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The Four as One

This is a work of fiction.  The characters herein are imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific place or living persons.  The options expressed in this manuscript are solely the opinions of the author and do not represent the opinions or thoughts of the publisher.  The author has represented and warranted full ownership and/or legal rights to publish all the materials in this book.

 

All Rights Reserved

Copyright © 2014 R. F. Pace

 

This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graph, electronic, or mechanic without the express written consent of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Note to Readers

 

 

Jake is a high school student that has just moved to a new community in the mountains.  He meets three other teens that have the same interest in hiking, camping and the love of the great outdoors.  Join these teens as they leave for a camping trip that turns into the adventure of a lifetime.  Explore a world where story book creatures come to life for Jake and his friends during their exciting quest.  One minute you’re hanging on to your seat in anticipation of what’s to come and in the next you’re, laughing at the funny antics of these teens enjoying life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

I started writing this book in hopes of providing good-quality reading for all ages.  First and foremost, I want to thank the good Lord for all He has provided me.  I also have to take a minute and thank my editor for making me feel like a “D” student in high school again.  I didn’t know red pens contained that much ink.  And last but not least, I thank my wife and kids for the endless hours of going over this book helping me. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

CHAPTER THIRTY

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

CHAPTER FORTY

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT

EPILOGUE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

     It started early one Saturday morning, when Jake’s father woke him up to help with chores from the big move.  Jake was still tired, it felt as if he had just gone to sleep.  When he decided he’d better get moving, he rolled over and looked at the clock.  It was just after 9 a.m.  He’d been asleep for over 11 hours.  Without even opening his eyes, he got out of bed and was going to go use his new bathroom.  His right foot landed on the pile of clothes he’d been wearing the night before.  His left foot came down close to the right one. When he decided to take a step, he stubbed his left toes on the box that was near the bed.  When his toes hit the box, he lost his balance and it sent Jake falling toward the floor.  While he was going down, yesterday’s clothes went flying up in the air.

 

     Downstairs in the kitchen, Jim and Donna, Jake’s parents, heard the big boom from Jake’s fall.  Donna turned to Jim and said, “I’ll bet that was the box you told him to put up before he went to bed.”  Jim just nodded as the two of them broke out laughing.

 

     On the not-so-funny side of it, Jake had both eyes open and was wide awake now.  He popped up from the floor like a startled animal.  He did the quick look around as if someone might have seen what happened.  He quickly went into the bathroom.  Jake was 17, just over 6 feet tall and had a solid build.  As he walked past the mirror, he caught a glimpse of himself.  His short brown hair was going in every direction, except lying down.  After a quick shower, Jake walked back into his bedroom to finish getting dressed.  With one quick look around at the boxes, he decided it was just as easy to put the same clothes back on from the night before, rather than trying to find clean ones.

 

     As Jake got to the kitchen, both of his parents had smirks on their faces.  Jake tried to avoid any eye contact with them for what he knew was the inevitable.   Two steps later, as if someone had cued him, Jim said, “Did you have a nice trip?”  Donna, not one to be left out of anything, added, “We heard you had a great fall.”  Both Jim and Donna started laughing again.  Jake could only shake his head back and forth.

 

     After a quick bite to eat, the three of them started unpacking from the multitude of boxes. To Jake, life was at rock bottom.  Jake loved to be outside, not trapped inside and especially not unpacking boxes.  Minutes seemed like hours to him and the boxes seemed to be multiplying.  Unpacking would have been a lot quicker if it wasn’t for one or the other of his parent always having to make a comment about the item they removed from a box.

 

     Jake would stop from time to time and look out the windows.  He understood why his parents chose this place.  The view was absolutely breathtaking.  You could see a good variety of tall green trees, hills that led up to massive mountains and a crystal blue lake that sparkled in the distance.  This was what every outdoors lover could only dream of.   Snapping out of his daydream, Jake worked his butt off the rest of the day and well into the night.  When he went to bed that night, his head hit the pillow and he was out.

 

***

 

     Sunday morning was a very busy time for the family, with everyone trying to find clothes, eat breakfast and get ready for church.  Jake got up and in no time his father was yelling for him to get down stairs so they could leave.  During the drive to church, Jake had his face glued to the window.  He once again began daydreaming about hiking through the countryside.  When the car stopped, Jake snapped out of his daydream and realized they had arrived at church.

 

    As Jake walked into the church, the first thing he noticed was a lot of teenagers his age.  Several of the girls were staring his way, which made him feel a bit uncomfortable.  Before either one of his parents could say anything snarky, Jake said, “Please don’t!”  Jim just looked at him and winked.  Donna was too busy scrutinizing the young ladies that were checking her son out.  They picked a spot to sit near the back of the church in the middle section.

 

     Jake had a perfect view of most of the teens.  The teen section was over to the right side of the church.  Jake spent most of his time watching the other teenagers who were watching him, than listening to what was being said by the pastor.  The service went by fast and before he knew it, everyone was walking out the front doors.  When the family stopped to be greeted by the pastor, he reiterated, “Welcome to our community.  Don’t forget the youth are having a get-together today at 3:00.  That will be a great way for you to make some new friends.”  Jim said, “Thanks, Jake would love to come back this afternoon and meet some kids his own age.”

 

     During the ride back home, Jake said, “I think I’ll stay and help unpack boxes instead of going back to the youth group meeting today.”  Jim replied, “If that’s what you want to do, that’s fine with us, but I thought you would enjoy a little time away from unpacking boxes.”  Jake said, “Well, I’ll think about it.”  Jim winked at Donna and mouthed, “He’ll go.”

 

***

 

     Jake arrived back at the church around 2:45 that afternoon.  He hated the thought of meeting new people, but he knew it would only be awkward for just a little while.  As he went into the church, there were about fifteen teens just sitting around talking.  When they noticed him, it grew very quiet and everyone looked his way.  The youth minister greeted him and introduced him to the others.  The sad part was there were so many, Jake couldn’t remember most of their names.

 

     As the day went on, he ended up hanging out with three teenagers his age.  It seemed like they had the same interests as he did.  They exchanged phone numbers and decided they would get together later to show Jake around the area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 2

 

    Three weeks had gone by and the three teenagers he had met at church turned out to be good friends.  The group consisted of Jake, George, Sara and Tammy.  They were all about the same age as Jake.  George was about the same build, maybe a few pounds lighter and an inch or two shorter.  Jake took a liking to Sara and it seemed she had taken a liking to him.  She was about five inches shorter than him and had the thin athletic build.  Her figure was very appealing, but what stood out the most to Jake was her long, sandy brown hair.

 

     Tammy was just a bit shorter than Sara and a few pounds lighter.  She also had a nice athletic figure and long, dark brown hair. She was very pleasant and was buddied up with George.  From what Jake had noticed, the two of them appeared to be more than just friends.

 

     They decided to meet the following day at the general store that was down the road from Jake’s house, from there they would go walking around town.   During the various conversations they had, Jake found out that for the most part, everyone liked the outdoors.

 

     As Jake was gazing at Sara, she went a bit flush and said to Jake, “Did you know this area has caves and tunnels that go deep into the earth?”  Sara now had 100 percent of Jake’s attention.  He was waiting for more information when George said, “My parents told me that some of those caves and tunnels are dangerous.”  Jake was lost in thought when he heard Tammy say, “What are you thinking?”  “It would be so cool to go exploring caves and tunnels or just go camping in the mountains,” Jake replied.  George said, “It may be cool, but I doubt very seriously our parents would let us do something like that.”  “Chicken,” Sara and Tammy both said together.  Jake could only smile as George sat with his mouth open and nothing coming out.  George finally announced, “I’m not chicken.  I’m ah, ah, ah….”  Both girls were giggling and together said, “Chicken!” and busted out laughing.  Jake said, “That’s not right, you shouldn’t ruffle his feathers like that!”  Without even thinking, George agreed, “Yea, that’s right.”   George realized what was said when he looked up and the three were about to pee themselves from laughing. 

 

     Jake got a serious look on his face and said, “I think it would be cool to take a few days hiking and explore the area.”  The other three went deep into thought.  George was the first to reply with, “That would be cool.  I can always ask my parents.”  Tammy said, “Mine trust me and would allow me to go.”  Sara said, “I could talk mine into it.”  Jake replied, “I did stuff like that all the time before, so I should have no problem convincing my parents.”

 

     The wheels were turning hard in George’s head.  After several minutes had passed he replied, “Ok, if we were to do that, where would we go?’  Sara said, “Deep Gorge!”  Both George and Tammy’s eyes went wide. Jake said, “Where is that?”  George said, “It’s about five miles west of your house.  It’s on the other side of the big mountain, deep in the forest.”  Sara smiled and nodded her head.  Jake said, “Do any of you have camping and hiking gear?”  Everyone said their families did.  So the plan began to take shape.  The day was fading fast so they decided to go home and each one make a list of things they had and things they would still need.

 

***

 

     Jake arrived home just before dark. His parents were sitting on the front porch, relaxing.  He walked up and sat on the steps.  His Mom said, “How was your day, son?”  Jake replied, “Great, I found out that George, Tammy, and Sara love to hike.  We talked about going hiking this weekend.”  Jim and Donna looked at each other with a twinkle in their eyes and grinning.  Jake caught the look and said, “No it’s not like!  We just thought it would be fun to explore the area.”  Smiles popped out on his parent’s faces now.  Jake was quick to reply, “NO!  Would you two stop thinking like that?”  All Jim and Donna could do was laugh.  Jim said, “Son, we’ve taught you right from wrong and trust you to make the right decision.  We are glad that you found friends you have something in common with.  A hiking trip sounds like fun.”  Donna nodded and added, “We love you and will always support your decisions”. 

 

     Jake was feeling good about what his parents said.  Jake said, “I love you guys and the last thing I would want to do is disappoint you.”  Without waiting for a reply, Jake got up and walked into the house.  Once inside, he gave a fist pump in the air and danced down the hall.  In his room, Jake texted George, Tammy, and Sara that his parents didn’t have a problem and was feeling pretty good about the day.  He was antsy about what replies he would receive from his friends.

 

     George was first to reply with, “No problem here.”  Sara came in with, “I don’t think there’s a problem.”  Tammy: “Good to go.” 

 

     Jake went back down stairs for dinner. “I’ve heard from my friends and they’re all able to go” Jake announced.  Jim asked “Do any of the others have four-wheelers?  You could cover a lot more ground by riding rather than walking”. Once again, things started to churn in Jake’s head.   He reached for his phone to text them, but quickly put it away when his father gave him “the look.”  “I’ll text them after dinner.” said Jake.

 

     He had a hard time going to sleep that night.  All he could think of was the supplies they needed and what had to be done.  The excitement of riding through the country, not having to be anywhere at a certain time added to his restlessness.  It was well after midnight before sleep overtook him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 3

 

     The ringing of his phone woke Jake up.  Sara was calling, and when he looked at the time, it was seven in the morning.  He answered with a very groggy voice.  Sara said, “Did I wake you up?”  Jake replied with, “No, I was just finishing up testing the softness of my mattress.” Sara laughed and said, “Why don’t we all get together this morning around eight.”  Jake replied, “Cool, we can meet here at my house. Remind everyone to bring their list of supplies and gear. Let me jump in the shower and I’ll see you guys in a few minutes.” Sara stated “I’ll call everyone and see you then.”

 

     Jake was in and out of the shower in no time.  He dressed quickly and ran down stairs. He was greeted by his mother.  “You’re up early.  Got a hot date?”  Donna asked with a smirk. Jake’s face began to redden.  He put more of his head in the refrigerator than was required and sighed, “Mom… everyone is coming over to discuss plans for the hike.” Donna said, “So it is a hot date.”  Jake just shook his head and replied, “NO!  We’re going to start planning the hike is all.”  He ate a quick breakfast then headed out of the kitchen and into the den.  After checking to see if the den was picked up, he headed up stairs to brush his teeth and comb his hair again.

 

***

 

     Just before eight, the doorbell rang.  Jake was all too happy to say, “I’ll get it.”  He ran from the living room to the front door.  As he approached, he could see George standing on the other side.  He opened the door and said, “Boy am I glad to see you.”  George replied, “Why?”  Jake smiled and said, “My mother is giving me a hard time about a hot date.”  George smiled and replied, “I am hot.”  Jake punched him playfully in the arm. 

 

     Shortly thereafter, Sara and Tammy arrived together in Sara’s car.  Jake gave them a quick tour of the house, ending it in the den.  They sat down and started talking about what they were going to do.  Jake said, “My parents had a great idea for us.  We should take four-wheelers to explore. It would sure save a lot of time.”  He then asked “Does everyone have a four-wheeler?  Everyone was nodding.  Sara replied, “I think my parents would like that better than me just walking through the wood with strange people.”  Jake nudged her.  Tammy looked over at Jake and George and said, “Those two are strange.”

 

     Jake asked, “Is everyone good with that?”  Everyone nodded again.  Jake just looked at them and said, “You’re a talkative group today.”  Everyone smiled and Tammy said, glaring at Sara, “I’m not awake yet.  Somebody disturbed my beauty sleep this morning.”  Sara smiled and stated, “I’m sorry.  It looks like you could have used a lot more -” Before Sara could say anything else, a pillow hit her in the head.  “Hey, don’t mess my hair up.  It took me seconds to fix this morning!” she screeched.

 

     Everyone was now laughing and cutting up.  “What equipment do you think we are going to need?” George asked. Jake replied, “I suggest we pack light for the first trip and just scout around for the quickest way to get there and the best place to set up camp.  That will save us more time to be able to stay longer if we find someplace to explore.”  Tammy interrupted, “For one, I say we make sure we have enough gas.  I’m not going to try pushing a four-wheeler anywhere.”  Jake got a visual of Tammy trying to push a four-wheeler up the side of a mountain.  Jake had a smirk on his face from that thought.  Jake asked “Did all of you bring a list of your stuff?  We can compare supplies and go from there.”  Sara said, “Jake, can you grab some paper to make a list so we don’t forget anything?”  Jake reached over and got a notebook with a pen stuck in it.  Sara said, “Water.” George added, “Food.”  Tammy said, “First aid kit.”  The four talked for another 20 minutes, adding to the list of what they thought they needed.  When they finished, Jake looked at the list and commented, “This is a lot of things for just a scouting trip.”

 

     George asked, “When do you guys want to do this?”  Tammy said, “Why not now?”  Sara asked, “How long will it take everyone to get ready?”  George replied, “Not long, but we need to break the list down first so we don’t forget anything.”  Ten minutes later this list was divided and everyone was on their way back to their houses.

 

     The group was packed and ready to go just before 10 am.  Jim, Jakes dad, was doing his inspection of the vehicles, equipment and the kids.  Jim asked, “How long are you planning to be gone?”  Jake replied, “We’ll be back before dark.”  Jim smiled and said, “Good answer, I don’t want you riding through the woods after dark.”   Jake explained the general area they would be riding in.  That being said, Jim nodded and said, “Be safe.”

 

***

 

     The group took off down the road to an area where there were several trails.  Sara was first; Jake, Tammy and George fell in behind.  The trail they were on soon forked, one going toward the south, the other continuing to the west.  Sara stayed with the trail going west.  The ride was going pretty smoothly until they reached the area where the trail seemed to end.  Sara stopped and turned her four-wheeler off.  The others followed suit.  Sara said, “This is where everyone turns around and heads back.  Looks like we can continue west.” She pointed to a densely covered path as she spoke.  

 

     Jake pulled out his compass and did a direction check.  Agreeing with what Sara pointed out, Jake and Sara swapped positions in the riding order and they were riding again.  Because Jake was now making his own trail, he was trying to memorize land marks so they didn’t get lost on the return trip.  The group was now going about a third of the speed they had been going.  The ruts, rocks, trees and bushes made them have to twist and turn every direction.

 

     After riding for about an hour, the path opened up to a clearing and Jake parked his four-wheeler.  Everyone followed suit.  “It looks like we are going to be in for a rough ride from here on out,” Sara said. Everyone was looking at the surroundings and agreeing with her.  After a quick break and discussion of which way they thought would be best to go, the group was off again. 

 

     Jake was gradually making his way toward the west, but to him it felt like he was going more south than west.  The terrain due west was a steep grade up, so they continued toward the southwest.  After another thirty minutes Jake came to a stop near a creek.  Tammy said, “This must be Little Creek.  That means we are about two miles from your house, Jake.”  Jake replied, “We have only traveled about two miles?”  Sara and George were smiling and nodding their heads.  Jake said, “I wish we had a map of this area.”  George said, “I tried to find one but was unable to.” “I might try to find an aerial view from the internet when we get back tonight.” Jake murmured while surveying the area.

 

     The group decided to continue the way they had been, also they could go around the mountain and not over it.  The problem was, they were getting further away from where they wanted to be.  An additional problem was the trees were getting thicker, making it harder to maneuver.  About an hour later, Jake found a nice spot and stopped. When they got off of the four-wheelers, everyone felt as if their bodies were still vibrating. 

 

     Jake pulled out his compass to get his bearings.  Looking toward the west the area was level but descending slightly.  “If we continue heading west, other than this mountain, are there any others that are going to give us problems?”  Jake asked, pointing to the mountain in front of them. Sara replied, “No, but we will need to head west by northwest to avoid it.” Jake nodded. 

 

     After going around the mountain, they were heading west and could feel the terrain inclining. When they reached the top, the view that greeted them was spectacular.  Jake’s stomach rumbled and thought this would be a great place to stop and eat. After everyone got food and something to drink, Sara pointed toward their destination, the mountain that loomed in front of them and said, “Somewhere on the other side of that mountain are the caves we are looking for.”  Each of them in deep thought, there was very little conversation.

 

     They cleaned up their trash and continued in the direction they were traveling. The group was making good time until they hit a stream that was too wide and deep to cross.  George suggested to head north toward the start of the stream, where it might get smaller.  The group traveled about 20 minutes when they found a crossable section of the stream.  Sara was now clock-watching as the day was starting to get away from them.  Forty-five minutes later they were in the area of Deep Gorge.  Before them was the steep face of the mountain they had seen in the distance a while back.

 

     Tammy took her camera out and started snapping various photos of the side of the mountain.  “Why are you just snapping photos of nothing?” Jake asked. Tammy replied, “When I get home tonight I can blow them up and look for anything odd, so when we return we have a better place to start.”  They only stayed a short time before they decided they had better head back home.

 

     The return ride was uneventful and quiet.  Everyone was excited about reaching their destination but worn out from the long ride. They were tired from the bumps and bangs their bodies had endured during the day.  They arrived at Jake’s house about 30 minutes before dark.  After making plans to get together the next day, the group said their goodbyes, split up and everyone headed home.

 

***

 

     Jake went in, let his parents know he was back and told them a little of what had happened.  After eating dinner, Jake went to his room and crashed.

 

     When Sara arrived home she found a note that her parents had gone out.  She grabbed a quick bite, a shower and then headed to bed.

 

     George was wide awake and hard at work on his computer.  He used every search engine he could think of to get maps of the area.  After an hour of searching he found the perfect map and printed it out, one copy for each of them. He grabbed a quick snack before heading to bed.

 

     Tammy informed her parents of their adventure and made up a story of a giant two-headed lizard that attacked them.  Her parents smiled and shook their heads.  Her father asked, “Did you have fun?”  She smiled and nodded her head.  He continued with, “I’m glad to see you getting out and doing something other than surfing the web.  You know I don’t like you sitting at the computer all the time.”  Tammy said, “They are planning a camping trip over a weekend.  I told them, no way, I’m not sleeping in a tent with all the bugs and poisonous snakes.”  Her father replied, “That would do you good to get out and camp!  You used to love camping when you were little.”  “Hmm… I don’t know if I want to do that, I’ll think about it,” she said. Tammy then got up and stretched, yawning said “I’m going to grab a quick shower and head to bed.  I love you.”  In her room Tammy downloaded the pictures she had taken, and for the next two hours she was scanning the mountainside.  Several pictures had shown areas where an entrance could possibly be located.  As the hour was getting late, she decided to go to bed and get a fresh look at everything in the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 4

 

     The next morning everyone met at Jake’s house. George came in with a huge smile on his face. “You will never guess what I found.” All eyes turned to George waiting for the punch line thinking this was a joke.  “I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited about what we found, so I went online and searched some more for maps of that area.  Here look what I found.”  George handed each one a copy of the map he printed.

 

     Jake said “This is awesome. Where did you find such a clear view?  It’s almost like you can see the trail that we need to get back up there.”  Sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table everyone gathered around with their copies and started studying them closer.  “Why don’t we mark out the trail we made after we left the main trail?” Sara ask, pointing to the where Jake took the lead on the ride. George, Tammy, and Jake all said at the same time “That’s a great idea.”  “Jinx” they all said at the same time again then started laughing.  Over the next couple hours they mapped out the trail on each one of their maps then compared them to make sure they all matched.

 

     “Oh!” said Tammy said, “I almost forgot about the photos.”  She pulled the prints out and laid them on a table.  The group, still gathered around, looking at them as Tammy was flipping them one after the other.  Most of them looked the same: rocks, dirt and trees.  As Tammy was about to flip one, George said, “Stop! What was that?  Look about halfway up the mountain.”  Everyone was looking at the photo but seeing the same old thing.  George pointed at what looked like a reflective light.  They all moved in and started staring at the spot he had pointed at.  Tammy said, “I didn’t notice that before.”  “Do you have any other photos of this area?” Jake asked.

 

     Tammy flipped through several photos and selected three of the same area.  When she laid them side by side, the others didn’t show anything.  Whatever was reflecting was no longer there.  Sara said, “That’s weird. Look how the area around the reflection is blurry in the middle picture.”  “I noticed that too,” Tammy said.

 

     Tammy pulled out several more photos and laid them on the table.  She laid a photo that looked like it was badly out of focus in front of the other three and said, “Check this out.”  George laughed, “You were out of focus.”  Tammy said, “No! I zoomed in on the area near the reflection.  It’s about five feet away.  Look, the rocks on the edge of the photo are clear, but the middle looks wavy, not blurry.”  Jake got chills looking at the photo.  When he looked up he noticed it was having the same effect on Sara and George.

 

     After a few minutes Jake breaking the silence said, “That looks like the place where we want to start.”  Sara replied, “There could be some old mountain man hiding up there, thinking his refuge from the end of the world is being invaded.”  George replied, “I didn’t see any man anywhere.”  Jake and Tammy both said, “Nor me.”  Sara said, “I didn’t really mean to say I saw a man in the photo, oh just forget I said anything.”

 

    Tammy asked, “When do we want to go?”  Sara said, “My parents leave next week for 10 days. It sure would be nice if I had someone staying with me.”  Sara looked at Tammy and smiled.  Tammy said, “My parents want me to get out of the house and do other things.  I don’t have to make up where I’ll be, but thanks.”  Sara said to Jake and George, “What about you two?”

 

     George said, “My parents don’t worry about what I do.  I’ll tell them I’m going camping with Jake for about a week and they’ll be happy.”  Everyone turned to Jake.  Jake said, “I’ll just have to tell mine where we’re camping and when we‘ll be back.”

 

***

 

     Over the next couple of days the group met and made plans for the camping trip.  They compared supply list and noted what was still needed.  Looking back over the list they agreed that each would be required to carry a full back pack and at least two additional packs of gear. With all the plans set it was time to put it into motion.

 

     Later that night, Jake and his parents were sitting down to eat dinner.  Jake had butterflies in his stomach about asking them if he could go camping.  Donna kept staring at Jake and finally said, “You’re awful quiet tonight.  What’s going on in your head?”  Jake replied, “Just thinking what gear we need for the camping trip we are planning.”  Jim said, “So you guys are still planning on an overnight campout?”  Jake frowned and said, “Well we were thinking of camping for several days, not just overnight.”  Donna’s eyebrows went up and she asked, “Several days?”  Jake’s mind was racing.  Do I tell the truth or a lie?  He finally said, “We thought it would be cool to take a week to ten days and kind of live off the land.”  Jim smiled and said, “You’ll starve to death.”  Donna frowned, “I don’t like the sound of that.”  Jake quickly said, “I don’t mean we’re going to paint our faces and hunt wild boar with a sharpened stick.”  Jim had a visual pop in his head and said, “Better tie your loincloth tight.”  Donna started laughing and said, “That is not an image a mother needs.”  Jake replied to his father, “Who said we were going to be wearing a loin cloth?”  Donna answered, “Now I didn’t need to hear that!”  The look on Donna’s face caused Jim to burst out laughing.  Embarrassed about the image his mother had, Jake said “It’s just camping and hanging around. You know campfire cooking, ghost stories and stuff like that.  It’s not even that far away. Just down the trails.”  Jim looked at Jake saying “We trust you son, just be careful.”  “We will Dad” Jake replied.

 

    After dinner Jake packed his gear and got ready for the next day.  He called George first to make sure all was good to go for him, and then called the other two.  Everyone assured Jake they were ready.  That night the four teens had trouble sleeping.  The plans were set, their gear was packed and everything was a go.  The all agreed to meet at Jake’s house at 7 a.m. so they could make the most of the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 5

 

     Seven a.m. arrived and everyone was sitting in front of Jake’s house.  Jim was out once again, inspecting everything.  He rattled off item after item to ensure everything was covered.  When he said, “Toilet paper,” the four of them just looked at each other with a startled grin.  Jake said, “Not I.”  The other three had the same response.  Jim said, “Did you think of a shovel, or are you going to dig with your hands?”  Four heads shook from side to side.  With the additional gear now packed, they were off.

 

     The trail ride was uneventful and took them half the time it had the first day they tried.   They arrived on the western side of the mountain, looked for a place to set up camp and settled on a flat spot inside a small group of trees near the base of the mountain.  There was a water source a short distance away, with the circle of trees to block the wind.  Most importantly the mountain was just a few yards.

 

     After discussing where to pitch the tents, they all agreed it would be best up toward the end of trees for the most protection from the wind thus leaving the center area opened for the camp fire.  The group first removed the tents from their four-wheelers, then set them up, before taking a quick break.  After a few minutes of rest, they all started pulling gear to organize their areas.  Stopping, Jake said, “Before we do anymore, let’s go and check out that spot we saw in the pictures.”  Everyone agreed.

 

     They removed a few items from their packs and kept what they might need for the short hike.  The group then set off toward the area in the picture that had caught their attention.  Looking at the mountain now, it was hard to tell where that area was located.  Stopping momentarily, Sara asked, “Where were you standing when you took those pictures Tammy?”  Tammy looked around a bit and replied, “About here, I think.”  With all of them looking at the photos and comparing them to the mountain face, it took a few minutes to find that specific area.  Excited at what they might encounter, they again set out on their hike.

 

***

 

     The mountain had more underbrush and small trees than it initially appeared.  The climb looked a lot easier than originally thought and it didn’t matter who was leading; the others following were showered with small rocks and dirt.  The group started picking out small ledges, going at an angle instead of trying to go straight up, thus making the climbing easier.  This prevented most of the debris from falling on the others, but increased the problem if you slipped, no one was there to help stop you.

 

     The group steadily worked their way to the area they saw in the pictures.  The closer they got, the more odd it looked.  They reached a plateau when they were about thirty feet away.  Stopping to rest, they could see a slight shimmering.  George said, “That looks cool, but it sure is strange.”  Tammy questioned, “Do you think it’s wise for us to go over there?”  George smirked, “Do I recall something about chicken, or words to that effect you once used?”  Tammy biting bottom lip said: “No, I was just saying…oh, never mind.”  George just smiled at her stammering trying to find the right thing to say.

 

     It took a bit of work to cover the last 30 feet, but persistence paid off.  The group, now in front of an opening that could only be viewed when standing within five feet, could clearly see the oddity of the reflection from the photo.  Jake moving in and out of the five-foot radius exclaimed, “This is so cool!”  The scene would change from a rock formation to a cave entrance and back.   After seeing Jake do this several times, the others had to take their turn.

 

     After a few minutes of playtime and the novelty wore off, Jake said, “Who wants to go in first?”  Looking at one another, Jake was nominated by default for standing the closest to the entrance.  He took out a rope, tied it to himself and said, “If something goes wrong, pull me out!”  Half-expecting to be prevented from entering the cave by some invisible force, Jake was able to walk right inside.

 

    After letting his eyes adjust, he untied the rope and yelled back to the others, “You’ve got to see this!”  The rest wasted no time getting in, looking like a cartoon of one trying to get in front of the other and no one making any progress.  When the three popped inside, they couldn’t see anything.  After waiting for their eyes to adjust to the darkness they noticed Jake wasn’t standing there.

 

     Sara called out “Jake where are you?” Jake jumped out from a dark spot growling, to a loud chorus of screams.  Jake could hardly control his laughter, thinking for a minute he was going to wet himself.  Between gasps for air, he finally said, “You should have seen the looks on your faces!” laughing even harder.  Sara and Tammy were not amused by Jake’s little prank. “Remember, paybacks are sweeter,” George smiled while nodding. 

 

     Everyone’s eyes had now adjusted.  The view wasn’t all that amazing.  The area was only 20’ by 30’, with a small wall at the far end that looked like it was blocking a tunnel.  As they walked a little further in, they noticed the wall led to a set of well-worn steps cut into the outer edge of the inside of the mountain, thus preventing a person from falling into what appeared to be a deep void.  The light from the cave entrance allowed them to see that the steps continued to wrap around the inside of the mountain, disappearing into the darkness.

 

     The low wall ran as far as they could see.  It looked like it was there to prevent someone using the stairs from falling over the edge.  Everyone took out their flashlights and started shining them all around.  They looked like little kids holding their first flashlight with the beams going from here to there and back.  Everyone made their way over to the low wall and shined their flashlights down the center of the mountain.

 

     The inside of the mountain looked endless.  The light didn’t penetrate too far into the darkness.  “I wonder how far down that goes?” Tammy inquired.  “I’ll bet all the way to the bottom,” George sarcastically replied.  “My guess is a long ways down,” added Sara.  Jake took a small rock and dropped it over the side.  They didn’t hear it hit the bottom.  “I would say that is an understatement Sara,” Jake said.

 

     The group followed with their eyes the stairs down as far as the light beam would go.  A good way down, they could make out what appeared to be a section with an opening that led into the mountain.   The steps continued a long ways down.  Jake said, “Let’s play it safe and tie a rope around me to check out the steps.”  As Jake retied the rope, he told the others to hold on to it.  He walked over to the old stone steps and tested the first few.  They appeared to be sound and usable.  Jake walked down about ten steps and returned to the top.  Jake untied his rope and put it back in his backpack.

 

     Jake said, “It appears good and sturdy… what do you say we check it out?”  Tammy asked, “Do you think it’s safe to go in there?  Jake replied, “No, but I sure would like to see what’s down there.”  “I agree, let’s check it out” George replied. Sara said, “I’m game.”  Tammy sighed, “Well, I’m not going to be the stick in the mud and say no.”

 

     Jake was very cautiously leading the way.  After slowly walking down the first 20 steps he began to descend a bit faster.  All was going well until his foot slipped out from under him, causing him to fall backwards into Sara.  Sara went bottom-down on the steps and landed hard.  Jake’s fall was broken by Sara, but then began sliding down the steps.  The next thing Jake knew, he was abruptly stopped.  “That was a close one.  Thanks for stopping me from falling guys,” Jake said.

 

     Jake tried to stand, but for some reason couldn’t.  It felt like he was being held down.  He slipped off his backpack, which stayed in place.  Jake shined his flashlight on it, and saw that a spear had gone through it, preventing it from moving.  The spear was against the inside wall.  “Crap!” Jake blurted out, “I could have been killed!”  Jake worked the spear from his backpack and held it up so the others could see.

 

     Tammy, at the rear of the group, had seen enough and was now bounding back up the stairs.  Sara tried to grab her, but was about a split second too late.  Sara followed Tammy, trying to get her to stop.  George turned and went after the girls.  Jake didn’t want to be left alone, so he followed George.  The group was now in full retreat after Tammy.  Tammy was shaking like a leaf on a tree during a wind storm.  George was the first to reach her, putting his arms around her and said, “Everything is fine.”  Tammy sobbed, “No it isn’t. He could have been killed!”  Sara and Jake arrived and also tried to comfort her.  Tammy was having none of it.  She repeated over and over, “This is a bad idea!  We should go home!”  Jake shook his head, “It’s my fault for not paying attention to what I was doing.  This is an ancient place and it’s probably loaded with booby traps.”

 

     Sara and George glared at Jake.  Jake said, “What?”  Sara replied, “Great pep talk, dummy!”  George started laughing at Sara’s remark, which caused Jake to follow suit.  Sara was grinning from ear to ear.  Tammy had stopped crying and was amused by them.  She finally relaxed and sat down, and the others followed.

 

     “I really don’t want to go home,” she said, “but that was too close a call.  What are we going to do?”  Jake remarked, “Surely we’re not playing, who gets to be the first shish kabob?”  Tammy started laughing, which relaxed everyone else.  Suddenly with the subject on shish kabobs, they decided to grab a quick bite to eat.

 

     Jake said, “What does everyone want to do?  Do we check out the inside of the mountain or camp out and enjoy nature?”  Sara said, “I vote we explore the mountain and see what’s in there.  I don’t think someone would booby trap a place unless it contained something of value.”  George said, “I agree.  We might find some antiques or something valuable.”  Tammy said, “There are traps in there to keep people away.  One of us could end up getting hurt or killed.”  Jake said, “True… we just have to be more careful now that we know there are traps in there.”

 

    After 30 minutes of debating whether to go or stay, they decided to go back down and explore the mountain.  Jake was once again leading the way.  When he arrived at the point where the spear had come out of the hole in the wall, he started searching the steps for a trigger.  It didn’t take long to see there was a pressure release right in the middle of the step.  He was thankful he had lost his footing before.  When his foot had slid by it, his backpack had landed on it and triggering it.

 

     Jake cautiously descended the steps, searching each one for traps.  After descending 30 minutes worth of steps, he found another odd step.  Jake said, “George, come over and look at this.”  He pointed to the step and George said, “Yeah, it does look a bit different from the others.”  The two of them started searching the wall.  George located a spot that was slightly off-color and a few inches higher than the last hole.  The debate then started as to what they should do about it.  The guys wanted to trigger whatever might be there and the girls wanted to leave it.  George won the girls over by saying, “If we trip it now, we don’t have to worry about it when we come back up.  If we are running, trying to get away from something, we might not remember it.”

 

     Jake took the very end of the spear he’d saved from the first scare and held it at arm’s length.  Everyone took a couple of steps back.  With the wooden end of the spear, Jake tapped the spot on the step and jumped back.  Nothing happened.  Jake tried it again with the same results.  He looked back at the group and shrugged. 

 

     A bit braver now, he stepped closer and struck the step with a bit of force.  Again nothing happened.  Jake turned around and was about to say something when a spear came flying out and struck the inner wall.  Jake about jumped out of his skin as the other three laughed at him. George said, “You should have seen your face!”  “That’s not funny!” Jake growled. The way he said it, it caused everyone to laugh harder.

 

     Jake retrieved the spear and handed it to George. He slowed their descent and was now looking even harder for anything out of the ordinary.  Time was now starting to drag by.  Sara said, “At this rate it’s going to take us forever to get to the bottom.”  Just over another hour went by and Jake had stopped and was looking at several steps in front of him.  George asked, “What’s wrong?”  Jake pointed to three steps in front of him and said, “They look different than the other steps.”

 

     George shined his flashlight at the steps and inspected them, finally agreeing, “The other steps had just a slight spot that was off color, these steps are totally different than the others.  I don’t see any spots on the walls where a spear would come from, either.”  Sara asked, “Do you think it’s a trap?”  Jake said, “Yes, but I bet it’s not the same as the others we have found.”  “Just trip it then!” said Tammy.

 

     Jake had everyone move back several steps and he touched the first step with the spear tip.  Nothing happened.  Jake added a bit more pressure and pressed on the step again… again nothing.  After tapping all three steps with the spear, he told George to hand him the other spear.  When he had both spears, he applied pressure to the first two steps at the same time.  He had no more than started applying a little pressure when the bottom of the outside wall flipped up and knocked the spears from his hands.  The spears banged against the wall then flew over his head toward the others.  Sara and Tammy screeched and George had to move out of the path of the spears to keep from getting hit.

 

     Jake realized with a shock that the trap could have flipped him over the inside wall into the unknown blackness.  George said, “That was a close one.”  “Yea, but we still need to get by this,” Jake replied. The wall looked like it had reset as if nothing had happened.  Jake retrieved the spears and said, “Let’s see if it does it again.”  As he hit the two steps the wall flipped up just like it had done the first time.

 

     This time, Jake was able to hold on to the spears.  He said, “Looks like we need to jump over these three steps.”  Once again the wall reset.  Without waiting for anyone to say something to him, he jumped over the three steps.  Jake landed on the fifth step down and slid an additional two steps before he finally stopped sliding.

 

     Sara yelled, “Jake! Jake!  Are you okay?”  Jake said, “I’m fine.”  Sara replied, “Maybe now you are, but when I get my hands on you, I’m going to kill you!”  Jake laughed and said, “OK, jump over one at a time and I’ll stop you from falling.”  Sara went first and landed on the fourth step.  Tammy jumped, and then George.  Everyone was now over the booby-trapped stairs.  As they started to walk off, Tammy said, “Don’t you think we should mark them somehow?”  “Good idea!  I knew we brought you along for a reason,” replied Jake.  Jake cut a piece of rope off and laid it on the step before the trap.

 

***

 

     By the time they had reached the first landing, they had triggered a total of three traps. The landing led into a room.  The archway looked as if it once contained a door long ago.  The group stood and peered inside.  This room, like the area at the opening, looked to be about 20’ by 30’.  Jake checked the floor and didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.  They walked inside the room and started inspecting.  There were two sconces attached to the remaining three walls, and of the six sconces, two of them still held a torch.  George pulled a lighter from his backpack and lit one of them, then the other.  Tammy said, “I wonder how old they are?”  “Old, I bet,” Jake relied.

 

     The room was littered with broken and decaying pieces of wood from furniture and possibly a door.  Tammy wondered, “What is this room?”  George answered, “It looks as if troops could stage here to protect the mountain.”  Each person took a different wall and started looking for traps and hidden or secret passageways.  After spending a few minutes looking, George started trying to move the sconces.  That only proved that a couple were loose, but no secret passage appeared.  Jake said, “Let’s use these torches and save the flashlights.”

 

     They took the opportunity to rest for a while when Sara asked, “Do you think there are more traps on the stairs ahead of us?”  “Or maybe even monsters?”  Tammy added.  George said, “Only two-headed lizards,” and started laughing.  All Tammy could do was smile.  Sara and Jake looked at each other wondering what the meaning behind that was.  Sara said, “We don’t get it.  What’s so funny?”  “It’s a tale I heard Tammy made up to tell her parents about why she didn’t want to go camping,” George answered.

 

     George finally said, “I think we need to get moving before it gets dark.”  Sara started laughing and said, “Really.  Do you really want to go there? We’re in a mountain that is pitch black, without the torches and flashlights we would be totally blind.”  Jake shook his head and said, “Yea, I think George is right.”  Sara was stunned and just looked at him.  She finally said, “You both must want to be rocket scientists when you grow up.”  George finally said, “I was referring to nightfall, not just darkness.”  “I thought the two of you were losing your minds or something.  I see what you mean now that you put it that way,” said Sara. George and Jake each grab a torch from the sconces.

 

     Jake started back down the stairs just as cautiously as before.  He didn’t find anything out of the ordinary, and no additional traps.  The steps seemed to go down forever and the torches would only illuminate so far.  They finally reached the next landing and cautiously looked in.  Jake and George stuck the torches inside the archway noting this was yet another room like the one above, but without torches.

 

     Taking time to once again rest, Sara asked, “How far are we going to go before we head back?”  No one had an answer.  Tammy said, “The further we go down, the further we have to travel back up.”  No one commented, but everyone gave her a “duh” look.  She just shrugged her shoulders and said, “I’m just stating the obvious I know, but we have a good bit of gear out there and we may want to retrieve some of it and camp in here.”  Jake said, “That’s not a bad idea.”  Sara and George agreed.  The group agreed to retrieve everything they could.  “We can leave our packs in here and lighten our load for the climb up,” suggested Tammy.  “Good idea!” replied George.  Everyone took their packs off and placed them on the floor.  “George, take your rope with you, we’re going to need it to get the rest of the gear back up,” said Jake while pulling his rope from his backpack.

 

***

 

     The climb back up the stairs was painfully long and very hard on the legs.  Taking extra precautions at the booby traps they were all exhausted once they reached the top. They discussed who would climb back down to camp to retrieve the gear, they all agreed Jake and Sara would return to the campsite.  George and Tammy would stay at the opening and pull the gear up with the ropes.  Jake secured the ropes for him and Sara to rappel down the face of the mountain.

 

     Between the two of them, they gathered up the gear they required quickly.  Jake said, “I’m glad we didn’t completely set up camp before we started exploring.”  Sara replied, “It would have taken a long time to break it all down.” Jake started hauling gear while Sara finished collecting gear.  The most time consuming part was getting the gear to the base of the mountain.  Jake and Sara worked together to secure the ropes to the gear to be hauled up to the landing.  George and Tammy got the worst end of the deal by having to pull the gear up.  The climb back up for Jake and Sara was a bit easier the second time, but not as easy as the trip down.  Two hours later, they were all back in the cave.  Taking a break they decided to eat a snack before moving once again.

 

     Knowing where the traps were, helped them make good time returning to the place they had left their backpacks before heading up.  Jake checked his watch; it was just after 7 p.m.  Jake said, “Let’s keep going for a couple more hours before we stop.  We can find another room to set up camp and have dinner.”  Jake decided to poke fun at Sara and said to George, “I don’t want to be traveling in here after dark.  Do you George?”  George laughing said, “Oh no! The boogeyman may be out and about.”  “Not funny,” snarled Sara.

 

     They arranged the gear so it wasn’t as cumbersome.  When they headed out, George took the point grabbing one of the torches; Tammy followed him, with Sara and Jake at the rear with the second torch.  They’d been walking down steps for over two hours by the time Jake checked his watch again. Continuing at a slower pace with all the gear now they stopped to rest for a moment at another small opening then once again headed back down the stairs moving slowly as not to tire easily.

 

     After passing another landing with a room, Jake said, “If it’s a safe spot, let’s stop on the next landing for the night.”  Everyone was more than ready, so he received no complaints.  When they arrived at the next landing, George held the torch in the opening and saw this was similar to the others.  Upon entering they found this landing was quite different with several smaller rooms networked throughout.  One by one they checked each room. All the rooms were in the same condition as the previous – debris scattered all about.

 

     They selected a small room toward the back.  “Help me put up a tent George, I don’t want anything creeping and crawling in the sleeping bags as we sleep.”  As George gave him a hand setting up the tent Tammy asked “Are we only setting up one tent?” Jake answered, “I think we better stay together for safety.”  Tammy nodded and went to help Sara.  Once the tent was up, they made pallets with clothes, and then laid their sleeping bags on top.

