The Sword Of Antwillon By Sir Christopher Stewart * In The Lair Of The Dragon * A Deafening roar echoed through the ancient and barren rock walls of the cave. Traccanor stabbed the right claw of the Eldritch dragon, causing it to bellow and back hand the fighter. The elf was knocked back thirty feet into Karisa, knocking her over and disrupting her incantations. In the mix-up, the Fireball leapt from Karisa’s hand, to bounce off the ceiling, and strike Kran. The Thief was then knocked over the dragon’s tail into a chest, which spilled its contents over the unconscious body of the halfling. “Amusing! Puny little man thing!” The dragon laughed, shaking the already nervous mage. She had never even seen a dragon before this. All that Karisa had known of dragons was ancient folk-lore, and somehow this dragon was different. Getting back up, Traccanor shook the dizziness out of his eyes. He grasped the hilt of his sword with a new vengeance. Traccanor had just realized that Kessel, the cleric, was dead. With rage filling his mind, and red filling his eyes, Traccanor leapt to confront the dragon. Karisa suddenly thought of her father’s last words to her, “Stay alive no matter what! And someday, I will return for you! I promise!” Why, of all times am I thinking of this! I have a dragon to kill! Karisa shocked herself back to the matter at hand, the dragon! “Foul and evil creature! may death be your end! Traccanor yelled! “Puny elven scum! Prepare to DIE!” The Dragon cackled back. The Dragon’s head arched back, and with a snap of the head, bellowed forth a cone of fire. The dragon's breath weapon fully encompassed the fighter and the mage as they prepared to strike, sending them both to oblivion. “Fools!” Draxsarreanous spat to himself! “All of these man creatures! Either human, elf, dwarf, hobbit, or what all. Sneaking into my lair, to steal my treasure! I tell you!” “Oh mighty and glorious dragon of elder times! Might I have a word with you mighty Draxious?” Draxious being an old elven name of his, Draxsarreanous spun his head to see the image of a tall, dark, elven mage. The elf was dark-skinned, probably dracken, and dressed in black and red robes with golden trim, and holding a glowing red sphere. “What do you want elven insect!” “I desire your assistance in a matter of utmost importance. “ Kalarrean, being used to talking to dragons, knew how to address this one. Draxsarreanous was understandably enraged. He had been woken up by sword, confronted by intruders, and now interrupted by an eves dropper! However, this mage interested him. A dracken, magically appearing in my lair, and not tangible, must be of some importance. Draxsarreanous thought to himself. “Of what do you speak?” Draxsarreanous yawned, trying to calm himself, and trying to make the elf think he wasn’t interested. * The Future King * Meanwhile half the world away, in the small town of Attum, by the shore of the Adrela sea, a teenage boy was fishing. Naccorell was a carefree youth; who, spent his days pondering adventure and excitement. Though most humans would find an elven village exciting, having grown up with the elves, village life bored Naccorell. Tomorrow was his birthday, and more than that it was his naming day; he would be eighteen. “Hey! Why so gloomy round ear?” It was Tash, his elven brother. “After all, tomorrow is your naming day, your day of importance, your day of maturity, your day of...” “Tash! Knock it off, ok! I know what tomorrow is.” “So, What’s with you? Tomorrow is your most important day, and you’re fishing. You’re fishing! And feeling sorry for yourself.” “I am not!” “Oh! Then, pray tell why is it that you haven’t even noticed that you’ve caught one?” “wha...oh...oops...kruck! He got away. Well Tash, your right something is bothering me. I’m bored. This village life is not for me. I’m tired of the same old songs and stories, the herbs, the forests, and the hunts. There must be more to life than this!” “Are you kidding! Life is great!” We don’t have to worry about anything. we always get more food than we can eat on the hunts. Nature is peaceful here, and we haven't had any problems since that old tidal wave of thirty seasons past. The mountain wall prevents any would be enemies from attacking us. Life is peaceful.” “That is the problem Tash! Life is too peaceful! You at least have it great, Dancer, you got the chance to be a wardancer. They won’t let me be one, because I’m not an elf. You can go on the border patrols. Now that’s where the action is. I’d love to go on patrol.” “Well, we all have our tasks to perform in life. “ “But, I can handle a sword just as well as you can.” “Ha! That’s a laugh, little brother. The day that a round ear can best me in steel, is the day that I’ll walk naked into a dragon’s den!” “Oh yeah!” And the two brothers took up their swords and started to fight. A whirl of blades and a flash of steel, but neither won any ground on the other. Then, near a tree, Naccorell simply vanished! “What the?” Tash, completely baffled, looked all around and then up, but to no avail. “Where’d you go? Naccorell?” Then a click, a flash of smoke, and Naccorell appeared behind Tash, with sword extended around Tash’s neck. “Hey now! That’s not fair!” “But, I thought the