MoboReader> Adeventure > Maldene: Volume Two

   Chapter 28 The End Of The Beginning

Maldene: Volume Two By Mark Anthony Tierno Characters: 95491

Updated: 2018-04-10 12:02


"Hey, " Shong said apologetically, as they walked across the stone floor, "I'm sorry for whatever I did; I was aware of everything I did, but I just couldn't control myself.

"You already apologized enough, " Eldar said, "so stop repeating yourself; we know it was Beltor, not you."

"Just don't sit in anymore thrones in the future, " Lindel advised with a grin.

They were in the original ante room that they'd come into when first they entered the palace, walking across the red starburst inlaid upon the floor. They had rested for a full rise down in the place of Beltor's crypt, regaining their strength, tending to their wounded. Now they were ready to leave the Palace and face whatever might await them. Their trip back up from the deeply buried crypt had been uneventful, as if events patiently awaited their concern elsewhere.

They came up to the main gate that they'd first come through. Bronto kicked aside the already decaying half-corpse that was still in front of the gate, the blood along the gate's central seal now but a dried stain. The group faced around towards each other, swords being drawn, bow being notched, magic at the ready.

"Is everyone ready?" Bronto asked.

"Does it make a difference?" Quickfoot shot back.

"Not really, " Eldar grinned.

"We know that Krey and his minions are out there waiting for us, " Sindar explained, "and he has seen to it that this is our only way out."

"Our Fate is forced upon us, " Sheil-Bor(h) said, "as is often the case with such things."

"There goes that word again, " Quickfoot sighed, "if I ever get my hands on this 'Fate' guy. . ."

"Enough talk, " Lorel said, once again himself and ignorant of his activities as Schanter, "we must vanquish this foe once and for all."

"If he uses the word vanquish one more time, " Mauklo said quietly, "our foe isn't going to be the only thing that's going to be vanquished."

"Eldar, " Sabu asked his friend, "does your special sense pick up anything outside the gate?"

"No, " Eldar shook his head, "all's quiet. Still as death, as it were."

"I wish he hadn't phrased it that way, " Quickfoot moaned.

"Very well, " Sabu decided.

Sabu, staff in hand, nodded to Bronto. The big man grabbed hold of the large gold ring on the inside of the door and gave a tug. Slowly, the large double doors opened outward, letting in the light of a late afternoon. The large palace's courtyard lay spread out before them, silent and peaceful.

"Well, " Lindel said, as Bronto stepped outside into the light, "here's for a quick death."

"I just love walking into traps, " Eldar said, as he walked out, sword ready in his hand.

The ruins of Th?r T?orca stretched out before them, miles of broken rock and fallen edifice in every direction. They walked out into the wide courtyard, once a place for ancient celebrations, holiday festivals, and armies ready to serve their lord, now a battlefield in waiting. They walked out into the center of the large open area, looking carefully around them, tense at every small noise.

It was quiet; not even a lonely bird chirped nor loose stone tumble down to the ground. The only sound heard was the slow heavy footsteps of Bronto as he walked across the open ground. When they came to the center of the courtyard they stopped, looking around for any sign of movement.

"So how long's he going to keep us waiting?" Lindel asked. "I'd rather get this over with."

"Yeah, " Eldar agreed, not quite as cocky as usual, "I've got a girlfriend waiting for me after this."

"I don't think we'll have to wait long, " Bronto noted. "Look."

Tall misty horror, ghostly visage floating low above the open ground. Image of dread come down as the hand of vengeance to smite onlooking mortals. Howling, lonely and promising of death.

"It's Shandeür, " Candol said, his voice level, his gaze straight.

"Not him again, " Eldar sighed. "We barely survived him before."

Nervous faces glanced around at each other as the ghostly horror slowly approached across the open courtyard.

"I can try what I did before, " Sabu offered, as he raised up his staff.

"No, " Candol said firmly, stepping forward, "I must deal with him. Shandeür has blasphemed upon the word of Indra and called to question the worth of his humble servant. I must make amends to Indra and face this. I will not run."

Candol walked forward, placing himself between Shandeür and the others as he started walking towards it.

"It'll kill you!" Lindel called out. "Remember, it's unaffected by magic."

"It is not magic with which I shall face it, " Candol called back, as he walked slow and straight across the courtyard, "but my faith and the power of Indra."

From where he was, Kilgar could see the bright light that blazed out of the corner of the priest's eyes; a flash of bright blue light and determination that bespoke of more than mortal determination in Candol's eyes. The wind picked up as the creature came towards the priest, his sandy-colored hair tossing about in its breeze. The others watched, tense and ready, as their friend marched slowly towards the creature that even Sabu couldn't best when first they'd met it.

When he was halfway across the courtyard, Candol stopped. He faced the deadly spirit, his left hand holding onto his priestly sigil, his right hand facing the palm out towards Shandeür. The two seemed to regard each other for a brief moment.

"You have done us grievous harm, " Candol intoned, voice rising above the growing winds, "as well as untold others before us. This will be no more. I stand against you."