 

     Sara and Tammy gathered some food from their packs.  Sara asked, “Do we want to start a small fire to heat the food or are we going to eat cold food tonight?”  George said, “I think it best if we ate cold food tonight and make a fire in the morning for something hot to eat.  I’m so tired now, I just want to go to sleep.”  Everyone agreed and helped clean up after a quick bite to eat.

 

     They took various boards and started to block the room’s entrance as best they could.   Tammy decided to state the obvious, “That’s not going to stop anyone from coming through.”  Jake shook his head and said, “It’s not meant to stop anyone.  It’s meant to warn us if someone tries to come in.” They continued to work in silence until the door opening was blocked.  Finally it was time to sleep.

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

CHAPTER 6

 

    Everyone was dead asleep as soon as their heads hit their makeshift beds.  A herd of elephants could have walked through the room and no one would have heard them.  Tammy was the first to wake and looked around trying to remember where she was.  She woke everyone else up as she stirred.  Tammy said, “Sorry, but I have to go to the bathroom so bad.”  Everyone exited the tent.  Sara said, “Let’s go to the other small room and use that as the bathroom.”  Everyone took turns, the girls together, then one guy, then the other.

 

     George gathered some wood debris that was lying around and started a small fire.  Jake rigged some boards to form a rack so they could hang a small pot over to heat up some water.  Breakfast was simple and consisted of oatmeal and a cup of hot chocolate.  After eating, Tammy said, “We need to find a water source soon or we’re going to run out.”  Sara said, “We have about two or three days’ worth, so if we don’t find something in the next day, we may have to turn back.”   George added, “Now that you say that, I just realized that there are no sounds of dripping water in this place.  To be exact, there are no sounds in here at all, except for the noise we are making.”

 

     After thinking about it for a minute Jake said, “You know what, you’re right.  No snakes, bats or even bugs.  Don’t you think that is odd?”  Sara said, “It may be odd, but I’m thankful nevertheless.”  Tammy said, “If there were spiders or snakes, I would be headed back out.”  Jake said, “That’s a good point you just brought up, too.  There are no spider webs.”  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a place without spider webs,” Sara mused.

 

***

 

     They worked together to pack all the supplies.  After repacking all the gear, they started back down the steps.  Steps led to more steps, which led to-more steps.  Six hours later George said,” I think we’re near the bottom.”  Jake held his torch over the side and everyone looked over the wall to see flat ground with brown dirt about 30 feet down.  Excited and exhausted they finally made it to the bottom.  They dropped their packs and fell to the ground to rest.

 

     With the torches laying on the ground, they weren’t putting off much light.  George rolled over to face Tammy when he yelled, “Check it out!” startling everyone.  Jake jumped to his feet with his spear ready.  Coming from the side of the mountain was a source of light.  The light appeared to be coming from a tunnel.

 

     Jake and George grabbed the torches and headed towards the light.  When the torches started burning brighter, they could see it was a tunnel cut through the mountain, with no seams or blemishes at all.  It was a little over ten feet high and just as wide.  George said, “I’ll bet it took someone a long time to carve that out.”  They picked up their gear and cautiously proceeded inside the tunnel.  The inside of it was free of debris and had a dirt path that was smooth.

 

     Sara made the comment, “There is no debris, marks or anything out of place in here.  It doesn’t even look as if this tunnel has ever been used.”  After walking about twenty-five feet, the cave angled to the right.  Another twenty-five feet it angled back toward to the left.  When they made the turn to the left, they could see an opening.

 

     As they walked out of the tunnel, they stepped into another world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 7

 

     It was like nothing they had ever seen.  There was bright sunlight coming from above.  There was green grass and trees, various animal noises could be heard, in the distance they could see hills and mountains, it seemed all of creation was there.  No one moved.  They were all wide-eyed and checking out every incredible thing.  Jake finally broke the silence, “I don’t believe what I’m seeing.”   Tammy knelt down and was feeling the grass to see if it was real.  George was pointing toward a stream of crystal clear blue water.  It looked as if it was from fresh-fallen snow.  Jake said, “Let’s fill up our bottles.”  The group was still gawking as they moved toward the stream.  Once there, George tasted the water and said, “Wow, this is better than bottled water.”  Tammy and Sara just shook their heads and Jake said “You don’t say.”

 

     Jake then continued, “If there are people around here, they’ll need water. So I think we should stay close to the stream and see if we can find anyone.” George asked, “What if we run into someone that isn’t too happy to see us, then what?”  Jake replied, “I guess we will deal with it when the time comes.”   As Jake started following the stream, Sara walked up beside him. George and Tammy fell in behind. Not certain what to expect the group stayed close together.

 

     It seemed like such a peaceful place.  It was unspoiled nature at its finest…  No smog, no pollution and a gentle, fresh breeze in their faces.  The group kept moving at a steady pace along the stream, toward what looked like a very dense, old forest.  The more they walked, the more they realized that the forest had looked a lot closer than it really was.  The open land soon gave way to trees, low-lying shrubs and bushes.  The walk was not difficult by any means, but still the group moved at a slow, steady pace, while looking around in wonder.

 

***

 

     After walking for a couple of hours, Sara suggested, “Let’s stop and take a break.  We’ve been walking for what seems like miles.”  Finding a fallen tree they stopped to rest for a bit.  They had no more than set their gear down when Tammy noticed the bush to their left moved. George and Jake were now on their feet and pointing their spears at the bush.  Sara said, “I would hate to be whatever is in there if it jumps out at us.”  With that said, a huge rabbit popped out of the brush.  No one had to say a word; both of guys simultaneously stabbed at the rabbit.  It avoided the end of Jake’s spear, but was not so lucky avoiding George’s.  George impaled it and the rabbit thrashed for a few seconds, then went still.

 

     Jake said, “You know the rules of hunting, right?  You kill it, you clean it!”  George was having no part of that and shook his head.  Jake said, “It’s as good a time as any to eat.  We need to grab some fire wood so we can cook it.”  George whined, “I’ve never cleaned an animal before.  I wouldn’t even know where to start.”  Jake replied, “I’ll give you a hand.” He took the rabbit and showed George how to clean it.

 

     By the time Jake and George were finished, the girls had gathered a good bit of fire wood.  It didn’t take long to get a nice cook fire going.  They took several branches and made a rack to hang the rabbit above the fire.  Before long, Jake had the rabbit on a stick and was roasting it.  After it was done, they had devoured it in no time at all.

 

     Sara said, “Don’t you think Tammy and I should have some kind of a weapon like your spears to protect ourselves with?”  Jake said, “Yes, we can make a half-decent spear out of a tree sapling.”  It didn’t take Jake long to find two straight trees and he used a hatchet to cut them to the right size. He then used his hunting knife to start a point on each.  Jake handed each of the girls one of the sticks and directed, “Take your knives and work on the spear ends while we rest.  You need them to have a sharp point.”  Sara looked at hers and said, “You may think you’re Tarzan, but I’m surely not Jane.”  Tammy and George started laughing.  Jake turned away, blushing.  After the makeshift spears were completed, the fire was doused out and the group was once again on the move.

 

     As they moved deeper into the forest, the noises went from peaceful to more like warning sounds.  Everyone instantly noticed.  The strange sounds were odd calls and cries that they had never heard before.  Tammy whispered, “Does anyone have a clue as to what kinds of animals are making those noises?”  Jake said, “No, but we may want to be very quiet so we don’t draw attention to ourselves.” Their heads moved from side to side with every new noise.  George whispered, “I don’t like this.  Something doesn’t feel right.”  Jake replied, “Yea, I know what you mean.  This seem a bit odd to me too.”

 

     The group was now so cautious that their walk had slowed to just above a crawl.  Uncertainty plagued them, making everyone a bit jumpy. Jake whispered over to George, “I get the feeling we are being watched… or even being followed,” “I thought that was just me giving myself the creeps and just being paranoid, but with you having the same feeling; that concerns me,” George replied.  Sara and Tammy were now wide-eyed and looking all around.  “Let’s just keep moving forward until we can find a safe spot and rest,” George said.

 

***

 

     They entered the area where the massive old trees were located.  With the size and amount of foliage they bore, the light from above was now being blocked out.  It seemed to go from daylight to dusk in a matter of a few yards.  No one had spoken for at least 30 minutes until Tammy said, “This is getting very creepy.  I don’t like this.”  Jake murmured, “I agree.  We still need to be quiet and try not to cause any commotion.  There has to be an area we can find a secure a spot and set up camp.”  Sara shook her head, “I don’t think I could sleep out here.”  Tammy readily agreed

 

     All of the sudden there were whimpering and barking noises coming from behind and to the left of them.  It appeared as though several small animals were rushing toward them.  They could see the bushes moving and hear twigs being snapped.  George turned in the direction of the noises, coming from behind them, and started walking backward.  Jake instinctively led the group forward and to the right.  All eyes were wide open looking for anything out of the ordinary.  As the minutes dragged by, the noises seemed to be amplified.

 

     They continued moving away from the noises, emerging out of the underbrush into a small clearing.  The clearing was only about 15 yards around and surround by thick underbrush.  As Jake was looking for a trail, something whizzed past Jake’s head.  Jake ducked, as did the rest of the group.  More objects were whizzing by.  “Ouch!” George cried out.  He grabbed his left arm where he had been hit.  A small rock came to rest on the ground in front of him.

 

    The bushes in front of them opened up and five odd looking creatures came running out.  They yapped like little dogs barking at the mailman.  They stood just over two feet tall, their skin was a scaly, dark rust brown, and their eyes were glowing red.  They had a human type quality to them.  Their clothes were torn and tattered and at one time may have been a red fabric. Each was jabbing a short spear at Jake and Sara.

 

     Just when everyone thought things can’t get any worst, three more of the little creatures popped out of the underbrush behind the group.  Jake poked his spear at the one closest to him.  It knocked his spear to the side and charged him.  Jake was shocked, but recovered quickly.  Before the creature got too close, Jake impaled it in the neck.  The other creatures all at once started yapping twice as loud, then they all ran toward the group at once.

 

     George was the next to kill one of the creatures.  Sara had stuck one in the arm, but only hurt it.  Tammy, on the other hand, was whacking at them.  She hit one on the top of its head.  She didn’t cause any damage, but it sure did make the little creature mad.  “I’m going to beat the stuffing out every last one of you!”  Tammy screamed at them.  Jake yelled, “Don’t whack at them! You need to stab them in the chest!”

 

     Jake had downed another one.  George and Sara each dropped one. Tammy had paid Jake no mind about stabbing them; she continued to whack.  She had managed to break one’s nose.  All of a sudden, one creature standing in front of Jake went flying backwards.  The one with the broken nose was suddenly pinned to a tree by an arrow.  The last one turned to run away, but just after it turned, an arrow struck it in the back of the head.

 

     The group ducked and formed a tight circle.  They were looking for anything that moved and the source of the arrows.  The area was now too silent; the only thing they could hear was their heartbeats and hard breathing.  Suddenly, Tammy said, “Someone’s coming,” and pointed to a man making his way toward them.  Everyone turned to see who it was.  Jake and George moved to get between him and the girls.

 

     The man was just above five feet tall and was wearing clothes of an earthy green and brown.  He wore a cloak matching his clothes that covered most of his face and body.  He had various leaves and branches arranged throughout the cloak which perfectly camouflaged him. He was holding a finely crafted long bow that was about as long as he was tall.  Hanging down to his side was a sword. What little they could see of his face showed he had a weathered, dark skin tone and long, dark hair.  But when he lifted his head up a bit, they could see his eyes shone a bright golden color.

 

     He said, “I am a friend. I mean you no harm.  My name is Ralnor Dawntracker. I’m the warden for this area.”  Jake cautiously lowered his spear and said, “Thanks for the help.  What were those nasty little things?”  Ralnor replied, “They are known as kobolds.  They are fairly weak, but very crafty.  They were trying to force you into a trap.”  He walked past the group and tripped several nasty traps, right where Jake was about to lead them.  Tammy and Sara jumped as each trap was tripped.  Fear of what could have happened showed on all of their faces.  Ralnor said, “These traps would not have killed you per se, but once you were in them and unable to flee, the kobolds would have killed you.”

 

     Jake relaxed a bit and said, “Once again, I want to thank you for your help.”  “As the warden for this area, it’s my job to keep everyone safe,” Ralnor replied.  He then walked over to one of the kobolds and removed a small bag from around its neck and several things from its pockets.  Ralnor noticed the group watching him, said, “We need to get the valuables from them.  Anything of value will do them no good now.”

 

     Jake and George started searching the kobolds closest to them.  Sara and Tammy wanted no part of this until George pulled a small bag of coins off the one he was searching.  The girls headed over to the next two and commenced to searching them.  When they completed the search, they had 10 gold coins, 22 silver coins, 38 copper coins and two small bags of gems.

 

     The excitement of finding coins and gems soon wore off when Jake commented about how close they had come to being killed.  Ralnor then said, “It is getting late in the day.  We need to be moving before it gets dark.  This will be no place for you once the sun has gone down.”  Jake asked, “Where should we go to?” Ralnor replied, “I will take you to my village that is about a league from here.”  “A league is equivalent to about one hour’s walk,” Sara said with complete assurance.  Impressed Jake asked, “How do you know that?”  Smiling, Sara said cheekily, “I read it in a book.  I do know how to read.”  George, Tammy and Jake snickered.

 

***

 

     Ralnor turned and lead them in the opposite direction they were heading, across a stream and through heavy underbrush.  After a few minutes of being in heavy brush, they came upon a well-worn path.  Walking on a path made the hike a lot easier than it had been before.  Continuing to follow, several plants and flowers caught their eye.  Ralnor pointed, explaining various plants or trees to stay away from, and others that could be useful or even eaten.

 

     Just over an hour went by and the group approached the outskirts of Ralnor’s village.  When Ralnor had said “village,” they didn’t expect what they found.  The sight of the village was breathtaking.  As they approached, they were amazed to see several children running up to greet them. All of the children had a dark skin tone like Ralnor and various shades of hair, but they all had pointy ears.  Jake, George, Tammy and Sara looked at each other like what they were seeing wasn’t real.  “Elves,” mouthed Jake.  George and Sara nodded.  Tammy was slack-jawed at the sight.  “They have pointy ears… would you look at that!” Tammy said a bit louder than she intended too.

 

     Ralnor turned slightly with a grin on his face and said, “Yes, we are wood elves.”  Jake, Sara and George looked at Tammy with a look of I don’t believe she just said that.  Tammy was unfazed by the look and asked, “Really?”  Ralnor didn’t give a reply, he just smiled.  The children continued to run all around them, causing a big commotion until Ralnor said something to them in his language and they scattered.

 

     The sight before all was one of unmatched beauty.  There were houses not only on the ground, but a multitude higher up in the trees.  Rope bridges ran in every direction.  Rope and vine ladders were everywhere.  The houses blended with the surroundings, like nature had made them were they stood.

 

     As the group approached the central intersection of the village, three older-looking elves were standing in front of a large hut, square in the center of the village.  After the one in the middle spoke in elven to Ralnor, Jake asked, “What did he say?”  Ralnor replied, “The elders want me to bring you to the hut so they may speak with you.”  When they had moved in just a few feet away from the elders, Ralnor bowed and said, “Wise elders. I have rescued these lost humans from a band of kobolds in my ward.  I could not leave them in the forest alone, so I have brought them here to you for your wise counsel.” 

 

    The three elders nodded and walked in the hut.  Ralnor said to the group,” Wait here.”  Ralnor followed the elders in and closed the door.  Tammy whispered, “Do elves eat humans?”  Jake started laughing, “No!”  George said, “I think they just skin them and wear the skins as clothes.” “No they don’t,” cried Sara, as she hit George in the arm she continued, “They’re legendarily very social and environmentally conscious people.”  Tammy asked, “Oh. So we’ll be safe here?”  Sara nodded.

 

     The door opened and Ralnor asked them to step in.  Jake leaned his spears against the outside wall and the others followed his lead.  The inside of the hut had far more room than it appeared from outside.  The walls were decorated with various elven items.  The plank floor was covered with the furs of different kinds of animals.  The furniture was all handcrafted and looked very old.

 

     Once everyone was inside and seated, the elder in the middle said, “I am Norhorn Wolfbane; I am the chief of this village.  Jake introduced himself and his fellow travelers.  Norhorn continued, “Your arrival is unexpected, and we do not know what should be done with you.  You can remain as our guest until such time a decision is made.” “What kind of decision are you talking about?” Jake queried.  Norhorn spoke in elven to the other members, and a after a few minutes of debating he said, “I feel now is not the time to disclose that information.  I have sent for others so we can discuss this situation.  I would ask you kindly to drop your gear in here.  We will provide everything you require.”  Jake took off his backpack, as well as the others. “We don’t have a problem in doing what you have asked,” he said, “But why do you want us to remove our gear?”  Norhorn replied, “You have things in there from a different land and I do not think it wise for the people of this land see such items.”  Jake nodded.

 

     Ralnor said, “I will take you so you can clean up before the evening feast.”  Jake and George were taken one way by a group of men, and Sara and Tammy another by a group of women.  After cleaning up, everyone met back in front of the main hut.  The visitors were nervous because of all the looks and whispering that was going on every time someone new got a look at them.  They were growing concerned that they had been told no additional information since their arrival.

 

     The evening feast consisted of a lot of things they had never seen before.  They tried a little bit of everything and loved just about every dish served.  After they ate, they were seated around the center fire, where they listened to various stories being told.  After several hours of entertainment, they were ushered away to different places to sleep for the night, as before Jake and George to one location, Tammy and Sara to another.

 

***

 

     The next morning came fast and once again they met up at the dining area to have breakfast together.  After eating, Ralnor gave them a tour of the village.  Everyone agreed the village tour was cool; it was more like a theme park attraction than a village.  Climbing was a bit of a problem to start with until they were shown how to do it properly.  The swaying rope bridges would take a lot of getting used to.  The beauty of it all continued to be beyond their imagination.

 

     Groups of people had been arriving since the night before. Most of the people they had a chance to see, would just stare at them.  Every group that arrived to be studying them.  It was an eerie feeling, to say the least.

 

     As midday was approaching, a group of about 20 men went into the main hut.  Four warriors surrounded the building.  Two of them stood at the front doors, one at each corner of the back of the hut.  Jake asked Ralnor what that was about.  “The counsel has been called and the hut is closed so the elders can speak with the spirits of our ancestors.  They will be in the hut until an answer is given to them.”  Ralnor replied.  George asked, “What kind of an answer are they looking for?”  Ralnor would only say, “The way we should proceed.”  Jake asked, “About us?”  Ralnor replied, “Yes, but I do not know what guidance they are looking for.”  Sara said, “That worries me.  Are we in danger?”  “As far as what I know…no,” Ralnor replied back.  Ralnor changed the subject and would not explain anything further to them.  He would only say that soon the counsel would answer all of their questions.

 

    Later in the day, Ralnor took them back to the dining area for the evening meal.  Just after dinner was served to everyone, the hut doors opened.  An elder spoke to the guard and the guard went to the kitchen area.  The guard returned to his post, and several women carried food into the hut.  Ralnor told Jake that the counsel would be ready to meet with them after the meal.  The tension level for them now was thick, everyone became even more nervous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 8

 

     Jake, Sara, George and Tammy were led into the main hut and once again seated in front of the council.  After everyone settled down, Norhorn said, “It has been agreed by the council and our ancestors that we should aid you in your quest.  The prophecies have foretold of your arrival.”  The teens had a totally blank look on their faces and their mouths were hanging open.  Norhorn continued, “We feel that we may guide you in some things, but we should not interfere with your quest.  We will answer the questions we can, but we feel we should not influence you in the choices you have to make.”

 

     The teens looked at each other and back at Norhorn as if he had grown two heads.  Jake finally said, “We were just out on a hike to explore the mountains.  We are not on a quest of any kind.”  Norhorn’s face stayed stone cold.  He looked at the other members of the council.  There was no reaction to Jake’s statement.  Sara asked, “What quest do you think we are on?”

 

     Norhorn took a few minutes before he replied.  He said, “The quest is for a balance here in this land.   I will tell you it is written in many books of prophecies that the four green-eyed adventurers will arrive from a faraway land, and together they will be able to go where no one else can.”  George asked, “Which way are we to go?”  Norhorn replied, “You’re going through the mountain and arriving here was the start of your quest.  Your quest is way north of here and on the other side of the frozen mountains.”

 

     The teens were still dumbfounded when George stated, “This is more than we were planning.  We have no idea what quest you think we are on or even what we are supposed to do.”  Norhorn replied with, “There is a human settlement 10 leagues west of here.  We will provide you with equipment and gear for your quest.  The human settlement may offer you more insight into your quest.  That is all the information I have for you at this time.  I will talk with you more tomorrow, after we have had some rest.  You are dismissed.”

 

     Without another word being said, Ralnor escorted the group back outside.  Once outside, the four started asking each other the same questions and talking all at once.  Ralnor finally said, “You time here is short and the light of day will be fading soon.  Please follow me so we can get you in more appropriate attire for you journey.”  Once again the guys and girls were separated.

 

     Jake and George followed Ralnor, who took them to a hut way up in a tree.  When they entered the hut, they could see all kinds of armor and equipment.  Ralnor walked over to a shelf that contained leather armor and started sorting items.  After a few seconds, he handed each of them a set of armor.  Ralnor said, “These should fit you well.  Try them on.”  Several minutes of grunting and groaning, they managed to get the armor on and stood looking at each other in awe.  Jake said to George, “Wow! That looks so cool on you.”  “You look awesome yourself,” George replied.

 

     Ralnor removed various items from the shelves and handed the item to them.  In no time at all the two had been equipped to handle most any situation, from simple hunting to an attack by unforeseen enemies.  Ralnor then walked to the weapon racks that held close to a hundred different swords.  He studied the two young men for a minute, and then turned his attention to the various weapons.  He selected two very finely crafted swords, several throwing knives, short bows and some daggers.  He looked at Jake and George saying, “These are very ancient weapons that have been used for over a thousand years.  They are no toys and will cut through most anything.  Use them with care and listen to the way they lead you.”

 

     Jake and George were stunned at how light and maneuverable the weapons were.  Ralnor showed them how to wear the swords and explained various ways to draw them in times of need.  As they were walking out, George stopped and looked at a whip that was hanging on the wall.  Ralnor said, “If the whip is what you want, then it is yours.”  Fascinated, George walked over to it and removed it from the wall.  Jake stood right beside him checking it out.  George said, “This may sound weird to you, but as I was walking out, it felt as if this was calling me.”  Jake just smiled at him and replied, “That doesn’t seem weird.  Look where we are at.”

 

     Just before Jake turned around, he looked up and noticed the end of an old stick on the top shelf.   As he reached for it, Ralnor said, “Before you do that you should know that stick is called Yatuku. It means “of ancient origins” and wields great magical powers from the earth.  You will know if you can wield Yatuku once you touch it.”

 

     Jake reached up to touch the stick very cautiously.  When he first touched it, nothing happened.  Once he wrapped his hand around it and removed it from the shelf, Yatuku gave off a golden glow which ran down Jake’s arm and then covered his entire body.  A bright flash then filled the room and the golden glow was gone.

 

     George was speechless and watched Jake to make sure he wasn’t hurt.  “Are you okay?” He asked. Jake replied, “Yes, I feel a bit odd, but full of energy.  It’s like I’ve been here before.”  Once they were back in front of the main hut, Norhorn spoke to Ralnor.  George asked Ralnor what was said. Jake broke in, “He asked what happened in the hut.”  George, Norhorn and Ralnor looked at him.  Then it dawned on Jake, it was said in elven and not English. 

 

     Norhorn said, “I see Yatuku has allowed you to wield it.  By being able to wield Yatuku, you have now completed the requirements of the prophecies.  You should remember that anything you do with it that is evil will come back to you.  Yatuku is meant to be wielded for the purposes of good and the protection of the people.”  George was looking back and forth between the two of them asking, “What are you guys talking about?”

 

    Jake turned to answer him but stopped with his mouth still open.  George looked at him, then turned to see what he was looking at.  George could only stare at Tammy and Sara as they walked up.  The elven leather fit them better than a glove.  Their hair was braided and they not only looked beautiful, but dangerous.  They too were equipped with various gear each holding a special weapon, the same as the guys.  Norhorn addressed Sara stating the sword you are carrying will increase your abilities to use fire.  Tammy asked, “What is my special weapon?”  Norhorn replied, “You do not carry a special weapon. You will gain the ability of healing that will come during your quest.

 

     Norhorn addressed the group and said, “We have supplied you with the items you need for your quest.  You shall leave this village at first light.” Turning to look at Jake he said, “Yatuku is your responsibility now.  You need to complete Yatuku by finding the stone.  This stone has been lost for many years and will attach to Yatuku making it complete.  Exactly where the stone is now, we do not know.  With you being able to wield Yatuku, we know you are the one the prophecy speaks of.”  Turning to address all four, Norhorn continued, “The prophecies instruct the bearer of Yatuku to go north of the frozen mountains.”   Without saying another word, Norhorn departed the hut.

 

     Ralnor instructed everyone to follow him.  He took the group to a training area and with the help of several villager, showed them how to properly use all of their weapons.  The four took to the training like seasoned veterans.  Ralnor said, “While on your journey you must practice as much as you can to be familiar with the weapons.”  Training continued for several hours past dark, when Ralnor called an end to it.  He said, “You have a long day tomorrow… you must get some sleep.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 9

 

     First light was still over an hour away when everyone was awakened.  They were fed and their new gear was packed.  Ralnor checked each of them over making a few minor adjustments.  Just as he finished, one of the village ladies entered and gave them several bundles that contained food.  The group was then led out of the village, just as the sun was breaking the horizon.

 

     Jake said, “I have no clue what we’re doing.”  Sara replied with, “I think that’s how we all feel.”  The group marched off to the west on a well-worn path.  The only directions they had been given were to the human village 10 leagues west.  Jake once again was in the lead with Sara beside him.  George and Tammy followed closely behind. Sara said, “When we started this adventure I didn’t think we would really find anything, but hoped we would.  Now that we have, I wish we hadn’t.”  Jake laughed agreeing, “Yea, I know what you mean!”  Tammy replied, “I do love these clothes; they feel like they are part of me.”  George was checking her out and said, “I like them too!”  Tammy hit him on the arm.  George said, “Ouch, what was that for?”  Tammy rolled her eyes and then strutted in front of him, making a show of it.  George just smiled.

 

***

 

     The first league of travel went by quickly.  The path was now starting to narrow and was not as well-worn as when they first left the village.  Different kinds of animal noises now filled their ears and the group was once again walking very cautiously.  With the pathway narrowing, Jake took the point and Sara fell in behind Jake.  Tammy was behind Sara and George was once again at the back.

 

     Jake could hear something rustling in the leaves ahead of them.  He slowed and drew his sword.  The others followed suit.  Jake slowly moved toward the source of the noise.  As quiet as possible, he used his sword to move the brush back to get a better look.  His heart was thumping in his ears, he started to sweat and his eyes were wide open.  When he saw the source of the noise-making monster, he felt so stupid.  There in front of him were two young raccoons, playing.  Jake turned to look back at the others and said, “Raccoons.”  A sigh of relief came over the group.  Just as they started to relax, the young raccoons’ ears perked up and their noses began sniffing the air.  The two then took off from where they had been playing.  Tammy said, “What’s going on?”  Jake shushed her.  The area, which minutes before had been full of life and various noises coming from it, was now very quiet. 

 

     Footsteps could be heard from something very big coming toward them.  The wind blowing from the direction of whatever was coming their way, carried the smell of what appeared to be nasty, old, sunbaked garbage.  They could hear branches being snapped.   Jake moved to hide behind a big tree, to use it as cover, from whatever was coming their way.  George did likewise, moving to a tree that was about 10 feet from Jake’s.  Both were watching the area the noise was coming from, trying to get a look at whatever was coming their way.

 

     Jake made a motion for the girls to pull their bows out and back away toward the area where the raccoons ran off.  He was hoping to set a trap.  They nervously waited.  Sara and Tammy replaced their swords, then removed their bows.  They had an arrow notched ready to draw.  Jake and George held their hands chest-level with the swords pointing up, ready to strike whatever came through the brush.  They kept looking over their shoulder in the direction of the noise then back at each other.

 

     Both were shocked when a troll came through the bushes with his nose in the air, sniffing like a dog.  He was still about 10 to 15 feet from the guys and heading in their direction.  The troll knew there were humans around, just wasn’t too sure of their exact location.  Sara drawing her arrow back, caught the troll’s attention.  He had found what he was looking for and was heading toward her.  Tammy saw what Sara was doing; also drew an arrow back.  The movement was noticed by the troll, which cause him to let out very loud and angry battle cry.  As the troll’s momentum increased toward the girls, Sara released her arrow hitting the troll in the left shoulder.  Tammy released her arrow but didn’t compensate for the branches in front of her.  The arrow deflected wide and sailed over Jake’s head into a nearby tree.

 

     The troll was now at full charge towards the girls, but was stopped short when Jake’s sword made a clean slice through its neck.  A red ring of blood formed around the troll’s neck and the troll’s eyes went wide open from the shock.  As he went to take a step, he fell face-first to the ground.  His head detached, tumbled toward the girls.  The troll was making a huge mess from his blood pouring out onto the ground.  The garbage stench was now twice as bad as it had been.  The group standing shocked and dazed, George was the one brave enough to go inspect the troll.  As he was searching for anything of value, the troll’s body started twitching.

 

     George coming all unglued, started to back away. He tripped, fell, and landed on his rear.  Everyone else started laughing.  The release of energy was just what they needed.  When George gathered himself again, he finished the search.  The troll had nothing of value on it.  Jake asked George, “Was it worth it for you? I know it was for me.”  Then he started laughing even harder.  When he started laughing again, the girls picked up right where they left off.  All George could do was smile and shake his head.

 

     They finally got their act together, Sara asked, “What was that nasty thing?”  Both Jake and George said, “A troll,” at the same time.   After Jake cleaned his sword off, they started moving west again.  Jake said, “We need to make good time if we are going to reach the human village before dark.”  Everyone opted to make better time rather than slowly progress in a quiet manner.  The trail went from well-used to just about an animal trail.  Often times the trail would split, they would follow it to a dead end and have to backtrack and take the other fork.

 

     Sometime around mid-day they stopped to eat.  They ate in a shady spot under some old trees.  Tammy said, “I wish I had my camera.  This is such a beautiful place.  I don’t even think you could take a bad picture anywhere.”  Sara said, “Yeah, but if we took a picture of something like those kobolds or that troll, what do you think would happen?”  Jake added, “Everyone would want to know where we ran across it and this area would be forever ruined.”  They finished their meal and repacked the remaining food.  Once again they were heading west.

 

***

 

     The forest was soon just a few trees and the flat land gave way to grass-covered, rolling hills.  The hills were covered in various colors from the fresh grass to the brilliant flowers.  The trail was now totally gone.  George asked, “Now what?”  Sara replied, “West.”  Then she pointed north.  Jake shook his head and said, “Remind me when we get back that if we travel somewhere not to let you have the map.”  Sara asked, “And what is that supposed to mean?”  Jake smiled at her and said, “West is that way, dear.”  Rolling her eyes she said, “Well, old wise one, lead on.”  George and Tammy snickered looking at the ground, tried to contain their laughter.  Jake stuck his tongue out at Sara, turned and started walking once again.

 

     The cool trip in the shadowed forest, now changed into a walk in the direct sunlight.  The sun was beating down on them and the temperature was at least 10 to 15 degrees hotter.  The up-and-down, hill after hill, was starting to get old.  The grass was about a foot high; it didn’t slow them much, but it made their legs more tired for having to battle it.  About three leagues after leaving the forest they caught sight of a road.

 

     They walked toward it with a bit more vigor than before.  The road was running northwest to south.  Once they got to it, and saw its directions, they had to decide if they should follow it to the northwest or keep heading west through the underbrush.  After a bit of a debate, they decided to follow the road northwest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 10

 

     After traveling about a half hour, the road finally turned toward the west.  Other roads started joining in and soon there were a lot of people heading west.  Most of them appeared to be farmers or merchants taking their goods to the city.  The group stayed to themselves and would only wave back if someone waived or said something to them.  They kept their conversations to a minimum and when they did talk, it was in only to themselves in very low tones and away from other people.

 

     The village that Ralnor had spoken about was now coming into view.  What little they could see of it looked to be a fairly large city, not a village.  It was early evening and the sun was getting lower on the horizon.  An old man that had been walking near them for several miles said, “We should be able to make it to the gate before it closes for the night.”  Without thinking, George said, “When does it close?”  The old man never looked at him and said, “When the sun sets and it will remain closed until first light of day”

 

***

 

     They were still a ways from the entrance, when they noticed the city guards were outside the gate lighting the torches. The old man said, “We may not make it in time.”  Tammy said, “I think I would prefer to sleep in a bed tonight, rather than on the cold hard ground outside the gate.”  Sara replied, “I agree!  Let’s get a move on.”  The group quickened their pace.  Jake looked back to see the old man was unable to keep up and was struggling.  Jake turned to George and said, “Let’s give the gentleman a hand.”

 

     Both guys turned back and assisted him toward the gate.  No more than 30 seconds after they entered the gate, the guards stopped the people from entering and shut the gate.  The old man turned to the group and said, “Welcome to Tumed Osto.  My wife will be so glad to see me tonight.  I thank you fine gentlemen for helping me make it through in time.  Do you have a place to stay tonight?”  Jake said, “You’re welcome, and we will need to find a place to stay, like an inn.”  The old man said, “My name is Ralph. Tonight you will be my guests and stay at my house.”  Jake replied, “We thank you for the offer, but we don’t want to inconvenience you or your wife.  We should be able to find lodging in town.”  Shaking his head, Ralph replied, “With the midsummer tournaments going on, rooms are hard to find and overpriced.  You young people will stay at my house and I’ll not take no for an answer.”  He smiled at them as they headed deeper into the city.

 

     This area of the city appeared to be poor and rundown.  The streets were filled with trash and junk was piled all over the place.  Vendors were trying to sell cheap wares and food from makeshift booths.  Most of the people moving amongst the setting, were rough and looked of an unscrupulous nature. After walking about 20 minutes, the group approached a second set of gates.  Ralph greeted the guard and walked right through.  Jake was walking just a few feet behind Ralph.  When Jake tried to follow Ralph through, the guard stepped in front of him and said, “Where do you think you’re going?”  Without looking back Ralph said, “They’re with me.”  The guard moved aside and said. “Sorry, sir.”

 

     Unlike the previous section, the streets past the gates were well lit and very clean.  The houses were five to ten times the size of the houses in the grimier area.  The teens were in awe as they passed some of the houses.  Jake whispered to Sara, “Just looking at Ralph, I thought he lived in the bad section.”  Ralph said, “Don’t judge a scroll by the color of its outside.  It may contain something valuable inside.”  Jake had barely even whispered and Ralph was a good 20 feet in front and still heard him.

 

     Ralph walked toward what looked like the biggest house around and went inside, the teens followed.  The butler greeted him with, “Welcome home, Master Stronghold.”  Ralph said, “And good evening to you, Thomas.  We have guests for the evening.”  Ralph nodded back toward the four teens behind him.  Thomas said, “Very well, sir.  Where is your horse Master Stronghold?”  “He broke a leg down the road, and I had to put the old fellow down.” he replied.  Within moments of his arrival they heard a female’s voice coming from upstairs saying, “Ralph, is that you?”  Ralph’s wife came down the stairs looking radiant and graceful as befit a woman of high status.

 

     She ran over and greeted Ralph with a hug and a kiss.  Ralph began the introductions by saying, “My friends, this is my lovely bride, Emma.”  Emma looked at the group questionably, but greeted them as a gracious hostess would.  Ralph explained to Emma that if it hadn’t been for the kids, he would have been trapped on the outside of the gate.  Emma’s view of them quickly changed and her behavior showed gratitude.

 

     Emma summonsed a kitchen aide and said, “Please prepare us something to eat.  Ralph joined in, “I know I’m famished, how about you guys?”  George said, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”  Ralph, his wife and several staff members were now frowning and giving him a disgusted look.  Jake saw their reaction and quickly said, “He wouldn’t actually eat a horse.  It’s an expression where we are from.”

 

***

 

     Shortly after the serving girl announced dinner was ready.  Tammy asked, “Is there a bathroom where I can freshen up before dinner?”  Emma said, “You haven’t time for a bath as dinner will be cold.”  Tammy blushed and said, “No, I would just like to wash my hands and face before I eat dinner.”  Emma remarked to Ralph, “Your friends have some very strange sayings.”  Ralph nodded and said, “They come from far away, my dear.”  Jake froze, he was wondering if someone had said something to him about their home.

 

     The group sat down and had a great meal.  After the meal Ralph escorted them to a sitting room.  Once everyone was seated, Ralph said, “I know you are not from this area.  Where is your home?”  Everyone looked a bit shocked and looked toward Jake to provide an answer.  Ralph looked at Jake.  Jake said, “We come from a place far away?”  Ralph smiled and said, “I know this, and I know you are not part of our world.”  Jake was a bit shocked and said, “True, we came through a mountain on the other side of Alalda Ostar, a couple of days ago.  We were just out exploring in our world, when we found the mountain entrance by accident and started to explore.  We exited out of the mountain, when Ralnor stumbled upon us and took us to Alalda Ostar.  They equipped us and sent us on our way.”  Jake was hoping no one would say they were on a quest.

 

     Ralph took a minute to digest what was said, then finally replied, “The Elven town of Alalda Ostar.  Alalda Ostar is translated as, the treetop township.  You are the ones they have been speaking of for centuries.”  He got up and walked into a study.  A few minutes went by when he returned with an old book.  The book was written in a language that George, Sara and Tammy could not read.  Jake looked at the book and read the title: “Prophecies from the High Priest of Orion.”  Ralph gently laid the book on a table and thumbed through the pages until he found “the” prophecy.

 

    Ralph said, “The prophecy states the four, as one, will go where no one else can.  They will cross the vastness of the frozen mountains to the green lands.  Deep inside the caverns contain many things they seek.  When the four return, balance will be restored.”  Ralph then closed the book and sat it on a desk.  Jake just looked at him for several minutes before he asked, “That’s all it has to say?”  Ralph replied, “That is all that this book has written about it.  There are other books that have more information, but I do not have any of them.”  The others sat in stunned silence as they continued to talk.

 

     After several minutes of small talk Ralph said, “I am sure you would like to get cleaned up.”  The kids were shown to their rooms and Ralph had baths drawn for each of them.  When they finished bathing, each found clothes laid out for them.  The clothes provided, fit everyone reasonably well.  With everyone being cleaned and refreshed, they returned to the sitting room. 

 

     Tammy and Sara were discussing how they missed home.  George was excited about all the day’s events and had a hard time remaining still.  Jake tried to participate in all the conversations, but was preoccupied with what Ralph had revealed.  After a couple of hours, Tammy started yawning, and they decided it was time to call it a night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 11

 

    The following day, Ralph gave the group a tour of the city.  This was like cities that they had read about in fantasy books.  The sights went from luxurious in the upper gated area, to working-class beyond the gate, to poverty on the outskirts.  The group went in and out of various shops looking at the items on display.  Ralph took them into a bakery purchasing a bag of sweet rolls. It didn’t take them long to devour the rolls.  Ralph wondered if any of them had even tasted the rolls on the way down.

 

     Near the north end of the city was a tall, dark stone tower with very few windows.  “What is that place?” asked George. Ralph answered, “The Osto Wizard Tower.”  “Real magic?” inquired Sara.  Ralph answered, “Yes, real magic, why ask that?” but then stopped, realizing the kids didn’t know how things worked in this world.  He continued with, “Magic is a big part of our world.  This is one of a few towers, in all the cities of our world, where magic is used for good.”  Jake asked, “Are we allowed inside?”  “Few are ever allowed to go in, but I will ask some friends who may be able to get us in,” Ralph said.

 

     The following day a messenger from the wizard’s tower arrived with a scroll for Ralph.  After he read the scroll and told the teens that an invitation to the tower had been extended to them.  Ralph said, “We are to arrive after the mid-day meal to meet with Master Tornaze.  I am very shocked that Master Tornaze has given us an audience.”

 

***

 

     Just before mid-day, they walked to the tower, which was further than it appeared.  Upon arrival at the tower, they were escorted in by a young man wearing a tan robe, to a waiting area.  He instructed them to make themselves comfortable.  After a few minutes had passed, the young wizard returned announcing, “Master Tornaze will see you now.”  He then escorted them to an upper chamber of the tower where Master Tornaze was located.

 

     The room was a cluttered mess with numerous tables containing stacks of scrolls, books, and various equipment.  The room had a musky odor of old stale paper.  A very old, frail-looking man was sitting at a desk reading an ancient-looking book that appeared like it was ready to fall apart.  Without looking up, Tornaze said, “Please have a seat.”  Everyone looked around only to find there were no seats empty.  Every chair contained stacks of papers, books or other objects.  No one made a moved to remove the items; they just stood and looked at the master.

 

     When Tornaze finally looked up to see everyone still standing, he glanced around at the various chairs in the room and said, “Forgive me, it has been a long time since I have had guests.”  He got up from behind the desk, “Please follow me; we can sit in my library.”  Jake looked at Sara quizzically.  Both were thinking that this room was the library.

 

     The attached room was a lot bigger than the study they had just left.  This room looked like a real library.  There were row after row of books.  The shelves went from floor to ceiling and from wall to wall.  You could smell the paper of the books and the leather binding that encased them.  The room was lit with a semi-white light that, while not fire, it seemed to Jake to possess more of a magical glow, as from a spell being cast over the room.

 

     Tornaze sat down on an overstuffed chair which basically swallowed him.  There were several other overstuffed chairs and a huge couch.  Everyone took a seat and got very comfortable.  Tornaze said, “Ralph, my old friend, it is good to see you after so many years.”  Ralph gave a slight bow of his head and said, “Master Tornaze, it is good to see you also, you are looking well. I would like to introduce you to our special visitors.  George, Tammy, Sara…,” he pointed to each in turn then placed his hand on Jakes shoulder and said, “…and this is Jake.”  Tornaze nodded to each in turn.

 

     Once the formalities and introductions were dispatched, Tornaze looked at the kids and said, “I did not think I would see the day when the prophecy would come to pass.  With your arrival, several things have or will be set into motion.”  Tornaze turned and looked at Ralph and asked, “Who all knows they are here?”  Ralph said, “Just you and I and the elven village of Alalda Ostar.”  Tornaze nodded his head and said, “That is good!  The fewer people that know, the better.  There are a lot of things that need to happen before others find out they are here.  The main thing I need to know, is can any of you use magic?”  All four were wide-eyed and shaking their heads.  Jake said, “We do not have magic where we come from.”  “Yes, yes, of course,” Tornaze said, “I do forget sometimes about other places and cultures.”