idea of a sword fight was to put as quickly an end to your opponent as possible.” “Ok...ok...but can you put away your sword?” Naccorell and Tash both then withdrew their swords to their scabbards, laughing at one another. “Well round ear, your no wardancer, but you’d make one hell of an assassin!” “Well Tash! Are you now going to find a dragon’s den?” “What?” “So you can walk naked into it.” “Why you little...” “Tash Dancer...Naccorell, come quick!” It was Kalee the sentry. “The council bids you to come!” “The council!” in unison. Led by Kalee, Tash and Naccorell enter the stone house of the elders’. Once inside, a ring of elves caught their attention. Tash recognized Matka, his superior and the fiercest wardancer in the tribe. Naccorell noticed that their father and mother were there. Taveron, The tribal chieftain was speaking to Matka. “...unusual?” “Well sir, in the past we’ve occasionally lost a patrol or two here and there. But usually, it was a rock slide or something else natural, nothing at all like this.” “I see. So how long has it been?” “We haven’t heard from any of our northern patrols for twelve hours; and furthermore, we haven’t heard from three of our relief patrols in five hours.” Tash and Naccorell both, gasped! They both knew that their were six patrols assigned to the northern border, making a total of none “lost” patrols. Tash also knew that each six elf patrol contained two wardancers. Taveron, now addressing Tash and Naccorell, spoke up. “Ah...good, you’re here! Tash, Naccorell, I have a task for you. You two are to lead a patrol into the northern reaches. You are to find out what has happened to our nine, ah...missing, patrols. Matka will also join you in your quest.” “But sir!” Tash exclaimed. “Why us? I mean, what can we do that thirty six elves and eighteen wardancers can’t “ “Matka has told me that you two are the best fighters that she has ever trained! Therefore, since you two are the best, she wants you two by her side. Now then, Tash Dancer, you and your patrol will depart tomorrow at first light. If we haven’t heard from you in two days, we will assume the worst, and muster forth every able-bodied elf to the north. We must know what is happening in the north! We must also determine if it is only happening in the north, or if our other borders are in danger! You have this evening to pay your respects to your parents. So... if there is nothing further...” “Ah...sir?” “Yes Naccorell.” “Tomorrow is my naming day.” “Naccorell, like all great warriors, you have named yourself. you are Ta-Keash, Shadow Stalker! You shall henceforth be known as Naccorell Shadowstalker.” “My son.” Spoke up Tashmerian, their father. “Naccorell, now that you are of age, I have something for you.” Tashmerian produced a small package wrapped in black silk. “Your father wanted you to have this, when you came of age.” Naccorell opened the silk, and saw a golden pendant. The pendant was a beautiful piece of workmanship. It was made of solid gold, and was carved in minute detail. It looked like the head and forelegs of a maned horse. It had a single horn on it’s forehead, hair on it’s hooves, and it’s skin looked like a horse’s, except its body appeared to be scaled. A Ki-rin. The back of the pendant was scribed with the following words: Once Beauty and joy are split asunder, No Thoughts or cares are left to wonder, Charred and barren the land is gone, Not a soul alive to greet the dawn, With the land destroyed by evil might, Not a hope or prayer left in sight, The sword is buried the seal is broken, Nothing is left except this token, Unto all let hope depart, For the heart is torn apart! Naccorell hooked the pendant around his neck. “He also wanted you to have this.” Tashmerian handed over a long object wrapped in black silk and tied in black leather. Naccorell, gasping in awe, took the long package and slowly unwrapped it. a slow soft whistle left his lips as his eyes fell upon the carved black gemstone hilt of a sword. Wonder filled his eyes as he noticed that the scene on the hilt was a Ki-rin fighting a dragon. He fully opened the silk to study the scabbard. The Scabbard was black and rimed in silver. As Naccorell drew the blade from it’s scabbard, a brilliant Crimson light filled the room and began to pulsate. All eyes fixed on a palm sized, heart shaped ruby. The ruby was fixed fully within the blade near the hilt. The ruby was generating the light and it seemed to “beat” like a heart. Runes were scribed all the way down both sides of the blade. The Blade itself was a beautiful piece of workmanship, with very minute grains. In fact, it looked like there were no grains at all! The sword had a black blade and runes carved in silver. It looked like a combination of Damascus Steel and Dwarven Silver. Naccorell looked around and asked, “Can anyone read these runes?” “I am sorry Shadowstalker, but no one here has ever seen these. They May be an ancient human script, or a forgotten dwarven script from the mines of Neverdal.” answered Taveron. “Father, does the sword have a name?” “I don’t know Naccorell. Though, you could ask the sword itself.” Naccorell thought for a wile, and the words Kithmar Dragonbain entered his mind. He slowly resheathed the sword and