The creature reared up its vague ghastly form, towering up tall above the priest as it presented a visage that had poor Quickfoot quivering as they watched. Candol just kept facing it, looking full on into its face. It then raised up its howl, loud shriek of death, blasting down full upon the priest. A mist-filled wind seemed to stream down upon the priest, its howl shaking the very ground upon which he stood. Streamer of swift-moving mist come lancing straight out for Candol's heart, swift promise of death as the priest just stands there facing it.

The misty streamer hit Candol, erupting out and around him as if it had hit some invisible barrier, grey foggy tendrils of air exploding around the priest just as the howl hit him with the full force of a large hammer. The ground around the courtyard quaked with the force of the impact; the shaking of an earthquake and the boom of thunder, as the full power of Shandeür hit.

Mist and fog littered the courtyard for but a brief time, Shandeür's vague form being the only discernible sight. Then a wind whipped up, spinning around like a miniature tornado as it quickly dispersed the winds before it too faded away.

Candol still stood there, unmoving, facing directly towards Shandeür. Tense faces watched, looking for any sign of life from the priest. Sabu watched and wondered if indeed Candol was still alive, or if his soul had been destroyed by the evil spirit, his body now but a shell. Eldar reached out with his sense, trying to see if indeed the unmoving priest was alive or dead. But a brief tense moment had passed, though it seemed a lifetime.

Eldar smiled, his senses having touched upon a welcome target.

Candol's head faced up towards the floating spirit, regarding his full frightful form. Shandeür howled his rage at him, surprised and angry that the priest lived.

"Vile spirit, " Candol's voice rose even above the sound of Shandeür's howl, his right arm still straight out, as if he would stop the spirit with a gesture, "you face not the weak form of this humble servant of Indra, but the full wrath of his Lord."

A faint blue light rose up around the priest, flickering beacon against the waning afternoon, growing stronger. A wind seemed to whip up around Shandeür, a wind that only the spirit could feel. But this wind was not of its making, coming it did from Candol's outstretched palm. The wind curled around it, trying to pull at the powerful spirit, trying to enclose it.

Shandeür thrust out his ghostly arms, bursting out of his airy cage with ease as it then howled down upon the priest. Angry at such impudence, Shandeür raised up its fatal howl, a howl that echoed across many miles, a howl that would kill all it touched. Lindel and Quickfoot tried stoppering up their ears against its deadly tones, but a gesture from Sindar warned them off; the mere blocking off of its hearing would do no good. It would kill regardless.

The blue flickering light around Candol then shot up his arm and out through the air. Swift as thought it sailed out, wrapping itself around the floating form, curling around, binding it tight. In but a moment, like faint blue ribbons, it held the struggling form of Shandeür, the sound of his howl suddenly diminished as if that too would be contained by the faint bands of light. It howled its rage down at the priest, giving out a stare that would have turned strong men into withered husks. But Candol was unmoved.

"I banish you spirit!" he intoned above the raging scream of Shandeür. "In the name of Indra do I turn thee; by His power do I smite thee."

The blue bands of light began to flicker as another light shone out from Candol's eyes. A stream of pure will went out from the priest, through the sigil clutched tightly in his left hand and out along his outstretched right hand. Will given force, force given form. It wrapped around Shandeür like a large enclosing hand.

"BE GONE!"

Candol's final pronouncement echoed loud and clear throughout the hilltop that was Th?r T?orca. As well did the screams of Shandeür; screams that spoke of rage and death, screams that had killed countless souls over the long trilennia. Screams that now saw its own end.

The force of Candol's will and faith closed in around Shandeür, clamping down tight and strong. Shandeür glowed a bright blue, his will striving to fight against that of the priest. Striving, but weakening. In a sudden bright flare of light, Shandeür's ghostly form exploded upon the sky, tattered bits of his misty essence scattering suddenly through the sky, the deadly scream cut abruptly off. Flaming bits of Shandeür soared pyrotechnic overhead, the last display that Shandeür would ever give.

"Now that's what I call a show!" Eldar whooped out, as he ran out towards the priest.

"Are you okay?" Sindar asked, walking over with the others.

"Yes, " Candol said, firm expression still on his face, standing tall as his body shook from the exertion. "I have redeemed myself in the eyes of Indra."

"You did more than that, " Eldar exclaimed in a merry tone, "you flattened that thing! You killed the unkillable."

"It is just but-" Candol began.

A single lonely clapping was heard, as if of one person slowly clapping his hands together in a tired applause to a show he cared not to see. Heads turned as they looked around for the source of the mocking applause.

"Who-" Eldar said, looking around.

"I see that you have survived your trial by fire, " came a voice from high above them.

They looked up, towards the high roof of the Palace behind them. Standing atop the roof, by one of the towered pinnacles directly above the gate from which they'd come, stood a single man, slowly clapping his hands together, as he smiled down at them. His dark hair tossed in the wind, the setting sun reflecting off his black eyes, his purple robes wrapped around him as a red cape fluttered behind him in the wind. The wind, having gradually grown stronger since Shandeür had appeared, now seemed to have a central point, as they raced around him, gaining speed with each passing moment as he lowered his dark gaze down at them.

