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The Tale of the Mad Wizard of Imbroglio

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"I had an idea..."

By Pukaq

 

### 1 ###

 

My name is Pukaq and to fully understand my story, you first need to understand something about the Draegoni and what it means to be Draegoni. Contrary to popular myth, Draegoni give birth to live young, however, unlike human birthing, there is little to no discomfort for the mother. Draegoni babies are born with transparent scales, but no horns. Hair, if any, is snow white. Some believe we are born this way in order to hide better in the snowy environments we call home. As we grow from babies into young children, our scales also turn a translucent, iridescent white. It is only when we reach puberty that our scales and hair change color and our horns grow.

 

No one knows what it is about us that cause the changes in our bodies or what it is that makes one family member's scales turn red while another's turns blue, green, purple or any other color: we simply accept it as being part of our dragon heritage. This was not always the case, however.

 

In our distant past, there came a time when Draegoni almost came to civil war with various factions grouping together based on the color of their scales. Each faction was fighting over which color was meant to lead, which was meant to labor and which was meant to fight. Even within factions, there were disagreements based on the shade of color. At a pivotal point in Draegoni history, a conclave was called that is documented in The Great Book of 'The Argh'.

 

But, I'll relate more on that in a moment. In a book I once read, a human theorized that there are sounds that can be produced that humans are unable to hear. Those below the level a human can hear he called subsonic and those above the level he called hypersonic. The spoken Draegoni language extends into both of those ranges as well as the range a human can hear, which is why we all learn to speak Common. While the Common tongue requires more words to convey an idea, it is possible in this language to convey a minor sense of what the Draegoni language communicates.

 

As an example, a friend I had growing up. Her name is Aurora in the Common tongue, which communicates the idea of lights in the sky at night. Throughout my years, I have met many other Draegoni named Aurora, but in the Draegoni tongue, no two are pronounced the same. Using the sub- and hypersonic tones and modulations in conjunction with the name Aurora, we are able to communicate colors, hues, shapes, intensities and patterns. The amplitude of these concurrent pitches also communicates to us emotional messages.

 

Among Draegoni today, there are some who believe the Draegoni language to be superior to Common and others who believe it is in fact Common that is superior. I believe both arguments have merit. I have often felt frustration at a failure to find the right words to use when speaking Common to express myself. With Draegoni, I don't have that problem. But, because Common is so widely known, used and understood, it has become the standard in trade, diplomacy and every-day life. On a planet where such diversity exists, this single factor bears considerable weight.

 

And how quickly we also forget the lessons of the past. At the conclave, each faction was fighting with all the others and no single faction was able to agree with another. Tempers flared. Brothers were prepared to fight sisters, parents were split trying to come to agreement, fists were raised prepared to strike when all at once, everyone present froze. Some later called it a miracle; others were convinced it was a true sign.

 

All present at the conclave and other Draegoni scattered elsewhere, it was later learned, all heard what we now call "The Holy Argh". Some say it was Iringold himself who gave it utterance while others refuse to accept that on faith alone. But all agreed on one thing: no Draegoni alive at that time or any other could have communicated it so completely and so eloquently to all Draegoni everywhere. Tears were shed over the beauty of "The Holy Argh" and efforts were made to collect what each person heard at the conclave. Those writings were compiled into The Great Book of 'The Argh'.

 

"The Holy Argh" communicated exasperation over foolishness first and foremost, but it also communicated much more. It expressed a plea to end the disagreement. It carried a threat of increased ire. It was the sound of a father scolding a child. As different as Common is from Draegoni, so too was this expression over Draegoni. All were humbled by the simple lessons it taught and no two Draegoni interpreted what they heard in the same way. Today, parents read to their children from The Great Book each night before bed. It is part of what makes us Draegoni.

Edited by PhilDaBurn

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### 2 ###

 

I am now an old Draegoni, though I know of some who are older. My hair is long and as white as the snow once more, although it was not always so. In my prime, it was the deep blue of the sky at the zenith, as my scales are now, though they've lost their luster. I have lived my life searching for answers, as I believe all must do. Many search for answers without knowing the questions, though that is not the case for me.

 

Ahhh Anniu, tonight is a night you would have loved. The thought often comes to me as I walk through the Ssai woods, returning to my cave after viewing the night sky and gathering some fruit. My bare feet crunch delightfully through the thin layer of ice covering the frozen landscape with a sheen reflecting the light from Macuma and Kaifhi. During daylight, such a covering often reminds me of the sweet delights my mother used to make for special occasions. On a night like tonight, so many memories of Anniu come tumbling back into my consciousness.

 

Anniu was my closest friend. We were rarely apart from each other during our youth. Anniu had often led me on some wild adventures. Tonight's vision of a landscape glazed by ice shimmering by the light of the moons bring back the memory of a night from over five centuries past when Anniu had come into my quarters and convinced me to sneak out.

 

Anniu was always the more adventurous and imaginative one. He was the one to think up the games we played: pirates, explorers and travelers - all were fair game and fun when Anniu was around. It was on that night so long ago and so like tonight that Anniu had spotted an object partially obscured by the snow and ice - one that did not shine in the moons' light the same way. Racing toward his discovery, we found a shield: how it had gotten there, neither of us could fathom, but as we realized what it was we had found, Anniu, in his typical fashion, had said, "I have an idea...".

 

Those four words had almost always precipitated our greatest adventures, so it was with energetic eagerness that we worked at liberating this steel object from the frozen ground where it lay. In short order, though, it was free and Anniu had hefted it up onto his arm. Grabbing a couple sticks from the ground nearby and tossing one to me, I had understood which adventure we would pursue that night: swashbucklers and warriors.

 

Around us, the frozen landscape vanished and we were on the high seas. I played the part of the pirate while Anniu was the warrior, sent by his government to rid the seas of the piratical scourge I had become. Back and forth, our swords clanging and clashing against each other as we parried and thrust, trying to gain advantage over the other, we fought our duel. Finally, in exhaustion, Anniu had called for a truce.

 

"This thing is heavy," he had said, "but I like the sound it makes when you hit it with your sword." We had laughed at that, looking out over the frozen landscape of that night so long ago.

