The following vignette was published in the Spring 1993 issue of Knight of the Plume.

His appearance had been much altered by the coldness of his soul. The wrinkles in his face, and the lines on his brow were not the result of age or emotion. They just sat there like river beds run dry. His eyes did not look forward; his pupils were swallowed up in seas of blue-black irises. His tattered tights ended at his knees. The leather bag that hung at his side looked more like a millstone put there to drown him under its weight, than a place to turn for comfort and no9urishment. His vest and skirt of mail, constituted his only other clothing, and they had holes and tears that looked like giant arrows had sometime run him through. His feet were merely bubbles of blister on blister. Each time he set down his foot, pus would leak out into the sand, a terrible loss of precious fluids which he needed, making a wet foot print for a few seconds before the liquid was evaporated into the air or sucked into the hungry sand, leaving no trace. He no longer winced; it took too much energy. In one hand he held the staff, towering above him at twice his height, and slowly, silently, forsaken by all, he walked along the sands.

The wyrd was not kind to those who had resisted it. Other than the mountains to his back, there was no scenery except the sand. It went on forever, with no discernable flagging. Soon the mountains would dip behind the desert to their death, but he did not look around. Then as if it had been there all along, a little to his right appeared a stone. Actually a boulder might be a more accurate term, although stone seemed to fit it somehow. Five feet high, and six wide, its top had been leveled off by the winds which blew at that height across the deserted plains. He walked toward it, knowing that it would disappear.

It did not. And then, as if it had never left, the Wyrd spoke again.

“This is the place,” they said, and so he stopped, and prepared to fulfill his calling and then die. He walked around the rock and noted without surprise that a staircase, rough-hewn out of granite, went up the back. His pupils resumed their proper size. The waves that had bound his mind with their raging pounding madness began the ceaseless pound of duty that is every true wave’s purpose. But his heart stayed frozen. He set up camp for the night. It consisted of nothing more than the staff, glowing to shed light and give some heat, and his ill-clad body under the dipod of staff and stone.

She was living in California with her husband Mike and her daughter Ylison when the big one hit. It was an auspicious night for an earthquake, being all hallows eve, though in the beginning, it appeared that it would be an average weeknight for the family of three. Mike was tapping away in the study on his latest novel, and Ylison was playing happily with some blocks on the floor of the living room. Jamie hummed a plaintive wistful melody as she puttered back and forth between kitchen and dining room, preparing the evening meal. She didn’t know why she chose that tune except perhaps that it was appropriate for the night. She was actually in an unusually cheerful mood. But like everything else about her life, that would change that night. It was eight o’clock, when she first heard the wailing. Thinking that something had happened to the baby, Jamie rushed into the living room to see what was the matter, but Ylison was cooing happily to herself on the floor while she nibbled on the corner of the orange bridge. Jamie listened carefully, but the sound was gone. Thinking that the wind had made the sound, or perhaps one of the neighbors’ dogs, she went back into the kitchen, to finish preparing dinner.

“Come and get it,” she called out peeking around the door of the study to see Mike sleeping over his work. Smiling, she entered the room to wake him. Now that he was out of the Navy, it seemed like Mike slept more than ever, and in the oddest places. She looked over his head at the neglected screen. The words seemed to leap out at her.


The darkest wind howls in the soul


At night when slumber hides our thoughts.


And evil from our inner core


Corrupts our sleep with dread.


Then the demons of our hidden self


Vie with the tatters of our shame,


And wrest from us our brightest mores


Until we wake to fight again.


“Wake up! It’s time for dinner, Mike.” She shook his shoulder till finally he c out his arms, yawned, and woke. On their way back into the kitchen, she picked up Ylison and placed her in the high chair.


Ask they were eating, Jamie’s mind turned back to the shriek she had heard earlier. When she asked Mike, he said he had heard nothing, which was not surprising considering the state in which she had found him. Once again she dismissed it as some naturally caused disturbance. She and Mike talked about his latest book, and her new class of students until they finished dinner. Mike slipped back off into his study, purportedly to finish working on his novel, but probably to finish working on his nap. Ylison continued to distribute what was left of her food in a ragged circle on the floor around her high chair. As Jamie was walking back into the kitchen with the dinner dishes, it came again. Longer this time, It indeed sounded like a child crying inconsolably. Jamie dropped the dishes. The sound seemed to penetrate to her very soul, laying bare all of her most feared secrets, those she kept even from herself. The crash brought her back from eternity, and the wail cut off abruptly, leaving her as shattered as the plates on the floor without knowing quite why. She bent down and began to pick up the larger pieces and tried to figure out what was happening to her. Was she perhaps going crazy? She didn’t think so. Besides, you were never supposed to think you were going crazy if you really were. Unsettled, she carried the larger pieces to the trash can, and then returned to the scene with a broom and dustpan from the pantry. As she deposited the last of the shattered china in the wastebasket, the first tremor began to shake the house.


For a split second she thought she really had gone crazy as the house shook in silence, Then suddenly cacophony ensued as Mike rushed in from the study, grabbing Ylison from the high chair, Together they rushed back through the living room and down the stairs into the basement. They huddled together in the cramped space as the world fell apart around them. Ylison cried and cried, and could not be stopped. Mike held her and rocked back and forth on the concrete floor. It seemed like days, though it was only hours, before the shaking finally stopped. It was the worst earthquake that Jamie had ever been through. Little did she know it was the worst earthquake since the continents were formed. When they finally left the basement, little was left of their once proud home except a single corner beam standing resolutely upright in a world of wayward angles. The portable radio Mike had retrieved from the basement was broadcasting emergency shelter areas. After figuring out which one was closest, and that the car would not take them there, they headed out at a brisk walk. As more and more people came out of their homes, the suburban street began to be quite crowded, and suddenly, without knowing how, Jamie was separated from Mike and Ylison. She looked around trying to find them, but the press of the crowd drove her inexorably forward. Finally she gave up, knowing that they would meet up again at the shelter.


The shelter was a huge concrete and steel structure built in the 1950’s as a bomb shelter. Inside, it seemed roomy despite the rising number of occupants, and appeared to have been someone’s house. Jamie got a cup of coffee from the pots in the dining room, and went into the living room to try and find a place to sit and wait for Mike to show up with the kids. Eventually, she was able to procure a recently vacated seat on one of the several couches. Sitting next to her was a large man with a ragged if full mustache and a Eurospanish face. He seemed better informed than most of the milling crowd, both as to the world situation, and as to that of the shelter itself. When she spoke to him she found out that he was the house’s owner, and had offered it to the government temporarily as a shelter.


She talked to him for several hours discussing everything from current politics, to religion, to ways to feed the incredible crowd of people. Suddenly in the middle of their conversation, he stood up and shouted out in a voice that carried above the sounds of the milling crowd,


“NOW.” He immediately sat back down and resumed their conversation saying, “Sorry for the interruption my dear lady, but I had some urgent business I needed my associates to take care of for me. You were, I believe, giving me your recipe for crumb cake?”


“Well yes, I was, but what is happening? Everyone seems to have gotten quiet all of a sudden.” It was true. The formerly boisterous crowd was now murmuring ominously, and the air was charged with sudden tension. It was then that Jamie noticed that the front door was now closed.


“Ah, yes, that was what I was signaling to my associates. I do not want my house completely overrun, so I had them shut the doors to keep out any more people. Once the crowd realizes their good fortune in having this place to themselves, they’ll be back to their boisterous selves.” Jamie turned pale.


“But, my husband and daughter are still out there!”


“Well, I’m sorry for that, but I really can’t make an exception for you. If I reopen the doors the whole mob will come pouring back in here with twice the force that they were before. I really can’t have that. I’m sure your family will be safe at the next shelter.”