Lindel needed not Eldar's special sense, Sheil-Bor(h)'s foretellings, nor Sindar's psychic powers to tell him who now faced them with such calm malevolence in his eyes.

"It's Krey, " the golden-haired elf said calmly.

"His face looked better when it was up in the sky, " Eldar quipped quietly.

"I am so glad that we finally get to meet, " Krey said, his voice grating upon their souls. "I hope that you enjoyed your little training session."

"Training?!" Eldar cried out. "I think hanging out with all those undead has dried out your brain. We defeated that which you had sought for so long."

"We have destroyed your would-be ally Beltor, " Bronto said, holding six feet of sword tight in his hand, "and his undead armies are no more. Your long wait for his freedom has been for nothing."

"We overcame that which you faced us with, " Sindar shouted out, "you won't get what you came for."

"Oh, " Krey replied with a smile, cocking an eyebrow, "won't I?"

Krey started to float above the roof, slowly floating up higher and higher into the sky as he spoke.

"You think that it was to free Beltor that you were maneuvered into this lost valley?" Krey continued, as he floated high up above their heads. "That it was his power and undead hordes that I truly sought?"

Krey started to laugh, his laughter echoing upon the now-fierce winds. Quickfoot looked nervously up at Candol, and Kilgar clutched at the fresh knife he'd borrowed from the small one's collection, while the laughter sounded among the wide ruins.

"Either he's cracked, " Quickfoot offered, "or he knows something we don't."

"It was not for Beltor or his hordes that I sought, " came Krey's voice down from above. "I can make numbers of undead greater than any Beltor ever dreamed of."

"Why don't I want to hear what comes next, " Shong said, diamond blade waiting for combat.

"It was you that I wanted!"

Krey's statement rang down like a pronouncement, sinking into their souls like water into the ground, as its implications echoed through the air. Stunned faces regarded each other and the distancing form of Krey. Silence reigned over the courtyard as Krey finally stopped his rise up through the sky, almost a mile up, his voice somehow coming down from above to be heard clearly by those below.

"All this was set up to train you, " came Krey's voice, "to prepare you for service in my own armies."

"Us?" came Candol's astonished reply.

"A war comes upon the horizon of time, " Krey's voice said, "one greater than you would know. The part that you shall all play in it has already been foretold, and it is a part that you shall now play for me. For my master!"

Krey's voice echoed down upon the courtyard, the winds high above seeming to whip around into many solidifying forms.

"For Miro!"

The name seemed to echo almost endlessly throughout the secluded valley, resounding amongst the scattered ruins as those assembled heard its utterance like a final pronouncement; to be told that you had indeed been helping the very one whose destruction you had sought.

"Many have been recruited into my army, " Krey said, the vague forms in the wind now forming definite solid shapes floating all throughout the sky overhead. "I gather those that show true promise in His service. Those like yourselves; seekers of His destruction, turned to come and serve him instead. An army of heroes! And you shall be amongst his finest warriors."

The shapes had now taken full form, a small army of individuals floating upon the sky overhead. Not only did they see the vast numbers of Krey's army of undead, wraiths and spirits floating upon the darkening sky, but also of people. Humans, Elves, Dwarves, even Felinians and other lesser known races. A wide scattering of people, darkness now filling their eyes and souls, service to but one person engraved upon their essence. Warriors, wizards, priests, and more. Elementals and Genies floating upon the clouds, demons given human form, darkly angelic hawkmen soaring high. An army of minor gods it seemed; an army born such as themselves, out of the fires of Miro's evil, seeking after his dark forces, now faithfully serving that which they so hated, their hate and fanaticism turned against them.

Loyal minions of Krey and his master, Miro.

"Come now; join with your brethren, " Krey called down. "Just but reach up to me and take your place at the head of this army. An army that will some rise crush that foolish King that would send you out against my master. Sindar, you especially have been invited into His service; perhaps you can convince your friends in the wisdom of joining."

"No!" Sindar almost shouted out. "I have fought the visions and will not give in to them. And I will never betray my friends into Miro's service."

Eldar came over and stood on one side of Sindar, Sabu on the other. They clasped onto their friend's hands, lending him their strength.

"He has our strength to help him, " Eldar said, "the visions will not overcome him. We three are one."

"Ah, " Krey's voice could almost be heard to smile, "but that's what I'm counting on!"

Sindar suddenly doubled over with pain, grabbing at his head like something would stab through it. Before they could react, Sabu and Eldar also doubled over, feeling the backlash of their friend's pain through the indelible connection which they three shared. Candol raced over to help them up, while Krey's laughter came down.

"Now, " Krey continued, "who shall be the first to come up. Or shall I send some of my servants down to fetch you? The result will be the same in the end. You shall serve."

"We've been tricked, " young Kilgar said through gritted teeth.

"I fear that we have been maneuvered more than even Mauklo had suspected, " Sheil-Bor(h) agreed.

"I will not serve an evil lord, " Bronto vowed, "nor anyone not of my own choosing!"

"We must not give in, " Sindar said between clenched teeth, as he tried to draw his own pain away from his two friends.