 

The next day, Anniu had wanted to show Itilli his latest treasure. What that meant, though, was that we would also be showing Aurora the shield because while Anniu and I were rarely apart, so too were Itilli and Aurora.

 

Anniu led us all to the spot where we had hidden the shield. I'd had to sneak back into my quarters early that morning before my parents realized I'd been missing. Once it was revealed, though, the girls had seemed indifferent. "Oh, is that it? It's just a shield." But, they didn't know Anniu like I did. Grabbing up the shield and taking Itilli by the hand he had said, "It's not just a shield. Come on, I'll show you." And with that, he led us through the woods toward The Hill, because he'd just had another idea.

 

Growing up, certain objects and locations had taken on specific meaning: a specific trail through the woods had become The Path. When we spoke about The Path or The Hill in those terms, we were referring to something specific and important, and in those times, because of our shared experiences, we knew just what and where the other was thinking or going.

 

The Hill was the highest point in the area that we knew. From the highest point of The Hill, we could see over the tops of the trees below. Mostly barren, The Hill had been our lookout post or the peak of a nearly insurmountable crag or the summit of a deadly volcano. How many times had we climbed its height to lie down on the frozen ground and then roll ourselves tumbling and spinning down the side to the bottom where we would lay dizzy and laughing? I did not know the answer to that question. Nevertheless, on that day, it was our destination.

 

When we had all assembled atop The Hill, Anniu had put the shield down on the ground with the side of the shield normally kept closest to the body facing up. Then, he did the oddest thing: he sat down on top of the shield. Looking around at our confused stares he had said, "Well, what are you waiting for? Give me a push." At that moment, I understood his intent and complied. Itilli and Aurora seemed horror struck as I pushed Anniu over the edge of the slope. They screamed in terror as they watched him plummet toward the base. They stared in surprise as the sounds of his obvious delight made their way to our ears.

 

"You have to try this!" he had cried up to us. We spent the entire rest of the day taking turns riding down the side of The Hill on The Shield. We learned that to a limited degree, by leaning left or right, we could control where The Shield took us. We tried to see who could go the farthest and who could go the fastest.

 

Anniu was always the most daring one, though, with one exception. He was the first to try Shield Riding down the slope back first trying to gauge which way to lean to avoid obstacles by watching our faces as he plummeted down. Not wanting to be seen as less daring than Anniu, I was the first to set the shield down near the edge, back away a few steps, then run and hop onto the shield, riding it toward the bottom crouched over the shield rather than seated. The shield and I did not arrive at the bottom at the same time, however, but that didn't stop Anniu and me from repeating the attempt over and over again. It was Anniu, though, who mastered the technique first. Try as he might, though, he could not convince Itilli or Aurora to make such an attempt.

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### 3 ###

 

All too soon, the break from our basic studies classes was over and it was time to return to the tedious job of learning: a chore made all the more difficult when compared to the fun we'd recently had. When we could, though, we managed to put our heads together to recall the chills and thrills we'd experienced, vowing to someday repeat them.

 

Classes were held at my house: my parents were the teachers. Itilli's parents were local merchants, Aurora's parents were usually busy taking care of the sickly and infirm or injured and Anniu's parents were usually in the mines and caves, chipping out a living from the resources nearby. Both my mother and father, who taught alchemy, magic, crafting and manufacturing, conducted lessons.

 

Individualized specialties such as mining, commerce, health care, etc. were within the purview of each of our sets of parents. That knowledge was then passed from student to student with each of us teaching the others. My contribution was sharing things I'd learned from the books I could find. Whether it was the history of Draia or the legends of Iringold didn't matter to me. Everything fascinated me and I soaked it all in.

 

* * *

 

Time passed and we all got a little older. Anniu's scales turned a bright and shining polished gold. Aurora and Itilli were nearly identical with red scales and horns, but while Aurora's hair turned out blue, Itilli's came out purple. My hair and scales turned blue and my horns coming in caused my head to itch mercilessly, but these things are part of life as Draegoni go through the change and have to be endured.

 

It was during this period in our lives, just after completing our changes, that I had been reading about obscure human customs and sharing them with Anniu. He was particularly fascinated with the idea of blood brothers. Actually, he was more fascinated with the bonds that are created out of the ritual. I knew he had been thinking about something for nearly a week before he started talking to me about his latest idea. He had spent time thinking and considering how to do the same thing with a Draegoni twist to it.

 

All Draegoni, because of our dragon blood, horns and scales, are inherently magical beings. Under our hair, at the base of our horns are a few scales that are rarely seen. Anniu's idea was for each of us to remove one of those scales and give it to the other. Then using some stones and spells we would bind and heal the transplanted scales onto each other. By transplanting one of these scales, we would get as close to all three aspects of our dragon heritage at once.

 

It took some convincing for me to agree to it and once I did, we spent hours talking through the spells and setting up visual clues for each other. For the spells to work, we had to do them in exactly the right sequence and at practically the same time. For the next week, we spent all our free time practicing the ritual. Then one night, at an arranged time, I slipped out of my quarters and made my way into the forest. When I got to the spot where we were to meet, Anniu was already there waiting for me with a bag of the items we would need. From there, we headed off to the top of The Hill.

 

That night, the sky was almost completely clear with only a few clouds floating past and I wasn't completely sure, but Macuma and Kaifhi were either full or very near full. From the top of The Hill, we could see everything. We sat facing each other with the bag of items between us. With practiced hands, we each positioned the items we would be using where we could grab them without looking around for them: timing was critical.

 

"You sure you want to do this?", Anniu asked.

 

"Yes. Are you?" I asked.

 

"Yes. So, let's start. I'll go first." Anniu picked up the obsidian dagger, holding it up to the night sky.

 

"Macuma! Kaifhi! Hear me! For as long as you shine over Draia, Pukaq will be more than my best friend, he will be my brother. With this dagger, I willingly sacrifice part of myself to give to him. Bear witness to my sacrifice and my oath!"

 

With Anniu's pledge completed, he cut out the scale he had selected and handed me the dagger.