“Well I’m not sure. If you can’t let them in then simply let me out, and I’ll catch up with them at the next shelter.” Jamie was starting to be really worried.


“I’d like to do that, I really would, but if I let you out, the government won’t believe in my sincerity when I demand an extremely high ransom for the people in this house, namely, the abatement of some of the irrational policies you and I were just discussing as well as a small fortune in gems for myself. I just couldn’t let them think that I have a soft heart and might be persuaded to let some people out. My associates have already made the necessary phone calls, and there are probably news helicopters outside already.” His eyes pierced her with a look of calculated honesty.


“Please,” she begged him, grasping his hand and tugging futiley, “Let me go. I’ve got to make sure my baby is alright.”


“Cease this outrageous pleading, Madame. The only way you will leave before the government has met our demands is the same way as the others, in a body bag.” In desperation, Jamie threw the one weapon she thought she might have against him. The knowledge of the plan he had just told her.


“I’ll tell the rest of the people here what you’re doing. You can’t kill everyone. They crowd will overpower you and then we’ll all escape.”


“Doubtful dear. First because I have agents scattered throughout the crowd, ready to crush any such suggestion, and second because you have just doomed yourself to be the first person to die.” He made an almost imperceptible motion with his free hand, while using his other to grasp one of her hands so hard that she could not even cry out. Suddenly, out of the crowd, a young girl of 18 or 19 appeared. He turned to her and told her to take Jamie down to the bathroom and kill her. They would keep the body there until they needed their first example for the government negotiators.

Rings of Elven gold forged by magic and fire
The hammer and the anvil of the dwarven lords
The crystal amulet of wizards bound in wire
The book of the draken torn, their only words

The rings will be joined, the tools re-forged
The amulet bought and the book unleashed
The rings will bring peace
The tools will bring war
The amulet strife
But the book conquers all.

‘Ware the lost when it is found
‘Ware the power that brings the change
‘Ware the human dragon spawn
If o’erpowered by greed for gain.

 

-From Albereth’s book of lost lore.

 

 

The landscape around Mt. Eldor was pockmarked with scars of a battle long ended. A wall scorched and fallen here, the skeleton of some vanquished warrior there, and everywhere a sense of desolation. The only residents apparent were the night crows circling in search of some shiny trinket overlooked in the many years. As the first ray of sun breached the western horizon the leader let out a resounding caw which echoed across the deserted land, letting all the rest know that it was time to leave. The dragon would soon wake. There was a frenzied rush and the landscape was once again truly deserted, as it had been for the past 150 years. Deep within the heart of the mountain, Paldorin turned in his sleep. Once again he dreamed the dream that had troubled his sleep for the past several weeks. It was the face of a girl that he saw in his vision, a human girl of nineteen summers or so. It would have been a beautiful face to any man who saw it, a long auburn braid flowing back from a suntanned face with a light coming from her eyes that would melt any suitor’s heart, but to the dragon it was a face just like any other puny human’s face, except that this one somehow filled him with a foreboding. It seemed to say that the time for contemplation would soon be over and the time for action would soon come upon him. It was not something he looked forward to.

Stretching, he opened his one hooded lid and gazed around his bedchambers. Simply furnished as befitted a monk, it had none of the treasure which lore typically assigns to a dragon’s lair. (Paldorin had quite a sizeable treasure, but felt it was ostentatious to sleep on it). He had given that up at the same time as he had learned that it was easier to get on with humans if one lived on cattle instead of maidens. The people had treated him as a god until that sly devil Radcliff had decided that a few sheep or a cow was to much to give a day and had led them on a crusade to depose him. The battle had lasted about 6 hours. It had taken Paldorin that long to realize that the people were actually serious in their attempt to kill him. If it had taken him much longer he would have been dead. As it was he had a scar down the side of his face and a missing eye and the people had a devastated landscape for miles around the mountain which none dared enter and which caused what had once been a 2 day caravan from the city of Echols to the port of the second moon to be a two week trek now instead. His lair had a bed of armor, swords, shields and the other accoutrements of war to one side and a large ledge of rock, hewn out of the side of the cave on the other to serve as a desk. On it lay the book which had caused him to make his home here, the first half of the Qa’Paleth, the combined lore of all the greatest minds dragon-kind had ever produced, and the only written text in the dragon tongue. The scroll had been torn centuries ago, and both halves had been lost to the dragons during the 100 years war. Paldorin had spent the first half-century of his adulthood searching for it, and the past 150 years studying it. He was by now probably the most powerful dragon on the face of the earth.

 

Paldorin hefted himself up and began the trek from his lair in the heart of the mountain to the ledge on the western face of the mountain that served him for a doorstep. He launched himself into the air, and spread his wings beginning a long glide to the lake at the bottom of the mountain. He searched the landscape for any sign of life as he flew but as usual there was nothing. It had been a week since last he had eaten, but he would wait for a few more days before leaving his domain to make a meal of the wildlife in the plains to the east. He reached the water and began to drink. His golden scales were reflected out of the water in the light of the rising western sun. When had drunk his fill he began to run, picking up speed to launch himself into flight. The weight that he had lost in the years since the land had been fruitful made this a much easier task than it had been in times past. At his prime he had been 200 feet from head to tail, with a 500-foot wingspan. As you probably know, dragons do not lose weight as humans do, but instead their magic causes them to shrink, from eyelash to tooth to wing to tail. He was now a little bit over 100 feet long, and his wingspan a mere 200 feet, a medium size for dragon kind, but belying his incredible power.

 

Returning to his lair, he unrolled the first half of Qa’Paleth to the area he was currently studying. Magic for the control of mind and matter. Every time he reread some part of the humongous scroll, he gained more understanding and more power. It was the knowledge for which he hungered. The power he had no use for except for getting rid of mites under the scales or filling the horses of some courageous caravaneer who had ventured into his domain with terror so that he would not have to leave his studies to deal with them personally. As he read his thoughts turned to the girl of his dreams. Nothing he had read could explain his vision, nor could he understand the feelings it evoked in him. He worried that perhaps he had been alone for so long that he was going crazy. He could picture the face in the clearest detail even when awake. Every time he was once again filled with terror, foreboding, and… longing?…

 

———————————-

 

On a hillside far away, a young peasant girl named Eva unwrapped the birthday present her brother Garth had given to her. He would not tell her where he had gotten it, but she knew he had been spending a lot of time in the caves behind their small hut lately. It didn’t feel like a pretty stone, or a rusted piece of armor, the type of gifts she would have expected from her brother. It was too light. She unwrapped the fronds he had used for wrapping and there, in perfect condition was half of a scroll. Eva began to get excited. The village priest had condescended to teach her to read, despite the fact that her parents disapproved. This was new material! She unwrapped it and began to look at the words. Much to her frustration, she could not read any of it, it was in some foreign language, perhaps Elvish. As she looked at the characters though, they seemed to burn into her brain, and while she could not comprehend them, she knew that she would never be able to forget anything she saw in this scroll. Rolling it again, she looked at the ends of the decorated wooden dowel, on which the scroll was rolled. Around the handle engraved in red were the letters “Qa’Paleth” She thought about taking it to the priest, but was overcome with a desire to keep it for herself. “It’s mine, mine.” she thought. Opening it once again, she began to look at the strange configurations of letters and symbols. As she did, she felt something deep within her trying to break loose, and she knew if she continued to read it would not be held back. Frightened, yet more curious and excited, she unrolled it further and continued to let the strange words burn into her brain, and as she did, the letters started to fall into place, and soon she began to understand what they meant. Not the actual words of course, but their overall meaning. She spent the whole afternoon for which she had been released from chores looking at the scroll as more and more began to be comprehensible. When the sun began to go down making further reading impossible, she rolled it back up, put it back inside the fronds, and hid it under some rocks on the hillside where the rain would not be able to penetrate it, determined that she would read the whole scroll, and then make her brother tell her what he had done with the first half.