"Such an army would surely be unstoppable, " Sabu said, as he tried to use his staff to get up with.

But Sindar's pain was great; it occupied not only himself, but Eldar and Sabu as well, bringing them all down to the ground in helpless gasps. Sheil-Bor(h) walked over to Sindar, inscrutable calmness upon his face as he looked down at the concentration upon the young wizard as he strove to master the pain.

"Perhaps, " Sheil-Bor(h) offered calmly, "a lesson from meditation can help."

"Anything, " Sindar said, as even more beings materialized overhead.

"Do not seek to master the pain, or to let it master you, " Sheil-Bor(h) advised. "Rather, live with it. Move alongside of the pain and dwell with it in harmony."

"That's easy for you to say, " Eldar said, gripping his head in sympathetic pains, "you don't have a stampede of pugen power cats going through your head!"

"Your answer now!" Krey demanded. "I have invested much in your training; it is now time for you to serve your true master!"

"I'm not sure, " Sindar gasped, "it is too much, and I have not your meditative training."

"Then I shall join in with you, " Sheil-Bor(h) said, bending down beside Sindar.

"No, " Sabu gasped, "you would be drawn into the pain too."

Sheil-Bor(h) ignored Sabu's objections and just calmly placed his hands upon Sindar's forehead. He put himself into their link, sharing the bond that the three had. His mind linked with theirs, drawing part of the pain out to himself, guiding their minds in the ways of his meditation, lending them his strength of mind and will. He helped them forge the bands of their link into a stronger whole, helped them calmly ride the waves of their pain, ignore the strength of Sindar's unwanted visions. He became a catalyst to the forging of their whole.

Sindar stood up, pain no longer upon his face. Eldar and Sabu stood up to either side, Sheil-Bor(h) behind them. Calmness was upon their faces and a smile upon Eldar's lips. The pain would bother them no more, the invitations upon Sindar's mind serve their purpose no longer.

Sabu looked up at that gathered about them. The sky was filled with spirits by the thousands and fallen heroes by the dozens. The ruins around them now crawled with the careful footsteps of other creatures: ghouls, ghasts, and wights; skeletons, spectres, vampires, and other creatures too twisted to view in the light of day. They were all around them. Surrounded, and the nearest form of cover long hundreds of feet away.

He looked around as he saw Bronto and Shong standing battle-ready, Kilgar waiting with his knife. Candol clutched onto his sigil, his faith in Indra now unshakable, while Lindel readied a bow. Lorel drew his blue sword of flame, his form slowly shifting to that of Schanter, while Mauklo grimaced up at the distant form of Krey. Even Quickfoot fingered a knife, fear no longer on his face, as if he'd finally passed a threshold of courage; a final barrier where fear finally becomes determination.

Sabu looked back up at Krey, hovering high upon a cloud, the winds swirling around him, his servants and armies all about him. Sabu raised up his voice loudly, so that there would be no mistaking his tone.

"You have your answer, " he called out, "we will not serve you!"

"Besides, " Eldar called out, a smile creeping out from the side of his mouth, "I promised someone your head on a platter."

"VERY WELL!" Krey boomed down. "If not willing, then unwilling. But serve you shall! Take them!"

At Krey's pointed finger, those gathered up in the sky, heroes and armies, black of heart and soul, turned as one to those below them. Weapons of both steel and spirit were drawn, forces gathered about them. The creatures hidden about in the surrounding ruins sharpened their claws against the large stones as they crept closer, closing in like a large vise.

"Well, " Eldar swallowed, falling into a battle-crouch, sword ready, "here goes nothing."

"That has to be the biggest understatement I've ever heard, " Quickfoot sighed as he fingered his knife.

In another faraway section of the surrounding forest, Dwingale looked up, almost as if knowing of what deadly peril the others suddenly faced. She stood up from where she was kneeling next to the small green pond and looked on into the distance towards Th?r T?orca as a name of love escaped silently from her lips; a wish for luck to the one she loved.

On a small island in the middle of the Sea Of A Thousand Islands, one island amongst many, now empty but for its single cliff-side castle, a large ogre walked out of his cave, several old heads hanging from his belt. For no reason that his conscious mind knew, he was drawn outside, to look up into the evening sky with sudden anxiety. Thoughts of his friends came suddenly upon his mind, concern for their well-being. He knew naught of what had drawn him out, or why he should know of their jeopardy; it was enough for his dim mind that they were in danger, the only ones that had befriended him without any concern for what he was. A single large tear rolled down his hairy cheek, as he realized that on this battle they were alone, that he could do nothing to help them. So, he did the one thing that he could do.

"Blag-ak wish luck to friends, " he rumbled silently.

As he stood at the mouth of the cave, the ground dropping far away below him, gazing up into the starry sky, he heard a sound coming from back in the cave; the sound of a large dragon egg rolling about in its nest of rocks as it cracked and strained, something within it moving.

Blag-ak sighed, as he turned around and went back into the cave to care for his eggs.

"Sir, what is it?"