 

"Macuma! Kaifhi! Hear me as well! For as long as you shine over Draia, Anniu will also be more than my best friend, he will forevermore be my brother. With this dagger, I willingly sacrifice part of myself to give to him. Bear witness to my sacrifice and my oath!"

 

I then removed the scale I had chosen to give Anniu. Afterwards, while both of us held the bloodied dagger toward the sky, we both said together, "Macuma! Kaifhi! Hear us! We have each sacrificed our scales and blood for each other. We each freely accept the other's offering. Now, as we bind our scales onto each other, we also bind ourselves to each other as brothers forever."

 

I carefully placed my scale onto Anniu's head in the spot where he had removed his scale, holding it in place as he did the same to me. Then, as each of us began drawing on our magical reserves, we brought forth the magic spells Anniu had come up with to bind the scales to each other and complete the ritual.

 

Actually releasing the magic at the same moment was surprisingly more intense than either of us had anticipated when we were discussing and practicing the ritual Anniu had created and as the final spells were cast and released, I found myself feeling strangely - almost like I was floating.

 

By the time I came to, the moons had set and the sun was about to rise. I was several feet away from where I had been, my head was pounding and felt stuffed with cotton. Sitting up with a groan I barely heard because of the ringing in my ears, I looked around for Anniu, finding him laying several feet away from where he had been. Between us, where we had been sitting for the ritual, was now an area where all the snow had been melted and scorch marks could be seen on the ground.

 

I crawled around the scorched earth to get to Anniu. As I got to him, his eyes were beginning to blink as he rolled over and sat up. We both seemed to be ok. I checked my scale on his head and he checked his scale on mine. Both were there and our self-inflicted wounds were completely healed, but neither of us felt right.

 

How I managed to stagger home and return to my quarters while my parents slept, I'll never know, but when my head hit the pillow, I instantly fell into a deep sleep.

Edited by PhilDaBurn

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### 4 ###

 

When I awoke, my parents were in my room, talking quietly. I felt ravenous. The ringing in my ears had stopped but my head still felt a little odd. My parents told me I had slept for 2 days. When I mentioned I was hungry, my mother seemed relieved and rushed off to fix me something.

 

While she was out of hearing, my dad confronted me asking first how I felt. Then he began to question where I had been and what I had been doing. I did not want to deceive him, but I also did not want to reveal the exact actions that had precipitated my unconsciousness. I told him that I had snuck out of the house to meet Anniu for a night-time adventure. I assured him, when he asked, that neither of us had ingested any strange plants. He told me how worried they had both been when I would not wake up and that the doctor had been in to see me the day before, but he had assured my parents I was completely healthy and that there was nothing he could do at that time.

 

Over the next few days, other daily matters took higher priority than thoughts of what had happened to me and the incident was quickly forgotten as life returned to normal, but for one personal exception. Whenever I thought about Anniu, I had the feeling that I could point straight to him, even though I could not see him.

 

We tested it later that evening. Anniu blindfolded me and then while I spun myself around in circles, he changed locations. When I stopped spinning, I raised my arm and pointed to him 10 out of 10 times. He too could find me 10 out of 10 times. Besides this exciting new ability, Anniu too described his head feeling differently inside, but unable to do more about it, we returned to our respective routines vowing to study and consider other possibilities.

 

* * *

 

Our studies at this time became much more individualized: Anniu spent most of his time learning as much as possible about magic and alchemy. I nearly jumped out of my skin the first time he made telepathic contact with me. I could hear him talking to me inside my head but I hadn't heard him walk up. I spun around disoriented because while I could sense he was straight ahead of me, he was nowhere to be seen and yet I could hear him. Thinking he was playing a trick on me, I yelled for him to come out from hiding, but he wasn't hiding. When he explained what he'd done, I tried to do the same back to him, but I couldn't. He had discovered a new ability our bond had created.

 

Things changed for Itilli too. I caught her and Anniu sitting atop The Hill at dusk one evening. Anniu had put his arm around her shoulders and she was resting her head against him. I teased them about it, but when they seemed not to care, it wasn't fun any more.

 

It was a time of increasing loneliness for me. Even though I had my studies to pursue, reading everything I could get my hands on, more and more Anniu was wandering around looking for things to harvest to use either in his alchemy or magic studies. He could be gone for days at a time - sometimes even as long as a week. Those times were the worst. Sometimes, Anniu would start up a conversation telepathically, but I was continually frustrated by my inability to initiate one with him.

 

But it didn't really matter all that much anyway. What could I tell him? Nothing much ever seemed to happen to us in Daa Gri. The day-to-day activities seldom altered much. Everyone always went about their business. Big events like births and weddings or the occasional visit of wandering gypsies or peddlers were about all that fell outside the norm. We all had no idea how much our lives were about to change.

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### 5 ###

 

Delighted screams from children playing were part of the daily aspects of life: the sounds blended into the background noise around us. When the screams became louder and carried the chill of terror, people took notice. Arms were pointed toward the sky - worried murmurs and cries rose from those who were there to witness a flaming ball silently streaking right toward our city. Panic ensued: people ran for their houses and bolted their doors - others ran out of the city trying to escape from the flaming death that was plummeting toward us.

 

A deafening boom shattered every window in town and it still had not crashed to earth. Seconds later it was clear that the town would be spared, but in the distance, a cloud like a billowing angry toadstool could be seen. Moments later still, as we all stared in wonder at this sight, a fierce wind came roaring up suddenly, knocking us to the ground. As we tried to stand after the wind had passed, the ground began to shake knocking us all down again.

 

People walked around aimlessly - some cried hysterically, others walked from place to place surveying the damage, trying to locate lost possessions. In mere seconds, our entire concept of life and normalcy had evaporated. Screams for help were quickly seen to in order to rescue people from bookcases or other objects that had fallen onto them. I helped where I could. The town's council members, though, organized a few people to investigate the explosion. They reported back later that it had created a great depression in the ground, nothing more.