strapped it to his waist. He then tucked the silks and straps in his belt pouch. And now his elven father addressed him again. “Naccorell, it is time for me to tell you about your father. Your father’s name was Richard Montelly, and your human name is Naccorell Montelly. It was a long time ago, what to you would be sixteen years past, as I have raised you in the ways of men. I Had met your father in the woods while on Patrol in the west. He was haggard, weary, and wounded. With his battered condition I thought that he had just fled a battle. His horse had been ridden hard and fierce, as if it was fleeing for it’s life, and was nearly spent. He must have ridden all through the night. It was at this time that I had my patrol take cover in the trees. All of a sudden, the horse collapsed dead in its tracks, hurling the rider and a bundle to the ground. The rider had hugged the bundle to himself as he was thrown to the ground, so I thought that it must be important to him. I wondered what had killed the horse in mid-stride; for it was definitely dead, and the death was too sudden. Then I caught the sent. Skaven! There was no doubt. Those unholy abominations of chaos! Those half man half rat creatures are unmistakable! Takneen was on point, in a tree, and clicked “Mage!” Then I knew how the horse had died. A spell. I slowly moved over to Takneen, keeping to the shadows and bushes. Then I saw the white Skaven, and two brown Skaven on wolves. I knew that our attack had to be smooth and quick, before the white Skaven got off another spell. The white Skaven was searching, he had to be, or he’d of finished off the rider. I motioned for two elves to hide the rider, while the rest of us killed Skaven. The plan was ready, and soon the rider was hidden, but the other task was harder. As we descended upon the Skaven, they must have known that something was up. Takneen was the first to die, met by a lightning bolt, then Takren, followed by a single brown Skaven. I met the second brown Skaven head on. But as my sword cut through his jugular vein, the last of my forward group, Takferon, met a lightning bolt square between the eyes. So, there I was, alone with a white Skaven and three wolves. My muscles tensed, as the white Skaven started to chant! Then, all of a sudden in mid-chant, the white Skaven gave out a gut wrenching scream! I did not know, nor did I see who had thrown the sword. Yet there it was. A black sword incased in a crimson light had been thrown through the air. It hit the Skaven right at the solar plexus, and buried itself up to the hilt. The Skaven fell backward off the wolf, and then the three wolves fled into the forest. I turned to see a very battered man slowly approaching. The two elves that I had sent to hide him, were following close behind him with a bundle. He retrieved his sword, and resheathed it. He then thanked me for the aid, but said that he couldn’t stay in any one place for too long. I extended my hand in friendship and said, “Please come with us. For anyone hunted by the Skaven is in need of help. Come with us.” “Please come with us, you will be safe. Come back to our village, and tell us your tale,” Spoke up my companion with the bundle. He agreed, and followed us back to the village, where he unfolded his tale.” “My name is Richard Montelly, son of King Jerald Montelly, and heir to the throne of Antwillon. This is my son Naccorell.” He then held up the bundle to reveal a two year old human boy. I gasped! For when I thought that he had ridden all night, he, in fact, had ridden more than five hundred leagues, all the way from Antwillon. “My friends, I’m afraid that I bring you dire news. The dracken and Skaven are banding together, along with other unholy chaos scum! They seem to be moving with a purpose.” “They came to Antwillon as a seething mass. Everything seemed to fall to the dark hord. They crushed all of our out-lying towns and villages like they were grapes. The Keep of Dranord didn’t even last a day! As our sentry keeps started to crumble, my father decided upon a very drastic measure.” “To protect the crown and his heirs, he sent me with my son to the east. My wife and daughter were to go to the north, and my little brother was to go to the south. He felt that with us separated, there was less chance that all would perish. We were to find a safe haven for the children, and then go back to confront the black hordes.” “Unfortunately, my father didn’t know what I was to find out. The hordes had already encircled the castle, and were planning an assault that week. Of the one hundred personal guards I had with me, once we had punched a hole through the hord, only two survived with me. Those two guards died from wounds and blood loss in a day.” “On the third day of my flight across the plains, the evening sky was alight. I turned in my saddle to see the castle on the horizon burning. Then horror over took my senses, as I saw a dark silhouette soaring through the flames. A dragon! They’ve got a dragon! I thought to myself, and prayed for the safety of my family.” “It was then that I decided to flee as hard and as fast as I could. I knew that if a dragon was attacking the castle, then I must carry out my mission, and return as quickly as possible, to