A soldier was trying to politely nudge Starke as the latter just stood there staring off in the direction of the rising sun. His vortex sword was in hand, the body of another orkai lying dead at his feet. The sounds of battle were all around them, scattered throughout the surrounding forest. Starke shook himself out of his sense of foreboding and brought his mind back to the matters at hand.

"I just had the strangest feeling, " Starke finally answered slowly, "that they're in trouble; at a crossroads of their own making."

"Who sir?" the soldier asked.

"Never mind, soldier, " Starke gave out a tired smile. "I'm sure we'll hear about it later. For now, all we can do is wish them luck."

"If you say so sir, " the soldier replied doubtfully.

"But now, " Starke said as he snapped back to his professional soldier attitude, "we've got this orkai raid to clean up. Let's move it!"

The wave of spirits soared down at them just as the creatures hiding amongst the ruins charged across the open courtyard. Ghouls, ghasts, demented humanoids, and things that could only come out with the setting sun. As one did they charge out, innumerable numbers washing out across towards their trapped prey. The growing night sky lit up with the wail of spirits, blackened with their descent. Above them, fallen heroes took out spell and weapon, aiming them at those below while Krey's hordes kept them busy.

A tall red-haired man, eyes the black of night, standing proud and strong, took out his large sword as he floated upon the sky. Strength enough in his arms to crush a solid metal sword between his fingers, he looked down at his chosen opponent, smiling a dark evil grin as he anticipated the coming joy of combat. Yes, good indeed; he would present their limp bodies at Krey's feet. With a wave of his sword, he vanished.

Large blue-skinned man, blue cape fluttering behind him, raised up his arms in the direction of the large lake, just but a few miles away. With a minor act of will, he stirred its waters, moving them, molding them to his desires. The lake's surface seemed to form into a violent watery fist, ready to launch itself across the short miles separating it from the hill of Th?r T?orca. With a gesture, he launched the watery conjuration through the air, soaring like a rocket given sudden flight, through the short miles towards the hill.

In rels gone by, a former life it seemed now, the elf had tried to stand up against Krey, to stop him and the slaughter of his people. But now, that was of no matter; he would use his magic for whatever his master Krey desired, and at present that was to capture those that would thwart his will. As he fluttered high upon his cloud, he cast down his spell, conjuring up a cage of glowing bands of light to hold them all prisoner, containing them for his master.

Two dwarven warriors leapt down from the sky, battle axes in hand as they waved them overhead, they flew straight down towards the biggest man they saw. Darkness reflected in their eyes, a darkness that covered any memory or care for the dwarven hold in the mountains that they both used to hold so dear; the dwarven hold that they themselves helped to destroy as their own axes cleaved down upon their friends and family.

Three human wizards, joining their magic in an effort against Krey's enemies. They sent forth their power, power that would encase them in bubbles of force and deliver them unto their master. Three wizards, friends for a long time, once with dreams of changing things and fighting evil, now only with dreams for their master. Dreams once of a hidden haven from which they might fight Miro, but now a haven for his servants. With the enthusiasm of true fanaticism, they poured in the full force of their magic.

Bronto and Shong stood back to back, a bit away from the others as the ghouls charged at them. A single swing of Bronto's large sword cut through three of the creatures, but more just came up after them. Shong used his diamond blade almost like a rapier, so precise was its balance, piercing one creature through its dead heart, neatly cleaving off the head of another. Bodies piled up quickly around the two, but still more came. Clawing ghouls tried launching themselves at Bronto in an attempt to bury him in sheer weight, but the strong man held, clenching his teeth as he heaved back the pile of them and swung about with his sword once again.

A small leathery-skinned warty creature leaped out into the midst of the charging hordes, blue flaming sword in hand, lighting itself afire as it also cleaved all about it, a flaming dervish of death. Schanter shouted in pain and glee as he leapt up and out into the air, curling himself into a spinning ball of flame as he cannonballed straight into the thickest nest of the creatures coming at them, a flaming ball spinning through the air, blue sword spinning along with it as it shot out a whirling tongue of flame.

Lindel notched a golden arrow into his bow while he looked quickly about. Kilgar stood by his side, knifing any creature that came near them, while Lindel look

y called down, "come up to me and together we shall dispose of the rest."

"As you wish, my lord, " Mauklo said humbly, putting out his arms to either side, palms outward. "I am but your humble servant."

Mauklo rose up on a cushion of air, floating up above the hill, heading slowly up towards Krey.

Sheil-Bor(h) coughed as Lindel helped him sit up, his broken bones slowly mending.

"How are you feeling?" the elf asked.

"This humble one has felt better, " Sheil-Bor(h) answered, "but it shall do for now. What has happened?"

"Mauklo's gone over to Krey, " Lindel answered, "and I'm too far away for my bow to do any good."

Sheil-Bor(h) glanced over at Mauklo's slowly rising form as it headed up towards Krey, supplication on the Sileen's face. He regarded the scene for a moment and then turned back to Lindel.

"It is quite dark, " he said, "can you still shoot well?"

Lindel gave him a look as if he'd just said something infinitely stupid.

"I'm an elf, " Lindel cocked his head to one side, "I can see as well at night as you can during the day. But I only have one arrow left; I have to get real close."

