Fawsil said, grasping both Sabu's and Sindar's hands in his own. "I'm sure that at least our Dwingale looks forward to your success."

"Here, " Dwingale stepped forward and passed out a couple of small leather pouches to Eldar and Sindar, "the food contained within these pouches is of our own make; it will sustain you for many a long rise if need be."

"We thank-you, " Sindar acknowledged politely, "and there is something that we would like to give you."

Sindar nodded at Bronto, who stepped forward in response. The big man looked out into the small crowd of faces, large and small, winged and not. The clearing of his voice seemed a signal to the others to quiet down, as a relative silence quickly came down over the forest. Bronto spoke, his voice booming out loudly for all in that hidden village to hear.

"I've been told that I am of the old blood, " he began, "if so, then so be it. Hear me then as one of the old blood when I say this: if the Kingdoms be reborn again, then not in this valley shall it be done. History has passed it by and left it with the taint of evil. No, Th?r T?orca shall never arise from this valley again. But, this one offer do I now make. We have ourselves an island, hidden off in the Sea Of A Thousand Islands. It is safe, and temperate of clime, and has more than enough room for all of you. When we come back, and we shall, we invite you to leave with us to live on our island and start a new Kingdom."

"Great, " Mauklo said to himself, as a knee-high faerie went flying by his head. "That's all we need is a bunch of these foot-tall flying gnats around there."

Silence seemed to be the response of those gathered around them, as Bronto looked around the crowd for any reaction or surprise to his offer. Only Fawsil stepped over to the big man, his youthful elven face shining gaily in the bright blue daylight trickling down through the trees.

"As your coming had been foretold, " Fawsil gave as answer to Bronto's offer, "so also had been the offer of which you now make."

"Let me guess, " Eldar interrupted, turning to face Dwingale, "your mother foresaw it."

"Actually, no, " Dwingale answered, slight smile curling about her mouth. "I've inherited some small measure of my mother's talent."

Eldar smiled to himself at what small surprises his beloved kept offering, as Fawsil went on.

"As much as we have loved this valley, and its people of old, " Fawsil went on, "we also realize the truth of your words."

The elf paused as he looked around at his people gathered around them, before looking back at Bronto and continuing.

"If you are successful, " he said, "then when you return, we shall leave with you, to end the final chapter of Th?r T?orca as we start life anew. But, we only ask of you this one favor: cleanse this old land of the evil that has taken hold within it, that the Valley Of Many Lights may some rise be able to renew itself."

"A promise we make with great pleasure, " Bronto replied jovially, as he took Fawsil's hand and shook it almost violently.

"It's like I keep saying, " Eldar winked, "Krey, head on a platter, wedding present, the whole bit."

"It's time we left, " Lindel said, looking up at the sun, "the sun gets higher in the sky."

"He's right, " Sabu said, as the others started to turn towards the magical path behind them. "We must leave, but we will see you upon our return."

As they started walking down the path, Dwingale blowing one last kiss to her beloved Eldar, Fawsil waving them off as those gathered shouted out a last chorus of 'good-bye', Dwingale couldn't help but wonder. The figures on the path walked out of sight around a bend in the path, and the crowd that had gathered round began to disperse back to their daily lives, but Dwingale still absently held her hand aloft as if waiting to wave again. She gazed off down the path, lightly chewing on her lip, as she worried about them all.

For you see, Dwingale had inherited somewhat more than just a bit of her mother's gift of foretelling, and had foreseen what was to happen at Th?r T?orca.

And it frightened her.

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