 

When cries of alarm came from the direction of the cave, everyone took notice. An avalanche had blocked the entrance and it was known that people were in there. As a community who watches out for each other, so too were we there to help our friends and neighbors. Shovels, buckets, wheelbarrows and anything that could be used to haul away the snow blocking the mine entrance were brought to bear. Working tirelessly into the night gave most of us a sense of purpose and direction that was sorely needed after the events of the day.

 

It wasn't until later that we understood just how bad the situation was. The cave had collapsed with people inside and would have to be excavated. The focus on rescue became more intense as we worked through the night and into the next morning. Men and women working side by side broke up the larger stones so they could be carried away by the shovel and bucketfuls. When someone tired to the point of exhaustion, another man or woman took up their picks and changed places with them. All the while, time marched on and then ran out.

 

First a broken pick was uncovered and then a shattered and crushed hand could be seen, cold and blue. Now people worked with their bare hands not wanting to cause any additional hurt to whoever may still be awaiting rescue, but when all was said and done, it was too late. Cries from the back begged for the identities of the fallen: two names were whispered back - Akanie and Palui.

 

Those names - Anniu's parents' names - it could not be. I shoved and pushed people out of my way to the front of the line so I could see that it must have been some other Akanie and Palui. Reaching the front and gazing on the unmistakable sight of Anniu's parents was the last I saw for a time. Blackness came as I collapsed.

Edited by PhilDaBurn

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### 6 ###

 

I awoke with a start. Some fetid stench had caused me to cough.

 

"Easy there. You're ok. It just smells terrible, but it helped you come around," said Quello, Aurora's father.

 

He looked haggard and worn. I'd been moved from the cave and placed into his care. He tried to keep me lying down, but I suddenly had to go. I had to find Anniu. Until that moment, I had forgotten that the area he had gone to was closer to where the flaming ball from the sky had crashed. He could be hurt and need help. I had to find him - I had to tell him what happened to his parents - make him understand how hard everyone had worked to save them.

 

I ran toward where I could sense Anniu, cursing my inability to telepathically call out him. For hours I ran, crying out for him until my voice failed to utter another sound and still I pushed the breath from my lungs and formed the shape of his name over and over rasping out his name again and again.

 

It wasn't until I stopped to rest that I noticed the changed landscape. In many places, where there had been wooded landscape, there were now broken or uprooted trees that all seemed to have fallen in the same direction. With a start, I realized that if I were to raise my arm and point to Anniu, my arm would point the same direction the fallen trees indicated. I had little to lose as I headed toward the source of what had blown down these trees.

 

From felled treetop to exposed roots, I followed the unfaltering course such devastation had plotted. As I progressed, I noticed the fallen trees no longer seemed parallel to each other: trees in the distance to my left and to my right seemed to be pointing inward toward a point on the horizon where a thin trail of smoke could be seen climbing into the sky. Surely, if Anniu had seen that, he would have gone to investigate. Spurred by that thought, I increased my pace and resumed calling out his name.

 

As I neared the source of the smoke, I observed far more destruction and devastation than I had previously seen. Trees were not only blown out of the ground, they were burned to ash. The closer I got to the center, the more scorched the ground had become and still I could not see the center. It was as though a giant, larger than any known to exist, had scooped up and shaped a huge circular area into a colossal bowl. From the center, wisps of smoke could still be seen, and there is where I found Anniu, kneeling, his back to me.

 

I called to him, but all I managed was a croaking imitation of his name, but he turned his head and saw me. From the rim of this vast bowl, I waved, but he seemed distracted. For a moment longer, he worked away at what he had been doing and then, standing up, he began his ascent toward my location. I rushed down to meet him. Grabbing him in an embrace of relief, tears of joy running down my face, I managed to express my delight at seeing him unharmed.

 

With Anniu leading the way, we made our way out of the depression. Wiping my eyes, I noticed his condition: he was covered in dirt and ash and parts of his clothing was singed. Noting these details, I realized I had overlooked something. During our brief embrace, he had been hot to the touch - no doubt due to his proximity to the source of smoke that arose from the center where I'd first seen him. He assured me, though, that he was fine.

 

He'd been farther from town searching for resources than he had expected to travel. The first he knew of something out of the ordinary was hearing a loud boom, but he was unable to tell exactly where the source was. Then, a sudden wind had come up blowing the trees around him followed by a ground shake. When he had climbed a nearby hill, he could see the top of the strangest cloud that had the shape of a mushroom.

 

He led me to a nearby cave where he had stowed his gear. The familiar spark was in his eye as he related his tale of finding it shortly upon his arrival. He had been through this area many times and this cave had never been here before, nor had the earthen bowl. He surmised that when the earth shake happened, this cave had been revealed.

 

Intrigued by the strange cloud and all the unusual events, he had made his way to the source, where I had found him. I was exhausted and could barely speak by the time we reached his cave and seeing this, Anniu gave me some fruit, honey and water to drink. Feeling refreshed and better able to speak, I told Anniu that I needed to share some bad news.

 

I related how the ball of fire had come streaking out of the sky. I told him about all the devastation it had caused in town and of the discovery that the mine entrance had been buried in an avalanche. With tears running down my cheeks from the memory of these recent events, I told him of the collapsed cave and how everyone had worked so hard to reach the trapped people inside. At last, I told him that his parents had been the ones found and that they were dead.

 

I'm not sure exactly what kind of reaction I would get from Anniu upon hearing this tragic news. Disbelief, anger at the thought of a cruel joke or tears of sorrow came to mind as possibilities, but as I wiped my eyes, he seemed distant and distracted. "I have to go back. I have to cover it up," he had said.

 

"Yes, we have to go back home and see to your parents," I had replied.

 

"No, not yet. I need to do this. I don't know why, but I need to cover it up."

 

"Anniu, what are you talking about?" I asked.

 

"The bowl where you found me, I need to level it."

 

"Well, you can't do it now. It's too late, I'm exhausted and my head is pounding. Let's get some sleep and we'll talk about it in the morning."

 

His voice still sounded distant to me as he reluctantly agreed and we settled in to sleep.

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### 7 ###

 

I was awakened earlier than my body wanted to be - my thoughts and awareness were clawing and scrambling to bring me fully awake. What triggered this reaction, I could not recall, but when I looked around, Anniu was gone and for the first time since we had become bonded brothers, I could not raise my arm and point toward him. I got up slowly. My muscles, still exhausted from the previous two days' exertions, protested painfully as I began to move about. Involuntary groans escaped my lips.