 

The next day Eva hurriedly finished her chores so that she could return to viewing the scroll. Eva finished with only a few hours of daylight remaining and rushed to where she hid the scroll. Eva glanced about to make sure that no one saw where her hiding spot for the scroll was. No one was in sight so she felt safe retrieving her scroll. Unfurling the scroll to the same area that she was looking at the previous day when the feeling overtook her. She began reading the mysterious words and let the feeling overtake her. The feeling started deep down in her gut and seemed to come from all directions. The feeling surged into her hands and she dropped the scroll. She could not control the feeling anymore and as hard as she tried to stop it she could not. Energy crackled around her fingertips and suddenly flames shot from her fingertips. Fear overtaking her she screamed and shook her hand to put out the flames and try as she might she could not. Then as suddenly as the flames appeared they were gone. Amazement replaced her fear and the unmistakable glint of curiosity was in her eyes as she stared at her unburned hand.

 

Throughout the ages, humans have always thought that what they saw was what things were. This is not so. For the truth is this; there are always things you don’t see.

 

On this particular day, what the human Eva failed to see was that she was not alone. She looked, and believed herself so, and of course, she was mostly correct. But one of those creatures watching her didn’t want to be seen, and so of course, he wasn’t seen.

 

It was behind a large boulder that he stood. Arms like corded steal, crossed over his barrel chest, his short powerful legs slightly bent as if ready to launch him into the air, the red bearded fellow was very easily one of the old folk. The ancient and powerful Dwarves. Born of the rock, dwellers of caverns, and forgers unmatched. Skilled in both arms and also crafting, if it needed killing, he could kill it. If it needed forging, he could forge it. Such was his legacy, such was his curse. Many things haunted him from his past, and he fought them still.

 

Watching the young human was at first pretty boring, but you learn patience in a couple hundred years. He knew what the young women held. He also knew what it was she would one day be able to do with it. That was part of his curse. But as he watched her, he realized that his life was changing again, and he was going to be tied up with this little human for a long time.

 

She sat there, hunched over the part of the Qa’Paleth that lay in her lap. Ancient when dwarves were young, the information in there was dangerous. Powerful and probably uncontrollable, it was her birthright to accept it, and use it. How she used it was the fear of his spirit. Her back to him, she never heard him walking up behind her. He was about to speak, when her hands erupted into flame. Shooting out from her fingertips, and then flying wildly around as she flailed her hands. The flames where hot, and deadly. The dwarf was glad to be behind her. There was no control in this use of the power.

 

As suddenly as it burst free, the flames were extinguished. The child looked at her hands in amazement, then crumpled over unconscious, exhausted. The sour dwarf shook his head, and walked closer. Looking down, he saw what looked like a very ordinary, if dirty peasant girl. She was probably beautiful under the dirt. For some reason, humans find it fun to put their own kind beneath them. Peasants were the worst of the lot.

 

Placing the Qa’Paleth on her chest, he picked the light form of the peasant girl up, and carried her to the rock. It slid away at his touch, and he continued down the dark path into the bowels of the earth. The closing of the boulder overhead sealed off all light, but this bothered him not. His was a race that lived underground. The feel of thousands of tons of rock above was a comforting one. Besides…. he could see in the dark.

 

After walking for about an hour, carrying the girl in his arms, he came to his holding. Not a proper home, but of course, he had only been spending a small amount of time here. He laid the unconscious girl on a bed in one corner of the room, lit a torch should she awake, and went to get some water. He returned, and began to rub some of the water on the lips of the girl. Her response was to suck on his finger, and so he filled a rag, and dripped more into her open lips. As she started to swallow, her eyes fluttered, and she woke.

 

Looking at a small man with a bright red beard was not the first thing she expected. She had been immersed in dreams of fire, and fire she has caused too. Now, this huge little man was waking her up. Where was she, who was she, and what had happened to her?

 

Seeing the look of desperate fear that was beginning to flash into her eyes, the Dwarf spoke.

 

“Relax, child.” His deep barrel voice rumbled out of his chest. “You are safe. I will not hurt you, and your secrets are safe with you. Look there.” So saying, he pointed to the half scroll of the Qa’Paleth laying beside her. Snatching it up, Eva drew her legs and arms up and around so that she was hugging herself and the scroll, as if to protect it from the powerfully built dwarf.

 

“Who are you? What are you? Why am I here? What do you want? Where am I? What are you going to do?” she started to babble at him.

 

Shaking his head, he turned and started to bang around some pots and pans.

 

“First, I’m gonna feed you. Maybe that will shut you up. I forgot how much you humans talk.” He grinned at her, to take away the sting of his words. But there was steal in his eyes, telling her he was serious. She opened her mouth to say something, but the look he gave her warned her that was not a good idea. So she sat, quietly holding her legs.

 

He grunted. “Good, you learn. That will be very helpful.”

 

As he cooked, he began to tell her about himself. She found out that his name was Draykor Redbeard. He said this with a flourish of his obviously well cared for namesake, the flowing red beard hanging from his chin. To her astonishment, he called himself a Dwarf, one of the ancient races. Laughing, she was relieved to see he had a sense of the dramatic. He blew out the torch, leaving her in total darkness. She screamed, and when he told her he could see exactly what she was doing, she began to believe him. Ok, so he’s a real dwarf. Maybe.

 

After her meal of what she believed was rabbit stew, amazingly delicious, she started to feel very sleepy, and listening to the deep rumblings of the dwarf telling her things about himself, she started to nod off. Draykor walked over, and pressed her into the covers.

 

“Sleep child. You are safe here. I will see that your family worries not. When you awake, I will tell you what I can about what is going on.” he spoke softly, and off she slipped, to dream deep pleasant dreams.

 

The young dame slept quietly for hours. Then suddenly, she awoke finding herself in complete darkness. Still unsure of here whereabouts, she began feeling around for her scroll. She recalled some of the words etched in her mind from the scroll. “Quatsum du trascher!'” she exclaimed in a demanding tone. Suddenly the torch on the wall was lit! Much to her surprise, something happened which she couldn’t explain yet again.

 

Draykor waddled into the room where she had been sleeping and asked her how she had lit the torch. “I don’t know, I awoke in darkness and just began speaking the words from the Qa’Paleth”, she said. “After that, a burst of fire was emitted from the torch lighting it.” Draykor asked, “What were you thinking just prior to this occurring?” “I was thinking of how dark it was, and then just spoke out.” She still didn’t realize what had actually happened until the pudgy dwarf explained to her what the scroll was. Draykor continued to tell her of its magical powers contained within. Throughout his life he had always heard of the magical scroll, and even growing up to be a few centuries old, he could barely believe it. But now, somehow, this beautiful angel had embarked on a journey which even he was unsure she could travel.

 

Eva began once again questioning what she was doing here and why was all of this happening to her. The dwarf grasped her hand in his and asked her to take a walk with him. In route back to the surface, Draykor began explaining to Eva just how vital the scroll was to all forms of life. “The mighty Paldorin” he exclaimed, “has the other half of the scroll and would very much like to have this one.” “You must guard this half with your life on all costs because with both halves, the last surviving dragon could cast spells of epic proportions.” Completely stunned at this, Eva’s eyes began to shutter quickly and a sense of greater anxiety had come over her.