help save the realm. So, I flew through lands, mountains, and forests that I would not tell. I was chased by many things, and avoided all of them to the last, when my horse Wildmaine, was taken by Skaven spell. Then your elven patrol found me, and was all but wiped out while trying to save me.” “I grieve for your fallen elves, That died so that I might live; however, know that they died protecting my son, the Future King! So, at last I come to my plea to you. Please, take my son, and raise him in the ways of both men and elves. Allow him to understand why this had to happen. Let him grow strong, and he will be a strong king.” “When he comes of age, give him these. He may have need of my sword. Tell him of his heritage, and if I do not return, tell him that he is king of all of Antwillon. As I now ride off to near certain death, tell him how much I love him. Now, what say you to my plea?” “Prince Richard,” I spoke up, “I will raise your son as one of my own, and in the ways of men as well. I will also let him know how gallant his father is. I will ensure that he becomes a stout, and worthy fighter. In the event that your mission fails, I shall send him to take back his crown.” “Then Taveron bade him to stay the night. He was given provisions, and then he left with an army of some two hundred elves strong to aid him. No member of that army was ever heard from again. So, Naccorell, you must now be given the choice. Will you join your brother tomorrow, on his quest to the north? Or, will you head west, to avenge your human father and retake the Throne of Antwillon, King Naccorell?” Naccorell thought long and hard weighing the choices in his mind, then slowly began to speak, “I shall retire this evening to think, and on the marrow shall you know my mind.” On that, he left the house of elders, to think. * The Long Flight * The torch light danced across the rock walls of the cave. The gleam of gold, the sparkle of the gems, was truly a magnificent sight. The dragon’s hord held more wealth than any man could spend in a lifetime. Unfortunately for Kalarrean, all he could see through his spell was the dragon’s head and neck. The mere sight of the dragon’s head, even through the spell, was enough to make the hair on the back of Kalarrean’s neck stand up. Kalarrean tried, with all of his might, to look at the dragon’s plate scales on the underside of it’s neck. He knew that those scales would not shift. He also knew that if he met the dragon’s gaze, even through the spell, he would be lost forever. He thought long and hard to find a way to answer the dragon but, he could tell that the dragon was getting restless and angry. “Answer me! You pathetic black insect!” Draxsarreanous spat. He was, after all, still angry about the intruders: and waiting for a reply form this floating image was really getting on his nerves. Keeping as calm a voice as Kalarrean could, he spoke on. “Draxious, the war has gone well these sixteen years past. We have all but won the realm free of these pathetic humans, elves, and kind hearted folk. However, there are still some areas which, despite all of our efforts, we still can’t clean out. There is also another matter, a legend of a sword, a seal, and a hero that will end the Dark Lords rule.” “Our captive slaves sing songs and praises to this would be hero. Our forces laugh at them saying, ’Where is this hero of yours now? Why doesn’t your hero come and save you from the mines? Or is your hero the very rock which you mine?’ You must bring me this Sword Of Antwillon. You must kill this supposed hero, if indeed he does exist, and ensure the Dark Lords rule for all time.” “You want me to aid this war again! Have I not already done, my mother, the Queen’s bidding? Have I not already brought down the castle and house of Antwillon? Is not all the land of Antwillon baron and dead? Do your dark hords not feast upon human flesh? The war is over! My mother, the Queen’s bidding is done! You have won! And, what have I gotten for all this? I rule a dead land! My home is now less obscured! Now anything that seeks gold wanders into my lair! Why should I help you? All I’ve ever received from this war, that I couldn’t get without it, is annoyances!” “You would rule the realm.” “I already rule it!” “You would receive power, glory, and fame.” “I already have it!” “You would gain all the wealth of the land!” “I already have more wealth than two hundred men could spend in a lifetime. What I don’t have, in gold and gems, I can take for myself! As you can see, maggot, you can offer me nothing that I don’t already possess, or that I can’t take for myself! So, again I ask, why should I help you?” Kalarrean was running out of cards, and though he hesitated to use his last one, he found that he had no choice. Fear filled the back of Kalarrean’s mind as he spoke, for he had no idea if it would work. “Because, Dragon, I command it!” Confidence returning to his voice, he continued, “I am Kalarrean, son of Cronous, ruler of the Dark Legions, and high priest of the Dark Lord! Ka Lee Jen Mith Ta Ko Ma Tee Soth Ta! I bind you, dragon, by the name of Draxious, to bring me the Sword Of Antwillon!” At that, Draxsarreanous gave out a thundering roar that echoed all throughout the