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Enly

The Great War

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Prologue

 

They sat quietly on gilded thrones arranged in a perfect circle, an imposing pantheon of the divine. A ring of stone edged by pillars was their meeting place: sky above, sky below, detached from the world. It was the council room of the gods.

 

“Have we come to a decision then?” demanded one of the gods.

 

“No, we have not. This is an issue that we must have more time to consider!”

 

“You are alone in that thinking. The rest of us have decided."

 

“Very well, but heed my words now. No good will come of this.”

 

“Enough squabbling. Have the final preparations been made?”

 

“Yes, they have. Everyone is here, everything is as it should be.”

 

“Remember what we discussed, remember your part. It will not fail.”

 

“Enough talk, let us be done with it!”

 

“We are ready, let us begin.”

 

The gods looked over one another one last time, each of them unsure. Was this truly the best decision? Some were more confident than others. Some knew this was a horrible idea. One god stood, regal and clothed in a pure white dress, she spoke with authority.

 

“Mortos! We summon you to come here before this council. You have been deemed unworthy of the position you hold: no longer worthy to be a god. Your actions against Draia and us will now be accounted for. Your powers will be revoked and you will be confined indefinitely!”

 

As she stopped speaking and waited, lightning shot among the gods. The ground shook with force enough to swallow a mortal city beneath it, but the gods stood firm. Shadowy clouds swirled through air. As they appeared, so too did glittering clouds of light and color. The air was thick with magic. It flickered inside the clouds and shot between the pillars. Such force did it hold that any mortal would have been incinerated instantly. Yet the gods stood resolute to carry out their task.

 

It seemed for a while as if whatever had been planned was happening, yet soon the colored clouds of light began to be consumed by the ever growing shadow. One of the gods faltered and pulled back his power. A blood-curdling scream pierced the air and echoed through the darkening clouds. Then all went black. Silence presided over the circle and an unbreakable darkness shrouded it all.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Mazhiez stood on his wide balcony watching the sun go down over the western mountains. As the last light of the sun caught the city, rays of light bounced among the icy smooth towers. All of Dra Leont was lit up in a beautiful glow. Beside him, his sister sighed.

 

“Amazing isn’t it?” she asked him with a smile.

 

“Little joy remains to see it for the thousandth time,” he responded somberly. “Just as the sun sets here on our city, so too does the long day that is my life begin to draw to a close.”

 

“Do not say such things, brother,” she frowned and looked up at him. He was around a foot taller than her: she was short for a draegoni. Her dazzling violet hair fell in graceful waves about her face and her cheeks sparkled with red scales. She was in the prime of her life, a beautiful young draegoni maiden.

 

“I am old, sister, such things are what I think about,” he said sadly looking away. “You are young yet and still have so much to live for. I, however, I have lived my life, fought my battles, and experienced all the joys and sorrows life has to offer. In comparison to the lives of the short-lived humans, I would be nigh fifty. And you would be still thirty. I do not mourn that I am aging, for that is the way the gods created us. The lives of all mortals are limited: better to live a short and glorious life than to live forever and never be known.”

 

“Maz, stop it,” she frowned and put her arm lovingly around her brother. “You mean so much to me, to the city, to all the draegoni. Cease this depressing talk, you're not that old. After all, do you really plan to pass on before my wedding?”

 

“Never.” Mazhiez smiled.

 

“I do not care if your golden horns and scales do not shine as brightly as they once did, or that your violet locks may not be as fair as they were in your younger days. You are my brother and I cannot think of anything I would hate more in the world to lose."

 

“What about Serrair?” Mazhiez smirked down at her. Serrair and Kiylee were going to be married by the end of the month.

 

“That’s not a fair question,” Kiylee pouted.

 

“Oh but it's perfectly fair, sister,” laughed Mazhiez, teasing her. “Do you love me or him more?”

 

“I love you both very much and both in different ways,” Kiylee countered.

 

Mazhiez didn’t respond and stared again at the city spread out below him. Shimmering silvery towers rising to the sky, bridges spanning the frigid waters from tower to tower, all built onto the ice. The light was fading but Dra Leont still glowed with its own light. It was the most glorious city Mazhiez had ever seen, and he had traveled far and wide across the lands. It was the pride and joy of the draegoni - their greatest city and their most stunning work. Perhaps the greatest work of art ever crafted by mortal hands.

 

“You should be running along sister, don’t you have wedding preparations to be making?” Mazhiez asked absent-mindedly, his thoughts had drifted from the conversation.

 

“Yes, I suppose I do.” Kiylee quietly left the balcony and Mazhiez’s rooms, retreating to her own dwelling in the city.

 

Mazhiez remained there staring out to sea. Children laughed and threw stones into the water between the ice platforms that held up half the city. Ships sat still in the port; there hadn’t been a decent wind in weeks.

 

“Lord Mazhiez?” came a voice from behind him. Mazhiez turned to the draegoni that stood by the door to his balcony. He was outfitted in a blue tunic, a simple way to tell he was a servant of the city.

 

“Yes?” Mazhiez asked him.

 

“General Jarraas awaits you in the council room,” the draegoni said politely.

 

“And what does Jarraas want with me?” Mazhiez asked, disgusted.

 

“I do not know, sir,” the young draegoni faltered slightly as he spoke and Mazhiez looked sharply at him.

 

“Something’s wrong?” Mazhiez asked hesitantly.

 

“I said I do not know, sir, General Jarraas will surely know however.”

 

“You know something boy, out with it,” Mazhiez pressed.

 

He didn’t respond for a moment then quietly said, “I have only heard rumors.”

 

“Rumors of what?”

 

“Black ships, not thirty miles east of Imbroglio.”

 

“And what of it? Ships are ships.”

 

“These ships move fast, against what feeble winds still blow. Only dark magic could drive them so, they could be here by daybreak.”

 

 

*****

 

“Come on Durron! Take a drink,” the low voice of an orchan rumbled across the campfire to a dwarf.

 

“No. I told you I don’t drink wine,” Durron responded coldly. His thick black eyebrows knotted together as he frowned.

 

“Who ever heard of a dwarf that didn’t drink?” laughed the orchan.

 

“Well, you have, seeing as you’ve heard of me,” Durron growled.

 

The orchan quieted as Durron glared at him across the campfire. After all this time he should have learned that Durron wouldn't drink, ever. It was most certainly odd for a dwarf, but Durron would not be subject to the behavior of the average dwarf. He'd had some bad experiences many years ago in his homeland of Thelinor, involving strong drinks, friends, and death. After many incidents he'd vowed never to drink again.

 

“When do we break camp tomorrow?” asked another dwarf, changing the subject.

 

“We’ll set out at dawn, I want to reach the pass by noon,” Durron said shortly. His companions responded with sullen nods and crept away to sleep for the night. They numbered thirteen all told. It was an assortment of dwarves, for the most part, plus a few orchans.

 

As his friends drifted into sleep, Durron sat awake, leaning against a rock. He had promised his comrades that he would take the watch for the entire night. Sleep had eluded him the past few days and he doubted it would come easily tonight. His friends were tired and needed a full night's rest.

 

As he sat awake keeping a sharp eye out for the beasts of the snowy lands, he thought carefully as he watched the world around him. Something was amiss. He felt nervous and tense, like he would before some sort of contest or battle. Yet he had no reason to. He and his companions were a band of soldiers hired by the draegoni government to patrol Iscalrith. The draegonis had plenty of their own soldiers, this was true, but none of them cared to spend years living and traveling through the wilderness helping the assortment of humans that made their way through Iscalrith.

 

Iscalrith housed several groups of yetis. These creatures plagued travelers to no end. Durron and his crew were paid to protect any travelers in the lands and track down and kill as many yetis as possible. The first part of their mission was easy, tracking down and killing was more difficult. After nine months they had only killed three yetis: two that attacked draegonis near the port, and one that they had tracked for nearly a week to its cave. The creatures were smart, cautious, and didn’t easily let themselves be caught.

Durron shook his head as his straying thoughts allowed his eyelids to droop. Grabbing a fistful of snow, he rubbed it against the back of his neck and face. That returned him to his full alertness and he peered again into the darkness. The small campfire was burning low and cast only feeble rings of light into the trees.

 

Durron whirled around as a twig cracked behind him. A snow leopard stared at him for a moment, then scampered away into the night. With a sigh, Durron relaxed. He couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, but then again he already knew his uneasiness was the cause of his sleepless nights.

 

The stars twinkled down on Durron as he set to carving a piece of wood he had torn from a tree. The night passed slowly by. Silently, unnoticed by the sleeping world, clouds crept over the southern lands. Durron watched as the stars rapidly vanished from sight. He did not dwell on it however; storms came and went with little thought of the season in the harsh cold lands of the draegoni.

 

 

*****

 

Mazhiez tramped frustrated through the halls to the council room. Passing outdoors along the docks, he stared at the ships which sat so lifeless on the water. The air was still, not even a breath of wind stirred the flags dangling from the masts.

 

As he came into the council room, he paused. Jarraas sat contemplating a map on the table. Mazhiez shook his head in disgust.

 

“Mazhiez,” Jarraas looked up and let a smile spread across his face. The general was a muscular draegoni and fit, with dark red hair through which you could barely see two very small green horns on his head.

 

“Wipe that repulsive look from your face, it does not suit you,” Mazhiez growled. Jarraas’s smile immediately vanished and he glared.

 

“I thought we had put our difference behind us,” Jarraas said.

 

“What do you need from me?” Mazhiez ignored his comment. Jarraas sighed and stood up straighter, clasping his green flecked hands in front of him. For a bit he said nothing, then took a deep breath.

 

“I need your help,” he said at last.

 

“My help?” Mazhiez laughed. That much had been obvious, but he knew he wouldn't be inclined to help the draegoni general at all. Deciding he could at least wait and see what it was that Jarraas wanted before storming out, Mazhiez brushed a strand of hair from his face and responded. “What makes you think I want to give it?”

 

“I do not ask it for me, I ask it for the draegoni.” Jarraas stated, straightening even more if it were possible.

 

“Out with the news, the page spoke only rumors,” Mazhiez demanded frustrated.

 

“Well the rumors say there are black ships heading this way that could be here by dawn. That in itself concerns me little, the news from a ship taking the long route around Imbroglio, however, does.”

 

“Go on...” Mazhiez prodded, tiring of Jarraas drawing everything out.

 

“A trading vessel from Redmoon was headed here to Dra Leont. The winds were unfavorable so they moved further out to sea in search of a better current. That’s when they spotted the ships. Black ships in the likeness of dragons, they said. They had no sails and skimmed lightly above the water. They couldn't make out much from the distance, yet they could see monsters onboard the ships. Huge lumbering monsters with clubs, a couple of the crew said they were surely ogres, several others claimed nothing smaller than a Cyclops.”

 

“And for this news you call me?” Mazhiez sighed.

 

“This is just all wrong, Mazhiez,” Jarraas murmured, the general was clearly worried.

 

“Well, obviously. Now since you’re the general why don’t you fix it,” With those words Mazhiez turned swiftly around to leave the room.

 

“Wait! Won’t you at least hear me out?” Jarraas demanded.

 

“No,” Mazhiez said flatly without the slightest pause. And then he was gone, walking swiftly out the door and down the hallway.

 

Mazhiez and Jarraas had a long history of hatred towards each other. They were near the same age, though Jarraas was notably younger, and had always been in the same divisions of draegoni soldiers. Long years ago, in the last real war the draegoni had fought, Mazhiez and a small group under his command had done many noble deeds. Those that knew the true story of what had happened would credit Mazhiez and his warriors with bringing about a swift end to a war that could have been much longer and costly to the draegoni people.

 

Jarraas however, jealous of Mazhiez's success, had spread lies and twisted the stories of his deeds. In the end Jarraas, a far less skilled and incompetent warrior, had been credited with many of Mazhiez's deeds. The draegoni council had turned a blind eye to Jarraas's trickery and other inabilities and gifted him with the rank and rewards that should have gone to Mazhiez.

 

The conflicts with the humans in the Ice Wars and the behaviour of Jarraas and the draegoni council had spawned a hatred for them both that Mazhiez had been nurturing for years.

 

As Mazhiez found himself nearing the docks again he heard shouts echoing down the halls of the tower. He sped up his pace and reached the door to the outside. As he opened the door it was yanked from his grasp and he was assailed by a powerful wind. The shouts were coming from men rushing to the docks. They were securing their various cargo as fast as possible. Several of the smallest ships rocked back and forth, nearly spilling their men over the sides.

 

He wrapped his cloak tightly about himself and made his way across the bridges to the tower where he resided. The winds only grew stronger and more and more sailors spilled onto the docks to make sure their ships were safe.

 

 

*****

 

Durron grumpily poked his men with the butt of his axe to wake them just as the first light of sun began to filter through the clouds overhead. They quickly were up and burying their fire in the snow. Within half an hour their bags were packed and they set out toward the south following Durron's bobbing black head through the snowy hills.

 

Overhead the clouds thickened as the morning drew on. Deep drifts of half melted snow were frozen into solid blocks of ice as the temperature dropped rapidly. Then the winds hit, they swept over the icy hills with terrifying force blowing all the trees about in a horrid gale. Durron wrapped his fur cloak more tightly about his head and neck, even his thick black beard would not insulate him from the deathly cold. His companions did the same as they pressed on southward to the pass which would lead them to Dra Leont.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

“Maz!” the sharp call broke through Mazhiez’s sleep. “Maz, you sluggish rotting corpse, get out of bed!”

 

Mazhiez blinked his eyes open and rolled over in bed to find a familiar figure staring down at him.

 

“Erresh?” Mazhiez sat up confused, rubbing his eyes and tucking his grey-streaked hair behind his ears. “Erresh, what are you doing here?”

 

“I’ll explain as much as I can, but you need to get up, dressed and armed, now!” Erresh was panicked; Mazhiez could see the fear written all over his friend's face.

 

“Ok, I’m getting up,” Mazhiez hauled himself out of bed and began to dress. “Now explain yourself.” Mazhiez rolled his shoulders; he was waking up sore so often these days. He walked over to a small dresser he kept his clothes in. Pulling his armor from its neat stack on the floor, he tossed it on his fur-covered bed as he dressed. It was a simple dwelling: bed, dresser, a small desk and chair. His balcony, which was separated from the room by a thick wall of heavy furs, was a slight hint that he was better off than some folk, but other than that, his room was humble as opposed to the extravagant dwellings of some generals and pompous fools who lived in Dra Leont.

 

Erresh scratched absently at a blue scale near his ear as he began to speak. “As you know, I was supposed to be out on a scout boat for the next several months getting records of wind patterns, currents, weather.”

 

Mazhiez nodded, he knew this which is why he was so shocked to see his friend here in the city. Erresh pulled at his crimson ponytail as he continued to speak. His fidgeting worried Mazhiez. Something had really spooked Erresh.

 

“Well I was out past Imbroglio with my crew…”

 

“Were you the boat that brought the initial report?” Mazhiez interrupted sharply.

 

“No, no that was another, a trading vessel. We were going south, out into open waters. But as we sailed further a thick fog descended upon our ship. We tossed anchor near a small island to wait it out. As we waited…” Erresh halted mid sentence and stared shaking his head at the floor.

 

“Erresh?” Mazhiez was on the verge of being scared himself; he had never seen his friend so shook up.

 

“There were so many of them Maz,” Erresh stared his eyes wide.

 

“So many of what?”

 

“Black ships shaped like dragons. They were crawling with beasts. Ogres, cyclops, goblins, trolls, orcs, phantoms, giants, all of them, everywhere. They sailed past us, so fast, through the windless waters. There were dragons as well, huge black terrifying beasts.”

 

“Monsters are something that just come to these lands, Erresh, you know that. Never too many, but scattered beasts here and there.” Mazhiez tried to calm his friend down a bit and see if this was not all he made it out to be.

 

“There were thousands Maz, more, who knows how many. And these were in the south! Other reports from the north and the east are identical! There were so many boats, so many. They’re all headed straight here Maz! They will be here in hours! Less!”

 

Mazhiez stared at his friend, unsure of what to say. He couldn't jump to any conclusions or act rashly on his words: he could be exaggerating. But that wasn't like Erresh.

 

“How did you get here before them?” Mazhiez asked, noting a flaw in the tale as he pulled a linen shirt over his head, careful to avoid his dull gold horns.

 

“Wind magic. As soon as we could see where they were headed, we raced as fast as we could back here, but they're not far behind! Mazhiez, you have to listen to me,” implored Erresh.

 

“I am! What do you want me to do?” Mazhiez said exasperated.

 

“Tell the General to raise the alarm and call the city to arms," Erresh said boldly.

 

“Erresh? Call the city to arms? That hasn’t happened for thousands of years!”

 

“Mazhiez, if there was ever a time for you to trust me, it's now. There are thousands of monsters headed directly for this city; a city full of innocent children and thinkers, makers, peddlers, and sailors. It will be a slaughter if the city doesn’t do something to prepare. It could be a slaughter anyway. There are so many of them!”

 

Mazhiez stared again. He couldn’t rush into anything; he needed to verify Erresh’s information before taking action on it. He buckled on his greaves and stood tall. What time was it? That was a good place to start. Mazhiez walked to his balcony, pulled aside the fur wall to see if the sun was even coming up yet, and froze in his tracks. The sun was up, just enough for him to see.

 

“Oh my… Gods protect us,” Mazhiez stared in horror at the ocean horizon spread out before him; it was black with ships: hundreds, more than hundreds? Erresh walked to stand beside Mazhiez. As he too saw the view he muttered a foul curse under his breath.

 

“Now will you listen?” Erresh turned to stare at his old friend.

 

“Gods yes I will!” Mazhiez ran to grab his finely crafted sword and rushed into the hallway, Erresh following swiftly behind. They went immediately to the general’s meeting room.

 

“General!” Mazhiez burst into the room unannounced.

 

“I told you no interruptions!” General Jarraas stood and turned around, prepared to yell at some page that had run in. He had been seated at a table with a ring of other draegoni generals.

 

“Mazhiez? What do you think you’re doing!”? Jarraas demanded. “This is a private meeting and I asked for no interruptions.”

 

“You idiot!” Mazhiez roared, his face red with anger and frustration that the general sat here discussing things with fools rather than keeping an eye on the city and posting lookouts for the rumored dragon ships. “Do you realize there is a fleet of ships in our sight that could land here in a matter of minutes!”

 

Jarraas stumbled back and stared. “What? Here? Now?” he muttered several more undecipherable words.

The draegonis at the table stood and looked questioningly at Mazhiez. One spoke.

 

“How many ships? Do we know they’re hostile?”

 

Mazhiez opened his mouth prepared to yell at the draegoni and tell him the ships were full of monsters, when were beasts not hostile? But before he could say anything a deafening crash met their ears. Mazhiez abandoned the room unaware that everyone in it followed as he rushed outside to the docks.

 

Several giants had picked up a small ship and dashed it to pieces against another, which had also suffered considerable damage. Black dragon shaped ships were emptying themselves into the city. Screams began to echo around them as the residents realized what was happening.

 

“General Jarraas?” demanded Mazhiez loudly, his black gloved hand gripping his sword tightly. Mazhiez wanted to rush out against the monsters and help the sailors, yet years of training made him wait for a superior's orders out of habit.

 

The general just stood there, still frozen in horror as he watched sailors flee from their boats, some of them jumping into the water terrified with no other way of escape. The furious winds had ended early in the morning before dawn, but the sailors, for the most part, had still been at the docks repairing the damage.

 

As he watched the sailors fall screaming into the water, Mazhiez snapped and threw aside all concept of rank and the power structure of the draegoni and turned to give orders to the minor generals who were as clueless as Jarraas, yet still clustered around him seeking decisive direction.

 

“Don’t just stand there, you idiots! Muster your men, call the city to arms!” The group turned to stare blankly at Mazhiez as he yelled, some of them still in shock, others unwilling to listen to his orders. Mazhiez boiled with fury, people were dying as they spoke and these utter fools had been given charge of the armies of the draegoni. Pulling himself up to his full height, he glared at the draegoni and practically screamed at them. “You! Run and find a messenger as fast as you can and tell him to warn the other draegoni cities that we have been attacked. Someone else, get down to the western tower and raise the alarm bell. You there, run to the mages' towers and get as many down here as you can. The rest of you, go find someone to fight! Get your own weapons! GO!”

 

Mazhiez bellowed the final word as loud as he possibly could; it sent the generals scrambling to follow his orders. Mazhiez turned to find Erresh, but his friend had already rushed to the aid of sailors at the docks. He took several steps in the same direction to join him, then he thought of his sister.

 

He heasitated for a moment, his love for his sister and sense of duty to protect her begged him to run and find her. Yet he knew more was at stake then just his sister. A solution presented itself as he spotted Serrair in the panicked crowds.

 

"Maz," sighed Serrair, relief in his face at the sight of someone familiar. "Whats going on? Where is Kiylee?"

 

"Obviously we are under attack, more than that I do not know," Mazhiez shook his head in frustration at the idle question, no one knew! "Find Kiylee! get her to safety."

 

Serrair nodded his brief understanding, and ran towards the heart of the city, seeking Kiylee. As he glanced back, he saw Mazhiez turning in a flash of silver armor to join the chaotic battle.

 

As Serrair rushed down corridors of rooms he rapped harshly on the doors. He was trying to awaken the city to the danger it faced. Several doors opened and he recalled saying things, but he didn’t really know what he said, or to whom. But people stumbled frightened from their rooms and soon the word reached them, the city was under attack. Some rushed back into their rooms to don armor; others grabbed children from cradles and dashed to parts of the city further away from the docks. Serrair didn’t watch though, he didn’t care. All he could think of was Kiylee. He raced up the stairs to her quarters and banged on the door.

 

“Kiylee!” he yelled as he continued to bang on the door. Kiylee's friend whom she lived with yanked the door open.

 

“Terrai! Where is Kiylee?” he demanded.

 

“I, I don’t know,” the woman answered bleary eyed and shocked. “She left early this morning, said she was going for a walk."

 

Serrair left her standing there confused in the doorway and took the stairs two at a time, ignoring Terrai’s questions. He couldn't recall running so fast in years, but Kiylee was more important to him than anything in the world. He dared not think of losing her, he didn't know if he could live without her.

 

Serrair found himself passing by the docks again. He looked around horrified as he dashed through the mobs of people. Orcs and ogres were everywhere. So too were the warriors of the draegoni. Apparently someone had pulled themselves together enough to issue proper orders. The draegoni formed some semblance of a line against the horde of monsters pouring out of the black ships. Draegoni warriors cut them down with every stroke of their swords, but more and more kept coming. Serrair could see the bright flashes of magic coming from many of the draegoni, since they were inherently a magical race nearly all of them were proficient in magic. The spells were not enough though, nothing could overcome the sheer numbers of the enemy.

 

It all passed in a flash though as he continued running. Over a bridge, through another arch, he was heading for the gardens. That was the only place he could think of that Kiylee would be. She and Serrair often walked through the mazes of hedges and flowering trees nursed by the magic of the draegoni.

 

Stumbling out of a tower Serrair crossed a final bridge to find himself dashing into the gardens. He stopped, caught his breath, then looked around. Thick hedges blocked most of the garden paths from view.

 

"Serrair?” her voice came from behind him. He whipped around to find her standing worried wrapping her cloak tightly around herself.

 

“What’s going on Serrair?” she asked worried. Her eyes were bright and wide with fear. Kiylee was a gentle innocent woman, oblivious to many horrors of the world. "I heard screams.”

 

“Monsters, thousands,” Serrair panted. He wrapped his arms around his lover; he had been so terrified he might have already lost her.

 

“What?” Kiylee asked for clarification. “Where did they come from?”

 

Serrair never had a chance to answer. A huge cyclops lumbered up and brought his club crashing down on him. He cried out and rolled to the side as the heavy piece of wood smashed on his leg. Kiylee screamed in horror as he fell.

 

Serrair attempted to scramble to his feet to protect Kiylee, but he was only beaten to the ground again. The gods must have smiled on him however, for Mazhiez had spotted him as he had run past the docks.

 

Knowing there might be monsters deeper in the city, Mazhiez had followed, and now came to help Serrair, killing the cyclops.

 

Kiylee held a hand over her mouth as she watched the beast fall, her violet hair fell in waves around her shocked speechless face as she stared in horror at the dead cyclops.

 

Mazhiez checked quickly to make sure he'd killed it.

 

It definitely was dead, yet more were coming. How had they gotten this deep into the city so fast? What was going on? Where had they come from?

 

Kiylee ran to Serrair’s side once she ripped her eyes from the corpse of the cyclops, tears were on her cheeks. Mazhiez looked up at the sky he could make out past the city’s towers.

 

“Aluwen, help us,” he murmured. “What is happening?”

 

Orcs ran throughout the gardens; they trampled flowers and Mazhiez could nearly imagine the rose petals being crushed to red pulp beneath their uncaring feet. Hedges were ripped down. Only last night, the world had been perfect, now everything was falling apart around him. Screams echoed in his ears, the clash of swords, chaos.

Edited by Enly

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Chapter 3

 

Durron heaved one of his fellow dwarves back to his feet. The snow here was treacherous. What seemed like solid icy drifts gave way to seas of powder as deep as the dwarves were tall.

 

The winds had ceased, but the clouds still hung dark overhead. As dawn passed by and the morning began to drag on, the snow began to fall. They walked through the endless sheets of white, making their way ever so slowly toward the pass to Dra Leont.

 

Mainly their patrols were reserved for Iscalrith, but they stopped by Dra Leont for supplies from time to time.

 

“Durron!” yelled an orchan from behind him.

 

Durron called a halt and turned to see what was wrong, as he used his axe to balance in the drifts of snow.

 

“What’s the problem Jeeve?” Durron questioned the orchan who had called out. The orchan was large, even by the standards of his race, and had been a huge help in plowing through the snow. And his greenish tinged skin was visible from far away in the white world.

 

“Wouldn’t it be better to just head to Iscalrith city?” questioned Jeeve. “Rather than plow through these snowy drifts to Leont?”

 

“We’re getting close to the pass anyway and the road to Iscalrith would be just as hard.” Durron motioned for the group to continue and Jeeve walked on, his bald head was covered by a thick fur hood and a dragonblade was strapped to his back.

 

Durron had been right and before they knew it, the mountains that separated Iscalrith from Dra Leont loomed before them. They made their way through the pass and found themselves emerging onto the snowy plains very near the city’s outskirts. They were, however, met with an unexpected view.