 

     The old man closed his eyes and began chanting something under his breath.  When he opened his eyes he held out his hand and a blue orb of energy appeared.  He held it out to Jake and said, “Please take this and pass it from one to another.   This will tell us if you have the ability to use magic and what type.”  Jake was hesitant, but did as he was asked.  As Jake touched the orb it turned a very bright blue almost blinding them.  Jake passed it to Sara and the orb turned deep, dark red.  Sara passed the orb to Tammy and it went pure white, whiter than a new fallen snow.  When George touched the orb it changed to a brilliant green.

 

     Tornaze said, “Very impressive.  I have never seen the orb turn to the brilliant colors it has done today.  The green is earth magic, the white is healing magic, and the red is fire magic.  Tornaze turned to Jake and said, “What you have I have never seen.  It must be some type of combination of magic.”  The four were impressed that they had the ability to use magic.

 

     He then turned to Ralph and said, “They should remain in the tower so they can be trained in using their magic with proper discipline.  Time is short.  They will need to learn the fundamentals and whatever else we can teach them in the time we have available.  The magic along with their abilities will grow as they use it.”  Ralph replied, “It is not for me to decide if they stay, it is their choice.”

 

     Jake looked at the others and said, “I think it would be neat to learn magic.”  Everyone agreed.  Jake asked Tornaze, “How long will it take?” Tornaze replied, “It takes many moon cycles to learn what you will need to know, but like I said before, we have only a short time, maybe a moon cycle or two.”  Jake said, “We don’t have a month or two.  We are expected home in a few days.”  Looking confused Tornaze asked, “A month?”  Jake explained, “A moon cycle is about a month and there are about 12 moon cycles in a year.”  Tornaze shook his head back and forth and said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you cannot leave this world.”

 

     Shock set in on all four of their faces from what he had just told them.  Tammy had tears start rolling down her face and George just sat there in disbelief.  Sara didn’t know what to do or say, she just walked over and tried to comfort Tammy.  Jake was the first to respond, “What do you mean we can’t leave this world?  We can go back through the mountain and out the cave entrance like we did to get here.” Tornaze shook his head and replied, “I am sorry, but it is no longer there.  Once you entered through the bottom of the mountain, the cave entrance was sealed and has moved.”  Sara said, “What do you mean, sealed and moved?”  Tornaze answered, “It is a magical portal and closes to protect this land.  When a group enters into this world, the entrance goes back to being solid and the location changes.”  George quietly asked, “So where will it go to next?”  Tornaze replied, “I have no idea.  It took us many moon cycles to find it the last time it moved.”  “We don’t have that much time to find it, we only have a week at the most before our parents are expecting us back!” Tammy cried out.

 

     “The elves knew that it had been sealed and will be looking for the new entrance,” said Ralph.  Sara exclaimed, “They should have told us about that!”  “That is the last thing they would want you to do, worry about home and not focused on what you are here to do,” said Tornaze.

 

     The shock from what they were hearing brought the group’s high spirits crashing to the ground. Tammy’s tears kept rolling down her face and she was now just sitting there in stone cold silence.  George moved to sit beside her, placing an arm around her shoulder to try and comfort her.  Jake stared in disbelief.  Sara started pacing back and forth now and muttering over and over, “This isn’t happening, we have to get home!”  Jake got up and took her in his arms and said, “We will!  Trust me, we will find the way back home.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 12

 

     Two months had passed and training was coming along better than Tornaze expected.  There were still a few issues concerning going home, but for the most part the four understood it was out of their hand and finally accepted that fact.  They had learned basic magic and numerous higher level spells.  Each had been given a spell book to assist in their learning, and to record new spells.  In addition, they also received a medallion for protection, a ring to amplify their powers, and a small bag containing 20 pieces of gold for their quest.

 

     On the final morning of their training in the tower, Tornaze sat the four down and had a long talk with them.  He praised each of them in the diligence they showed in learning their special ability.  After talking several minutes, Sara informed him that they were all home sick and still worried about being able to get home.  “I thought you each understood that we are looking for the entrance and will let you know when it is found.  There is still time to get you home before your people start missing you.  You must focus on the task at hand and not about the future,” said Tornaze. “I have prepared you the best I can, with what little time we had.  You must travel north of the mountains to find the stone of Yatuku.  This quest will be very trying and have you going into places you would have never imagined.  You must stay together in your decisions to accomplish your quest or you will meet with devastating results,” Tornaze explained to them.

 

     The four were curious and waited for additional information from Tornaze on what he meant about “there is still time before your people start missing you.  They were waiting for the right time to ask the meaning, but each of them lost their train of thought when he said “devastating results.  They soon departed the wizard’s tower, forgetting to inquire about what was meant by his statement about home.

 

     Before leaving the city, they stopped to gather their belonging and say goodbye to Ralph.  After arriving, they went to their guest rooms and changed back into their traveling clothes given by the Elves.  They all joined Ralph in the sitting room. Ralph once again thanked them for their help and told them he had a gift for each of them.

 

     When they walked out back of the house toward the barns, there standing in front of them were four riding horses and a pack horse.  Jake said, “We can’t accept these, it is too much of a gift.”   Ralph said, “It is no problem.  I have many more and will not miss a few. I have also ensured there is additional money, supplies and food for your journey.”  They acted as if it was Christmas morning and had gotten everything on their list they wanted.  Each thanked Ralph.  Jake said, “We will stop back by here to see you, if it’s okay.” Ralph said, “It would be my honor to have you back.  Be safe!”

 

***

 

     The group mounted up and rode for the upper gate.  Sara said, “This sure is a lot better than walking!”  Jake said, “I agree.” Everyone seemed happy, except George.  He was not enjoying the ride like the others were.  He had never ridden a horse and was having a difficult time with it.  All Tammy could do was smile at him.  “George…” she said, “go with the flow of the horse.  You’re fighting the horse’s movement.”  Replying stone faced George said, “That’s easily for you to say. I’m being bounced around like a rag doll.” Jake and Sara smiled at each other.  As Jake went to say something, Sara shook her head to let him know not to say anything.  Again Jake stuck his tongue out at her.

 

     Within half an hour George was feeling better about riding.  They were on the road heading north for an area they were told it was full of wild and dangerous creatures.  Tammy asked, “How far is the next town?”  George replied, “Ralph said it was just over two days ride to the next big city, but there are a few small farms where we can get some more supplies if we need them.”

 

***

 

     The smooth road soon gave way to a wagon trail that was full of ruts.  As they ventured further north, the area was getting dense with trees and bushes.  Their speed had slowed to just faster than a walk.  The ride so far had been very peaceful and enjoyable.  The views and sounds of nature were pleasant.  However, just after the group took a wide turn in the trail, the noises stopped.

 

     Jake slowed his horse and started to look around.  Sara asked, “What’s wrong?”  Jake said, “There are no noises coming from any animals, not even the birds.  It’s just too quiet.”  George was now watching behind him as much if not more than, in front of him.  Tammy and Sara sat higher in the saddles and totally on alert.  Jake was focused on the trail in front, but continued watching for signs of anything that was out of the ordinary.

 

     As they traveled down the road Jake spotted an area 30 yards ahead, where it seemed like something had disturbed the grass on the left hand side of the road.  Whatever had done that, appeared to be heading up the side of the hill.  The area was very thick with underbrush and hard to see within.  Jake stopped, telling Tammy and Sara, “I need you to dismount and leave your horses here.  Make your way along the left side of the road about 10 more yards and ready your bows.”  He continued to survey the area and said, “Set up there and we will stay on the right side of the path.  If something jumps out at us, shoot it.”  The girls did as instructed.  Jake and George drew their swords and held them down to the right side of their horses, concealing them as best they could.

 

     Jake and George proceeded as if everything was normal.  They were talking and laughing as if they were carefree.  As they approached the area with the bent grass, all remained quiet.  They moved a few more feet, when two men jumped out behind them and two in front, all with swords drawn.  The leader, who was nasty and dirty in appearance with broken, yellow teeth, said, “Well, well, well, what do we have here?  Two young lads looking to give us their horses and their gold, wouldn’t you say guys?”  The others started laughing and agreeing.

 

     Sara pointed to the man on the right, silently indicated to Tammy that she’d take him.  She then pointed to Tammy and then the man on the left.  Tammy nodded.  Sara whispered, “On three.  One, two, three!”  They released their arrows both hitting their target dead center in their backs.   The two men dropped instantly.  Jake and George then jumped off their horses and engaged the two men in front.  The two bandits didn’t expect that move and went on the defensive.

 

     The swords clanked and rung as the struggle between the two groups raged.  The fight went a lot longer than Jake wanted it to, he wanted a quick finish.  After a few minutes, Jake had downed his bandit then moved to help George.  The bandit saw Jake coming and took off running.  Sara sighted in on him and released her arrow.  It stopped him before he took an additional step.  The arrow was well placed it the bandits neck.

 

     Jake and George were both sweating up a storm by now, but the two were full of adrenalin and ready to keep going.  The search of the four bandits revealed nothing of use.  As they were moving the bodies off the road, Tammy said, “Do you think we should tell someone about this?” “Like who, the police?”  George asked.  Tammy appeared to be a bit shaken by the whole incident and wasn’t in the mood for humor.  “Are you okay?” asked Sara.  “Yeah, I just don’t want to get into trouble and get locked up for killing someone,” said Tammy.  “We aren’t going to get into trouble.  They were bandits that attacked us.  We had no other chose,” said Jake as he was heading over to his horse.  The others followed his lead.  They remounted and were off again.  George gave a slight grunt as his sore bottom hit the saddle.  Sara smirked at Tammy.  That helped relieve a bit of the tension as they watched George, listening to him groan about his soreness.

 

***

 

     They rode for several more leagues before deciding to stop and grab a bite to eat, finding a spot up on a hill where they could see all around them.  The area they had chosen was grassy, contained very few trees and no underbrush.  George said, “I think the horses are tired.  Maybe we should walk them a little bit.”  Winking at Sara, Tammy walked over and smacked him on the rear and said, “Is that why?”  His reaction was priceless. You would have thought Tammy had stabbed him instead of tapping him.  Everyone laughed, except George, who looked like he lost his best friend.

 

     George asked, “Am I the only one sore from riding?”  Jake said, “No, we all are, but you will get used to it.”  George replied, “I feel like my rear will be bruised forever.  It feels like it’s twice the size it should be.”  Turning his back to Jake, he asked, “Does it look bigger to you?”  Jake laughing so hard, he could barely catch his breath, managed to say, “No dear, it doesn’t look that wide.”  Sara and Tammy couldn’t contain their laughter anymore.  Falling on their backs and laughed so hard, they had tears rolling down their cheeks.  George looked completely wounded at the lack of sympathy from his friends.  Clapping George on the shoulder Jake said, “We do need to find some water for the horses, though.  We can walk for a bit.”  After eating they repacked their supplies and moved back to the path.

 

***

 

     Walking until they found a creek for the horses to drink, they also refilled their supply of water.  After remounting, Jake said, “I think it would be best if we rode a couple more leagues then started looking for a spot to stay the night.  I don’t want to try finding a place in the dark.”  George pointed at the ground at his feet and said, “This looks like a good spot right here.”   Everyone laughed at him.  Jake said, “A few more leagues and we will stop for the night.”   George grumbled under his breath, which caused everyone to laugh even harder.

 

     The ride was slow-going and the terrain was getting rockier.  The hills were growing into mountains.  The trees were thicker in this area, but on the good side of things, the underbrush was minimal.  After three leagues of riding, Jake saw a small cave.  It only went back about 10 feet and looked like a great spot to stop and set up camp.  Jake got off his horse, walking over to inspect the cave.

 

     The cave looked like it had been used many times for that same purpose.  They unpacked the gear from the horses and put it at the back.  Sara tied a guide rope and attached the horses to it so they could move around and eat.  While Sara tended to the horses, Tammy gathered stones to create a fire ring.  George and Jake gathered enough firewood for cooking, with enough to last through the night.  After lighting the fire, they walked down to a creek and fetched water for cooking.

 

     The sunlight disappeared very quickly:  The sky was overcast, which didn’t allow any moonlight through.  They set the watches Tammy first; George, Jake and Sara would follow up.  Tammy was a nervous wreck during her watch.  Every sound was a monster coming to get her.  By the end of her watch her arm was tired from drawing her bow string back.  She was so uptight, and mentally drained, when George moved, she almost shot him.  “Whoa, Pocahontas I come in peace,” said George with his hands in the air. He smiled, gave her a hug and said, “Go get some sleep.”

 

     George and Jake’s watches went by without incident.  Jake allowed Sara to sleep a bit longer than she was scheduled.  By the time he woke her up, she only stood a short watch before the sun started to rise.  Jake was the first to wake, and joined her.  Jake asked, “Everything okay?  Sara said, “Yes, just a bit hungry. Boy, what I wouldn’t give for pancakes, sausage and a glass of cold milk.”  Jake said. “We have this meat substance Ralph and Emma gave us, a potato thingy, and look… if I flatten this hard bread, it could act as a pancake.”  Sara smiled and asked, “What about the maple syrup?”   Jake smiled saying, “Do I have to think of everything myself.”  Sara hit him.  George and Tammy joined them a few minutes later and all ate a quiet breakfast.  They took the horses to the creek so they could be watered before they traveled.   The horses were saddled, packed and once again they were off.

 

***

 

     The day’s ride went uneventfully.  The sky was threatening rain, but it never came.  They found a spot to stop for the night and set up camp.  They changed the watch rotation to George, Jake, Sara, with Tammy taking the last one.  George’s watch went by fast.  Jake walked around a bit and found a spot to sit and still watch the campsite.

 

     Before he knew it, the sun felt hot on his neck.  Jake was wondering why the sun was shining so hot in the woods.  When he opened his eyes, it was still dark.  From behind him a deep growl of a voice said, “Human, if you move, I will kill you.  Don’t move at all.”  Jake was frozen.  His mind was racing and he was wide awake now. The funny thing about it all was he didn’t sense any danger about the situation. The voice said, “If you cooperate, I will not harm you or your friends, but you will help us!”

 

    What kind of help do you need from us?”  An old graying wolf appeared in front of him and said, “I’m Bloodfang, leader of the wolves.  Our home has been taken by a group of goblins and we need your help to rid them.”  Jake could see several wolves in the area and was not about to do anything stupid.  He said, “You have my word, if you spare me and my friends, we will help you the best we can.  May I move now?”  Bloodfang said, “Yes, but if you try anything or harm one of us, your sleeping friends will be killed.”

 

Jake sat up a bit straighter and looked to where the others were asleep.  There were six to eight wolves lying near them.  Jake looked at the horses and they were calm.  Jake was wondering why the horses hadn’t awoken him with the scent of the wolves in the area.  Jake asked, “Where is your home?”  Bloodfang answered, “It is a ways from here.  We will guide you.”  Jake said, “My friends are going to be very scared if they wake up to a bunch of wolves.”  Bloodfang gave a slight growl and the wolves around his friends got up, moving toward Bloodfang.

 

     Bloodfang said, “We will watch while you sleep.”  Jake said, “Thanks, but I need to let my friends know what is going on before I go to sleep.  They would not understand if they woke up with all the wolves around.”  Jake walked over to the group, waking them one at a time.  Sara was first. She looked at Jake, and then noticed the wolf behind him.  Sara started to scream, but Jake reassured her all was well.  He then explained to her what was going on and that he agreed to help remove the goblins.

 

     Jake then moved to wake George up.  When he informed George about the wolves, he thought Jake was joking around.  When he saw the wolves, he started scrambling backwards trying to get away from them.  It took a bit of convincing by Jake before George settled down and also agreed.  Tammy was more understanding and wasn’t startled by them.  Soon they settled down to sleep, but sleep was hard to come by.

 

Meanwhile, 12 eyes that did not belong to the wolves watched everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 13

 

     Morning came quickly, and the group repacked the gear.  Jake walked over to the pack of wolves, to keep from having Bloodfang come too close and spooking the horses.  Talking with Bloodfang, Jake gave his word they would follow them to rid their home of the goblins.  Bloodfang was satisfied with the talk and felt that the group could be trusted.  Jake then explained to George, Tammy, and Sara that the wolves would stay a good distance in front of them to keep the horses calm.  The wolves took off with the group following.

 

     The wolves went through the forest not thinking about humans or the horses, who needed the trails.  The low branches and trees were easy for the wolves to maneuver through, but a total pain for everyone on horseback.  The riders were having trouble with the terrain and the travel was very slow.  They rode most of the day, only taking a few short breaks.  As night fell upon them, they set up camp.  Bloodfang told Jake the pack would keep watch throughout the night so all of them could get a good night’s sleep.  Everyone felt refreshed when they woke up.

 

***

 

     They had been riding two leagues that morning when Bloodfang stopped ahead and waited for Jake.  Getting off his horse, Jake handed the lead to Sara.  “Wait here so I can find out why we stopped” Jake said.  He then walked up to where Bloodfang waited and asked, “Why did we stop?”  “We’re near our home,” Bloodfang answered, “It’s only a little ways over this hill, down in the valley.”

 

     Jake went back to inform the others.  Sara said, “Now that we’re here, how are we going to get rid of the goblins?”  Jake said, “I’m not sure.  We’ll have to take a look at the area before we really know.”  Dismounting the horses, they snuck up to the top of the hill with Bloodfang to take a look at the area.  When they looked down into the valley, they could see many creatures moving around.

 

     The wolves’ home was a partially ruined house sitting in the middle of an overgrown field.  There wasn’t any cover between them and the house other than tall grass.  There were no trees, hills, brushes or anything that would hide them from the view of the goblins.  They could see a lot of goblins moving inside the house, as well as out.  “So that’s what a goblin looks like,” Sara said.  Jake turned to Bloodfang and asked, “How many are there?”  Bloodfang answered, “Many.”

 

     The goblins looked humanoid, but had slightly oversized heads and larger-than-normal ears.  The goblins were just a little taller than the grass; Jake estimated them to be three to three and a half feet tall.  They looked to weigh only 40 to 45 pounds.  Their eyes were an odd orange color, dull and glazed.  Their skin also had an orange tint to it.  They were wearing dirty, drab-looking leathers or torn and tattered clothes.

 

     Jake said, “The house is in the middle of the valley with no way to sneak up on it.”  George asked, “So what do you think?”  Jake couldn’t think of a way to approach the house without alerting the goblins.  Bloodfang said, “There is no way to attack them without being seen.  We will have to try drawing them away a few at a time.”  Jake looked around and said, “If you can draw them to the right side of this hill, we can take them out.”  Bloodfang looked confused and asked, “Where are you going to take them to?”   Everyone smiled and Jake said, “We are not going to take them anywhere.  The plan is to kill them.”  Now that Bloodfang understood.  He moved to inform the other wolves and soon after, they were sneaking toward the house.

 

     Everyone pulled their bows out and set up on the right side of the hill.  The wolves got low to the ground, working their way near the house and waited for an unsuspecting goblin.  It didn’t take long for one of the wolves to grab a goblin and start tearing into it.  Others joined in and the goblin was torn to pieces in nothing flat.  A big commotion started and several armed goblins ran toward the wolves.  Within a few seconds the wolves came running around the side of the hill with several goblins trying their best to catch them.  Before they knew what hit them, the goblins were dropped by arrows.  Six were downed instantly by arrows, with the last remaining goblin turning to run back to the house.  Before it could even yell out, two wolves pounced on him and began tearing him to pieces.  The first ambush had worked, but there still remained a bunch of goblins at the house.

 

     Bloodfang returned to Jake.  “Now what do we do?” Jake asked. Bloodfang replied, “When they don’t return in a few minutes, others will come looking for them.”  Jake smiled saying, “We’ll be ready.  We need to move the bodies from the area.” Bloodfang had the wolves drag the bodies out of sight.  Bloodfang was right, within a few minutes more goblins were heading their way. Jake looked over the hill to see about 15 to 20 goblins coming.  Jake and the others as well as the wolves, were well hidden.  Jake whispered to George, “Use the vine spell you learned to trap and hold them.  That will allow us to shoot them without them being able to retreat.  You need to start the spell from behind them and work it forward.”  George nodded.

 

     The group of goblins came around the hill and George cast the spell at the back of the group.  Within seconds, the front goblins were aware that the rear of their group was trapped.  Jake, George, Tammy, and Sara stood at once and started releasing arrows.  The goblins that were trapped could not break away from the vines.  With well-placed shots, the goblins in the lead fell one after the other.  The wolves joined in and soon the entire group of goblins were eliminated.  Jake and George went to retrieve the arrows shot, while the wolves were dragging the dead goblin bodies off.

 

     Jake said to Bloodfang, “We could cast a fire spell in the house to kill the rest of them.”  Bloodfang said, “No, you will burn the inside and damage our home.”  Jake nodded in agreement and waited for the next group of goblins to attack.

 

     After waiting half an hour, Jake made his way up the hill to take another look.  The only movement he could see was on the inside of the house.  There were no goblins to be seen moving around the outside.  There appears to be at least 20 or more inside.  Jake told Bloodfang, “Have the wolves go to the back of the house and draw the goblins’ attention.  When the goblins head for the back of the house we will attack from the front.”

 

     It only took the wolves a few minutes to work their way around to the back side of the house.  When the wolves howling and growling started, the goblins fell for the trap and ran for the back of the house.  Once the goblins were out of sight, Jake and the others moved into position at the front of the house.  With their bows ready, they popped up in front and started shooting through the broken windows and missing section of wall.  It didn’t take too long before the ones visible were killed.

 

     Bloodfang circled around after the last of the goblins were killed.  Jake said, “It looks like we got them all.”  Bloodfang said, “There is underground still.”  Jake said, “Really? You got to be kidding me!”  Bloodfang cocked his head and said, “I do not understand.”  Jake slung his bow and drew his sword and said, “Never mind.  Let’s go and find them.”   The others followed suit and changed from using their bows to using their swords.

 

     Jake said to Bloodfang, “You will have to lead the way.”  As they entered the house, Jake told everyone that he and George would go downstairs and for Sara and Tammy to stand guard of the upstairs.  Jake and George followed Bloodfang as they headed toward the stairs.  The stench coming up from the stairwell was nasty and began to turn Jake and George’s stomachs.  The steps themselves were creaky and narrow, but mostly intact.  Bloodfang was at the bottom before Jake and George even started down.

 

     Jake cast a simple light spell and the downstairs was lit up.  There were no goblins to be seen in the area.  Bloodfang started growling at a hallway that led deeper into the basement.  Jake was ready when a goblin game out swinging a mace at his midsection.  He blocked it, then countered with a slice that removed the goblin’s right arm.  Before he could recover from the hard swing, Jake was struck in the hip by a second goblin.  The hit knocked Jake backwards, causing him to stumble and fall, also knocking George down.  The closest goblin was about to strike Jake in the head when Bloodfang grabbed it by the arm and started tearing it to pieces.  George was able to gather himself and regain his position.  It took Jake a bit longer to recover.  When he finally stood up, he was favoring his left side where the goblin had struck him.

 

     The back room was shadowed and was not well lit.  Jake tried to cast another light spell but the pain in his side caused him to lose focus.  When Jake and George tried to enter the room, the remaining goblins attacked them at once.  They were able to block most of the blows that came their way, though both were hit by the blunt weapons used.  The goblins could not swing full force due to the limited space, and the large number of goblins contained within it.  The confined area was a lifesaver for Jake and George because neither sustained any major damage.  Once they were able to back out of the narrow entrance of the room, they were able to go on the offense.  When the goblins tried to follow them out of the room, they were caught in a choke point and were cut down one after the other.

 

***

 

     The battle lasted a good while and when the last of them fell, the group checked the rest of the basement.  While the goblins had occupied the house, they had been busy digging a well supported 20 foot tunnel.  There was one additional small room down there that looked like a storage cellar where the goblins had used it to store the stolen spoils of their ventures.

 

     Jake noted the room in the back of his mind, but turned and limped back upstairs.  Sara saw him limping and said, “What happened?”  Jake said, “George was so scared he wet the floor and I slipped and fell.”  George said straight faced, “I’m sorry.  I’ve been working hard on how to cure that problem,” and then started laughing uncontrollably.  Sara folded her arms over her chest and said, “You guys are not being funny!”  Between fits of laugher, Jake said, “I was hit, but it’s no big deal.”  Sara went over to assist Jake up the remaining stairs.

 

     Seeing the attention he was being given by Sara, Jake started playing up the severity of pain and the limp got more exaggerated.  Things quickly changed when Sara said, “Tammy, I need you to help me get his pants off so we can look at how bad his hip is damaged.”  Jake was having no part of that.  “The pain is gone and look I can even walk better now!” Jake blurted out. George could hardly contain himself from falling back down the stairs because he was laughing so hard.  Jake moved away from Sara, took a couple of steps, then started to fall before Sara caught him and gave him some support.

 

     Tammy said, “I think someone’s a bit shy… I can heal him through his clothes.”  Tammy walked over and laid her hands on his hip.  Jake could feel the warmth seeping into him and after a couple of minutes, he could feel the pain subsiding and then totally disappear.  Jake said, “Wow!  That was cool, the pain’s gone.  Thanks!”   Tammy said, “No problem, now you owe me.”  Tammy and Sara started to laugh.

 

***

 

Meanwhile, little did everyone at the wolves’ house know, their activities had been observed from afar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 14

 

     The night was calm and everyone was able to get a good night sleep.  The wolves brought a fresh kill of deer for breakfast.  George stoked the ashes and soon had a nice fire going.  Jake cut some meat off and put it over the fire.  They took turns rolling the meat so it wouldn’t burn.  After about 45 minutes they ate.

 

     They did a check of the house and found a few books, clothes, rusty weapons, a sum of coins, a few gems and a couple of scrolls.  They collected all the good items and discarded the rest.  The dead goblins had a few things that were worth keeping, mainly scrolls, gold, silver and some jewels.  The weapons were not only too small, but in bad condition.

 

     Bloodfang thanked them for clearing their home. Jake told Bloodfang, “We were headed to the human city that is north of where you intercepted us.  What is the best way for us to get there?”  Bloodfang said, “I will send a guide to get you back to the dirt you were traveling on.  You will then be able to continue to the human city.”

 

     The group packed up and set off again.  They rode for several leagues through the heavy underbrush.  They arrived at a clearing where a small creek ran, and decided to stop for a break.  After they watered the horses, they allowed them to graze.  They took this time to rest.  Sliding a glance at Sara, Tammy asked, “So George, you think we should walk the horses some?”  Jake putting in his two cents said, “We could always place a make-shift pillow in the saddle.”  Unable to contain her laughter, Sara added, “The horse looks like he may need a little more rest.”  George replied “Keep laughing. See if I send you a Christmas card.” The wolf guide sat at a distance and just watched them.

 

    After the horses grazed for a while, they mounted up again.  The wolf instantly got up and started moving.  A couple leagues later they found their rutted trail and the wolf turned to run back toward his home.

 

     They rode the better part of the day and decided to stop early. They set up camp in an old-looking rock quarry.  A couple of things really bothered Jake about the spot they chose.  First, they were exposed from the top of the quarry for someone shooting arrows. He also thought about being trapped if someone blocked the entrance.  Jake let the feelings pass.  They set the watches, and the night passed without incident. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 15

 

     At the end of half a day’s travel, the city that came into the groups view looked very ominous.  From this distance, they could see down into a huge valley that contained the city.  The walls were over 20 feet high, and there appeared to be two additional walls inside the taller wall.

 

As they approached the city, the road lead to a large tunnel in the outer wall.  The tunnel was high enough to ride through, but everyone waiting in line had dismounted, so the group followed suit.  Entering the tunnel, approximately 15 feet inside, they saw several guards’ checking people.  Once the group cleared the check point, they proceeded toward the city entrance.  Looking around the inside, Tammy asked, “Why are there so many holes in the ceiling?”  “They are called murder holes.  They are used to defend the city from attacks.  If troops breach the gate, the city guards pour burning oil down on top of the attackers,” George replied.  Tammy just shivered from the thought.

 

     The tunnel was about 40 feet long before reaching the interior of the city.  There were two additional gates to clear before exiting the tunnel.  Near each of the gates were small rooms that could house 30 to 40 troops.  There were additional guards at each gate.  The guards stopped to check everyone one final time prior to entering the city.  When the guard approached Jake and said, “State your business here in the city of Malta.”  Jake replied, “Visiting friends.”  The guard looked them over and seemed to be satisfied with the answer.  After the guard conducted a quick check, he allowed them to pass.

 

     After exiting the tunnel they got their first look at the city of Malta.  The city was a zoo of activity.  The streets were crowed with people and animals. All the noise assaulted them at once.  There were stalls selling everything from food and animals, to various cheap merchandise.  Beyond the second wall, it opened up into more reputable stores and places of business.  The third gated area looked to contain the main castle and the bigger houses of the cities’ royalty.

 

     Jake said, “Let’s find a room for the night and a stable for the horses.”  Tammy said, “I sure could use a big fluffy bed to sleep in.”  George added, “And a nice hot meal to fill my belly.”  They mounted the horses and headed deeper into the city.  After a slow ride, they found an inn called the “Frog’s Leap.”  Sara said, “This place looks as good as any, I guess.”  Jake and Sara dismounted and walked into the inn.

 

     The innkeeper greeting them was a middle aged man.  Jake inquired about getting two rooms and a stable for the horses.  The innkeeper said, “It’s a silver piece per room and two coppers for a horse.  Jake reached in his pocket and pulled three silver pieces out.  He gave the money to the innkeeper and asked, “How much are the meals, and what time are they served?”  The innkeeper said, “Meals are three coppers and food is served from sunrise until a good bit after sunset.”

 

     The group rode around back and turned the horses over to the livery boy.  Jake said to him, “I will give you a silver piece to ensure our horses are well taken care of.”  The boy’s eyes lit up and said, “You can count on me, Sir, and if you need anything else, just let me know.”  The group unloaded the pack horse and headed inside.

 

     George said, “It may be best if we have a guy and girl in each room… for safety reasons, you know.”  Sara looked at Tammy and winked.  Tammy couldn’t stop the smile from crossing her face.  Sara said, “Well, for safety reasons maybe we should.”  Jake missed the looks and actions of the girls, and said, “Good idea.”  Jake and Sara took one room while George and Tammy took the other.  Tammy and Sara didn’t object to the arrangements.  It might have even been said both girls were quite happy with them, but would never admit it.

 

     The rooms were on the side of the building that faced the main road.  They were small containing a semi-soft bed, a nightstand, and a small table with two chairs.  The sheets looked old, but clean.  The floor was well-worn and slightly dusty.  The room had a window that looked out over the street.  Everything smelled a bit musty to Jake, so he opened the window.  The noise from the street wasn’t too bad, so he left it open.

 

     Jake and Sara stored their gear and went over to meet up with George and Tammy.  As Jake locked the room, George and Tammy were coming out of their room.  Jake said, “Want to grab a bite to eat?”  George commented, “We were just coming to get you guys.”  Jake said, “Wait before you lock the door.”  Jake motioned for everyone to step back into the room.  Jake said, “Take small coins and put them in your pockets.  Do not use the gold coins unless we have to.”  So everyone pulled out a few silver and several copper coins to placing them in their pockets.  After everyone was done, George locked the room and they headed downstairs to eat.

 

***

 

     They found a table at the back of the tavern and sat down.  Jake and George both noticed the young waitress walking toward them.  They continued to stare as she asked, “What can I get for you this evening?”  Tammy watched their faces as did Sara who asked, “What’s on the menu tonight?”  The overly friendly waitress, ignoring Sara, looked at Jake, smiled and said, “The special is beef stew with half a loaf of bread and light ale.”  Sara fumed over the way the waitress not only ignoring her, but was flirting with Jake.  Sara said, “That sounds good, we’ll take four.”  The waitress glanced over at her and then back to Jake and asked, “Is that what everyone will have, love?”  Jake just nodded.

 

     The waitress smiled and walked off with an over exaggerated swaying of her hips,   Sara came unglued at the seams.  Jake said, “Let it be.  She is just trying to get a good tip.”  Sara said, “I’ll give her more than a tip, I’ll run her through with the whole sword.”  George and Tammy busted out laughing and Jake sat with his mouth open like he was trying to catch flies.

 

     The dinner arrived, everyone was too busy eating to talk.  The food was good and filling.  Jake was concerned with drinking the light ale, but after tasting it, he found that it was only apple cider.  After they ate, they went out and walked the streets to look at the various shops.  George nudged Jake and whispered, “I hate window shopping.”  Jake replied, “I know what you mean.”  Sara and Tammy both turned around and gave them dirty looks.  George said, “Busted.”  And the two of them started to laugh.

 

     After walking for about an hour or so they made their way back to the Frog’s Leap.  Tammy said, “Let’s find a table and get something to drink before we go upstairs for the night.  Everyone agreed.  The place was getting crowed so they ended up at a table off to the side near the bar.  After a few minutes a bard got up on a small stage and started singing.  The waitress gave them a strange look when they ordered light ale instead of a strong ale or lager.

 

     The bard was good and the crowd was singing along with his every song.  The stories contained in the songs were typical for what they expected:  The knight saves the princess; the hero saves a village and the like.  After a while, the bard took a break and got a drink from the bar.  He then walked over to the group.  Catching them off-guard, he asked, “You guys are not singing; do you not like my songs?”  Tammy said, “They are very lovely, we just don’t know them.”

 

     The bard looked at them like they had grown two heads each.  Jake said, “We come from a small farm area and have never been to the city before.”  The bard accepted the answer and went to greet his adoring fans.  George said, “Nice save, Jake.”  With that they finished their drinks and headed upstairs for the night.

 

     After they all got settled, they could still hear the music and the crowd.  The noise finally died down a couple hours later and everyone fell fast asleep.  Jake was awakened by creaking boards outside in the hallway.  He could hear whispering and the boards creaking just outside of their room.  He grabbed his sword and waited for someone to enter the room.  The footsteps continued a short ways down the hall and Jake heard a door open, then close.

 

     Sara rolled over and asked, “Is everything okay?”  Jake replied, “Yea, I heard the boards outside creak and thought someone might be trying to get in here, but they walked down the hall to another room.”  Sara smiled, rolled back over and was asleep right away.  Jake had a rough time getting back to sleep, but eventually was able to.

 

***

 

     The next morning, Jake and Sara were woken by George and Tammy knocking on the door.  Jake said, “Let us get our clothes on and I’ll open the door.”  Sara slapped him.  Jake said, “What’s that for?”  Sara quickly opened the door to George and Tammy laughing.  Sara said, “Come in.”  Jake was behind her, rubbing his arm where she had struck him.  George said, “Let’s eat; I’m starving.”

 

     Sara was relieved the waitress from the night before wasn’t there.  Instead, a heavy-set, middle-aged woman with flour covering her apron walked over to them and asked if they wanted something to break their fast.  George said, “Please.”  The waitress said, “What a sweet young man,” and pinched his cheek.  She then said, “We have porridge or biscuits covered in gravy.”  Everyone, except Tammy, wanted the biscuits and gravy.

 

     When the lady returned, George had a bit more on his plate than the rest of them.  Tammy said, “Looks like someone has the hots’ for you.”  Everyone started laughing at George.  George paid them no attention as he dug into his breakfast.  When the meal was finished, the lady returned to collect the plates and asked how it was.  George answered, “That was one of the finest meals I have ever eaten.”  The lady beamed from ear to ear and said, “Well, aren’t you the sweetest thing ever!”

 

     After the table was cleared, Jake asked, “Now what do we do, just head north?”  Sara replied, “We need to find the entrance back home, that’s what we need to do.”  They all agreed with her.  George asked, “So, I guess, its north we go from here?”  Jake nodded and looked toward Sara and Tammy, who were both nodding with him. Jake excused himself from the table.  “I’ll be right back.  I’m going to the stable for them to ready the horses.”  He turned and walked out the front door.  Tammy, George, and Sara headed to the rooms to pack up and get ready to leave.

 

     Outside, Jake told the stable boy to get their horses ready, they were leaving right away.  He went back inside and helped collect their gear from their rooms, then returned.  The boy was just finishing up with the last horse when they arrived.  Jake flipped him a silver coin and said, “Thanks!”  After packing the horses and mounting up, Jake looked back and noticed, the boy was still grinning from ear to ear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 16

 

     The road heading north was fairly well maintained and looked to be in decent shape compared to others they had traveled.  It was crowded with people walking, riding, and horses pulling wagons.  The traveling was slow going for the first couple of leagues. After passing several areas where roads crossed or split off, the travelers thinned out.  They were soon able to pick up the pace of travel.

 

     The road soon turned to a rutted, two-track wagon trail, but the ride wasn’t bad at all.  It was like a peaceful trot through the countryside.  With very few stop, the group was making good time when they noticed the sun was starting to dip in the sky.  It was getting late when they decided to stop for the night.  While looking for a site to stop, Jake said, “I wish we had the wolves with us; they were great lookouts.”  George said, “Yea, it would be nice to have them.”  Sara said, “Oh, by the way, how did those wolves sneak up on you?”  Jake said, “They were good!  They were real sneaky.”  Everyone starting to laughed.

 

     Sara pointed to an old abandoned house that had been gutted a couple hundred yards off the path.  It had two partial sides still standing, so they decided they would make camp in there for the night.  They made two fire pits, a large one outside with a smaller fire on the inside dirt floor.  The bigger fire was for lighting up the area around the dwelling.  The fire inside was only used for cooking the meal, and then allowed to go to coals.

 

     The watches were set; first Jake, followed by Sara, then George, and Tammy would have the last one.  The group had just settled when a group of four to six people approached the fire.  George was the first to notice them and he alerted the others of their approach.  Sara and Tammy reached for their bows and Jake and George drew their swords and moved out of the house and into the shadows to hide.

 

     Before long a man’s voice was calling out, “Hello, sorry to bother you, we mean you no harm.”  Jake had snuck up behind the group and noticed it was a man, a woman and four children.  Jake said, “It’s a family, let them come up.”  The woman screeched and the man about jumped out of his skin.  Jake had forgotten he had been sneaking up behind them.  Jake said, “Sorry about that.  We heard your approach and didn’t want to take any chances.”  The man said, “I can’t blame you too much in these parts.  We could see the fire and were hoping for friendly folks as we are down on our luck.  Bandits hit us day before yesterday and left us with nothing.”

 

     The kids were clinging to their mother who stood just behind her husband.  Stepping forward Sara said, “Bring them up to the house and we can get them settled.”  The lady was relieved to hear another female’s voice. Tammy asked, “Are you hungry?”  Even happier when she noticed there were two females, the lady said, “We haven’t eaten all day and would love a bite to eat.”

 

     Over the next hour, the ladies were fixing food for the family, then got the children settled down for sleep.  The guests introduced themselves as Franz and wife Maria.  Franz explained how they left their home and were traveling to Tumed Osto because of all the attacks to their village and surrounding areas.  He told how bandits ambushed them and took their wagon which contained everything they had.  Franz volunteered to help stand watches, but was told he should get a good night’s sleep.

 

***

 

     The night went by without incident and when morning arrived, Tammy had the fire going and breakfast cooking.  Maria was the first to awaken and started helping her with the various chores.  Tammy enjoyed the early morning company and decided to allow everyone a bit more time to sleep.

 

     Soon the others had awakened and headed over to get their breakfast.  The children wolfed the food down as if someone was going to take it away from them.  Jake pulled Sara off to the side and said, “I want to help them out.  We can give them a bit of food so they will not go hungry until they reach Malta.  We also have a good bit of gold and can spare some.”  Sara agreed and they informed George and Tammy of their idea.  Everyone agreed.

 

     Jake called Franz and Maria over and said, “We are going to give you some food for your travels.”  Franz immediately said, “No, we cannot impose on you like that.”  Sara said, “You’re not imposing on us; we have more than plenty.”  Franz and Maria were both very thankful.  Jake said, “One other thing,” and handed Franz a small coin bag.  Franz opened it up and looked in it and said, “This is way too much for me to take from you!”  Jake responded saying, “We have plenty and can spare it.  This should allow you to get a horse and wagon, along with a good night’s stay in Malta.  When you get to Tumed Osto, I need you to find a Mr. Ralph Stronghold in the upper city and let him know we are safe.  Please tell him we sent you and we asked for him to assist you.”

 

     Franz was speechless and when he showed Maria the bag, she began to cry.  The kids didn’t know what was wrong with their mother.  Maria just hugged them and told them they were tears of joy and everything was going to be all right.

 

     The group packed up and bid their farewells to the family.

 

 

The twelve eyes were still watching.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 17

 

     After two days of hard riding, George spotted mountains in the distance.  They were a welcome sight for the group.  They rode most of the day at a slower pace, before they arrived at the town of Oron Ostar. The buildings were located at the bottom of the mountains and looked weathered.  As the group rode into the town, they received a lot of bad looks from the people in the streets.  Jake whispered back to the rest, “They must not trust strangers here.”

 

     They stopped in front of one of the two inns that were located in Oron Ostar.  The Falling Rock looked a bit run down, but appeared to be just as good as the other inn.  Jake walked in and asked for two rooms.  The innkeeper was not the friendly type and said, “Two silver per room.”  He took his money and handed Jake the keys without even saying another word.

 

     Jake walked back out and said he’d gotten two rooms.  They found a stable a short distance away and paid to board the horses.  They went to the general store to replenish their supplies and inquired about the weather over the mountain.  The storekeeper assisted in gathering the supplies requested.  He told them that it got very cold in the mountains and was a dangerous place to travel.  He then showed them some of the blankets that would help them in the colder climate.

 

     The group purchased some heavy winter cloaks, several heavy blankets and some additional food and supplies.  Jake looked at Sara and said, “I would love to have my winter sleeping bag for this trip over the mountains.”  Sara smiled and added, “A portable heater and a good tent, too.”  Jake tried to purchase a tent but the storekeeper said they didn’t have any.  Instead Jake bought 20 feet of heavy canvas and some small rope.  “We can make our own tent,” he said.  They took their gear back to the room, then dropped the horses at the stable for the night.

 

     They returned to the dining area for their evening meal.  The Falling Rock was nothing like the Frog’s Leap.  The crowd here was a bit shadier and looked rough.  When the four finished their meals, they headed back up stairs.  It was a big step down from where they had stayed in the past.  Once again, they split one boy, one girl, in each room.  The room looked secure, but Jake put a chair behind the door to prevent anyone from being able to gain access.

 

     No one got a good night sleep that night.  They not only seemed to be worried about the climb over the mountain, but also all the seedy characters hanging around.  It didn’t help any that they were uncomfortable about staying at that particular inn.  The next morning, everyone was half asleep during breakfast, which was porridge and not very good porridge at that.  Tammy said, “I sure do miss your girlfriend’s cooking back at the Frog’s Leap.”  George bumped her and about knocked her out of her chair.  Sara just frowned, then continued eating.