 

Upon reaching the mighty bolder which covered the entrance to Draykor’s Cavern, he stopped Eva and asked her how she would get out if he was not with her. She was clueless, and just glared back at the red bearded fellow. Draykor shook his head and told her to “Think” of how to get out. In a fit of frustration she exclaimed once again “Quatsum du trascher!” “Behold” he said, “the power of the scroll is in your thoughts!”

 

In sheer amazement, she had begun to realize the powers held within these strange phrases and symbols that were etched in her mind so vividly. “What else can I do?” “In time dear… you’ll be able to move mountains with a single thought, walk on plains of air, and soar with the eagles above. But first, I feel that you must return to your home soon before someone becomes overly curious and begins searching for you.”

 

With her mind still filling with questions by the second, Eva agreed and continued down the hillside to her home only a short distance away. While on her way back to her dwelling, she was met by her brother exiting the cavern.

 

“Odin!” she said, “Did you read any of that scroll which you had given to me?”

 

“Yes” he exclaimed. “Have you deciphered anything in it yet?”, he asked.

 

“No. I have just been staring at the symbols all day, drifted off to sleep in the next valley and awoke just about an hour ago.” Odin signaled her towards the cave and walked with her through the entrance holding her hand. As they entered the cavern, a strange sensation came over her… She glanced down and to her astonishment, there was no floor. Odin kept his grip tightly around hers and led her to the other side of the gorge. As they drew closer and closer to the far end of the cave, Eva began to see etchings on the wall with many of the same symbols that were contained in the scroll. Once steadfast on the ground again, Eva drew a closer look to the drawings and pictures encapsulated into what seemed to be frames of time.

 

“This is where I found the scroll”, Odin explained. “The pictures on the wall seem to denote periods of time which I can only guess would be that of 15 -20 centuries.”

 

Eva turned to Odin and asked, “How much of the scroll have you read?”

 

“All of it, however there are phrases and terminology, which I could not understand. I was hoping that you could teach me of those things which I can not comprehend.” Eva, being a scholar of the local priest for the past several years, acknowledged that she had indeed interpreted some of it, but that night had overtaken the sun much too soon the previous day.

 

Eva then turned back to the sketches on the wall and asked Odin how much of the story was recorded on the wall. “I believe what we see here is the rise and fall of two complete civilizations which lived in perfect harmony until right about here.” He pointed to a frame that had shown five elements…Air, Water, Fire, Earth, and Magic. In various frames after that, he pointed out how each of these elements was intermixed with the other and how useful each was by itself…until one day.

 

The last frame on the cavern wall had shown a mighty battle between the peasants, sorcerers and dragons.

 

“Right here!” Odin pronounced. “This is where it ends. An all mighty sorcerer had begun killing off all those that had opposed him. Might or Magic, it did not matter. With this scroll he was believed to have been invincible…until that is, a mighty, powerful dragon affectionately known as Paldorin, swooped down and tried to grasp the scroll from his hands. However, with the size and swiftness of his talons, he pierced the scroll carrying away only half of it. The town’s peasants then arose and with the aid of swords and daggers, they thrust their hearts and might into defeating this sorcerer and removing him from society. He had since lain on the bottom of this 350′ gorge with his half of the scroll, and a prisoner of his own magic…

 

As day grew to night and the stars came out in full force, Eva thought back to the way that Draykor had taken her in and nourished her back to consciousness, back into the world that slipped slowly from her fingertips. Why would a dwarf of such nature be so concerned with a peasant girl, Eva thought to herself, as she sat upon the back hills overlooking the valley into the darkness. Why did he not just leave me there for death to find its way to my unconscious body and keep on his way? He had too much knowledge of the scroll to have genuine concerns in my well being and the manner in which he had found me. It almost seemed as though the interest was more in my scroll than myself, and why not considering the powers that it possesses, the powers which I have now acquired with out any knowledge of how or why to use them, but I know they’re there and I know that they’re special.

 

Eva’s mind wondered off far into the night sky as thoughts of why’s and how’s captured her mind and before she realized it morning fell upon the land and brought forth a new day. At the same time Eva was wandering her way home, on a hillside on the other side of the valley Draykor sat patiently. He did not turn around nor was he startled when a voice from behind spoke out, “Have you found the girl?”

 

“I have.” Draykor replied.

 

“The scroll, Does she have the scroll?” the voice from behind spoke out in anger?

 

“She does, and I know that I can get it from her, I just need a little time and a little patience.” said Draykor.

 

“We have no time and I have no patience, if the scroll is not in my hand tonight when night falls I will ensure that you will not see morning and that your remains are sent to each of the four villages to ensure the fear in their hearts.” And with this, he vanished into the trees and Draykor remained there on the hillside contemplating the day’s events to come and how he would go about such a task.

 

As he thought, his shape seemed to melt into the hillside, until he looked almost like the boulders around him. It was difficult to concentrate hard enough to emulate such a form well enough to fool someone who had already met the dwarf himself, but he would be glad he had had the practice tomorrow, when he actually approached the girl. His long and frustrating knowledge of the dwarf told him that the beast would have already befriended the girl, trying to help her master the knowledge of many lifetimes and the greed and lust of the dragons, so that she could fulfill her destiny. It was up to him to ensure that Draykor failed, either now by stealing the scroll, or later by ensuring that all the undesirable traits the scroll imparted were magnified in her and its desirable ones minimized, eventually turning her to his master’s cause. As he drifted into what served the shifting trolls for sleep he wondered what new form his master had taken that caused him to hide it from his most trusted lieutenant. He set his internal clock to ensure that he would wake in 9 hours when he would attempt to get the scroll from Eva.

 

Bent Tooth dreamed malicious slavering dreams of slaughter and terror. His sleep carried him back to the day the master had first found him. He had been a normal hill troll, living in cave to the east of Echols, when Vegris had gotten the scroll of the dragons, the Qa’Paleth. He had lived a quiet life. Hiding in his cave by day, and catching the occasional traveler who was stupid enough to wander into the wild-lands by night to keep his hunger under control. Vegris had used his power to turn Bent Tooth into a Shifting Troll, giving him his current chameleon ability and the ability to live in the sunlight without turning to stone, at the same time bending his will to the master’s own, and filling him with a never ending terror.

 

Draykor, the real Draykor that is, watched Eva as she finally made her way off of the hill and to her parents home. She thought he had left her at the exit from his underground keep, but in actual fact he had simply used the ability that comes naturally to all dwarves to keep himself from being noticed after he had said goodbye. It was inherent in his race, not magical, but simply an ability not to be noticed, developed by years of solitary life. He wasn’t sure what was wrong, but something was not right with Eva’s brother. Either he had somehow managed to gain knowledge of a book that should have been completely incomprehensible to him, not being the chosen one, or he was not actually her brother, or he was under some type of compulsion or spell. The magic he had worked in crossing the gorge precluded the compulsion, and it was impossible that he could have read and understood the book, so the only thing that remained was that he must not be her brother. Draykor pondered this for a long while. Reaching into the ever-present pouch at his side, he produced a small piece of dried tack and ate as he thought, sitting down with his back to the cottage wall. Finally, he made a decision. In order to train the girl, he would have to get her away from her home. Whether willing or by force, he could not leave her in her home with the situation as unstable as it obviously was. On the road there would be many dangers, but he would at least have a chance to teach her before whomever or whatever her brother was did whatever it intended to do. As the sounds of people waking drifted to his ears through the thick clay walls of the cottage, he silently slipped back to his cave to catch several hours rest before coming back to spirit her away.