 

Black dragon-like ships were crammed along the coast and orcs were all around the city. Shocked Durron and his companions quickly ducked behind some boulders and ice right outside the pass. The large city of Dra Leont was tucked between two mountain ranges: one that seperated it from the forests of Iscalrith to the north and another ridge lay between it and Dra Syn and the region of Trassian to the west. The icy coast, which wrapped from the mountains in the north to those in the west, was swarming with monsters. Trolls, ogres, orcs, Durron thought he might have even spotted a few dark skinned elves and men among the creatures. All of them milled about, some trying to break into the city, others wandering around to the gates, which were wide open.

 

Some people were running to the west, toward Dra Syn, but none of them got far. Large groups of feros crowded the paths towards the west and were ruthlessly cutting down all who ventured that way. A mob of orcs and ogres lay between the city and Iscalrith, there was no escape over land.

 

“If there are boats in the docks, the city is trapped,” Jeeve murmured to Durron. The dwarf scratched at his black beard thoughtfully and ran a finger over his axe. The green skinned orchan instantly realized that Durron was considering running out there to attack some of the beasts. Glaring with almond brown eyes Jeeve silently implored Durron to be sensible. The dwarf simply grinned at him with a twinkle in his dark eyes.

 

“Where on Draia did all those beasts come from?” said a dwarf in awe, more to himself than to any of them, since none of them had a clue.

 

“Who knows, but Dra Leont is in a lot of trouble no matter where they came from,” Durron said. He glanced again at the city. There was no way he'd walk away and leave the draegoni in such a state. Durron had friends in that city, and he meant to help them.

 

“Should we head back to Iscalrith and tell them, or see if we can help here?” Jeeve asked. The large orchan already knew the answer, but he wanted to deter Durron from rash actions.

 

A murmur met his question; some suggested heading back while others said they should help the city’s warriors.

 

“We can’t even get into the city, there are too many of them," reprimanded someone.

 

A few glances around the rocks were enough for them all to agree that they were vastly outnumbered by monsters and that fighting their way through and into the city was not possible. It would be suicide to go against such numbers.

 

“There is another way into the city,” suggested Durron, still thoughtfully stroking his thick beard. The party gave the stocky dwarf a questioning glance.

 

“Besides any of the main gates?” Jeeve asked as he unstrapped his dragon blade from his back and held it tightly in his green tinged hands.

 

“Yes. There are some tunnels from an old tavern in the mountain foothills to the tavern in the city. It used to be a popular place for the less than noble of the city to gather. It was eventually condemned by the city’s council,” Durron explained. Like Jeeve, he was getting ready for a fight and checked to make sure his belt was tight, and his leather and fur armor secured.

 

“Why are there tunnels connecting it to the city?” asked someone, wary of getting into an unwinnable battle.

 

“It was run by the same people that ran the city’s tavern. They got tired of walking through the snow to get back and forth so they used magic to make some tunnels from one tavern to the other.”

 

“You suggesting we get into the city then?” asked a female orchan.

 

“Sure am, Zeeh,” Durron grinned. “You all with me?”

 

They considered it for a moment and then one by one nodded their heads.

 

“Perfect. Be prepared for a fight. Now let's see if we can creep along under the shadow of the mountains and get to that tavern."

 

He jumped to his feet and brushed some snow from his back. Others that had been sitting rose as well and followed him as he made his way out from behind the rocks.

 

The orcs lumbered slowly around, there were more of them closer to the shore and only a few had wandered out this far. They were far enough along to see the tavern before they ran into any trouble. Durron was still leading when he heard a thump behind him. He turned to find Zeeh had been thrown to the snow by an ogre. She growled and stabbed at it as she reclaimed her footing. Running the ogre through with her sword she nervously checked to see if any of the other monsters had heard the brief noise.

 

“Came up behind me,” muttered Zeeh as she wiped off her sword and sheathed it again. Several people were glaring at her for making a racket that could give away their presence to the orcs nearby.

 

“Be careful, we’re dead if they all notice us,” growled Jeeve.

 

“What do you think I was doing? Calling for it to attack me?” countered Zeeh angrily.

 

“Save it you two,” Durron snarled at them. The pair quieted and they resumed their course. Zeeh and Jeeve were a source of never-ending argument in the small group.

 

Durron slid down a particularly large drift to find himself at the tavern. His companions followed him, some less gracefully than others. He ignored a dwarf as it cursed and removed its face from the snow. Durron walked around the wall of the tavern toward the entrance and froze. A group of ogres and orcs were crowded around the door. One of them looked down, surprised to find Durron staring up at him.

 

Durron hefted his axe and struck before the ogre knew what was happening. It fell neatly to the ground after several blows from Durron's heavy axe. But he was only a few feet away from the rest of the monsters. They’d noticed him. His companions were rounding the corner of the tavern now and joined him as he jumped into a fight.

 

Jeeve ran up and stabbed an orc with his dragon blade, quickly withdrew the weapon and spun to hack at an ogre with the other end of the deadly weapon. The rest of Durron's companions weren't far behind. Luckily the small group of ogres and orcs was seperated considerably from the rest of the seething hoards surrounding the city, otherwise the fight would have been hopeless.

 

The orchan Zeeh cleanly beheaded an orc, and then jumped to the side as another sliced at her with its sword. She ducked under its weapon and stabbed at its stomach. Before that one had hit the ground she was gone, attacking more.

 

A pair of dwarves worked together to trap ogres between them and then struck at their backs as they focused on the dwarf in front of them.

 

Before they knew it, they had cleared up most of the monsters. Durron quickly assessed the situation as the last couple orcs were brought down. No deaths, thank Aluwen. Several of them seemed to have scratches here and there. Someone's arm had received a heavy blow and seemed to be fractured near the shoulder. It looked like it hurt fairly bad, but nothing a few bandages and magic couldn’t fix.

 

“Into the tunnels?” questioned a particularly short dwarf once she had finished bandaging the wounded arm.

 

“I suppose so,” Durron muttered. The group followed him closely as they ventured into the tavern. The place was run down, to say the least, and seemed to have been trashed a bit by the monsters that had explored it. The wide open door had let snow spill into the dark interior. Without care and a fire in the hearth nearly everything in the building was frozen. Several tables were overturned and rows of glasses and mugs lay smashed upon the floor.

 

Durron looked around concerned; there had definitely been monsters in here, yet none had left the tavern during the fight. The building seemed empty enough, however, and Durron guided his companions to a small room behind the bar.

 

“So Durron? How do you know about this tunnel anyway?” questioned Jeeve as Durron pushed aside a bookcase with nothing but a few tattered volumes and an old rusty sword sitting on it. “You know, it seems a bit hidden and illegal,” he smirked.

 

“Oh, you know, I hear things here and there,” Durron winked at the bald orchan and then peered into the tunnel the bookcase had revealed.

 

“Really? Couldn’t they have put it somewhere else?” sighed Jeeve as he looked at the old bookcase they'd shoved away.

 

“Bookcases are perfect for hiding secret passages. They’re just the right size,” Zeeh responded with a matter-of-fact attitude. Jeeve glared at her and the pair commenced an argument over where was the best place to hide a secret passageway, which quickly developed into a debate over what was considered ‘secret’ and what was common knowledge but ‘secret’ like.

 

Durron groaned and shook his head. Those two would drive him to insanity one day. A pair of torches were quickly lit and one was handed to Durron while the other was given to an orchan who would bring up the rear. Holding the torch above his black-haired head, Durron entered the tunnel; Jeeve and the rest following behind him.

 

They moved quietly through the darkness. The passage walls were coated with glacier-like ice. In fact, Durron wondered if the passage might be entirely carved into the ice.

 

The same thought had occurred to the orchan Yyer who was the last of the short trail. It didn’t make him any more comfortable underground. Ice melted and they were carrying torches. Yyer nervously examined the tunnel walls; he hated being underground.

 

They continued on through the icy tunnel, the torchlight barely reaching from the front of the line to the back. Durron squinted his dark eyes and peered past his thick black eyebrows into the darkness ahead. He was still worried that some monsters may have made it into the tunnel.

 

Much to his surprise, however, the attack did not come from ahead. The entire group halted as Yyer cried out and his torchlight vanished.

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Chapter 4

 

“Ugh! My aching head!" Mortos lay on his back, waking up from what would appear to be a long sleep. The noonday sun shined down brightly on a grassy clearing filled sparsely with palm trees and small plants. The sound of the ocean could be heard close by. Squinting his eyes against the light as he started to open them, he slowly got himself up and looked around.

 

"Where in the realms of the gods am I?" He hazily glanced around and stepped over to lean against a tree. With a groan he put his head into his hands. His skull burned with a horrid pain.

 

Must be one of Lucaa's nature crazed meetings; a deer overpopulation is threatening the undergrowth or some such nonsense, he thought to himself.

 

He started walking forward and rubbed his temples, "Oh mother of damnation my head has never hurt so... wait a minute, my head has never hurt like this at all. What the..."

 

Before he was able to finish that thought, a rustling sound came from the bushes nearby, along with a thud, "Ouch!", and a few light oaths.

 

"Uh, oh um, hello there!" said a smiling faced young gnome wearing brightly colored clothing. He was lying on the ground trying to untangle himself from the brambles which he had tripped over.

 

"Lucaa, what is this about!" shouted Mortos. "And what's with the gnomish guise, taking a fancy to them lately I take it?" He stared at the surprised looking gnome.

 

A bit intimidated by the tall and darkly clothed Mortos who was barking at him in a harsh voice, the gnome stammered out, "Um-m-m Lucaa? Wh-who's that? My name is Nelibonaplino. Although, most people just call me Nel."

 

"Nel… Lucaa… what is this? You bring me here then send me some inferior servant of - ow, this pain in my head! Where is it coming from!” He shouted off the last sentence as he kicked at the ground in anger. Holding his head he doubled over against the pain.

 

"Oh dear, that looks like a nasty headache you have there, Sir..." the gnome paused briefly, waiting for a name. Seeing none coming, he continued. "Well, you're in luck as I just happen to have some willow bark with me!"

 

Smiling cheerfully at being able to help, he rummaged through a pack on his back and pulled out some of the bark. Holding it up to Mortos he said, "Now just chew on this and in a little while the pain should dissipate."

 

"Pain! I can't feel any pain, what do you think I am, a diseased ridden mortal?" He squinted his eyes shut and groaned loudly again. His anger was rising in his already dazed state of mind. Mortos lashed out his arm as if to launch a jolt of magic to fry the gnome.

 

Nothing happened.

 

He looked at his hand and tried again, letting out another hysteric shout that made the already freaked out gnome jump and dart behind a bush.

 

"What is going on? Where am I!" He slumped down to the ground, the gnome watching and becoming more curious by the second.

 

"D-D-Draia. You're on Draia, in the lands of-"

 

"Draia? Draia... I'm in the mortal realm. That's right, that white-robed witch Aluwen and the others set me up! Imprisoned me here! They'll pay for this!" He pounded his fist into the ground and stood up.

"Pain, my powers gone, what else have they done to me? This means revenge!" He yelled out the last while looking up skyward.

 

Taking one last glance at his surroundings, he stomped off to the south, growling under his breath, the gnome following quietly behind.

 

 

*****

 

Winston Jefferies sat at his post near the main gate and closed his eyes, hands folded on his rotund belly, content after his midday meal. He was the mayor of the town and with that came his responsibilities of being the sole guard, jailor, and upholder of the law. It was a lot of work, he needed his nap.

 

Sedicolis was a small town. Not much happened here besides the occasional tavern brawl and mischievious goblin wandering inside the walls. It wasn't always so quiet however.

 

In the long ago distant past, an Emperor constructed roads from Idaloran into Bethel and then on into Sedicolis. It became a booming traveler's outpost in its glory days, or at least that's what some would have called them.

 

The roads outside of the main, well-guarded cities brought in a colorful sort of crowd: gamblers, thieves, outlaws, and even pilgrims of Aluwen coming to visit the Cave of Merciful Tears, a shrine said to have provided the land with fresh water. The road weary traveler would be warned not to wander the streets at night.

 

All that changed, though, when a drought and unbearable heat wave took over the land. Temperatures so hot you could fry an egg on the cobblestones forced almost all of the permanent settlers out, taking their businesses, that attracted the more notorious of visitors, with them. All the vegetation and water dried up, making the whole place inhospitable. It became a ghost town.

 

About a century later, the temperature started to even out back to normal. Some rains fell and after a time a few settlers came into town. Mainly outcasts from different parts of the continent, they lived in relative peace and quiet, generally keeping to themselves. Being of the sort that didn't always deal in legal type business, they liked to keep things that way.

 

Winston was just starting to doze off when he heard someone approaching. He rubbed his eyes, straightened out his uniform, and grabbed his spear, a necessary part of being a town guard. Never mind that there were two gates into Sedicolis and he being the only guard watching one of them.

 

"Halt! State your name and your business!" He said as a tall man with a well-built physique marched toward him. Stopping directly in front of the much shorter Winston, the man let out a short laugh.

 

"Ah, mortals never cease to amuse." The man lifted Winston up by the shirt collar, threw him into the dirt, and continued on walking into the town.

 

Winston lay there trying to regain himself. After having the air knocked out of him it wasn't so easy, but the rush of adrenaline he felt gave him the push to stand up. "No one pushes Winston Jefferies the Third down like that and gets away with it!" He muttered to himself as he righted his helmet and followed after the stranger.

 

Hearing a commotion coming from inside the tavern, he quickly made his way in there.

 

“I asked you where Aluwen’s temple is!” The man who had stormed into the gates so rudely now was holding a man against the wall.

 

“I… Why do you care? There’s a shrine or something east of here. I don’t know, maybe its not there anymore,” the man stammered in panic.

 

“Don’t you imbeciles know who I am? I am Mortos! Now you had better take me to some sacred place of Aluwen’s quick, or face the wrath of a god!” The man roared.

 

“But, why do you want to go to Aluwen’s temple?” Nel asked confused, he was lingering behind Mortos.

 

“To tear it down, burn it, destroy it! To do anything to get back at that infernal evil sorceress!” Mortos, or so he claimed to be, dropped the man he had been holding against the wall by his collar and turned to strike at the gnome. He missed as Nel moved and instead his fist came smashing into a chair, which broke under his angry fist.

 

He screeched in anger, likely because the blow had done a good bit of damage to his hand.

 

Nel slipped away from the fight nervously, and lingered just outside.

 

“Now see here!” Winston stepped further into the tavern and tried to make himself as tall as possible. “You can’t just go around my city causing a ruckus! I’ll have you put in jail!” Winston threatened.

 

The man bared his teeth and turned to Winston. “You will not tell me what to do mortal! I am a god and you should all pay proper respect to me!” In a flurry of movement the man grabbed a chair and flung it in Winston’s direction. His aim was poor, however, and it crashed into a wall.

 

Outside Nel crept closer, peering in through a window so as not to miss any of the action.

 

“That’s enough!” proclaimed Winston. “Stop this instant!”

 

The man’s eyes burned with fury and he slowly stepped toward Winston. Slightly worried, Winston stumbled back. A pair of orchans rose from their nearby table, and stood between Winston and the man.

 

“You heard the mayor, sir,” one of them spoke loudly.

 

The man growled. He tried to land a punch on one of the orchans but they dodged and tackled him to the ground. Mortos screamed in fury and lashed out at them, yet the orchans were too strong for him to hurt them much. Finally, one of them gave up and smashed the man’s head against the floor, knocking him out cold.

 

“We can have a healer look at that later,” one muttered. The pair hauled the man to his feet and stepped toward Winston, dragging the man between them. “To the jail, Winston?” they asked.

 

“Oh yes, yes of course,” Winston nodded and led them out of the tavern. “Come along, now! Straight to the jail with him! Not a clue how a pair like you would know how to brawl like that, quite amazing,” Winston murmured amazed.

 

As they left the tavern, laughter broke out.

 

“I’m not sure which was more amusing, that man, or old Winston,” the barkeep laughed.

 

“A right perfect mayor,” grinned someone else.

 

Nel looked around the tavern for a moment and then dashed away from the window he had been watching from. He certainly wouldn't be lingering any more now.

 

Chapter 5

 

Mazhiez snapped out of his horror at the loss of his perfect world. There was no time to wonder what was going on, or why the gods had brought such destruction upon the draegoni, now was the time for action.

 

“Kiylee!” Mazhiez grabbed her arm. “Come on! We have to get out of the city!” He needed to get Kiylee and Serrair away to safety immediately, he could only hope her infuriating habit of arguing wouldn't kick in, now was not the time.

 

“What?” Kiylee stared at him, her eyes wild and terrified. “Leave? Abandon our city?”

 

“Yes, we have to get out. Believe me, Kiylee, everyone who remains in this city will be dead by nightfall. We must run. We must warn the other draegoni of the tragedy that has happened here.” He was growing impatient, he could hear monsters drawing nearer.

 

“What about Serrair?” Kiylee demanded, brushing away her brother's armor clad arm and running to Serrair. He lay on the ground trying not to move his leg, which lay at a horribly unnatural angle.

 

“We can carry him out of the city,” Mazhiez moved to help Serrair to his feet. Kiylee’s eyes flashed terrified around her. Her face was filled with grief and horror. Mazhiez had seen many battles and knew how to deal with the realities of war. Kiylee however, had never seen a battle, much less found herself in the center of one in her own home.

 

“Kiylee,” Mazhiez gently put his hands on her shoulders. “Sister you must forget what is happening around you, just focus on Serrair, and the two of you getting out, now help me lift him.”

 

Kiylee looked at him and then she nodded numbly. Together the two of them were able to haul Serrair to his feet. The draegoni was conscious, but not truly aware of his surroundings. He, however, understood when Mazhiez patiently told him he would need to try to walk with his one good leg and rely on them for support. Relieved they were finally moving, Mazhiez fought the urge to hurry Kiylee along rudely; now was not the time to yell at his sister.

 

Slowly, the trio limped out of the gardens and made their way toward the city gates, which were not far. Taking a shortcut through several towers they emerged above the gates, only a winding staircase away. However, to their dismay, the gates were thrown wide open and hoards of monsters were streaming in. Mazhiez surveyed the scene from above on the tower balcony, as he looked down he saw something that greatly disturbed him.

 

They were not just monsters, humans and elves were among them as well.

 

“Mazhiez, we cannot get out,” Kiylee whispered, rubbing her red scale flecked hands together nervously. “Come away from the balcony and let us see if any ships may bear us out by sea, Maz?”

 

“Wait,” Mazhiez said quietly. They had leaned Serrair against a wall and Mazhiez crept away several feet peering down at the armies below. “I believe their leader is coming.”

 

“What?” Kiylee tugged at her brother confused, only a moment ago he had been so eager to leave, and now that Kiylee had realized the danger he seemed to have reason to stay. “Come on, Maz, it doesn’t matter."

 

“Just a moment longer, Kiylee,” Mazhiez snapped.

 

Kiylee quieted and waited as Mazhiez watched the crowds below. The areas around the gate were void of draegoni, living draegoni that was.

 

As they watched, those pouring in the gates began to slow and turn. The yells and grunts began to die down and the masses turned to watch the gate. Mazhiez watched the gate as well. After a moment, two figures strode in.

 

One was a human male; tall, solid build, and a bald head. His face reminded Mazhiez of the ugliest being he had ever beheld, only worse. There was also an elf with dark skin, white hair, and chilling violet eyes. He carried himself like he was a god. Mazhiez couldn’t help but think he was cunning and had a horrible evil intelligence.

 

Behind them a huge black dragon lumbered into the city. It growled deep in its throat and let out a disapproving snort.

 

“These brutes are destroying the city,” the dragon stated. Its voice was deeper than any voice Mazhiez had ever heard and it sounded slightly odd and slurred, likely because the dragon had so many teeth to talk around. The human said something to the dragon, but his voice was far quieter and Mazhiez could not hear it.

 

“Stay here,” he whispered to his sister, they had been kneeling beside Serrair as they watched, and now Mazhiez jumped up, a hand on his sword hilt.

 

“Maz!” Kiylee called after him as he jogged back into the hallway and down it. But he didn’t listen.

 

Mazhiez quickly made his way through the halls until he was in the guard’s barracks, just inside the gate. Crouching down next to a window that faced the gates, he listened. He was very close to the dragon, elf, and human now. He noticed a tall feline creature had joined them, a feros.

 

“Surely you are not suggesting my people are doing such a thing,” the feros accused. Its voice was high and feline, and Mazhiez was fairly certain it was female. “My warriors are scouting the city outskirts, making sure no one escapes. They have already caught a group of draegoni trying to reach Trassian.”

 

“I hope by caught you mean…” the dragon began.

 

“Killed, yes,” the feros finished for him. The dragon snorted his brief approval.

 

Mazhiez wanted desperately to listen longer, to find out where this army had come from. The apparent leaders however were moving farther away, he could no longer eavesdrop.

 

His senses had also returned to him and he realized he'd left his sister alone in a city overrun with monsters. Cursing his own stupidity he made his way swiftly back to where he had left his sister. They needed to get out.

 

To Mazhiez horror, Kiylee, however, was gone, and so was Serrair. Mazhiez bit his tongue trying to keep from yelling for her. Where would she have gone? She wouldn’t have left. Mazhiez knew that all too well. Kiylee would have obeyed her brother and waited for him, even if it meant dying where she hid. No! Mazhiez forced the thought from his mind, she wasn’t dead, she wasn’t!

 

He ran down the hallway heading back to the docks. She said they should try to leave by boat, maybe she had gone that direction. The docks however were in shambles. Several boats were trying to sail away but it looked as if they would never make it past the solid wall of black ships.

 

He scanned the mass of bodies for his sister, but couldn’t see far. Panic rose inside him, he'd lost her, he'd left her and failed her! Trying to calm himself he blinked several times and continued to search, his vision seemed to be fogging. Hope rose in him every time he saw a flash of violet hair or red scales, or the edge of a soft blue tunic, but none of them were Kiylee. Why had she left? Didn't she know better? Mazhiez tried not to think about that and focus only on finding Kiylee, yet it was too hard to see anything amidst the chaos near the docks.

 

It looked as if the majority of the warriors that had been mustered had come here. They were putting up a decent fight, but it wasn’t enough. The creatures still bounded out of their ships; there were far, far too many.

 

Hearing a screech and splash he turned to watch as a group of warriors defeated a dragon and forced the dying beast into the water. It was a huge terrifying creature, not one that many could succesfully fight. Those were experienced warriors, veterans. The only veterans were those of the Ice Wars, and if those draegoni had fought in the Ice Wars, there was a good chance he knew them.

 

Mazhiez shoved his way through the various fights around him and made his way to the dock where the draegoni who had just killed the dragon still stood. Perhaps one of these men had seen his sister. Guilt was tying a painfull knot in his chest. He had left her, and now she could be dead.

 

“Mazhiez!” one of them called relieved. “We feared you were dead, for we did not see you in the battle."

 

Mazhiez’s heart leapt, these were his men, the group directly under his command.

 

“Have you seen Kiylee?” he asked worried.

 

“We have not,” Velor said sadly. The thin draegoni brushed a gloved hand across his face, trying to get his green hair out of his eyes It was too short to tie behind his head, but long enough to be annoying.

 

“What of Erresh?” Mazhiez questioned, trying to remind himself that there were many others besides his sister in danger.

 

“He was guiding children to the gates last I saw sir,” Meer informed.

 

“To the gates?” Mazhiez asked shocked. “The gates are overrun with monsters.”

 

“Then let us go help them,” Meer said. The others nodded and Mazhiez began to follow as they headed back the way he had come. He hung back however still scanning the docks for his sister.

 

“Come on Maz!” Velor cried, gesturing with his sword. “Your sister can watch after herself, she likely made it out on a boat already,”

 

Mazhiez hesitated again, looking wistfully at the docks, then turned to join his comrades as they headed for the gate. He had abandoned his sister already, he could not do the same to his men as well.

 

He tried not to look at the city around him as he hurried through it after his companions. Besides a tower or two near the docks, nearly the whole city was intact, but in only a short while it had gone from being filled with screams, running civilians, and fighting, to being deathly quiet.

 

The city was dead, Mazhiez tried not to look as he passed a room, its door was forced open, he didn’t want to know what lay silently inside. He looked away from the warriors sprawled mutely across the ground, never to move again. They had died defending their city. Mazhiez just hoped someone would live to tell of their bravery. The attackers had vanished from the hallways of the city. They were all either at the docks cutting off escape by sea, or at the gates slaying all who dared try to flee.

 

“Mazhiez! I think I see them!” Velor called. The group stopped and looked to where he was pointing, several floors up, on a bridge that linked several towers to the wall.

 

“Yes, that’s them,” Mazhiez confirmed. He could see Erresh leading a group of frightened children. The ever compasionate draegoni was trying to save those he could.

 

“This way,” Meer gestured and led them back inside. They followed without question, Meer knew the city better than anyone, his ancestors had helped build it. It was tradition for his family to always be responsible for the city plans and oversee any new building that ever happened.

 

More quickly than Mazhiez thought possible, they were on the same bridge they had just seen Erresh on. He had vanished now, but they hurried across it, looking for him and his small group of refugees on the wall.

 

“Erresh!” Mazhiez called out as he saw his old friend running across a bridge a level below. The draegoni stopped and looked up, he was very near no more than twenty feet away. “What happened to the children?”

 

“They are safe,” Erresh didn’t explain further.

 

“Come on, Erresh, we have to get out of the city,” Mazhiez pressed.

 

“Leave, in the middle of battle?” Erresh asked insulted.

 

“This is not a battle Erresh, this is a slaughter,” Mazhiez cried, sheathing his sword in frusteration.

 

“It will only be a slaughter if we abandon our people,” Erresh said defiantly glaring up at Mazhiez.

 

Mazhiez was about to argue more when he saw a dark figure flicker behind Erresh in a doorway.

 

“Erresh!” Mazhiez called a brief warning and his friend turned. That is, he turned onto the waiting blade of a silver haired elf. Horrified Mazhiez watched as one of his closest friends slumped lifeless to the ground.

 

Mazhiez choked back tears as the sight made his nervous and building emotions break lose. The dark skinned elf looked up at him with a wicked smile.

 

“It is indeed a slaughter,” the elf grinned. It was the same elf that had been at the gate. With an aura of terrible power about him, and look of unending cruelty in his face.

 

“Mazhiez!” Velor called to him, then turned his red horns flashing in the morning light. The small group of warriors was already heading off across another bridge, moving to somewhere else in the city. Mazhiez looked down at Erresh then tore away his gaze and pursued his other friends. What was done was done, lingering in sadness would not bring Erresh back.

 

“Where are you going?” he asked.

 

“The docks,” said one. “It’s the only way out,”

 

“We won’t make it out that way,” Mazhiez shook his head. “But there is another way.”