"I shall arrange for that, " Sheil-Bor(h) said weakly, "just ready your bow and wait until the amulet around his neck is gone; it protects him."

"Figures, " Lindel said, as he gathered up his bow. "It seems like every wizard around here has a magic amulet of one sort or another. But he's not going to just take the thing off."

"Never mind about that, " Sheil-Bor(h) said, "just have your arrow ready."

Sheil-Bor(h) raised a hand up towards the elf, making weak magical gestures in his direction. A slight breeze seemed to gather around the elf, weaving in and around him. As Lindel looked at his hands he seemed to fade from sight, not becoming invisible but becoming one with the wind, his body losing its solidity as he faded from sight. He felt himself rushing with the wind, as airy and indefinite as was the breeze that blew around him, and yet he could still feel his own body, could still feel the bow in his hand, the arrow notched in its string. He could still see with eyes that weren't there and touch with hands that couldn't be felt as anything but a late Fall breeze.

"By what magic-" Lindel began, his voice coming out in slow windy gusts.

"Speak not, " Sheil-Bor(h) cautioned him, "and he will not hear you. Now go; I will take care of the small one."

Lindel looked over at the unconscious form of Quickfoot and then back over at Sheil-Bor(h), lying weakly against the Palace gates. He then turned towards the rising form of Mauklo, hands out in supplication as he rose up higher still. Lindel grabbed firmly onto his bow of wind and turned towards the courtyard.

He floated up with the breeze, being nothing more than a faint updraft.

Candol's hand finally found its weak way to his sigil, as he lay gasping there upon the ground, eyes faced up towards the rising form of Mauklo.

"I come to thee, my new master, " he heard Mauklo say as he rose up. "I pledge thee all the loyalty due your superior magnificence."

"Indra, " Candol whispered weakly to himself, "do not forsake this, your imperfect servant. Give me the strength to vanquish my enemy."

Candol tried to hold onto his sigil for several long moments, but his body finally failed him. With a sigh, his head fell back to the ground, his sigil slipping from his grasp.

"Shong, " Bronto weakly nudged at his friend, "you okay?"

Bronto had pulled himself up out of the hole his fall had caused, and was lightly nudging the unconscious form of his friend. Shong groaned absently, but would not wake up. Bronto looked up into the dark sky.

"I guess it's just me then, " he said to himself. "You rest there, my friend. Now, what can I use. . ."

Bronto looked around at the wreckage that his body had made of the courtyard's ground, the large boulders carved loose by the deep hole that he'd finally crawled out of.

"Boulders?" Bronto's face lit up.

A large smile spread slowly across the big man's face.

"Eldar, " Sabu said, as he tried to weakly prop himself up with his staff, "get ready."

"For what?" Eldar asked with dismay, his sword finally pried loose from his charred grasp. "I can't even hold my sword."

"You don't need to, " Sabu said, as he tried to stand up. "Hevon is within you; you need not your sword to use it, nor any other external accouterment."

"I guess so, " Eldar said doubtfully, trying to rise to his feet without using his hands. "But, what about your staff? You use that."

"Hey, " Sabu protested, "all wizards need a staff; it's good for the image."

"Then you don't need the staff?"

"Not really."

"And how long has this been going on?"

"I haven't really needed my staff since we got our Earth Gems, " Sabu said, finally getting to his feet with a gasp of pain, "and haven't needed it at all, since our visit to the king's treasure chamber."

"And were you planning on keeping this a secret much longer, " Eldar said with more than a little exasperation in his voice.

"You never asked, " Sabu shrugged weakly. "Now get ready."

"Okay, " Eldar said, "but we're going to have to have a long talk some rise."

"Come to me, my new servant, " Krey motioned, his cloud now but moments away from completion. "Come and be at my side, that I may take you into the service of Miro."

"As you wish, my lord, " Mauklo said, eyes lowered, hands spreading out to either side as if in supplication.

Mauklo floated up towards Krey, now a full mile above the distant ground. Unseen to either, a gusty breeze hovered just out of range of the dark cloud, watching and waiting, its unseen windy bow drawn tight, unsure which of the two to yet shoot at. Mauklo approached, coming closer to his new master. He raised up his empty arms, palms spreading open before him, as Krey beckoned to him.

"I come but to serve you, " Mauklo said with an unnerving smile, floating nearer.

Mauklo came to within thirty feet of Krey, passing through into the area shielded by Krey's amulet. The windy figure changed its target, knowing now that the traitorous Mauklo was beyond his grasp and that only the death of Krey could now bring him to justice. Lindel carefully drew back on his bow.

Mauklo slowly brought his hands up to either side of his head, empty palms open for Krey to clearly see. He floated to within ten feet of the dark wizard.

"I come to you with open hands, " Mauklo said, "that you may know my intensions are true."

Mauklo smiled pleasantly as Krey motioned him closer, his cloud now just completing itself. Deep within the empty palms, a dim green glow began to pulsate; the color of trees, the glow of nature, tiny crystal buried deep within the center of its glow.

The glow of Wood.