cave, shattering a few stalactites. The binding spell had been incomplete, for his true name was not used, but he hated it just the same. “You insolent worm! You’ll pay for this! I’ll bring you your sword, and then make you eat it!” Draxsarreanous breathed on the image of the dracken and it vanished. “Mother! I hate bindings! Even incomplete ones! By the blood of Tiamat, that Kalarrean will rue the day he crossed my path! I’ll rip off his skin and feed it to the ghouls of the abyss!” As the ranting’s of the dragon were echoing across the cave, Kran was slowly coming back to consciousness. “Oh! Where am I? And what the hell hit...” As Kran uttered the last words that he ever would, Draxsarreanous stomped the thief flat, splattering his brains all over the gold that he would’ve spent his life stealing. “Insects!” The dragon spat! He had all he was going to take for this evening. Maybe, there’s a village of dracken or elven maggots that I can slag. He thought to himself, as he stretched his wings wide, letting the air flow over the pockets. Then, the mighty dragon swooped off the ground, into the air, and out into the night. Silence, at last, fell over the cave, and all was still in the brisk night air. Where am I? Karisa thought to herself, while trying, to no avail, to see her surroundings. All she could see was blackness. Am I alive, or dead? All I can remember is the dragon breathing on us. Could I have survived? Yes, you did survive Karisa. It was a deep male voice. Traccanor? No. I am mo one that you have know, but I am a friend. Who are you, and why can I not see? I am known by many names, but you may call me Sether. Your sight will return in time. You were nearly killed. Where am I? You are where you have always have been. In the dragon’s lair? Suddenly Karisa felt herself again. Slowly she opened her eyes, and saw that she was alone in the dragon’s lair. “Sether? Where are you?” I am here. The voice echoed through her mind. Gradually she sat up. Her head hurt and her ribs hurt. “Why can’t I see you?” But you can see me, you always have. “What the?” You’ve always admired me, and caressed me. I made you think of home. “What?” Slowly she reached inside her tunic and pulled out her golden pendant. “Sether?” She questioned, looking at the golden pendant that her mother gave her. Yes “Are you in my pendant.” That depends on what you mean by in. “Oh my, a Magic Jar. Now I understand.” Looking at herself, she noticed that her leather armor was destroyed, her sword was no where in sight, and her staff was broken. She looked a bloody mess. Her numerous wounds had clotted over, and she could hardly stand. Slowly she started to crawl across the floor. Her hand brushed a hilt, and she stopped. Looking down she saw a black sword with a ruby set in the pommel. My Mage Blade! She thought as she resheathed her sword. Looking around she saw a silver chain mail shirt. She very carefully adorned the chainmail, and found, to her amazement, that it wasn’t as heavy as she thought it would be. Then she found the remains of her pack, and retrieved her spell book and scrolls. She grabbed three pouches, and put the book and scrolls in one. The other pouches she filled with gold and gems. She saw that the other members of her party were dead. I Must get out of here quickly before that dragon comes back. She thought to herself. As she crawled across the floor towards the opening, She wondered why she had come her in the first place. Then her head hit a large shield, and knocked it over. She froze, and then realized that the dragon was not in the lair. She looked at the standard on the shield, and gasped. Her eyes fell on an all to familiar standard, a golden Ki-rin rampant on a black field enrailed in silver. The standard of Antwillon! Now I remember. I came here to avenge the murder of my family, and the destruction of my castle. I could take the shield and wear it with honor. But no, too many of the dark forces would recognize me. And, as everyone knows the royalty of Antwillon have all bee killed. Ha! Not all of them, you scum! I shall avenge my family one day dragon! But not today. She thought to herself. She reached the mouth of the lair, and tried to stand. Staggering, she reached out and clutched a staff. Leaning on the staff, she staggered out into the night. She staggered for a wile, then tripped and fell, tumbling a long way down the side of the mountain, and finally stopping under a bush. She looked up to see the dragon returning to his lair, and sighed. “Ah! Now I feel better. Roasting a village of puny elves, it does the heart good to see buildings burn to the ground. I wonder what is so special about this ‘Sword of Antwillon.’ I also wonder what could be guarding it, that a mage would be scared of. Oh well.” He let out a very large yawn. “Something to ponder on the marrow.” He laid down in his usual spot, when suddenly, “Hey, wait a moment. This pile has shifted. And, where is my pillow! My pillow of chainmail is gone! Someone has been in here!” He bellowed! Scanning the room, he also noticed that the shield, bearing the standard of Antwillon, had been knocked over, and the staff at the mouth of the lair was gone. Then he remembered the earlier intruders, and started counting bodies. “There’s one missing! The mage! I’ll find that filthy crawly if it’s the last thing I ever do!” A thundering roar split the night air around the countryside, as the dragon took flight again. Oh God! He’s looking for me. He must have noticed, somehow, that I took this armor and staff. Maybe he won’t see me. Karisa thought to herself, as the dragon passed by over head. The dragon soared off into the night, leaving the mountain behind him. With a sigh of relief, Karisa thanked God for the bush that covered her, and that it was night, and sank into a dreamless sleep. ********** The Morning dew was cold on her cheek, as Karisa slowly opened her eyes. There was a soft sweet breeze that smelled like clover, she was amazed that the air didn’t reek of dragon. She had, after all, just tumbled part way down the mountain, she thought. Slowly sitting up, Karisa noticed that she had actually tumbled all the way down to the base of the mountain, and had stopped, under a bush, some six hundred yards from the mouth of the lair. “Ah! My back is really sore. I think I’ll just lie here for awhile.” She propped herself up against the bush and looked herself over. She looked like she’d just been to hell and back. “Well Karisa, you’ve certainly gotten yourself into a mess. Hmm...I I have a spell that can improve my currant position?” She flipped through her spell book, but all she could find was a Cure Light Injury, and her injuries were anything but light. She removed the chainmail shirt, and then her tunic. She carefully tore up the black tunic, being careful to leave enough to cover herself, and bound her wounds. Her breeks were shredded, so she cut them leaving just enough to cover herself, and bound the wounds on her legs. Slowly she started chanting the Cure Light Injury spell, it wouldn’t heal her wounds, but it would help. After that she collapsed again for about an hour, the ordeal of the lair had been rough on her. A bluejay’s squawk on the branch above her head, woke her up again. “Damn Bird! But your right, I should be moving on.” She readorned the chain, “Man, that’s cold! Boy do I miss my cloak. Oh well, Karisa, next time you fight a dragon, take a fireproof cloak along.” She chuckled to herself. “Squawk!” “Alright, alright I’m getting. Sheesh, what a pushy bird.” Gradually she stood up, and then staggered into the bush. “Squawk!” “There! I hope you’re happy!” “Squawk!” “Look at me, I’m yelling at a bird for my own injuries.” Then she broke up laughing, and picked up the staff. Leaning on the staff, she apologized to the bluejay for disturbing it, and started walking, chuckling to herself. It was mid-afternoon before she finally came to a road. It had been a five day journey on horseback to the mountain, and it would be an even longer trip back, to any town, on foot. She was very hungry, but hadn't seen any wildlife except birds. Finally, an hour later, she saw a patch of strawberries and feasted on them. Hours went by, and she was getting very tired. Suddenly the sky went dark, and she looked up to see the immense body of the mile long dragon. Quickly she stumbled into a dense patch of laurel and collapsed. The dragon flew on by, but she was too tired and too scared to move for several hours. Slowly she stood and staggered on. Her muscles were all tight, and now her left leg hurt. Damn! She thought to herself. If only I hadn’t fallen down the mountain, then maybe my leg wouldn’t hurt so much. She leaned more on the staff, to compensate, and continued on. The sun started to set in a brilliant crimson sky, but she still trudged on. She started to head away from the road, as she knew that with night fall enemy riders might be transversing this road. She didn’t truly know which road it was that she followed; but, she believed it was the road that ran between Mathar and Cronar. It didn’t really matter, since both towns were in the hands of the enemy. She walked a fair distance from the road and then collapsed under a tree. She didn’t dare start a fire, because that could potentially draw the attention of the dragon. Slowly she drifted into a restless sleep. She dreamed of the dragon taunting her. He would claw at her, torment her, and then maim her, all for fun, and she could do nothing to stop it. In the middle of the night she was startled awake by the distant sound of hoof beats. She looked up to see a lone rider darting away into the night. Slowly she went back to sleep, and this time she dreamed of her companions. All was merry and good until the dragon broke through the walls of a bar, spewing fire on her party. Just before dawn, on the second day, Karisa was woken up by the distant, horrifying, hollow sound of a drum. The beat was steady, unyielding, and drawing closer. She leaned against the tree and looked toward the sound. Just as the purple sky was getting lighter, and the first golden rays of the sun peaked the horizon, there they were. A full army, some ten thousand strong, was steadily marching along the road, to the beat of that infernal drum. They were still some two hundred yards off, but Karisa was feeling very nervous. Then she saw the lead standard break the wind, and sank in horror. The standard was the dark, foreboding, bleeding yellow rose