 

Meer stopped dead and stared at Mazhiez.

 

“There is no other way out of the city besides the gates and the docks,” Meer said confused.

 

“No, there is,” Mazhiez asserted. The others looked briefly at each other, then followed as Mazhiez led them left and down. Deeper into the heart of the city.

Edited by Enly

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Chapter 6

 

“Yyer?” Durron called, worried, no response. He quickly moved to the back of the line. It wasn’t much of a line anymore though. It was a group huddled around the edge of the last bend in the tunnel. Durron’s feeble torch didn’t cast light around the corner and it was only a dark void.

 

They fidgeted nervously, unsure of what to do. An enemy they could see they would face any time, but something unseen in the dark made them uneasy. At last, Jeeve gave them a disapproving glare for their cowardice, boldly grabbed the torch, and stepped around the corner. Everyone followed after him, weapons raised.

 

Yyer lay on the ground with a dead feros. They had apparently killed each other.

 

“Poor guy,” Jeeve murmured. A dwarf knelt to make sure he was indeed dead. She nodded her confirmation sadly at Durron; he was dead.

 

“Come on,” Durron grabbed the torch from Jeeve. “We need to keep moving.” someone grabbed Yyer’s torch from the ground and swiftly relit it, then handed it to Zeeh who took up the rear in Yyer’s stead. Before they could get far, however, another feros appeared from behind and attacked Zeeh. She quickly dropped her torch and killed it. This time more were coming and the tunnel behind them was filling with feros.

 

“Run!” Durron called. They followed him swiftly as they ran down the tunnel. The feros growled and came after them, but they didn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry. A horrible thought crossed Durron’s mind. The city was already taken and the feros knew they were just running toward more trouble.

 

“Durron?” Jeeve asked worried. “What if they’ve already taken the city?”

 

So he had not been the only one with that on his mind. He didn’t respond and Jeeve nodded solemnly in understanding. If the army had taken the city, they would be trapped. In that case, Durron had no idea what to do, so he did not respond. Jeeve knew his leader well; they all did after months together. Sometimes no answer was necessary.

 

“Durron! I see torchlight ahead!” called a dwarf surprised. Durron slowed slightly to look ahead, he could indeed make out a flickering torch in the distance.

 

He came to a complete stop, what to do? On the one hand, this could mean more feros or some other monster, but on the other it could also be draegoni from the city trying to escape as well, in which case the situation hadn’t changed. They were all still trapped.

 

Zeeh was still patiently guarding their back; the feros hadn’t run after them, only walked. Their slow walk down the tunnel seemed more ominous than them running would have been.

 

Durron watched the tunnel ahead of them, worried, as the faint light drew nearer, until he could spot the vague shadowy outline of a draegoni. They drew nearer until a tall purple-haired draegoni looked down at Durron.

 

“Durron?” the draegoni asked surprised as he looked at the sturdy black bearded dwarf.

 

“Maz!” A grin spread over Durron’s face as he recognized his old friend.

 

“Why are you coming into the city?” Mazhiez asked shocked. “Turn around, we have to get out!”

 

“The city is taken?” Durron asked worried, his fears were being confirmed.

 

“It is, now hurry! Turn your group around, there are likely monsters behind us,” Mazhiez pressed.

 

“We can’t,” Durron pointed down the tunnel. Mazhiez looked and his shoulders slumped as he saw the feros coming ever closer.

 

“Durron, now would be a good time for us to move,” Jeeve growled coming forward, lightly flipping his dragon blade in his hands.

 

“And where do you suggest we move to master orchan?” Mazhiez demanded. “The city is filled with this infernal army, and we are trapped here by the feros closing in.”

 

“We should have attempted to sneak over the walls,” a draegoni behind Mazhiez muttered. He gave him a sharp glance.

 

“We will fight our way through the feros then,” Mazhiez said confidently, his sword already drawn and clasped in his hand.

 

“We might not have to,” Meer said quietly. They turned to look at him; he was examining the ice toward the roof of the tunnel. It was not a high tunnel and the tall draegoni could scrape the ceiling with his hands. As he started doing so, it seemed as if he was brushing away a silvery coating from the ice.

 

"What are you doing?” Durron asked.

 

“There’s silver powder here,” Meer said simply, as if he expected them all to instantly understand.

 

“And this matters to us why?”

 

“It’s used to make the crystal ice foggy, so no one on the outside can see through it. It would only be used in a tunnel like this if it was very near the surface.” Meer didn’t look at them, but continued to examine the wall.

 

“Crystal ice?” Jeeve raised his eyebrows.

 

“It's an old draegoni secret. We make ice so it never melts and is nearly as strong as stone. Old draegoni magic,” Meer said.

 

“And why does this matter to us at all?” Durron cried exasperated, their conversation had taken only a matter of seconds, not even a minute, yet time was growing increasingly short. The feros were speeding up now that they noticed their prey had seemed to be stopping and setting up for a fight. They had gained a good distance from the monsters with their mad dash, but the torches of the feros seemed to make the tunnel shorter.

 

Zeeh was standing patiently with her back to her friends, alongside a dwarf named Helene, waiting for the feros to draw near enough to fight.

 

“It matters, dwarf, because this ice must be thin; it's close to the surface,” Velor butted in this time, he did not know as much as Meer did about the construction techinques of his people, but he was beginning to understand the logic.

 

“You said the ice would never melt and was as strong as stone,” Jeeve pointed out. “Are you hoping to somehow break through it?”

 

“Crystal ice has one severe disadvantage,” Meer said, finally turning to look at them. “If you can find where it has been fused together with other blocks of crystal ice and apply enough direct and sudden pressure, it shatters.”

 

Durron’s eyes lit up as he finally understood. If Meer could figure out how to shatter the crystal ice, they could get out of here. However Zeeh let out a warning yell as the feros jogged up and struck at the back of their small group. A short scuffle broke out and Zeeh and Helene brought down several feros. They managed to use the bodies to block the tunnel somewhat and stab at the others over the barrier.

 

“Durron! Give me your axe!” Meer cried over the screeches of the feros. Durron didn’t hesitate. His axe was precious to him, but he knew Meer from many years ago and he tusted that the draegoni was likely the only one who could get them out.

 

Feeling defenseless, Durron looked around confused. He pulled a short sword from his belt and waited to see if the feros would be able to make it past the barrier Zeeh and Helene were making.

 

Meer hefted the heavy axe and rammed its base into the ice; it glanced off barely making a mark. Meer swore under his breath and examined the wall again. He was running his fingers across the small curve where the wall became roof. He stopped and examined a certain area again. Once more picking up the axe he cautiously aligned it with the spot he had been looking at, then rammed it into the ice another time. This time it made a sharp cracking noise, and hair thin cracks surrounded the spot where the axe had hit. He smashed it in the same place a final time and the ice shattered.

 

Durron threw his hands over his head and ducked as ice chunks broke off, then a flood of snow rushed in. They had broken through to the surface. The green haired draegoni Velor jumped up and crawled over the mound of snow and out through the jagged hole that had been made in the ice. The others slowly scrambled after him, into the bright sunlight. The curve of the tunnel had brought them back near the pass into Dra Leont from Iscalrith.

 

The city was to the south east, and they could see monsters still crowding the gates and shoreline. Durron was sure that the pass into Trassian in the south west would be completely blocked by now, but it seemed the way to Iscalrith in the north was clear. Retrieving his axe from Meer, Durron tucked his short sword back into his belt and waited for the rest of the party to get out of the tunnel.

 

Zeeh was the last to climb out, one of the draegoni rapidly shot arrows with delicate aim between her back and the ice, felling the feros who tried to come after her. As soon as she had hauled herself out of the tunnel, they ran.

 

The feros growled at them and jumped out of the tunnel. Their screeches were ignored, however, as their prey made their way swiftly away from the snowy hole and toward the pass.

 

Breathing heavily Durron moved incredibly fast for his short legs, if the others had bothered to look they might have noticed he looked rather comical with his black beard bouncing on his chest as he ran for his life. They were all much too concerned with escaping the feros however, and all focused on the pass ahead, running as hard as they could. Durron could only hope that news had reached Iscalrith City of the attack. If it had, help might be near. If it hadn’t, they had a long way to run.

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Chapter 7

 

Mortos groaned and rubbed the back of his head. Squinting his eyes open he looked around at the dusty cell he was sitting in. Grunting, he hauled himself to his feet. He breathed deeply and tried to recall what had happened. He remembered waking up in the forest, walking into town. Slowly the scene at the tavern came back to him.

 

He clenched his fist. He had to get out of here and find a way back to the realm of the gods. With a slow, measured step, he began to pace. Trying to think back to before waking up in the forest, he rubbed his forehead, scratching at his black hair. The awfull headache he had awoken with in the forest was receding, but still a dull pain. Something as trivial as pain would not distract him, however, he had to focus.

 

After much thought, things began to come together clearly again. There had been meetings without him, quiet glares. The anger had radiated so strongly from many of them. They had called a council without him, made the decsion, and summoned him.

 

“Confined indefinitely,” Mortos muttered to himself. He continued to pace his cell, chanting the words under his breath. The sounds slid together, and soon it was no longer words but a meaningless jumble of noises.

 

 

*****

 

A tall figure slowly walked toward a slighter slender one.

 

“Unolas.” The smaller figure looked up and smiled.

 

"Jayden,” he nodded.

 

“What brings you here?” She questioned.

 

The male was silent for a moment, thinking before speaking again. “It worked didn’t it?” he asked. “We successfully locked him away for good?”

 

“Well I would assume it did,” Jayden smiled. “He is not here, where else would he be but imprisoned?”

 

“I thought as much, yet, it seemed we were failing when everything went black. By the time I made my way out of the dark clouds I still had not seen anyone else. I want to call a council again,” he finished. Silence sharply fell.

 

“Again?” Jayden questioned. “You know how long Aluwen worked to convince Lucaa and the others to come and sit at a council.”

 

“Have you even seen Aluwen since the council?”

 

“No, and I haven't seen anyone else either. Everyone seems to be going about their own business as usual. Things are finally turning back to normal, there is no need for another council. I surely will not come,” Jayden spoke quietly.

 

Unolas looked at her for a moment, then sighed and walked away.

 

 

*****

 

Nel walked slowly through the town watching the quiet people go about their lives. Finally he resolved to go question Winston. Winston Jefferies was sitting at the gate again, trying to seem very alert.

 

“Where did you put Mortos?” Nel asked curious as he fiddled with a buckle on his brightly colored coat.

 

“Huh?” grunted Winston, he looked as if he'd been dozing again. “Mortos?”

 

“The man in the tavern, Mortos,” Nel pressed, peering intently through his small glasses.

 

“Oh, that fellow.” Winston looked over at Nel. “Well, he wasn’t really Mortos, obviously not. Mortos is a god and if that man had been a god we’d all be dead probably for imprisoning him.”

 

“He said he was Mortos though,” Nel pointed out.

 

“And what good is his word?”

 

“Well somebody's word is good or else everything is a lie, so why isn’t his the truth too?”

 

Winston grunted and didn’t respond.

 

“So where is he now?” Nel asked again.

 

“Over in the jail, of course,” he gestured tiredly down the street. “That way.”

 

“Oh.” Nel tried to make out where he had pointed, but couldn’t quite tell. Giving Winston a smile, he bid him farewell and wandered off to see if he could locate the jail. Mortos was probably getting mighty lonely just sitting in a jail. Nel resolved to go chat with him to keep him company.

 

 

*****

 

Mortos kept up his walking; the same pace, each step exactly the same. He had ceased repeating the words aloud, but they still echoed in his head. All of what Aluwen had said, it all came back and repeated itself endlessly in his mind.

 

They had imprisoned him here on Draia forever. Or only until he died? Could he die? It would make sense. No power as a god, his immortality was no doubt gone as well.

 

Foul oaths of vengance rolled off his tongue. They would pay for this outrage, how dare they imprison a god as a mortal like this! It was unthinkable! Unless…

 

A door slammed down the hallway and Mortos stopped and steered his piercing gaze towards the door. The gnome whom he had first encountered stood at the end of the hallway, closing the door behind him. The gnome then turned and gave Mortos a cheerfull smile, pulled his jacket straight, and came whistling down the hallway.

 

“Unless… Unless…” Mortos murmered again to himself.

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Chapter 7

 

Mortos groaned and rubbed the back of his head. Squinting his eyes open he looked around at the dusty cell he was sitting in. Grunting, he hauled himself to his feet. He breathed deeply and tried to recall what had happened. He remembered waking up in the forest, walking into town. Slowly the scene at the tavern came back to him.

 

He clenched his fist. He had to get out of here and find a way back to the realm of the gods. With a slow, measured step, he began to pace. Trying to think back to before waking up in the forest, he rubbed his forehead, scratching at his black hair. The awfull headache he had awoken with in the forest was receding, but still a dull pain. Something as trivial as pain would not distract him, however, he had to focus.

 

After much thought, things began to come together clearly again. There had been meetings without him, quiet glares. The anger had radiated so strongly from many of them. They had called a council without him, made the decsion, and summoned him.

 

“Confined indefinitely,” Mortos muttered to himself. He continued to pace his cell, chanting the words under his breath. The sounds slid together, and soon it was no longer words but a meaningless jumble of noises.

 

 

*****

 

A tall figure slowly walked toward a slighter slender one.

 

“Unolas.” The smaller figure looked up and smiled.

 

"Jayden,” he nodded.

 

“What brings you here?” She questioned.

 

The male was silent for a moment, thinking before speaking again. “It worked didn’t it?” he asked. “We successfully locked him away for good?”

 

“Well I would assume it did,” Jayden smiled. “He is not here, where else would he be but imprisoned?”

 

“I thought as much, yet, it seemed we were failing when everything went black. By the time I made my way out of the dark clouds I still had not seen anyone else. I want to call a council again,” he finished. Silence sharply fell.

 

“Again?” Jayden questioned. “You know how long Aluwen worked to convince Lucaa and the others to come and sit at a council.”

 

“Have you even seen Aluwen since the council?”

 

“No, and I haven't seen anyone else either. Everyone seems to be going about their own business as usual. Things are finally turning back to normal, there is no need for another council. I surely will not come,” Jayden spoke quietly.

 

Unolas looked at her for a moment, then sighed and walked away.

 

 

*****

 

Nel walked slowly through the town watching the quiet people go about their lives. Finally he resolved to go question Winston. Winston Jefferies was sitting at the gate again, trying to seem very alert.

 

“Where did you put Mortos?” Nel asked curious as he fiddled with a buckle on his brightly colored coat.

 

“Huh?” grunted Winston, he looked as if he'd been dozing again. “Mortos?”

 

“The man in the tavern, Mortos,” Nel pressed, peering intently through his small glasses.

 

“Oh, that fellow.” Winston looked over at Nel. “Well, he wasn’t really Mortos, obviously not. Mortos is a god and if that man had been a god we’d all be dead probably for imprisoning him.”

 

“He said he was Mortos though,” Nel pointed out.

 

“And what good is his word?”

 

“Well somebody's word is good or else everything is a lie, so why isn’t his the truth too?”

 

Winston grunted and didn’t respond.

 

“So where is he now?” Nel asked again.

 

“Over in the jail, of course,” he gestured tiredly down the street. “That way.”

 

“Oh.” Nel tried to make out where he had pointed, but couldn’t quite tell. Giving Winston a smile, he bid him farewell and wandered off to see if he could locate the jail. Mortos was probably getting mighty lonely just sitting in a jail. Nel resolved to go chat with him to keep him company.

 

 

*****

 

Mortos kept up his walking; the same pace, each step exactly the same. He had ceased repeating the words aloud, but they still echoed in his head. All of what Aluwen had said, it all came back and repeated itself endlessly in his mind.

 

They had imprisoned him here on Draia forever. Or only until he died? Could he die? It would make sense. No power as a god, his immortality was no doubt gone as well.

 

Foul oaths of vengance rolled off his tongue. They would pay for this outrage, how dare they imprison a god as a mortal like this! It was unthinkable! Unless…

 

A door slammed down the hallway and Mortos stopped and steered his piercing gaze towards the door. The gnome whom he had first encountered stood at the end of the hallway, closing the door behind him. The gnome then turned and gave Mortos a cheerfull smile, pulled his jacket straight, and came whistling down the hallway.

 

“Unless… Unless…” Mortos murmered again to himself.

Edited by Enly

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Chapter 8

 

Mazhiez and the others ran as fast as they could, plowing through the snowdrifts. Looking up, he spotted movement near the pass ahead. He heard someone shout something, and then heard arrows slice through the air above him. At first he was worried the monsters had taken the pass and were shooting at him, then he realized the arrows were falling far behind him. Glancing back he watched as several feros cried out and fell into the snow.

 

The archers shot again and he picked up his pace, someone had come to help. As they neared the canyon-like entrance to the pass, he spotted draegoni scattered in the rocks above him. Durron was the last to reach the pass and as he stopped to catch his breath, a draegoni climbed down from the rocks above.

 

“Lord Mazhiez,” said the newcomer with a slight bow. “Do other draegoni come behind you?”

 

“No,” Mazhiez said regretfully with a glance behind him. Velor frowned and stared back at the city, wiping a slight sweat from his brow, the scattered red scales there glistened beneath the thin moisture. Many of the other draegoni and Durron’s companions also looked back to the city. “No, we are all that made it out,” repeated Mazhiez.

 

“Then let us move away from the entrance to the pass. We must block it to protect Iscalrith from the monsters.” said the draegoni that had spoken to them.

 

One of the other draegoni soldiers guided them farther away as the arrows continued to hold the feros at bay. When the group that had fled Dra Leont was safely beyond the entrance, rocks came tumbling down, sealing it off with a pile of boulders.

 

“Head north into Iscalrith and you will find a camp not far into the woods,” the draegoni told them. “I must remain here to ensure no monsters leave the area of Dra Leont."

 

“Thank you,” Mazhiez said gruffly. The draegoni bowed with a slight nod again then went back to his men in the rocks.

 

No one spoke as the group slowly made its way through the pass and then trudged into Iscalrith.

Sure enough, there was a camp not far into the woods, but it was rapidly becoming more than a camp. As Mazhiez and Durron walked side by side past high wooden walls at the entrance, they discovered several building already erected inside.

 

“They sure got to work fast,” Durron remarked, scratching his chin beneath his beard.

 

“I’m sure the news of an attack on Dra Leont frightened them into instant action,” Velor said from behind, he had only just sheathed his sword and had a tense look about him. He pulled off his gloves and stretched his fingers. Durron noticed him tuck the gloves and guantlets in a pouch hidden inside his cloak.

 

“It's time the draegoni got off their warm cushions and did something,” Mazhiez muttered. “Meer, you wait here with everyone. Velor, come with me. Durron do what you will.”

 

“I’m coming. I want to know what's going on," Durron grunted. Mazhiez, Durron, and Velor walked up to one of the buildings and Mazhiez pushed the door open. Durron’s companions waited with Meer and the other draegoni.

 

The room they entered had a dirt floor and a heavy wooden table was placed in the center. An uncommonly short draegoni female was directing multiple other draegoni as they bustled about the room placing chairs and other items.

 

“Sam, I want a full report on what’s happened since the message of the attack reached here,” Mazhiez shouted boldly to the draegoni woman over the din. She had firey red hair and horns and commanded those around her with a patient and gentle attitude.

 

“General Mazhiez,” Sam said as she noticed him, her face was drawn and she looked worried and stressed. “Well, Iscalrith city has gone into a frenzy, as well as Dra Syn and all our other cities. Residents in Glacmor and Irinveron are all being pulled into the caves. Dra Syn is fortifying its eastern wall as much as possible. Here in Iscalrith we’re building this fort and further back in the woods we’re already laying foundations for a stone one, we’ll move to that as soon as it’s completed. Trassian has closed off the valley to Dra Leont, and hopefully those at the Iscalrith pass did the same once you came through.”

 

“They did,” murmured Mazhiez quietly as she took a breath to continue.

 

“And as soon as the messengers arrived all out of breath and terrified, we instantly sent word to the other races of the attack. Brief messages by mages is all we’ve been able to get out, but the elves have called for a meeting of representatives of all Irilion’s kingdoms in Aeth Aelfan.”

 

“Good, I’m glad you snapped into action faster than I did,” Mazhiez’s eyes were frowning and Durron threw him a questioning look. “Who are we sending to Aeth?” Mazhiez questioned, ignoring Durron.

 

“Us.” Two draegoni had just entered the room, both looked exactly alike.

 

“Annaeh, Assain,” Mazhiez gave a relieved smile, it was good to see familiar faces amidst the stress and terror. “I thought you two were off on some foolish errand in Idaloran.”

 

“Oh, it was just the typical negotiations,” Annaeh sighed.

 

“We were on our way to Dra Leont, when we heard what happened,” Assain frowned.

 

“Mazhiez, what did happen?” Annaeh questioned. “We were there at the pass, watching as monsters flooded over the city, killing so many. Already the soldiers whisper of it as Hulda, rather than Dra Leont."

 

“I can tell you little more than what you saw, hundreds of ships landed on our coasts and armies poured forth to overrun our city,” Mazhiez said quietly. “We lost many good draegoni.”

 

“I fear my memory of the draegoni tongue fails me. What does Hulda mean?” Durron questioned, looking up at the tall draegoni around him.

 

“It’s a difficult word to translate,” Sam explained quietly. “The closest I think would be, untold grief, or unspeakable horror."

 

“It is a word of death and doom, one only used to describe the darkest things we know,” Velor added.

 

“Assain and I are leaving,” Annaeh proclaimed. “We just dropped in to say we’re heading north to the docks and then sailing to Aeth Aelfan.”

 

“Very well, I trust you will keep the draegoni’s best interests in mind as always,” Sam nodded. “And journey safe.”

 

Annaeh and Assain left quietly side-by-side. Once they were out the door Mazhiez spoke.

 

“How on Draia did the council and king agree to send those two? I thought they were sick of them ever since the incident on Anitora where they didn’t follow directions,” Mazhiez questioned with a suspicious glance at Sam.

 

The small red haired draegoni had turned to scrall something on a piece of paper and now looked up Mazhiez again with a sigh.

 

“We received word of the attack very quickly and had an all too accurate description of it. Most of our top generals were there in the city and the situation there was unclear, that left me as ranking general in the draegoni lands not in immediate peril. I proclaimed a state of emergency and thereby procured the right to peril of war decrees.”

 

Mazhiez nodded thoughtfully, a bold move for anyone, especially Samara. She was a general, but ranked far below many in the draegoni lands. However as she had pointed out the others had all been in immidiate peril, and were now likely dead except for Mazhiez, she'd been bumped up in the rankings.

 

“I obviously haven’t brushed up on my draegoni culture in awhile, what’s it mean to proclaim a state of emergency and what are peril of war decrees?” Durron grumbled, brushing his axe tip against the dirt floor. He got very tired of people discussing things he did not understand and was by no means afraid to ask questions.

 

“To put it into the fewest words possible, the ranking available general has the right to make orders only the council could normally decree in order to protect us from the peril of war. It allows for the quick fix of issues without council squabble, there’s a thousand different laws that are tied to it, though, to prevent misuse,” Velor explained, there was an annoyed look in his face.

 

“Draegoni make government quite complicated,” Durron huffed.

 

“I think Mazhiez would agree with you, he isn’t very fond of the King nor the council,” Velor smirked, his comment might have earned a few grins if not for the tense and sorrowfull circumstances.

 

“Where did he go?” Sam looked up from her work again to realize Mazhiez was no longer there. She glanced at Velor but the green haired draegoni just shrugged.

 

“Probably to have a word with those twins,” Durron remarked. “They’re more of his old friends, no doubt you both know that.”

 

 

****

 

 

Mazhiez had indeed left to speak with Annaeh and Assain. They were saddling their horses on the other side of the little camp.

 

“It's good to see you both safe,” Mazhiez said with relief. The twins had been friends of his for many years, he still remembered long nights he'd spent with them in the Ice Wars, sitting watch in the icy plains, poking dying embers, and discussing whatever topics they cared to broach. They'd formed a bond of trust and friendship in those times, that had held fast even when the two brothers moved on to more political and diplomatic positions. Just seeing them brought some peace to him, despite the grief in all their hearts. He knew they were on their way out, but the chance to speak with them for even a few moments might give him some insight into what he should be doing now, and further calm his tumultuous emotions of grief and guilt.

 

“Us safe? We were quite worried about you and the others,” Assain scolded as he adjusted the saddle on his horse. Pulling a buckle tight he glanced up at him. Mazhiez normally looked far younger than his years, but the terror of the day seemed to have made more of his violet hair fade, and his horns barely held any of their once golden luster.

 

“I saw mostly everyone from your past commands made it out,” Annaeh said relieved, the twins had worked with Mazhiez and his men often before. “Except, Erresh?”

 

Mazhiez went quiet. “Dead,” he said simply.

 

The twins frowned; they had both been friends of Erresh as well. “And your sister?” Annaeh questioned worried. They knew how important Kiylee was to Mazhiez.

 

“I don’t know, I couldn’t find her when I left the city,” Mazhiez explained sadly. A fresh pang of guilt stung in his chest, he'd left her, it was his fault. “I can only hope she somehow made it out.”

 

“But you did not stop us to talk of grief,” Assain changed the subject. “What is on your mind old friend?”

 

"What is on my mind? The horrors of the Ice Wars come back to me, fear for my sister plauges me, and the knowledge that I sat by and refused to help Jarraas fills me with regret," he sighed deeply.

 

"The Ice Wars are gone Mazhiez, those things are past," Assain pointed out.

 

"You've always been smart Maz," Annaeh added. "So please stop living in the past and change the future. The draegoni need you now, I'm sure you know this. You were the most capable leader in the Ice Wars, and have been since then, and no doubt will be for a very long time."

 

"I cannot return to true service of the King and council, I am a general in name, but all acknowledge that in spirit I left the armies of the draegoni long ago," snapped Mazhiez.

 

Annaeh frowned and glanced at his twin, Mazhiez had a long history of hating the draegoni government, they couldn't have truly hoped to change his opinion.

 

"I will give General Samara what help I can," Mazhiez sighed, regretting that he'd snapped at the twins. "I suppose now hope lies with pulling the people together. Who knows where this army came from, but I'd bet my life that Dra Leont will not be the only city to fall. There are more foul creatures crowded in Dra Leont then we have ever seen in Irilion. The best hope now is preparing as fast as we can and bringing the people together to fight, though it may already be too late.

 

“There is always plenty of hope and most of Irilion still lazes in peace. I believe we can defend our own,” Annaeh insisted.