 

Failing to find Anniu in or near the cave, I headed back to the bowl where I had found him the previous day, but the bowl was gone. Anniu stood at the edge of where it had been, his shoulders were slumped and his head hanging low. Where the bowl had been was now a leveled area surrounded by stone walls.

 

"What...? How...?" I could not complete the thoughts that were rushing through my brain. As I spoke, Anniu snored quietly then started awake.

 

"How'd I get here?" he asked. "Whoa... What happened?"

 

"I have no idea," was my reply.

 

We stared in wonder trying to figure out how any of this could have happened. Each thought trail we followed, though, dead-ended. Finally, having run out of ideas, I suggested we return home and Anniu agreed.

 

We returned to Anniu's cave, grabbed his gear and began the long walk back home. Repeated attempts to get Anniu to talk about anything were met with either distracted replies or silence.

 

Word of our approach to town preceded us. Looks of sympathy were on the faces of all we saw as we headed to my home. Expressions of shared sorrow were conveyed and Anniu seemed stoic throughout.

 

* * *

 

In short order, while I had been out looking for Anniu, my parents had been busy too. Having cleaned up as much of the damage as they could in and around the house, they then had gathered Anniu's belongings and brought them to my quarters. They had decided that Anniu would now live with us, which was fine with me. Anniu seemed not to care one way or the other.

 

The first few days, many visitors stopped by to express their feelings of sorrow - including Itilli and Aurora. Itilli walked right up to Anniu and wrapped her arms around him. Tears of sorrow and pain filled her eyes as she tried to comfort him, but he remained as unmoving as ever, not even returning the hug. Aurora and I exchanged glances over this: her confused expression and raised eyebrow silently asked, "What's going on with him?" I shrugged my shoulders to indicate I didn't know. She tilted her head toward the other room and we left them together.

 

Once apart from them, Aurora began asking about his reactions to the news and the events since. I replied that he had been kind of like the way he just reacted to Itilli. She expressed concern for Anniu and said she would talk to her parents.

 

The next day, Aurora saw me walking to the market and walked with me. She had spoken to her parents who also seemed not to be concerned. All people go through grieving processes in different ways and at different times. While there are many similarities to each person's grief, not all of them need necessarily be experienced. Aurora related that her parents had often observed people first try to deny the tragedy had taken place. Later or even at the same time, they could then become angry. At some point they might wish they could make a deal with the gods or anyone just to get a few more moments with their loved ones. Often, a deep, lasting and heavy sadness was observed before they could accept the facts about what had happened, however horrible.

 

I asked her what I could do - how I could help him. Her advice was to help him accept what has happened and get him to allow himself to experience the pain of the loss. Then she mentioned that I should help him adjust to his new location and encourage him to begin making plans for his own future.

 

As we went our separate ways, I pondered what Aurora had advised and before I knew it, I found myself at the market. A week had passed since the bodies of Anniu's parents had been discovered and buried. On this day, it was our custom to prepare large amounts of food and to accept visitors for a meal and a gathering to honor the memories of the lost. People would tell stories about them and share fond memories. These events were often jubilant and joyful one minute and then turn tearful the next, but in this way, we could find acceptance and begin to move on.

 

Some of the market vendors, knowing why I was there, put in extra and said they would stop by later. While shopping though, I suddenly paused. I felt like something was missing but couldn't put my finger on it, so I completed the shopping and returned home. Stepping in the door, though, I observed calamity.

 

Mother was upset. Anniu had been taking a nap; he seemed to do that a lot lately. He had come out and said he needed to eat something and not paying close attention had waved him toward a bowl of fruit. When she turned around, he had eaten almost all the fruit and had moved on to food she'd been preparing for the funeral feast. She couldn't get him to stop and was upset at the mess he was making.

 

I put the shopping down and went to him. He looked so strange. Tears were pouring from his eyes as handful after handful of food was brought to his face. His face itself, except for the tears, was covered with food that he had mashed against his face as he tried to get it into his mouth. The food that didn't make it fell onto his clothes and the floor around him.

 

"Anniu? What are you doing?" I asked.

 

Through his tears and around the food being pushed into his mouth he indicated that he couldn't stop. I put my arms around him and as gently as I could, moved him away from the table. At first he resisted, but then he came with me to my quarters. His shaking and sobbing continued as apology after apology escaped his lips. When his tremors and tears kept coming, thinking on what Aurora had said, I held onto him and let them flow. Finally, I thought, his grieving has begun.

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### 8 ###

 

Hours later, mother looked in and saw that he was still crying and left us so that she could take care of the guests. Later, after the funeral feast was over, she checked in again. By then, dry wracking sobs came from Anniu that tired him out as I hummed a song mother had sung to comfort me when I was young and he eventually fell asleep. Mother then came and helped me clean him up as best we could without waking him, then we too retired for the night.

 

I don't know exactly what it was that woke me that night. I just remember waking up and looking around, trying to figure out what might have caused me to wake up. I heard a faint repetitive whispering. I checked Anniu's bed and he was missing and I couldn't tell where he was in my head. The sounds seemed to be coming from under my desk, though. I bent down to look and there was Anniu, curled into a ball murmuring something over and over again and rocking back and forth. Straining to hear, it sounded like, "...glioimbroglioimbroglioimbrog..."

 

I knelt down to peer into the darkness under the desk. His head was jerking back and forth. His eyes were looking everywhere. When he saw me, he tried to get further away from me than he already was, but there was nowhere else for him to go. Seeing me looking at him, the murmuring suddenly stopped.

 

"Are you real?" he whispered.

 

"Of course I am," I replied.

 

"Am I free?" he asked.

 

"Free to come on out from under there, Anniu."

 

And then the murmuring started up again, "imbroglioimbroglioimbro..." followed by the surprisingly out-of-place scent of outhouse. Never before, in all the many times Anniu had spent the night with us, nor in all the times I had spent the night at his house, had an accident of this nature occurred.