 

     When they gathered their horses, Jake inquired about the mountain trail.  They were told there was only one trail over the mountain and not to venture too far from it.  When they returned to the inn to collect their gear, there were several rough looking guys standing across the street watching them.  Jake and Sara went upstairs to retrieve their gear first. When they returned, George and Tammy left to do the same.  After repacking the horses, they mounted up and headed out of town as quick as possible.  “I didn’t like the looks we got from those guys standing across the street when we were loading our gear,” remarked Jake.  Shivering, Sara added, “They were rather creepy, if you ask me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 18

 

     The day was dreary and overcast, with heavy clouds hanging low, threating rain.  They were relieved to put the town and the people behind them.  Looking back, the town was ominous and the people didn’t help make things any brighter.  One good thing was the trail was well-marked and looked to be heavily traveled.  On the other hand, the trees were so thick, they were blocking what limited sunlight there was from reaching the ground.  At the start of the trail it was still dirt, a few muddy areas, both with small rocks throughout.  Further up the trail would be a different story.

 

     The climb was steady, but wasn’t too steep. The trail wound around and over the mountain.  They reached the top in less than half a day.  The view was absolutely gorgeous.  The only problem was this was but the first of many mountains… the farther away one looked, the higher they got and most of those appeared to be covered with snow and ice.

 

     The trail going down was just as smooth as it was going up, which allowed them to make even better time.  They decided to try and make it to the top of the next mountain before they rested for the night.  They had about an hour left before it got dark when they finally decided to stop and made camp.

 

     Just a short distance from the trail they set up a fake campsite.  This was a safety precaution with the warning they learned from Franz.  They tethered the horses to a rope between the trees near this site.  Moving a bit further off the trails they climber higher up and put the mountain to their backs.  This gave them a good view of the area in front of them.  They made a small cook fire about one hundred feet from their campsite, which was quickly doused after dinner was made.  With the clouds blocking out the stars and moon, the area was too dark to see very far after putting the fire out.  Making their way back to the fake campsite, a small fire was made for appearances and to illuminate the area.

 

    They decided to pair up for the watches while in the mountains.  Jake and Sara would go first, then George and Tammy.  Jake and Sara’s watch was close to being over when they heard two men talking and sneaking up to the fake campsite.  Sara awakened George and Tammy, and everyone went to their prearranged position.

 

     The two men turned out to be three.  As they drew closer to the fire, Jake recognized them as the ones across the street from the inn when they were leaving Oron Ostar.  Everyone had their bows ready and watched to see what the trespassers were up to.  The three men had their swords drawn and were getting ever closer to the fake campsite.  They must not have been the brightest guys, as they kept looking around to see where the campers were sleeping, but couldn’t find them.  They started using their swords to poke into dark areas.  Jake had seen enough and signaled for everyone to shoot.  Two of the arrows flew true and two of the men were dropped within a second of each other.

 

     The third man watched his friends drop and rushed toward his attackers.  Jake and George met him halfway.  George was in the lead and the bandit took a swing at him.  The two swords met with a resounding clank of metal to metal.  George and the bandit went toe to toe for several minutes before the bandit got the upper hand.  George received a slice across his upper sword arm, which caused him to drop his weapon.  The bandit was about to strike George down when Jake intervened, stopping the bandit’s sword from striking George.

 

     The bandit took a wild swing at Jake, which was easily deflected by Jake and left the bandit vulnerable.  Jake took advantage of this and was able to slice the bandit in the midsection.  Jake swung again, which landed on the bandit’s shoulder, dropping him for good.  Jake turned his attention to George, who was holding a deep wound on his right arm.  The cut wasn’t fatal, but did require immediate attention.  With some direct pressure, the blood flow had slowed, but not stopped.

 

     Sara and Tammy rushed over to where George had leaned against a tree.  Tammy placed her hand over the area where his was applying pressure to the wound.  Warmth began to flow into George’s arm and the bleeding stopped.   Tammy kept her hand there for a while before she removed it.  When she did, the wound had closed, but there was a nasty scar.  When George saw it, he blurted out, “That looks nasty!”  Tammy tried to comfort him by saying. “I’ll be able to heal it more, later.  When I’m done, you’ll never know it happened.”  When they returned to the campsite, Jake and Sara volunteered to continue with the watch.  With George being wounded and Tammy exhausted from healing, Jake instructed them to get some more rest.

 

     Jake and Sara back tracked to the area where the three men had come from.  Moving carefully, they kept an eye out to see if there were any others they had to worry about.  The only thing the bandits left behind were their horses, so Jake and Sara took the three horses back to camp.  When they arrived back, Jake placed the bodies around the fire as if they were asleep.  The additional horses were tied near the fake camp site.  The fake camp now looked as if it were a real one. Jake told Sara to go get some sleep, he would continue to keep watching.  The rest of the night went by without incident.

 

***

 

     After sunrise they decided to break camp and move down the mountain before eating breakfast.  They collected the bandit’s horses and took them along.  George was feeling better and Tammy had recovered.  No one seemed to have an appetite after the incident the night before, so they rode for about two leagues before they decided to stop and eat.  It was a quick meal of dried meat and cold biscuits, but it hit the spot.

 

     The rain started shortly after breakfast and looked like it was going to be a long, miserable, wet day.  The trail was no longer dirt, it was now muddy with water running down it like a small creek.  They had made it down the mountain and back to the top of the next mountain when they decided to stop.  Jake was dead tired and ready to fall from his horse. The weather was causing the trail to become a total mess, so everyone agreed to make camp early.  They found a huge evergreen tree and set up beneath it.

 

     Jake and George hung the canvas over several of the branches above them to stop the few drops of rain falling through the tree.  They made a small fire near the base and the smoke funneled up the tree trunk.  It took them a good while to shake the dampness from their bones, but the warmth of the fire and being out of the rain soon made them all feel much better.

 

     Jake and Sara were fast asleep before the sun had set.  The rain continued throughout the night, making for a sound sleep.  George had told Tammy to sleep and he would wake her up if he needed her.  George watched the others sleep most of the night, but when his eyes grew heavy-lidded, he decided to wake Tammy up.

 

     The rain was still coming down the next morning, so they decided to just be lazy, waiting to see if it would stop.  By the time it stopped, most of the day was gone. With camp already set, they decided to stay another night under the evergreen.  Tammy spent most of the day working on George’s scar.  By the time she finished, it was unnoticeable.  George and Tammy took the first watch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 19

 

     The next morning the rain had finally ceased, and everyone was fully rested and ready to travel.  They moved slowly because the rain had caused ruts, loose rocks and mud on the trails.  The trees were not as dense as they had been, but there were still a lot of them.  To add to the group’s problems, the temperature was starting to get a bit colder as they proceeded deeper into the mountains.

 

     As they started down the mountain, Jake had an uneasy feeling about the area, but decided not to express it to anyone.  He didn’t want them worrying about something he couldn’t explain.  Yet Jake’s head was on a swivel and soon the others noticed it.  George said, “You need to tell us what’s wrong.”  “Nothing’s wrong,” Jake replied. George grimaced, “Not according to your body language.  For the past half hour you’ve looked like you’re trying to locate a ghost or something.”  Jake looked back and could see the concern in the others’ eyes.  Everyone was now looking all around and searching for something unknown.  Jake said, “I got an uneasy feeling after we crested the last mountain.  I don’t know what the reason is, if anything.”  Sara jumped in, “I think we all got the same feeling.  The next time one of us gets a feeling like that, we need to tell each other.”  Everyone agreed and all were on high alert.

 

     The ride was even slower now as the horses seemed spooked and acting very skittish.  Tammy said, “I don’t like this.”  Jake finally got off his horse and handed the reins to Sara saying, “I’m going to walk ahead of the group.”  Sara said, “Are you sure?  That isn’t very safe.  You need to be careful.”  “Don’t worry, I will,” he replied.  George asked, “Want me to go with you?”  Jake shaking his head answered, “No.  I think it will be better if you stay near the girls.”  As Jake started walking in front of the group, then stopped saying, “I changed my mind.  I think it may be better if the two of us were out front.  Two sets of eyes are better than one.”  George dismounted and handed his horse’s reins to Tammy.  The girls were now riding a horse and towing three each.

 

     George was about 50 feet in front of the girls with Jake another 20 feet ahead of him.  The two of them moved fairly quietly, but the eight horses behind them were making a lot of noise.  Jake stopped, walked back to George and motioned for the girls to come up to them.  When the girls came near, Jake said, “Let us move a ways in front of you and when we stop, you move up to about twenty feet behind George and wait.”  The guys moved back into position and started the staggered formation.  It was very slow going now, but their instincts were telling them safety was of the utmost importance.  Jake moved ahead of George about a 100 feet and stopped.  George followed approximately 20 feet behind him and signaled for the girls to move up.

 

     They were nearing the bottom of the mountain, where a stream ran at its base.  The trail followed the stream a ways and then turned back up the mountain.  The foliage was a bit thicker near the base of the two mountains and adjacent to the stream.  Because of the limited visibility, they had to shorten the distance to be able to see one another.  They stopped briefly to allow everyone to fill their water skins and let the horses drink their fill.

 

   Jake started to move up the path and found a spot to wait.  Everyone advanced and waited for Jake to move again.  Jake hesitated several minutes longer than before.  The hair on the back of his neck was now standing on end.  Jake ignored his hunch however and started to move up the trail again.  That was a mistake.  As he took a step, he was sent flying back down the trail.  He landed just in front of George, who was wide-eyed and trying to figure out what had just happened.  George had drawn his sword and was preparing for the worst.  The horses were now backing away from the area, causing the girls to struggle to control them.

 

     When George ran up to Jake, he was out cold.  George was about to drag him back when he looked up and seen the most horrific sight of his life.  A monster was heading his way and it was bigger than anything he could have ever dreamed.  He guessed it to be a mountain troll.  The hulking creature stood about nine feet tall and weighed nearly 500 pounds.  Its skin looked rubbery and grey, like the mountain rocks, with a green mossy tint.  Its hair was also rock-gray which allowed it to blend into the background.  It walked hunched over with claws almost dragging the ground.  One of its most noticeable features was its cold, dark, fearless eyes that were now set on George.

 

     The troll was now moving toward George at an unbelievable pace. It swung a massive claw at George.  Having just enough time to put his sword up in front of him, George blocked the first claw from hitting him.  The blade took the tips of the troll’s fingers off its right hand.  The left hand then struck the sword near the sword’s hand guard and it went flying out of George’s grasp.  George had moved just in the nick of time to keep from taking a direct hit to his head by the troll’s right hand.  His missing fingertips didn’t seem to slow the troll down at all.  Where the missing fingers were, the troll wasn’t even bleeding.  George wanted to retrieve his sword, but it was too risky and a bit too far away from him.  The troll came at George again with another furious lunge.  The only thing George could think to do, was jump off the trail toward the stream, which he did.  When the troll swung at him, he caught George’s cloak and ripped a section of the back.  This caused George to go flying sideways instead of where he intended to go.

 

    Sara had jumped off her horse and was heading toward the fight.  She was fast approaching the back of the troll with her sword raised.  Before the troll could jump on George, Sara brought her sword down as hard as she could. It struck the troll in the back right shoulder area.  She only caused a minor injury to the troll, that didn’t even slow it down.  The troll whipped around toward Sara and swung.  Sara was just inches beyond the swipe of the claws and steadily backed down the trail as fast as she could.

 

     Before the troll could run toward Sara, vines started entangling it.  This didn’t slow the troll down much.  With its strength, it was able to break the vines with no problems at all.  When the troll took a step toward Sara, she raised her hands toward the troll and unleashed a massive fireball.  It hit the monster dead center and sent pieces of the troll flying all over the place.  The biggest part landed about five feet from George.  Scurrying away, George moved as if it was going to get up and attack him again.  When he looked closer, it was just a small section of the smoldering tissue.  The rest of it was nowhere to be found, it must have been disintegrated by the fireball.  George got up and ran over to where Jake was lying on the ground, still unconscious.

 

     Tammy had managed to maintain control of four horses, but the other four were nowhere to be seen.  Sara ran to George and muttered, “Is Jake still alive?”  George said, “Yes, but he looks hurt pretty bad.  The troll hit him with a sucker punch at full force.”  Sara said, “We need to find a spot to make camp and see if Tammy can heal him.”  They got a blanket and moved Jake into it.  They used the blanket as a stretcher and made their way back down to the stream.

 

***

 

     George retrieved his sword and started searching for a campsite.  About a hundred yards away, there were over hangs of rock and some small caves.  George scouted the area thoroughly and went back to the others, informing them of what he had found.  It took over an hour to get Jake moved into a cave, and onto a semi-soft pallet they had made.  George asked Tammy, “Which way did the horses run off?”  Tammy answered, “They followed the stream heading away from the troll.”  George said, “I’m going after them.  There is a lot of gear on Jake and Sara’s horses that we’re going to need.  Keep a careful watch of the area.”  George mounted his horse and rode off.

 

     Tammy was kneeling over Jake with her hands on him, trying to heal him.  After about two hours, she stopped and looked at Sara, saying “I’m drained.”  Tammy laid down near Jake and was out cold.  George returned a couple hours later with the runaway horses in tow.  He took the horses to a nearby cave and rigged a rope to secure them in that area.

 

     George returned to the cave and asked Sara how things had gone.  She explained everything that happened.  Sara was so worried about Jake, she felt she had to burn off some nervous energy.  She walked out of the cave and started collecting fire wood.  After gathering a nice load, she started a fire and made dinner, which she and George ate quietly, as they tended to Jake and Tammy.

 

     As darkness set in, George cast a vine spell at the entrance of the horses cave and then a web spell at the front of their cave to prevent anything from entering during the evening.  Every time Jake moaned or groaned, Sara would waken and check on him.  This occurred throughout the night.  Tammy, on the other hand, was sleeping like a baby and never even moved.

 

     Morning arrived and Tammy awoke with a massive headache.  The breakfast Sara made, helped a bit, but Tammy was still sluggish and her head hurt worse than anytime she could remember.  Sara told Tammy to lay back down and rest some more before she tried to resume healing Jake.

 

    George told Sara he was going to walk a few yards downstream and fish for a while.  Sara said, “Please don’t go too far and don’t be too long.”  George replied, “I’m just going about thirty yards down and shouldn’t be long at all.”  When he returned, he was carrying six nice-sized fish.  He cleaned and cooked them.  The fresh fish lunch was a welcomed change from the dried meat they had been eating.

 

     After resting and eating lunch, Tammy spent several shorter periods trying to heal Jake.  She saw signs of her powers working, but Jake was still not moving much and hadn’t regained consciousness yet.  She said, “I don’t know how much more it will take to get him up and moving again.  He was pretty messed up on the inside from that strike he took.”

 

     Finally, Jake opened his eyes sometime after dark that day.  He was complaining that his ribs and chest were hurting badly.  George explained what had happened and that he had been struck by what he believed was a very large mountain troll.  Sara helped Jake remove his elven armor so he could rest better.  In the center of his chest he had a huge bruise with four indentations from where the troll’s claws struck him, the marks a perfect match for the troll’s oversized hand.

 

     Tammy said, “If he had hit you a little more to your left side, it would have stopped your heart.  Most of your ribs were bruised or broken and your sternum was badly bruised.  I have healed the broken ribs and have been trying to clear the rest of your injuries.  It will take at least a few more days before you are able to ride.”

 

     Jake said, “From the sound of it, I’m lucky to be alive at all.”  Sara said, “You can say that again.  That thing hit you so hard, you landed near George.  If I had to guess, I would say you flew through the air about 20 to 30 feet.”  George said with a slight snicker in his voice, “You looked like a rag doll, thrown by an angry little girl, having a temper tantrum.”  The pain instantly hit Jake as he started laughing.  It caused him so much pain, he stopped laughing and started groaning.  Looking at Jake, George stated “We will maintain camp here, until you are well enough to travel.”  Sara helped Jake get settled in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 20

 

     Three days passed before Jake felt as if he could ride without too much pain.  Everyone watched as he climbed on his horse.  It didn’t seem to them that he was having any problem mounting or sitting.  George took the lead and Jake rode at the back.  Sara was still very concerned about Jake, but whenever she asked him if he was okay he always replied that he was just fine.

 

     After three days of riding the progress had brought them to the top of a huge mountain.  From this vantage point, they could see that they were headed for a huge range with tall peaks covered with snow and ice.  The number of trees decreased as they continued to go.  Sara said, “Looking at the mountains, they appear to be very cold and treacherous.”  Jake just gazed ahead and didn’t say a thing.  George added, “It looks like we still have a day or two before we are in that mess; might as well enjoy this while we can.”

 

     The group was still being cautious, not taking any chances of run into anything else that might cause them harm.  There were signs here and there of big cats, bears or something similar, but unknown.  The troll attack had thrown them all for a big loop and they were not only concerned, but very cautious about running into another one.  They figured where there is one, there are probably more.

 

     Finding a safe place to camp was now getting to be more of a chore.  Available spots were now more open and exposed, which gave them the feeling of being very vulnerable.  Tammy still spent time healing Jake and would require a long sleep after each healing session.  The watches were now done by only Jake, George and Sara.  The longer watches, with less sleep, started taking its toll on them.

 

     The group first passed into a snow covered area early the following morning.  They dismounted from the horses because the ground was uneven and the animals were slipping.  They were all bundled up and each of the horses had to be covered.  This made the traveling slower, but safer for both human and horses. When they crested the top of the mountain, George took a 50 foot slide down the side, but other than taking on a few minor cuts and scratches, he was fine.

 

***

 

     At the bottom of the mountain they found a small alcove that blocked the wind.  George and Sara checked the surrounding area to make certain there weren’t any traps or that it wasn’t already occupied.  Confirming it to be safe, they decided to make camp there.  They used one of the canvas’ to cover the entrance, to stop the little bit of wind blowing in.  Starting a nice fire in the back corner heated up the whole area very nicely.

 

     The only worry they had was if something came at them, they had no place to retreat to.  There was only one way in and one way out.  The only other choice would be to camp in the open, exposed on all four sides and that didn’t seem logical.  The area was alive with small animals moving about, the horses also seemed to be at ease.  The activity was a good sign that nothing bad was in the area.

 

     The night seemed to pass to quickly, and the next morning arrived gloomy and too soon.  Breakfast was simple dried rations ate by the warm fire.  The bright spot of the day was that Jake began to get back to his old self again.  When they broke camp that morning, snow had started to fall in light flurries.  By the time they got half way up to the peak, the snow was falling wet and heavy.  At times they could barely see the person directly in the front of them.  George had to keep stopping as he would lose the trail and have to search for the correct way to go.

 

     After a couple of leagues in the heavy snow, they decided it was time to make camp.  They found a big evergreen slightly off the path.  Jake said, “Thank God for these big trees.”  They crawled under its canopy where the ground was still free of snow.  They started a small fire and heated up their dinner.  The fire was kept to a minimum for cooking, because of the lack of available firewood.  No one wanted to venture too far and get lost in the snowstorm looking for firewood.

 

     They placed a section of canvas on the ground, then a heavy blanket on top of it.  They placed two blankets on top of that and then pulled the canvas over all the blankets.  The girls crawled into the middle.  George and Jake took an additional blanket to help shield their backs from the cold on the outside of the makeshift tent.  It was a good setup and everyone was comfortable.  The watch basically consisted of one person needing to stay awake and listen for anything out of the ordinary, but that didn’t happen, everyone fell asleep and slept through the night.

 

***

 

     When George woke up the next morning the ground was covered in about six inches of new snow.  The top of the canvas had some snow on it, but not very much.  Everyone was still wrapped up nice and cozy.  When George moved to get out from under the blanket, a blast of cold air woke everyone up.

 

     George smiled as a few unkind words toward him filled the air.  George said, “I need to check the horses and try to find some firewood.  Jake said, “I’ll give you a hand.”  More unkind words flew from the girls as he exited their makeshift tent.  All George and Jake could do was laugh as they walked away from the tent.

 

     The horses had weathered the storm just fine, but finding firewood under the snow was a bit of a problem.  They found a bunch of very large branches sticking up through the snow, but very few smaller pieces they could use.  They returned with what they could find started a pretty decent fire.  As the fire started heating the area up, the girls finally made their way from under the blankets.

 

     George and Jake went to check the trail to see if they should try to travel.  It took a few minutes to locate and didn’t look in too bad of condition.  George asked, “If we waited a day, do you think it would be any better tomorrow?”  Jake said, “Probably not.  We have a half-decent tree to camp under but very little fire wood here.”  George said, “There aren’t many trees after we leave this area, so as we are traveling we need to start collecting wood when we find it.”  Jake agreed and they returned back to the camp.

 

     They decided to pack up and continue on the trail.  They were able to find a few good branches and split the load on the spare horses.  On the west side of the mountain the trail improved, whereas the east side had collected a lot of snow and the trail was hard to find.  The wind had blown much of the snow into huge drifts that had to be maneuver around.

 

     The next few days of traveling were about the same.  On the fourth day when they crested a mountain, they could see smaller mountains ahead in the distance that were green, not white from the snow.  It took them two additional days before they were out of the cold mountain range and into the warmer air.  Green trees and bushes were now covering the area again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 21

 

     It was a lot nicer to be riding on semi-level ground again.  Everyone was hoping to find a town soon to replenish their supplies, get a nice homemade meal, and a good night sleep at an inn.  They had ridden the better part of a day when they spotted a large city off in the distance.  Everyone’s spirits were lifted by the sight.  The trail joined up with a well-used road, which allowed them to make great time.

 

     They arrived at the gate a couple of hours before sunset.  As they approached, they noticed it was unmanned and locked up tight.  There was no traffic at all in the area, so they decided to ride around and see if they could find another gate to enter through.  It took them about 30 minutes of riding the road around the outer wall to find an opening.  Tammy pointed out a tower in the distance.  All nodded their head in acknowledgment.  They soon came to the guarded city gates.

 

     The front of this gate was packed with all kinds of people trying to get in.  Once again it was going to be close for the group to make it in before sunset.  When they made it to the front of the queue, the guard said, “It will be two copper pieces per horse and a silver piece per person to enter.”  Jake searched his pocket and gave the guard six silver coins.  The guard inspected the coins, then pocketed them.  He smiled and said, “We don’t give change.  Enjoy your stay in Wenya.”

 

     This city was larger than all the others combined, they had visited.  They rode down the street in search of a good inn with a stable.  There were several inns, but all of them had a tavern inside or in close proximity.  Noise was the last thing anyone wanted, so they continued deeper into the city.

 

     As they rode further in, they enter a very nice section of the city.  The inns here looked well-maintained and not welcoming for rowdy, partying people.  They stopped in front of the Queen’s Inn and decided it would fulfill their needs.  Jake and Sara walked in and found it surpassed their expectations.  The inside was lavishly decorated and very clean to say the least.

 

     The innkeeper looked up at them when they asked for two rooms.  He said with a slight frown, “Its five silver pieces per room, per night.”  Sara pulled two gold pieces and said, “Fine, we will take two of them for two nights.”  The innkeeper looked shocked and said, “Very well,” his frown turning into a smile.  Jake said, “We need to board our horses also.”  The inn keeper said, “It’s a silver pieces per horse.”  Jake took out two gold pieces and placed them in the innkeeper’s hand, smiled and said, “Very well.”  The innkeeper looked at the coin in his hand and back at Jake asking, “How many horses do you have?”  Sara replied, “There are four of us and father said we should each take two horses for our journey.”  The innkeeper smiled and said, “I will have the livery boy take them.  He will bring your belongings to your room.”  He handed Jake 4 silver coins along with the room keys, and gave them directions to the rooms.

 

     Jake stopped and asked, “Is it possible for us to get two bathtubs in each of the rooms before we dine tonight?”  The innkeeper smiled, “It’s not a problem.  I’ll have the staff bring them up shortly and fill them.”

 

     Jake and Sara walked out to inform George and Tammy of the arrangements.  Sara looked at Jake and said in her best snooty voice, “I don’t think father would approve of the two of us bathing in the same room together.”  Jake blushed and said, “Really?”  Everyone started laughing.  They removed a few of their items from the horses and went to their rooms.  The bed was twice as big as the last place they stayed and looked to be a lot softer.

 

     They were getting settled in when a knock came at the door.  When Jake answered it, it was two staff boys carrying the rest of their belongings.  Jake gave each of them a copper and thanked them.  One of young boys said, “We’ll be right up with the tubs.”  A second knock came shortly after and the two were carrying a large full-size tub.  The boys sat it down and then two other boys brought in a second tub.  Then the four boys began hauling bucket after bucket of hot water to each of the rooms until both tubs were three-quarters filled.  Jake gave them each a silver piece.  One boy said, “If you need anything else, mister, just ask and we will get it for you!”

 

     Sara smiled, and said, “Excuse me, mister, but you need to be in the other room.”  Sara started laughing, then pointed at the door.  Jake walked across the hall, tapping on the door.  George answered it and smiled.  Tammy pushed her way past him saying, “See you guys in a few.” She went into Jake and Sara’s room and locked the door.

 

***

 

     Jake and George were in the tubs just after they had closed and locked their door.  The water was cold by the time they got out.  It was such a great feeling to be clean, just washing their hair made a world of difference to each of them.  They dressed in the clothes that Ralph had given them, then left to check on the girls.

 

     Jake tapped on the door and a “Who’s there?” came from the other side with a bunch of snickering.  Jake said, “Bob and John.”  The guys could hear more giggling and footsteps heading toward the door.  Sara replied, “Sorry, we don’t know a Bob or John.  Go away or my father will have you strung up!”  The girls were in rare form, laughing so hard Sara had a hard time unlocking the door.

 

     They were nicely dressed and both looked stunning with their hair hanging loose.  Jake held out his arm for Sara to take.  Jake said, “Would the lady care to go down stairs for a meat surprise dinner?”  Sara laughed taking his arm, “What would Father say?”  Everyone was now laughing and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere.

 

     Downstairs the innkeeper raised an eyebrow at how well they had cleaned up and how well dressed they were.  Jake took a moment to inquire about having their clothing cleaned.  The innkeeper told him that he would have that taken care of immediately.  They proceeded over to the dining area, sitting at one of the empty table.  The waitress greeted them, and stated the evening meal was roast with potatoes, carrots and onions, a half loaf of bread with butter, and light ale.  Jake said, “It sounds wonderful.”

 

     The meal arrived with the plates filled to overflowing.  The whole thing smelled like a delicious dream.  They took their time savoring every bite.  Tammy commented, “This light ale is a good change from water out of a skin.”  As they finished, the waitress took their plates and said, “We have fresh sweet rolls for desert if you wish.”  Jake said, “Yes, four please.”

 

     The sweet rolls melted in their mouths.  George said, “I think that’s the best meal I have ever eaten!”  Sara tease, “Well if my cooking’s that bad maybe you can take over that chore.”  She winked at Jake waiting for George to take the bait.  George started sputtering, “I didn’t mean…uh, I mean you are great…uh…uh…Oh, I don’t know what I-.”  Jake and Tammy could contain their laughter any longer.  Sara snickering interrupted his sputtering, “George I was only kidding.”  As the bantering continued they all agreed how great the meal was.

 

     The waitress cleared the desert plates and asked if they needed anything else.  George asked for four more light ales.  Tammy looked at him and said, “I hope you have a strong bladder.  It’s is a long way to the outhouse in the middle of the night.”  As the girls started laughing again, it didn’t take long for Jake and Georges to join in.

 

     The dinner, desert and ale made for a perfect night.  After paying, they headed back to their rooms.  Jake locked the door and lay down on the bed.  Sara snuggled up to him and said, “That was the most perfect dinner date I’ve ever had.”  Jake smiled, “I would have to agree with you on that.”

 

     The next day they missed breakfast because they had slept well into the lunch hour.  George and Tammy were already seated when Jake and Sara finally made their way downstairs.   After a light lunch they walked the streets, shopping for supplies and a few extras.  Discussing the needs for travelling, they agreed they didn’t need all three horses they had acquired, so they sold two of them.

 

     During their tour of the city, they drew near to the tower they spotted the day before.  After taking their purchases back to the inn, they decided to pay a visit to the tower and speak with the head wizard. When they arrived, they requested an audience with the head wizard.  They were informed the head wizard doesn’t see anyone, but the apprentice stated he would pass their information along.  They introduced who they were and where they were staying, then departed.

 

     They continued to walk through the city in search of additional information about the area they were travelling to.  Most of the information they heard were rumors or folk lore and none of it was pertinent to their quest to find the stone of Yatuku.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 22

 

     A scroll arrived the next morning, informing them the head wizard request their presence the following day.  Jake paid for an additional night at the inn, which no one objected to.  They enjoyed another wonderful dinner, then chose to go listen to a bard that the innkeeper had recommended.  They stayed late into the night enjoying the music and stories.  They returned to the inn and slept into late morning.

 

     When Sara awoke, she roused Jake and asked what time they were to meet with the head wizard.  Jake was a bit groggy and it took him a few minutes to locate where he had placed the scroll.  After he found it and reread it, he jumped into action.  If they didn’t hurry, they were going to miss their appointment.

 

     It took George a while to answer the door and Tammy was still fast asleep.  George woke Tammy up and soon after that the four were on their way.  The walk took them a bit longer than they thought.  When they finally arrived at the tower, Jake had forgotten the scroll and had to explain to the apprentice that they had an appointment with the head wizard.  The apprentice they were speaking to wasn’t the one they had met previously.  It took a while to convince him, but he finally passed the information to the head wizard they were waiting for him.  The apprentice finally returned and said, “Master Doars will see you now.”  The head wizard was much younger than any of them had expected.  Jake explained that Master Tornaze had trained them and they were heading north as instructed.  Jake had cautioned everyone not to mention the stone of Yatuku or anything regarding a quest.

 

     Doars explained about the attacks that were happening in the areas they were heading.  Several villages and small towns have been overrun by hordes of various creatures.  Doars with great wisdom said, “The Stone of Yatuku is rumored to be in the area of the Dwarven Caverns north of here.  You will more than likely run into some of these creatures.”  Shocked at his revelation, no one knew what to say.

 

     Jake tried to play it off by asking, “The stone of who?”  Doars said, “I am a lot older and wiser than I look.  I know why you are here.  I received word several weeks ago from Master Tornaze to expect your arrival and to let him know that you are safe.”

 

     They looked from one to another, not sure of what to say or do.  Doars continued, “We have scouts out searching for the location where the portal has moved since you entered this world.”  Tammy asked, “Any luck in finding it yet?”  Doars answered, “No word has reached me as of yet, but when it does I will get word to you.  Rest assure, we will continue to search until it is found.”  The group now had a disappointed look on their faces.  Doars reiterated, “It will be found, rest assured, and when it is, I will let you know.”  After it was said a second time, it seemed to brighten up their mood a little.  Doars said he would check with various friends and send any additional information he had to them at the Queen’s Inn.  After thanking him, they said their farewells.

 

***

 

     As they were returning to the inn, George said, “That went pretty well.  I just hope he can find the location of the portal for us now.”  Jake agreed.  They walked the rest of the way back in silence.  Everyone was now thinking of the journey that still lay ahead and the possibility of the portal being located.  The walk seemed shorter going back than it had coming to the tower.  Lost deep in thought, they were surprised to find they were standing in front of the Queen’s Inn.

 

     The innkeeper greeted them as they came in.  Acknowledging him, the four went up to Jake and Sara’s room.  They sat on the bed trying to decide what to do next.  Sara said, “Hopefully we find the exact location of the stone before we leave Wenya.  After that, we still have the problem of locating the portal to get back home.”  Tammy interjected, “That, to me, is the biggest problem we have.”

 

     After eating dinner, they returned to their rooms.  Just before turning in for the night, a knock came at Jake and Sara’s door.  Jake answered.  Standing before him was a young boy holding another scroll.  He handed it to Jake and left without saying another word.  Jake opened the scroll and read it to Sara: “The stone location is possibly known.  Please meet with me here at the tower first thing tomorrow morning.”  Jake walked across the hall to share the information with George and Tammy.

 

***

 

     The next morning they awoke early, departing the inn just after the sun was up.  The streets were just starting to get busy, so the travel time to the tower was shorter than it was the day before.

 

     When they arrived at the tower, they were immediately escorted to Master Doars’ study.  Doars said, “I believe the stone for Yatuku is deep in the old Dwarves Caverns, but the entire area is full of evil.  We think it is amongst other treasures the hobgoblins have collected over the years.  If it is there, your saving grace is they do not know the value of what they have in their possession.”

 

     George asked, “And how are we to get in there to retrieve the stone?”  Doars replied, “If it were only a matter of how the stone could be retrieved, we would have acquired it a long time ago.  No one has had the guidance of Yatuku for centuries.  Without that guidance, the stone is virtually impossible to find.  The area you have to go through is a place you must be very careful traversing.  The creatures of the lands to the north are much worse than any you have seen so far.  There are also places where your magic does not work and some of the creatures that use dark magic.  You must not always rely on your magic to get you through every situation.”

 

     Sara said, “We had a run-in with a mountain troll.  How much worse can it get than one of those?”  Doars said, “That is a very dangerous creature to be fighting with. Some of the ones you can encounter will be just as dangerous, if not worse.  There are areas that are controlled by evil forces that the bravest of warriors will not even venture into.”  Jake said, “Thanks for the pep talk.  So, if they won’t even go in there, how are we to get in and out?”

 

     Doars thought for a few minutes and said, “You are the group spoken about in the prophecies.  It states that you can do it, not how or when it will be done.  I know that isn’t the answer you were looking for, but it is all I can tell you right now.  He continued, “Now concerning the caves you’re going to, the hobgoblins are in control and are masters of manipulating the other species.  The last we knew, there were ogres, goblins, kobolds, and hobgoblins within those caverns.  I repeat, that is what we know of.”  Tammy asked, “What’s the difference between a goblin and a hobgoblin?”  Doars asked, “Have you ever seen either of them?”  George replied, “We fought some goblins a few weeks back.”

 

     Doars said, “Hobgoblins are very different than goblins.  A hobgoblin is nearly the same height as a human with a round, hairless head that sits atop a wide, thick neck.  They have nasty yellow teeth.  They have long, tattered ears that flank a pair of savage orange eyes. Their skin is dull, gray-green that is coarse with basically no hair. Their legs are short and very powerful. They have long muscular arms and they like to wear brightly colored garments over red and black leather.  One strike from a hobgoblin could kill you.

 

     Jake said, “It sounds like a nasty creature.”  Doars replied, “They are, and with all the other creatures they control, you will have your hands full if they find out you are in their area.  I am going to send four of my wizards to accompany you.”  Tammy said, “The way you make it sound, we are going to need a whole army to go with us.”  Doars replied, “That you may, my dear that you may.”  Sara asked, “If we need an army, where are we going to find one?”  Doars said, “You are not going to be able to get one.”  Sara just looked at him, trying to figure out what to say about that.  Jake asked, “What good are eight people against all those creatures?”  Doars said, “I’m sure you will figure it out, but your group must remain small if you are to have any chance at all.  If you are too many, then you will draw too much unwanted attention to yourselves.”

 

     Tammy asked, “So how are we going to fight all those creatures?”  Doars said, “You are not.  You need to get into the area where they store the treasure, grab the stone and get out.”  Jake said, “Everyone keeps saying “the stone of Yatuku”, but we have no idea what the stone looks like or anything else about it.”  Looking at each one, Doars said, “The stone is the color of each of your eyes.  It is said to be the green of all the land and trees.”  Doars turned to Jake and said, “You will be able to feel the stone.  You are the one connected to Yatuku.  It will call out to you as you near it.”

 

     Doars further explained to them they would be able to find it and the wizards were there to assist them in getting to the area, not to retrieve the stone.  Doars said, “Remember this, only the keeper of Yatuku can hold the stone.”  Jake then asked, “If that’s true, then how did the stone get into the caverns in the first place?”  Doars answered, “The only way it could have been taken there is if it was grouped with other treasure.”  After all was said, Doars bid them farewell until mid-morning the following day.

 

***

 

     They soon departed the tower and headed back to the Queen’s Inn.  They paid for an additional night before heading up to their rooms.  Again, they all gathered into Jake and Sara’s room.  Jake spoke first, “A few questions have been answered, but I still don’t like this whole thing.”  George uttered, “It looks like a one-way trip if you ask me.”  Jake said, “It would seem that way to me too.”  Tammy said, “The funny thing about this is it feels right, like we are supposed to be doing this.”  Sara exclaimed, “I agree with Tammy. I’m not scared nor do I feel anything bad about it.”  Jake said, “This is true, but I still feel the odds are stacked against us.”

 

     George jumped up and shouted, “I know we can do this.”  The others just gazed at George.  After thinking for a while, Jake said, “There is no question as to whether or not we can do this; I’m just worried about losing one of you.”  Sara snuggled up to him and said, “I don’t think that’s going to happen, so put that notion out of your head.  We don’t need any one thinking that way, especially when trouble comes our way.”

 

     George said, “We’ll need more supplies and are going to have to figure out a strategy to get in and out of there.”  Sara replied, “We don’t even know what the place looks like, so how are we going to form a strategy?”  Jake agreeing with George added, “Not an all-inclusive plan of attack, but what to do if certain things happen.”  George nodded and replied, “We will need a bunch of arrows for cover if things go bad, and maybe a bit more rope?  We could use something to cover a retreat, like a smoke grenade.”

 

     Jake looked at George and smiled.  Tammy and Sara were not impressed.  Sara said, “Why not a tank or two while we are at it?”  George replied, “Now you’re thinking, girlfriend!”  Tammy blushed a bit and slapped him.  George could only laugh.  Jake said, “Now that you said that, we could see if there are some things from the store we could use.”  “Like what?” Sara asked.  Jake thought for a few minutes and replied, “I’m not sure, but we should be able to make something we’ve learned about in school or from one of the many movies we’ve watched.  For instance, we could always get something like oil to start a fire if we needed too.”  George exclaimed, “Yes, now you’re thinking, Molotov cocktails!”  Jake just shook his head and smiled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 23

 

     When they woke up the next morning, they changed back into their traveling clothes.  The group departed the inn and went to the general store.  After shopping for a while, they had a collection of items they thought would serve them well.  Jake purchased eight additional bundles of arrows and food to last 10 people two weeks.  After getting all the supplies, Jake wished he hadn’t sold the other horses.

 

     It took a while to get the pack horses loaded and ready for travel.  After they finished, they headed toward the wizard’s tower to collect the four additional members of their group.  The roads were full of people going about their daily duties.  As they traveled to the wizard’s tower, they received odd looks from the various people in the streets.

 

     Arriving at the tower, the four new members were ready and waiting for them with horses packed.  The four were not what Jake expected to see as wizards.  All four men were only about 10-15 years older than them.  Jake had expected grizzled old men that were clutching the end of death’s rope.

 

     Doars greeted them and introduced the four men as his finest wizards: Taragin his assistant, Haralin, Fontun, and Stirgan.  Doars said, “They are here to assist you in this quest and will follow your lead.  Taragin is very knowledgeable about the area and will advise you.  The four are the most knowledgeable wizards in the whole area.  I expect them back in one piece.”

 

     Everyone bid Doars farewell in the courtyard, mounted up, then turned and rode for the gate.  The funny thing about the bigger group was that, it was even quieter now than when it was only the four of them.  Jake turned to Sara and said, “At least we have more people to stand watches now.”  She smiled at him and went back into deep thought.

 

     After riding several leagues, Taragin rode up to Jake and said, “We are being followed,” Jake looked back and couldn’t see anybody behind them.  Jake asked, “How do you know?  I don’t see anyone.”  He answered, “I cast a spell that allows me to sense others in the area.  I believe it to be six people that are staying just out of our view.”  Jake frowned. “What do you recommend we do about them?” Taragin said, “Nothing for now until we know who it is.  I just wanted you to be aware of them.”

 

     Jake informed each of the others and they continued to ride as if everything was normal.  When they stopped for a break and something to eat, Jake searched in vain for the group that was following them.  There were no signs of movement or anything out of the ordinary.

 

     Sara approached Jake, “You’re still looking for whoever is behind us, aren’t you?”  Jake replied, “Yes.  Whoever is back there, they don’t want to be seen.”  Sara recalled, “Remember when we were in the mountains and you got attacked by the troll?”  Jake nodded, “Yes, what does that have to do with this situation?”  Sara replied, “Every one of us had a bad feeling and knew something was wrong.  This situation doesn’t feel the same.”  Jake thought about what Sara said for a while.  Finally he admitted, “I think you’re right about this, but who would be following us?”  She replied, “I have no idea.  It could be anybody.”  Jake smiled at her, “Thanks, that makes me feel a little bit better about this situation.”

 

     Jake could see every one getting ready to mount up, so he got on his horse.  The group was now heading northeast at a decent pace.  The road twisted and turned, making it hard to see too far ahead.  Taragin informed them of several outlying farms and small towns that were in the area.  Jake questioned Taragin, “Is this the area where all the attacks have been happening?”  “No.  We are still a couple days ride until we get into that area,” he replied.  Jake sighed, “That’s good to know.  Is there anything we need to worry about in this area?” Taragin said, “Not that I can think of, other than a few wild animals and bandits now and then, but other than that we should be safe.”

 

***

 

     Camp was made about an hour before dark.  Taragin stated, “I will have Haralin cast a protection spell for this area and Fontun cast an alert spell around our perimeter.  This will allow all of us to sleep through the night.  Should anyone approach, the alert spell will activate.  It will sound like a bunch of wolves growling and snarling in the area that has been breached.”  Jake asked, “Can someone slip through it without being noticed?”  Fontun said, “A very high level-wizard could.  But if he is in this area and after us, none of us will be able to detect he is here.”  Whether Jake had a problem with this or not, he never said a thing.

 

    While everyone was talking, George and Stirgan had collected enough firewood to start a bonfire.  George had a nice pile set up and was using flint and steel to get it lit.  “You know,” Stirgan said, “you have the power inside you to get that started by using magic.”  He walked over, chanted a few seconds and the wood was ablaze.  George grinned and said, “You really need to teach me that one.”

 

     With the amount of light the fire produced, George was able to write the chant down in his spell book.  Stirgan also gave him the chant to extinguish the fire at a moment’s notice, which George recorded.  For the next hour, Stirgan had George practicing the simple chants.

 

     Tammy and Sara were sitting around watching Fontun make dinner.  In less than half the time they could make a simple meal, he had a full dinner prepared for everyone.  The group ate and told stories for a while after the dinner was finished.  Everyone lay near the fire and all were asleep shortly.