 

"You have more confidence in our people than they deserve," pointed out Mazhiez.

 

"And you do not have enough!" Assain respond as he swung onto his horse, Annaeh did the same and they looked down at Mazhiez with slight smiles.

 

"I do not know if we shall meet again soon Mazhiez, but I look forward to the day we do! May Iringold bless your path," Annaeh wrapped the reigns of his horse around his hands and moved slightly away.

 

"Somehow I feel that a time has come where few will meet again in this world," Mazhiez frowned. Some would claim he talked too much of doom, but the armies now residing in Dra Leont were vast, they would not be content to take only that city, Mazhiez knew that. All that remained to be known was when and where they would strike next, perhaps knowlege of them and where they had come from would shed light on such questions.

 

"We shall meet again Maz," Assain insisted.

 

"And what makes you think that?" Mazhiez called as the twins slowly began to ride away.

 

"Because I still have faith in Iringold!" Assain called back. "May he and the righteous gods be with you Mazhiez! Farewell!"

 

And then the twins were gone, riding north to Icalrith port from where they would sail to Aeth Aelfan. Scratching at a dull gold scale on the back of his neck Mazhiez wandered back to the others in the camp. He only hoped that Assain was right, and the gods would lead their paths to meet again in the world.

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Chapter 9

 

A cold breeze ruffled Cole’s dark hair as he walked through the woods. The sky overhead was blanketed with stars and the forest was lit with a warm glow of lanterns. Faint voices echoed through the woods around him and the quiet sounds of animals were everywhere.

 

He sighed deeply breathing in the crisp air; it was always good to be home again. Remembering he had something to do he quickened his pace to reach his house. Letting himself in the door, he went to the cupboards.

 

Surprised, he noticed they were running out of potions as he grabbed a couple.

 

“Mother?” he called for his adopted mother softly, their dwelling was small and she could easily hear him if she was in the house.

 

“Cole!” The aging elf came out of one of the bedrooms and smiled at him. Her hair was the color of pure silver and fell lightly about her shoulders, while her eyes glowed with a loving light and a smile so welcoming graced her face that anyone would instantly feel accepted by her. “Your trip went well?”

 

“Yes, I suppose. What has happened to our stock of potions?” Cole asked curiously as he placed several in a sack.

 

“Oh, they’re nearly gone aren’t they? You needed some?” she asked, coming over to check the cupboards and glance into his bag.

 

“Just what I have here, but what happened to the others?” he questioned confused. There had been plenty when he left.

 

She grinned and motioned for him to follow. Puzzled he walked after her into the bedroom.

 

“Her,” his mother smiled.

 

A beautiful elven woman lay sleeping on the bed. Her skin was pale and her blonde hair was matted with sweat.

 

“Who is she?” Cole whispered, worried he might wake her.

 

“No need to whisper, I actually want her to wake up. I found her in the woods the other day, dazed and stumbling, she seemed to be only half alive. So I guided her back here and tended to her. She has woken up several times, long enough for me to tell her my name and that I’m trying to help her. She’ll stare distressed around the room for a bit and then I’ll lose her again." she said sadly, looking down at the woman with a compassionate sorrow.

 

“She’s beautiful,” Cole commented.

 

“That she is. You can speak with her when she wakes up again but didn’t you need potions for something?” she reminded him.

 

“Oh, yes. Jax is feeling ill and I wanted to take him a few potions, perhaps cure his stomach before his sister’s birthday tomorrow.” Cole smiled rubbing the slight dark beard on his chin.

 

“Ah poor thing, well run along and tend to him. Then you can help me with this one,” she motioned to the elf and then began to shoo Cole out the door.

 

“What’s her name?”

 

His mother Siru looked at him for a moment sadly. “That’s one of the first things I asked her, and her only response to nearly everything I say is ‘I don’t remember’. She seems to have forgotten who she is, even her name.”

 

Cole stared at the elf on the bed again, then turned to leave his home.

 

Siru watched him, an expression somewhere between a smile and a frown on her face. The door opened and the outside breeze briefly sent a gust of cool air in, then Cole closed the door and the house was still and quiet.

 

The expression on Siru’s face turned to a definite frown. That boy, she thought to herself, all these years and still he won’t go out and be a part of the world for more than a week or two. Siru had a bit of a problem with picking up strays, whether it was animals or people. She had adopted Cole when he was two because his elven mother had not wanted him. Though Siru had never been able to find out for sure who his father was, Cole’s slight beard and less than pointed ears suggested his father was, or had been, a human.

 

The boy’s undefined lineage had caused problems for him as a youth, but he had always been a quiet solitary child and didn’t want to be a part of the crowd anyway. Eventually he had learned healing from Siru and at least earned a sort of accepting respect from the residents of Tirnwood.

 

He kept growing older, and learned more, and traveled a little more widely. Somehow he always ended up back home in Tirnwood, despite any efforts Siru made to make him forge his own path in the world. I suppose it is harder for him, she thought to herself for the thousandth time, being not fully elf and all, but still you’d think he could do something with himself besides live with his aging adopted mother.

 

The elf in the other room coughed and Siru heard sheets rustle. Hurrying to see if she was waking, Siru let Cole slip from her mind.

 

“There dear, finally waking up again?” Siru smiled down at the elf. She was still pale as the cream sheets and she shivered slightly despite the sweat on her brow.

 

“Siru,” the woman spoke softly.

 

“Ah, you remembered my name, do you remember yours?” Siru asked hopefully.

 

The elf coughed again and her frail body quivered. She looked sadly up at Siru.

 

“No,” she choked, obviously upset. “I remember you bringing me here, tending to me. I remember waking up and talking to you occasionally, but I can’t remember who I am.”

 

“Must just be a brief lapse of your memory. You’ve been very sick, though I do believe you’re showing signs of getting better.”

 

“Where are we?” the elf whispered hoarsely after several more coughs.

 

“Tirnwood, Tirnwood Vale,” Siru told her.

 

“Tirnwood… that’s the elven wood in the province of Whitestone. Whitestone city is to the north and Lord Luxin recently took the throne,” the elf spoke quietly.

 

“Yes, yes,” Siru smiled, perhaps she was making progress. “You do remember things.”

 

“No, I mean yes,” the elf tried to sit up more bringing her head up to rest on the head of the bed. “I remember things about Draia, about the locations of cities, I remember the names of rulers, I recall the names of flowers and definitions of words, but I don’t know who I am.”

 

Siru didn’t respond as the elf looked very distressed over it all. Normally she was quite good at comfort and encouragement, yet she had no idea what to tell someone who had forgotten who she was.

 

“For now, let's focus on getting you better. There aren’t a huge amount elves on Seridia; a fair bit, yes, but no doubt we’ll be able to figure out who you are and where you came from in due time.” Siru comforted, laying a gentle hand on the younger elf's shoulder.

 

“Thank you for helping me,” she smiled weakly.

 

“I’m always overjoyed to assist those in need, as is my son.” smiled Siru.

 

“You have a son?” asked the woman curiously.

 

“Yes, my son Cole just returned home. He had to go out again, but will be back shortly.”

 

The elf tried to say something else but broke into a fit of coughs which forced her to lie down again.

 

“Let me see if I can find something to help that awful cough,” Siru bustled off to search the cupboards for at the very least some hot tea.

 

By the time she had fixed a mug of warm tea the elf was unresponsive again. Cole came back within the hour and asked a thousand questions about the elf; most of which Siru had no answer for.

 

Finally she gave up and scolded him. “Just wait 'til she wakes again, Cole, then you can speak with her. Its getting late anyway, you should get some rest.”

 

“What about you, shouldn’t you be sleeping?” pointed out Cole as he scratched at his slightly pointed ear. That had always been a habit of his, no doubt due to the fact his not completely elven ears reminded him of his mixed blood.

 

“I want to be up if she awakens again,” Siru explained.

 

“Then I shall wait up to,” Cole insisted.

 

Giving up Siru sat down to knit quietly. Cole sat across the table from her where he could easily see into the bedroom where the elf was sleeping. He talked with his adopted mother some, but often returned to staring at the elf. She was most definitely one of the prettiest he had set eyes on.

 

“Do stop staring at her Cole, I doubt she would appreciate it if she were awake,” Siru chided.

 

Cole mumbled a brief apology. Eventually he grew tired enough that he retreated to his own bedroom for the night. He lay awake for a while staring through his window at the stars before drifting into a fitful sleep.

 

Siru watched him; she couldn’t remember a night he hadn’t stared at the stars as he fell asleep. He’d always been a dreamer with a large imagination, but he’d never gotten anywhere with himself.

 

“Perhaps this girl will change something for you at last,” Siru chuckled. “If I’m lucky.”

Edited by Enly

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Chapter 10

 

“I thought we’d be moving on by now, it’s been two days since the attack. I’d think Mazhiez would go searching for answers,” Velor muttered to Meer as they sat among the rocks above Dra Leont.

 

After spending a day in the fort, they’d felt they should help out some until Mazhiez decided what to do. Taking shifts guarding the pass was not exactly the most exciting thing and it was terrifying to gaze at their city filled with monsters, but it was work and it made them feel useful.

 

“Mazhiez is pretty upset. He just needs some time to recover,” Meer pointed out as he twirled an arrow in his hands. Most of the monsters had given up on making feeble periodic assaults on them. That was a good thing, seeing as the pass wouldn’t be held long against any real attack.

 

“He seems fine enough when we go to the fort, what are they’re calling it again?” Velor tossed pebbles between his red tinged hands and dropped them boredly to the ground far below.

 

“Telmont, at least the stone one will be named that once they knock down the wooden stuff they threw up. And Mazhiez was still running on the adrenaline of battle. He and his sister were close, her death hit him hard.”

 

“Death? Who said she’s dead?” Velor snapped his palm shut and clutched angrily at the pebbles while he turned to glared at Meer, he knew Kiylee as well and would have his own grief over her death.

 

“Oh be realistic Velor! No one but us made it out of the city, Iscalrith and Dra Syn have confirmed that.” Meer countered, he didn't know Kiylee as well and didn't understand why Velor, Mazhiez, and several others refused to accept the truth.

 

“There are always the boats,” Velor asserted grumpily, with an arrogant attitude.

 

“The boats that were being thrown into the water by giants and were surrounded by black ships filled with dragons and cyclops?” sighed Meer. Both he and Velor were confident they were right, despite the fact they saw hope or despair in the other's argument.

 

Velor quieted and stared out at the city again. The draegoni flags had been torn down and the gates lay broken on the ground, it pained him so much to look at it. He couldn't see the docks, but he could imagine them. Recalling how he could once stare into the smooth surface of the calm water and see his green haired reflection stare back, he tried not to think of the foul ships and muck of the monsters that now filled the beautiful waters.

 

“What about the docks on the north pier?” the thought came to Velor suddenly as he imagined the city at its finest.

 

“They’ve been unused since the construction on that temple, by request of the city council,” pointed out Meer.

 

“Yes, but there were still a couple boats there no? And the dock is far enough north that they might have made it out around the invaders.”

 

“Meer!” an approaching draegoni interrupted their conversation.

 

“Zyque!” Meer smiled broadly and jumped up to embrace the draegoni. Velor stood and turned around.

 

“And who might this be?” Velor questioned.

 

“My cousin,” Meer smiled. “He has been on Seridia for quite some time now. When’d you get back?” He questioned Zyque.

 

“About a week ago, I was in Glacmor with my brother for awhile, then I was called out here to help build the fort.”

 

“It’s good to see you again cousin,” Meer tried to smile again, he was overjoyed to see his cousin, yet the city in the distance prevented the mirth from crossing his face.

 

“You as well, and it’s a pleasure to meet you,” Zyque looked questionably for a name as he turned towards Meer's companion.

 

“Velor,” the tall draegoni muttered grouchily. All these new people around coming in from different duties, he didn’t like not knowing everyone.

 

“Don’t mind him he is just a grouch,” Meer instructed.

 

“I must sadly admit however that I did not come up here solely to say hello. Mazhiez spoke for the first time since this morning, he has some sort of news,” Zyque admitted.

 

“News?” Velor questioned. “How did he get news?”

 

“Haven’t a clue but I’d like to find out what it is and he wouldn’t say a word until Durron gathered all his bunch. So I came and got you two,” explained Zyque.

 

“I suppose he wants that lot of orchans and dwarves to come with us wherever he decides to go then,” Velor sighed, tossing the last of his handful of pebbles over the cliff.

 

“Go? Won’t he stay and help the draegoni?” Zyque asked puzzled.

 

“You obviously don’t know Mazhiez,” Velor shook his green haired head and went to go find the captain in charge of the draegoni on watch, to explain they were needed elsewhere.

 

 

*****

 

The three draegoni wandered into the small tent camp that Durron and Mazhiez’s assorted companions had set up. Both leaders obviously had dedicated comrades that would follow them anywhere.

 

“There you are,” Mazhiez grumbled. “That makes twenty eight, plus Meer’s cousin and we have twenty nine, everyone is here.”

 

“Now will you tell us what you called this stupid meeting for?” Jeeve groused. The past couple days spent waiting for news and commands at the fort, with the lingering shock and grief, seemed to have put everyone in a bad mood.

 

“Are orchans always so rude?” Velor snapped at the bulky bald figure.

 

“Are you always so dense?” Jeeve countered, his almond colored eyes ablaze with anger at the impertinent draegoni.

 

“Quiet!” Durron roared, glaring past his thick black eyebrows. “Can’t you all learn to get along or do we have to give you time outs every five minutes?”

 

“Forgive me master dwarf, but I am not accustomed to spending time with orchans, dwarves and the few humans among you. And now that I have to I’m glad I never did before,” Velor sneered.

 

“Velor that is enough,” Mazhiez glared. “We will work with Durron and his men, or we will join the draegoni regulars. I think I know which choice you prefer.”

 

With a huff Velor seated himself on a stone along with the rest of the group.

 

“There, now that we’ve all calmed down,” Mazhiez gave Velor a nasty look. “I received some news from Annaeh and Assain: there is trouble at the port, as well as a boat from Dra Leont.”

 

Uproar ensued, Mazhiez’s men immediately dying to know about the ship. Who had been on it?

 

Durron’s men wanted to know how in the world he had gotten word from the twins. And soon enough the whole group was yelling at each other over how stupid their questions were.

 

Durron watched the scene grimly, and then turned to Mazhiez who was seated right next to him. The draegoni had his head in his hands.

 

“It was your idea,” the dwarf grumbled. Mazhiez knew he had meant it to be more of a joke, yet recent events did not make such things easy.

 

“I had hoped they’d work out their differences more easily then this. I’m not so sure any of them really understand the enormity of what happened in Dra Leont.”

 

“Do any of us?” Durron pointed out. “Let me handle this, they'll cool down easy enough. They're all just uptight and worried after everything in Dra Leont, but they know their place. You go talk to Sam and explain our plans.”

 

“Thanks,” Mazhiez said, rubbing his forehead. “I’m not quite ready to yell and get them all in line yet.”

 

“That’s what you have me for,” Durron sighed.

 

The dwarf watched his tall friend stand and slip away toward the fort and then turned to establish some sort of order and explain what was going on.

 

Mazhiez made his way quickly away from the argument; he didn’t have the patience to deal with it at the moment.

 

“Sam?” he called hesitantly as he opened the door to one of the small wooden shacks.

 

“She’s in the third building on the right,” a draegoni informed him.

 

Whispering thanks Mazhiez closed the door and went to the building he had been directed to.

 

“Maz,” Sam nodded to him as he entered. As usual she was hard at work, and after greeting him she turned back to whatever she was doing, bowing her crimson haired head over a desk.

 

“I received word from Annaeh and Assain,” Mazhiez told her.

 

"Oh? I received no word a messenger had arrived." Sam glanced up curious.

 

"They sent a villager back on one of their horses, but he simply came to our camp then returned to the village the moment his message was delivered. I guess he didn't want to stay away from his friends and family long," explained Mazhiez.

 

"Very well, what did he say?" asked Sam, now giving Mazhiez her full attention rather than working at the same time.

 

"A dragon ship landed at the port and has trapped most of the villagers in their houses. Yet more important is that a draegoni ship from Dra Leont docked there before the monsters arrived. Some escaped the city!"

 

“Oh? Well we should send some troops up there right away shouldn’t we general?” She spoke.

Mazhiez started to say something else then glared as he realized Sam had just called him general.

 

“You will be resuming your duties as a general correct?” she asked. “I believe you are left as the highest ranking officer in all the draegoni lands with those generals at Dra Leont gone.”

 

“There is a reason I insisted on being referred to as Lord rather than General for all those years,” Mazhiez glowered, giving the shorter flame haired draegoni a glare.

 

“I would think it was time you put that aside and do your duty for your people.”

 

“My duty? For my people? What do I owe them? I pulled them through the invasions of humans in the Ice Wars and all the thanks I get are watching Jarraas be decorated with medals for bravery! That half assed fool never did a real day's work in his life and he gets credit for my deeds? I made an oath I would never serve the King and Council again and I intend to keep it.”

 

“Mazhiez,” Sam raised her voice agitated. “This isn’t about you or the draegoni! This is about Draia. You have a duty to use the skills you have to protect those in need.”

 

“Duty? Do not speak to me of duty Samara,” she cringed as he used her full name. “You have never seen true war; petty skirmishes and battles, nothing more. You speak to me of duty after you watch friends die because an idiot didn’t do what was needed fast enough.”

 

“I heard what happened to your friend Erresh and I’m sorry. But I also heard you refused to help Jarraas the night before the attack.”

 

“He was given the highest military position, it’s the council’s fault for appointing an idiot.”

 

“So you think it’s alright that those innocent people all died! What if you could have helped or changed something the night before? What if you’d listened to Jarraas. You are not the only one who lost friends and family in Dra Leont. You could have done something Mazhiez, there are people that would be alive now if you had helped.”

 

Mazhiez quivered with rage and grief. He could never explain it to Sam that no one regretted his choices more than him.

 

“I’ll take my men north to help the port,” he said quietly. “General Samara, please inform the king and council that I have officially resigned from my position and no doubt those that follow me north would appreciate the same service. I’ll let you know who is accompanying me.”

 

Sam watched without a word as Mazhiez turned and left. Then let a tear slip down her check. Her mother had been in Dra Leont and Mazhiez knew it.

 

Storming back into the tent camp, Mazhiez growled orders.

 

“Pack up we’re heading out!” he proclaimed. “I trust Durron explained everything.”

 

“I did,” said Durron coming out of a tent. "What’s the rush about?”

 

“We’re leaving,” Mazhiez responded simply.

 

“It’s late afternoon. We’ll get nowhere before it gets dark,” Velor complained.

 

“Then we will ride through the night, now get ready or you’re staying.”

 

The tent camp was down and packed within an hour and they were ready to move out when a group of soldiers came out of the fort.

 

“You’re abandoning your duty?” Zyque questioned.

 

“I am abandoning my position among the draegoni so that I may fight for Draia.”

 

“We’d like to come with you then,” one of Zyque’s companions stated.

 

“Well come along then. Perhaps we can all do more good defending Draia for Draia rather than riches for a foolish Draegoni government.”

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Chapter 11

 

Dew dripped off the leaves of a bush as a doe made its way silently through the woods. The leaves around it rustled and it froze for a moment as a snake slithered past. Once the animal was gone, however, it continued on its way, eventually coming to a quiet pond. It watched a figure near the pond for a moment, then slowly crept up to take a drink.

 

Cole watched as the deer lapped up some water then sauntered away to some other part of the forest. He let his feet dangle from the rock he was perched on, his boot tips barely touching the water.

 

He still hadn’t told his mother about the rumors he had heard coming from the north.

 

“I might as well just tell her,” he said to himself. “But I don’t want to worry her with rumors, especially when she has her hands full with this elf.”

 

“Talking to yourself again Cole?” a little elf boy wandered up.

 

“Jax,” Cole grinned. “Feeling better?”

 

“Yes, sir. Thank you.” Jax smiled. For some reason the boy had never seemed to dislike him as much as the other elves did.

 

“Shouldn’t you be wishing your sister a happy birthday?” Cole questioned.

 

“Well I already did, then she went to spend time with her friends, so I decided to take a walk.”

 

“You should go do something, go somewhere, don’t you have friends to play with and things to do?” asked Cole, feeling a pang of sympathy for the seemingly lonely boy. He knew all too well what it was like being left out.

 

“But you don’t Cole, you just stay here. And unlike me you’re allowed to go wherever you want,” Jax countered.

 

Cole couldn't help but chuckle, Jax had a valid point and there was no denying it.

 

“You’re just too smart for me to tell what to do now aren’t you?” Cole jested. He had often spent time with Jax, who seemed to prefer a quiet, lonely, existance. He saw much of himself in the young elf boy, and enjoyed his company.

 

“Not really, I just learn things like that from you, that’s why I like spending time with you,” Jax smiled and sat down next to Cole. It seemed they both found solace in having a companion like themself.

 

 

*****

 

Siru let a sheet float slowly down then tucked it into the sides of Cole’s bed. She hadn’t had a chance to wash his things before he got back when the woman had needed her care. Time and time again Cole had begged her to let him do such things himself so that she need not waste her time. Yet Siru enjoyed simple tasks of cleaning and washing, and couldn't help but do them most of the time despite Cole's protests.

 

“Siru,” the elf called feebly from the other room. Her voice was hoarse and sounded exaughsted.

 

Siru rushed to check on her. “Awake again I see,” she smiled gently at the elf woman. The elf's blonde hair clung to her sweaty cheeks, and her eyes were shadowed.

 

“Do you have something I could drink? I’m parched,” she asked. There was a nervous note in her voice, as if she was afraid of being rude for asking for a simple drink.

 

“Of course, of course. No trouble at all,” Siru ran to fetch her some water. “I should get you something to eat as well,” she said as she got back. “You’ve not eaten since I found you, no way you can get better if you starve to death.”

 

“That would make all your work for nothing now wouldn’t it?” the elf grinned slightly, though there was still a deep sorrow in her eyes.

 

“Never for nothing,” Siru scolded gently. “Now let me go make you some soup. Not only are you pale as parchment you’re as thin as it to.”

 

Just as Siru handed the elf a bowl of soup, Cole came in the door.

 

“There you are,” Siru reprimanded him. “Where were you all morning?”

 

“I went for a walk and talked to Jax for awhile at the pond,” Cole explained. It astounded him how Siru could incessantly pester him to find a place in the world, yet still be so protective.

 

“Oh? Is he doing better?” Siru questioned. She was always worried about the wellbeing of everyone it seemed.

 

“Yes, he’s fine," Cole sighed. "It really wasn't anything a simple potion couldn't fix up."

 

Cole sat down at the kitchen table and then noticed the elf was awake in the next room. She was sitting up in her bed quietly eating a bowl of soup. She sensed someone was watching her and looked up.

 

“You must be Cole,” she smiled brightly. Her cheeks were beginning to brighten to a healthier color than their pale clamy shade. “Siru mentioned you earlier.”

 

“Yes, that’s me,” Cole stood and moved into her bedroom, Siru followed grinning. “My mother tells me you can’t remember anything?" Cole was curious if this was still true, or some remnant of her memory had returned. He was rather fascinated by the concept, he'd never met anyone who had lost their memory. No doubt it was frightening, but intruiging at the same time.

 

“I can remember many things, just nothing that tells me who I am or where I came from,” she frowned, staring at her hands. It was almost as if she was ashamed by her lack of memory.

 

“Let us think of happier things, like the fact that she is obviously doing better. This is the longest she’s been awake so far as I know. And her cough seems to have subsided a bit,” Siru happily announced. A silence had started to creep into the room, and she would not leave either of them to brood on dark things.

 

“Thank you so much for your care,” the elf expressed gratefully.

 

“You’re most welcome, now finish up that soup,” Siru instructed. As she spoke she moved to the window and adjust the curtains so that the bright morning sun streamed into the room, bathing everything in a cheerful glow.

 

“Of course, ma’am,” the elf nodded. The sunlight made her hair shine like gold, though it was somewhat tangled and unkept.

 

Cole slowly wandered out of the room, eventually followed by Siru.

 

“I heard some news while I was away,” Cole said heasitantly to his mother. They were rather far from the elf's room now, most likely out of earshot.

 

“Oh? What of?” Siru inquired curiously as she bustled about, cleaning up the remnats of the soup she had not given to the elf. “Another new ruler in Whitestone?" she wondered aloud. "Some sort of conflict somewhere? Perhaps those rotten elves in Tirnym crawled out of their holes?”

 

“No, none of those. There is trouble up north, as well as rumors of it to the west.” continued Cole, still heasitant to break the news to Siru, he didn't want her to give it unjust worry.

 

“What sort of trouble?” Siru stopped what she was doing to look at Cole suspiciously. She could tell he was holding something back.

 

“Boats that skim lightly above the water in the likeness of dragons and were filled with monsters," admitted Cole, knowing Siru would pester him until she had the whole story now. "Some even said there were dragons on the ships. Several of these boats landed along the northern coast in Corren, Mynadar, and Tarsengaard. Rumors of a few in Portland are about as well.”

 

“Monsters? Landing in ships on our coasts?” Siru looked very worried. “But where are they coming from? Surely not Irilion?” Who ever heard of the nations of Irilion launching such an attack on Seridia? What a prepostours concept! Siru thought to herself. For she could think of no other place they could have possibly come.

 

“I don’t know. Most of the cities were able to strike back against the monsters and destroy their ships, but not before all the passengers fled into the wild. Mynadar is having a hard time defending itself.”

 

“This is unsettling news, you don’t know more?” Siru demanded.

 

“No, that’s all I heard.” Cole shook his head and ran a hand through his black hair. "It was only rumors on the street really, nothing to be sure of," he added quickly.

 

“Well I’m sure the various warriors across our lands will take care of the monsters quickly." insisted Siru, in a feeble atempt to comfort herself. "At worst we can call to the lands of Irilion for help, unless of course they're the ones that sent them?” she frowned for a moment. "Oh how I do hate wars, I wish we could all just leave each other alone. But like I said, warriors will come, Portland has a fair amount of soldiers, Tarsengaard too."

 

“Why would they assist us? And would an elf of Tirnwood really stand by a human warrior of Portland to defend anyone? I’m worried the races of Seridia are too far separated to act cohesively as one,” Cole explained agitated. “That’s why this news troubles me so.”

 

“It troubles me as well, Cole, yet I can do little about it but worry.”

 

 

*****

 

“Sir?” the head of a smiling gnome peeked through the bars at Mortos. “I thought I’d come keep you company, must be lonely in here.”