 

I woke my parents. I didn't know what else to do. They brought additional lights into my quarters to help me with Anniu, their obvious worry was easy to see on their faces. In the brighter light, we quickly pulled him out from under the desk despite his resistance and his murmuring became louder and more insistent until suddenly, in almost a different voice, he yelled, "Shut up!"

 

We all stopped then, stunned. The only one who had been uttering anything had been Anniu and it appeared to us that he had just told himself to shut up. Instantly, though, his crying started up again. "It wasn't me. It wasn't me. I'm sorry... I couldn't stop it. It needed to... It wasn't me. It wasn't me."

 

My head was pounding as his voice became more insistent and he grabbed me. "You have to believe me! It wasn't me! It needed to..."

 

"I know... I know... It's ok. Shhhhh," I said as I helped him clean up and put on fresh clothes. Gradually the tension left his body and I guided him back to his bed. Very quickly he was asleep again.

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### 9 ###

 

The next day, no amount of wormwood leaves pressed against the sides of my head could eliminate the pounding ache that was my constant companion. Anniu also did not appear to be getting any better either and I worried about him. Whenever I was out of his sight, he became increasingly agitated. My parents too noticed his peculiar behavior and asked Quello to stop by.

 

His thoughts about Anniu that evening were that this odd conduct was part of Anniu's grieving process. He had lost both parents rather suddenly, after all. Quello encouraged us to be loving and supportive of him as he went through this and to try to treat him as normally as possible. He also told us that other town members were supportive of our decision to take Anniu in. For my headaches, he told me to include some chrysanthemums ground up with the wormwood leaves to form a paste to apply to my temples and the back of my neck.

 

The following morning, I woke slowly, wanting to delay opening my eyes. The night had passed without incident and the deep sleep I had gotten I wanted to enjoy for just a few minutes more. At some point during the night, my headache had finally faded away and I found I could sense Anniu across from me. Wondering what I might find, I finally opened my eyes. Anniu was awake. He'd been watching me sleep.

 

"Hi," I said.

 

"Good morning. I've had the strangest dream you would not believe."

 

"Oh yeah? Like what?" I asked.

 

"Kind of like one of those bad dreams where you're on one side of a window watching yourself doing something on the other side, at least it looks like you anyway, and no matter how hard you pound on the window, it won't break and let you through. I'm yelling and yelling and somehow, no sound is coming out."

 

"How do you feel now?" I prompted.

 

"More like my old self again."

 

"That's nice to hear. So, what do you feel like doing today?" I asked.

 

"I feel kind of cooped up. I think I'd like to get outside."

 

We got up, dressed and had some breakfast before heading out to walk around town. Along the way we ran into Itilli and Aurora who both joined us. Perhaps out of habit, Aurora and I lagged behind a bit to give them a semblance of privacy, but Aurora's eyes were full of questions, so we stopped to help a neighbor do a little clean up. Whether it was from the blast of wind or the ground shake didn't really matter - it just needed cleaning up.

 

Aurora was concerned about me. I assured her that last night had been a good one and I was anticipating many more to follow. I let her know that I thought the worst of his grieving was over and she hoped for the best.

 

With that out of the way, Aurora was ready to catch back up with Anniu and Itilli, so we continued to walk into town. I could sense Anniu in the direction of the market stalls, so we headed that way.

 

As we approached the market, we could see that a crowd had formed around Anniu and Itilli: friends and neighbors wishing to express their sorrow over his losses to him in person. Whether to pat him on the shoulder or give him a quick hug, commerce had come to a halt with Anniu's arrival. Not knowing exactly how he might react, I started to push my way into the crowd to get closer to Anniu.

 

As I did so, I could see Anniu beginning to back up toward a wall behind him and as I watched, my head began to ache and I began to lose my sense of where he was, even though I was looking right at him. Then his eyes and face seemed to change, to become more frightened and frantic. No doubt about it, I could see he was about to panic. Itilli too sensed the change and began to ask people to give him some air, but arms were still reaching out for him.

 

Itilli placed herself in front of Anniu and became more insistent that people back up. Some did, but others in front of me would not. The ache in my head became nearly murderous. As I grabbed my head in pain, from a distance I heard breaking glass and then screams. Looking up, I saw that Anniu had grabbed Itilli from behind and was holding a broken bottle to her throat. Seemingly from a distance, I heard him bellowing for people to back away as he moved backwards toward the entrance of a storage building.

 

People did back up then and I finally managed to get to the front of the crowd as Anniu dragged a terrified looking Itilli into the storage building. I held up my hands and told everyone I would deal with it. The storage building was carved from solid rock and there was only the one entrance, so everyone knew he wasn't going to go anywhere. In the distance, I saw Aurora running toward home to get help.

 

Bracing myself, I entered the storage building. Crates, bales, vases and other goods were neatly organized in the building. Standing off to one side was Itilli - her back was to me. I ran over to her to make sure she was ok. I didn't see any blood, but she was white as a newborn. Her mouth opened and closed as though she was trying to tell me something and she had a puzzled look on her face, but no words came from her.

 

"Itilli! Itilli, can you hear me? Are you ok?" I asked. No response. "Itilli, where's Anniu?" I shouted to her. All she could do was point at the wall, then her eyes rolled up and she began to fall. I caught her and laid her gently on the floor, then quickly searched the area she had indicated where I could find Anniu. No matter where I looked, he was nowhere to be found: there were no desks to hide under, no barrels to climb into. He had simply vanished, but he'd left the broken bottle behind.

 

I rushed out of the storage building and assured people that Itilli was ok, but she'd fainted and Anniu was gone. I asked if anyone had seen him leaving the building but no one had and I knew he had not gotten by me when I had gone in after them. In the distance, I could see Aurora and Quello running up and I asked the crowd to let them through.

 

As Aurora and Quello rushed past me into the storage building to check on Itilli, several of the town's elders came up to disperse the crowd and find out what was happening. They had to call for silence several times as dozens of voices all spoke up at once. Wondering if I had overlooked something, I reentered the storage building and began my search for Anniu all over again.