 

     The new day dawned and Taragin was the first up and had water going for breakfast.  When the others finally rolled out from under their blankets, the sun was rising and the sounds of nature were perking up.  Once everyone had finished breakfast, they were on the trail again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 24

 

     Two days had passed when Taragin warned everyone they were now in the area where the towns and villages had been attacked.  Jake suggested, “Let’s pair up and put about 10 yards between each group.”  Taragin replied, “Forgive me for asking, but what is a yard?”  Jake smiled and said, “No, forgive me.  It’s a measurement where we come from. There are three feet to a yard.”  Jake then showed him how long a foot was and said, “So let’s put about thirty feet from one group to the next”

 

     They grouped up with Jake and Sara; Taragin and Haralin; George and Tammy; and Fontun and Stirgan at the rear.  Two leagues into their ride, Taragin rode up to Jake and Sara and said, “Our followers are closer now than any previous time.”  Jake looked over his shoulder and still saw nothing.  Jake asked, “Anything other than them?”  Taragin pointed toward the west, “There is a small group of three or four bodies over there in the distance.”  He then pointed to the southeast, adding, “And another group that is a bit larger, about six or seven, over there.”  Jake asked, “Are they headed in our direction?”  Taragin replied, “The group to the west is closing ever so slightly and the group that is southeast is headed directly toward us.”

 

     Jake thought about whether they should head off the road into the high grass or stay on the road.  He decided the group should continue down the road where they could see further ahead and anything moving in their direction.  Jake turned and waited for Taragin.  Upon his approached, Jake said, “Please keep an eye on those groups so we’re not surprised by them.”  Taragin said, “I have been, and will let you know if they get close.  I will also advise of any other disturbances heading our way.”  Jake thanked him and rode back to the front.

 

     A couple of hours later, Taragin rode up to Jake and said, “The group coming from the southeast will be upon us within a short time.  They have closed the distance toward us in the past two leagues.”  Jake looked around for a place the group could hide, that would provide them the best protection if the group approaching were unfriendly, but was unable to locate one.  Jake motioned everyone in to inform them of what lay before them.  He advised that within a very short time, they were going to have company, and they might have to take a stand.  Jake said, “We will continue up the trail until we can find a spot to make our stand.  Keep an eye out for an area we can have our backs protected and a safe area for the horses.”

 

     Jake didn’t wait for any questions; he just turned his horse and rode on ahead.  Sara caught up to him and asked, “Are you okay?”  Jake replied, “Yea, why do you ask?”  “We normally talk about these things before we do anything,” she said, “You didn’t take anyone’s input.  You said this is how it’s going to be and took off.”  Jake said, “I’m sorry about that.  I just wanted to get moving away from whatever is coming at us.  I don’t want to be caught out in the open if they are hostile.”

 

     Jake thought for a minute then looked at Sara, “Can you think of anything we need to do?”  Sara just shook her head no.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t ask for your opinions,” he frowned, “I didn’t mean anything by it.”  Sara said, “I know you didn’t.  We just don’t want you feeling like you have to carry it all on your shoulders.”  Jake smiled at her, “You’re the greatest!” He sighed.  When Sara looked into his eyes, she could see he meant every word.  She gave him her cute smile and a wink, making Jake blush.

 

***

 

     About thirty minutes after Jake told everyone about the group approaching, George spotted movement on the horizon.  George shouted to Jake, “We have company!”  When Jake turned to see what George was talking about, George pointed in the direction of the approaching group. However, Jake couldn’t see what George was pointing at.  After several checks, however, he noticed them.  Jake said, “Looks like we are about out of time ladies and gentlemen.  We have about a league before they catch us, so it’s now or never to find a place to make a stand.”  Taragin said, “We can move off the road to that group of trees and bushes.”  “I guess that’s better than being in the open,” Jake said, “It will also give us some cover.”

 

     The group rode hard toward the trees.  When they entered them, everyone started dismounting.  Tammy said, “I’ll get the horses tied up over there.”  George said, “Once you have finished, let me know.  I’ll run a barricade rope about 10 to 15 feet out to prevent anything from getting to them quickly.”  Tammy, Sara and Fontun gathered the horses and tied them off in an area that was concealed by underbrush, away from the open.

 

     The rest of them fanned out in the area they had just come through.  Jake and George took the center.  When Sara and Tammy finished with the horses, Jake told Sara and Tammy to find a spot behind them.  George left briefly to barricade the horses, then returned to his post.  Jake wanted Sara and Tammy to cover the left and right flanks to prevent anyone from attacking from the sides.  Taragin and Stirgan were to fall back and cover the four archers from the middle.  Fontun and Haralin were to fall back near the horses and cover the rear.

 

     When everyone was set, Jake asked Taragin, “Does it look like we have good positions in your opinion?”  “Yes,” Taragin replied.  Jake said, “With you in the middle, you will need to let us know if we have to move or redirect us to an area that needs help.”  “I will do my best,” said Taragin.

 

     It didn’t take long before they could see the other group approaching.  The four teens had their bows ready to strike down whatever came before them.  The wizards were prepping spells in the event it would be needed.  When the approaching group was just a couple hundred yards from them, Taragin said, “Those are ogres.”  Jake didn’t understand the significance of that statement, so he asked, “So, what does that mean?”  Taragin replied, “They are very nasty creatures, with very little intelligence.  They love to feed on humans.  The entire ogre race is gifted with tremendous size and strength.  Their weakness is their lack of discipline.  They fight for themselves and not as a team.”  Haralin added, “Unless they are under the command of another race like the hobgoblins.  Then they follow their guidance and battle strategies.”  Taragin said, “This is true. They carry a great club and enjoy destroying everything they can.”

 

     Jake remarked snidely, “Well, we’ll just have to take them out with our arrows before they get too close.”  Taragin replied, “About that: they have quick reflexes making them very good at grasping things from the air.  They will have to be at close range before you release an arrow, otherwise it will be traveling too slowly and they will be able to grab it out of the air.”  Jake looked at Taragin with disbelief, “Anything else you would like to add.”  Taragin said, “Well now that you have asked, if they are too far to hit you with a club, they resort to throwing whatever object is available at their intended target.”

 

     The closer the group got the bigger the creatures seemed to be.  Everyone one of them stood between nine and ten feet tall.  Appearing to weigh between 600 to 650 pounds, with skin the color of dull brown dirt. They were wearing what looked like poorly cured animal hides.  They were hunched over a bit.  If you had to guess why they were hunched over, you would say it was because of their oversized heads and their arms that appeared to be the size of trees.

 

     Taragin whispered, “At least none of them have skin that is blue-green.”  Jake asked, “And why is that important to us?”  Taragin, replied, “When they unlock their magical abilities their skin turns blue-green.”  Taragin smiled at Jake.  Jake shook his head and didn’t say anything.  Stirgan called out to George, “Do you remember the spell I taught you the other night?  We will use it on the front two.”  George started grinning and said, “Sounds good to me.”

 

     When the six ogres were close, George and Stirgan cast their spells on the front two.  The furs were ignited and the two ogres went berserk and charged twice as fast.  Jake, Sara and Tammy released arrows at them, but all three arrows went wide.  The two that were on fire would be upon them before they could notch another arrow, so they drew their swords.

 

     The first ogre swung his great club from the side at George’s head.  He was able to duck just in the nick of time.  A tree near George took the full force of the blow and exploded into a thousand splinters.  Reacting quickly, George tried to stab the ogre in the midsection, but it grabbed the sword around the blade.  George pulled the sword back toward himself.  When he did, it removed most of the ogre’s fingers, thus causing it to shriek out with a loud and furious battle cry.  George then jabbed the sword into the ogre’s gut.  Instead of pulling the sword straight out, George held tight, maneuvering the sword in an attempt to cut the ogre in half.  When he withdrew the sword he left a huge nasty gash in the ogre. Thinking quickly, he then rammed his sword into its neck.

 

     Jake was confronted by the second ogre that was going berserk.  The only thing Jake could do was parry to avoid being struck by the massive club.  The ogre swung at Jake and struck his sword near the hand guard.  The sword went flying out of Jake’s hand and was embedded six inches into a nearby tree.  The ogre was on a downward swing with his club when Jake held his hands up, his palms toward the ogre, yelling. “Noooooooo!”  Jake’s view of the world went into a shimmering wavy mess.  The next thing he saw, was the battle around moving in slow motion.  The ogre that had been in front of him was gone.  Then, all at once everything went into real time and Jake blacked out.

 

     During this time, Sara was able to cast a fireball spell at the front of the remaining four.  It didn’t kill any of them, but caused some damage to three of the four.  Taragin cast a spell at the fourth one Sara missed.  It flew backwards about six feet and landed on its back with a loud thud.  Sara drew her bow again.  She and Tammy shot their arrows at the ogres, having a good bit of success.  The arrows weren’t killing them, but they were causing damage and slowing the ogres down.  The battle didn’t last too long as George was able to take a second ogre down. Each of the three wizards eliminated an ogre.

 

     When the last ogre dropped, everyone took a long, deep sigh of relief.  Exhausted, it took a few minutes before they noticed Jake was not around.  Sara rushed over to where she had last seen him fighting.  She could see his sword stuck in the tree, but no Jake.  Sara’s heart sank and she started screaming, “Where’s Jake?”  The rest of the group began searching for him.

 

     George located Jake in a brushy section, yelling, “He’s over here!  He’s still alive!  I can’t find anywhere that he’s been hurt.”  Haralin placed his hand on Jake’s cheek to start conducting a check of him, but suddenly snatched his hand back, shrieking, “Ouch!”  At his outburst, everyone looked at him.  Sara was shaking, and asked, “What’s wrong with him?”  Tammy stood next to her with an arm across her shoulder in a supportive manor.

 

     Haralin looked at Taragin and said, “He is pulsing with a very strange energy.  When I placed my hand on him, I was shocked.  It is like nothing I have ever felt before.”  Taragin started walking around looking at the ogres.  Sara said, “What are you doing?  We can search them later.  Right now we need to help him!”  Taragin said, “Were there not six ogres that attacked us?  I only see five.”

 

     The other three wizards started walking around looking for the sixth ogre.  After several minutes Sara said, “What is going on?”  Taragin said, “I think Jake has used some very powerful magic and completely eliminated one of the ogres.  If that is the case, he has blacked out and is in a protected state.  There is nothing we will be able to do for him.  He will require a lot of rest.”  “Can we at least move him from the bushes?” Sara asked.  Taragin said, “I do not recommend we touch him at all.  If his body thinks we are attacking him, it will retaliate without thought of the consequences.  If he did eliminate that ogre, we may receive the same fate.  I recommend we just place a cover above him, without it touching him and wait for him to regain his strength.”  When they finished constructing a make-shift shelter to protect Jake.  Sara sat in a small clearing, looking at Jake.  Tammy gave her a wordless hug and joined the others.

 

     George found Taragin and pulled him to the side away from the others.  “What is the status of that other group to the west?” he asked.  Taragin said, “They continued moving and have bypassed us.  “Well at least there is a bright spot to the day.”  George sighed.

 

 

After moving a ways out of range, twelve eyes continued to watch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 25

 

     As darkness started to set in, everyone set up camp in the wooded section.  A watch was posted on Jake with instructions to alert Haralin and Taragin when he started to stir.  It was such a helpless feeling for Sara, George and Tammy as they watched over their unmoving friend.  No one got much sleep that night.

 

     About an hour after sunrise, Jake began to move around.  Taragin had everyone back away from him and wait until he spoke.  It took several minutes before he tried without success to sit up.  “Oh my aching head,” he moaned.  Taragin said, “Someone get him some water.  I think it is safe to approach him now.”  Sara made her way to Jake, asking him, “Are you okay?”  Leaning up on one elbow, Jake replied, “Everything’s okay, except where that elephant sat on my head.”  Sara sat down, and wrapped her arms around him as tears rolled down her cheeks.  Tammy arrived just as he said that and offered him the water skin.  Sara helped him sit up and Jake took a long pull from the skin.

 

     Taragin approached stating, “Jake, I need you to tell me everything you can remember before you blacked out.”  Jake mumbled, “I’m not really sure what happened.  Everything is still a bit fuzzy.”   Taragin said, “Just rest some more.  We will talk again later.”  George walked over and handed Jake his sword and said, “Here, you may need this.  It took us over three hours to get it out of the tree.”

 

     Haralin handed Jake a small vial containing a potion and said, “Drink this, it will make you feel better.”  Jake downed it and made an awful face.  Fontun handed him a plate of food that Jake gulped down quickly.  Sara remained by his side through all of this.  Jake looked at Haralin and said, “Whatever that stuff was you gave me tasted like crap, but sure made me feel better.”  Haralin and Sara assisted Jake in moving closer to the fire.  As he sat staring at the flames, Sara watched him, worried about his distant demeanor.

 

     Taragin was patiently waiting for Jake to tell him what had happened.  Finally looking at Taragin, Jake said, “I was battling the ogre and losing ground to him fast.  The ogre knocked my sword from my hand and was about to strike me when I started yelling.  In the next moment the world went all blurry, and here I am.”  Taragin nodded and said, “You used a death shift.  It is very rare that one can use such powerful magic.  Who taught you that?”  Jake said, “No one taught me that.  I have no idea what a death shift is.”  Taragin raised his eyebrows, “Really?  Then it is even rarer for one to have that ability.”  Jake shrugged, and said, “All I knew was I was about to die and was trying to stop him from killing me.”  Taragin smiled, “That you did.  You not only stopped him, you eliminated him from existence.”  Jake stared at him and said, “What do you mean?”  Taragin replied, “We cannot find the body of that ogre.  He disappeared.” George had to add his two cents, “That was the meanest, and ugliest thing I have ever seen walking.  It kind of reminded me of your troll girlfriend from the mountains.”  Sara frowned and threw a rock at George.  “I don’t find that very amusing” Sara said.

 

     Jake was dumbfounded by what Taragin had to say.  “How long was I out?” he asked. Sara said, “Just over half a day.”  Jake inched closer to Sara and said, “Did you miss me?”  Sara slapped him and moved to get up.  Without thinking about his action, Jake pulled her back down and kissed her.  From across the way, George yelled, “Hey, get a room!”  Pulling away, Jake suddenly realized where he was and what he was doing. He turned blood red and said, “Sorry about that.”  Sara hit him again and said, “Sorry?  Well it’s about time.  You should have done that a long time ago, if you ask me.”  Jake was slightly embarrassed, turned and stared into the fire.  Taragin broke the uncomfortable silence and said, “I suggest we stay for the rest of the day and leave early in the morning.”

 

     The group just hung around doing nothing in particular for the rest of the day.  Fontun worked his magic with the evening meal.  Jake said, “Please don’t repeat this, but Fontun’s cooking is a lot better than my mom’s.”  After a bit of laughing, the others agreed with Jake’s statement. 

 

***

 

     The early morning noises and smells were a peaceful and tranquil time for everyone.  It was a lazy, stay-in-your-bed type of morning and no one was moving very fast.  It took a while to get everyone in gear and heading back down the road.  Once on their way, they moved at a good clip.

 

     Taragin rode up beside Jake and gave him the “I have bad news” look.  Jake said, “Let me guess, we have multiple bogies inbound.”  Taragin now looked confused and didn’t know how to respond.  George and Tammy could be heard snickering.  Sara said, “Jake!  He has something important to tell you, and you’re making jokes.”  Jake looked from Sara back to Taragin and asked, “How many creatures do we have in the area?”  Taragin said, “Not counting the ones that have been following us from the beginning, about 70 to 100 very large creatures.  “You’ve got to be kidding me!”  Jake blurted.  The laughing stopped and the only sound was from the horse’s hooves coming to a pause. Taragin started laughing and said, “You should see the looks on your faces!”  Jake said, “Okay, you got me, and I probably deserved that one.”  Taragin said, “We do have about 20 to 25 creatures a little ways up the trail.”

 

     Everyone was waiting for Taragin to say he was still joking, but he wasn’t.  Taragin said, “We should reach them rather quickly at the rate we were riding.”  “Can we go around them?”  Jake asked.  “We would have to leave the road and go deep into the wild, but we could ride around them,” Taragin answered then added, “I wouldn’t advise doing so, for there are more unknowns in the wild and less protection.”

 

     Jake thought for a few minutes and looked over to Sara, Tammy and George.  Each of them shrugged their shoulders.  Jake asked, “How is the road ahead of us?”  Taragin considered for a moment before answering, “It remains the same as where we are currently. If memory serves me correctly, there is a junction with a small town just ahead.  This would be in the same area I have located the creatures.”  Jake said, “Then it may be humans and not some evil creature?”

 

     Taragin said, “This is true, but I would not place a bet on that.”  “Let’s ride a bit closer to see what kind of fortune we will have,” Jake said.  “Give me a yell when we are getting close to them, please.”  Taragin gave him a nod and rode back to his place in line.

 

     Sara asked, “What do you plan on doing?”  Jake gave a half-hearted grin and shrugged.  After thinking for a few minutes he said, “We need to find out what’s there first.”  Sara smiled and said, “We’ll know soon enough.”

 

     They rode for about 45 minutes in silence before Taragin spoke, “We draw near.”  Jake stopped and asked, “How close?”  Taragin said, “We should see them shortly.”  Jake said, “Let’s move off the trail and into the grassy area to keep our dust and noise level down.  If I raise my hand, that means to stop.  Taragin, join me and we will ride out in front a little ways to scout the area.”

 

     Taragin joined Jake at the front and Sara waited for Stirgan to ride up to her side.  Jake and Taragin moved slowly away from the group.  After about five minutes they spotted what they were looking for.  Jake whispered, “Not good.”  “I have to agree with you on that.”  Taragin replied.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 26

 

     Jake and Taragin could see a horde of creatures.  There were two large hobgoblins and 20 to 30 goblins and kobolds standing near the crossroad.  Taragin said, “I did not think we would have well-structured groups this far from the Dwarven Caverns.  They look to be some type of a raiding party.” Jake said, “I wonder what they’re after?”  Taragin said, “No idea.  Maybe we can keep one alive and ask them.”  Jake asked, “Can you speak their language?”  Taragin raised his eyebrows and said, “No, but you can.”

 

     Jake was ready to object when he remembered he was able to understand the elves’ language after he had touched Yatuku.  Jake finally said, “I’ll try just about anything once, but before we get down to the interrogation, how are we going to get rid of the rest of them?”

 

     After scanning the area, Jake noticed a small village in the distance behind the horde.  “What is that village beyond them?” he asked Taragin.  It took Taragin a couple of seconds to spot where Jake was talking about.  He replied, “It is or probably was a small farming and trade post.  By the looks of that group it belongs to them now.”  “I’ll bet there is friends of theirs in that little village too,” Jake replied.  Taragin said, “That would be a great assumption.”

 

     Jake and Taragin stopped to allow the other riders to catch up. They informed them of what they had seen.  George said, “Going around them maybe the best answer if you asked me.”  Sara added, “I kind of agree, but then we may have to deal with them as we come back this way.”  Tammy said, “Or them sneaking up on us and attacking from behind when we do go around.”

 

     Jake thought about waiting until dark to attack them.  Jake asked Taragin, “Can they see very well at night?”  Taragin said, “Most of the creatures of this land can see about sixty feet around them in the dark.  Most humans need a light source, whereas these creatures will see heat from our bodies.”  Jake look at Sara and said “There goes the ninja-in-the-dark plan.”  George was smiling while practicing his Kung-Fu moves.  Sara said, “You two are more like the two left footed students than the ninja type.”  Tammy found the humor in it and started laughing.  The four wizards were totally clueless about what they were talking about.  Jake gave a fake frown and a disappointed look toward Sara.  Crossing his arms over his chest, he said, “But I wanted to be a ninja.  You ruin all the fun when you’re being a stick in the mud.”  George started to snicker at Jake and Sara.  Before long the four teens were having a fit of laughter about the conversation.  Taragin and the others were lost.

 

     Taking a moment to think, Jake dismounted from his horse and paced back and forth across the trail.  The other members of the group dismounted as well, letting the horses rest.  Jake finally said, “We can work our way back toward the east, then first thing in the morning, the sun will be behind us.  They will have a harder time seeing us come at them.”  Everyone was deep in thought with this plan

 

     Stirgan said, “The sun may make us more prominent if it is not high enough in the sky.  On the other hand, if it gets too high, we will stand out just the same.”  Jake said, “We will have to time it just right to do this.  Stirgan is right.  It may cause us more problems than it’s worth.”  Tammy said, “With the sun behind us, it will help conceal our arrows.  This should give us a little bit of an advantage.”  George said, “See I told you guys she’s smarter than she looks.”  Everyone went wide-eyed at the comment and just looked at George.  Tammy’s mouth dropped open and she slapped him a bit harder than she intended too.  When Tammy struck him, they all stared to laugh.  George was now trying to back track with what he had said.  The more he tried, the worst it got for him.  Tammy knew he was trying to make a joke and was playing it up for all it was worth.  She threw her nose in the air and walked away from him towards Sara.

 

     Jake said, “I can see the two of you on a talk show telling everyone your problems.”  Sara started to laugh, which caused Tammy to laugh.  George was smiling, but realized he messed up big time and would have to pay dearly for it down the road.  The poor wizards were not sure how to react to most of what was said.  They just played along with the reactions of everyone else.

 

     Taragin changed the subject when he said, “If we are to do this, we will want to eat now then turn back some so that we are staged for the morning.”  Fontun didn’t have to be told twice, he move over to one of the pack horses and began removing food items he required to make the meal.

  

     Soon they were sitting down eating another delicious meal.  George said, “Magic assisted meals are better than microwave meals if you ask me.”  Jake and Sara were both nodding their agreement with his statement.  It didn’t take long before the food was devoured.  After everything was stowed, they started to backtrack.

 

     They traveled back south about half a mile. At that point, they turned toward the east, and rode for another half mile before they turned back toward the north.  When they believed they had rode the half mile north, they dismounted and started walking their horses.  Jake told everyone to wait while he and George went west to see if they were in the right location. It was just over half a league when they got sight of the crossroads.  Jake figured they had overshot their location by several hundred yards.

 

    Jake and George returned to the group, advising of the miscalculation. They moved the group into position to attack the mass of creatures that were now due west of them.  Taragin suggested that when it got dark, everyone should move closer, except one person who would remain behind to tend to the horses.

 

     As darkness fell upon them, everyone except Fontun moved toward the crossroads.  Taragin stated they were in range to strike and just far enough not to be seen by the horde.  Everyone took turns resting throughout the night.  Just as the night sky was starting to lighten, they started moving slowly west.

 

     Taragin announced, “For some reason, I am unable to detect anything in the area.”  When the crossroads came into view, they were shocked to find there was not a soul around.  George whispered, “Do you think it’s a trap?”  Jake replied, “I have no idea.”  Both looked over to Taragin.  Taragin was studying the area.  He turned to them and said, “They must have gone to the village for the evening.  I am bothered by my magic not detecting anything.”  Jake said, “When we were training we were informed not to rely on magic because there are areas here that it will not work.  Do you think that may be the case here?”  Taragin said, “It is possible, but I am still concerned.”  “Why?” Jake asked.  “If it is because this is just one of those problem areas then fine, but, there is one other reason I can think of.  After a brief pause, he continued, “If a high level wizard has cast a spell to prevent the use of magic here that would explain why I cannot detect anyone.”  Jake asked, “If that’s the case, can the high-level wizard use magic in the affected area?”  Taragin said, “No.  That is the only bright spot I can see in all of this.”  Sara added, “If that’s the case, then the wizard must think he has the numbers to prevent someone from attacking them.”  Taragin replied, “That would be a good assumption.”

 

     Jake looked at him and asked, “What do you recommend we do, attack the village?”  Taragin said, “I would like to help the people of this area by stopping the raids. That being said, we would have to attack that village.”  Jake said, “I agree with helping the people, but are we going to put ourselves in too much danger by attacking the village?”  George said, “The kobolds are not that hard to beat, the goblins are relatively easy, but what about the hobgoblins and if they have a wizard?

 

     Taragin said, “I feel the seven of us can take care of them.  If you four can keep the kobolds and goblins from attacking us, the three of us should be able to take care of the hobgoblins and one wizard.”  Sara said, “We can do that.”  Jake asked, “If we attack will they come out after us or are we going to have to go into the village to fight them?  Taragin said, “They have a primal instinct to attack and eliminate threats to them.  They should flock out and come after us.”

 

     Tammy asked, “What about the hobgoblins and wizard, will they attack too?”  Taragin said, “They tend to stay toward the back, near the village.  I say we return to where Fontun is holding the horses and formulate a new plan of attack.  Jake said, “I agree.”  The group turned and headed back to where Fontun was waiting.  Everyone was lost in their thoughts, so the group walked in silence.  As they arrived, Fontun said, “That was a quick battle!”  Taragin informed him of the new development.

 

     Once again Jake was deep in thought.  He was having a hard time deciding whether or not to attack or just go around the village.  Sara walked over and sat down beside him, gave a playful shoulder bump, and said, “A penny for your thoughts.”  Jake smiled at her and said, “I’m having a hard time deciding what we should do.”  Sara asked, “What are your instinct telling you?  You’ve been making the right decisions all along.”  Jake sighed, “I just hate all this responsibility being put on my shoulders.  I think I’m afraid of doing the wrong thing or one of us getting hurt.”  Sara leaned her head on his shoulder and said softly, “We all have faith in you whether you have it in yourself or not”.

 

     Jake put his arm around her shoulders, and said, “I feel so much better after talking with you.”  Sara smiled at him, “I say we go after them.”  Jake said, “It is the right thing to do.  I say we take back the village.”  There was a renewed fire in Jakes eyes.  He and Sara got up calling everyone to gather.  Jake announced, “We are going to take the village, everyone mount up.”

 

 

 

CHAPTER 27

 

     Jake had no more than called to take the village when the group mounted up, ready to do just that.  As they were riding, Taragin said, “What is the plan?”  Jake looked at him for a moment, then stopped his horse.  “I don’t know,” he said, “I got caught up in the moment deciding to help the people of the area by eliminating those creatures.”  All Taragin could do was shake his head and smile back at Jake.  Taragin said, “I think we should ride up close, dismount from our horses and proceed the rest of the way on foot.  We can secure the horses so they don’t run off when the battle starts.  The four of you use your bows to drop as many as you can.  We can use our swords to protect you from the ones that get close.”  Jake said, “That sounds like a good plan,” and off he rode.

 

     They arrived at a spot that would allow them to secure the horses and dismounted.  The four teens drew their bows and the four wizards drew their swords.  George said, “I never knew they had swords with them.”  Tammy made a face at him and said, “Pay more attention next time.”  Tammy and Sara started giggling about the look on George’s face.

 

     The group approached the village very cautiously.  It consisted of seven buildings; a general store, a restaurant, bakery and four living quarters.  Most of the buildings were ransacked and on their last leg.  Some activity could be seen in the area, but no lookout was spotted.  The group got close to the village before they were spotted and a huge commotion broke loose.

 

     The road soon filled with goblins and kobolds running toward their invaders.  Arrow after arrow flew taking most of them down.  The few that managed to get near the teens were cut down by the wizard’s swords.  The group had managed to kill 20 or more of them, but the village looked to have three to four times that amount in reserve.  Taragin shouted to Jake, “Do you see what I see?”  Jake replied, “If you mean a village full of furious creatures getting ready to attack us, then yes, I do.”  Taragin said, “There are at least four hobgoblins in there and they look to be sending their troops around to flank us.”  Jake scanned the area to see what Taragin was talking about.  “Any magic yet?” he hollered to Taragin who answered, “I’m afraid not.”

 

     Jake shouted, “Let’s move back toward the horses.  If we have to get out of here quickly then at least we will have them near.”  Before the group had moved too far, a second wave of grisly inhabitants came running from the village.  This time the goblins and kobolds were executing more of a zigzag-type approach.  The teens were only able to hit a couple of them.  Before long they had to abandon their bows and unsheathed their swords. As the swordfight started, a third wave emerged from the village and the group that was trying to flank them was fast approaching from their rear.  Jake panted, “Maybe this was a mistake, but I’ll die trying to kill every last one of them.”  George tried without success to call a vine spell to put a barrier between the two groups.  Everyone was now engaged with the second group.

 

     The air was filled with the sound of swords clanking and groans from the ones unfortunate enough to miss a block.  The entire group was starting to take minor injuries.  Goblins and kobolds were dropping fast, but with two additional groups about to join up, things didn’t look good for Jake and his comrades.  Jake killed a goblin that was in front of him and was looking for his next target when he noticed the third group had turned and was heading back toward the village.  Jake wheeled around to look at what was behind him that had scared them off. He noticed Ralnor and five other wardens riding hard toward the battle.

 

     The flanking group had been eliminated, which was of great relief to him.  Jake said, “Here comes the cavalry!”  Everyone looked at him as if he had lost his mind.  Jake pointed behind them and yelled, “Reinforcements!”  This caused everyone to turn and look.  The wardens rode past them and continued after the retreating group.  Jake said, “Let’s get our horses so we can help them.”  By the time the group reached their horses, mounted up and rode to the village, the battle was over.  The wardens had killed twice as many as they had in half the amount of time.

 

     Jake rode up to Ralnor and said, “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes!  I’m glad to see you.”  Ralnor said, “We have been watching you since you left us.  Jake asked, “Why didn’t you just join us?”  He answered, “I was instructed not to interfere unless things got too bad for you.  The council felt you needed experience in fighting and the use of your magic.”

 

     Sara called out, “Jake!  Come over here.”  The two of them turned and walked to her.  Sara was standing in front of one of the only buildings that was not totally ruined by the horde.  As Jake walked up, she moved to the side to allow him to enter.  There before him were all kinds of looted items the horde had taken from the people they had slain.  Jake said, “There is a lot of valuable things in here, too much for us to carry all of it.”  Ralnor went over and started inspecting the swords and armor.  Taragin had joined them and was inspecting the various books and scrolls.  The other items were pieces of furniture and chests.  The chests, about ten in all, had all been broken open and were no longer of any use, but most contained gold and jewels.

 

     Jake asked Ralnor and Taragin, “Do you think it is possible to find the owners of some of these items?”  Taragin answered, “I fear that these items being here means the owners are no longer with us.”  Ralnor, nodding his head in agreement, said, “We can take most of the valuable items and help the less fortunate people we come across, but I don’t think it is likely we will find the heirs to these.”

 

     Stepping outside, Jake called for everyone to gather.  Ralnor introduced the other five wardens as Rotan, Trueway, Halfar, Sontar and Wyn.  He informed the teens they were not only well-renowned, but also personal friends of his.  Jake explained to Ralnor about the wizards and introduced them to the warden and then the rest of his party.  After the introductions were completed, they got back to the task of searching the village and gathering what valuable items could be reused.

     It took about an hour to pack and load the horses with the items they had obtained.  The weight was distributed among all the travelers’ horses.  Most of the books and some of the scrolls were useless.  The ones that were of value the wizards distributed among themselves.  The weapons were mostly common; the few that Ralnor said were of good quality were loaded on one of the pack horses.  Ralnor said, “With all this wealth, each of you could buy a good bit of land and a large home.

 

     George said, “I think I speak for everyone: we plan on going to our homes as soon as we can.  All these items would be worth a fortune where we come from, but we can’t take them with us.”  Tammy said, “See he is smarter than he looks!”  Jake, Sara, Taragin and Tammy busted out laughing.  George said, “Okay, you got me. Now we’re even.”  She smiled, “That wasn’t the payback, but a statement of fact.”  Everyone started laughing, including Ralnor.  George was blushing and embarrassed.  Tammy let it go on for another minute before she walked over and hugged him.  She whispered in his ear, “You’re so cute when you blush.  I think I’ll keep you.”  George’s shade of red went even deeper and everyone started laughing even harder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 28

 

     The group was now deep into the dangerous country and going even deeper.  Ralnor said, “The Dwarven Caverns are just over a day’s ride from here.  We could make it in a day, but we would draw a lot of attention to ourselves.”  Jake said, “I feel we should take it slow and arrive the following day.  This would allow us time to find a safe place to set up camp and maybe even scout some of the area.”  Jake thought for a minute, then looked at Sara, and said, “What do you think we should do?”  Sara smiled at him and said, “Your plan sounds fine to me.”  She looked over her shoulder at George and Tammy.  The two were nodding their agreement.

 

     Taragin was near Jake so he whispered, “Nice save.”  Jake smiled, “I did say I would get their opinions before I would make a decisions.”  Taragin said, “That is good for now, but when trouble hits, you may not have time to ask anyone anything.  You will have to decide fast and alone.”

 

     Jake was lost deep in thought when Sara asked, “You okay?”  It took Jake a minute to come out of the haze.  He was shocked to see Sara instead of Taragin riding beside him.  Sara caught the look Jake had on his face and asked, “What’s wrong?”  Jake smiled and replied, “Nothing.  I was talking to Taragin and got lost in my thoughts. The next thing I know he’s gone and you’re here.”  Jake smiled and shared what Taragin said about making decisions.  Sara said, “He’s right, you know.”  That was the last thing Jake had expected to hear Sara say and answered her only with a dumbfounded look.  Sara started laughing, “That was a George look if ever I’ve seen one before.  Sorry for stumping you like that.”

 

     They rode at a slow, steady pace for the remaining part of the day. Agreeing to stop and make camp, this left a little more than an hour of daylight.  The area they chose was a heavily wood hill.  They decided against a campfire and ate dried rations for dinner.  With the increased number of people, watches were set in pairs for added safety.

 

***

 

     The morning ride was even slower than the day before.  Taragin said he had detected several small groups off in the distance, but nothing they had to worry about.  Ralnor stated they would arrive at an area where they would have to leave the horses by mid-day, then continue on by foot.  George was about to object when he thought about how much noise they were making even in a grassy area.

 

     A few leagues into the ride, the smaller hills had grown to sizable ones and there were even a few small mountains here and there.  The trees would be heading toward their fall cycle in a couple of weeks.  The air was nice and comfortable, not too hot or cold.  There was just a slight breeze with the sun hiding out behind the trees.

 

     Ralnor signaled to Jake that this was the area he felt they should find a secure spot for the horses and start walking.  They came across a few small caves where they decided to store the unneeded supplies.  Ralnor felt it took a bit longer than it should have for the group to gather what they thought they needed.  He said, “Pack light; we will have to come back to retrieve more items and check on the horses.”  Ralnor figured that would have gotten everyone walking in the direction they needed to go, but it had the opposite effect.  Everyone but the wardens were again digging in their packs and removing items they didn’t want to carry on the first trip.  The wardens watched, smiling and shaking their heads at the novice group.

 

     When the last item was put in the cave, Ralnor thought he would make a wisecrack and asked, “Did everyone remember to get their food and bed gear?”  With that three of the wizards, George and Tammy headed back to the cave, red-faced.  Ralnor just shook his head.  He and the others that had remembered to get those items stood there smiling.

 

     With everyone finally packed, they set out for the Dwarven Caverns.  Ralnor took the lead, Rotan and Trueway went about 100 yards to his right and Halfar and Wyn went about 100 to his left.   Sontar had drawn the short straw and was assigned to the rear of the main group.

 

     Every once in a while a bird call could be heard and the whole group stopped and waited.  The warden’s communication system was something they had been raised with from early childhood.   No one had to say a word to the other; just a noise or a bird call was sufficient to get the message across.

 

     They stopped after about two leagues of being on foot.  The break was welcomed by the teens and the wizards.  The wardens saw the break as a necessary evil to keep their stamina at a maximum.  Ralnor joined the main group and whispered, “We are in the area of the caverns.  We had to stop several times because the scouts have seen several small patrols.  As we get closer we need to ensure the noise is kept to a minimum and we stay out of sight.”  Jake asked, “Where are we heading now?”  Ralnor said, “We are looking for a deep cavern that isn’t being used.”  Tammy asked, “Wouldn’t an animal that has made its home in the cave make a lot of noise if we tried to get it out?”  Ralnor said, “Yes, but there are very few animals in this area, so running into something in one of the caves isn’t of much concern.”

 

     This time when the wardens moved out, they didn’t spread out as far as before.  It wasn’t hard to find empty caves to stay in, the problem was finding one that was deep enough, and well hidden.  It took some time, but at last they found a secluded, deep cave.  The front was obscured by some fallen rocks and foliage, the inside had plenty of room so they weren’t cramped.

 

     Once everyone had their gear laid out they decided there was still enough time to scout the area they were in.  Jake pulled Ralnor and Taragin off to the side and told them he would like to scout the area with Sara and George.  Taragin didn’t object, but Ralnor expressed a concern that they were a bit inexperienced and felt the wardens should do the scouting.  In the end Ralnor agreed and gave Jake a few words of wisdom about what to look for.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 29

 

     Jake, Sara, and George set out to scout the area after talking with Ralnor.  The trip up the hill had cost them a lot of time they didn’t want to spend.  They had planned to head straight up the hill, do some recon, then returning.  One hour at the most!  They were into their third hour without reaching the area they needed to scout.  Several small patrols of kobolds had shown up in the areas they want to search.  As they slowly moved, they would find a posted sentry here and there, which caused them to back track and go around them.

 

    As they were finally making their way to the top of the hill, Jake stopped suddenly.  George, and Sara followed his lead.  Jake slowly made his way back, and whispered, “Another sentry.”  He pointed in the general direction where the sentry stood guard.  George asked, “What now?”  Jake shrugged, “I guess we have to go around and find another place.”  George said, “Just cast a sleep spell and we can recon from here.”  Jake shook his head and said, “Too risky.  Only cast a spell as a last resort.”

 

     The group backed down and to the left for about fifty yards before they headed back up the mountain.  As they got higher on the mountain, noise to their left caught their attention.  Soon they could hear a group of kobolds yapping at each other.   Jake smiled and said, “They are arguing about whose turn it is to catch dinner tonight.”

 

     The group took cover in the underbrush until the patrol made its way by them.  Time seemed to stand still as the patrol made its way toward them.  It was plainly obvious that they were in no hurry to get anywhere by the way they were moving.  The patrol made more noise than a herd of elephants in an ice forest.  Sara had the misfortune of laying on a rock that was poking her in the ribs.  With the patrol so close, she was afraid if she moved the slightest bit she would be noticed by them.  Somehow Jake had found the best spot as he was laying on a soft area and had just enough of a view to see what was going on all around him.  George was well hidden, but had to twist himself up a bit to be totally concealed.

 

     The patrol was moving slow and steady and after about 15 minutes finally made their way past them.  Jake slowly got up and creped over in the direction the patrol had gone.  He motioned for the other two to stay put.  After a couple more minutes he whispered, “Okay, the coast is clear.”  Sara rolled off the rock and started rubbing her ribs.  She said, “I don’t think I could have found a more uncomfortable place to hide, other than were George was.”   George was sitting on the ground rubbing his legs that had cramped up and his neck where he had gotten a crick in it.  George said, “That’s not one bit funny.”  All Jake could do was smile to himself.

 

     When they had worked all the kinks from themselves, they continued up the hill.  A short time later Jake had finally found an area he liked and crawled up to the edge to get a look.  What Jake saw made his blood run cold.  There were more nasty critters moving around than you would find at a huge reptile exhibit.  Jake looked back at the other two and just shook his head.  Both George and Sara made their way up to the edge to get a look at what Jake was hinting at.  Sara said, “That sure is a lot of ugly down there.”  George said, “Looks like a few family reunions I’ve gone to.”  Both Sara and Jake about lost it.  It took everything they had to keep from busting into a fit of laughter.  Sara said, “If that’s the place we have to go, then we are going to have to find another way in there.”

 

     Jake focused at the cave entrance and said, “I’ll bet there are several smaller passages that connect up to this entrance.”  George was nodding his head and said, “I’ll bet your right.  You know that means we are going to have to scout the rest of this huge mountain to find a way in.”  Sara replied, “Unless Ralnor know about these caverns.  I say we head back and let him know what we found and pick is brain a bit.”

 

     As they doubled back the way they came, they were very quiet in the area where they had seen the sentry.  Jake again halted the group and went to check on the sentry.  To his surprise, the sentry was no longer there.  Jake turned and shook his head at them.  George held up his hands and shrugged his shoulders.  Jake made his way back and whispered, “This is not good.”  Sara mouthed why at him.  Jake said, “The sentry has moved and could be anywhere in the area watching.”

 

     They stayed put for several more minutes before they decided to leave.  Jake said, “Let’s make a wide birth of the areas where we have seen the sentries.  We will loop around and make our way back to camp.  I don’t want to lead any creatures to the campsite.”  During the trip back every fifteen minutes or so, Jake would stop to see if they were being followed.  The last stop they made was close to a half hour.  Jake want to be totally sure they had not been followed before he returned.  The loop added about two additional hours to the scouting trip.

 

     Tammy was the first to greet them with, “Where in the heck have you been.  I’ve been worried sick about you three.”  George said, “We stopped at the spa so Jake could have his pedicure done, then at the discount outlet for additional camping gear.”  Sara’s face went from a smile to oh boy here it comes.  He’s going to get it now.  As if on cue Tammy’s eyes shimmering with tears, slapped him on the arm and said, “That’s not funny!”  George drew Tammy in for a hug and apologized, “I shouldn’t have said that.  I know you were worried, but we’re just fine.”

 

     Ralnor and Taragin approached them and asked how things had gone.  Jake sat down and explained everything that had happened to them and what they had observed.  Sara and George would fill in the details if Jake had forgotten to say it.  Jake asked Taragin, “Is there any patrols close to us now?”  Taragin sat back a second, concentrated and said, “There is nothing I can detect anywhere close to us at the present time.  Jake asked, “What about that patrol of six kobolds.”  Taragin said, “Yes, they are still out there, but they are staying just out of range most of the time.”

 

     The group settled down in different areas of the cave.  At first when you looked at it from the outside it looked to only be about five or six feet deep and very narrow.  Once you past the entrance, the back wall did only go back five feet, but to the right of the entrance was a narrow gap that would allow a man to slide inside.  After going through the gap, the cave opened up into a large area with several small nooks toward the back.  The entire group of fourteen, fit nicely inside without cramping each other.

 

     Fontun was busy working up his magical meal for the evening.  Ralnor was talking with the other wardens trying to recall all the information about this area they could.  The four teens, or two pairs, had settled down and were talking about the day’s events and what tomorrow had in store for them.

 

     It didn’t take anyone long to consume the evening meal.  With a full belly and the sun down, it was time to call it a day.  The four teens had snuggled up together and were out within seconds of laying down.  The others divided the watches up amongst themselves and let the teens sleep the night away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 30

 

    Everyone was up and moving about early the following morning.  The plan was for Jake, George and Ralnor to depart after breakfast to scout the back side of the mountain.  Two other groups would check in the area of the camp and about half way around the mountain.

 

     Taragin approached Jake asking, “Would you like for me to cast a spell to detect others in the area?”  Jake replied, “What are the chances of us being detected from using magic?”  Taragin said, “It is a passive spell, so it should not be detected at all.  The only possible way for that to happen would be to have a very high level mage or wizard in the area actively searching for magic.”   Jake said, “Then go ahead and do the spell, but make it as quick as possible.”

 

     Taragin did as instructed and reported back to Jake that he didn’t detect anything.  The three groups moved out to their assigned areas.  Jake, George and Ralnor moved at a rapid pace to get to the back side of the mountain.  Ralnor had to urge Jake and George to resist checking every cave as they passed, insisting that the others would be able to check the ones they were passing.  He had to remind them several times, that time was of the up most importance and they needed to move quickly.