 

Mortos rubbed his forehead, he’d nearly forgotten that stupid gnome. What had his name been? He couldn’t remember, but he surely didn’t want that annoying little mortal keeping him company.

 

“Remember me?” he asked with a smile. His eyes bright and friendly behind small round glasses.

 

“Yes,” grunted Mortos.

 

“Oh good, Nelibonaplino at your service once again,” he smiled brightly, extending a hand towards Mortos. Mortos however ignored the gesture, and stared at the floor. Disapointed the gnome pulled his hand back through the bars.

 

Nel, Mortos thought to himself, that was what the gnome had called himself. What an absurdly long name he had, Mortos couldn’t understand why the other gods seemed to like these mortals so much.

 

“I was curious. if you’re Mortos, why are you here on Draia?" the gnome asked abruptly. "Shouldn’t you be with the other gods or attending to some godly business? What sorts of things do you gods do in your spare time anyway? Do you even have spare time or are you always attending to the problems of your worshipers? That seems to me like it would be quite fun to be able to fix everyone’s problems with just a snap of your fingers. Of course I suppose you can’t always fix everything or else one of the other gods would be mad about it. I really don’t see why you all have so much conflict amongst yourselves. Really I think there would be a lot you could do to better Draia if you worked together. Take my uncle for example he was a good gnome. A bit insane maybe, and he had that funny crooked eye but he was a fine uncle. He had this wonderful red tunic, I wonder-”

 

“SHUT UP!” Mortos roared in anger. Nel stopped talking and jumped slightly, rather flustered at the god's behavior. Mortos growled and put his head in his hands. This gnome was making his headache come back with no effort at all. He had always loathed gnomes, such happy smiling faces and a tendency to love everyone. This one definitely loved to talk.

 

“You feeling alright sir?” Nel questioned worried.

 

“I’ll be fine as long as you…” Mortos paused. He was going to say as long as he kept quiet. Yet this gnome seemed to be quite the gullible trusting mortal. Perhaps he could convince him. “I’d be much better if I could venture outside actually,” Mortos said quickly changing what he had been about to say. He doubted the gnome would help , but it was worth a shot.

 

“Oh, perhaps I should have a word with the mayor. Maybe he can let you have a bit of time outside.” Nel smiled eager to help to Mortos surprise.

 

“No, I think it would be fine if you just opened the cell yourself. The keys are probably in the front room somewhere.” Mortos said, trying to seem as honest as possible.

 

“But aren’t you supposed to be locked up?” asked Nel dubiously, adjusting his glasses with a frown.

 

“Oh it's just a precaution, there isn’t anyone guarding me you know. If they really wanted me locked up they’d have posted a guard. I don’t think the mayor would mind if you let me out.” insisted Mortos, putting on the best smile he could muster, though it didn't come out quite as friendly as he'd hoped.

 

Nel however didn't seem to notice the odd smile and simply looked at Mortos thoughtfully then turned to peer into the front room of the small jail. He could see the keys lying on the table from where he sat. “Well, I don’t suppose it would hurt, I mean you are a god after all…”

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Chapter 12

 

Mazhiez walked purposefully through the snowy night. Stars twinkled down on the group behind him who were equally silent.

 

Mazhiez looked menacing in the night with his white armor edged with fur. The other draegoni wore various types of armament yet they all had the same look about them. Teams of dogs pulled several sleds with various packs belonging to an assortment of people. Several draegoni guided those while everyone else walked.

 

Travel was slow and uncomfortable for the draegoni since they all wore full armor. Yet no one knew how many monsters might have slipped into Iscalrith from Dra Leont or how many had ventured south from the port, not to mention the yetis of Iscalrith.

 

Already dawn was beginning to break and Mazhiez could tell they were drawing near the port. Mazhiez slowed, as did the rest of the group.

 

Quietly the group drew nearer to the port city which was enveloped in a thick fog. Mazhiez was about to call a halt so they could plan their approach when something large and green passed through the trees to his right. The group froze, staring into the woods.

 

Mazhiez heard a scuffle behind him and turned to see what caused the noise, yet before he could make out anything, he felt something cold and scaly hit him in the side. Mazhiez was thrown from his feet and found himself nearly buried in a snowdrift. His side was on fire as he rolled over to look up.

 

A deep forest green colored dragon had used its tail to knock him to the ground. A group of ogres had surrounded them and everyone had been scattered with either ogres or the dragon separating them from companions to fight with. Crawling to his feet, Mazhiez looked for Durron, but he couldn't see him.

 

Gasping and collapsing against a tree, Mazhiez grasped his side, he must have broken something. Gritting his teeth, Mazhiez pulled himself up again and drew his sword. The dragon turned deep brown eyes toward him and shoved a group of ogres aside.

 

The ogres screeched and scattered causing the circle around Mazhiez's companions to break. The dwarves quickly scattered to attack the ogres from behind and several draegoni disappeared, headed toward the distant outline of buildings.

 

Raising a huge claw, the dragon made to strike down Mazhiez, but it howled as something cut into the pad of its foot. Furious, it backed up to locate its attacker. Seeing no one, it started to move toward Mazhiez again, but arrows assailed it from behind and it turned to attack whoever had shot them.

 

Mazhiez jumped as he felt a tap on his shoulder and looked down past red bangs to the grinning eyes of Samara.

 

"Sam?" Mazhiez asked shocked. "What on Draia are you doing here?"

 

"I came with Zyque's friends. You didn't think I'd let you go off slaying monsters without someone to watch over you?" She asked.

 

Mazhiez caught his breath as she grabbed his hand and started to guide him away from the dragon. His side protested immensely as he tried to follow.

 

"Stop, Sam." Maz halted yanking her to a halt which jolted his ribs again sending a fresh stab of pain through his side. "I've got to help."

 

"You're injured. Come on. The others are scattering into the village as well, they'll be alright" she insisted.

 

"Why did you leave? The draegoni need you to lead their armies," Mazhiez hissed as he followed her through the fog.

 

"And they didn't need you?" Sam snapped back. "That general in Dra Syn, Zartou, will be capable of taking charge."

 

"He's young, though, and inexperienced," Mazhiez protested.

 

"Think about your own decision before you judge mine Maz!" she said angrily.

 

Mazhiez went silent and they soon came upon a house.

 

"Maz!" Durron abruptly came out of the house in front of them. "Maz, that brick head Velor went charging off toward the dragon ship. What in Aluwen's name is he doing?"

 

Sam and Mazhiez stumbled into the house and Durron shut the door behind them. Jeeve was inside along with several residents of the village.

 

"What do you mean Velor went to the dragon ship?" Maz asked, shaking snow from his hair.

 

"Just what I said. We came in here and these residents told us there was a dragon ship docked at port. They said it looked as if the monsters were guarding something on the boat. Velor ran off to try and find out what it was," Durron explained quickly.

 

"He wouldn't listen to Durron when he asked him to wait," Jeeve added. "Said it could be something important, and if it was, the ship would leave before anyone could find out."

 

Mazhiez sighed and eased himself into a chair.

 

"You're injured?" Durron asked worried. Mazhiez nodded in response, his side still hurt horribly.

 

"I'm a healer," volunteered one of the residents huddled in the house. "Not very good, but I might be able to ease the pain."

 

"Help him," Durron motioned. "Our own healer is still in the snow somewhere."

 

The young human man nodded and went to help Mazhiez.

 

"Sam?" Durron noticed Mazhiez's companion surprised.

 

"Yes," she said plainly, not elaborating on her presence. Durron raised an eyebrow but did not question further. In only a few minutes, Mazhiez was on his feet again. The man had eased the pain considerably, but it was still sore and wasn't truly healed either.

 

"I have to go after Velor," Mazhiez announced. "There's no doubt many monsters or some other foul warriors are on that ship. I can't let him charge in there alone." Even though his main intent was to protect his friend, he couldn't help share the desire of Velor to find out more about these ships.

 

Jeeve frowned, no doubt unhappy with the idea of going to rescue Velor rather than locating the others scattered throughout the village.

 

"I'll come with you," Sam adjusted her sword and stood.

 

"And I as well," Durron added.

 

With a sigh, Jeeve stood up next to Durron, his silent admission that he would help.

 

Mazhiez nodded curtly and opened the door to the fog again. As they filed out, closing the door behind them as the residents watched quietly, they headed for the dragon ship looming in the waters of the port.

 

"Why did he run off so recklessly anyway? I mean, he's like that sometimes, but that was just plain dumb," Sam pointed out as they made their way toward the boat, trying to avoid the sight of various monsters lurking throughout the village. There was a howl and an ogre fell to the snow near them, stabbed to death by a villager. Far away past several houses Mazhiez thought he saw a glimpse of green, and after he heard a roar, and saw a house erupt into flames, he was certain he had not been mistaken. The villager who had just killed the ogre rushed towards the sound, ignoring Mazhiez and his companions.

 

"Did the villagers say anything else?" Maz questioned as he watched the villager run towards the blaze, and the sound of screams. He wanted to go help, yet he didn't want to let Velor get himself hurt. "Anything that might have made him run off like that?"

 

Durron hesitated. "Well, apparently one of the villagers claimed he overheard some dark elves discussing some sort of creature being held on the ship."

 

"And now he's run off on some heroic mission to find out what it is and could get himself killed," Sam sighed.

 

"That's Velor for you," Mazhiez growled.

 

The dragon ship was floating gently at the docks; a plank had been laid down from the deck to provide access. No one was there: no Velor nor anyone guarding the boat. The deck was empty as well.

 

Cautiously Mazhiez led the others onto the boat. Still there were no monsters in sight. Sam ran her hand along the dark wood railing on the edge of the ship; it was smooth and cold. Twin masts rose from the deck similar to any on a normal ship yet the prow was carved like the head of a dragon and the stern in the likeness of its wings brought together behind it. Both looked as if they actually had scales.

 

Durron quickly located a doorway to the lower decks near the stern. Hands on their weapons, they descended the stairs in search of Velor.

 

Sam coughed as the musty air assailed her the moment she entered the doorway. Sputtering lamps hanging from the ceiling dimly illuminated the stairway. The air was stale and possessed some awful, unidentifiable stench.

 

At the end of the stairs, a hallway opened up before them and Mazhiez led them deeper into the ship. There were doors all alongside them: most were locked. Those that weren't opened up only to empty rooms.

 

Still, no other living thing appeared as they found a stairway down to another level. This deck was identical to the last: musty, poorly lit, and utterly empty. The urge to call for Velor was nearly overwhelming, yet no one knew what might lurk behind the locked doors.

 

The ship was large and deep and they descended yet another stairway to a third empty deck. Halfway down the hallway Mazhiez found another unlocked door, slowly he turned the handle and pushed it inward.

 

As the light of the hallway spilled in, Velor was revealed nervously grasping his sword. Seeing whom it was he relaxed relieved.

 

"What did you think you were doing?" Mazhiez demanded furious.

 

"There's something on this ship Maz, something those monsters don't want us to find," Velor responded and turned to examine the empty wall behind him.

 

"It's a wall Velor, come on lets leave this place," Mazhiez insisted.

 

"No, there's something here I know it," Velor protested. Jeeve grumbled something but Velor decidedly ignored him.

 

"If there was anything worth finding on this ship there would be someone guarding it," Durron growled. "Now come on before that dragon and its ogres decide to check on their boat."

 

"They won't because there is someone guarding it already," sighed a still insistent Velor. He ran his hand carefully across the smooth dark wall. Kneeling, he did the same near the ground. Like all draegoni, he had inherent magic abilities, and though he may not have been overly skilled in spell casting, he had a great understanding of magic, and could sense its presence often.

 

Mazhiez was about to pick him up and drag him away when Velor grasped something: there was a click and the wall slid away. They stared surprised at the hallway before them; this one was well lit and had carvings of dragons around the doorways. Coarse laughter echoed from an open door ahead on their left.

 

Velor smirked satisfied at Mazhiez.

 

"Brilliant. My work is done. Shall we exit the vessel now?" Velor quietly remarked with obvious sarcasm. Jeeve glared at Velor, annoyed by the draegoni's sarcastic personality.

Mazhiez ignored him and crept down the hallway toward the open door. Peering into the room through the slightly ajar door he counted seven elves sitting around a table drinking and laughing.

 

Velor grinned widely at Mazhiez then darted around him to open the door and walked in.

 

"Good morning, gentlemen. Might one of you direct me to the nearest exit from this fine establishment?" The elves stood rapidly drawing their weapons and glaring at Velor.

 

"I suppose you think you're clever finding your way back here draegoni," one of them growled.

 

"Oh very much so," Velor grinned broadly. One of the elves attempted to attack him, but he dodged swiftly and drew his sword. Mazhiez, Durron, Jeeve, and Sam all entered the room at that moment as well. The elves panicked slightly, thinking they had only one to deal with, then attacked the others.

 

However, the slightly drunken elves were little match for Maz and his companions and Sam quietly stabbed the last one herself, then stared horrified at the bodies.

 

"Sam?" Velor asked worried. "You alright?"

 

"I... I've never actually," She stammered. "The last real war was The Ice Wars and I was too young to fight. I've only ever really killed monsters."

 

Mazhiez looked at her concerned. Velor however merely looked at her surprised and shrugged it off.

 

"You'll get used to it quickly," Velor muttered. "These are dark elven scum after all, don't feel sorry for this worthless bunch."

 

Sam, however, was not easily appeased and stared at the bodies again. The draegoni hadn't been at war for over 500 years, leaving only monsters to be killed by the majority of the draegoni soldiers. Even though Samara was a general, she had not actually killed another person before.

 

Mazhiez rested a gentle hand on her shoulder, the most comfort he felt he could give. He guided her calmly from the room back to the hallway.

 

Before he could work up the courage to say something, a voice came from beyond the door at the end of the hallway opposite from where they had entered.

 

"Who are you that have quarreled with my captors? I beseech that you may inform me: you were victorious?" the deep smooth voice carried into the room where the others were as well and they quickly exited. Sam clutched Mazhiez's hand. She was very edgy now; the fight had truly rattled her.

 

"We are three draegoni, an orchan, and a dwarf," Mazhiez responded. "Who, then, are you?" Mazhiez walked slowly to the end of the hallway. Velor came up beside him holding a key he had found on one of the elves.

 

"It is indeed correct therefore? These fell creatures have truly brought me to the lands of Irilion?" the voice asked surprised.

 

"Are you of Seridia?" Mazhiez questioned puzzled.

 

"No, I am Acantos of Lanterra. I pray you, free me and I shall be eternally grateful. I tire of this stale confinement."

 

Mazhiez took the key from Velor and opened the door; worried that it might be some trick, yet it was a choice he had to make, he couldn't simply leave some prisoner to rot on the ship.

 

The door swung open to reveal a small room. From the shadows within, a figure approached, far taller than them. As the light revealed him, Mazhiez found himself staring up at a creature with the legs and body of a chestnut horse from which rose the tan chest and head of a man. He had hair the color of his chestnut coat and deep brown eyes.

 

"Thank you," he said. "I perceive you are astounded at the sight of me. I would venture to suppose your lands have not beheld centaurs in countless centuries."

Edited by Enly

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Chapter 13

 

The moment Nel unlocked the cell, Mortos was out of it. His original plan had been to knock out or kill the gnome and just go on his way, yet he had a vague feeling that the gnome might be useful to keep around.

 

"I suppose I should go inform the mayor you're taking a walk," Nel suggested nervously as he watched Mortos begin to stock off so quickly. The gnome adjusted his glasses and twitched his nose slightly, as if attempting to get them to rest just right on his face.

 

"That won't be necessary, as I won't be going back to my cell," Mortos smirked slightly without turning and continued to stalk proudly away. The gnome's apparant naiveté amused him.

 

Nel dashed out after him, thoroughly worried now, and remotely regretting his decision to release Mortos. However this turn of events was thrilling and he couldn't truly complain too much, despite the pang of guilt in his chest.

 

As they came out of the building Mortos sucked in a large breath of the fresh air. "Bah, what a disgusting place. I knew you mortals were filthy, but even I didn't dare imagine anything that bad."

 

"Well you can't just leave. They have to decide what to do with you first," Nel pointed out, rushing around to stand in front of Mortos as he spoke, for he seemed reluctant to look at the gnome.

 

"I am a god, gnome, remember that," Mortos hissed angrily, turning away from Nel and looking around the city. "I shall go where I please and you mortals have no right to imprison me."

 

"Well I didn't imprison you, I'm just passing through, actually, on my way to Melinis, you see. I have a cousin that lives there, not a friendly place for gnomes really but he loves it. Something about the salt air makes him-"

 

Mortos cut him off.

 

"Silence, gnome." Mortos sighed, reluctantly returning his gaze to the short being so as to be certain he heard what he said. "I don't want to listen to your babble."

 

"Forgive me, sir, but my name is Nel," he said politely, placing his hand over a red and white scarf hanging around his neck and onto his chest as he referenced himself. "Not 'gnome'."

 

"Very well, Nel." sighed Mortos, waving the gnome's comment away, quite disgusted by this mortal and the nerve he had. "Silence yourself. I need to plan what to do next."

 

"Would you like to come to Melinis with me?" Nel was forced to scramble around to place himself in front of Mortos again, as the god kept turning away. "There's a port there; you could sail nearly anywhere you wanted," Nel asked hopefully, delighted by the prospect of traveling with a god.

 

"I will not be traveling with you gnome," glared Mortos, staring down at the gnome. "Nel," he corrected himself, wondering why he had bothered after he did so. Frustrated, he began to walk away.

 

"Well, while you were in jail there for a day or so, the city received some news. Something has gone wrong in the draegoni lands, apparently one of their cities was attacked by a fleet of black dragon ships," mentioned Nel, scurrying along behind him while wringing his hand nervously, obviously quite worried by the prospects of fleets of foul creatures attacking cities, anyone would be.

 

"What?" Mortos had been making his way out of the city, through the gate unguarded by the mayor, but now he stopped dead. "Black ships with monsters? Where did they come from?" he demanded.

 

"Well I certainly don't know much, only rumors, and no one can think of where they'd come from, certainly not Seridia or Irilion." Stammered Nel, quite thrown off by this god he couldn't seem to manage to compose himself.

 

Mortos frowned. Of course, the mortals here don't know about Lanterra and the centaurs, they won't have known what happened, he thought to himself.

 

"Where did you say they attacked?" Mortos questioned, turning for the first time to show quite genuine interest in what the gnome had to say.

 

"Dra Leont, the rumors go that the city was completely overrun, nearly everyone in it was killed." Nel said, quite emboldened by the sudden show of interest from Mortos. He even managed to stop wringing his hands and fussing with his glasses.

 

"I'll have to find a ship then and head south as fast as possible," Mortos muttered to himself, briefly forgetting about Nel. He'd have to think of a way to regain his godly powers, yet for now he could extract revenge on the other gods by leading that army against the races of Irilion and Seridia. The only problem will be wresting command from Uarvan, he thought to himself. He looked down at his plain black clothes and unremarkable shoes, it seemed his transformation from god to mortal had left him with nothing but mortal clothes. Except for his height, he was nothing remarkable. Giving and inward sigh he scratched his head, he'd have to fix that before encountering Uarven. And how could he establish control even if he claimed to be a god as he was? Surely they would notice he was without his godly powers.

 

"Well Melinis is by far the nearest docks," Nel pointed out, oblivious to Mortos's inner frustrations and confusions. "No doubt you can find a boat that will take you south from there."

 

Sighing frustrated Mortos began to walk quickly to the east, there didn't seem to be a way around it really. He needed a ship and Melinis was indeed the nearest docks. And the gnome could be useful, wouldn't hurt to have a mortal around who had always lived in the lands and knew them well. Everything was so much different when he was stuck in one place like a mortal. He didn't know how they could possibly live this way.

 

"Very well then Nel," Mortos gritted his teeth, hating what he was about to say. "I'll go to Melinis with you, but you can keep your mouth shut all the way there."

 

"Oh don't worry!" Nel proclaimed excited, adjusting his small brown pack and hurrying after Mortos. It was very difficult for the short legged gnome to keep up with Mortos's long stride. "I'm not annoying in the least, you'll have a good enjoyable travel to be sure. If you were going with my mother, though, now that's a different story. There was always something about her voice..."

 

Mortos sighed again and rubbed his still sore forehead. The gnome's words began to fall on deaf ears as the unlikely pair made its way east through the dreary heat toward the city of Melinis.

 

 

*****

 

"Elandria," Unolas acknowledged her with a nod of his head as she entered his library. It was a grand hall with many books and everything any mage could ever dream of.

 

"Unolas," she responded with a similar nod-like bow. "Centau's condition troubles me. The already thin thread of life he clings to grows weaker with every passing moment, I fear he has little time left." She said sadly as she crossed the room to stand near him.

 

Unolas stared away for a moment, his mind wandering.

 

"Something is amiss," he said at last, looking back to Elandria, she was studying him closely, a slight frown was on her face. "I don't believe locking away Mortos has resolved our problems."

 

As he spoke another god joined them. Zarin looked angry and frustrated, she paced back and forth in a crimson gown.

 

"That beast Uarvan has led those creatures to Irilion, they're now wreaking havoc there as well. They slaughtered the residents of Dra Leont, defiling that beautiful city," she proclaimed, thoroughly enraged.

 

"Yes, they will cause the same destruction on those lands as they did in Lanterra," Unolas admitted, stroking his beard, something needed to be done.

 

"Uarvan and his armies managed to convince those dreadful dark elves on the Varesh coast of Lanterra to join with him and now they're making even more of those hideous boats. They're destroying so many beautiful things, they must be stopped," Zarin seethed angrily.

 

"Should we not give the races a chance to defend themselves? As of yet only a fraction of the monsters or the Varesh elves have left Lanterra perhaps the majority will remain there and those on Irilion can be defeated by the mortals," Elandria suggested. "We risk causing more problems if we again intervene."

 

"And if we don't? And the same thing that befell Lanterra happens to Irilion and soon Seridia? What then? Shall we all lie dying alongside Centau?" Zarin countered, glaring at Elandria.

 

"As I tried to suggest to Jayden, I believe we should hold council once more. We may need to free Mortos again in order to solve the problem," suggested Unolas warily, not sure of the reaction his comment might recieve.

 

"Free him?" Zarin asked shocked. "That will only cause more problems. You cannot possibly think that would be a valid solution? That would be madness!"

 

"I do not know yet, that is why we must hold council," Unolas insisted, he should have expected as much from Zarin. "Things are terribly amiss, I do not believe imprisoning Mortos has solved any of our problems. Indeed I think it has made them worse. We must meet and discuss these things."

 

"I will come again to council," Elandria assured him.

 

"As will I," Zarin added reluctantly, she at least saw the need to dicuss matters further. "Yet the others will not be so willing."

 

"We need Aluwen to help us convince them," Unolas mentioned. "We must go find her."

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Chapter 14

 

Siru opened the door to her home and stared shocked inside. The elf she had found in the forest had been up that morning when she left, but now she stood before her cleaning dishes with a wet rag.

 

“My goodness child, whatever are you doing?” Siru cried out as she entered and removed her cloak.

 

“Why I’m only cleaning the dishes ma’am.” She responded with a sweet smile. “I do hope that’s alright?”

 

“Alright? Well I’m not averse to someone doing the dishes, but why ever did you feel compelled to clean them.

 

Where is that boy Cole, he shouldn’t have let you do such a thing,” Siru’s glare swept the room and she located Cole staring at her from the table. Siru took a breath to say something and Cole bent down and spooned soup into his mouth, so as to render himself unable to respond.

 

“Colenen, boy, what has become of your manners? Letting a lady, our guest, clean dishes like a common housewife while you sit and dine on your supper?” demanded Siru.

 

Cole gulped and swallowed his soup. He was really in trouble now; Siru rarely used his full name.

 

“Oh ma’am please don’t blame Cole. I just really needed something to do. I feel so awful for accepting all your hospitality and not doing anything for you in return. I do hope you’ll forgive me and not blame Cole,” the elf interrupted.

 

“Very well dear, I suppose there is no harm in a few clean dishes.” Siru deposited her cloak near the door and went to help the elf finish wiping down the last few dishes.

 

“I’ve been thinking, I still remember nothing of who I am and I really wish I could be called something besides dear and child all the time,” the elf admitted.

 

“What a horrible thing to not even remember one's own name, I am so sorry child,” Siru said.

 

“It is, but, seeing as I have no recollection whatsoever of who I am, I believe it's time to start over again. And I need a name.”

 

“Quite right you do, let's see.” Siru began suggesting several different names.

 

Cole watched silently from the table. It was odd to sit there and watch the pair discuss a name for her, trying to name a grown woman. Now that was a sight Cole hadn’t seen before. Siru was beginning to run out of ideas after a few minutes, the elf kept sighing and saying no, that just didn’t seem like a name for her.

 

“I would think there really only is one name for each person on Draia,” Cole butted into the conversation. “No doubt everything will seem wrong to you except your birth-name. Perhaps a true name isn’t in order at all, perhaps something else.”

 

“Something else? Such as?” Siru questioned.

 

“Go by Resia,” Cole suggested.

 

The elf looked thoughtfully at him considering it “Resia. It means 'to forget' in the old elvish tongue. Indeed, I do like the sound of it.” She finished the last dish and put the rag down.

 

“You shall be called Resia then,” Siru smiled. “And my dear Resia, Cole and I shall be overjoyed to help you build a new life here in Tirnwood, or wherever you choose, if you desire to go in search of more answers about yourself.”

 

“If, if it doesn’t trouble you too much. I do feel like this is where I am meant to be right now. I can’t explain it, yet I feel as if perhaps the gods have led me to be here,” Resia said quietly as she went to seat herself at the table.

 

“The gods never led a mortal anywhere,” Cole growled. “They do naught but cause trouble when meddling in mortal affairs.”

 

“Keep your tongue, Cole. You know the gods are very real and I highly doubt they’d like such talk,” Siru scolded, joining Cole and Resia at the table.

 

“Oh they are real, but what makes them worthy of worship?” Cole inquired.

 

“What are you saying?” asked Resia puzzled.

 

“He’s just gone off on one of his philosophical views of the world again,” Siru sighed, picking up some quilting sitting near the table. She seemed to be in constant motion. “If you can’t prove it with lots of long words and beat him in a debate about it, you shouldn’t believe it.”

 

“Oh,” Resia proclaimed softly. Her eyes follow Siru’s hands as they worked on the quilt.

 

“Oh hush, both of you,” Siru chided. “Cole, there is a new priestess wandering around Tirnwood. She goes by the name Ettena. I surely have never heard of her nor has anyone else. Yet she seems to be a powerful priestess of Aluwen. You’d do good not to displease her.”