 

Nine hours later, Draykor awoke, and exiting his cave walked down the hill toward the cottage. The girl should be finishing with her chores soon, and he would meet her as soon as she left to continue her reading of the scroll

The troll melted into the familiar shape of Draykor Redbeard, and walked around the side of the hill. As he approached the cottage, he was so astonished, he almost shifted to his natural form. Quickly catching himself, he maintained the form, until it became obvious that he would have to become something else to get close enough to the crowd to hear what was going on. The crowd would have quickly gotten much more excited had the seen the dwarf on the edge of the field, lose his features, and gain in height what he lost in breadth until he resembled an average man of indeterminate age. He walked forward and joined the milling crowd, his newness unnoticed in this large gathering�

Meanwhile Draykor reached the cottage also. There was a great crowd of villagers around the cottage, one in which Draykor would surely be noticed. He quickly stepped back from the open area to remain hidden in the shade of the mountain while he surveyed the area. He was too far away to hear what was being said, but it was obviously an emergency meeting of some sort. Far too soon it became obvious what the commotion was about though�

Bent Tooth was rather blunt as he moved people aside to reach the front of the crowd near the door of the cottage.

“I have called you together for this reason.” Finished Eva’s father Jarvis, a large broad-shouldered man with a concerned expression stood next to his wife while their son Odin sat in the dirt with his arms crossed and a rather incongruous frown on his face. “Please begin searching from the cottage outward until she is found. If any of you find her, bring her back here to my goodwill, and everyone will check back here occasionally till she is found.” Bent Tooth gasped. What would his master say? Eva was gone� Draykor rushed back to his hidden cavern as quickly as his short legs would take him, which for those of you who have not had the pleasure of meeting one of the Dwarven race, was pretty damn fast� Bent Tooth ran from the crowd and immediately began searching for sign of where the girl might have disappeared. He would find her alright, but her return to the cottage of her youth ever again was unlikely.

Draykor closed the rock behind him and was immediately surprised when light remained. It flickered off the walls like the flames of a torch. He turned, and there she stood dressed in breaches that were a few sizes to large for her, and a leather jerkin he could have sworn was his own. On her back was a rather large sack, held over her shoulder by one hand while her other clasped the torch. Her face was washed and the beauty he had thought might be hidden was proved out more than he had ever expected. Even though she was a human, he let his jaw drop open in awe. Taking in the full import of the situation though, he quickly snapped it shut, and headed back into the main portion of the cave. Eva followed him setting the torch in a bracket on the wall designed for that purpose. Already prepared for travel, he merely replenished his supplies of food and strapped his ever-trusty battle-axe, which he had uncharacteristically left in the cave to keep his appearance from being to startling to young Eva, to his back. Walking toward the back of the cave he began traversing a maze of passageways which eventually led to a small hole, hidden by brush on the other side of the hill. Peeking out and looking about quickly, he ensured that the search had not yet reached this side of the hill. Grabbing Eva’s hand and helping her up, he began to jog down the hill, leaving Eva to follow as best she could. He continued the steady pace as the faint cries of “Eva, Eva, Eva,” slowly faded into oblivion. He continued the pace, staying away from the main paths until lack of light made continuing impossible for Eva.

“Stop” she gasped out, collapsing to sit on a log beside the path. “I can’t see anymore. I’m going to trip if we keep going any further.” Draykor was disappointed. He had hoped to make a full day’s journey this night, sleeping during the day, to help them avoid detection, until they were well out of the boundaries of any search party travels.

“No fire,” he said, sounding miffed. “Do you need sleep too, or can you tell me what you were doing in my cave dressed in my jerkin this evening? I think we’ve got enough of a head start that we can take a short break.”

Surprising herself, Eva said, “I’m not tired. I can tell you what happened. Just let me catch my breath.” She paused for a few minutes then finally began.

“When I left you at the mouth of your cave to head home, I was in a turmoil. My mind was whirling from everything I had learned in such a short time. As I was walking down the hill I met my brother. When he first spoke to me, I was surprised. He usually ignores me completely, except for when he takes the time to tease me, but this time he was being nice. He started asking me questions about the scroll he had given me, and what I had thought of it. Eventually he asked me if I wanted to see where he had found it. I agreed, hoping that perhaps you were wrong, and I would be able to find the other half of the scroll. Now my brother is a good boy, but not the brightest candle in the house. He helps father in the fields and with the chores, but he never even went to the earliest schooling which father Mir provides to all the village children. As we walked into the cave he was using words which even I didn’t understand sometimes, then when he saw me looking at him funny, he somehow changed and seemed like my own brother again.

“As we walked deep into the cave, stalactites and stalagmites hung down like the teeth of a an angry dragon. There was just enough room for the two of us to walk abreast. The drip of the water echoed around the cave. Then the cavern opened out into a large cave. It was not a pleasant place like your cave. In the center was a deep pit, which split the cavern in half. There was just enough room to inch along a ledge on the outer edge of the pit, but Odin had a hold on my arm, and instead of walking along the edge he forced me to step with him over the pit’s edge onto the air. I was amazed when we did not fall. I could look down, but I could not see the bottom of the pit. Warm air blew from the depths, raising the hair on the back of my neck. An evil smell of decay filled the room. Wanting to trust Odin, I kept walking with him to the other side.

“When we reached the other side, Odin told me that there was where he had originally found the scroll. There were magnificent pictures seemingly blasted out of the wall in bass relief. They were higher than I am tall and just as wide. They covered the whole wall. Odin, of all people began to explain what they meant to me. He said that there had been two different civilizations, the Bren, and the Olin, who had lived together in perfect harmony. The Bren worked in Fire, Earth, and Magic. They forged steel, grew crops, and produced the great wizards. The Olin worked in Air and water. They built ships, sailed the oceans, and lived off of what they could forage from the forests. Each provided the other with what their civilization did not produce for itself. But both were under the spell of the council of wizards who lived better than everyone else. One day a wizard’s young apprentice, who had been beaten down one to many times, found a scroll in the lair of an ancient dragon, where he had been gathering scales for his master. When he started to read the scroll, he quickly became more powerful than even the greatest council of Wizards. He began destroying the evil wizards and their powerful minions. Might or magic, none could oppose him. He would have set himself up as benevolent ruler to ensure that all were treated equally after he had disposed of his enemies, but unfortunately, before that could happen, a mighty dragon who came to be known affectionately as Paldorin, or wizard slayer in the human tongue, came in the middle of the battle and grabbed the scroll from his hands, ripping it in two in the process. All the armies that he had been fighting when the dragon came took the opportunity of his lost concentration to attack him so viciously that he barely had time to cast a spell of retreat. Unfortunately, the loss of half the scroll caused him to lose concentration at the last moment, transporting himself above this gorge, where he fell to his living grave, a prisoner of his own magic, while his half of the scroll fluttered after him to the bottom.

“Odin described the wizard as some type of hero, but the deeds that he described him doing made him seem more like a monster. It was very weird. He tried and tried to convince me to explain the scroll to him, and did not seem to believe me when I told him that I didn’t really understand any of it myself. I told him that I seemed to be constantly on the verge of understanding and that weird things had happened to me, but somehow I didn’t tell him about you or our meeting here. When I couldn’t tell him any more, he walked back across the gorge, leaving me there, to work my way around the outside ledge. I spent the night out there on the hill, thinking about everything that had occurred and wandering around the hillside. I came to a few conclusions. First, I could not stay at home. I was pretty sure my brother wanted the scroll back, and I knew I could not give it back. I think he would have taken it from me in the cavern there if I had had it with me. He hinted that he wanted me to tell him where I had left it. Somehow I managed to leave it in your cave when I left, which I think now was fortunate. Anyway, I didn’t tell him. Second, I decided that if you had wanted the scroll you could have taken it and left while I was asleep, but you didn’t. I accidentally left it in your cave. You seemed like you wanted to help me, and I needed to get away. I walked home in the early morning while it was still dark, packed the few things I called my own, and came back to your cave to ask you to help me get away.