 

But, my search was in vain. Just as I was finishing up, Quello and Aurora were helping Itilli to her feet. I asked her how she was feeling, but she wasn't making much sense.

 

"...right into the wall, just like that, and then he was gone... Hehehehee. Isn't that funny?"

 

I looked at Quello who said she'd had a shock and that he'd given her something to help her feel sleepy. She was groggy and I shouldn't take anything she might say seriously.

 

As we exited the cave together, one of the town's elders stopped me wanting to know what had happened. Quello brushed him off, but I was not so fortunate. I told him that Anniu had not been himself lately and that he had panicked. The elder, though, was not pleased with the results and he kept trying to impress on me the seriousness of what had transpired, as if I were a child. I assured him that I was aware of how badly this looked, but I respectfully needed to go find him.

 

Just then, the pain in my head diminished. I could vaguely sense Anniu in the direction of my house. "Pukaq? What happened? Why am I under your desk?" I heard inside my head.

 

I quickly explained what had transpired.

 

"I know what I must do. I've become a danger to you, your family, and everyone I know. I've got to leave for all your sakes," he told me.

 

"Wait!" I yelled.

 

"Don't take that tone with my young man," scolded the town elder.

 

"No, I wasn't talking to you," I tried to explain. "Sorry, I have to go." And I darted toward home.

 

By the time I got there, it was too late - too late for far too many things.

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### 10 ###

 

Days later, the news was all over town about Anniu's attack on Itilli. All efforts to locate him had ended in utter failure. For all intents and purposes, he had disappeared. Itilli, too, was a popular topic of conversation. Her emphatic assertions that Anniu had disappeared through a solid rock wall were met with condescending disbelief or by chuckles and stares. While other Draegoni who have had years of study in the magical arts are able to make themselves invisible, no one of Pukaq's age-group or level of experience could. And of all things, to claim he had walked through a wall? That was just impossible. Whispers of "liar" were common, but it wasn't until later that I learned how all these things affected her.

 

I could certainly empathize with what she was going through because I was getting similar treatment. My outburst in front of the town's councilman had also been widely circulated as everyone in town began to believe Anniu's lunacy was some how catching, causing further grief for Quello as well who had to firmly deny that possibility.

 

Aurora was clearly worried about Itilli. She finally told me what Itilli had been going through: the embarrassment, the self-doubt and the fear that perhaps what the town's people were saying might be right. I had no idea how many nights Itilli had cried herself to sleep. I was also not entirely surprised when I heard that Itilli had also left town and that the very next day, Aurora had left too to follow after Itilli.

 

In the space of a couple of weeks, all my closest friends were gone. They were the people I had learned with - the ones who knew everything about me and had considered me to be their friend and now I was more alone than I had ever been before.

 

* * *

 

Against my parents' wishes, I moved to Candolis. There I got work at the tavern clearing tables and washing dishes for room and board. I wanted to be there to learn the news of what was happening in the world. In all of Irinveron, news of world events was heard there first.

 

The work itself was not all that taxing, but the hot water used to clean the dishes was very uncomfortable for me. Then one night, after I had turned out the light for sleep, I felt Anniu's presence in my head and heard him crying, "It wasn't me. It wasn't me..."

 

"Where are you?" I asked.

 

"I don't know, but somehow I made them bring me here and now I'm alone," was his reply. I realized I could sense he was somewhere to the East.

 

"Make them bring you back," I said.

 

"I can't."

 

"Why not?"

 

"I destroyed the ship and killed them all."

 

"You what?" I cried back, but only silence filled my head and the connection, as well as my sense of his direction, was gone.

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### 11 ###

 

With each ship that entered port, there was a surge in business at the Candolis tavern. I strained to hear any news they might offer. Rumors that the Glacian Swan had failed to show up at far off Egratia Point were heard for days. None of it was the news I needed to hear, though.

 

A few nights later, Anniu spoke to me again - still in the East.

 

"I'm so tired... he makes me do horrible things..."

 

"Who does?" I asked.

 

"I don't know."

 

"Who else is there?"

 

"No one - I'm all alone."

 

"I don't understand," I said as my head began to pound.

 

"They want to take it away from me. I can't let them. It'll kill me if they get it, so he kills them first."

 

"Who?" I asked again.

 

"I have to do something. I have to protect myself. I can't let them take it away."

 

"I don't understand," I repeated.

 

"I'm on a group of islands. I need... I need..."

 

"What do you need?" but the connection was gone.

 

* * *

 

Six months passed by as I continued to work at the Candolis tavern, hoping to hear news of Anniu and where he might have gone. Then one night, I heard Anniu again.

 

"Damn them! Why did they have to come?"

 

"Who? Where?"

 

"It doesn't matter, he killed them too. Promise me you'll never try to find me. He'll kill you if you do."

 

"Who? Tell me who, please!" I begged.

 

"I don't know. A demon sorcerer, I think. He knows things. He makes me do things I thought impossible."

 

"What can you tell me?" I asked.

 

"He found them and killed them. They were building on 'his' islands, so he killed them. He's laid traps. Oh gods, he made them suffer."

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### 12 ###

 

Weeks later, stories were being told that the Glacian Swan had been discovered, sunk just off an island, part of a group of islands in the East, the sailors had not been to before. When they made landfall to check for survivors, they found all of them had been killed and horribly mutilated. A group of sailors had gathered forces to map out the six islands. On one, they built a dock and a land base where they could explore, map and try to solve the mystery surrounding the deaths of the passengers and crew of the Glacian Swan.

 

Attacks had soon followed. Appearing out of nowhere, screaming incoherently and murderously, they had been attacked: many had died. No matter which island the sailors fled to, death followed. One survivor made it back aboard ship as it made its escape and lived just long enough to describe a mad man who could appear anywhere. It was a wizard who had attacked them screaming something that sounded like "Imbroglio".

 

Stories continued to flow into the Candolis tavern as I worked. Some were clearly exaggerations of the stories that had already been told. But word soon came out that a much larger expeditionary force was being assembled to bring this mad wizard of the Imbroglio Islands to justice. Then one day, in the middle of delivering a tray of drinks to a table of regulars, I heard from Anniu for the last time as he spoke to me from the East.