Twin missiles of wood, slim lances longer than a man is tall, sent flying swiftly through the air. Wood sent speeding faster than lightning, its aim held true by the very air upon which it flies. Long splinters of death streaking straight for their target, wooden fingers clutching towards the dark heart of evil.

Krey cried out in pain, his scream echoing far upon the dark winds. One of the wooden shafts had hit him full in the stomach, bouncing off as if from having hit something harder than itself but doubling Krey over in pain nonetheless. The second shaft had pierced through his left shoulder, dark blood spurting out in its wake as three feet of shaft lanced through his body. Krey screamed his pain for all the world to hear.

As fast as his Hevon Gem of Air could carry him, Mauklo flew over to Krey's side, evil grin on his face as he ripped the amulet off from around Krey's neck.

"I see that you haven't figured out who I'm really loyal to, " Mauklo smiled pleasantly, as the winds that bore him carried him swiftly away from the necromancer.

Like a bomb, several things immediately went off. A fast moving shaft of air went slicing up through the air, solidifying into a single golden arrow just before it pierced Krey straight through the heart. Then, like a display of fireworks, bolts of every form of energy at their disposal came rocketing up from the hill below. Just as Krey was staggering from the arrow, trying to use his necromantic powers to yet survive the well-aimed shaft, a bolt of fire hit him full in the face, followed quickly by another bolt, then by lightning and a sudden blast of cold. Krey was pelted about with hit after hit, becoming the centerpiece in a maelstrom of magic and power as he tumbled about in the sky.

Mauklo watched as the crowning touch was a single boulder, thrown up from but one man, hurtling up with an unnatural velocity to catch Krey full-on just as the retribution of Indra came down at him from his other side, a red bolt of death aimed at what was left of the wizard.

A scream blew high upon the wind, singing through the trees as Dwingale came out of her home in the trees. The battle in the sky had drawn the attention of everyone in the village, and probably everyone in the valley. She ran out to the ledge in time to see a tremendous explosion lighting up the night sky.

If a dragon doesn't die quietly, then a necromancer with the power of Krey dies even less so. Though it was many miles away the explosion was almost blinding, as Krey's power was unleashed in one mighty death throe that lit up with all the colors of creation. Wind howled through the trees, threatening to shake them off from their foundations with its violence. As Dwingale grabbed onto a nearby railing for support she saw a distant black cloud, its form resembling that of a large dragon, suddenly explode outwards in a gigantic belch of black steam, sending the gathered bits of itself scattering far out upon the winds.

As the winds calmed down, and the other elves scurried about trying to find out the source of the display, only Dwingale then knew just what had happened. She smiled up into the night sky, suddenly the most pleasant evening that the Valley Of Lights had seen in five thousand rels, and thought of her beloved.

"I just hope that he remembers to clean that head off before he brings the drippy thing into our new home."

On a mountain cliff at the southern boarder of the Valley, a lone hawkman kept vigil over the quiet night, his blue-streaked wings folded back behind him. Quiet, that is, until a sudden explosion caught his attention. He looked up to see the bright flare of light; over a hundred miles away and still could he see it, its luminous incandescence a bright star in the night. He could think of but one cause for its making.

The K?ecian's beak curved, as best it could, into a satisfied smile. He flapped back his colorful wings, the streak down his feathered back shining out in the night, and took to the air.

The others will have to be told, Narudwa thought as he squawked out his joyous message into the night, the unthinkable has happened.

The spirit of Th?r T?orca shall be reborn.

Cheers rose up from the hillside as Lindel solidified and Mauklo settled down to the ground; self-congratulatory cheers at having beaten a trilennia-old evil. Cries of 'Karu' echoed over the battle-torn hill, cries given loud and clear despite the exhaustion felt by all; a release of the soul, a final purging of despair. Candol staggered over to help Eldar's charred arms as Sheil-Bor(h) came over carrying the slowly-stirring form of Quickfoot. Sindar carefully sat himself up as his body had finally healed itself enough for him to move about, if rather slowly. Kilgar came over, the limping Lorel beside him as he helped him to walk. Sabu collapsed upon the ground, completely spent, while he waited for Candol to come around to him.

"You tried to save me, " Kilgar was saying to Lorel, "a Destir never forgets a debt."

"You know, " Lorel grimaced, "I think I've finally learned enough about you to treasure that debt. I wonder what the adults of your people are like."

Kilgar just smiled, the only true smile that Lorel had yet seen the young boy make.

"And thank Schanter for me too, " Kilgar added.

"Who?"

"Never mind."

"I hope I can find enough of Krey's head left to piece together, " Eldar smiled, as he flexed his newly-healed hands.

"You aren't still going through with that, are you?" Sabu said with exasperation as Candol now tended him.

"Yep, " Eldar grinned, "I'm going to keep my promise and bring it right to her, dripping and all."

"Just don't do it around me, " Quickfoot said tiredly, as he stirred on the ground next to Sheil-Bor(h). "I'm tired of seeing bloody body parts; especially when they're mine."

"Don't worry, small one, " Sindar said, his own body continuing to quickly repair itself, "our adventure in this valley appears to be at an end. You shall soon have plenty of time to go and steal yourself all the food and knives you want."