Draykor smiled through his beard. This girl was more intelligent than he had given her credit for. Perhaps she would manage to live through the events to come. Whatever it took, he would do his best to ensure that she did. “We just may manage to accomplish that,” he said, “But only if we can keep moving through the night and hide during the day. We can afford to go slower now, but we must not stop till we have left your village far behind. Stand up, and walk be hind me keeping a hand on my shoulder. That way you can follow exactly in my path, and will not fall.”

“I’ll try,” Eva said uncertainly. Her legs were already starting to tire. I really don’t know why I trust you, but something tells me you have my best interests at heart. Eva reached inside her jerkin and felt to ensure the Qa’Paleth was still there. Sighing, she stood up and putting a hand on the dwarf’s shoulder, persevered.

Throughout the night they trekked, the dwarf urging her back up after every break. By the time the sky started to lighten with the first hint of dawn, Eva was sure she could not walk another step. They had completely left the hilly area around her home and were deep in the heart of a large forest. Finally, the dwarf pronounced it safe to rest. Eva collapsed to the ground exhausted. Draykor hauled her back up again.

“After we make camp.” He said in a tone that brooked no arguments. “I don’t coddle anyone. If you want to travel with me you will do your fair share. Now, it’s still to soon for a fire, but you can gather up fern leaves and pine branches to make us two beds. I’m going to set up the tarp as it looks like rain. Wondering if she would ever get any peace, Eva set to collecting branches for a bed. They were camping for goodness sake. They didn’t need beds. The ground felt perfectly good to her. Finally she had two reasonably sized piles of fronds and branches piled underneath the makeshift tent Draykor had made with his tarp.

“You can rest now.” Draykor said. Gratefully she collapsed once again and this time she was asleep before her head hit the pillow. Eva dreamed of flying that night. Soaring on leathery wings. A dragoness. She woke with a start to the sound of rain. Because of the fronds beneath her and the tarp above her she was completely dry. She decided to be grateful to the dwarf for making her gather the beds. She had no clothes to change into and it would not have been a pleasant night if she had spent it drenched. Reaching inside her jerkin she pulled out the Qa’Paleth and started to read.

For the last few hours of the day she read from the scroll, gaining knowledge and insight with every minute of reading. Then during the night, she and Draykor talked about what she had read, and what she was learning. The days went by, and this became a routine. She grew to trust the old Dwarf implicitly, and as she gained power and knowledge of magic from the scroll, she gained wisdom and knowledge of woodcraft from the dwarf. Things were going peacefully until one day, as they were making camp four figures stepped stealthily from the surrounding brush. The largest of the four spoke in a hushed rugged voice “Give us your valuables and no harm will come to you”. Draykor quickly drew his battleaxe but the other three men had arrows notched and drew a bead on him. “We have no valuables” Draykor said as he lowered his battleaxe seeing that there was no way out of this battle without harm befalling Eva. “We will have to see about that” said the largest motioning to one of his lackeys. The lackey moved over to Draykor and Eva’s bundles. Draykor could see the rage building in Eva and moved a considerable distance away from the lackey. “Don’t be thinkin’ about runnin’ either” said the leader of the four. “Oh I don’t think I will be running anytime soon” Draykor said with a smile. The lackey finished rummaging through Draykor’s bundle and started reaching for Eva’s. Eva felt the rage building at the thought of losing the Qa’Paleth and the words of power rolled from her tongue like water. “Eeusarr aus shaktim” she chanted. Eva raised her hands and a huge bolt of lightening blazed from her hands bathing the lackey in pure electrical power. The lackey fell to the ground or at least the smoking black husk that was the lackey did. Draykor charged the leader with his battleaxe held high. The leader did not even have a chance to defend himself and was hacked nearly in half from the vicious blow that Draykor delivered to the man. “Run while your still have your lives you mangy curs.” Draykor said while the other two brigands stood motionless with awestruck faces. The remaining brigands dropped their weapons and ran. “Next time you must not let your anger get the better of you” Draykor said to Eva who gaped at the charred husk in horror. “I didn’t mean to kill him.” Eva sobbed and began to cry. “You will learn with time to control your powers.” Draykor said. “I have never killed anyone before” Eva sobbed. “The killing never gets easier and if it does…Gods help us.” Draykor said. “Draykor, how can I learn to control my powers better?” Eva asked. “I have an old friend who could possibly help you out. He is a very old and wise elf who lives to the west of here. I think that with a little practice everyday and some teaching from him you could command some very powerful forces” Draykor paused looking into Eva’s eyes so that he could read the reaction and said “You will be tested by my friend to determine if you are worthy of the powers you are destined to master” He couldn’t read any reaction and this worried him. “Let’s go. I don’t want those curs coming back in the middle of the night.”

For several more nights they traveled west toward Draykor’s friend. Each morning when they stopped and made camp, Eva practiced her newfound art, and afterwards Draykor would tell a bit more of his Elven friend. His name was Aeleric, and from Draykor, she learned quite a bit of Aeleric’s past. It seemed that Aeleric had at one time been a long-standing member of the Consortium, a group of Elven Wizards who watched over the numerous goings on of the other races that they shared the planet with. Aeleric had a belief that the Elves should interact more with the younger races, namely Humans. He felt that it was their obligation to help develop the younger race and show them the ways that all the races could get along. Instead, the Consortium, being closed-minded, would not “lower” themselves to help. They believed that the younger race were animals and not worthy of their time and trouble. They marked Aeleric as eccentric, and left it at that. Well, after the war that was, in fact, the same battle that Eva had seen on the cavern walls, Aeleric could no longer stand by while the human race suffered so. He made one last attempt to convince the Consortium that the Human race needed intervention by the elder races. For that he was marked a rebel, and upon the decision of the Elven council, he was disowned as part of the Elven race and was told to join the Human race that he so much loved. He packed his few belongings, and without even a backward glance, he headed into the world that the Humans populated.

He learned that because the elves had kept themselves apart for so long, he had to disguise himself as a human. In doing this, he was able to help as he could, and learn quite a bit of the human race. That is where Draykor came in. Draykor and Aeleric met in Celeste, a coastal seaport. They were both travelers that, because of their being of the elder races, decided to travel together and had quite a few adventures as a team. As time went on, Aeleric grew tired of the traveling and decided to settle down in a wooded countryside to study magic. He built himself a house, and settled down to pour over the numerous books and scrolls of magical knowledge that he had gained throughout the time he had spent with the Humans. After Aeleric settled down, Draykor continued to stay in contact with his Elven friend and anytime during his journeys, he came across a magical scroll or book, he would bring it to Aeleric during his occasional visits. From what Draykor could guess, Aeleric had quite a collection of unique magical books and scrolls. “And if truth be told”, Draykor said, “Aeleric seemed to know each and every one by heart! But that was elves for you.”