 

"Pukaq? Can you hear me?"

 

"Anniu. I'm here," I replied. This sounded like the Anniu I'd grown up with. It was so good to hear him like this again.

 

"Pukaq. My time is short but I wanted to say good-bye to my brother."

 

"What are you talking about? Where are you going?" I asked alarmed.

 

"The traps are all finished, including one he did not expect."

 

"Who? Tell me who you're talking about."

 

"The demon: I've finally trapped him. He knew things and I learned from him as he made me do those horrible things. But, I finally figured out how to trap him. I didn't think I could do it, but I had an idea and it panned out after all. I used his knowledge against him."

 

"What knowledge?" I asked.

 

"Wondrous knowledge, Pukaq, unlike anything I have ever studied, but it was used to create things that will cause great harm and I fear no good will come of it. In part, though, I am to blame for not being strong enough or trying hard enough to stop it."

 

"What did you do?"

 

"I did what I had to do for all of Draia, Pukaq, and for me it is now too late. Stay away from here - it is deadly dangerous here even though it may not appear that way - made that way on purpose."

 

"Can't you undo any of it?"

 

"No. I don't have the strength for it without that demon and I won't let him out. There is little strength left in me now, but it will be enough. Do me one last favor old friend?"

 

"Of course. Name it."

 

"Explain this to Itilli. Help her understand that it wasn't me that was in control. I hope that some day she'll forgive me. For me, this has been one nightmare after another and I'm so tired. Good bye, Pukaq."

 

"Anniu!!" I yelled. "Wait!!!" But the telepathic connection and my sense of him faded as did the light in the tavern. All sounds seemed to echo as though in a tunnel and then it was gone and I embraced darkness.

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### 13 ###

 

When next I opened my eyes, I found I was in bed without remembering how I had gotten there. Quello and my parents were there also as was my patron and landlord. Quello quickly checked me over asking quick questions which I answered: how I felt, what I'd eaten, was I getting enough rest. He seemed satisfied with what I told him.

 

When I asked what had happened, I learned that I had stopped still as a statue in the middle of the bar for several moments - long enough for all the regulars to notice I was behaving oddly and turned as white as a newborn. Then, I had dropped the tray of drinks creating a huge mess, clutched at my chest and collapsed.

 

When I asked how my parents and Quello had gotten here so quickly, I found out that my collapse had happened four days prior. The news shocked me into complete silence.

 

* * *

 

With another couple days of rest, Quello and my parents felt once again that I was healthy and whole. My patron seemed relieved to find out I was not a health risk and that business would be uninterrupted. I was also told I would have to make up for the lost work time. I didn't mind, though, I had lots to think about.

 

* * *

 

Months passed until a few sailors made their way into the Candolis tavern followed by a number of town's folk. We all gathered around to hear the news. The expedition to bring the mad wizard to justice had ended in failure and in tragedy. These sailors had been there and lived to bring back the news and to display a map of the Imbroglio Islands, but their tale sent chills down my spine.

 

The cost had been dear and in the end, what they finally found, many argued for weeks afterwards about whether or not justice truly had been served. They'd used the dock the previous expedition had built and gathered together prepared to take on any attack from the mad wizard, but the attack did not come. Making their way through tunnels designed to ensnare and confound those who used them, they finally made their way from island to island: searching - always searching.

 

Many were lost, killed by innocent enough looking creatures that had been perverted into powerful killing machines. Others were killed by abominations previously unknown. Their force was gradually dwindled down to less than half by the time they reached the final island - where they found the mad wizard. Many of those who saw him still had difficulty sleeping at night. Others said it was justice and providence - that he'd gotten what he deserved in the end. The debate was often heated.

 

They'd barely gotten a glimpse of the mad wizard, who had somehow become blended with a tree. Large crows were still pecking at the few remaining pieces of flesh that remained and then a beast of incredible ferocity attacked them. Their leader, Captain Sladoth, quickly ordered the retreat.

 

"He fell victim to the beast just as the last of us escaped. Others perished as we made our way back to our ship. We're the last survivors from that vast expedition. As such, we decided it was up to us to decide what to name these islands and it was our wish to name them after our fallen comrades."

 

"For Captain Sladoth, we honored him by naming the island where he fell saving us after him."

 

A map was unrolled on the table for all to see as they pointed to a small section labeled Sladoth's Isle.

 

"Here too are Galio Isle, Tio Isle, Moglo Isle, Ilo Isle and Brio Isle. We honor our fallen friends in this way," he said into a now silent tavern. "May we never forget and may they rest in peace."

 

The tears I shed as drinks were passed around were not for the fallen heroes of the Imbroglio Isles expedition; they were for the loss of a brother who'd had an idea - a brother whose presence I would never sense again and whose voice I would only hear in my memories of him. It was a somber crowd who stayed to ask questions of these sailors and to buy them another round.

 

Not long after that, I ended my employment at the Candolis tavern.

 

### Epilogue ###

 

Five centuries have passed for me. My hair is long and white now and my scales are dull and burnished except for one that shines golden. I've spent all this time learning everything I could.

 

I now live alone in this cave in Glacmor surrounded by some of the items from my youth: The Shield is here as are a couple of sticks and an obsidian dagger. The books I study are piled here and there along with charts and maps. The locals call me a hermit or a recluse, some even call me a moon sage, but I don't care. My questions remain as I seek the answers I've pursued all this time. What really happened? The explanations I've gleaned together over the years hint at things, but a hint is not enough of an answer.

 

In all my years of study, I have concluded these things: some kind of demon or evil sorcerer took possession of Anniu and since all these strange events occurred after I found him where the ball of fire had crashed, I am forced to conclude that this all started somewhere beyond the boundaries of the Draian sky. But, where did this mad sorcerer come from? Why did he take over my friend? Why did he do all those terrible things to the people I cared about and to those I had never met?

 

The problem of how to get the answers I seek has so far eluded me and so I study and learn. At times, I try to approach this problem head on and get nowhere; at other times, I try to sneak up on the problem from a new direction and begin to make headway. I feel I am close to uncovering the truth.

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