 

     They made it to the area Ralnor wanted to be and started their search.  There were several caves that lead into the mountain, but none of them went very deep.  The group searched each area that could possibly hold a cave entrance.  They searched the mountain from the top to the bottom.

 

     After checking six different caves, George found a small, narrow passage that lead into the mountain.  The passage looked to have once been well-used, but appeared to have been abandoned many years ago after a collapse.  Once they were able to slide in through the narrow gap, it opened up into a large area.  As they were searching the area, they found a second collapse at the rear completely blocking the passage.  The three worked to remove rubble, and found it to be what they had been searching for.  This appeared it would lead deeper into the mountain once the entry was cleared.

 

     Jake was satisfied they had found a way into the mountain.  Ralnor said, “I think this is what we were searching for, but it will take several days to remove enough debris to allow us passage.”  “Do you think we should move our camp here or stay where we are?”  Jake asked.  “We will make a lot of noise moving debris from that pile,” Ralnor replied.  “It will be safer if we remain where we are and stage runs into the mountain from here.”  This cave they were in would fit everyone comfortably with room to spare, but moving the debris would take a while to accomplish.  George said, “I say before we spend days trying to dig through this mess, we try to find a place that won’t cost us that much time.  We can look as we are heading back to the campsite.”  The others agreed.  Jake said, “At least we know this is here and we have an area to stage up.”

 

     The three continued to work their way up the mountain, checking every nook and cranny they found.  Several spots started out promising, but quickly turned out to be a dead end.  After half a day of searching, they decided to call it quits, and head back to camp.

 

***

 

     As they approach the camp, all three of them felt something wasn’t right.  Several times Jake stopped and the group took cover.  Each time seemed to be a false alarm.  After the second time George said, “I guess I’m not the only one that feels like something is wrong.”  Ralnor said, “No, I feel it too.”  Jake said, “I wish Taragin was here so he could scan the area for us.”  George said, “That would be nice.  When we get back you should have him teach you that spell.”  Jake felt stupid because they’d had time in the past for him to learn the spell, but never thought to ask Taragin.

 

     Movement to their left caught everyone’s attention, although it was ever so slight.  Ralnor did a bird call and received one from that area.  He whispered, “It is only Trueway and Wyn.”  When the two groups had joined together, Ralnor asked if the others had seen anything out of the ordinary.  Wyn said, “No, but we stopped and tried to figure out why we both had an odd feeling.  Something didn’t seem right.”  Jake replied, “That makes five of us.”

 

     They slowly worked their way to the campsite entrance.  Once they were about 50 yards from it they, could hear the yapping of kobolds.  Just to the right of the cave entrance were two groups of kobolds with their high pitched yapping, communicating with each other.  After listening to several minutes of their annoying yapping, they started moving away from the entrance.  If you didn’t know any better, it appeared that the kobolds were moving too slowly and without purpose.  But when kobolds didn’t like doing something it was done in a slow and half-hearted manner.  Once the kobolds were gone, the odd feeling seemed to pass.

 

     When the kobolds were out of sight, Jake, Ralnor and the others waited about ten minutes before they decided to check out the cave.  Ralnor and Wyn approached the entrance very cautiously.  The outside didn’t show any signs of activity.  Ralnor very quietly gave a bird call.  Relief came over him when a soft bird call answered from within.  Ralnor stood up and motioned for everyone to follow him.

 

     Once inside the cave they were relieved to find everyone else there.  Sara went over and hugged Jake, saying “Boy am I glad to see you guys.”  Jake smiled and said, “What happened?”  Sara explained that two kobold patrols had arrived about an hour ago and appeared to be scouting the area.  Something must have happened because the patrols starting yapping at each other.  Jake asked, “Has anyone checked on the horses lately?”  Everyone shook their heads no.  George said, “I’ll go.”  As he turned and headed toward the entrance of the cave, Fontun said, “I’ll join you.  I could use a bit of fresh air.  This cave is getting a bit stuffy.”  Fontun glanced over at Ralnor, who gave approval.

 

***

 

     It took George and Fontun about 20 minutes to get to the horses.  They tended to them and checked the surrounding area for signs of life.  They felt assured that the horses would be fine then started back to camp.  As they were returning, a distant noise caught their attention.  They turned toward the direction of the noise and started searching for its source.  Fontun said, “It was a wild boar.”  George’s face lit up.  “That boar would make a great dinner and breakfast if you asked me!”  Fontun said, “As true as that may be, if we do not drop it on the first shot, it will draw a lot of attention to this area.  A boar will screech and wail like nothing you have ever heard in your life.”  After talking about it a few more minutes they decided to just leave it alone and continue back to camp.

 

     As they were walking back, Jake and Trueway popped into view.  Jake called out, “It took you a bit longer than I thought it should have, so we came to make sure everything was okay.”  George replied, “We heard what sounded like a wild boar off in the distance and went to check it out.  We didn’t see it or hear it again so we decided to return to camp.”

 

    The following morning Jake and Trueway volunteered to check on the horses.  They returned about 45 minutes later, satisfied the animals were fine and they arrived just as Fontun had finished preparing breakfast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 31

 

     The plan for the day was to return to area where Jake, George, and Ralnor had found the cave.  They were going to search the areas missed the day before.  The area between camp and the cave had very few spots to explore.  What appeared to be caves and caverns were no more than small overhangs or indentions in the side of the mountain.

 

     They found a few openings closer to the area of the cave that started out with potential but narrowed down and were too small to continue following.  Ralnor had called them the breathing holes of the mountain.  They finally arrived at the cave they found the day before.  After everyone entered the cave, it was a bit smaller than Jake had originally thought, but was still large enough to accommodate the entire group.

 

     Jake said, “I think it’s going to be best for us to dig this out.  We could spend the next week searching this mountain and never find another entrance.”  Sara protested, “That will make a lot of noise and some of those rocks are too heavy to pick up and move.  Jake had a big grin on his face and stated, “I’ve given that some thought since we found this cave.  We could cut a few trees and use them as leverage to move the larger rocks.  We won’t have to move them very far, just enough to get an opening.  “As far as the noise,” he continued, “That is the only problem we’re going to have.  My thought on that is we need to work when there is the most activity in the cave.  If we worked when they were still, a single noise would call attention to us.  We will need to break up into smaller groups of four or five and work for a short period of time.  Afterwards, we should stop for a short time before the next group starts their work.  We never want more than the working group here, just in case they find us… or at least until the debris is cleared and the passage is open to travel through.”

 

     Jake looked around at the group and said, “Now I would like to hear what everyone else thinks, any ideas, any type of problems, or something I may have forgotten.”  After brainstorming for a while, they decided that Jake had a good plan and they would go with it.  The final plan was modified to have four lookouts on the outside and four workers on the inside.  They would cut two trees about eight inches thick and ten feet long to make good, sturdy poles for moving the rocks.

 

     With the plan set, Halfar, Wyn, Haralin and Stirgan went past where the horses were to cut two trees for the poles.  By the time the trees were cut, placed into the cave and returned back to the campsite, most of the day was gone.  With that detail accomplished, the work to remove the debris could start the next day.

 

***

 

     With morning came the first rotation of lookouts and workers.  Sara, Tammy, Halfar and Sontar would be the posted lookouts, while Jake, George, Ralnor and Rotan were going to be the first group of workers.  Taragin, Haralin, Trueway and Wyn would be the second group of workers.  Fontun and Stirgan would remain at the main campsite.  Truth be told, no one wanted Fontun to get hurt because of his cooking abilities, so they were not going to risk anything happening to him.

 

    When the lookouts were set, the first group of workers started moving the small rocks from the pile, placing them in the unused areas of the cave and along the walls.  Ralnor also had them make a pile at the entrance of the cave to slowdown anything trying to gain access.  If the creatures located them and tried to rush the entrance, it would become a bottleneck and clog up.  The blockage would only allow one body to enter at a time.

 

     The slow, tedious digging of rocks became old very quick.  With Jake and George not use to manual labor, they grew tired a lot sooner than Ralnor and Rotan.  They decided that the second group could continue digging and moving the small rocks.  The first group left the cave and went back to the campsite.  Jake and Ralnor explained what they were doing and what was left to be completed before the end of the day.  Ralnor instructed them to finish what they could, or if needed, stop and return if they got too tired.  Jake told Trueway, when they stopped for the day, to collect the lookouts, so they could all return together.

 

     The groups returned just over two hours later.  Trueway explained that most of the smaller rocks had been moved.  They decided not to move any of the bigger ones, so they could keep the noise down to a minimal.  Jake nodded and sarcastically said, “Great, we have something to look forward to tomorrow.”

 

     Fontun took special care in preparing a hearty dinner for the groups.  They were famished from all the hard work and the meal seemed to disappear like magic.  It wasn’t too long after when everyone bunked down for the night.

 

***

 

     The following day, Jake’s group arrived at the cave bright and early.  Just as Trueway had said, all of the smaller rocks had been moved.  Jake took the two logs and placed them into position to shift the first of the larger rocks.  After getting the ropes secured around the rock they began heaving.  It took over an hour to get it to shift – only slightly.  When it did, they doubled their efforts to move it.  Without warning the rock broke free.  It toppled over from the debris pile and slammed to the cave floor.  When it hit, the ground vibrated.  The thump made a noise so loud, the lookouts could hear it on the outside.  After the noise, everyone froze.  The rock had caused dust to fly up, making visibility next to impossible.  Jake was the first to react.  He grabbed his gear and took off toward the entrance of the cave.  When he moved, everyone else followed.

 

     The lookouts were now paying more attention to the mass exit from the cave, rather than their area of responsibility.  The group came out the entrance, down the mountain and into a heavily wooded area in half the time it would have normally taken.  The lookouts did a quick scan and followed on the heels of the group.  Everyone meet up in the wooded area – except for Sara.

 

     The two groups were full of anxiety while they waited for her to arrive.  After 15 minutes and no Sara, Jake started to get very worried that something might have happened to her.   Jake asked Taragin to cast his location spell and see what was going on in the area.  After a few seconds, Taragin said, “We have a group of four heading in our general direction.  They should be here in about five minutes at the pace they are moving.  I have detected a second group approaching our campsite and three more groups just behind that one.”  Jake said, “I hope Sara can stay ahead of them.  We need to get out of this area fast.”

 

     He paused for a second and then continued, “Let’s circle around to the right side of our campsite and see what is going on in that area.”  Jake didn’t wait around after he spoke, he took off without another word.  He check over his shoulder several times to make sure everyone was still following, and they were.

 

     Jake was so worried about Sara that he wasn’t paying much attention to his surroundings.  On several occasions he stumbled and almost fell.  He was struck in the face by several lower branches.  Ralnor grew exasperated, finally stopped him and said, “You are a danger to this whole party right now.  You have lost your focus over one person.  There are still six of us, seven counting you that are depending on you to make the proper decisions.”  Ralnor couldn’t have slapped Jake in the face and gotten a more deserved reaction after that.  Jake started focusing on the task at hand – to get everyone back safely.  Every time he started to wonder about Sara, he told himself he could do her no good if he was dead.

 

     Jake was so lost in thoughts, when Taragin tapped him on the shoulder, Jake almost jumped out of his skin.  Taragin was now smiling, “We have avoided the one group that was heading into the wooded area.  They have continued through that area and are now moving away from the cave.  The other group that was moving toward our camp has circled back to where they came from and the three other groups that were following are now gone too.”

 

     They arrived at the camp and Rotan moved to the entrance to check the status of everyone inside.  The rest of the group that had remained behind were waiting patiently and everything was fine.  Sara, Fontun and Stirgan were sitting there waiting for them to return.  Rotan went outside and signaled it was clear.

 

     Jake was the first to go in.  When his eyes locked on Sara, he went straight for her and said, “I was so worried that something bad happened to you.”  Sara smiled and said, “No.  I was too far away with too much ground to cover to get into the wooded area.  I started to go for the woods when I noticed movement.  It was a small patrol of kobolds so I decided it was safer to head back to camp.”

 

     Jake held her in his arms for a couple of minutes, letting go when Halfar said, “I was sitting in my tree watching my area when I heard the loudest thump I have ever heard in my life.  A dragon falling from the sky wouldn’t have been as loud.  The next thing I saw was four people trying to kill themselves getting out of the cave.  What happened in there?”  George said, “Jake had a bit of gas from Fontun’s cooking and busted one.”  Sara and Tammy lost all composure.  The others didn’t know what George was talking about and looked at the girls like they had lost their minds.  Between breaths, Sara was able to explain it.  Once she finished, the others thought it was the funniest thing they had ever heard, except Fontun.  Fontun got a hurt look on his face, which make it even funnier.

 

     When Jake regained his composure, he told everyone how the rock wouldn’t move so they applied more pressure to the logs.  The rock broke loose, flipped over and landed flat on the cave floor.  “It not only kicked all kinds of dust and debris in the air, but it also made the maximum amount of noise possible,” Jake said.  Everyone, including Jake, were smiling at image of it.

 

     Ralnor said, “I think it best we call it a day and continue tomorrow.”  There were no objections.  The atmosphere in the cave was relaxed with everyone enjoying the break from the dusty and dirty work.  While Fontun was busy preparing the evening meal, George and Stirgan left to check on the horses.  Returning quickly, they joined the others as they kicked back resting and telling various stories.

 

***

 

     Fontun announced it was dinner time, and served everyone a nice plate of stew.  George sat down near Tammy and started eating when he noticed something on his plate move.  He thought he was seeing things, so with his spoon he pushed at a piece of meat.  A giant dragon head popped out from his plate and was less than an inch from his face, roaring at him.  George started screaming like a little girl and dropped the plate.  He backed as far against the cave wall as he could.  Tammy abandoned her seat as well, moving far away from the monster.   Everyone else froze.  Fontun fell to the floor laughing so hard he almost wet himself.  The other wizards and then the wardens all roared with laughter.  Jake then realized that George was the victim of an absolutely perfect practical joke.  Sara realized about the same time and both fell into a fit of laughter.

 

    George on the other hand was covered not only in his stew, but also in Tammy’s when she tossed it in his direction.  George was still in a bit of shock, but the laughter brought him out of it. Fontun said, “Talk about gas in the food, that plate was full of it.”  Everyone started laughing harder, even Tammy now that she knew it to be a prank.  George had a smile on his face and was thinking, ‘I’ve got to pay Fontun back for that.’

 

     Sara concerned, said, “We are making a lot of noise.  Something in the area will hear us.”  Fontun said, “I cast a silence spell around the cave a bit earlier to prevent that.”  Taragin said, “I do not recommend we use that spell too many times.  It will bring attention to this area by anyone passing through.”  Ralnor and the other wardens were thoroughly enjoying the entertainment.  Ralnor said, “It is never like this when we camp.  Everything is always quiet and orderly.  You are the funniest people I have ever met.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 32

 

     The next day the first group, Jake, George, Ralnor and Rotan, were back in the cave surveying the results from the day before.  When they got through the entrance, the rock that made so much noise was lying out of their way in a suitable area.  Seeing the rock caused everyone to smile at the thought of it flipping perfectly into place.  As they entered, they saw that the dust on the ground showed no signs of being disturbed since they had left.  Jake was relieved that no one had found the cave.  The area where the rock had been, now left a small hole in the debris pile.  The group felt encouraged by the sight of some progress.  They continued clearing debris and two hours after they started, there was a clearing big enough to slip through.  Ralnor said, “We should stop now and send Rotan inside to scout the cavern’s passageways.”

 

     Once inside of the tunnel, Rotan was checking for everything; traps, signs of life, good areas to hide or anything that could be of use.  The tunnel had not been used in many years.  He checked each branch of the tunnel, with most coming to a dead-end.  The remaining ones that didn’t dead end continued for a long ways or looped back to the original spot he had started in.  As he worked further into the mountain, he crossed several areas that had minor cave-ins but were still passable.

 

     The tunnel was a natural formation that had not been altered by humans.  After an hour of exploring, he came to an area where he could hear foot traffic ahead.  As he proceed toward the noises, he spotted movement ahead.  Rotan blended into the shadows and continued to work his way forward.  Rotan could see the tunnel he was in intersected into a larger, smooth one.  That tunnel had been cut through the mountain by use of some very powerful magic.  From what he could see the walls and floors contained no seams, or other flaws of any kind.  Rotan had seen enough to be able to report back to Ralnor, so he backed away.

 

     Jake, George, and Ralnor patiently waited near the debris entrance for Rotan.  About two and half hours after entering, Rotan was crawling back out.  Once he was clear of the entrance, Ralnor held his hand up to prevent Jake from blurting all the questions he wanted to ask.  Ralnor suggested they return to camp and brief everyone at once.

 

    The four of them, along with the four posted sentries, returned to the campsite.  Once inside, Jake simply said, “So tell us what you found.”  For the next hour Rotan informed them about what he had seen, answering their questions.  Ralnor said, “We have found what we were looking for.  We now have a back entrance into the Dwarven Caverns.  May I suggest that Rotan and Trueway explore more deeply and thoroughly inside before your group goes in?”

 

     Jake wasn’t really sure what he meant by that but agreed with him, Ralnor continued with, “Rotan and Trueway, pack light and enough for a couple of days inside the tunnels.  You will need to travel quietly while there is little traffic and hide during the times traffic is heavy.”  Taragin said, “There are several spells we can cast on items that could be useful if the circumstances dictate.”  Ralnor nodded and said, “They may need all the help they can get.”

 

     Taragin asked Ralnor, “Do you not think Jake should accompany them carrying Yatuku?  Yatuku will be able to guide them to where the stone is located.”   Ralnor said, “As true as that may be, we don’t know what obstacles lie between the entrance and the stone.  As we have all seen, there are a lot of creatures inside the cavern.  It is just too much of a risk now.”  Jake said, “I don’t mind going with them.  I know the risks involved.”  Ralnor smiled, “Be patient.  I know you would have no problem, but right now it is just too risky to send you with them.  Rotan and Trueway have trained for over 900 moon cycles to do searches of this kind.  You have only begun traveling and have not been trained.”

 

     Sara said to Jake, “Ralnor is right; leave it to the experts.”  Her fond look at him made Jake feel a little better.  As he thought about what Ralnor said, he didn’t like staying behind, but knew Ralnor was right.  Jake finally said, “I guess you’re right.  I’ll stay here until we know more.”  Ralnor nodded toward him.

 

     Taragin said, “I will need a short time to prepare and cast the spells.”  Taragin and the three other wizards walked over to their area and retrieved their spell books from the packs.  The four had a long, in-depth discussion about what spells to use.  After they finished, Taragin asked Rotan and Trueway for their cloaks.  The two removed their cloaks, handing them to Taragin as requested.  Taragin and Haralin took the cloaks and started chanting over them.  Once they finished, Taragin returned them saying, “Store them until you need to hide.  Once you put them on you will be invisible for a short time.”  Fontun handed each of them a bird feather.  He said, “These will allow you to be weightless for a short period of time.  They don’t allow you to fly, but will help you to climb with ease and remain at the top without falling.”  Taragin handed them each a small rock, “If you run into a problem, toss the rock and say, “Big.”  The rock will grow until it fills the circumference of the tunnel.  Use it in a tunnel, but not in an area much bigger than that.  Once it’s activated, you should have time to escape what is pursuing you.”

 

    Rotan and Trueway grabbed their packs and left for the cave.  It only took about 30 minutes for them to get there.  They waited for another 30 minutes to ensure the creatures were settled for the evening before they entered through the debris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 33

 

     Rotan and Trueway followed the route Rotan used earlier.  The ground showed no signs of being disturbed, so it put them at ease traveling the first section.  As they approached the high-traffic area, they slowed to a snail’s pace.  Ahead, the man-made tunnel was illuminated in an unnatural yellowish light.  Again Rotan figured it was a magical spell that had been casted long ago.  There was still quite a bit of traffic going to and from.  When the traffic was clear, Rotan moved to the right inside the main tunnel.  He crossed over to the other side of it, went about 25 feet, then into another natural tunnel.  A few minutes later Trueway joined him in this new passage.

 

     They followed this line for about 30 feet when the tunnel split into a Y.  Choosing the branch to the right, didn’t go very far before it dead-ended.  Backtracking, they took the one to the left.  This passage was narrow with many twists and turns.  It contained several small, short tunnels that didn’t go very far and weren’t very deep.  They would make great hiding spots if needed, but nothing more.

 

     The tunnel ran for a total of 100 yards before it came to a T-intersection.  As Rotan approached the intersection, he could hear a small group approaching from the right.  Trueway slid into a nearby small alcove to hide.  Rotan moved into the shadows and blended into the background where he could see what was heading towards them.  Three trolls were walking from right to left.  One was carrying the carcass of an animal over his shoulder.  The other two appeared to be trying to talk him into giving them the carcass, but weren’t having any luck.  At first it looked like the three would pass by Rotan’s tunnel without any problems occurring, until one tried to grab the carcass.  The troll carrying the carcass swung it at the one that tried to grab it.  The carcass knocked him into the same tunnel as Rotan and Trueway.  He got right up and charged at the troll carrying the carcass.  Rotan watched in disbelief as the charging troll missed his target and struck the cave wall head-first.  After he hit the wall, he turned and looked at the other trolls, and did a face plant in front of them.  They started laughing at him and just walked off leaving the unconscious troll behind.

 

     Rotan backed toward Trueway and explained what had just happened.  It took great effort for the two of them to not laugh.  Rotan said, “Now we must wait until the stupid creature wakes up and moves on.”  Trueway said, “I hate to spend the night watching a stinking troll sleep.”  The two settled back and waited.

 

     It took a couple of hours before the troll woke up and tried to get to his feet.  The two wardens watched as the bloody faced troll stumbled around like a drunk.  After several minutes of trying to get his bearings, he trudged away in the same direction the other two.

 

     Rotan and Trueway wasted no time moving out, heading in the direction the trolls had come from.  This tunnel was partly natural with some areas that magic had widened.  It had numerous tunnels branching off.  The first branch to the right and left side were short and dead-ended in about 20 feet.  The next branch to the right went about 30 feet then ended at a locked door.  Trueway smiled and said, “I didn’t think I would get any lock-picking practice down here.”  Rotan had a concerned look on his face hoping Trueway had brought his lock-picking equipment.  Trueway walked up to the door and checked it for traps, then pulled his picks out.  Within seconds he was grinning back at Rotan, holding the door slightly ajar.  Trueway said, “That was so easy you could have done it.”  Rotan just shook his head and grinned.  “The only reason it’s open is because it was never locked.  If it was locked, you would still be there trying to get it opened,” he responded.  Trueway smiled back at Rotan and motioned toward the door saying, “Shall we?”  Rotan slowly opened the door to reveal a big pile of junk.  There were old broken crates, empty barrels and rope that had long ago rotted.  When Rotan closed the door, Trueway relocked it.

 

     The next branch to the right was also short and a dead-end.  There were several indentations on the left, then another door on the left about three feet in.  Like the first one, this lock was no match for Trueway’s skills.  Without stopping to think about what he was doing, Rotan reached for the door to open it.  Trueway grabbed his arm, stopping him just before he got a hold of the door.  Trueway pointed and said, “Trap.”  Rotan froze, saying, “Thanks.”  Trueway disarmed the simple noise trap and opened the door.  This was a ten by ten storage room.  It contained various pieces of old armor.  Most was dinged or dented and had far outlived its usefulness long ago.  A few pieces may have been salvageable, but they were too cumbersome and not of great value.  Trueway was about to lock the door when they heard noises coming from the area they had just been.  The two wardens slipped inside the storage room and pulled the door closed.  When the footsteps continued on past them, they departed the room and locked the door.

 

     Rotan followed behind the creature that had walked by making the noise.  When the footsteps stopped, Rotan slipped into the shadows and observed.  Ahead of him was a grunting troll, trying various keys on a locked door. The troll grunted some more, then Rotan heard the click of a lock.  Squeaky hinge noises filled the air as the troll opened the door.  The next sound he heard was the thud of the door being closed.  The area was once again quiet.  A few minutes passed before Trueway made his way over to join Rotan.

 

     Trueway whispered, “Where did it go?”  Rotan replied, “Just up ahead of us.  It unlocked a door and went inside.”  Trueway nodded, then slipped across the tunnel into a dead-end section and hid in the shadows.  They waited for about 10 to 15 minutes before the door hinges began to creak again.  The thud from the door being closed echoed through the tunnels.  The troll locked the door and started walking in their direction.  Rotan got a good view as the troll passed by him.  It was carrying a very old and big book bound in dark leather with aged faded writing on it.  Rotan could not make out what the writing said.  The troll continued the way he had come from and in a matter of seconds was gone.

 

     Trueway returned to Rotan and said, “If that doesn’t make you wonder what is going on… a troll carrying a book?”  Rotan said, “I’ll bet you my bow it’s not for him.  And if it’s not for him, it means only one thing. There is a human in here.”  Trueway said, “We need to take a look in that room where the troll was to see what’s in there.”  “We can do that on our way back out of here.  I have a feeling this is a storage tunnel and dead-ends up ahead,” replied Rotan.

 

     Rotan was right.  It did end just after it curved a little way down from the door the troll opened.  Rotan said, “I’ll head back down and keep watch for you.”  Trueway nodded and went to work on one of the two locked doors that were there.  He picked the lock, checked the area and started opening the door.  The hinges began to creak even louder than the last time.  He opened the door just far enough to see it was a small room filled with empty bottles of all sizes and shapes.  There were no books in this room.  He closed the door as quietly as possible then locked it.  He then moved to the other door and started working on its lock when he heard Rotan signal someone was coming.

 

     Trueway slipped back down the tunnel and into a dead-end section.  He just made it there, when two men walked past him.  One of them said, “I should have known better than to send a stupid troll for a book.”  There was a bit of laughter and the other one said “I’m very surprised he didn’t eat it.”  More laughter filled the air.  There was the distinct sound of keys rattling, then a lock clicking open.  A very short time went by before the door was locked and the two men headed back in the same direction they had come.  As they departed, one of them said, “I wonder why he needs this book to begin with?”  The other guys said, “Who knows, and who really cares.”

 

     After the two were gone, Rotan returned and said, “That was a bit close.”  Trueway agreed, “Way too close for my liking.  I did manage to check the one room.  It is filled with old, empty bottles.”  Rotan nodded and said, “Well let’s get back to it.  I’ll head back down there again.”  With that being said, the two went in opposite directions.  Trueway went to work on the lock.  This was a higher quality lock and it took Trueway longer to get it to open.  When he was finally able to, he opened the door, stepped inside and was totally shocked at the sight before him.

 

     The room was a lot larger than he would have thought possible.  Unlike the rest of the tunnels and branches being illuminated in yellow, this room was illuminated by a multitude of sconces emitting a bluish light.  The walls were lined with shelves filled with books, scrolls and vials containing a variety of colored liquids.  There were two tables with books piled on them, of which some of the books were lying open.  Trueway exited the room and headed toward Rotan.  Once he got to him he said, “You need to go take a look for yourself.”  Rotan raised an eyebrow and headed to the room.

 

     Entering the room, he started searching around, trying to read the titles of the various books, but they were written in a very old language he didn’t know.  Rotan exited the room, closing the door as quietly as he could.  He returned to where Trueway was waiting and said, “That was quite a find.  I’m sure the wizards would love to get in there and look. Go back and lock the door.”  Trueway slipped back quickly, then carefully locked the door.

     Returning, Trueway whispered, “My guess is it is now well after sundown, so things should start slowing down soon.”  “At the rate we are going, it will take us a very long time to explore this cavern,” said Rotan.  Looking around he continue, “I don’t think we are going to be able to check every room like we have been.  I know there have to be hundreds of small tunnels that branch off all throughout this place. We need to find the main area and search there first.”  The two of them backtracked down the tunnel to where they took a right at the T-intersection and crossed over.

 

     They worked their way down this tunnel and found it connected back up to the main tunnel they had crossed to get to where they were now.  Rotan had Trueway wait where he was and turned to the left toward what he believed was the area they had crossed from earlier.  It didn’t take long to confirm what he already knew.  It was the same tunnel they had crossed earlier; they had just done a big loop back to it.

 

     The main tunnel was not only well-lite, but had no hiding spots until a natural tunnel appeared.  Rotan said, “That is the entrance to the way we came from.  If we continue the way we’re heading, it will lead us deeper into the mountain.”  Rotan told Trueway to once again wait there, and headed down the tunnel to scout the area.

 

     Rotan returned stating, “There are several natural tunnels that branch off; they should allow us hiding spots if we need one.”  The two headed deeper into the mountain.  The tunnel steadily sloped downward the further they travelled.  A short time had passed when Rotan ducked into a natural tunnel.  Trueway followed him.  Rotan said, “We need to find a spot and rest while they settle down for the night.  They followed this natural tunnel 20 feet to where it split.  The branch to the left didn’t go very far before it dead-ended.  The branch to the right went about 20 feet, then turned ninety degrees to the left.  After the turn, it went about ten feet and did another 90 degree turn to the right.  After the turn, it sloped up, then leveled off.  At the very end was a small opening with light coming through.

 

     Rotan worked his way up the narrow section to the light and found a hole in the wall.  He was able to wiggle his way through the hole, leading to a massive ledge.  The ledge would accommodate 15-20 people comfortably and the entire area above him was open.  Rotan crawled his way to the edge, looking over, he was amazed at the sight below him.  Astonished at the depth of the drop off and the sheer size of the whole area, it appeared the whole inside of the mountain had been hollowed out. The area below had to be a good 500 paces across in every direction.  The bottom was almost a perfect circle.  It contained stairs to various upper levels and a few that went down.

 

     Below he could see several hundred troops.  He noticed 40 to 50 rooms off to the side. There were scattered cook fires on the ground floor area.  Rotan could see trolls, kobolds, orcs and hobgoblins, but no humans.

 

     Trueway slipped through the hole from the tunnel and joined Rotan.  After studying the scene for a few minutes he whispered, “Why did the Dwarves abandon this city?”  Rotan whispered back, “They prefer to live in unknown places, away from prying eyes.  Once a Dwarven city is generally known, they will abandon it and make a new one.  It appears several races found this location.”  Trueway said, “I knew it was going to be big, but I didn’t know it was going to be this big.”  “I have heard rumors of Dwarven settlements and how large they are,” replied Rotan, “but this is the first time I have been in one and seen it for myself.”  Trueway nodded, “This also is my first sighting of one.  As close to morning as it is getting, this would be a good place to stop and rest.  We can continue scouting later tonight when they have completely settled down again.”

 

     Moving away from the edge, Rotan agreed and the two settled down to rest while the cavern came to life.  The noises from armor calking, various things banging, and the yapping from the creatures below, it all echoed off the walls. With the sheer size of the cavern, the sounds seemed to be amplified, making it hard to block out at times.  They were able to get some, but very little rest.

 

 

CHAPTER 34

 

     As the evening wore on, Rotan and Trueway squeezed back through the hole they’d emerged from.  Rotan said, “It looks like their activity should be dying down soon.  I suggest we go slow for a while and let them finish settling for the night.”  The two weaved in and out of the tunnels for part of the day.  There were a few near misses with various creatures that were still moving around, but they were able to avoid being detected.

 

     Rotan estimated they were at least a couple hundred feet below the cave entrance.  He found a natural tunnel and ducked in with Trueway.  Rotan said, “We should be getting close to the main area of their camp.  There should be watches posted as we get closer to the leaders and their main storage areas.”

 

     After another short rest, they continued searching.  Rotan considered turning back when he noticed an area that had potential to be what they were looking for; a treasure room that might contain the stone of Yatuku.  As they approached the area, they could see it was well lit with guards posted.  This area was a big intersection of five major passages joining together.  It was about 45 feet across with a fire pit in the center.  Out of all five of the tunnels, it looked like they needed to get to the first one to their left.  The problem was the two guards were not moving much and both were facing the tunnel opening.  The positive thing was the guards did not have a direct view into the area Rotan and Trueway were trying to go, they could only see the entrance area and not much beyond.

 

     Rotan patiently waited for both of the guards to turn their backs to them.  Once the second guard turned, he jumped out from where he was hiding and into the first tunnel on the left.  Trueway followed without question. The two slid against the wall to keep from being spotted if the guards turned back around.  Rotan was right. They worked their way to the end of the tunnel, finding four storage areas bearing very high grade locks on all the doors.

 

    They were now presented with a bigger problem. If someone came down the tunnel they would be spotted.  They went to the end where Trueway went to work on the lock at the last door.  It took him several minutes to figure out the locking mechanism.  When he did, the clicking from the lock being opened echoed throughout the tunnel.  They froze.  After several minutes of listening, Rotan eased his way toward the entrance to check the status of the guards.

 

     Trueway opened the door to see the room contained a few pieces of old Dwarven armor.  Rotan walked back to see what the room contained. The room was once a stronghold or armory for equipment and weapons.  It could now serve as a last-ditch hiding place.  Trueway said, “We can hide in here if someone shows up, but we will be trapped.”  Rotan questioned, “We don’t have too many choices now, do we?  If we were locked in there, can you get this door open from the inside?”  Trueway answered, “Yes.  This is a Dwarven locking device.  They mastered the ability to allow access from both sides of the door.”  Rotan said, “That is good to know.”

 

     Rotan headed back toward the entrance of the tunnel, while Trueway went to work on the locking mechanism for the next door.  This lock was identical to the first lock.  Within a minute Trueway had the lock picked, but this time the audible click wasn’t as loud.  Trueway opened the door to find dusty covered crates.  Most of the goods had been removed from them.  What was left was various clothing items and bolts of ugly, dull fabrics.  Trueway closed the door and relocked it.

 

     The third door was the hardest so far.  The lock required a lot of time picking he wasn’t willing to spend.  He was getting ready to call it quits, when he heard it click.  He cracked the door open and peered inside.  It was another room filled with books and vials.  This room was just like the other, lined from floor to ceiling and wall to wall with books.  After doing a quick check, he lock it.

 

     The door to the fourth room was just out of view from where the guards were located.  As Trueway started to pick the lock, he realized it was a more complicated piece than any he had every tried to pick before.  Just as Trueway was about to give up, the lock opened.  Again there was a loud clicking noise from the cylinders sliding open.  The only thing that saved them from being heard as the lock clicked open was one guard had slapped the other, making a louder pop.  When Rotan saw that happen, he motioned for `Trueway to join him.  The two guards were standing toe to toe grunting at each other, about to fight.  This was perfect to hide any noise the hinges would make.  The two went back to the door and opened it.

 

     Trueway and Rotan both went wide-eyed at the sight before them.  The room contained more gold and jewels in one place than either had seen in his entire life combined. Trueway just stood staring at the sight before him.  Rotan noticed Trueway had frozen and wasn’t saying anything at all.  Rotan walked around Trueway and into the room.  There was a mountain of chests with all kinds of treasures just thrown into the center of the room.  Rotan picked up a gold coin, inspected it and then placed it in his pocket.  He then turned and left the room.  Before Trueway closed the door he also pocketed a gold coin.

 

     After locking the door back, they had to wait for the two guards to turn their backs to them again.  The guards had changed positions since they first arrived.  They were now standing at the tunnel entrance Rotan and Trueway had originally come from.  The two guards were leaning against the wall, showing no signs of moving anytime soon.  Rotan whispered, “It is very late and morning is fast approaching.  If we try to exit the tunnel they will see us.  If we stay here much longer they will find us.”  Trueway asked, “What are you thinking about doing, then?”  Rotan smiled and picked up a small rock.  Trueway had a smirk on his face and shrugged his shoulders.  He waved his hand for Rotan to proceed.

 

     Rotan threw the rock into the tunnel directly across from where he and Trueway were. The guards never paid any attention to the noise it created.  After throwing a second and third rock and getting no reaction from the guards, Rotan sat down shaking his head.  Trueway thought it was funny but didn’t laugh about it.  Rotan said, “We can use the cloaks and try to walk past them.”  Trueway shook his head no, “That should be our last resort.  I would hate to use them now and not have them if things got even worse.”

 

     Trueway then said, “We could run to where they are and drop them before they can make too much noise.”  Rotan said, “That’s not a good idea, it would cause a big uproar and they would come looking for whom ever did it.  They would also add additional watches which would cause more problems for us when we return.”  Trueway said, “I agree, but right now we don’t have a lot of choices.”

 

     Just as they were finishing plans to eliminate the guards, a commotion broke out in the tunnel to the left of them.  The two guards got up and walked right buy Rotan and Trueway.  The pair didn’t wait around to find out what had caused the commotion; they departed the tunnel and headed back the way they had come from.

 

     Backtracking was a lot easier than scouting the area, so the two of them made great time.  The passages were still clear, so it only took them a short time to make it back to the cave entrance.  The sun still had not risen, so they made themselves comfortable.  Rotan said, “We will head back to camp just before the sun rises.  I would like some light so when we approach we don’t get shot buy an arrow or have some spell cast on us by a jumpy wizard.”  Trueway smiled and said, “I agree.  I would hate to live out the rest of my days as a frog eating bugs.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 35

 

     Ralnor, Jake, Sara and George watched as Rotan and Trueway departed the camp to go explore the tunnels for the second day.  Sara told Jake, “We know you want to go with them, but for right now its best you stay behind.”  Jake replied, “How’s it for the best?  I could lead them right to the stone!”  Ralnor finally said, “There is no straight path to the stone in a Dwarven city.  The tunnels run throughout the mountains.  They go right and left, with many twists and turns.  They contain many dead-ends and some will dump you off a cliff down over a 100 feet below.”  Jake said, “I know and understand the reasons.  I just want this finished so we can start searching for the way home.”

 

     Ralnor said, “In time it will happen.  Do not rush through life wanting something quickly.  Be patient or you will miss out on many nice things along the way.”  Jake knew within himself what Ralnor said was true, but he still wanted this over and done with.  Jake was ready to go home.

 

     Tammy joined the group, and asked, “What are we to do while they are in the tunnel?”  Ralnor replied, “Rest and train.”  George asked, “What kind of training do you have in mind?”  “I am going to show you how to track and listen to nature.”  Ralnor said.  Sara and Tammy were more excited to hear that than Jake and George.  Ralnor turned and said, “Follow me.”

 

     He departed the cave and headed in the direction of the horses.  As Ralnor walked, he pointed out the various paths everyone had taken to and from the horses.  As he was explaining various impressions and damage to the foliage, Jake’s mind was wondering and Ralnor noticed it.  Ralnor told everyone to split up and find three different impressions in the ground.

 

     As everyone was heading out to search, Ralnor pulled Jake off to the side.  “You were not paying attention back there,” he said.  “That is very unlike you.  Is there a problem?”  Jake was quiet for a bit and finally said, “No.”  Ralnor inquired, “Then what is on your mind?”  Jake replied, “Nothing.”  Ralnor kept looking at him until Jake said, “I really don’t know what’s wrong.  I just feel a bit odd today.”  Ralnor asked, “How so?”  Jake thought for a minute, then shrugged his shoulders.

 

    The two walked in silence for a few minutes.  Jake finally broke the silence by saying, “I was saying how I wanted to go home earlier, but I like it here.  I enjoy being with Sara all the time and just the simple way of life this place brings.  We have learned so much about each other,” Jake glanced at Ralnor then continued, “I have fallen in love with her.  We’re not in a hurry to get from one place to the other like when we’re home.”  Ralnor smiled to himself and just walked in silence.  He didn’t want to interrupt Jake’s train of thought.  Jake continued, “I feel like we are a part of this world, when we are together.  I’ve never felt so strongly for one person, like I do for her.  If I had my way, I would stay here with her forever.  I don’t want to be without her.  I don’t know… this may sound a little crazy, but I want to ask her to marry me.”  Ralnor gave Jake a few more minutes to ensure he had finished what he wanted to say.  Ralnor spoke quietly, “You are a part of this world, more so than you know right now.  Things will start to reveal themselves to you and you will have a better understand of what this is all about.”

 

     Jake just looked at Ralnor and knew not to push for answers.  Ralnor continued, “Home will always be where you make it.  You have family, as do the others, back in your world.  It would not be right for you not to return and have your family wondering what happened to you.”  Jake said, “I would never put anyone, much less my parents, through something like that.  I do wonder what’s going on back home with us being gone for so long.  Ralnor thought for a minute before he replied to Jake.  “Time is not the same here as it is in your world.  You have been here for what seems like a long time to you, but very little time has passed by in your world.”  Jake looked at him a bit funny and said, “Isn’t a day here the same as a day there?”

 

     Ralnor thought how best to explain this to Jake.  Finally stating, “Here the day will cycle from one to the next just like it does in your world.  But a day here is faster than a day in your world.  The two worlds have days about the same, but while you live a day here, one has not passed in your world.  It would roughly take about 30 days here to equal one day in your world.”  Jake said, “So only a few days have gone by in my world while several months have gone by here?”  Ralnor asked, “What are months?”  Jake smiled and said, “It is a way we measure time and the seasons.  Thirty days is roughly one month.”  Ralnor nodded to him.  Jake, now feeling better than he had been, wanted to share the news with Sara.

 

***

 

     Ralnor called the group back together and was explaining the various ground impressions they had found, when a noise caught his attention.  He stopped in mid-sentence and turned toward the direction of the noise.  The other four had not heard it, but knew not to interrupt while Ralnor was concentrating on something.  Ralnor exclaimed, “A very large animal is approaching.  We need to move quickly.”  After stating that, he moved up the hill, away from the noises.  The four followed him without question.  Ralnor said to them, “When confronted with danger, take the high ground.  Always make sure the wind is blowing from the area the danger is coming from toward you.  That will prevent any creature from detecting your scent.”

 

     Ralnor removed his bow and notched an arrow.  The others followed suit.  A few minutes went by before the others could hear what Ralnor noticed a while back.  Jake asked, “What is it?”  Ralnor said, “If I had to guess, I would say it is a monitor lizard.  If it is, then we will need to kill it fast before it starts making all kinds of noise and drawing attention to this area.”  Tammy said, “Why don’t we lead it to the main entrance of the caverns.  Maybe it will kill a lot of those nasty creatures.”  Ralnor said, “That would be nice, but it is too risky for us.  Once it gets its prey in sight, it will start a very long and loud cry.  It tries to cause fear in its prey and make it panic.”

 

     It didn’t take long until this huge lizard came waddling into sight.  The lizard raised its head a bit and started flicking its tongue in and out.  Ralnor whispered to everyone, “You have to shoot it under the neck or in the eyes.  When it gets a little closer and raises up again, shoot.”  The lizard lowered its head and start moving as if it had a new purpose in life.  It covered about 30 feet rapidly.  As it raised its head, Ralnor let his arrow fly.  Once he released, the other four did also.  The lizard never saw the arrows coming toward him.  The first set didn’t kill it, but did pin its mouth closed.  As its head lowered, Ralnor placed an arrow dead center of the lizard’s eye.  The lizard rolled to its side and began twitching.