wrapped in chains on a black field, a symbol of slavery, pain, and death. It was the standard of the Dark Lord. What could she do? Just great! Here I am, near crippled from wounds, out on the open plains, with an enemy hord bearing down on me, and a dragon hunting for me. She thought to herself. Quickly she studied the surrounding terrain, but all she saw was a low gully thirty yards behind her. As the lead column drew closer, she saw that they were mostly dracken. That’s funny. She thought, I didn’t think dracken could travel in sun light. Cautiously she started to crawl toward the gully, in hopes that it would shield her somewhat. The crawl was painful as all of her muscles screamed, they were all still stiff. The journey also seemed to take forever. Finally she sank into the grassy gully, and now she could really hear the drum. It seemed like the hord was right on top of her. She thought that, if they followed the road, the lead column would be parallel to her, just fifty yards from her. Then she heard two horses approaching, and her heart was in her throat. Then she thought Spells! She picked up her spell book and then made the incantations for the spell of Invisibility. “Over there. Did you see that?” “Ah, it’s nothing. probably a bird, nothing more.” “Yeah, you’re right, I feel stupid.” “Your just jumpy. Relax, who would spy on our army? After all, we control the road and the towns on either side of us.” The two dark elves road off back to the column. Man, that was close. Karisa sighed to herself. I don’t know how long this spell will last, but I pray that it will last long enough to let the hord pass by. She closed her eyes and tried to relax. Time seemed to stand still as the hord went by. Slowly, as the drum started to fade into the distance, she fell asleep. She dreamed of wars and battles of old, where armies of over a million killed each other to the beat of a drum. She woke up at dusk and looked around. The hord seemed to have moved on. Slowly she stood and started to walk. She looked toward the road, she saw some movement and froze. In the last light of twilight, she could see tall figures in two by two ranks moving very fast. She could hear a great deal of scurrying, almost like giant insects, and sand back down to her knees. I don’t know what these things are, but it almost seems that the forces of the Dark Lord are beyond number. How am I ever going to walk across the open plains, wounded, and with enemy swarms all over. Through her despair, she thought of spells, and studied her spell book in the moon light. Well I could teleport. But to where? I’d have to know my destination, and the best I could do is to teleport several times across the plains, and I don’t have the energy for that. I could try to shape change, but with my injuries? No. I could try to alter my appearance, maybe useful inside an enemy hord. She laughed to herself. Well, turning myself invisible worked once, maybe it will work again. I’ll travel at night, and hide in day light. Her decision made, she stood and began to walk. This time she would stay no closer than sixty yards to the road. In the middle of the second night she saw a deer some twenty yards away. Giving up to hunger, she lightning bolted the deer. Once she reached it, she realized her foolishness in giving away her position. She drew her sword and cut away all the meat she could carry, with the lightning bolt she would not have to cook the meat. Quickly, she teleported to the horizon that she could see, and found herself on the road. Then, when she felt she was far away from the road, she sat and ate. In the moon light she could see campfires about three miles off. The hord! She thought, and sighed. for the next three days and nights she shadowed the hord, until, on the forth night, she noticed that the hord went off to the south. Upon reaching the road she understood why, for the road split to the south, and also continued to the east. She continued walking to the east for a day. In the morning of the next day, she collapsed in a dense patch of laurel. She was very tired, and she had finished off the venison the previous night. She was still some fifty yards from the road, and she fell asleep. ********** “Ah, good. Your finally coming around.” The voice startled her awake, Karisa found herself inside a tent. She was naked under a blanket, and her things were not in sight. She looked around to see a human woman, dressed in white leathers. She started to move. “Lie still! You’ll rip open your wounds again.” Karisa looked under the blanket to see new dressings on all of her wounds. “I found you in a very battered condition. Frankly, I’m amazed your still alive. I tell you, it’s shear stupidity to attack the hord by yourself. But, I suppose that you felt you had to.” Karisa was handed a bowl of soup and spoon. Eat it, it will give you strength. You look like you haven’t eaten for day’s. My name is Marria Devonshire, I am a healer of sorts. And you?” “I’m Karisa.” Her voice sounded so strange. She hadn’t spoken for almost a week and her voice almost startled her. “I know something of the arts.” “I gathered that when I saw your spell book.” “Where are my things?” “They are tied to my saddle bags.” “Where are we?” “About