 

“Perhaps I shall go engage her in a verbal debate about the legitimacy of her goddess,” Cole grinned.

 

“Oh no you don’t Cole,” Siru glared.

 

“Come now, you know I fear the gods, even respect them, but I like to make people think about it. They must have a valid reason for their worship,” Cole pointed out.

 

Siru frowned sadly as Cole jumped up and left the house.

 

“That boy... One of these days he’s going to come face to face with a god no doubt and he’ll regret every word he has said,” Siru said.

 

Resia smiled and stared out the window as Cole headed off to find that priestess.

 

 

*****

 

Mazhiez stared speechlessly at the centaur standing before him. It was one of the most glorious sights he had ever seen.

 

“A… a centaur?” Sam stammered. “Centaurs… they’re… I thought they were only legends.”

 

“Yet I stand before you in this moment making it known to you that I am in no way unreal,” the centaur told them. “There were a great many Centaurs in Lanterra before fell things came.” His voice was deep, deeper than that of most men. And he had a thick accent which forced them to listen carefully to understand his words. “I am pleased you comprehend my speech, however, I did fear that perhaps common had died out or become much different in these lands. No doubt the Centaur tongue is one which has long before this perished in time for your peoples.”

 

“Lanterra?” Jeeve asked puzzled.

 

“I perceive you all have many inquiries. I shall have them and I will attempt to inform you of those answers which I know. However we must leave this ship in much haste.” The centaur said.

 

“Very well, Centaur, we shall leave. I doubt any of us are enjoying it here.”

 

“As I have already spoken to you, my name is Acantos,” he glared at Velor. “If we may, I would wish to retrieve my weapons before fleeing this vessel.”

 

“Of course,” Mazhiez nodded. He was eager to leave and didn't think now was the time to stand around chatting with a Centaur. Though the idea of arming this threatening figure was slightly unnerving, Mazhiez hoped that an enemy of his enemy would not turn against him. “Where are they?”

 

“They should lie in this compartment,” Acantos nodded to a door to the right of his prison. He reached out to turn the handle, yet it was locked. Without waiting to see if they had the keys he backed up and smashed it down using his forelegs.

 

“Why didn’t you just do that with your door?” Velor muttered. Mazhiez gave Velor a glare, which his friend ignored.

 

“Because the ship would not allow my own confinement to be so weak,” Acantos said simply. He ducked slightly and entered the dark room.

 

“The ship?” Velor looked puzzled at the others. Sam, Durron and Jeeve shrugged it off, attributing the strange statement to Acantos's odd speech. Acantos had referred to the ship almost as if it were a person, which was a rather uncomfortable concept. Mazhiez wasn't paying attention, he was nervously looking around. Somehow, it was odd that those six elves had been the only ones on the ship, and he was keeping a hand near his sword.

 

Acantos quickly came out of the darkness again; he now held a long bow, a quiver full of arrows, and sword and belt. “I now possess my belongings. Let us make haste to exit this vessel,” he insisted.

 

Mazhiez was dying for answers to his questions but kept his mouth shut. He turned to retreat down the hallway and back toward the main deck. They left the passageway and found themselves in the long hallway on the third deck down again. Quickly they ascended stairs up a level and then another. The centaur struggled slightly in the narrow curved staircases but kept up easily enough. They were now one deck below the main and the Centaur seemed quite frantic to get out.

 

“Hurry,” he hissed. “It’s a miracle It hasn’t halted us yet.”

 

Velor stared completely bewildered at the Centaur.

 

“What’s ‘It’?” he hissed curious, Acantos did not respond. Abruptly there was a slight rocking of the ship and the soft thunk of wood.

 

“No,” Acantos breathed worried.

 

Mazhiez reached the end of the hallway first. He hadn't been listening to Acantos and Velor's whispered words, but when he reached the stairway to the main deck, he realized it was not there. “What?” Mazhiez stared puzzled. “I’m sure we came back the exact way we came in, where is that staircase to the main deck?” He looked around confused, yet saw nothing but the dark walls and his equally puzzled companions.

 

“You returned the proper direction. The ship has removed our exit,” Acantos sighed. Mazhiez eyed the centaur suspiciously, his talk of the ship echoed of magic. Mazhiez disliked magic, it was nearly impossible to fight.

 

“What?” Velor asked bewildered. “You talk of this boat as if it were alive,” laughed Velor.

 

Acantos turned his dark gaze towards Velor again. “In almost every form of that utterance you can imagine, yes. Yes, this ship is indeed alive.”

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Chapter 15

 

Unolas paced the meeting place of the gods anxiously. He didn’t know what to do. Jayden had flatly refused to come. She said there was no need and not even Aluwen could convince her otherwise. Zarin sat quietly awaiting the return of Elandria who had gone to fetch Aluwen, she had not responded to their attempts to contact her.

 

Selain had slinked up several minutes ago, always curious what disasters were afoot, and that was all who was here. None of the other gods wanted to listen to Unolas’s fears, yet he had good reason for them.

 

“What reasons do you have to assume things have gone wrong?” Selain demanded, knowing that Unolas always had them.

 

“Reasons?” Unolas stopped pacing and stared at him. “I’m sure you know well what reasons I have Selain. Something is wrong and no doubt you’re at the heart of it.”

 

“There is no trouble impending so far as I know, Unolas, so I repeat my question: what are your reasons for this council?”

 

“Uarvan did not loose control of his armies as we had hoped when we locked away Mortos. In-fact, he drew more factions of humans and elves under his command besides just monsters. They have reached Irilion and are causing the same destruction there that they did on Lanterra. Do you have any idea how many monsters lurk in the dark caverns beneath the shattered empires of Lanterra? Hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, and more and more are finding their way to the surface. Only a small fraction of those have sailed to the other continents, and even those the mortals cannot hold back. We cannot control Mortos’s foul creatures, and they have not stopped,” Unolas ranted, then paused. “We must speak with him and have him agree to confine the monsters to Lanterra in return for his freedom.”

 

“We cannot release him!” Zarin cried. “He will not uphold his promise and will only cause more problems again! I will not be a part of his release.”

 

“You cannot even convince a few gods to come to council, how do you hope to convince them to release Mortos?” Selain laughed.

 

“Aluwen will agree with me, at least on the matter that something still needs to be done, she is wise. She will help me convince all of you that we have not solved any problems,” Unolas said confidently.

 

“I cannot find Aluwen,” Elandria said abruptly joining them. “All attempts to call her have failed and she is not to be found anywhere in the divine realms. I have searched thoroughly.”

 

“She’s around here somewhere,” Zarin growled. “I’ll search myself.”

 

“No, she is not here,” Elandria, said simply. “Believe me. I am sure of it.”

 

“No matter, she is likely just somewhere in the mortal realms. It won’t be to hard to locate her,” Unolas sighed.

 

“I do not sense her anywhere,” Elandria said slightly worried. “I even visited some of her temples and more common places she goes to in the mortal realms, I cannot find her.”

 

“Here you all are, squabbling over nothing,” Jayden had abruptly joined them, to everyone’s surprise.

 

“I thought you would not come,” Unolas stated.

 

“I’m not coming for council, I’m coming to remind you that Aluwen has been to the ends of Draia and back with no contact with the rest of us recently in search of some way to help Centau. I knew you’d all be looking for her and be all worked up about her absence, mostly you Unolas, with all your prophecies of doom, and no doubt you’ve already infected Elandria with them as well. The mortals will hold their own against Mortos's foul creations, the peoples of Irilion and Seridia know far more about the ways of war than those of Lanterra did,” Jayden said confidently.

 

“She will find no cure for Centau. He is dying, as will more of us if we release Mortos again,” insisted Zarin.

 

“Release Mortos?” Jayden turned shocked to Unolas. “Your idea no doubt?”

 

“Yes my idea. Centau lays dying, a god, dying! His life will slip away along with that of the last centaur, Acantos. What will happen to the rest of us when Uarvan leads his armies of men, elves, and monsters to wipe out our own races?”

 

“Uarvan is a brute, highly intelligent for an orc perhaps, and unnaturally strong, but he cannot lead armies to destroy races without the guidance of his god,” Jayden insisted. “I suggest you all return to your own business, harmony has been restored. The monsters do attack Irilion, but without evil there would be no balance in Draia, and balance there is now,” With that Jayden left them, Selain quickly followed, disinterested in more discussion. Some of the gods chose to ignore the current predicament in Irilion, insisting the situation would right itself, and that the scales of balances would tip in both directions as time went by. For the moment, the gods seemed in balance with each other, and beyond that, some of them refused to consider.

 

“Perhaps Jayden is right, you are worried about nothing,” Zarin admitted.

 

Unolas frowned, the words of Jayden made sense, but something was not right, he could feel it. He would go to speak with Centau, he may be weak and dying, but perhaps he yet held wisdom and good council. And he dearly hoped Aluwen would return soon from whatever venture she was on, perhaps she would not agree to release Mortos, but she would surely see that things were not right.

 

*****

The priestess Ettena was quietly wandering the borders of Tirnwood, Cole watched her from a distance amazed. She walked so softly across the grass and when Cole looked closer he realized she had no shoes on; her sandals were held in her hands. She wore a white dress embroidered with golden and green vines around the sleeves and neck; she was more beautiful than he had first thought Resia was.

 

Dying to have an intelligent conversation with her, he approached, not caring what Siru thought of his tendency to question the beliefs of others.

 

 

*****

 

Several hours later he made his way home, it was nearly dark now and a few stars were coming out. Tirnwood was so peaceful in the evenings, the thought of the monsters up north worried him. What would Tirnwood be like if the battles came here? He pushed the thought from his mind and entered his home.

 

“My goodness, you are lucky to return in one piece, Cole. Were I her, I should have called Aluwen’s wrath down upon you,” Siru scolded the moment he entered.

 

“Oh if only you’d come along, Siru. Ettena was wondrous. She had amazing answers for every time I tried to pull a hole in her faith; I had never had such an amazing debate before. And the way she talked was so different: foreign, like nothing I’d ever heard, yet almost musical. Oh, and her clothes, once I sat and spoke with her, I was able to see the cloth was nothing like we have: some amazing tailoring, to be sure. Not to mention she was as beautiful as a flower on a summer's dawn.” Cole described her with so much affection and amazement it frustrated Siru. He was supposed to fall for Resia, not this priestess no one had heard of before.

 

“I’m going to speak with her again tomorrow, she invited me to accompany her on a journey into the Orvale mountains, she said she was intrigued by my conversation,” Cole smiled broadly. Without another word he retreated to his chambers, no doubt to take notes on the entire conversation before falling asleep with his face toward the sky.

 

Siru shook her head and sighed, but as her gaze slowly returned to the quilt she was sewing, she caught Resia looking sadly after him, almost hurt. Resia noticed her watching and instantly looked elsewhere.

 

“I think I shall take a walk ma’am, if you don’t mind.”

 

“Not at all Resia, you’re welcome to come and go from this house as much as you please. Consider the guest quarters your permanent lodging.

 

“Thank you, ma’am. Hopefully I shan’t be out too late.” She smiled and opened the door.

 

“Oh and Resia? Do call me Siru,” she insisted.

 

“Of course,” Resia nodded and left quietly, her shoulders sagged slightly just before the door closed, she seemed disappointed.

 

Well it seems she likes him at least a bit, now if only I could get Cole to return the affections. Siru thought to herself.

 

 

*****

 

“What do you mean the boat is alive?” Jeeve questioned Acantos.

 

“I mean what I uttered orchan,” Acantos responded.

 

“My name is Jeeve,” he replied simply.

 

“My apologies, Jeeve of Irilion, the boat does possess a measure of life.”

 

“And what exactly do you mean by that?” Mazhiez pressed. “How can a ship be alive?”

 

“Dark magic, of elves whom you slew on the decks below our feet. Those elves were the drow elves who dwell on the Varesh coast of Lanterra. They are skilled magicians. They constructed the vessels which have arrived in your lands,” Acantos explained further.

 

“I still do not think you truly answered us, how is the boat alive?” Velor demanded frustrated.

 

“The elves who dwell on the Varesh coast bind the spirit of stolen dragon eggs to the vessels. It is the spirit of this dragon which bestows the boat the abilities of such speed and lightness on the water. Some say the spirit of the dragon possesses the boat. I do not believe such things, yet I have observed the vessels do contain a will of their own creation,” Acantos said.

 

“How exactly are we going to get out then?” Velor asked. “Do you propose we turn to the walls and kindly ask the dragon spirit to let us go?”

 

Acantos turned to stare at Velor. “Do you often possess more impatience and impertinence than your fellows?”

 

“I prefer to think of it as sarcasm,” Velor responded.

 

Acantos stared again at Velor. It seemed to always take him several moments to process what the draegoni said.

 

“I do not believe the walls would listen, nor even understand your utterances,” Acantos said puzzled.

 

Velor opened his mouth to respond yet the words never left his mouth; there was a jolt that unexpectedly through him to the floor.

 

“What on Draia?” Velor stood brushing dirt from the floor out of his hair.

 

“The vessel has ruptured its mooring lines and is moving away from the port,” Acantos said. “We can only hope the creatures who own this vessel have not embarked prior to our departure.”

Edited by Enly

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Chapter 16

 

 

Mazhiez found himself standing on a windswept icy plateau. No snow fell from the crystal clear sky above, but scant remnants of it blew in circles across the ground. It formed sudden impenetrable clouds, then would be blown away into dust-like grains scattered across the ice. The sky above held no sun, yet everything was as bright as it would be at midday.

 

It was an eerie, barren, desolation; no life, no sign of anything but the ice and snow. He turned around several times, peering into the distance, looking for something, anything. The wind blew the grains of snow about him and he felt the sting as they bombarded his face.

 

He was clothed in simple furs and a tunic, what he would wear on any normal day. His greying purple hair was tied back to keep it from his face. It was a perfect picture of himself on a normal day in Dra Leont. Yet those days were gone. Fear crawled into his mind, where was he? Surely this was a dream, but it was vivid and clear in his mind's eye.

 

Abruptly a vague outline appeared in a cloud of snow in front of him.

 

“Hello?” he called out toward the figure.

 

There was no response and the wind seemed to keep the snow hovering in the air, shrouding the person from view.

 

“Who are you!” Mazhiez called again, moving forward toward the figure. The wind abated for a few moments and Mazhiez could see the back of a draegoni. Bright purple hair cascaded over the draegoni’s shoulders and she wore a long tunic and plain blue pants. An outfit Kiylee wore often.

 

“Kiylee!” cried out Mazhiez. The figure turned and he saw the smiling face of his sister, red scales shining on her cheeks.

 

“Brother?” She called out to him hopefully. “Brother where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you.”

 

Mazhiez began to speak; yet as he moved nearer to his sister, he felt the ice beneath his feet groan and crack. Thin lines crisscrossed the ice from him to Kiylee, and the ice beneath her unexpectedly gave way, plunging her beneath the ice and into the frigid waters below.

 

“KIYLEE!” a scream of horror burst from Mazhiez as he tried to run to his sister. Yet his legs were leaden and he couldn’t make himself move. It seemed like an eternity as he dragged each leg forward for another step. He strained as hard as he could, but he moved no faster. “Kiylee! I’m coming for you!”

 

Her faint voice echoed ahead and he briefly saw her hair glint above the water. “Help me, save me Maz! Help me brother!” she cried out.

 

“I’m coming, I’ll help you don’t worry!” Mazhiez stumbled forward struggling to reach his sister.

 

“Brother, why don’t you help me? I need your help,” Kiylee’s teary voice met his ears again.

 

“I’m trying, I’m trying!” Maz began to weep, if only he could move faster he could help her, why couldn’t he reach her?

 

After what seemed like a lifetime Mazhiez reached the edge of the ice. He fell to his knees looking into the water for his sister. A faint purple flash indicated her presence far below. Mazhiez dove into the water to rescue his sister.

 

He swam deeper into the ice-cold water toward his sister below; he began to draw near and reached out his hand for her. She stared up at him reaching back for his help. Yet Mazhiez felt himself pushed away by some sudden current and he lost sight of his sister again.

 

Swimming back to where he had been he looked frantically around. He couldn’t last much longer, his lungs screamed for air, yet Kiylee had been under even longer. Pushing through the water again he caught sight of her.

He reached out toward her hand which he could barely see as the water had grown foggy. As he felt his fingers brush hers the water became crystal clear.

 

Kiylee was below him, floating limply in the water. Her pale grey eyes were lifeless, bereft of their normal joyous luster. Typical reddish healthy skin was pale and cold, her hair drifted about her face, free in the water. Kiylee’s delicate mouth was slightly open and one hand still reached feebly upward.

 

Her long thin fingers reached limply toward the circle of light where the broken ice was far above, an engagement ring glistening on her finger.

 

Mazhiez grasped frantically for her hand, terrified by the sight of her lifeless eyes. He couldn't lose her, what would Serrair say if he found out it had been his fault? How could he let her slip away from life while she was still so young? Yet he could not reach her, he felt himself pulled away. Struggling, he attempted to swim back to her but he could not find her. His sister was gone; lost to the icy depths.

 

Mazhiez jerked awake sweating, his breath coming in short shallow gasps. He rubbed his eyes trying desperately to tell himself it had only been a dream, stop worrying. Blinking sleep rapidly from his eyes, he looked around. The others were still asleep, Acantos was standing quietly nearby, he hadn't moved for hours.

 

"How long has it been?" Mazhiez asked, the darkness prevented any noticable passage of time.

 

"Nigh on eight hours have passed since we departed from port, I would venture to suppose an hour has transpired after the moment you and your companions began to slumber," Acantos responded.

 

"Thanks," Mazhiez responded numbly. He stood up, stretching out his arms he tried to awaken his stiff muscles. It was an instinct born of years of fighting: always be ready. And the slight feeling of the boat moving beneath him kept him from forgetting he was trapped inside an enemy's vessel.

 

The boat had moved slowly at first, yet it appeared to have gained speed now. Mazhiez couldn't tell what direction they had gone in, nor how far they had traveled. For all he knew they could be in open water miles away from Irilion to the east, or they could be nearing the coast of Seridia to the north-west.

 

They had all tried for several hours to find any way to leave the deck they were on, yet the ship seemed to have blocked off all access to the upper deck, as well as to the lower ones. It also appeared that the rooms around them were empty, void of connections to other parts of the boat. After the futile search, they had resolved to rest, worn out from the long ride through the night and the morning at port. Acantos, however, did not seem to require rest, perhaps he had more than enough of it during his confinement. Mazhiez was very curious about the centaur, about where he had come from, this land he called Lanterra, and how he had come to be imprisoned. As well as why these monsters were here. Despite the fact he had been dying to ask these questions, Mazhiez did not. The centaur seemed unwilling to talk much. Before they had all fallen asleep, they had attempted to question him some, but he only gave short responses that they should either rest or search for a way out.

 

So far as they could tell, no monsters had boarded the ship before it had left port. If Acantos's story of the ship possessing a dragon spirit was correct, appearantly it had tried to flee the port, perhaps because Mazhiez's men had won the battle there, or so he hoped.

 

Inevitably his thoughts drifted to his sister. Even his subconscious mind could not prevent his thoughts from drifting to her. The final image of his dream remained locked in his mind. His own hand reaching for hers, but unable to save her. He had to get back to Dra Leont, he had to look for her. Abruptly he heard a rustle and Samara awoke. She stood quietly and came to linger beside him. Biting her lip she leaned quietly against the damp wall, obviously dying to say something, yet keeping quiet.

 

"Why did you come?" Mazhiez demanded. The last thing he needed was his mind being distracted with worry for her.

 

"Because I would not sit in the warmth of the fort while you went to defend the lands," she responded. It was her typical passionate spirit, never willing to stand by when Mazhiez was besting her again, not to mention she hadn't seen Mazhiez in months, and wasn't about to let him slip away so quickly.

 

"What was will never be again," he said simply, leaning against the wall beside her.

 

"Why? Because you hold a grudge against your race and must remove yourself from us as much as possible?"

 

"No, my grudge lies against the government, not the race. You know my story Sam. You know how I fought in the Ice Wars against the humans trying to invade our lands. I was responsible for driving back many of them. It was my men and I that helped to end the war and bring peace again to the draegoni lands! It was my men that died to defend the fools sitting deep in the cities governing our people!" Mazhiez was angry now, he always was when he thought of these events. "And the draegoni council awarded Jarraas medals of honor, attributed him with the success of our armies, credit went to a boneheaded idiot and he was given command of the draegoni forces. And with him in charge Dra Leont was overrun by foul beasts," Mazhiez slumped to the ground frustrated.

 

Silence fell, Sam had indeed heard these things before and had no new comments on them. Slowly she sat beside him and laid her head sadly on his shoulder. He tensed for a moment, obviously wanting to protest, but relaxed. Hesitantly he put an arm around her, by no means did he intend to renew their past relationship, but she needed comfort. And somewhere deep down, he wanted comfort as well.

 

 

*****

 

"Cole already left," Siru explained to Resia as she looked about the house for him.

 

"Oh," she said softly, disappointed. "Well, I do believe I shall journey north to Whitestone City, perhaps spend the night there. I hope to return by tomorrow evening," she said politely.

 

"Be careful dear, why do you wish to go?" Siru inquired.

 

"Perhaps other locations will jog my memory," Resia said wistfully. "Well, good day Siru."

 

Siru bade her farewell and continued working again on her quilt. One could only hope Resia wouldn't run into trouble. She seemed capable of handling herself well, but her lack of memory worried Siru. She was half tempted to run after her and ask her to wait until Cole could accompany her to the city. Yet she would impose no rules upon Resia, only pray the gods would protect her.

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Chapter 17

 

 

"I just thought of something that might help us escape," Mazhiez said, squatting beside his companions who were all awake now.

 

Instantly they all looked up at him, eager to hear how they might get out. As of yet no solution had been presented, they were trapped on the ship as long as it saw fit.

 

Acantos glanced at Mazhiez, a disbelieving light in his eyes. "And what might that be?" he demanded.

 

Mazhiez didn't respond, but looked instead to Sam. She squinted at Mazhiez for a moment, then an understanding smile crept over her face. "The orchans?"

 

"Exactly," nodded Mazhiez, glancing at Jeeve, who looked rather puzzled.

 

"It seems you two share a secret understanding," Jeeve muttered, leaning his head back against the wall. "Do explain."

 

"I received word via the mages we've been using to communicate with the rest of Irilion, that the orchans were assembling a fleet to try and cut off any of these beastly ships that attempted to move north from Dra Leont."

 

"And what good is this news to us?" Velor asked testily, he was tired of being cooped up and wanted only to hear something that would release him from this damp dark prison. Mazhiez was worried Velor's temper would become dangerous if they remained trapped much longer. He might try something stupid to escape.

 

"I doubt they've had a chance to sail far south yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if they have a substantial force patrolling their own waters at least. They're attempting to keep the dragon ships confined to the south," Mazhiez explained patiently. "I have no idea which direction we've sailed in, but Redmoon is not too far from the Iscalrith coast. If we're lucky, perhaps we've sailed in that direction."

 

"How does that make us lucky?" Velor protested. "If the orchans spot this ship, they'll sink it."

 

"Exactly, thats why we need to be on the upper deck. We need to break through this wood somehow," Mazhiez said, and his voice faded as he stared at the solid wall blocking their path. The dark wood had refused to budge despite any spells Velor had whispered, or any simple force any of them had exerted.

 

"It is likely that will not be neccesary," Acantos said quietly.

 

"Why?" asked Durron who hadn't said much the past few hours, only silently watched everyone. Sam sat close by, next to Jeeve whom she'd been speaking with to pass the time.

 

"Because if this vessel is brought into battle with another, it will make efforts to defend itself. Our presence will be forgotten and it will likely unlock most doors in the hopes that someone on the vessel may work to defend it," Acantos explained.

 

"Doesn't sound very smart," Velor muttered.

 

"It is true that the ship bears a likeness to a living thing, yet I believe it incapable of true independent thought," Acantos countered.

 

"What if it doesn't release us," Sam asked, "and the orchans, or anyone who may come upon us for that matter, sink us without even knowing we're aboard?"

 

"That would be an unfortunate occurrence," stated Acantos. He then turned away from them, appearantly done talking. By now he had slung his quiver of arrows around his back and his sword and belt were around his waist. His bow was strapped loosely to his back as well. On their way out, he also had picked up a spear from the room where the elves had been slain.

 

"Not a very talkative fellow," Durron said quietly.

 

"Still hasn't answered a single question about this Lanterra place he comes from," added Velor. They were all slightly suspicious of this mysterious centaur.

 

"Lanterra is a continent. It lies far to the north east of here by the measure of your people. It was a beautiful land, nearly untouched by the troubles of war that plauge the continents of which you know," Acantos said quietly without turning.

 

"Why have we never heard of this continent before?" Mazhiez questioned curiously, while wondering if perhaps Acantos might know more of the monsters and ways to fight them.

 

"In a time passed long ago, the numerous lands of Draia were far nearer and kept in better contact; trade and and travel were ceaseless." Acantos still hadn't turned around he stared at the wall as he spoke.

 

"A time came that Mortos sought to devise a realm for his foul creatures beneath the surface of Draia, earthquakes plagued the lands as Mortos delved tunnels beneath the ground and filled them with his fell creations. The gods were young then, as was the world, and all knew little. The other gods did not favor Mortos' decisions and actions and attempted to make use of their own abilities to halt his plans; thus began the war.

 

"The lands were thrown into turmoil and destruction was wrought all across Draia. The continents were far divided, Lanterra by the greatest distance. From that which Centau taught to mine ancestors, it is known to me that Lanterra was the only continent to create careful records of all that had occurred. The two lands which you know, Seridia and Irilion, maintained their relations for some time, then their contact faded.

 

"Centau taught us that they forsook the other lands, dismissed them as myths. We treasured our knowledge, however, and would not let the memory of our breatheran on other lands fade from our minds. Lanterra prospered, it was void of war and destruction. All the races dwelt as one in harmony. The humans built a magnificent city near the central area of the continent, and a great temple to all the gods, Alassaidria, the greatest city our knowledge had ever know. Libraries and places of knowledge were almost as common as dwellings, it was a paradise, far better than anything ever beheld prior to the gods' war."

 

Acantos fell silent for a few moments.

 

"How then did you come to be here?" Sam questioned. "What happened on Lanterra? Did these monsters come from there?"

 

Acantos said nothing for a few moments more, then spoke again. "The creatures hidden beneath the ground never perished, in fact they bred in the darkness like foul pests, feeding off the lack of daylight, and each other. For countless years, they existed there beneath our hooves, we had no knowledge of their presence. Until last year arrived, and such things were no more.