 

     George started to move toward it when Ralnor stopped him.  He instructed, “Give it time to bleed out and then we will approach it.”  When Ralnor felt enough time had passed, he got up and went near the lizard.  He poked it with the end of his bow and didn’t get a reaction.  Ralnor looked at the others and said, “Now the fun begins: field dressing it and carrying it back to camp.”  Both Tammy and Sara turned their noses up and shook their heads no.  Ralnor removed his knife from the sheath and went to work on the carcass.  Jake and George were standing over him, admiring his handy work.  Within minutes he had it dressed out and made it ready to be transported.  Ralnor walked over to a sapling and trimmed it up to use as a transport pole.

 

     Ralnor secured the lizard’s legs together and then slid the pole in between them.  Once the pole was in place, he took the leftover line from the legs and secured them to the pole to prevent the kill from sliding off.  Ralnor told Jake and George to grab one end and he would take the other.  When the three lifted the lizard, both George and Jake grunted at the weight.  Ralnor smiled at them and lifted his end effortlessly.

 

***

 

     Both George and Jake thought they had walked a hundred miles to get back to camp.  They were winded and ready to drop, yet Ralnor hadn’t broken a sweat.  They put the dressed lizard down inside the cave.  Fontun smiled and walked outside.  He returned a few minutes later with six saplings.  He rigged them together to hold up the other pole with the meat.  He then placed the meat on the pole so he was able to freely turn it. The poles were then setup over a fire pit and Fontun started a smokeless fire.

 

     The teens were totally fascinated by the magic Fontun had use to make the fire.  Jake thought about the magic for a second and went over to get his spell book.  The others did the same.  All four of them recorded the fire spell.  Jake completed the fire entry, and took the opportunity to speak with Taragin.  Jake asked him for the spell to detect.  Taragin sat with Jake to explain the use of the spell.  Jake recorded it in great detail, then went to study both.

 

     The lizard wasn’t as tough as Jake thought it would be.  After dinner was finished, there was still a long wait until sunset.  With Rotan and Trueway still absent, the night seemed longer than usual.  Not one of the 12 in camp got a full night’s sleep.  Ralnor tried several times to reassure everyone that things were fine.  Rotan and Trueway would not return until first light at the earliest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 36

 

     Everyone was awake by the time first light reached the cave.  Fontun made a huge breakfast with the leftovers from the night before.  He said, “Rotan and Trueway will want a good hot meal before they go to sleep.  Ralnor agreed, “With a good hot meal, they will sleep well.”

 

     They no sooner started cleaning up from the meal when Rotan and Trueway arrived.  The way they were greeted one would have thought they had been gone for years.  Questions started coming from everyone all at once.  Rotan and Trueway looked at each other and smiled.  A smiling Rotan said, “Please give us a minute to eat and we will tell you all that we know.  The two wasted no time getting food and eating.  Exhausted and hungry, it didn’t take long for them to finish their meals.  All eyes were fixed on them.

 

     Rotan smiled again and started with, “We have located what we believe is the treasure room.  Whether it’s the room containing the stone is a question that, only Jake with Yatuku will be able to answer.  We did grab coins from the room.”  The two pulled their coins out of their pockets.  Rotan tossed his to Ralnor and Trueway handed his to Taragin.  The two of them took some time inspecting the coins.  Ralnor was the first to speak, “These are not only very old, but very rare.  Taragin added, “There are believed to be very few in existence.”  Ralnor added, “You can see the high artisanship the Dwarves put into their work.”  The coins were passed from one to the other until they were returned to Rotan and Trueway.

 

     Rotan then said, “We know there are humans involved with what is going on in there.”  “How do you know that?” Ralnor asked.  Rotan focused on Ralnor and said, “They sent a troll to one of the storage room to retrieve an old book.  The troll selected the wrong one, so two humans arrived to retrieve the correct book.”  Taragin’s and Haralin’s interests were both peaked at the mention of old books in a storage room.  Taragin asked, “By chance did you get a look at the book or into the storeroom.  Rotan replied, “The book passed by a little too quickly to see what it was.  All I can tell you is it was rather large with black leather bindings.  We did get a look into the room.” Stirgan and Fontun started listening a bit more keenly now.  “The room was just about four paces across, by four paces wide.  It had shelves filled with books, scrolls and vials.  Most of the writing I could not read.  It appeared to be a very ancient language.  The vials were heavily-dust covered and contained various colored liquids in them.  That was the first room we found with books in it, the second was near the treasure room.”  Taragin’s eye brows raised and he nodded.

 

     Ralnor then posed, “What can you tell us about the troops inside?”  Trueway explained about the overlook, then described the area below and what percentage was occupied by the troops.  He informed them about the side rooms and the various ladders going up and down.  Trueway said, “If I had to guess the number of troops there, I would say around 400.  Rotan nodded his head in agreement.  Jake and George were both astonished by the number of enemy troops.  Tammy with raised eyebrows, asked “How are we going to fight all of them?”  Rotan turned to her, “We do not intend to fight any of them.”  Jake added to his statement, “If we have to fight, then we will do whatever we have to do.”  Rotan nodded.

 

     Rotan and Trueway headed over to their pallets and were asleep immediately.  Ralnor move the group away from them so they could speak without disturbing their rest.  Looking at Jake, then George, then Sara and finally at Tammy he said, “When they wake up, each of you need to gather as much detailed information about the tunnels in the cavern.  Each of you will remember different things and must be able to collectively remember it all.”

 

     Ralnor peered at Jake and asked him what his plan was.  Jake drawing a blank, just stared at him.  Sara nudged him, bringing him out of the daze.  Jake was baffled, “I was hoping you had a plan.  I never expected to be entering a cavern with 400 creatures looking to eat me for dinner.”  Ralnor smiled at him and said, “Talk with them when they awaken, and then with your friends.  You will make the right choice.”  Sara whispered in Jake’s ear, “My hero.”  Jake instantly went red in the face.  Embarrassed, he turned away to prevent anyone else from noticing it, and walked out of the cave.  Tammy was closest to Sara and heard what was said.  It took everything she had to keep from laughing.  Everyone had noticed and were stifling snickers.

 

     Sara followed Jake outside, “I’m sorry.  I wasn’t joking, I really meant that.  You are my hero and I love you.”  Jake was once again speechless.  He regained his composure and said, “I didn’t take it as a joke.  You just caught me off guard.”  He then mumbled, “I love you too.”  Sara said, “What?”  He looked up, grabbed both of her hands in his, and said, “I love you too.”

 

     A few minutes later George and Tammy joined them.  As they walked up, they could see they were interrupting a private moment.  George asked, “Are we interrupting something?”  Both were quick to say, “No!”  All four of them grinned at each other.  Tammy said, “Are you sure?  We could come back by later if we’re still in the neighborhood.”  George nudged Tammy and winked at her.

 

     Jake changed the subject by saying, “Ralnor is right about all of us talking to Rotan and Trueway together.”  The others started to object, but Jake held up his hand and continued.  “We started this together with everyone having one like thought.  We will continue and finish this as one.”  Sara said, “I guess you’re right, because the prophecy does say the four can go where no one else can, or something like that.”  Jake exclaimed, “The four as one.”  The others all softly repeated, “The four as one.”

 

***

 

     The four slowly walked toward the horses, all lost in their own thoughts.  When they came to a nice little area near a stream, Jake sat down and said, “I’ve been thinking about the storage room with all those books and scrolls.”  Sara smiled, “That’s funny, because I was thinking the same thing.” Tammy said, “George and I had just started talking about that.”  Jake repeated again, “The four as one.”  Sara then interjected, “With all those books and scrolls, the wizards will want to accompany us in there.  I was going to suggest we have a couple of them, if not all of them, join us.”   George and Tammy both nodded in agreement.  Tammy said, “Fourteen people going through those tunnels is going to make a lot of noise.”  Jake agreed, “Yes, but we may need everyone before it’s all said and done.”

 

***

 

   The four spent most of the day relaxing and discussing what they should do.  By the time they returned, Rotan and Trueway were awake.  Ralnor greeted them saying, “We thought you ran off.  Glad to see you back.”  He couldn’t hold the serious face any longer and began chuckling, letting them know he was just joking.  He continued, “Now that everyone is here, Rotan can give you more specifics about the tunnels.”

 

     For the next three hours Rotan and Trueway gave a very detailed description of the tunnels, doors, and the guards they encountered.  He meticulously illustrated each passage they took.  When he finished, he asked if anyone had questions.  Jake was the first to speak, “While we were gone, we discussed the trip into the caverns.  We felt that everyone should go in there together.”  The other three were giving him their support by nodding.  Ralnor said, “As you four were gathering your thoughts, so were we.  It is not our place to go into the caverns with you, as we may alter your destiny.”  The four of them sat stunned by what they had just heard.  They figured everyone would agree with their decision.

 

     George asked, “What if we run into trouble?  What would you have us do then?”  Ralnor said, “Knowing the decisions you have made in the past, I trust you to make the right ones in there.”  George said, “But there are several hundred creatures in there.”  Ralnor said, “I know, you will be fine.”  Sara then made a valid point when she asked, “What about all those locks we’ll have to pick?”  Ralnor looked over at Trueway and said, “Will they be able to pick the locks?”  Trueway shook his head, “No, they are complex Dwarven locks.”  “In all our discussions we never talked about the locks,” Ralnor said. He looked at Trueway and relented, “You will have to accompany them in.  You are the only one here that can open those locks.”

 

     By the look on Trueway’s face, they could tell he was none too happy about having to return to the caverns. “If I must, then I will.”  Taragin said, “I would also like to accompany them.  I feel I need to take a look at the books and scrolls.  Those items could be traps.”  Ralnor looked over at Jake as if to say “it is your decision, not mine.”  Jake understood and thought about it for a couple of minutes.  “I do want to check those rooms.” Jake said. “And you are right about us not knowing what to touch and what not to touch.  It would be an honor to have you join us.”  It was difficult to tell rather Taragin was happy or sad about the decision.  Taragin just gave a slight nod at Jake.

 

     Ralnor looked at Jake and said, “My suggestion to you would be, once you have those doors opened, and the books have been checked, send them back right away.  If they stay, you may not fulfill the prophecies.”  Jake said, “As soon as Trueway opens the rooms, Trueway and Taragin will search the book storage room and we will start our search for the stone.”  Jake looked at Trueway and Taragin and said, “Once you have what you need, return back to camp.”  The two of them nodded to Jake.

 

***

 

    The six were packed and ready to leave by early afternoon.  As they were departing camp, Ralnor asked Jake, “Are you forgetting something?”  Jake looked at him and was about to say no when he spotted Yatuku leaning against the cave wall.  The corners of Jake mouth curved and went over to pick up Yatuku.  Jake said, “Thanks.  Without this we wouldn’t be able to locate its stone and complete our quest.”

 

     The whole group went to the tunnel cave and waited for the sun to set.  Jake had everyone check to make sure they had what was required for the trip.  He told everyone to take three days’ worth of dried rations and water, one knife, a short sword and an empty backpack.  George was to take his whip and some rope.  Sara was to take her bow and as many arrows as she could carry.  Jake said, “If we put items in our backpacks and we get into trouble, we will leave the packs behind.  Nothing in there is worth losing someone over.  Any questions?”  Everyone shook their heads no.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 37

 

     Trueway led the group into the tunnels followed by Jake, Sara, Taragin, Tammy and George.  Trueway was a natural at moving through these tunnels.  The others, however needed a lot of work keeping up.  Several times Trueway had to stop and wait for the back of the group to catch up.  Taragin was having the most problems with the uneven terrain.  Several times Trueway had to slow the pace down to keep the group together.  Once they made it to the smoother sections, everyone seemed to move quickly along.

 

     They arrived at the first book room and Trueway had it opened in seconds.  Taragin started checking the books and found they were old history and stories books.  The books were a collection of one families’ history.  The vials weren’t labeled, so Taragin left them alone.  After searching for 15 minutes, he had seen all he needed to and departed.  He whispered to Jake, “Nothing of value to us.”

 

     After three hours of dodging and ducking into various tunnels, Trueway took them into the passage with the overhang, where they would be able to see the masses of troops below.  Trueway said, “This is the area with the overhang and will be the safest place for us to rest.  We will remain on the overhang until their troops have settled for the night.”  Tammy asked, “Are you sure it’s safe for all of us to be out there at one time?”  Trueway nodded, then slid through the hole.

 

     They each took turns sliding to the edge and looking over at the vastness of the old Dwarven city.  Sara whispered to Jake, “This is such a cool spot.  I wish we were here under different circumstances.”  Jake put his mouth to her ear and whispered ever so softly, “As in just you and me?  All alone?”  Sara’s face went blood red this time.  Jake smiled and said, “That’s a first.  You turning red instead of me.”

 

    They sat on the overhang for several hours before Trueway announced, “Okay, I think it’s time.  While we are in this next area, we will have to move one at a time.  Before you move, make sure you have located a place to hide, just in case you have to.  Don’t just blindly move to where someone was without looking or knowing what you need to do.”  They slipped back through the hole and into the tunnel.  The traveling from this point was slow.  They moved just like they had been instructed to do, one at a time, from point to point.

 

     Just before they arrived at the tunnel intersection where two guards were stationed, Trueway said, “Here you need to ensure the guards have their backs to you before moving.  I will unlock the first door where the books are so Taragin can move over.  Once I unlock the other door, you will need to proceed, one at a time.  When all have moved across, I’ll join Taragin.  Keep the door closed until you are ready to leave.”  Everyone nodded in understanding.

 

     Trueway made it to the intersection and with luck on his side, both guards were facing the other way.  He slipped across from one tunnel to the other.  He had been gone for less than a minute, but to everyone else, it seemed like hours.  After waiting for what seemed like forever, they heard a click.  Jake whispered to Taragin, “That’s your cue.”

 

     Taragin cautiously approached the intersection to check the guards.  Their position hadn’t changed.  To Taragin’s relief, he was able to stroll right across to the open door near Trueway.  Taragin slipped through the open door.

 

     He was amazed at the collection of ancient books in the room.  He went from book to book and shelf to shelf, inspecting each.  Taragin found several book that peaked his interests.  He took a total of five from the various shelves and set them aside.  However, he left the vials containing the liquids alone.  Not knowing the contents could be a very dangerous thing.  The scrolls he had hoped contained old spells and such, turned out to be messages or letters sent from one kingdom to the other.  They were not what he had hoped for.  Taragin started checking for hidden items.  He looked under the shelves and even checked larger books for hollowed out pages.  When he finished, he began searching for hidden spaces.  After a short time in this area, he was satisfied he had obtained everything worth taking for the moment.

 

     Jake watched Taragin go into the room and waited patiently for his turn.  He heard the second click and smiled at the others.  Jake pointed at George, then Tammy, then Sara and he went last.  The four were also able to slide one at a time into the other tunnel.  Jake thought to himself, this was going a bit too smoothly.

 

     Trueway was heading back into the book room as Jake was arriving.  The other three were already inside the treasure room.  When Jake entered there, the other three were still staring at all the valuable items around them.  Jake was pulling the door closed when Yatuku started glowing green in his hand.

 

     Jake began to hear voices from the past and see various people that had wielded Yatuku.  History went by in the blink of an eye.  When Jake’s head cleared, the other three were staring at him.  Jake asked, “What?”  Sara said, “We’ve been trying to get through to you for about a half hour.  Taragin and Trueway have already gone back.  Are you alright?”  Jake shook the cobwebs from his head and said, “I had a flashback of other people’s past, you might say.”  Jake looked down at Yatuku and it was no longer glowing.  He thought to himself how weird that was.  Sara asked, “Are you doing it again?”  Jake looked at her and smiled, “No.”  George commented, “I don’t like it in here.  Let’s just find the stone and go.”  Jake nodded, “I agree.”

 

     Jake held Yatuku out in front of him like it was a homing device.  Sara smiled and commented, “What are you doing?  I don’t think you have to hold it out in front like that.”  Jake felt a bit silly and let Yatuku fall to his side.  He had no clue where the stone was, nor how to use Yatuku to find it.  He started walking around, gazing at the various items.  After a few minutes of just looking, he decided Yatuku might work better if his hand made contact with the object.

 

     The first thing Jake touched was a gold mug that he was trying to move to look beneath.  The face of an old Dwarven king appeared before him.  His hard, weathered face turned and stared at Jake.  He was trying to say something, but Jake was unable to make out his words.  When he started to approach Jake, he let go of the mug and unconsciously jumped back into Sara.  She was knocked off balance, but didn’t fall.  She regained control of herself, just before she stumbled into a large pile of treasure.  She asked, “Are you okay?  Is something wrong?”

 

     Jake turned to look at her and was white as a ghost.  She asked him again, “Are you alright?”  Jake smiled and said, “”I touched that mug and saw the face of someone and it scared the crap out of me.”  That caught George’s and Tammy’s attention.  George picked up the mug and asked, “This one?”  Jake said, “Yea.”  George looked at the mug carefully before sitting it back down.  When nothing happened, Tammy picked it up to look at it and nothing happening to her either.  Tammy said, “It must be Yatuku helping you see things.”  Jake was reluctant to touch anything else in the room.

 

     Sara asked, “What about this?”  She handed him a necklace made of gold, studded all around with precious stones.  Jake reached out and took it in his hand.  He could see a beautiful young lady was standing in front of a mirror admiring it.  Years flew by, showing the same lady as she aged.  Each and every time she placed the necklace around her neck, Jake saw a new vision happening before him.  The last image was of heartbreak.  Jake could see a man ripping it from her neck while she was crying and the image faded away.  Everyone was watching Jake’s face as he went through each of her emotions with her.  He started off smiling and happy, but ended up very sad with tears rolling down his face.

 

     Sara asked, “Jake, will you please tell us what’s going on with you?”  Jake looked at her and said, “Yes, but I’m not holding anything else in this room.  I’ll do a quick touch, but I don’t want to keep reliving someone else’s life through their eyes.”  George was thinking how cool it must have been to be able to do something like that.  George asked, “What did you see?”  “A lady going from young to old, the one who wore this necklace.  How happy she was when she received it and how heartbroken she was when it was taken from her,” Jake answered.

 

     Jake continued through the room just using the tip of his finger to touch the items.  He knew when he touched the stone, he would immediately know it was ‘the’ stone.  The only problem was picking through the mounds of items piled all around.  Jake stopped, “We know the stone is green and has been gone for a long time, right?  So the odds of it being located on the top of a pile or near the front are very low.  Let’s work our way from the back of the room forward, and clear the top items so we can get to the bottom.  We are looking for a stone that would attach to Yatuku.  I’m not sure how, but my guess is it has to be larger than a golf ball, but not as big as a baseball.  It might fit on the top.”

 

     Everyone moved to the back of the room and started digging.  The two girls were together and showing each other how various pieces of jewelry looked on them.  Jake had to smile at the scene.  When in a million years would they have such fine items, to do what they pleased?  Jake was about to say something when George said, “Jake, come check this out.”  Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at George.

 

     Jake went to George and knelt down.  Sara and Tammy also walked over, looking over Jake’s shoulder at the item George found.  As Jake was reaching for it, Tammy said, “That looks evil.”  Sara agreed.  Jake was now reluctant to touch it.  The item was a very intricately carved ghoulish figure in what appeared to be a very large, dark red ruby.  Sara stated, “I bet that was created by a master wizard or carved by a master craftsman of some type.  As Jake’s hand got closer to it, Yatuku started glowing red.  Jake could feel the heat from it and pulled his hand away from the stone.  Yatuku faded back to normal.  Jake said, “I’ll bet my last dollar its evil.  Just stay away from that stone.”  “I wish I had my phone to take a picture of it,” Sara sighed.  The others snickered at the thought.  Everyone went back to the area where they were searching.

 

     Jake looked over at the girls every now and then when he heard them giggle or whispering.  He couldn’t tell what was being said, but if he had to guess, it was probably about a piece of jewelry.  George looked like a kid in a candy store as he was digging.  He was picking up each item, admiring it, then placing it in a pile.  George had three piles in front of him.  Jake thought to himself, I bet they are ‘no go’, ‘might go’ and ‘should go’ piles.

 

     Jake stood up, stretched, then walked over to George, and asked, “Why three piles of stuff?”  George pointed toward each pile and replied, “This is just junk, this one is good, and this one I was thinking about putting in my backpack.”  As Jake looked at the various items, he could tell they were things that George might want for Tammy or himself.  All the items were expensive pieces that none of them would ever be able to afford.  Jake said, “Guys.”  When he had everyone attention, he continued, “As nice as all this stuff is, we can’t take any of it back home with us.  It would raise too many questions where we got it.”  Jake could see the disappointed look on everyone’s face.  “I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” he said, “but if you want to take something, it has to be plain and simple.  Something that wouldn’t bring much attention to it.”

 

     Without thinking, he reached over and picked up a plain-looking ring.  When his hand made contact with the ring, another flashback started.  He could see through a knight’s eyes as the king gave him the ring and he placed the ring on his own finger.  He then turned to see a huge crowd that had gathered to celebrate with him.  What caught Jake’s attention was off to the side: an elderly elf holding Yatuku with the stone attached to it.  The stone was greenish in color like a jade.  Jake couldn’t make out any details other than that; the stone was too far out of his view and the knight had turned away from the elf.  He did notice that the stone attached by wrapping near the top, not seated on the end, like he originally thought.

 

     Jake dropped the ring and smiled at the others.  George said, “Let me guess: another flashback that was funny?”  Jake shook his head, “No, but I’ve seen the stone for Yatuku.”  The excitement level went up in the room and everyone was eager to know.  Jake played it up for a minute until Sara nudged him on the arm and said, “We need to know so we can find it before their troops start waking up.  If they do, we’ll be forced to sleep in here.”  The smile left his face and he described the stone.

 

     The search was on and playtime was over.  Jake was moving what he could with his foot so he didn’t have to handle anything risking another flashback.  After about 20 minutes of searching, Tammy moved several items and Yatuku started to glow in Jake’s hand.  “Yatuku just started glowing.  Did someone do something?” Jake asked excitedly.  Everyone stopped digging and looked at Jake.  George was still sitting in front of his piles, he shook his head no.  Sara was holding a necklace and said, “No, just admiring this necklace.”  Jake turned to Tammy, she replied, “I just dumped a bag of gems.”

 

     Tammy turned back to the area where she was working and saw a small green object covered by various gold items.  She reached down to pick it up. When her fingers made contact, a small ark of an electric charge hit her.  “Ouch!” she exclaimed, pulling her hand back.  At the same time, everyone shushed her.  “I was just shocked by something,” she stated.

 

     Jake walked over to where she was, and as he moved closer, Yatuku started glowing brighter.  “What shocked you?” he asked.  She pointed at an object near the bottom of the pile.  When Jake looked he could see the end of something green.  As Jake reached for it, the item started glowing the same color as Yatuku.  Reluctantly Jake grabbed the stone.  When he touched it, he felt warmth flowing through his body, not only from the stone, but also from Yatuku.  Jake knew they had found the stone.

 

     The stone was marked with various symbols and carved like a spring.  It was hollowed out to slide over the end of the shaft of Yatuku    Jake took the stone and slid it over the top of Yatuku.  It stopped about a foot from the top and appeared to lock into place.  Yatuku starting glowing a very bright green.  The light was so bright it filled the room, making everything glow with a greenish hue.  Jake placed his body between Yatuku and the door to prevent light from escaping the room.

 

     George said, “Good find!  Now we can go.”  Tammy interrupted, “Wait! What are we going to take from here?”  George pointed to the pile of items he selected.  Jake cautioned, “Remember, this can’t go back into our world with us.  So gather a few items that can help others that are in need.”  Jake grabbed several pouches that were filled with mostly gold coin and a couple full of various precious jewels.  The others followed suit.  Jake turned and asked, “Is everyone ready?”  George was cramming the last of his items in his backpack.  He secured it and said, “Yep.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 38

 

     Jake cracked the door open to check the area for the guards.  Walking toward the end of the tunnel, he could see both guards were facing in his direction.  They were seated eating their dinner, and talking with each other.  Jake went back to the others and said, “This may take a while.  Frick and Frack are sitting down to their evening meal.”  Sara noted, “That could be a good thing if they get sleepy after they eat.”

 

     Once again time was in slow motion.  Every noise they heard, made them jump.  Jake kept checking on the status of the guards every five to ten minutes.  After his fifth check, he reported back to everyone they had finished their meal and were kicked back against the wall, but still facing the tunnel.  George moaned, “At this rate, we might end up spending the day.”  No one wanted to hear that.  Jake said, “When they change shifts, this might be our only chance to make a break for it.  Everyone needs to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.”

 

     Another hour went by.  Finally one of the guards was dozing and the other was moving around to stay awake.  Jake was ready to get everyone together, but the appearance of two additional guards caused a big problem.

 

     One of the new guards kicked the guard that was asleep.  He didn’t like it very much and went at the guy that kicked him.  The two guards were in a full blown fight.  The two guards watching their partner’s, were yelling at them instructions to do this or that to the other.  All the commotion caused several others to arrive to see what the uproar was all about.  The once quiet intersection was now full of activity.  Sara, Tammy and George had slipped out of the room to see what was going on.  The fight ended when a huge hobgoblin arrived and grabbed the two guards fighting, lifting them in the air.  He turned and told everyone to get to their assigned area before he also took them to the dungeon.  No one had to be told a second time.  Everyone disappeared immediately.  The two partners were told they had to finish the watch together as the hobgoblin carried the other two off.  It was such a scene to watch as the hobgoblin carried them off, that Jake didn’t notice the two guards had followed, watching as their partners were being carried away.

 

     Sara nudged Jake and said, “Let’s go.”  Jake quickly snapped out of it and the four dashed across to the other tunnel.  With all the commotion, no one remembered they left the door to the treasure room cracked.  They made their way as fast as they could without making a lot of noise.  Noting that George was starting to lag behind a bit, Jake asked, “Are you okay?”  George snapped, “I’m fine.”  George was the only one sweating hard.  His shoulders were slumped and he appeared to be straining to carry his backpack.

 

     When they arrived at the tunnel that lead to the overhang, Jake took them through the hole so they could rest.  When George sat his backpack down, Jake walked over and picked it up.  It had to weigh four or five time what Jake’s did.  Jake asked, “What do you have in here?”  When Jake went to open it, George stopped him and said, “Just a few things I liked.”  George took the backpack and walked a little way from Jake and sat it down.  Jake commented, “It’s a long way to carry that heavy load.  You may want to stash some of that here where we know it won’t be found.”  George snapped, “I’ll be fine.  It’s not that heavy.”  Jake just looked at him like he was crazy and shrugged, “It’s your back.”

 

     Jake slid over to the edge and saw that the camp was starting to wake up.  He went back to the others and said, “The camp down there is starting to wake up.  I don’t know about you, but I’m tired and think we should stay here for the next fourteen to sixteen hours.  We can get some sleep and be well rested for tomorrow.”  The whole group was tired so no one objected to it.  George asked, “How are we going to set the watches?”  Jake looked around at the others, “I wasn’t planning on anyone standing a watch.  I think we’re all on edge and won’t sleep that deeply.  The slightest little noise will wake us up to see what’s going on.”  Jake hadn’t made a more incorrect statement than he just made.  The four of them were so worn out, they were sleeping heavily.

 

***

 

     The camp below was in such an uproar and a flurry of activity the noise level increased greatly.  Troops were starting to move in small groups into the various tunnels.  Sara was the first to be awaken by the noise, and knew something wasn’t right.  She nudged Jake and said, “Jake wake up.  Jake!”  Jake was groggy and disoriented with his surroundings.  He smiled at seeing Sara’s face.  The realization of where he was and that something was going on hit him all at once.  Tammy woke up to Sara trying to get Jake’s attention.  She in turn woke George up.

 

     Jake moved over to the hole that led into the tunnel.  He could hear troops moving about.  He grabbed a large stone and placed it in the opening.  The others noticed what he was doing and also grabbed some large stones, bringing them over to him.  Within a few a minutes, the hole was sealed and appeared to be a solid wall.  Jake held his finger to his lips to ensure everyone was quite. His quick thinking may have saved them all.

 

     On the other side of the entrance they just sealed, Jake heard a troll say, “I don’t think there is anything going on.  No one took anything from them.  I’m not going to search anymore.”  The troll and whomever he was talking to, were still talking as they walked away.  Jake couldn’t make out anything else that was being said.  Jake listen for a little while longer then turned to the others and whispered, “They’re looking for us.  They must be searching all the tunnels.”  Sara’s eyes bright with tears, asked, “What are we going to do now?”  Jake put his arm around her shoulder and drew her close to him, “Rest.”  Sara looked up at him and asked, “Do what?”  Jake said, “We are going to sit here and rest.  They will search the tunnels and not find anything.  Things will settle down, and then we will leave.”  Jake notice the concerned look on George’s face as he held Tammy, who was quietly weeping.

 

     The hours were dragging by.  They had slept all they could, told stories to each other, and even told some little unknown information about themselves.  Five hours had passed and they were getting restless.  Sara suggested, “Let’s play a game.”  Jake reach over and touched her and said, “Tag you’re it and no tags back.”  Sara smiled at him and said, “No, not tag.  Let’s play something you don’t have to move around or make noises.”  Tammy said, “How about I spy.”  Everyone was in agreement with I spy.

 

     They found various items and the others guessed until it was known what that person was looking at.  When it was Sara’s turn, she was looking around and said, “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.”  Jake said, “First of all you would have to be a monkey’s aunt and second you would need a little more hair.”  Sara turned from what she was looking at and said, “A little?  Did you say a little more?”  Jake’s eyes widened and he stammered, “Your skin is flawless.  I miss spoke, I should have said you would need a lot more hair.”  George and Tammy sat snickering once again at Jake’s flustered state.

 

     Letting Jake off the hook Sara smiled and said, “Look over there and tell me what you see.”  The three looked to where she was pointing but couldn’t see anything.  Jake asked, “Are you talking about the inside of the mountain?”  Sara smiled and said, “No. Move over here and look again.”  Jake moved to where Sara had been sitting and looked.  He was going to say so what, but ended up saying, “If that isn’t the strangest thing I’ve ever seen.”  Jake moved back and forth looking from the different angles and just kept saying “Wow.”

 

     George and Tammy kept asking what it was, but he would only say, “You need to see this for yourself.  If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.”  Tammy moved over to look and said, “Your right, I never would have believed you.”  George was getting ready to move over to take a look, but stopped.  George said, “I’m not falling for it.  You three are up to something.”  Tammy responded first, “No we aren’t.  There are stairs going up the inside of the mountain.”  George looked and said, “Yep.  All the way up to that golden dragon that is going to grant each of us one wish.”  Jake smile at the image.  He looked over at George and said, “It’s not a trick or a joke.  I promise.”  George looked at him and said, “You look very serious right now.  I’ll take a look so the three of you can get your laugh.”

 

     George moved to the spot the others had been at and did a quick look.  He then said, “Okay you got me.”  The other three weren’t laughing and no one said a thing.  George looked back over and could see the steps going up.  He said, “Well, if that doesn’t beats all I’ve ever seen.”  George walked over to where the steps started and stepped on the first one.  Tammy said, “Be careful!”  George smiled at her and stepped toward the edge announcing, “Look at me.  Tight rope walking on a stone step, hundreds of feet above the ground without a safety net.”  George was sliding his feet on the edge of the steps, when one slipped a little.   The girls gasped and George about crapped all over himself.  He quickly regained his balance and moved away from the edge. Jake saw the frightened look on George’s face.  He wanted to laugh at him, but decided that it wouldn’t be appropriate.  George quickly hopped back to the overhang.  Tammy was about to light him up, but stopped when Sara held up her hand.  Everyone froze.

 

     Sara heard noises coming from the other side of the now sealed opening.  Jake slipped quietly over to see if he could hear anything.  The only sound was from boots crunching on the dirt floor.  Jake said, “They must have everything in this mountain looking for us.  Those steps may be our only way out.”  Tammy exclaimed, ‘We don’t even know where they will end!”  Jake replied, “We can go up them one at a time.  I’ll go first to see where they lead.”  Sara said, “No, let me go first this time.”  George smiled because he knew that whatever Jake replied back to Sara, he was going to be on the losing end.  If he said no, then she would ask ‘Is it because I’m a girl?’  If he said yes, then he would worry about her until she was at the end or returned.  Jake said, “I don’t care who goes first, we can only go up one at a time.  All of us will have to go.”  George said, “Nice save.”  Sara and Tammy both shot him a snotty look.

 

     Sara didn’t wait for someone else to volunteer.  She grabbed her backpack, pulled on her cloak to blend with the surroundings, then up she went.  The steps protruded out about three feet from the wall and were about three feet long.  None of the steps touched each other, nor did it require you to jump to get to the next one.  It was a natural movement from one to the next.  Sara was about twenty steps up when she stopped and looked down.  Jake thought to himself that was a bad idea, she’s going to freeze.  He knew he would have to go up and rescue her because of her being frightened.  Sara looked down at the beauty of the mountain.  She only took a second to admire it before she continued her climb.  The rocks along the side allow just enough room for safe passage, not hindering your movement.

 

     As Sara continued to climb, she could see the top of the mountain was steadily closing in.  She could see where the steps were leading, but couldn’t see an end in sight.  Sara stopped several time to see where she was in relation to the rest of the group.  She noticed that she was now about a quarter of the way across the mountain, and quite a good distance from the others.

 

     Jake, George and Tammy watched her climb effortlessly.  She looked like a natural at climbing.  The place they watched from, didn’t allow them to see all the steps.  There were times that they couldn’t see Sara. With her cloak on, she blended in thoroughly.  The step were so well designed they blended with the surroundings perfectly.  If you didn’t know better you would’ve thought Sara was flying around the inside of the mountain.

 

     Sara noticed there were only five more steps in front of her, and she was straining to see where the steps were leading.  At first she thought the other steps may have been removed in some form or another.  As she topped the last step, she turned to face the mountain. Sara raised her hand, finding empty space where she thought the mountain should be.  She could still see her whole arm, and began to move it from side to side until she hit a wall.  Squatting down carefully, Sara felt the step and noticed it continued into the side of the mountain.  Cautiously she crawled a few feet and felt for a wall on the opposite side. Making contact with another wall, she stood and realized she was inside another tunnel. The opening melded so perfectly, she actually was wondering if it was an illusion.  Lowering herself again, she crawled a short distance to make sure it wasn’t just an alcove.

 

     The others watched as she just disappeared from view.  Jake was ready to bolt up the steps to help her when Tammy grabbed his arm.  Jake looked at her hand, then to her face.  Tammy said, “She’s fine.  If something happened you would have heard her screaming.”  Jake relaxed a bit because he knew she was right.  It didn’t take long before Sara reappeared waving for the next person to come up.  Jake didn’t wait for them to decide, he went next.  Tammy followed Jake, with George following at a slower pace.

 

     The tunnel was dark.  This was the first place in the mountain that had not been magically lit. When everyone was in the tunnel at the top of the steps Sara said, “I’m not sure where it goes but it is level and solid.  As Jake started to walk further into the tunnel he turned and said, Sara grab a hold of my backpack, Tammy grab Sara’s and George you hold onto Tammy’s.  George asked, “Is this, I go, we go situation?”  Jake murmured, “More or less.”  Jake inched his way along the tunnel.  You could hear his sword lightly tapping in front of him and along the walls.  From the dark you could hear Jake say, “Right turn ahead.”  A few minutes later, “Left turn ahead.”  Then several minutes later, “Another right turn.”  After the group had made the last right turn, Jake could feel the floor, but no walls.

 

     After moving about ten feet into this area, the whole place lit up.  All four teens dropped to the ground like they were ducking to hide.  They had entered a forty by forty room that once upon a time was expensively decorated.  Time had taken its toll on the fine cloth items.  Rust had taken some of the steel items.  The finely crafted wooden items remained intact, as well as some of the other metal items.  After studying the room, Sara said, “This looks to be a sitting room if you asked me.”  Tammy said, “I would’ve loved to see it, when it was in better condition.”  Sara agreed.

 

     The room had two doors that were closed.  Jake looked at Sara and said, “Ladies choice.”  Sara strutted like a queen over to the door to their left and pulled on it.  Nothing happened.  Jake replied, “Maybe her majesty is too weak or has forgotten how to open doors from always allowing her servants to open them for her.”  He did an elaborate bow and scurried over with his head lowered as he passed Sara.  When he got to the door, Sara came up behind him and popped him on the back of the head playfully.  Jake said, “Don’t beat the servant me queen.  I’ll do better.”  Everyone was now snickering.  As Jake grabbed the handle on the door, Yatuku started glowing green.  The door softly squeaked open revealing the outside.

 

     Jake and Sara stood in amazement at what was before them.  George and Tammy could both see the sky outside and the tops of a few trees.  The backside of the door was solid rock and appeared to be part of the mountain.  Jake stepped out and shut the door slightly behind him.  The door blended perfectly with the surroundings and would be hard to locate.  Stepping back inside, he inspected the craftsmanship of the door.  Totally amazed, he exclaimed, “From outside you would never know the door was here unless it were opened.”  Opening the door again, he gestured for them all to leave.  Just before Jake stepped out, George asked, “Do we want to check this other door?”  Jake said, “No.  Let’s just get out of here while we can.  I have a feeling that one leads to another tunnel back into the mountain.  Like another escape route or something like that.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 39

 

     No one was happier to see the outside as Jake, Sara, Tammy and George were right then.  They were having problems locating something they could recognize to get their bearings so they could go back to the campsite.  Jake said, “I have the feeling the camp is on the other side of the cavern’s main entrance.  I’ll bet we are going to have to walk most of the way around this stupid mountain.”  Jake was once again right.  They were east of the campsite with the main entrances to the Dwarven Caverns right in the middle between the two areas.  This had been one time Jake hoped he was wrong.

 

     As they moved around the mountain, they noticed the number of patrols on the outside had also increased.  The only good thing that could be said about this situation was most of the patrols were just going through the motions.  It didn’t appear many of them cared about patrolling or even took it very seriously.  The whole group knew with the abundance of guards, and the distance they had to cover, it was going to be an all-day affair, or longer.  The stopping to hide, took a lot of time when trying to get somewhere in a hurry.

 

     George suggested they move away from the base of the mountain.  That suggestion had proved to be a very good one.  The amount of patrols were fewer and they were able to cover more ground.  Sara said, “At this rate, we may make it back before sunset.”  Tammy added, “That’s if everyone is still at the campsite.”  Jake looked at her and said, “That is very true.  If they’re not there, our only hope is that they left our horses behind.”

 

***

 

     They made it to the area of the campsite with about an hour of daylight to spare.  When they entered, Ralnor and Trueway were both sitting near the entrance waiting for their return.  Ralnor said, “I’m glad to see you again.  I do have to say you returned much earlier than I expected.”  Trueway asked, “Did something happen inside?”  Everyone shook their heads no.  Ralnor raising his eyebrows asked, “Did you leave everything like you found it?”  This time they all nodded yes. Tammy turned to look at George, “Did you remember to at least close the door?  George mumbled, “I think I did.”  Jake looked at him and said, “Either you did or you didn’t, which is it?”  George thought for a minute and said, “I don’t think I closed it all the way.”

 

     Ralnor and Jake exchanged looks as if to say, ‘not good.’  Jake noted, “That may explain all the troop activity.”  Ralnor instructed, “Everyone grab your gear, we are leaving immediately.”  No one wasted any time.  The four went to their area and began collecting the rest of the items they left behind.  As George moved deeper into the cave, Ralnor took note at the way he was carrying his heavy backpack.  He thought about saying something, but knew it wasn’t the right time or place, he would wait until George was alone to speak with him.  Watching the teens move, he could tell the other three had acquired a few items, but not near the amount George had collected.  Ralnor and Jake had both noticed that George didn’t let the backpack get too far away from him, it almost looked as if he were guarding it.  When everyone had finished gathering their gear, they began exiting the cave.  George was the first to depart.  Again Ralnor and Jake exchanged looks with each other.  Both had the same thought about the content of the backpack, but neither one would address it.

 

     The trek to the horses was uneventful, however loading them with the gear became problematic.  Taragin and George were having difficulties getting their horses to remain still.  They seemed reluctant to have them mount up.  Ralnor took notice of the situation and was approaching to say something when George mounted his horse and said “Ready.”  He reached down and patted the horses’ neck and whispered something to him that couldn’t be heard.  When Ralnor turned toward Taragin, he also was mounted up and prepared to ride.  With everyone mounted, they started the journey back the way they had come from.  Ralnor said, “We need to travel until late in the night. We will need to put as much distance as we can from this place.”

 

     The wardens spilt up and put a bit of distance between themselves and the others to scout the area ahead.  Ralnor remained with the main group.  After riding for a league, Ralnor rode up alongside of Jake and quietly asked, “Did you see what George put in his backpack?”  Jake looked at Ralnor and shook his head no.  When Jake was sure no one could hear, he whispered, “He packed it alone and hasn’t left it since.  George got up tight when I tried to look inside.”  Ralnor just nodded back at him and rode back to the front.  Once there, he picked up the pace.  Sometime during the third league of riding, Jake rode up to Ralnor and said, “We are going to have to stop and rest. Within a couple of minutes they had stopped to rest.  Ralnor said, “We will rest for just a few minutes, then continue to ride for another couple of leagues.  Once we find a half decent place, we will stop and make camp until sunrise.  Camp was quiet as everyone was on edge with the possibility of danger lurking.

 

***

 

     Sunrise the next morning found everyone starving and fit to eat a side of beef each.  Fontun had worked his magic and provided another outstanding meal.  As simple as it was, it filled everyone up nicely providing them with the energy they would need for that day.  Ralnor told everyone to mount up so they could leave.  To Halfar he instructed, “Wait a short time before you leave.  Trail us for a good while to see if we are being followed, then join back up with us before dinner.  Return right away though, if we are being followed.”

 

     The group headed off without Halfar.  Sara was thinking how that must feel, being left all alone by your group.  Ralnor said, “We are used to being alone.  This is very unusual for us traveling together.”  Sara asked, “How did you know I was thinking that?”  Ralnor smiled and said, “It was the way you were looking back at him with pity.”  Sara replied, “Oh, I guess I was.”

 

     Ralnor set a very fast pace that morning.  When Jake inquired why they were moving so quickly Ralnor replied, “They know someone was in those rooms and my guess is they would like to know who and why.  I don’t want to give them either answer.”  Jake asked, “Will they be able to catch us riding at this pace?”  Ralnor replied, “We can stay ahead of them as long as we continue to ride, but when we stop, they will be able to close the distance to us.  I took a chance stopping last night, it worked in our favor this time.”  Looking worried, Jake asked, “How long can we ride like this?”  Ralnor answered, “We will slow down soon and walk the horses for a while so they can rest.  We will do this for the better part of the day. Once night falls, we will continue to walk them through the night, providing there are no problems between here and the road.  We will stop just before sunrise and sleep a short period.  Our biggest problem is we are leaving a trail a blind man could follow.”