a day’s ride from Mathar.” “Marria? Who’s house do you follow?” “Well I’m no servant of the Dark Lord if that is what you are asking. I follow my heart, and I look forward to the time when darkness is gone, and Antwillon is healed. And you? Who’s house do you follow?” “The house of Antwillon.” “Well that’s a relief. I’d hate to think that I just saved the life of a magic using slave to the Dark Lord.” She said with a smile. “And I’d hate to think that after all I’d gone through, I’d just been captured by the enemy.” She smiled as she finished the soup. “What did you do to yourself?” “It wasn’t the hord, though they nearly marched right over me. I, and my comrades, went to kill the ancient dragon of old, and I was the only one to survive. Though I think that he still hunts me, for I stole that chainmail shirt from him.” “Well, you should rest now. Tomorrow we have a long journey ahead of us.” In the morning, Karisa and Marria woke and broke camp. Marria gave Karisa back her belongings, except for the staff which remained strapped to the saddle. “Here. You may have need of my cloak. Besides, if the dragon is still hunting you, maybe he wont sunglint the chain.” “Thanks.” Karisa smiled as she adorned the chainmail, and then the gray cloak. Marria helped her into the saddle, and then Vaulted in behind her. “Ok Sillrissa lets go.” Marria spoke to her beautiful chestnut mare which then headed for the road. “Marria, isn’t the road treacherous to travel on?” “Yes Karisa, but it’s also faster, and less conspicuous on horseback. An enemy patrol would stop a rider on the plains sooner than they would on the open road. Besides, all that laurel and sage is hard on a horse. So, miss fool who desires to die by dragon hand, tell me of yourself.” “Well Marria, I grew up in the town of Atliar far to the north, My father left when I was five, promising to return for me. My mother, who brought me to Atliar, was taken by slavers of Cronar two years later. When the Cronar slavers came, my mother hid me in the cellar of our home. Since most of the men had gone to confront the hords at Antwillon, the slavers took most of the women and children from the town.” “My mother’s friend, Sarah, became my adopted mother. Sarah was an apprentice mage, and in the years that followed reestablished the collage of Atliar. Her husband was one of the founding mages of the collage, but he never returned. Under her guidance I studied magic, and eventually surpassed her in knowledge. I also studied sword play with the local boys of Atliar.” “At age sixteen I ventured out to find my parents. Over the next five years I met my adventuring party, and we did subtle attacks against the Dark Lord. Last year in Cronar I found the Cur that had taken my mother, only to learn of her death. We killed the Cur and his maggot band, and then went seeking the dragon who pillaged the land. And you Marria, what of your past?” “I was raised in the city of Mathar. My dad went off to fight in the war, and my mother enrolled me in the Abby of Mathar. She said it was for my own good, and that I would be safe from the slavers, and the dark hords. So, I studied the clergy for many years. When the hord took Mathar three years ago, my mother was killed trying to protect our city.” “When I turned eighteen last year, I decided to venture abroad. I thought that maybe I could find a town somewhere that hadn't fallen to the Dark Lord. I have been to Antwillon and I was returning home with the news of the destruction of the castle when I found you. You didn’t look like you could be an enemy, and you were definitely in need of help. So, here we are.” They rode on for several hours and then came upon the edge of the city of Mathar. Marria dismounted, and opened her saddle bags. She took out a shirt of chainmail and a blue tunic. She removed the white leather tunic and adorned the blue tunic and chainmail. She also took out two maces which she hooked to her belt. Then she lead the horse into the city. “Karisa, the first thing we must do is to get you another cloak.” They walked to a local clothing merchant and Karisa dismounted. Karisa got a black satin cloak and black silk breeks and tunic. She handed the merchant a small ruby and he nodded. She handed Marria back her cloak. Later, as the two women were walking the horse through the streets toward the abby. “It sure does feel good to be wearing real clothes again. I definitely didn’t want to walk around in a city in those rags.” “I definitely know what you mean Karisa. I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing what you were forced to wear in a city, Why those rags barely covered you at all.” They laughed to each other as they approached the abby stables. When they rounded the corner, Marria stopped dead in her tracks and sank to her knees. Karisa looked up and gasped, for there before them, just sixty feet away, was the blacken, crumbling walls of the abby. The main gate of the abby had been wrenched from its hinges. The walls were all crumbling away, and rubble filled the courtyard. The two still standing towers, were blacken, and still smoldering. The Abby had fallen to the Dark hords.

If I have you hooked Good!! I'm working on this and I hope to have it published by 2004