On the night they arrived at Aeleric’s, in another part the world, the dragon, known to Humans as “Paldorin” was just waking from another one of his mysterious dreams of the girl again. Each time that he had dreamed of her, she had been human, but this time, this time she was a dragon! She was a Gold, but that couldn’t be, because ‘Paldorin” was the last of the mighty Gold’s. She had flown right up to the entrance to the Mountain that he called home, and there was such warmness about her coming here to be with him. He shook his head in disgust, realizing the path his thoughts were traveling was not a healthy one, and that it was only a dream. He WAS the last Gold, and she was, from what he could glean from his previous dreams, just a human. But for him to be dreaming of a human with this clarity, and repetitiveness, something was going to happen involving the two of them. To clear his head, he left to go study the Qa’Paleth, and put this foolish thinking aside for the time being. If only he had been able to find the other half of the book�

Thoughts of the girl, Eva, seemed to be on everyone’s mind this morning. The Shape-shifting Troll was also thinking of the girl. His “master” was very displeased with him at having the girl escape from his grasp so early in the scheme of things. And the punishment that followed was, well, to say the least, not pleasant. By the time it was over, the troll had wished he were dead. But that was an option not given to him. Instead his “master” had tasked him with finding the girl and eliminating both her and the bothersome Dwarf, if Draykor got in the way. That complicated things somewhat, but he felt confident that he could once again fall on the good side of his master, if his “master” had a good side, that is. He looked around at the valley where he had made his home, and with a thought of “good riddance” headed after the Dwarf and Human girl

 

As Eva had arrived at Aeleric’s home, she saw nothing but a common dwelling all by itself in a wooded countryside valley. When Aeleric greeted her, it was done by a wink of an eye. This was quite peculiar to her in the fact that she could barely see it because his eyebrows were so bushy. The wrinkles in his face showed the years and his beard was much larger and thicker then Draykor’s. Upon entering his home, Eva was surprised to see the amount of books and scrolls which filled bookshelf after bookshelf of Aeleric’s study.

After all of the greetings and story telling was over since the last time that they had met, Aeleric had asked to the scroll. Eva drew the scroll from her pack and passed it to him. As he began to unravel the scroll, an enormous screech fell across the hillside. In joking, Aeleric pronounced that it was just his neighbor in the next valley, Paldorin.

Aeleric studied the scroll for a few brief moments and looked up very confused, “I have only heard about this scroll in legends and myths, What great knowledge and power it has to offer to those who are intelligent enough to decipher the writings, But where is the rest? You must have the rest, right? “No,” Draykor said we do not have the other half, I fear that it may have fallen into the wrong hands, and if that’s the case than we are in grave danger. That’s why we have come to you for help. We had no other choice. Word of the girl has already spread over the next three valleys and everyone and anyone may be after her as we speak. “Relax, said Aeleric, no harm can be done to you here, rest now, we will devise a plan in the morning.

Night fell and the tired Eva fell into a deep sleep, but Draykor could not rest. He found his way out to the hillside that looked out over the valley of Korpathia and sat down on the green, moss covered, rocks embedded into the mountain…He sat there for a bout ten minutes gazing out into the fresh night air when he noticed a trail of what seemed to be torches moving up the side of the mountain to where Aeleric’s home was.

Draykor burst up off of the rock and broke out into a full sprint towards the elfand the girl but when he had finally reached the home of Aeleric he returned to find the whole place engulfed in flames and no sign of the girl or Aeleric. He could see that this was an act of theKiln, the council that resided over that region of the valley. He knew this because of the headless goat hanging from a tree dripping blood into the center of the circle made of rocks. The fire was out of control and Draykor had no choice but to flee into the night hoping to return in the morning to find some clue as to the whereabouts of his friend and the girl.

Daylight found Draykor at the edge of the burned area surrounding what used to be his friend’s hut. He had caught a little sleep, then returned to await the light of the sun to search for clues. As the sun rose above the hillside, he started his search. He could tell that a large group had been here, both from the tracks, and from what he had seen last night with his own eyes. But he also noticed another set of tracks on top of the ash. That meant that there was someone else very interested in what was happening here. It could be that pesky Shape-shifting Troll, Bent Tooth, and if that was the case, then his axe needed a good blooding anyway. But if it wasn’t, then there were players in this game that even he didn’t know of. But considering the events to soon unfold that could include a lot of powerful individuals indeed.

Enough thinking, time for acting. He looked around and it seemed to him that all the tracks led in the same direction. Good, Draykor thought. That will keep all my enemies together, for if they are not my friends, they must be my enemies, and enemies get to meet my trusted friend, SoulTaker. And SoulTaker was thirsty.

In the city of Echols, morning found Eva and Aeleric surrounded by the city watchmen awaiting the High Lord, Radcliff, who it seemed took great pleasure in the discomfort of others. They had been kept there all night long, with no reprieve. Finally the great oaken doors to the chamber opened, and with a flourish of his robe, in strode the High Lord Radcliff. His black curly hair blending in with his all-black attire and his blood-red cape flowing behind. As he approached the two, the guards seemed leery of him and moved out of his way. Eva and Aeleric noticed this, however, Aeleric noticed something else as well. What he had at first thought of as a piece of jewelry around Radcliff’s neck was in essence, a wizard’s crystal. And as strong an aura that it was producing, it could only be one such amulet in existence; the Locknatal! The fabled amulet that held the power of the Bren Wizards from centuries ago. How Radcliff had reclaimed the crystal was beyond Aeleric, since it was supposedly lost during the Wizard War, but here it was right in front of him, and he could do nothing about it. He would have traded all his accrued magical items, except the Elven Ring of Hope, to be able to examine the amulet! The amulet had, what looked to be, wire wrapped around the constant-changing colored crystal in some kind of intricate pattern that was probably a wizard lock to keep the powers with from escaping. And as Radcliff got closer, the wire actually looked to be very fine strands of hair. Maybe, but the important question was what did this seemingly powerful wizard and High Lord want with them?

 

As Bent Tooth neared the city, he altered his form to match that of a common merchant. When stopped by the City Watch, he told them that he was here to invest some time in seeing as to whether or not he could sell his wares in the Merchant’s Square. The Watch, seeing nothing amiss, let him pass. And as Bent Tooth, known now as Arul the Merchant, entered the city, he was glad that he had that story ready for the Watch. He also wondered as to why Echols was a locked city now, when before it had always been guarded, but open. He figured that the puny humans must be at war with one of the factoring townships, and let his worries drop. He should have kept his guard up instead of dismissing his worries, for he might have caught up on the fact that at the same time he was feeling safe, he was, in fact, being watched by a pair of ice-cold blue eyes from a darkened alleyway across from where he was walking.

The thief known as Wolf to his friends, and The Silent Wolf to his enemies, plus other assorted names to the people that he took certain “items” from, wondered about the merchant that just came in. He had been waiting for a “prospect” to come by, and had overheard the exchange between the stupid guard and the merchant that had taken place. As he thought about it though, he was curious why a merchant would be coming here during the off season. It would make better sense to come later in the season when there would be more flocks of people in the city. Plus, with Echols being locked down, most merchants would head to one of the surrounding cities that didn’t have any infernal lockdown, where the people would not be restricted in their comings and goings. This would be something that he might have to follow through to find out what was happening in his “fair” city. Who knows, he thought. He might be able to get some information that might be worth something. Maybe even some gold�

Paldorin closed the book, and walked to the edge of the entrance to his cavern in Mt. Eldor. He was very preoccupied due to the fact that he had grown accustom to having dreams of the human girl, and last night he didn’t have them. Not at all! He felt that there was something about to unfold, and he didn’t like feeling of impeding doom he felt even now since he had just finished reading the Qa’Paleth. That usually put him in a good mood, but not this time. It was time he, once again, enter the business of the humans. He had enough knowledge and skills he had gleaned from the half of the Qa’Paleth he had to survive and conquer anything that came in his way. Plus, it was time to find out if this human female was real, and if so, how she fit in with his destiny. He cast a spell to hide and protect his home, and with a leap from the entrance, he headed out in search of the female, who he felt compelled to find�

Draykor looked from the edge of the woods to the front of the city gate of Echols. It was dark enough now that the humans would never even see him scale the city wall. He could try to enter the city gate, but right now, he didn’t think that he needed the attention. Besides, since the tracks led toward the city, he might be next on the list to get an “invitation” and he wanted to show up unannounced. It seemed to keep people on their toes. He made one more inspection around to ensure that there were no stray Watches, and stealthily crept up to the edge of the Wall.