 

"The green grass of the peacefull Adrioan glade split open to the tunnels below and foul creatures spilled from the darkness into the sacred meadow of the centaurs. At the beginning they were few. Those of us who still possesed the passed-on knowledge of war slew them and covered the pit. Yet they had beheld the light which was day. One who had tasted the blood of a centaur returned to its dark tunnels, evading our attempts to cease its life. After those events had come to pass, the creatures continued to dig to the surface, flowing from their tunnels into the blinding light. Our people knew nothing of war. We knew nothing of how to defend ourselves. Slowly, we began to forge weapons again; the ancient artifacts we possessed were not sufficient. We taught ourselves to fight and managed to fend off the dark creatures for a time, until the brute Uarven ascended from the darkness. He was unlike those who had come before. He was instructed personally by Mortos. A brutish orc with unnatural strength and intelligence for his kind, he managed to unite the creatures of the darkness to fight against those who dwelt on Lanterra. Yet he did far worse than that; he was able to convince factions of humans to join his armies.

 

"For many months we fought. The races quickly relearned the forms of combat their ancestors had once known and we fought back fiercly. Centau, the god of we who are centaurs took careful care of us, teaching us how to prevent ourselves from coming to harm. Aluwen also, god of those who are righteous, taught us to protect ourselves and for some time it appeared as if we would indeed be able to defend our lands, perhaps even force back the foul creations of Mortos. Yet there were far more things in the darkness than we could have ever ventured to suppose. Their sheer numbers were enough to strike us down, yet we still fought on."

 

Acantos had finally turned around to face them. His eyes were sad and his face was filled with so many emotions they could not possibly place them all: grief, remorse, fury.

 

"But you did not succeed?" Sam asked quietly, everyone else was silent. Ocassionaly Acantos's tale was hard to follow as he worded his speech and pronounced his words in unfamiliar fashions.

 

"No, no we did not. Perhaps we could have made the conflict last longer, but in the end we possessed the knowledge that our defeat would come to pass.

 

"The drow elves of Varesh knew this well. They were mages, the most talented in the arts of magic Lanterra had ever witnessed. Yet of all the races of Lanterra, they were the most corrupt, longing for power which was not entitled to them. When they beheld the battle could not be won, they changed sides. Their leader, who was Saedross, devised an agreement with Uarven and Mortos; in return for a position of command among the creatures and the preservation of the city of Varesh, he would fight against us. With the mages of Varesh behind them and lost from our own ranks but for a few who remained loyal and pure, the battle was brought to an end with far more swiftness, and lost.

 

"Fell beasts continued to pour from the darkness and slaughter our people. The paradise which had been Lanterra, was destroyed. It became barren charred fields and broken cities which were naught but eternal tombs for those who death had come to pass therein.

 

"I made a last stand with my fellow centaurs in the human city of Alassaidria. The creatures overran the city slaying all who still remained alive to fight. Saedross led his mages through the city alongside a leader of human warriors who had joined their foul cause. I watched them slaughter my brothers, the few left of my race, while I strove to defend the temple. It was a fight without victory, however. We knew our defeat was at hand.

 

"It did end, yet they would not give me the honor of death. They captured me and locked me away in Varesh, by that time I knew in my heart I was the last centaur on Lanterra, perhaps Draia. For the Varesh would not let themselves have rest until all of my brothers were dead, and no centaur with any measure of honor could take any action but one against the Varesh.

 

"As time passed by the elves of Varesh crafted enough boats that Saedross and his mages, in company with Uarven and the other leaders, could traverse here, to Irilion, seeking more lands to destroy." Acantos finished his story and turned away, his face still a mixture of a thousand emotions. He wrapped his hands tightly around his spear, it looked to be centuries old.

 

Silence fell.

 

No one had any idea what to say in response to it all. They didn't even know for sure whether to take his word for it. Yet there were monsters here and he was undeniably a centaur, a creature lost to legend. Mazhiez closed his eyes briefly and leaned his head back against the wall. He had seen many battles, he knew the fear that ran through you when you realized you were not going to win. He admired the centaur's determination to continue fighting. He didn't know if he would be able to continually fight if he knew he would not win. Whether it was a true battle, or anything else in life.

 

"You did well to fight for your land I'm sure," Velor said quietly. "Sometimes the battle is not able to be won."

Acantos did not respond. He had told his tale, and had no wish to share more it seemed.

 

"Mazhiez? Do remember the days in Thelinor?" Durron asked changing the subject, he longed to talk of brighter times.

 

"I remember. I recall the days we fought side by side in battles not our own. What use is a life of naught but war?" Mazhiez asked sadly. No answer was provided to him. He thought quietly back to the days of which Durron spoke, the time oh so long ago when they'd met. Thelinor was plagued by constant war with itself, Mazhiez had been wandering the continent for many years since the end of the Ice Wars. Durron was then a young dwarf of Zirakinbar, seeking some glory in the world. They had met in a rowdy tavern in Thelinor, perhaps by chance, or the will of the gods. The two had struck up a conversation, which mostly revolved around Durron's refusal to drink ale, wine, or the like.

 

"Things were better in those days," Durron muttered. "Wars were fought by warriors, there was honor and chivalry. Being a paid warrior was a respectable occupation, hasn't been the same for years now. Definitely won't be the same after all these monsters."

 

Acantos began to say something, but suddenly there was a crash above them. The ship slowed abruptly, then halted.

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Chapter 18

 

"Oh! I'm sorry," Resia apologized profusely to the old woman she had just bumped into and helped her retrieve the cloth she had just scattered across the ground.

 

The old woman chuckled "Don't be concerned dear girl, why, most people in this city wouldn't pause for a second glance after running me over with one of their crude carts."

 

"Thats awful, I'm so terribly sorry. I should have watched where I was walking!" Resia had been staring about her at Whitestone City, all of it so eerily familiar, but so foreign at the same time.

 

As the old woman chuckled again and Resia stood up from where she had been retrieving the woman's dropped possessions, she jumped startled. She knew this woman! Resia excitedly began to say something, then suddenly the flicker of recollection she had experienced was gone. The woman's name had been on the tip of her tongue, yet suddenly it was lost again to the fog of her mind.

 

"Alright dear?" The woman asked concerned.

 

"Yes, sorry, I'll be on my way now, have a good afternoon," Resia smiled and began to walk on. After several steps it suddenly came back to her, the woman's name was Guinivere! She turned around to run to speak to the woman, yet she was gone, lost to the crowds. Resia sighed, trying desperately to recall something else about the woman, but none of it came back. She knew the woman, though. She was sure she'd known her well. Why hadn't the woman recognized her?

 

Tired and frustrated, Resia wandered the streets, examined items in the market, and stared upon the palace. No matter how hard she tried, no more memories came back. Not even another brief moment of true recollection, nothing at all.

 

Resia's trip from Tirnwood had been quiet and uneventful. Besides her encounter with the woman, her time in the city had been as well. Earlier she'd requested a room in a small inn off the market square and paid for it with the meager allowance of coins Siru had gifted her.

 

She watched the bustling colors in the market fascinated. White Stone City was full of every race. Resia had even spotted a draegoni visiting the city's magic shop. The city's white stones were hardly visible through the throngs of people and in places where they were, they weren't quite as white as expected. As the sun sank low in the sky and late afternoon began to drag into evening, Resia's attention was caught by something other than the blur of people and stone houses.

 

There was a crowd gathering in the market place. There had been a crowd before, of course, but it was milling about randomly: each person about his or her own business. However, there was order now. A circle formed around an individual perched on the edge of a fountain in the market square. It was a dark skinned human, dressed in armor and bearing a sword. It was only after Resia apologetically made her way through the masses of people that she noticed the dwarf standing on the ground, he appeared to be the man's companion. He too was dressed in armor.

 

"Go on! We don't want the stinkin' dwarves bringin' trouble to our city!" came a yell from the front of the crowd.

 

"Yeah! get out! The dwarves' problems are not ours! Let the little runts rot in their tunnels!" someone else called out.

 

"No! You must listen to me!" the dark-skinned human pleaded. "The dwarves in Mynadar are being overrun. They evacuated the weak out of the city across the river to the east and were forced to destroy the bridge behind the fleeing people. Most of the dwarves have crept into the caves! I know it seems far away, and it is, but the monsters are spreading out and causing problems. They are thinning rapidly, which means it will be easy to kill them, but we need numbers to scour the lands and defend so many places! You must help fight!"

 

"We don't want to get involved in dwarven troubles!"

 

"Get out of the city!" yelled someone.

 

"And take your dwarven lover with you!" added another, mocking laughter followed.

 

"Please! you don't understand! We must put aside our differences and fight! There is serious trouble brewing!" The man tried to plead with the crowd, yet they surged forward and Resia was shoved aside by angry humans. The mob saw to it that the man and dwarf were dragged out of the city, yet Resia could still hear him calling even as he was forced away.

 

"If any of you wish to help, come to Corren village! People are gathering there to fight the invaders! Please! Fight for your people! We must stop them soon!" The man's final words were lost and Resia wrapped her cloak around her as she realized it was nearly dark now and clouds had moved in to cover the few remaining rays of the sun.

 

"My my, whatever are you doing out alone in the dark?" A straggler that hadn't followed the mob came up beside Resia, he was grinning evily. Resia panicked slightly. The man was standing too close to her and his brown clothes were stained. His breath smelled of far to much ale and Resia chocked slightly: the stench was so repulsive.

 

"Good evening, sir," Resia stammered a hasty farewell and dashed away to the comfort of the inn, only a few buildings away.

 

The old innkeeper opened the door and welcomed her inside smiling. Resia had a strong suspicion the old man had been watching her from the inn. "That's a good girl. Trouble's brewing, mark my words and let the mob have me! They'll come to regret not listening to that man."

 

Resia peered over her shoulder at the dark, quiet streets. Just as the innkeeper closed the door, she realized she agreed, as did most of the people in the city. Everyone could tell something was wrong, but few wanted to admit it.

 

 

*****

 

Unolas trod slowly across the ground. The soft perpetual dawn light of Centau's glade was beautiful. It was as if the quiet green meadow had been locked in eternal sunrise. Yet the trees surrounding the crystal clear pond and grass were each in a season of their own. The trees were of so many different varieties no mortal could ever count. There was a cherry tree in blossom, an apple tree with the deep green leaves of late summer, an aspen with rich orange fall colors, and a birch bare of leaves yet beautiful nonetheless.

 

Unolas noticed in shock that Centau was standing quietly beside the pond, leaning on a staff.

 

"Should you not be resting Centau?" Unolas questioned as he approached him. Centau was an odd sight to behold, he looked to be very young, in the prime of his life, yet he looked whithered and dying. His frail hands clutched tightly at the strong staff to support him somewhat.

 

"I have had enough of rest," Centau grunted. "Acantos is near free again, I feel some life in him yet."

 

Unolas heasitated, he knew Acantos was the last Centaur, no matter how long he lived, Centau would die with him.

 

"I know what you're thinking, Unolas. I clutch to some false hope that I may yet live. I do not delude my mind with such falsities. But I will watch over Acantos, that poor boy. So young and he has already suffered more than he should have ever suffered," Centau stared forward, his eyes lost in something only seen by gods.

 

"Are you afraid to die?" Unolas asked abruptly. This was not what he had intended for this conversation.

 

"I am not," Centau said boldly turning to Unolas. "I may be a god who knew no pain and lived forever, but now in my weakened state I'm more lowly even than a mortal. I welcome the peace of death and what it may bring next."

 

"Gods cannot die!" Unolas cried out frustrated, then sat himself down on a rock near Centau. This was beyond his wisdom and he could not explain it, never before had he encountered something he could not explain like this. "If only we had stopped this sooner, this wouldn't be happening. Mortos has disturbed the natural order of things, this should not be occurring. It goes against everything we know to be true..."

 

Before Unolas could go further Centau cut him off. "And what do we know to be true, Unolas? I know this to be true, we have existed many countless centuries, guiding mortals. One thing they have learned and we have taught them: all things die. Whether it is the long-lived draegoni, or the smallest flower, death comes to all things. Why then, Unolas, do we believe it cannot come to us as well?"

 

"We are gods! We do not suffer like mortals do, we are not plagued by age and frailty, nor sickness."

 

"Then what am I plagued by?" Centau questioned, adjusting his grip on his staff and turning to see Unolas better. The once shimmering deep brown coat he'd once had was now a dull dark color, no luster remaining. Centau might be standing there before Unolas, speaking, but he was most definately dying.

 

"Your race is dead," Unolas muttered.

 

"Indeed it is, I am plauged by age, frailty and sickness. I am plagued by war and destruction. For I am a god of centaurs and the centaurs are plauged by these things. So too, then, am I. No Unolas, I am not afraid of death. Long had I taught the centaurs to treasure knowledge. Now I shall go where the knowledge of the gods cannot reach."

 

Unolas stood again and paced the grass beside the pond. He had come here to seek Centau's council, not debate the power of the gods.

 

"Locking away Mortos solved nothing," Unolas sighed.

 

"Perhaps not in your eyes," Centau countered.

 

"In my eyes? His armies have moved to the other continents and now try to overrun them too! How can it be that anything good has come of his imprisonment?"

 

"Remember, Unolas. Mortos, though not inentionally, has demonstrated to us how little we know of ourselves. He has shown that gods may not be as untouchable as we thought. Remember that even for a god, some things go unseen," Centau said quietly.

 

"What goes unseen? A few ragged mortals striving to survive and they happen to stumble across a centaur?"

 

"There is more to those mortals than you will admit, as there was more to Acantos than I once thought. But that is not of what I speak, search for truth Unolas, let your eyes see clearly the things before you. Only then will you understand all."

 

Unolas continued to pace quietly.

 

"You are the god of wisdom," Centau continued, "for wise choices have always been yours. Do not let yourself falter because you cannot see everything. Wisdom is not knowledge, wisdom is judgement and experience, wisdom is understanding. Wisdom, is knowing you need to make things right before you have truly realized how wrong they are. You have wisdom Unolas, that much is obvious. Now go seek knowledge."

 

Centau closed his eyes, he appeared to be in pain and his knuckles turned white as he gripped his staff tighter.

Unolas watched him concerned, yet Centau dissmised him. Unolas then thanked him for his council and left.

 

Centau seemed to know far more than he, yet he encouraged all to seek knowledge themselves, not be given it. Wisdom is knowing you need to make things right before you have realized how truly wrong they are, Unolas thought to himself. I'm right, then, he's telling me I'm right. Something has gone wrong, yet how can I possibly make it right when I don't know exactly what it is?

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Chapter 19

 

Jeeve gave a shout as suddenly the wall blocking them from getting out thudded open. Acantos had been right, the ship had released them as it concentrated its efforts on defending itself. Jeeve began to rush toward his chance for escape, but Velor grabbed him and pulled him back.

 

"Hang on a moment! We have no idea who or what is out there!" Velor hissed. "Don't go rushing blindly into the open!"

 

Jeeve grunted, more angry at himself than Velor for nearly making such a stupid mistake.

 

"I'll check," Sam volunteered and before anyone could say otherwise, the small draegoni had crept to the opening and was peering out. "All clear," she called back. "It's an orchan boat. I think they have the brains not to try and kill us."

 

Slowly Mazhiez and the others made their way after Sam to the doorway which opened onto the deck. Two orchan ships had flanked the dragon ship. One seemed to be carrying some sort of catapult. From the looks of things, the crash had been that catapult launching a boulder at one of the masts which had brought it down.

 

Samara looked up to the two remaining masts of the huge dragon ship. Ropes moved of their own accord, tying and untying themselves, adjusting the sails.

 

"Hurry! The sails are attempting to catch the wind again!" Mazhiez and his companions could hear the orders being yelled by the orchans as they attempted to reload their weapon and destroy the masts before they could catch wind.

 

"Why did it stop moving?" Velor asked Acantos confused.

 

"I do not understand," Acantos said confused. "It should retain the ability to move through the water without the assitance of sails. They only exist for more speed."

 

"Doesn't matter," Mazhiez interupted, he was tired of the constant pauses to wonder at things, they needed action. "We need to get off this boat!"

 

Durron had already rushed to achieve that goal. The dwarf was at the edge of the deck attempting to catch the attention of one of the orchan ships. The orchans noticed him quickly, shocked. Mazhiez moved to support Durron's efforts, and the others, minus Acantos, did the same.

 

"Who are you and why are you on that ship?" demanded an orchan suspiciously.

 

"We were trapped on this boat at Iscalrith port. Help us get off!" Velor growled.

 

"For all we know, you're more foul warriors!" the orchan shouted back. The orchans were very close now, with the dragon ship seemingly dead in the water they had moved their vessels in directly beside it.

 

"We're not foul warriors!" Jeeve called out, one of the orchans peered at Jeeve then gave a gasp.

 

"I know his face! They are not foul beasts. They are from the south!" the orchan called out to the apparent captain.

Acantos had gone unnoticed by either orchan ship, he hung close to where they had left the confines of the lower deck. Now that Mazhiez thought of it, the centaur probably hadn't seen the light of day for quite some time, much less been free. Acantos was probably half-blinded and terrified of the new world he'd been thrown into. Mazhiez knew he himself would be, but he probably wouldn't ever show it.

 

There was a warning shout from the other ship and their catapult launched again bringing a second mast down with a thunderous crash.

 

"Hurry! We must disembark this vessel soon!" Acantos had suddenly moved toward them worried. The orchans gasped and pointed murmuring to one another.

 

"A centaur!"

 

"Don't let them aboard!"

 

"It must be a trick!"

 

"No trick!" Jeeve yelled frantically. "He is a centaur of legend. He was a prisoner as were we! Please, help us get off!"

 

Before the orchans could make up their mind, a sudden unnatural breeze sprang up and the dragon ship's one remaining sail stretched taut full of wind pulling the ship foward. There was a cry and Sam watched as the dragon ship scraped against the side of the orchan vessel bearing the catapult. The orchan ship rocked dangerously and the crew scrambled to keep its balance and stay onboard. Curses and oaths echoed over the water to Sam's ears as the dragon ship pulled away from the two orchan boats.

 

"The sail!" Mazhiez yelled. He was anxious to get off the god forsaken ship and he realized the accursed thing would continue to attempt escape for as long as it had a sail or magic to fuel it. "We must cut down the sail!"

 

Jeeve and Velor both ran toward the remaining center mast. Velor had responded due to years of following Mazhiez's commands without thought. Jeeve came because he had already been thinking the same thing when Mazhiez had yelled. Mazhiez watched the two grab hold of the shaky rope ladders secured to the mast as they began to make their way up. Jeeve moved fast and with apparent ease, while Velor dragged behind having difficulty climbing the shaky ropes. The draegoni also seemed to be hindered by his green hair which dangled in his eyes.

 

Jeeve quickly reached the yard, the beam from which the sail hung. Carefully he placed his feet upon it and moved off to the left. Velor soon reached the yard as well and moved to the right. The wood was thick, and sufficiently wide to stand upon, though with difficulty. Velor was amazed the ship could stay afloat. It appeared to be made of very heavy, dense, wood.

 

Already, Jeeve had pulled a knife from his belt and was cutting down the heavy ropes securing the sail to the yard. The sails were made of a thick rubbery substance, not the cloth they had expected. Velor quickly did as Jeeve was on the opposite side.

 

"Cut that rope there too!" Jeeve called over to him. Jeeve looked queezy, his greenish orchan skin seemed to be paler. Velor did as instructed. The sail was caught in a slight breeze and fell limply over the bow of the ship. To their surprise however it appeared the vessel was still moving.

 

Velor muttered a curse in the draegoni tongue. "Whatever made the boat stop moving before seems fixed now," he muttered.

 

By this time the orchans seemed to have pulled themselves together and were bringing their vessels up to flank the dragon ship. They kept a careful distance, not wanting to collide with the vessel again. Mazhiez and Durron tried once more to convince the orchans to assist them. Despite Acantos, the orchans seemed willing now. They were too far apart to properly communicate, yet from what Velor could tell from his place on the mast, the orchan's shaman was going to do something to the ship.

 

He realized what was happening a moment too late and tried to call to Jeeve.

 

"Grab hold of something!" Velor called. Jeeve had barely registered his words before the ship stopped with a fierce lurch. Velor gripped the mast tightly and was nearly thrown from the yard but managed to hang on. Jeeve, however, slipped. He clawed desperately at the yard and managed to wrap his arms around it. As the vessel stopped so suddenly, one of the heavy boulders that had destroyed the other mast rolled forward, smashing into the base of the mainmast.

 

The mast creaked dangerously, Velor could see the wood splintering under the stress. The mast leaned to the left and Jeeve's green tinged hands began to lose their hold on the yard as his feet dangled loosely above the water.

 

"The ropes!" Velor yelled, motioning to the dangling strands. "Grab a rope!"

 

Jeeve did as suggested just as the mast lurched slightly again, hanging further to left. Jeeve lost his grip on the yard completely and pulled his bare green head close to his chest, snapping his eyes shut

 

"Hang on!" Velor called out. Slowly, he removed his hands from the mast and crawled carefully onto the yard so he could attempt to help Jeeve. The added weight on that side made the mast creak more. Hastily Velor retreated back to the center. "I can't get out there, just drop into the water! The orchans can pick you up!"

 

"No!" Jeeve called out terrified, glancing below him at the water. The orchan ships were moving in once more and there was little space between them and the dragon ship.

 

"Come on! You won't hit their ship don't worry! Drop now before it gets too close!" Velor insisted.

 

Durron had been watching everything from below and now yelled up to Velor.

 

"He's afraid of the water, Velor! HE CAN'T SWIM!" Durron bellowed. Velor glanced down worried at Durron, then back to Jeeve's terrified face. A hissing noise suddenly met Velor ears. As he glanced around, he realized ropes were moving of their own accord again.

 

Jeeve noticed it too and stared horrified at Velor. Unable to help, Velor watch fearfully, he tried to grab at the ropes, but they slithered out of his grasp like snakes. The next moment they were free and Velor was forced to watch helpless as Jeeve plummeted with a yell to the water below.

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Chapter 20

 

Velor froze for only another moment after Jeeve fell, then returned to his senses. Letting his death grip on the mast go, he ran quickly down the yard and dove after Jeeve into the water. The ocean water was not as cold as his homeland where swimming would be treacherous if you were not a draegoni adapted to the cold. He knew they must be near to the coasts of Redmoon. The water around him was clear too, clear enough to look up and see the mast come crashing down into the water. Ripping off his heavy cloak, he looked around for Jeeve. The orchan couldn't possible have drifted far away. In fact, nearly the only place he could be was down. Peering below him he spotted Jeeve, sinking like a rock. He was below and behind him, the ships were beginning to pass by overhead.

Letting his cloak drop to the dark depths, Velor swam to Jeeve. The orchan was struggling feebly, agitated and deprived of oxygen he barely seemed aware of Velor who wrapped his arms around the orchan's bulky frame and pulled him slowly to the surface. Finally, they broke through the water and Jeeve choked and gasped for air.

 

"By the gods... can't you swim at all?" Velor cried as Jeeve spat out water and breathed in as much air as he could. Velor was still supporting him, keeping the panicked orchan from sinking back into the water.

 

Jeeve coughed more and shook his head. "I hate water, I can't swim," he said shaking.

 

"It's time you learned!" Velor growled. "I can't support you like this forever."

 

Briefly Velor instructed Jeeve how to tread water and stay afloat. Sputtering and coughing, Jeeve slowly began to support himself some, though still had his hand latched tightly to Velor's arm. The draegoni didn't know why water seemed to scare Jeeve so much, but the orchan was obviously very flustered.

 

Velor looked back to the orchans and dragon ship, now a good distance away. The slight drift of the ocean waters had pulled the vessels away from Velor and Jeeve. As they watched, the dragon ship seemed to be sinking lower into the water. After a few moments of surprised blinks they realized it was indeed sinking. And before they knew it, the vessel was gone from sight.

 

"In the name of all the gods, what do you make of that?" Jeeve said staring at the water where the vessel had vanished from view.

 

"The boat has sunk," Velor sighed, stating it rather simply.

 

"I just hope everyone got off that ship," Jeeve said still staring, Velor did not respond.

 

Eventually, Velor managed to convince Jeeve to release his grip on his arm and by the time the orchans were able to pull their ships around to come retrieve them, they were both separately treading water. Velor had been forced to reach down and unfasten some of his armor, its cold weight prevented him from being able to stay afloat for long.

 

The orchans tossed a rope over the edge of their vessel and Velor helped guide Jeeve to it. The orchan made his way up quickly, eager to be away from the water. Velor followed more slowly, aching from supporting both his own weight, his armor, and Jeeve for so long. Velor hauled himself over the side of the ship and checked to make sure his companions were there. As he saw they were he collapsed on his back on the deck.

 

Maz walked over and looked down at him, grinning, while the others watched. Velor coughed, exhausted.

 

"Maz!" he cried, reaching out a hand and pointing up at him. "Next time we steal a dragon ship, I'll steer, and you can rescue falling orchans."

 

Maz laughed, reaching down to offer Velor a hand up.

 

"No! no," Velor waved him away. "I'll just lie here for a moment or two. In fact, I do believe I'll go ahead and take a nap," he closed his eyes and put his arm down, taking a deep breath. "Don't wake me unless you've got warm dry clothes, food, and a real bed," he grunted.

 

The orchans on the boat were watching the scene with mild amusement and grinned at each other as they loudly went about their business. Velor frowned as the noise met his ears and with a sigh he hauled himself to his feet.

 

"Bloody orchans can't give a draegoni a moment's peace," he grumbled moving to stand with his companions.

 

"Why did the dragon ship sink?" Jeeve asked Mazhiez confused. He was standing near Durron and seemed rather nervous around his own orchan kind.

 

"Because without its magic, the vessel is far too dense to float," answered an orchan approaching. He appeared to be the shaman that had been using some sort of magic to halt the ship. Grasped tightly in his arms was a large grey-green stone. The orchan glanced at Acantos warily who was standing next to Mazhiez and Samara. Their rescuers seemed rather uncomfortable around Acantos. It wasn't often that legends came to life.

 

"That item is a dragon egg," Acantos remarked surprised.

 

"Yes," the shaman answered watching Acantos with an expression of amazement mixed with fear and distrust. "We discovered accidentally while in battle with another ship, once the egg is removed, the magic is lost. And it's easy enough to cast simple yet blanketing spells to disrupt the magic for awhile thus halting the ship."

 

"Where in the vessel did you retrieve the dragon egg from?" Acantos demanded, shifting his hooves.

 

"You need not know," responded the shaman with a hiss.