"Even pastries?" Quickfoot perked up.

"Oh, we're far from finished, " Sabu quickly said. "There's the armory that we found in the Palace to salvage, and Dwingale's people to get moved over to our island, and surely there must be some old books in the Palace that no one has seen since the last Donjflou."

"Enough, " Eldar interrupted his friend tiredly, "save it for when my ears stop ringing from that last explosion. Besides, we still can't use your teleport spell to get all that stuff out of here."

"Krey's power over this land was broken when you destroyed him."

The voice came from the direction of the Palace gates. Everyone looked over towards the new intruders, tired but ready to jump towards their weapons if need be.

"And that includes his blocking of your powers, " the voice continued. "Your powers will work now to get you away from this valley."

From out of the shadows walked three figures, white-haired men dressed in long white robes flowing down to the ground, the night making seem more solid the transparence of their forms. A dim glow of light surrounded them as they walked the short distance across the courtyard. Eldar was the first to recognize them as they came out of the night.

"Hey, it's those nameless guys that we met earlier."

"I would think 'unwanted spirit guides' to be a more apt description, " Mauklo quipped.

"When we met you before, " Bronto said, as he thought back to their previous encounter, "you mentioned that you would be our allies if we completed our quest."

"Yes, " Candol said, standing up from his tending of Sabu, "and that you would need our Hevon Gems with which to be free."

"They also said, " Sabu said, standing now without the help of his staff, "that it would happen when our quest is complete. I have a strange hunch that we never knew truly what our quest was when we started this journey."

"Ah, " said the one on the left, "then you have learned."

"And, have you also figured out, " continued the one on the right, "what you are and what you might be?"

"We are not servants of Miro, " Sabu said with mild firmness in his voice as he looked over at them, "therefore we are his enemies; there can be no in-between in this world. But beyond that, I fear that we may never really know."

"For once the brain here is right, " Eldar said, thumbing in Sabu's direction. "What we are is what we do, and that changes every moment of our lives."

"Eldar getting philosophical?" Lindel mocked. "Truly this is a sign."

"We've all changed, " Sindar said, "not only in what we've learned about magic and combat, but about our selves and our limits."

"The quest for one's self is a never ending journey, " Sheil-Bor(h) added, "a voyage into an inner eternity."

"You still have much to learn, " the man in the middle said, "for there is a reality beyond Sheil-Bor(h)'s philosophical arguments, a reality in which you can truly know yourself, with no restrictions upon your soul."

"It's real comforting to know that for once one of Sheil-Bor(h)'s little founts of wisdom might be a bit off, " Shong smiled.

"But, you must have the confidence to know yourself, to realize what you truly are, " the one on the left said, "for only then can you Become, be more than what you seek. But let not confidence be confused with false pride, you must know yourself precisely; no more, no less."

"But, to answer your question, " the one on the right said, "allies we promised, and allies we are. As we guide your destiny, so shall you one rise free us of our prison."

"But, we have a lot of Hevon Gems now, " Eldar offered. "Maybe if we-"

"You have not a complete set, " replied the central one, "nor any real knowledge of what they truly are. When the time is come, then shall we be free."

"Just one thing, " Kilgar asked, as he walked up to face them. "Do you have any real names?"

The three men started to glow brightly as their voice drifted upon the wind, their forms to grow fainter as they answered the boy's simple question.

"We are the Nameless Ones, " the central one answered, "beyond that we cannot answer until the time of our freedom. But be patient; the time of your coming has been long in the waiting, its fulfillment close at hand."

As they faded from sight, their forms dissolving down into three fading points of light, their last words could be heard with the blowing of the breeze.

"To fight He who cannot be beat, you must become that which truly knows of itself."

As the three Nameless Ones faded from sight, concern grew over Sabu's face, thoughtfulness to fill his mind. Eldar interrupted his reverie with a slap on his friend's back, a merry smile dancing about his cheeks.

"Hey, this is all just a bit too philosophical for now, " Eldar said. "Why don't we just celebrate and worry about the philosophy later."

"That is what worries me, " Sabu said, as he turned to Sheil-Bor(h). "Sheil-Bor(h), in all the theories of philosophy, is it ever written that one can ever really know one's self completely?"

"It has always been said, " Sheil-Bor(h) answered, as he walked over towards where the three Nameless Ones had disappeared, "that there are different degrees of knowing one's self, but that one can never truly know one's own soul. People are always changing, always adding new things to their soul, and that is why one can never really know. Time changes one's self and therefore one's perceived knowledge of one's self."

"But, " Sabu persisted, "is there any sort of theoretical type of being that can truly know itself; past, present, and future selves; encompassing all that one may become?"

Sheil-Bor(h) thought for several moments, all eyes following his slow walk around them as he thought the question through. Finally, he stopped and looked up at the stars brightly speckling the sky overhead, as he gave his answer.

"Yes."

"That's what I was afraid of, " Sabu said, as he faced up to the others. "I know now what it is that we must become."

"You do?" Lindel asked.

"Yes, " Sabu looked up at the stars shining down brightly from overhead, "and that's what frightens me."

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