You might think that climbing is a rather strange activity for a dwarf, and that tunneling would be more in their line, but you must remember that the walls around Echols were made of stone, and no one knows stone better than a dwarf. Draykor climbed the wall, and then dropped rather clumsily to the street inside.

“Ouch”, he said. Wait, no, dwarves don’t say ouch. It must have been the human he landed on saying ouch. Sure enough, his landing had been softened by a young boy. His most striking characteristic being his gray-white hair, and yellow eyes. Draykor picked him up, and stood him on his feet making sure to keep his knife at the boy’s neck. While the boy was obviously a child of the street, he couldn’t risk being turned over to the city watch by the urchin for a few coppers, nor yet was he ready to senselessly kill the innocent. He could attempt to buy the boy off, but would likely be doublecrossed since there was nothing to keep the boy from taking his money and the guards as well. He could kill the boy, but that would mean finding a place to hide the body and risking it being found, and a citywide manhunt started. The only reasonable option seemed to be to keep the boy with him, at least until he got to be more trouble than he was worth.

“What is you name boy?” he whispered roughly.

“Wolf,” hissed the boy, who could barely contain his urge to fight despite the knife at his neck. “Kill me now, or you will regret it sooner or later.” The boy’s defiance would have been admirable if it hadn’t been so stupid. Well, it was time to start getting the information he needed to act.

“First, you’re going to answer some questions. Where are the elf and girl that were brought here earlier?”

“I can tell you that. They’re in the city jail. Radcliff had them put there after he talked to them earlier today. Radcliff is the head honcho in this city. He has some kind of magic, and he’s got big plans, but I don’t know what they are.”

“When was the city closed?”

“Bout six weeks ago when Radcliff got his magic powers.”

“All right, show me where the prisons are.” Shifting his knife to more comfortable and concealable position, at Wolf’s back, Draykor and Wolf headed out through the winding maze of the city. Soon they came to the rather large building that served the city as a prison. Unfortunately for Draykor, the building had no windows; and the only door was guarded by three guards, as well as being built of solid oak. He tried tapping in various places around walls, but got no response. Having tried what he could that day, he went to a local cavern to get lodgings for that night. Wolf spent the night uncomfortably tied up, after Draykor removed knives from several places around his body. Draykor had been very thorough. The next morning, Wolf made decision.

“Sir, if you will untie me, I’ll stay with you for now. You have made me curious, and if I should decide to part company with you, I’ll tell you before leaving. You will eventually be noticed if we continue to walk everywhere with you holding and knife at my back.”

Draykor thought about it, and determined that the boy was right. “Very well, but you will not receive your weapons back until I am satisfied with your honesty.” Draykor untied the boy, and together they headed down to break their fast.

Sitting down in a booth in a shadowy corner, Draykor ordered them the house breakfast, brown bread, leftover stew, and water. Then they headed out into the town to see what there was to be seen, and, perhaps, gain some more information. The tavern was situated just off the town Square. As they walked out the door, they saw small crowd gathered. At the center was the platform used for public punishment. On that platform were Eva and the elf, surrounded by the town guards. The crowd seemed to be waiting expectantly, so Draykor and Wolf joined them. The crowd quickly grew quiet and drew back as in imposing man with regal bearing walked up on the platform. Even the guards tried to move away as he approached Eva. As he reached for her bodice, Sparks flew from his hands and he jumped back. He weaved his hands in the air and muttered something under his breath, then reached for her bodice once again. Once again sparks flew and he jumped back. This continued for almost ten minutes until his gestures were wild, and his mutterings were unintelligible screechings. Finally, he barked an order to one of the guards and stalked away from the platform. The guards took Eva and the elf and headed back towards the prison. The last thing Eva saw before being thrown back in the musty prison was Draykor’s face in the front of the crowd.

Draykor grabbed Wolf and headed into the alley across from the prison. “Damnation!” he grumbled. “Now what is going on?!” “I curse the day I was tasked with this adventure!”.

“Yeah, but wasn�t it great to watch Lord Radcliff get denied something and loose his temper? I would pay anything to see a repeat performance of that again!” “And what do you mean, tasked with this adventure?”, Wolf asked. “What do you mean by that? What exactly is going on here?”

“It is too long a story for me to tell right now, and besides that I�ve got to come up with a plan to get them out. And speaking of stories, what is yours, by the way. You�ve yet to tell me how you�ve become, in your own words, a skilled thief in such a short human life span of 20 summers. I�ll tell you what. Later tonight if we are still unable to come up with a plan to extract the two from the prison, we will trade tales at the tavern over some stew and ale. What do you say to that? It will give us a chance to relax for a bit.”

Wolf thought about it for a moment, and replied, “sounds good to me as long as you are buying, but what do we do in the meantime?”

Draykor sat back against the grungy wall of the darkened alley, crossed his arms, and said, “we sit and observe, and show a lot of patience.”

As the guards walked away leaving Eva and Aeleric alone in the dimly lit cell, Eva turned to Aeleric. “Did you see Draykor? I was so worried that he had died that night when we were taken. I�m relieved that he�s okay. Now at least we have someone on the outside of this place trying to get us out of here.”

“Yes, I saw him, but even he might have a hard time of it. Radcliff didn�t waste materials, money, or magic in building this place. It seems to be greatly over-fortified for a regular prison. Almost as if he were expecting someone or something of great power to be held here, instead of just regular prisoners. In fact, I haven�t heard or seen any others in here except us. Very strange. But even stranger, I am more curious as to what Radcliff was trying to do to you, and why he was getting the reaction from his spell that he was getting. It was almost as if you were under some kind of protective spell. Very strange indeed. You didn�t by chance cast a protective spell, or cast something that you had read from the Qa�Paleth did you?”

“No”, Eva replied. “All I remember was Radcliff reaching for me and being scared. The next thing I knew, his spell was negated by something. I did feel at ease a second before he almost came in contact with me, though. Maybe I did cast a spell without thinking about it.”

Aeleric pondered this for a moment. If that is the case, then she is coming into her power faster than Draykor or I even imagined. I wish we were at my cabin. I could train her better there, but I guess this dank cell will have to do. “I guess that while we wait and see what the Lord Radcliff has planned for us next, we may as well begin your training in the art of Magic.” And with that they began. Aeleric lectured Eva in the basic art and skills of the novice, and on Eva’s part, she seemed to grasp every concept, as well as raise some questions that even Aeleric was hard-pressed to answer. As morning wore into afternoon, then evening; they broke only for food and drink. Even then, they still talked of magic and Aeleric had Eva repeat major parts of the topic being covered at the time. Eva seemed to absorb the material being covered, almost as if she were just being reminded of things that she already knew. Amazing, thought Aeleric. Who would have figured. As he lay down for the night, he wondered what his friend was doing to keep himself occupied.

As Paldorin came to a clearing near the town of Echols, he again wondered what was transpiring in the world of the humans! A while ago, he had felt that one of his kind were in trouble and so he had, without any thought, cast one of the many spells he had come across in the Qa’Paleth. Afterwards, he was very curious indeed. He was pretty sure that he was the last Gold Dragon, and yet he felt that one of his own was in danger. He had followed the source of the calling, which led him here to Echols. It would figure that the human, Radcliff, would be responsible for this. For Paldorin had been keeping tabs on Radcliff ever since he had raised the rebellion against him, just in case something like this happened again. He would not be caught off guard again. So he knew that Radcliff was now in charge of Echols. This did not worry him too much. He had dealt with the human in the past and would do so again, but he was worried as to one of his own kind being in danger. Especially since he himself was the last Gold, or at least until no