 

"I inquire only that I may perhaps provide this knowledge to others," responded Acantos, confused and annoyed at the seeming disdain of the orchans around him. They kept glancing at him as they went about their work on the ship. He ignored them, however, and focused on the shaman before him.

 

"And what others might that be? The dark elves you serve?" scoffed the shaman.

 

Acantos's eyes burned with fury and he clenched his hand tightly around the spear still in his hand. "I do not serve those traitorous beasts! Nor would I deal with their companions the monsters!"

 

Jeeve could see Acantos's anger, and the shaman's desire to continue the argument.

 

"Please! Let us be at peace with each other! Acantos can provided us with information on these dark elves and monsters and how to fight them. And you can provide us with instructions on how to deal with their dragon ships," Jeeve gestured to the shaman. "Arguing amongst ourselves will be of no use to anyone."

 

Mazhiez watched the exchange with mild interest. Jeeve seemed almost afraid to speak with the orchans around him, yet he did anyway. It seemed his words would not be enough to end the exchange.

 

The shaman glared at Jeeve and began to respond when another orchan cut him off. "Jeeve speaks true, let us leave each other be, they can go their own way once we reach port in Redmoon tomorrow morning."

 

Somehow this orchan's words held sway over the shaman and he backed away.

 

"That egg, do you think the dragon will hatch?" asked Sam worried, looking to Acantos.

 

"I do not imagine it would be possible, considering the tampering of magic done to it, no doubt the egg is by now dead since it has been severed from its ship," responded Acantos.

 

Velor coughed, "Is there anything worth eating on this ship? I'd even swallow orchan food if it meant something to still my stomach," he growled.

 

"You got us into this mess when we were at port, Velor, stop complaining," Sam sighed.

 

"You'd say that," Velor sighed. "You've spent way to much time with Kiylee..."

 

He stopped mid-sentence too late, glancing at Mazhiez. The older draegoni looked away and walked to stare out over the water.

 

"We'll find her Maz, there's no proof she's gone, we could still find her," comforted Sam, trying to talk to him.

 

But Mazhiez just brushed her aside, he didn't want her comfort.

 

With a sigh Samara moved away and let Mazhiez alone.

 

Velor spoke quietly to Sam, "I know she was your friend and you're missing her too, I do hope we find her," he said, trying to offer his support.

 

Sam smiled weakly at him, she could try and keep someone else's spirits up, the weight of so many deaths plagued her. There might be a few that had survived, she thought briefly of her own mother. The chances of her being on the boat that had escaped Dra Leont were very slim. Hulda indeed, she thought to herself. May we never forget its broken glory.

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Chapter 21

 

Mortos was relieved to finally see the gates of Melinis ahead. Eventually Mortos's sullen silence had brought silence to Nel as well and the journey had been continued in silence. Now with the city of Melinis in sight, Mortos already had begun to form a plan. He'd been deep in thought since the moment they left Sedicolis, shutting out the gnome's chatter. He didn't like to admit it but without his powers as a god he was unsure how to manage in the mortal realms. He would have to adapt quickly if he were to do anything. His plan was to find a boat headed south, preferably to Dra Leont, but with the dragon ships attacking there he might have to settle for Iscalrith. Either way, he wanted to make his way to Dra Leont and wrest command of the monsters from Uarven, then he could lead the forces against the mortals on Seridia and Irilion and see what the gods then thought of their decision to imprison him in the mortal realms. Unless it was a mistake, the small idea lurking in the back of his mind came forward again. What if they didn't mean to send me to Irilion, I was sure their plans were for some prison away from both mortals and gods. Yet here I walk on Draia, surely they realize I can still be of trouble to them as a mortal, though perhaps not in as great a measure as I could as a god. He also doubted they would truly leave him as a mortal like this, if he was truly a mortal he would die wouldn't he? Somehow he thought they wouldn't actually kill him, even indirectly. Their main fury at his actions, and desire to 'imprison' him had been based on the fact that he was in a way responsible for driving Centau so near to death. A stray thought about Acantos crossed his mind, he wondered where the centaur was now.

 

Shaking his head angrily, he returned his focus to the immediate problem, finding a way south and a way to take command of the armies there. He'd decided his best weapon was his knowledge. He knew everything he had as a god, he knew of many individuals among the Varesh elves and the other leading monsters and men. He could probably convince them of his identity, whether they would follow him in his current state, however, was another matter. It would be difficult to trick them into believing he was still a god for long, they'd notice he did not use his powers and acted as a mortal. There was no reason for him to permanently come among them as a god.

 

Admitting he was a mortal would be a dangerous move, he needed to assert his authority quickly and swiftly. He needed to use his knowledge and wit, without his strength as a god. Yet these things were not his talents, Selain was the god that operated on trickery and wit, thought and manipulation. He would need to adapt for now however, and spend his time in thought. Removing Uarven would be his first step, because unless the brutish orc had drastically changed in the past day or two, he would not be easy to control as a mortal. And if he took out the leader, he could claim command. Saedross would be more willing to listen to him however. He would be starving for the idea of power and glory he might receive if Mortos regained his status as a god. If he could procure Saedross's cooperation, he could use his influence to maintain control over the others. The Varesh elves would definitely be the easiest to work with and control and through them he could maintain control over all the others.

 

"So you're going south now?" Nel piped up, his first words in hours.

 

"Yes," Mortos grunted.

 

"I was wondering if perhaps you're seeking company on the journey south? I've never been very far south, you see, to the draegoni lands and all."

 

"I thought you were visiting a cousin or something. Why on Draia would I want your infernal tongue following me south?" Mortos growled.

 

"You don't have to be so rude you know. I mean if you're really stuck as a mortal now, you should get used to living among us shouldn't you? And most folk don't take well to being yelled at and insulted and bossed around," Nel stated quite simply, rather as if he were correcting a child. Mortos whirled to face the gnome and stopped walking toward the city ahead. Before he could yell at the gnome however, Nel spoke.

 

"Now see here! You've got no right to go yelling at me, I helped you out of jail and kept you company to Melinis and now I make a simple suggestion and you think you're going to yell at me. I'll tell you one thing, I'd love to go south with you much more than visiting my cousin. After all, mortal or not, you're still a god and well worth spending time with. I think it could all be rather exciting, actually. Not to mention I know a few things about mortals and all the races. I could help you! And I'd so so love to see the draegoni lands and learn perhaps what happened to Dra Leont..."

 

Mortos could see the gnome was getting sidetracked once more, but some of Nel's words got to him. Nel seemed completely oblivious to Mortos's true reasons for going south, taking control of the armies, moving to strike out against the world. Yet the gnome did seem to know quite a bit. Mortos only knew Irilion and Seridia from the perspective of the gods and of course no one from Lanterra knew much about the other continents. Nel could provide a valuable tactical advantage, providing he didn't chicken out once he realized Mortos's true intentions.

 

"Fine," Mortos said, interrupting Nel who had still been speaking. "You can come south with me, but you will listen to me and do as I say. And you will stay out of my way as much as possible and say no more than I tell you to.

 

"Of course!" Nel smiled broadly satisfied. Mortos expected him to begin babbling on how trustworthy he was, but he didn't. Instead Nel tried very hard to look serious (and ended up looking like an idiot instead) and looked forward on the road to Melinis.

 

Mortos started off again, walking toward the gates and Nel followed. The sun was setting behind them on the desert and the gates to Melinis stood open. There were a few people entering the gates, coming in from the surrounding areas. Mortos and Nel slipped in along with the rest, not notable, just other travelers to the bustling port city. As they entered the city, Mortos looked around to see people rushing about their business with their heads down or hurrying home. Something seemed wrong, the port city was far too quiet. Nel seemed to have the same feelings, he looked around surprised.

 

"They all seem rather afraid. I wonder if there is more news from the south," Nel looked up at Mortos, curious what he thought.

 

Mortos did not respond, but made his way through the streets to the port, several boats rocked in the harbor, and a few sailors went quickly about their business, not talking, not looking up, just working. Mortos watched the docks for several moments, then moved toward the wall. The city hadn't truly needed the wall for defense in years and it was not regularly used. At the moment, however, a group of people was spread out on the wall whispering and pointing. Mortos ascended the stairs with Nel behind him and looked out over the waters. Floating in the ocean, perhaps half a mile off the coast, was a large black ship.

 

"Look there! What is that?" Nel asked one of the people nearby on the wall.

 

"It's a dragon ship!" one responded. "Like those from the south that attacked Dra Leont, they're moving to other cities."

 

"We should send a ship out there and attack it," someone said.

 

"No! There's said to be horrible foul beasts on those ships! They will advance on the city! Perhaps if we leave it alone it will leave."

 

"How long has it been there?" Mortos asked, turning to the humans. A couple glanced over at him, eyeing his dark clothes and stern face.

 

"About four hours," answered a young man finally. Some of the others glared at him, they didn't like this dark clothed stranger, not when there were odd things going on.

 

Mortos gazed out over the water again ignoring the people on the wall. He needed to get out to that ship. They'd probably been sent out scouting. Mortos was certain they'd sent one of the dark elves into the city to gather information. He'd have to track down that elf and make him take him back to the ship. He turned swiftly and left the wall. Nel didn't notice his absence at first and continued looking out at sea. He turned around to notice Mortos was gone and stumbled quickly after him.

 

"Where are we going now?" Nel asked as he caught up with Mortos.

 

"To find an elf from that ship," responded Mortos simply.

 

"What for? Do you know the people on those ships? They don't seem like nice folk if they're the ones that attacked Dra Leont." As Nel said the name of the city, a passerby lifted his head up suddenly and walked toward them.

 

"Did you say Dra Leont?" asked the man. "The city was completely taken over you know... everyone in it was killed! Only a few draegoni got out."

 

"What else do you know of these ships and their attacks?" Mortos demanded, he wanted to know what was going on.

 

"Don't know a lot really... just that those draegoni lost, and bad. I know the elves in Aeth Aelfan called up representatives from all the races. They're trying to team together and get our armies to start fighting these invaders. The orchans are already at it according to the news we've gotten," the man looked curiously at Mortos.

 

"You don't know all this though?" he asked suspiciously.

 

"No, we've been on a journey here from Sedicolis," piped up Nel. "We've not had much news."

 

"You two traveling together? Thats an odd sight, a gnome and a human wandering the lands... What business brings you to Melinis?"

 

"He's headed south! And I'm going with him! You see he's actually..." Mortos clamped a hand over Nel's mouth who mumbled and squirmed as Mortos dragged him away.

 

"Hey! HEY!" The man jogged after them. "Put that gnome down! He didn't do anything wrong. Leave him alone!"

 

Mortos whirled around and put Nel roughly down. "You'll go about your day and leave me alone," he growled angrily. After Mortos gave the man a long stare, the man finally caved and left, glancing back repeatedly at Mortos and Nel.

 

"What'd you do that for?" Nel asked hurt. "I was just gonna tell the guy you're Mortos, don't you want people to know you're a god?"

 

"No! And you'll keep that quiet. These mortals don't need to know who I am!" hissed Mortos.

 

"Alright, if you say so," Nel sighed.

 

"And you don't need to mention where we've come from or where we're headed either," insisted Mortos as he began walking and looking around for a tavern. If a dark elf had been sent to the city to gather information, he'd visit the tavern to mix with the locals and find out as much as he could about the city.

 

"How do you expect to get a boat south without telling people you're going south?" Nel asked confused.

 

"I'll be getting a ride on that dragon ship."

 

"The dragon ship?" Nel asked shocked. He gaped at Mortos surprised, yet his eyes glowed with curiosity and excitement. "I'll get to go inside it? Are there dragons on it? Real live dragons!"

 

"Quiet down!" Mortos snapped. "Yes, you'll get on the ship and dragons are far too large to fit on a ship!"

 

"Oh... where do the dragons go then?" Nel asked bursting with curiosity.

 

"Just be quiet! I have to find an elf first... and if you keep up your chatter, we're going to be thrown out of this city!"

 

"Sorry," Nel whispered. He was quiet for all of ten seconds. "Where's the elf?"

 

Mortos clenched his eyes closed angrily for a moment, then walked on ignoring Nel. My next priority after finding that elf is finding myself a weapon...

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Chapter 22

 

Resia hurried with soft steps across the grass. It had taken her the better part of the day to make the journey from White Stone back to Tirnwood vale and now she was impatient to be back. She had to get back, to leave again. The man at the fountain and his silent dwarven companion had stirred her. She wanted to go north, to Corren village. She couldn't explain it, but she knew that somehow that was where she was meant to be, that she could, and should, fight. It seemed to be part of her, like it ran in her blood. Yet the more she thought about it, doubt crept into her mind. Could she even fight? Somehow, the same part of her that knew she should be working against evil knew that she could fight. Cole and Siru had been so kind to her, yet she needed to go to Corren. Perhaps there she could find out more about herself.

 

As she raced through the wood, she couldn't help but look about in awe at the Tirnwood trees around her. They were the ones that gave the elven settlement its name and they were as much a part of the village as the cottages. Some of the houses were built into the trees, others were carved out of the trees. The narrow dirt paths twisted amongst them, flowing with the forest. It was all so strangely familiar, yet foreign at the same time.

 

"Resia, welcome back," Siru smiled as Resia burst in the door, her face flush from running through most of the wood.

 

"Thank you," she smiled. "But I believe I'll be leaving again, and soon."

 

"Where are you going?" Cole asked as he walked into the room from his quarters. Siru glanced up at him from her seat.

 

"North, to Corren village," Resia said with confidence. "While I was in White Stone, there was a man in the market. He spoke of the dragon ships invading Mynadar and the sudden war that has erupted there to drive off the monsters. An army is growing in the Corren region, it seems: they want recruits to help fight."

 

"Fight?" Siru asked worried. "My dear girl, you've just recovered from a serious sickness and don't have your memory. Can you even wield a sword?" Siru seemed rather upset by the idea of Resia running off to fight in a battle she knew nothing about. Come to think of it, it sounded rather foolish to Resia herself. But she had made up her mind already.

 

"I can," Resia said with conviction and she meant it. She couldn't remember ever touching a sword, but she knew she could wield one. Cole frowned and came to stand next to Siru.

 

"Really, you can't seriously expect them to take a girl who doesn't even know her own name into an army. They'd never let you fight a battle!" Cole said.

 

"They will. I'll fight and they'll let me. I'm afraid I've already made up my mind. I'm going. I only came back to let you know and thank you both from the bottom of my heart for your help. But I have to go. It's not about wanting to fight, it's about the fact that I think, no, I know, I should be doing something to help those in need. Besides I can't sit and stay here much longer. Perhaps this will help me figure out who I am."

 

"Resia, you should think..." Cole began, but she cut him off.

 

"No. I told you I've made up my mind already," Resia responded.

 

"If you really don't want her to leave that badly, go with her," Siru said simply. As she said it she stood up and walked to the cupboards, pulling out fruit and bread. Resia watched in silence as she began wrapping the bread and a knife in a white napkin. Then she found a leather sack to fill with the fruit.

 

"I can't go fight, you need me here," Cole finally said, recovering from his shock at Siru's words. He moved beside her and laid a hand on her arm, a silent attempt to stop her from packing food.

 

Siru laughed, her sweet voice echoing through the house. "My dear boy, I've been trying to convince you to leave this house for years. It's time you went out into the world. Resia has her heart set on something and she doesn't even know who she is." Siru stopped what she was doing and turned to Cole. She placed a hand on each of his shoulders. "I don't believe you know who you are either Colenen. You don't know if you're Cole the human or Colenen the elf. You spend your days hanging around a peaceful wood, yet your human spirit longs for adventure. You can't deny that half of you any longer. Something is going wrong in the world, these black ships and rumors of war on Irilion, and something in me tells me that it's people like you and Resia that can make it right again."

 

"Siru..."

 

She cut him off. "Sometimes you must challenge yourself to do what you don't want to for a greater good. If all were cowards and none joined together to fight, what then? You are needed, perhaps not in the blatant way those words make it sound, and perhaps none realize it yet, but every person can make a difference, and it's time you made yours."

 

Resia watched Cole, his face showed nothing but shock. Clearly he hadn't expected such words from Siru. Cole turned to Resia, his eyes suddenly alight with a fire of determination.

 

"When do you plan on leaving?" he asked Resia.

 

A wide grin spread across Resia's face. Her heart had jumped at the thought of Cole accompanying her. His decision had changed quickly and she wasn't quite sure why. There was something more to Cole than she could think of. Somehow she knew it was something she would probably never understand, but he had spirit and he'd decided to go north with her.

 

"As soon as possible," Resia smiled.

 

 

*****

 

Unolas slammed his fists on his desk in fury. He couldn't recall being so angry since... his thoughts drifted suddenly back to days long gone. But his reminscing was short-lived. He couldn't figure it out. What was wrong? He knew there were black ships attacking innocents in the mortal realms, yet wars happened. War was not the problem here, had Mortos done more than they'd thought before his imprisonment? Perhaps he was responsible for setting in motion some dangerous chain of events.

 

Pacing his library like dwelling, breathing deeply he brought himself back to focus. Thick, red carpet coated the floor and walls were stacked high with leather bound volumes. Each pristine and like new. The room smelt of books, and the fresh scent of ink. This was his library, his realm, where would he go if he fell into a dying state such as Centau? Where would any of them go? So many uncertainties clouded his mind, he'd never felt as if he knew so little. Even with all the knowledge and power of the gods, he somehow couldn't see what weakened dying Centau could. What did he know? Why wouldn't he tell? Who? Where? Why? When? How? Unolas lashed out and picked up his chair, throwing it across the room. He was a god! He could change the fate of a world, save a thousand lives, destroy one, all with simple thoughts. Yet here he paced, his mind crowded with questions.

 

He felt powerless, weak. The feeling was not pleasing to him, gods were not weak. Gods did not have a thousand unanswered questions. Gods gave the answers! Unolas stopped pacing and returned to his desk, taking deep, steady breaths. Not only am I as weak as a mortal, I am foolish and rash as one. He chided himself. Frustration does not solve problems; thought, and action, does.

 

Drumming his fingers on his desk now, Unolas thought hard. His anger at not knowing what to do was passing rapidly, as he set his mind to the problem. Mortos, somehow he was at the center of this all. He always had been. Mortos had started it all the first time, beginning a war that raged between the gods and threw Draia into turmoil, even now the repercussions rang. It felt as if chaos was knocking at the door once again, threatening to bring destruction to a world that had nearly recovered. And somehow Mortos was at the middle of it all, he had started it, perhaps only he could truly bring it all to an end.

 

Yes, Mortos. Unolas thought to himself, I suppose the only way I can hope to get truth is speak with him, no doubt he knows more than any of us.

 

Unolas stood up straight, and suddenly he was standing on a grey empty plain. He'd transported himself to the place of Mortos's imprisonment. Here the dark god would be, bereft of his powers and trapped in a barren, empty, void like prison, somewhere between the mortal and divine realms.

 

"Mortos!" Unolas roared. He'd expected him to be waiting, ready to lash out against Unolas in fury. Yet all the god of wisdom could see was endless grey, a smooth rocklike surface, carpeted by a thin grey mist. He waited several moments, glancing around. "MORTOS!" He yelled again. "Where are you cowering?"

 

As nothing but silence met his ears, Unolas froze. His eyes widened in a sudden realization, frantic, he threw out his thoughts across the nearly endless emptiness. Nothing, he couldn't sense a single presence, not even when he searched for Mortos.

 

"He's not here..." Unolas looked around wildly, where was Mortos? He tried again to sense the god, but he couldn't. He returned instantly to the divine realms, and searched there. Nothing. Mortos was gone, he'd escaped! But where? How? And what havoc would he now wreak upon Draia in revenge?

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Chapter 23

 

A soft wind whispered across the shoreline as Mazhiez watched the boats sullenly. It was near midnight, yet the orchan docks were as busy as if it were mid-afternoon. His companions were in the local inn sleeping, but he'd already made his mind up to go on without them. Another boat limped to the docks, its sails tattered and it looked as if it had been through quite a battle. The orchans had jumped quickly to head off the dragon ships attempting to spread over the lands and though they were doing a fair good job so far, the price was heavy.

 

He found it puzzling that the orchans, who seemed to very much dislike the presence of another race among them, would go to so much work to defend waters well beyond their own home. A soft sound on the docks behind him made him turn. Acantos walked slowly toward him. Mazhiez found it amazing the centaur could walk so quietly on hooved feet.

 

"It is as if I have come to live in a legend," Acantos said without looking at Maz, rather staring out to sea.

 

"Is this land very different from your own?" Mazhiez questioned. He was very curious about the lands this centaur had come from.

 

"Different indeed; it does possess a likeness to the lands which existed before the war of the gods however," the centaur replied, his eyes still locked on the horizon.

 

"War of the gods?" Mazhiez asked curiously. There was so much this centaur seemed to know. Was all this history he had true? How was it possible that it had all been forgotten by the people of Irilion and Seridia?

 

"That is the name which we bestow upon the time that tore our lands apart. When Mortos's plans were stopped and the resulting destruction ensued from the conflict of the divine. Your people possess no records of these events?" Acantos seemed nearly as fascinated with Mazhiez as Mazhiez was with him.

 

"None. All our history tells us is that long ago Seridia and Irilion were in close contact with regular trade and travel. Then, for some reason, we broke apart and were lost to legend until only a short time ago. A gnome was responsible for reconnecting the two continents."

 

"The people of Lanterra always knew your lands were here, but it is a far travel away. Despite the enchanted ships of the dark elves, the journey here was long."

 

"How long have you been imprisoned, Acantos? It must be wonderful to be free again," Mazhiez said, looking up at him.

 

Acantos bent his head and frowned, "If I were to be truthful, I would have to admit that I would rather be dead than free," Acantos said softly.

 

Mazhiez looked away, he himself was suffering greatly from the loss of his city and sister, yet Acantos had lost so much more; his entire race. In fact, in many ways, Acantos had lost his entire world. Mazhiez knew he could never understand the depth of Acantos's sorrow, no more than a random elf of Aeth Aelfan could understand his. All could sympathize, feel shock at the horrible destruction, but only those who felt it could truly understand.

"And now you intend to venture on alone?" Acantos asked.

 

"Yes. The orchans reported letting a ship of refugees from Iscalrith sail through their blockade. They stopped here shortly and went on toward Thelinor. I don't know where they think they're going, but I'm going after them. Two orchan ships are going north to Melinis to catch a ship that slipped past them. They'll drop me off in Thelinor on their way."

 

"Yet you abandon your friends in this land?" Acantos pointed out.

 

"Not abandon, they can take care of themselves, perhaps help the orchans fight." Mazhiez paused and glanced up at the stars. "I already abandoned my people, now I can only hope that I can save my sister."

 

"Samara told me of your troubles, you regret your decision not to provide assistance to the leader of your people?" Acantos asked.

 

"Not leader of my people, just of the armies," Mazhiez hesitated. "I could have listened to him and given him advice. If I'd helped him prepare, there would have been a chance to get thousands out of the city."

 

"I once knew an old wise centaur, he taught me how our choices may be rash and wrong at times, yet we can always shape them to a greater good, if we only try," said Acantos.

 

"Greater good? And what good can come of so many dead draegoni? I abandoned my duty to my people because of my hatred toward a single man!" Mazhiez cried out.

 

"I questioned the centaur's wisdom for so long, but in the end, he was right. I do not know if such things would always hold true, but you can still save your sister."

 

"And how do I know she is even alive?"

 

"Ask the gods."

 

"The gods have abandoned us," Mazhiez grunted, "just as much as I did my people."

 

"Sir draegoni!" A yell came from one of the ships at the docks. "Sir draegoni, we will start our journey north soon!"

 

Acantos glanced over to Mazhiez. "In some events, it is not our own choice who travels where. I pray, let your friends which have slipped out in the dark of night go with you."

 

Mazhiez looked puzzled at Acantos for a moment, then whipped around as someone tapped his shoulder behind him. Samara and Velor stood there, dressed in leathers, carrying weapons and packs.

 

"We followed you because we believed in what you were doing Maz, not so you could run off on your own on a heroic quest to guide the refugees of Dra Leont back safely," Sam smiled.

 

Mazhiez opened his mouth to protest, but didn't know what to say. He really had little excuse for them not to come and deep down he didn't want to search for his sister alone. "And what of you Velor?"

 

"Well Jeeve wants to stay with his people, Durron couldn't be bothered to wake up at midnight to come after you and as it turns out four legs is afraid of water too. Mazhiez noticed Acantos grin at Velor's words and he wondered what had passed between his friends and the centaur. On the journey to Redmoon and the time on the island, he'd been away from both his companions and the centaur. From the looks of things they'd spent some decent time together.

 

"Four legs?" Mazhiez questioned, glancing at Acantos again, suprised the centaur did not protest.

 

"Velor has proclaimed that to be my... nickname..." Acantos said the word carefully. "It is a word my dialect of common does not use, but I believe I understand it now."

 

"And you know what four legs means too?" Mazhiez inquired.

 

"Of course, although I don't understand why Velor finds it so amusing. I do indeed have four legs." Acantos seemed amused by Velor if not by the name.

 

"Sir draegoni!" The call came from the ship again. Mazhiez knew there was no getting rid of his friends now. Acantos bid them a silent farewell with a nod of his head. It seemed he had already decided to remain in Redmoon with Jeeve and Durron.

 

"May Aluwen watch over you," Mazhiez bowed to Acantos. The centaur seemed to have a strong belief in the gods.

"I shall pray that Centau guides you with his wisdom," Acantos returned the bow with another deep nod. "And I shall be forever greatful for you freeing me from my stale confinement. I pray we meet again, Mazhiez of the draegoni."

 

No more words could possibly be exchanged, and Mazhiez, Velor, and Sam hurried to board the ship. Acantos remained standing on the docks. He was a majestic and stunning creature and it pained Mazhiez that he couldn't stay and learn to know him better. But Acantos raised a hand in farewell, his other wrapped tightly around the spear he seemed to always have with him.

 

Mazhiez couldn't help but think of his sister as he boarded the ship bound for Thelinor. He secretly hoped she had somehow made it out and he would find her with the other draegoni that had fled Dra Leont. However he knew the chances were slim, and tried to focus on why those draegoni seemed to be running across the world. With no idea where they were bound or why, Mazhiez could only follow them and hope to help them back safely to the southern lands.

 

Part of him wished he could remain in Redmoon and help the sturdy and honorable orchan people defend their lands and the seas, but now that he had heard of this ship of draegoni, he felt compelled to go after them. He needed to find out who had survived, whatever foolhardy errand they had set themselves to seemed to be drawing them farther away from their homeland, where anxious draegoni wondered if any had survived.

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