 

     Sometime after midday, Wyn rode up from the rear of the group and announced there was someone approaching from the rear.  He told Ralnor, “I gave an identification call to them and got no reply.  I believe it is Halfar riding hard and isn’t able to hear the call over the pounding hooves.  I didn’t want to wait too long before notifying you.”  Ralnor said, “Keep trying the calls and let me know.”  It didn’t take long before Wyn had called out from the back letting them know it in fact was Halfar.  Once Ralnor was reassured he said, “Let’s stop here and eat.  This will give Halfar some time to rest and eat.  His horse will need it more than him.”  The group stopped and Fontun started preparing lunch for everyone.  Ralnor instructed the rest of the group, “Give the horses water before you rest.  We will be able to get rest atop the horses, but they won’t be able to drink if we are running.”

 

     Halfar rode hard into the break area.  He yelled to Ralnor, “We are being followed by a rather large group.  They are still several leagues back, but moving slightly faster than we are.  Ralnor nodded in acknowledgment.  Jake looked at Ralnor and said, “The town ahead of us isn’t a real good place to try and fight a battle.  I think we would have better luck in the wooded area where we battled the ogres.  They wouldn’t expect us to stop and fight.”  Ralnor looked at Jake than in the direction they had just come from.  He was in deep thought with this idea when he noticed Jake speaking again.

 

     Jake had started calculating out loud.  “If we are riding about five and a half five miles per hour and they’re traveling around six miles an hour, they will be able to catch us in about ten to twelve hours.  The horses aren’t going to be able to last ten hour at this pace.  If I remember correctly horses can only travel about thirty to forty miles in a day.”  Ralnor and the other wardens along with the wizards were looking at Jake like he had lost his mind.  Tammy broke Jakes’ concentration by asking Taragin, “Do you have a magic spell that we can cast on the horses to make them run faster or last longer?”  Taragin said, “I’m afraid I do not.”  He looked back at the other wizards who were shaking their heads no.  Tammy said, “Well it was an idea.”  Jake smile, “If they had one it would have been a great idea.”

 

     Fontun called out to everyone, “Food is ready.  It is not much, but will sustain us.”  No one had to be told twice.  They ate quickly and were back on their horses before they finished chewing their last bite.  The loom of something bad was in the air, but no one wanted to admit to it.  Once they were back on the horses and moving again, Jake said, “Best I can figure we have about ten to twelve hours before they catch us.”  George asked, “Are we going to be able to make it to the ogre woods by then?”  Jake smile, “Maybe.  Does anyone know of a better spot between here and those woods?”  Ralnor was the only one who spoke, “That is the only place in this area, so it will have to do.”  Jake said, “If I calculated correctly, we should make it to the woods with a short time to spare before they arrive.  It won’t give us much time to plan, so everyone needs to think of possible things we can do to defeat them.”

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 40

 

     They arrive at the ogre woods just after dark and all were weary and tired.  Jake, Ralnor and Taragin started walking the area to make plans on how best to defend themselves and keep the various creatures from getting to them.  Jake called for everyone to follow, so everyone would know what the plan was.  They took all the ropes they had and secured them near the base of the various trees.  The horses were once again secured near the rear of the woods.  Taragin had suggested several areas to cast various spells.  Over a little more than an hour later, Ralnor suggested, “Everyone get some rest while you can.  Tomorrow is going to be a very long day.”  That night, each were assigned to stand thirty minutes of watch.  Everyone, including the wardens, were a bit jumpy while standing their watches.

 

     Daybreak came and you could feel the uneasiness in the air.  There were no sounds from animals or insects.  The stillness was deafening.  Taragin had cast his detect spell and found a very large group a short distance out and heading their way.  He had the other wizards cast a vine spell around the back and web spells were cast to each side.  “That should prevent them from flanking us,” commented Ralnor.

 

     George was the first to notice movement in the distance.  George announced, “We have company ladies and gentlemen.”  All eyes turned toward the direction he was pointing.  After a few seconds the distinct sounds of many feet and hooves hitting the ground could be heard.  Taragin shouted everyone prepare your spells and standby to cast them.  Ralnor exclaimed, “This should be a sight to behold!  Wardens take your positions and cover the wizards.”  The four wizards, along with Jake, George and Sara were taking cover behind the bushes in the front.  They were only spaced about five feet apart.  Rotan, Trueway and Tammy stood in the center about fifteen feet behind the wizards. Halfar and Ralnor covered the left side, while Sontar and Wyn covered the right side.

 

     Taragin kept saying, “Wait.” “Wait.” “Just a little closer.”  The horde was only fifty yards away, again he said, “Wait.”  Taragin said, “Remember to cast at the front of them.”  When the horde had slowed down, just twenty five yards out he yelled, “NOW!”  The seven stood as one and all cast simultaneously.  Taragin, Jake, Sara and Stirgan cast fireballs.  Fontun, Haralin and George cast bolts of lightning.  The horde consisted mainly of ninety to hundred kobolds and goblins, twenty to thirty hobgoblins and trolls.  The middle section of the horde went up in smoke.  The visibility went to zero in no time at all.  Dust, dirt, smoke, clothes and creatures formed one giant mess.  The creatures not directly hit by the spells stopped and began retreating.

 

     The wardens took full advantage of the few unlucky members of the horde that were visible.  One after another fell to well-placed arrows from the wardens.  Just as soon as Taragin had visibility of the remaining horde he yelled, “Again”   All seven casted the opposite spell from the first attack.  Taragin, Jake, Sara and Stirgan now cast spells of lightning bolts, while Fontun, Haralin and George cast fireballs.  The damage wasn’t as great as the first time, but more of the horde was eliminated.  The few hobgoblins that remained tried to control the other members of the horde.  The creatures closest to them listened for fear they would suffer the same fate as the others who defied them, death.  Hobgoblins ruled with an iron fist.  They had killed several of their own for backing away from the fight.  Most were just beaten into moving forward.  The ones on the edges were not moving forward or retreating.  Those became sitting ducks for the archers.  Everyone now had a bow in their hand picking them off one at a time. The hobgoblins finally convinced the remaining thirty or forth to attack.  Most kobolds and goblins only took a single arrow to stop.  Trolls and hobgoblins were a bit more difficult to drop.  A single well-placed or lucky arrow did what was intended, dropping a few more that continued to advance.  Most were well armored and closing fast.

 

     When Ralnor saw the remaining members of the horde were getting too close for bows, he yelled, “Fall back!  Use your swords!”  The group only dropped back about five to ten yards.  The horde took that as a sign they were scared and doubled their efforts to get to them.  The ropes around the trees work very well to start with.  It would have made for a funny video with all the kobolds and goblins tripping over it and each other.  About twenty five of them fell at their feet.  Sword work on a fallen opponent was generally frowned upon, but not on creatures like these.  Those that had fallen were killed shortly after they hit the ground.  Sara and Tammy moved toward the back, the four wizards somewhere in the middle and Jake, George and the six wardens in front.  Fighting with the kobolds and goblins wasn’t much of a problem, they were the weakest of all the creatures. The trolls and hobgoblins were a different story.  They were stronger and had more fight in them, very persistent.  Most of the action the wizards and girls saw was from the quicker kobolds and goblins running around the wardens, trying to attack them from the rear.

 

     The wardens, Jake and George were covered in blood and gore.  Many times George had always wondered why the handle of a sword was ridged.  He was now thankful for the ridges, because if not, it would have flown out of his hands a long time ago.

 

     The lack of action for those behind the wardens, gave them time to admire Ralnor and his swordsmanship.  He was graceful and didn’t make any move that wasted energy.  Tammy related it to a ribbon dancer.  A gymnast was able to maintain a steady motion, keeping the ribbon in the exact location they wanted.  A sword across Tammy’s midsection brought her out of the daydream.  She screeched so loud the goblin’s eyes went wide.  Tammy turned and commenced her own little dance on the creature, with narration.  She was nowhere as fluent, nor as graceful, and definitely not very effective, but she was getting the job done.  She yelled, “You stupid little bug!”  She took her sword and hit it about four times.  Continuing her narration, “I’m going to cut both of your stinking arms off for damaging my leather!”  She hit the smaller creature five or six more times.  She said, “Your mother raised a fool!”  This time the flat part of the sword connected with its head and out it went.

 

     Stirgan rammed his sword into the goblins chest at Tammy’s feet.  Tammy turned and looked at him as if to say, he was mine, get your own.  Stirgan was smiling at Tammy and said, “I think he has suffered enough in one life.”  Tammy went to say something then realized it was very quiet.  As she looked up, she found that all eyes were on her, she did a slight curtsey and smiled.  She pointed to her midsection and a very small cut that none of them could see and said, “He shouldn’t have cut my shirt.”  That was all it took and everyone started laughing.

 

     Everywhere they looked laid dead creatures.  A spot of blood from a cut here and there were the only wounds anyone in the group had suffered, nothing major.  Jake remarked, “That wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.  I expected more of a fight.”  Ralnor warned, “Don’t be fooled by this.  That was only a scouting expedition.  A full attack by well-seasoned troops would not have been as quick or easy.”  Ralnor pointed in the direction the horde had attacked from.  There in the distance were six figures, two on horseback, and four others that stood as tall as the two riders.

 

     Ralnor said, “They will return to the caverns and I guarantee they will not make the same mistakes they made this time.  They will be ready for whatever we throw at them.”  Jake said, “I hope we are long gone by then.”  Ralnor said, “It will take them several moons to return with news of the attack, and several more to regroup from their losses, but they will be ready for us next time.”  Ralnor’s statement didn’t make anyone feel good about the situation, because they knew his words were true.  George broke the silence by saying, “May I suggest we hit the trail my friends.”  Once again, no one had to be told a second time.

 

     The wizard that had casted spells, cancelled them.  Everyone mounted up and was ready to ride within a couple of minutes.  The first thing they did was find a creek to get cleaned up.  Taking time to water the horses and rest, Jake said, “If I remember correctly, we are only about three days from Wenya.  Am I right?  Taragin said, “If memory serves me accurately, you are totally correct.”  Ralnor smiled and nodded his head in agreement.  He was impressed with Jakes memory.

 

     They had slowed the pace down considerably since the battle.  They even stopped a little earlier than usual that night to make camp.  Most of the group was not only worn out, but felt like they had been beat to death. A quick meal and most everyone was asleep shortly after.  The wardens were not as tired from the battle, so they volunteered to take the watches for the evening.  That night along with the remaining two days of travel went by quickly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 41

 

     They were a couple leagues out of Wenya when Ralnor rode up to Jake and said, “We are going to leave you here and ride around the city.  We will meet up with you in a couple of days.”  Taragin said, “You are more than welcome to come to the tower and stay with us.”  Ralnor bowed his head, “Thank you for the offer my friend, but as you know elves in these parts draw a lot of attention.  I do feel welcomed, but I think it best to avoid the human cities when possible.”  Taragin looked more hurt than disappointed, “I do understand and will respect your wishes.  Just know if you are ever in these parts you are always welcomed, and if you need anything, I will gladly assist you.”  Ralnor thanked him, then turned and with the other wardens rode away.

 

     The mood changed from happy to a more somber mood as they arrived in Wenya.  Jake knew this was a very special group he had the privilege to be a part of. Knowing they would probably never be reunited again weighed heavily on his heart.  Travelers approaching them brought Jake’s out of his deep thoughts.

 

     The road was wide enough to have five riders across, but with the traffic of others in the area, they rode in two columns.  The group that was approaching them consisted of four rather large men.  They dress like they were merchants of some type.  As the four drew closer they gave the group a slightly wider berth than what was required.  Jake and Sara were riding at the front and it was Jake that greeted them with, “Good day.”  The four nodded in acknowledgement, but the worried and nervousness shocked the group.

 

     Jake took a look at the four men, then himself and the others in the group.  Jake busted out laughing, which cause the men to push their horses a little faster to move away.  The four men cast a concerned look behind them as they rode off.  The others in the group thought Jake had lost his mind.  Sara asked, “What’s so funny?”  Jake said, “Just take a look at us.”  They all looked at each other and then back at Jake.  Jake said, “No, take a good look at us.  We have blood stained cloths, our hair is matted and nasty, and we have layers of dust covering every bit of us.  We are all tired, and our horses are filthy an in need of grooming.  What would you think if you rode up on a group like us?”  The others began laughing at what Jake had described.   He had just portrayed a group of outlaws and bandits.

 

     They rode into Wenya sitting tall in the saddles of the horses.  They knew what they had accomplished and were proud of it.  The people of the city didn’t want riffraff in their city and gave them a cold shoulder.  The people crossed the streets as they approached and some even went inside to avoid them.  Everyone in the group was smiling at the thought of them being perceived as outlaws.

 

     They arrived at the tower and were confronted as unwanted guests rather than conquering adventures, until the young apprentice recognized Taragin.  He was quick to say, “Forgive me Master Taragin, but I thought you were a bunch of…”  Taragin finished it for him, “Outlaws?”   The apprentice was now stammering and stuttering.  Taragin said, “It is fine, forget about it.  I need you to notify Master Doars that we have returned.”  Word had spread quickly throughout the tower that the wizards along with the four teens had returned, along with the condition they were in.  The halls were now filled with various greeters.

 

     When Doars made his way down the stairs, most had scurried away.  As he approached the group he smiled and said, “It is true, we have been invaded by bandits.” Taragin smiled and said, “We have had a long journey and I’m looking forward to a hot bath and soft bed.  With your permission, we would like to partake in those.  I would be happy to brief you in the morning with all of the details.”  Doars smiled and said, “I not only encourage you, but must insist you take a bath.  You smell like a dead troll.  The briefing can wait until after you are rested.”

 

     Taragin turned to Jake, “It has been a great pleasure assisting you on your quest. Be safe as you continue your journey home.”  Taragin shook his hand then turn to look at Sara and Tammy.  “Sara…,” before he could say anything, the girls launched themselves toward him, and gave Taragin a hug.  Smiling he continued, “You both are very strong ladies.  It has been delightful meeting you, and learning about you and your families.  Remain diligent in all that you do.”  Glancing at Jake and George, Taragin added, “Keep these two out of trouble, if you can.”  Everyone started laughing.  Wiping tears from their eyes, the two answered simultaneously, “We’ll try.”  George stood shuffling his feet and looking shy, he hated saying goodbye to people.  Taragin stepped in front and gave a short laugh, “George, what can I say?  You are one of a kind and that is said with total admiration.  Too be so young and have your maturity is an asset to be proud of.”  Looking at Jake and winking, he added, “Remember one thing…never look a gift horse in the mouth.  You never know what will be in your next meal.” Unable to control it any longer, Taragin roared with laughter, with all the other travelers joining in.  George just laughed and shook his head, stuck his hand out and said, “It has been my pleasure.”  The wizards bid their farewells then turn and left the room.

 

    Doars clapped Jake on the shoulder and offered, “There are rooms available here if you would like to stay.”  Jake thanked him and stated, “We are going to spend a day or two at the Queen’s Inn.  I would also like to thank you for the time and training we received.  Never would I have thought that I would be able to fight off attacks, nor live without all of the modern day items we depend on back home.  It truly has been life changing.”  Jake shook Doars hand and started for the door.  As the teens were leaving Doars said, “I take it you found the stone of Yatuku you were searching for.”  Jake held Yatuku up showing the stone attached.  Doars said, “Very good.  Very good indeed.”

 

     When they arrived at the Queen’s Inn, the innkeeper looked up and started to ask them to leave when he recognized them.  It took him minute before he spoke, not knowing what had happened to them.  Finally he said, “Welcome back to the Queen’s Inn.  The same rooms are available, if those are your wishes.”  Jake nodded, “Please.”  As they turned toward the stairs, the innkeeper called, “Should I send tubs up for all?”  Sara said, “Unless you want us to run the other guests out of here from our stench.”  Both smiled at each other.  George turned and asked, “Is it possible to have our clothes cleaned and ready for tomorrow?”  The innkeeper said, “I can have them sent out, but by the looks of them they may never be clean again.  The cleaner will more than likely need to keep them more than a day.”  Tammy said, “Looks like we’re staying here for at least two days.”

 

     The tubs went cold before anyone even thought of getting out.  George said, “Hey Jake, try the fire spell on the water to heat the tubs back up.”  Jake smile at the visual he had of the inn on fire and said, “I think that’s a bit risky.  I would probably burn the inn down if I tried.”  The two started laughing.  George said, “You know the queens will want their servants to provide some substance to their liking very shortly.”  Jake laughed even harder and said, “Shall we take them to get deep fried troll with a side of boiled kobold.”  George pretended to gag and started laughing again.  It didn’t take the girls as long as they thought it would to get ready.  Before the guys were ready, they were knocking on the door.  Tammy said, “I hope you two didn’t drown in there.”  George replied, “No, Jake won’t wash my back.  Will you?”  Laughter was now on both sides of the door.

 

     The guys quickly finished getting ready and opened the door.  Both stood staring at the girls with their mouths hanging open.  Sara said, “What?”  Jake blushed.  Sara commented, “Thoughts like that will get you into trouble little boy.  I’ll tell my daddy.”  The girls went into a fit of laughter and Jake went crimson red and stammered, “I forgot how beautiful you two looked is all.”  George just played bobble head and silently agreed with Jake.  Jake and George extended their arms for the girls to take.  Sara slid her hand into the crook of Jakes arm, as did Tammy with George.  She looked up at him and murmured, “Don’t forget to close the door, dear.”  George turned red and replied, “Yes, my queen.”  Laughing, they headed down the stairs.

 

     They enjoyed a very nice, dirt free, meal.  They had a couple of light ales each, along with their dinner and splurged on desert.  It was still early and the four chose to go for an evening stroll.  They didn’t stay out very late, as everyone was still exhausted.  They paired off again and went to their rooms.  They no more than laid their heads on the pillow and they were asleep instantly.

 

***

 

     The following morning Jake and Sara awoke earlier and had just finished breakfast when George and Tammy arrived to have theirs.  They talked for a few and made plans to do absolutely nothing and when they finished doing nothing, they would do it some more.  Laughing and cutting up, the four were more relaxed than when their adventure had begun.  Tammy and Sara decided to walk around and ‘window shop,’ and with nothing else to keep them occupied, Jake and George accompanied them.

 

     As evening approached they returned to the inn for dinner, then lounged about talking with some of the other patrons.  Jake noticed Sara trying to stifle a yawn and announced, “I think I’m going to turn in.  I would like to get some rest before we have to move on.”  He smiled at Sara and held his hand out for her to take.  Tammy also stood up and looked at George.  “Come on sweet prince, you also need your beauty rest.  I don’t want you turning into a toad,” Tammy remarked.  He stood and she placed her hand in the crook of his arm, then followed Jake and Sara up the steps.  Once again they were all fast asleep before noticing their heads were on pillows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 42

 

     The following morning their leathers arrived looking good as new.  Well maybe not new, but they were clean and free of the stench that had been on them.  All four had gathered in George and Tammy’s room trying to decide when they were going to leave.  Jake said, “I’m not crazy about getting back on that horse and riding over the mountains, but we need to get it done.”  Sara said, “Two more weeks of riding in the mountains is a long time if you ask me.”  George asked, “Do we leave now or tomorrow?”  No one answered the question.  George said, “I agree.”  Jake said, “I know none of us want to go, but there are six wardens out there that would like to get home and see their families.”  They were all frowning a bit, but everyone got up and changed from their formal clothes to their traveling clothes.  While the others gathered their belongings, Jake walked down stairs to settle the bills.  The innkeeper greeted him with a smile, “I see you have decided to continue your travels.”  Jake said, “Sad as we are to do it, we must get back.”  The innkeeper then asked, “Where are you traveling to?’’  Jake was about to reply when the others came walking down the stairs.  There were a few people sitting in the dining area and Jake wanted to be polite and answer the innkeeper, but it was never wise to disclose where you were going to total strangers.  Jake just replied with, “Thanks again.”

 

    Sara and Tammy went to purchase some traveling supplies while Jake and George collected the horses.  With the gear stored, they mounted their horses and were heading out the gate.  George said, “I wonder where Ralnor and the others are?”  Jake smiled a bit and pointed, “About a half mile that way.”  Sara noted, “So you did learn the spell.”  Jake said, “I’ve been practicing it for the past few days.  When I first started using it, I was a bit disoriented for a few minutes, now it doesn’t bother me.  It’s a cool spell to know.”

 

     As they rode toward the mountains, Ralnor and the other wardens joined them.  Ralnor asked “How was your stay at the Queen’s Inn?”  Sara said, “I love it there.  The beds are soft and they use a soft water for the tubs.  The food was not as good as Fontun’s, but well worth the cost.”  Sara was about to say something else when Jake cut her off.  Jake asked Ralnor, “How did you know we were at the Queen’s Inn?”  Ralnor just smiled, but didn’t disclose his secret of how he knew that information.  Sara then said, “I didn’t even think about that.  See, I knew kept you around for something.”  Jake blushed again.”

 

     They rode most of the day with very little conversation.  The only time anyone spoke was to conduct a nature call or eat.  This part of the traveling was enjoyable for now, but they could see the hills and mountains coming into view ahead of them.  Tammy shivered just thinking about the cold.  A couple leagues into the hilly area, Ralnor stopped, and told the group they would be setting up camp for the night.  The scene did not depict the turmoil of the area.  It was a semi-quite area with birds chirping and various animal sounds as they scurried about.  There was a light breeze that was refreshing.  The mood of the camp was still somber.  No one was in their usual jovial mood.

 

     Jake and Sara got stuck with the middle watch of the evening.  The two were both sleepy and lacked any motivation to scout around.  Jake found a rock that was slightly elevated and decided to take seat.  Sara snuggled up against him and was fast asleep as her head rested on his shoulder.  The watch was uneventful, and Jake cherished the time having her close.

 

     The next four days they rode at a steady pace.  They entered the mountains on the fifth day and the track up the snowy elevation was slow and tedious.  Snow had been falling, but not enough to cover up the trails or reduce visibility.  Ralnor and Jake had been rotating who was riding in front of the group.  The lead rider was having the hardest time of all, because he was the windbreaker.  They made camp in a small cave just after they crested a tall mountain.  It was more of a deep indented area then a small cave, but it worked all the same.  Wyn, Sontar and Halfar were able to gather enough wood to make a decent fire for most of the night. George placed some of the wood in a make-shift fire pit near the opening and used the fire spell he had learned to start it.  Ralnor said, “I’m going to cover the horses tonight, I think the weather is going to get worse.”

 

     Halfar showed up a few minutes after the fire had been started with a mountain goat.  Jake went out and cut a few small trees to make a rack.  When Ralnor returned, the smell of the cooking meat and warmth of the fire had filled the cave.  When the goat was finished cooking, Halfar served it up. He looked at George and said, “There will be no bad comments about my cooking.”  George just shook his head and grinned at him.  The other wardens busted out laughing at Halfar.  Ralnor said, “So that is what you call what you have been doing to the food.”  Everyone joined in the laughter except Halfar, he was just shaking his head and pretending to be disappointed and hurt.  The goat was tender and tasty, not as good as what Fontun had made, but respectable.

 

     The wind and snow had picked up since they had stopped for the night.  Ralnor said, “It looks like we may be in for a heavy snow tonight.”  With the wind whirling, Jake pulled out the canvas and started rigging it to cover up the front area.  Jake had it set up in a matter of minutes.  It didn’t stop the cold from coming in, but it did limit the wind greatly.  Most of the heat was retained and the smoke was able to flow out without being restricted. Ralnor was admiring Jake’s handy work and said, “I have never thought about using canvas to rig a shelter before.”  Jake explained how to attach various pieces together to make a tent.  The other wardens also took an interest in the conversation.

 

     When Jake finished Sara whispered to him, “An airplane would make travel easier for them too.”  Jake smiled at her and said, “I only told them about a tent.”  Sara snuggled up to him and said, “When Norhorn took our gear, we agreed not to bring our world into this one.”  Jake nodded his head and replied with, “I guess I didn’t think about it like that.”  Sara said, “We don’t know what effect it will have on this world, so as your punishment you will have to keep me warm tonight.”  Jake said with a smirk, “That’s not fair, can’t I just go to bed without dinner?”  Sara slapped him on the arm and laid her head on his shoulder.

 

***

 

     The following morning the snow was still coming down steadily and the pile in front of the opening was over a foot deep.  Ralnor hadn’t bothered to wake anyone up for the morning watch, he just sat there enjoying the peace and quiet.  It was close to mid-morning before the first person started stirring.  Soon after, the rest followed.

 

     When Jake had gathered himself, he asked, “Did it snow all night long?”  Ralnor said, “Yes, we are stuck here for a day at minimum.”  Jake said, “At least we still have some wood and leftover goat from yesterday.”  Ralnor said, “We will need to gather more wood if we are to keep a fire throughout the night.”  Jake suggested, “We can grab a few pieces each time someone goes out.”  The pile of wood increased greatly as the day went on.  The fire wasn’t large, but provided enough heat to keep everyone warm.

 

     Ralnor had gone to check on the horses several times though out the day.  The last time he returned, Tammy asked why he was checking on them so much.  Ralnor replied, “I would rather ride five more days then walk ten.”  George said, “It’s not very cold, just snowy.”  Ralnor said, “There are hungry creatures in the mountains and a horse is easy prey.”  Later in the evening when Ralnor did his last check, George accompanied him.  Before they left the horses, George had cast a vine spell locking them in that area.  George said, “That should keep them in and the creatures out for the night.”  Ralnor replied, “Or it will give us the time to save them from whatever is after them.”

 

     The two were heading back to the cave when Ralnor stopped and suddenly ducked behind a bush.  George followed Ralnor’s lead and went to a nearby tree for cover.  Ralnor watched for a couple of minutes before he moved away from the bush.  He crept up to an overhang and watch down the side of the mountain.  George remained in place until Ralnor motioned for him to join him.  Ralnor was pointing near the middle of the mountainside.  For the life of him, George couldn’t see what Ralnor was pointing at.  Ralnor waited without moving.  George finally saw a small amount of movement, but just barely.  George asked, “What is it?”  Ralnor said, “It looks like another goat from here.”  He continued to watch it for several more minutes before he got up and started walking toward the cave.  Ralnor said, “It’s just a goat.  At first all I could see was movement and didn’t want to take any chances.”  “Well you scared the tar out of me.  I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” George said dramatically.  They returned to the warmth of the cave and settled down for the evening.  The snow had tapered off and looked as though the sky might be clearing.

 

***

 

     They awoke the next morning to the sun shining and various animal noises.  Ralnor went outside first, followed by George and Jake.  Jake pointed out, “The snow is a little deep, but I think we can travel today.”  Ralnor agreed, “I think it best we get as far away from here as soon as we can.  The weather in this area can change without warning.”  They went back into the cave and informed everyone they would be moving out shortly.  Ralnor, George, Jake, Rotan and Halfar went to retrieve the horses.  Once they returned, it didn’t take long to repack the gear and mount up to leave.  The trail was just a big wash of white power.  The wind wasn’t blowing which was both good and bad.  Good for the warmth of the sun and bad for the removal of the snow that covered the path.

 

     Ralnor took the lead and was moving at a very slow pace.  He instructed everyone to let their horse move more on their own as they traveled down the side of the mountain.  Ralnor said, “Don’t give them too much freedom, but guide their movements if they stray too close to the edge.  I wouldn’t want one to just walk off the side of the mountain.”  George was the only one effected by Ralnor’s words.  Every time his horse moved slightly toward the edge, he would rein back on it.  Tammy had to instruct him on what Ralnor was talking about.

 

     The mountain trails looked the same from one to the next.  Sara could have sworn they had been in the mountains for two or three weeks by now, but in fact it had only been just over a week since they entered.  Ralnor told them, “We should be out of the mountains in a couple of days.”  That was the first sign of hope or anything good happening in a while.

 

    The following day George inquired, “Isn’t this the area where the troll attacked us.”  Everyone was now looking more for trolls than the area they were in.  It took a few minutes before Sara said, “Yes, it’s the area where we got attacked.”  Jake got quiet and said, “I don’t detect anything in the area for a good ways.”  Ralnor smiled and said, “Remember not to rely on magic for everything.  Some things will not be detected, while others may appear falsely.”  Jake said, “I really don’t rely on it, but use it more as an additional way to check.”  Tammy said, “That means we are only about two days from leaving the mountains, right?”  Jake smiled and said, “Yep.”

 

     With the end in sight, the hours were now dragging.  The nights seemed longer and the days appeared to last forever.  The anticipation of leaving the mountains was killing the teens.  Ralnor said, “Right now, we need everyone focused on the mountains, not the trail beyond here.”  Jake nodded his head.  Sara and Tammy grinned and kept thinking about the hot bath that they would soon be in.  George was in a daze, not doing a whole lot of anything.  The other wardens were totally focused, which was a good thing for the group.  There were still many dangers between here and their destination

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 43

 

     As everyone started down the last bit of mountain trail heading into Oron Ostar, Ralnor said, “We will meet you the day after tomorrow on the trail.”  Jake replied, “I was only planning to stay the one night here and then getting out of this dreary town.”  Sara suggested, “We should just skip it and keep riding toward Malta.”  “A warm room and a hot meal sounds good to me,” Tammy protested.  George and Jake were both in agreement with her.

 

     The wardens went one way and the teens went the other.  They entered town a couple hours before sunset.  Jake said, “Let’s try the other inn this time.”  As they rode into town, the few people that were on the streets just looked at them and went about their business without a second glance.  Sara commented, “That’s a different reception from the first time we came into this town.”  George stated with a grin, “They know we’ll kick their butts if they make us mad.”  Jake smiled and said, “It isn’t any different than the first time we were here.  It’s just late and they want to get home to their families without any trouble.”  Sara said with a smirk, “I think George is right.”  She turned and winked at Jake.  For the first time Jake didn’t turn red, he just smiled back at her.  Tammy said, “I think they can smell us and the odor is driving them inside.”  Everyone started to chuckle at that.

 

     They arrived at the front of the Mountain View Inn and Jake and Sara went inside.  This place was better kept than the Falling Rock Inn and the innkeeper smiled and said, “Can I help you?”  Jake said, “We would like two rooms please.”  The innkeeper said, “It will be a silver per room.”  Jake dug in his pocket and produced a silver coin and placed it on the counter.  He dug in this pocket and dug in the other pockets until he found a second silver coin.  Jake smiled at the innkeeper and said, “Don’t want to keep all that wealth in one pocket, you know.”  The innkeeper smile and said, “Can’t blame you.”  Sara inquired, “Do you have a livery for our horses?”  The innkeeper smiled at her, “Yes, Miss, it will be a copper per horse.”  Once again Jake started to search his pockets when Sara held her hand up and said, “I will take care of this.”  She handed the coppers over to the innkeeper, who had a grateful smile on his face.  Sara wasn’t sure if it was due to the extra money he just made or that he didn’t have to wait for Jake to find his ‘wealth.’  As Jake and Sara walked out, the innkeeper rolled his eyes and shook his head.  Sara hit him and said, “What was that all about?”  George asked, “What happened in there?”  Jake smiled, “Nothing really, but I’ll tell you when we get to the rooms.”

 

     Once they were in the room and the door was closed, George said, “Now tell me what happened.”  Sara started giggling and began, “Mister big over there was told it was a silver per room. He reached in his front pocket and produced a silver coin rather quickly.  He then spent the next ten minutes going from pocket to pocket looking for a second coin.   Once he found it,” Sara starting laughing a bit harder, then continued, “With the most serious look I have ever seen him give someone, he said, ‘don’t want to keep all that wealth in one pocket you know.’”  Sara was now in a total fit of laughter, which caused the other three to start laughing.  After she composed herself, she said, “But the look on the innkeeper’s face was priceless.  It looked like he wanted to say something back to Jake, but felt too sorry for him.”  Sara lost it again.  She had tears in her eyes and was holding her gut by the time she had stopped laughing.

 

     After they had calmed down, Sara stated, “I’m hungry.”  She got up and headed to the door.  Before she opened the door, she looked at Jake and said, “I dare you to put a silver coin in two different pockets, walk down stairs, then look at the innkeeper and pat the two pockets, with a wink at him.”  George lost it and added, “Jake, you’ve got to do it.”  Jake just shook his head no.  George said, “Oh, we have a big feathered bird here.  Are we… chicken?”  Jake smiled and said, “Okay, I’ll do it.”  Jake started to leave the room when George stopped him.  George said, “Just let us have one favor first.”  Jake said, “If it’s within reason.”  George was grinning from ear to ear and having a hard time saying, “Let us go downstairs first, so we can see you and the innkeeper.”  Sara began to laugh and said, “What a great idea.”  Jake was smiling and agreed, “You guys are not wrapped tight.”

 

     George, Sara and Tammy went downstairs and sat at a table that would provide the best view.  The waitress greeted them and was asked to give them a couple of minutes, they were waiting on a friend.  After the waitress left, Tammy said, “We are waiting for the show to begin.”  On cue, Jake came walking down the stairs.  Walking down the stairs would be an incorrect statement.  Jake came flamboyantly strutting down the stairs.  Sara had to put her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud.  The innkeeper glanced up, then did a double take.  He gave Jake a half smile, half grimace look.  Jake wasted no time in patting his two pockets, the same two he had retrieved the silver coins from.  Jake took it to another level by holding his finger to his lips and winking at the innkeeper.  That was it.  That was all the other three could take.  The laughter erupted like a volcano.  The poor innkeeper didn’t know what to make of it.  Jake kept the straightest face, walked over and sat down.  By the time the waitress had returned to take their order, the laughter had subsided.

 

     It was the standard inn meal; meat, potatoes, carrots, onions and spices, served in a large bowl.  The meal included a half loaf of fresh baked bread and a mug of light ale.  It was a good meal, not Fontun good, but eatable.  They finished the stew and ordered another ale.  After the second ale, they sat chatting before heading back up to their rooms for the evening.

 

***

 

     The following morning when they came down for breakfast, there were three men talking to the innkeeper.  He pointed toward the teens and said, “You may want to ask them.”  The three men looked up at them.  Jake’s defenses went up, but he maintained his smile.  As the men approached, the oldest looking one asked, “Are you the ones that stabled six horses last night?     Jake replied, “That would be us.”  The man continued, “We would like to know where you got one of the horses from.”  Jake said, “We bought four in Osto and two of them in Malta; why?  He replied, “We think one of them belongs to a friend of ours.”  Jake replied, “All I can tell you is Master Doars of the wizard’s tower sent us to see a man to purchase them.”  He didn’t seem satisfied with Jake’s response.  Before he walked out he stated, “We’re going to go back to the stable and check that horse again.  You had better hope for your sake that isn’t our friend’s horse!”  George went to speak, but Tammy had grabbed his arm and whispered, “Don’t escalate it, just let them go”

 

     Jake played it cool and walked into the dining room, he pulled Sara’s chair out for her to sit, and then he sat down.  George followed his lead.  Jake made sure he had a good view of the entrance to the inn.  George said, “That was good thinking.”  Jake said, “It may have been good, but I don’t think they were satisfied with my answer.”  Sara asked, “What are we going to do?”  Jake replied, “Nothing.  We’re going to have our breakfast, grab our gear, and ride out.”  They finished their meals and collected their belongings from the rooms.

 

     When they arrived back at the front desk, Jake asked the innkeeper, “What can you tell me about those men?”  The innkeeper spoke in a low voice, “They are part of a group of, let us say; ‘less desirable’ people of this area.  They come into town every so often for supplies or just to cause trouble, if you ask me.”  Jake glanced around, got a serious look on his face, and asked, “You think they want my wealth?”  He then patted his two pockets.  The innkeeper just looked at him for a minute with his mouth open.  He finally gather himself enough to say, “No sir.  I don’t think so.”  George kept his composure, Sara stood with her mouth open and Tammy was clueless and not paying attention.  Jake said, “Well, that’s good news to hear.” He looked at the others and said, “I say we head home.”  He turned and went toward the door with Sara on his arm.  Sara whispered, “You know you need some serious help.”  Jake’s only reply was, “Yep.”

 

     Jake was scanning the area as he played the carefree traveler.  Across the street and down a few buildings, he could see from the corner of his eye that the three men from the inn were talking with two others.  The five were closely watching what the teens were doing.  Jake informed the others, “No one look behind us, but there are five guys now.  The three have joined up with two others.  When we get the horses, we need to ride like we didn’t see them.”  Sara said, “Why not just say something to someone here?”  Jake said, “This area is ‘everyone for themselves’’.  I don’t think we will get help from anyone, but I do have a plan.”  Sara asked, “What’s the plan?”  Jake whispered, “The plan is we get our horses and ride out of here.”  Sara slapped him and said, “That’s not a plan, that’s what we were going to do anyways.”  Jake smiled at her and said, “I didn’t say that was all of it; you interrupted me.  So now I’m going to have to start all over from the beginning.”  George shoved him from behind and said, “We have the first part, silly – ride out of here.”  Jake said, “That’s not the beginning.  It began with, get the horses.”  Everyone rolled their eyes at him, but were also laughing about it.

 

     They arrived at the horses and assisted the livery boy in getting them ready.  When someone would ask Jake the rest of the plan he would say, “Not here; we don’t know who we can trust.  I’ll tell everyone when we get on the trail.”  No one was too happy with that answer, but they weren’t in much of a position to do anything about it.  When the last horse was prepared, Jake said, “Come on, let’s go to grandpa’s house, guys.”  No one caught the meaning of what Jake was trying to say.  They all mounted their horses and started walking them out of town.

 

     When they were on the edge of town, George said, “Are we going to make a break for it?”  Jake smiled and said, “Nope.  We are going to walk like nothing is wrong.”  “But they will catch up with us in just a few minutes!” Tammy expressed.  “It will be fine,” Jake answered.  Jake had glanced back several times to see what the five guys were up to.  One had collected their horses and they were getting reading to follow.  Sara said, “They’re getting on their horses and going to follow us.  Jake, what are we going to do?”  Jake said, “We are going to ride a little further, and then they will turn back toward town and leave us alone.”  Tammy exclaimed, “This is your brilliant plan?  Ride a little while and they will just turn around and go back?”  George said, “This time I have to agree with Tammy.  That isn’t much of a plan, Jake.”  Jake looked at Sara and waited for her to say something.  Sara was grinning at him.  She knew he was up to something, just not what, at this point.

 

     The five guys gave them a few minutes to leave town.  Next, they rode off like they were going another way, but soon cut back to the trail.  It only took them a few minutes to get back to the trail and ride after the teens.  About 15 minutes in, Jake said, “We should have company in a couple of minutes.”  Jake was right.  No more than thirty seconds later they could hear the sound of horses riding hard behind them.  The five were fast approaching when Jake held up both hands like he was being robbed at gunpoint.  “Don’t look back yet,” he muttered to the others.  When the five men were about ten yards behind them, Jake dropped his arms.  The next sound the teens could hear were the whooshing sound of arrows going by, hitting the trees around them with a “thwack!”  The five men stopped dead in their tracks.

 

     Jake turned his horse slightly and said, “If you know what’s good for you, you need to turn around and leave now.  If you continue to approach us, my friends will take it as a hostile action toward us and you will die!”  Jake then addressed his friends, “Now everyone wave good-bye to the bad guys.”  The four teens turned around and started waving.  It was just too much for one Jake had spoken to at the inn to handle… first arrows from nowhere, and then to be mocked by a bunch of kids.  He took off after them.  His horse only took two steps before the man went flying off it with two arrows sticking out of his chest.  The other four turned and rode off.

 

    Jake watched as the one guy laid on the ground, not moving.  Tammy said, “Should we help him?”  Jake replied, “It’s too late for him.  He was probably dead before he hit the ground.”  George asked, “How did you know the wardens would be here to help us?”  Jake smiled, “They’ve watched us the whole time since we left their village, why wouldn’t they be watching us now?”

 

     Ralnor and the other wardens joined up with them a few minutes later.  Ralnor looked at Jake and said, “I see you have made new friends again.”  Jake grinned and said, “Yes.  It is such a friendly town back there.  They gave us some horses the first time and this time they put on a show on for us.  How nice of them.”  Ralnor shook his head and began riding toward Malta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 44

 

     They rode for several leagues before they stopped at a creek and watered the horses.  They ate a quick bite and got their fill of water.  They were back on the horses and riding for Malta, only stopping two additional times before they made camp that night.

 

     Two days later, as they got closer to Malta, George was dumb enough to say to Jake, “I wonder if your friend is still the waitress at the Frog’s Leap?”  That was it, Sara was red-faced and about to blow a gasket.  She exclaimed, “I hope she is.  Matter of fact, if she isn’t, I’ll go fine her!”  “Why would you do that?”  Tammy asked.  Sara gave an evil grin and said, “So I can practice my new fire-making spell on her underwear.”  George and Tammy both busted out laughing.  Jake rode along with his mouth open.  He finally said, “Sara that isn’t a nice thing to say, much less contemplate doing to someone.”  Sara replied, “I know.  But just think how much enjoyment and entertainment she would cause running down the road with her knickers on fire.”  Jake had to smile at the image, but still wasn’t sure if she would do it or not.  He said, “If you’re a good little girl and don’t set the waitress’ knickers on fire, I’ll buy you a sweet roll.”  Sara threw her nose in the air and crossed her arms like a spoiled little brat, “No.  I want two!”  George adding fuel to the fire, “I’ll buy you three, just to see you do it!”  Tammy smacked him and said, “You get no sweet rolls for instigating trouble, little boy.  Just be thankful I don’t make you stand at a tree with your nose against it.”  Jake busted out laughing.  Sara lost her straight face and started laughing too.

 

     Ralnor and the others were smiling at them.  Ralnor said, “Now that the journey is coming to an end, I have started to understand the humor in what you four are saying.”  George said, “Oh, no.  Now you’re one of us and will get into trouble and have to stand with your nose against a tree.”  The other five wardens started laughing thinking about a full grown man, a warden at that, pouting with his nose against a tree.  Ralnor shot them a look and they started laughing even harder.   Sara said, “I think it would be cute.”  Tammy added, “Me too.”  Ralnor looked at the two of them like they had lost their minds.

 

***

 

     When Malta came into view the groups split and agreed to rejoin two days later.  The teens stayed at the Frog’s Leap again, but the young lady that had been flirting with Jake wasn’t there.  The stay was relaxing.  They were able to take two hot baths and sleep in one morning.  They contemplated only staying one day, but decided they could use the additional time to rest.

 

     On the evening of the second night, Sara was cuddled up against Jake.  Jake said, “This is going to be very strange when we go back home.”  Sara asked, “How’s that?”  He replied, “Sleeping alone and not being able to see you all the time.”  She moved in a bit closer to him and said, “Tammy and I were saying the same thing the other day.  She told me she and George wanted to elope.”  Jake tried to sit up, but the way Sara was against him, he couldn’t.  He said, “What?  George hasn’t said anything to me about that…why didn’t you tell me earlier?”  Sara said, “It just happened and I figured they were just joking about it until I started thinking about it also.”  “What, you want to elope too?” asked Jake.  Sara slapped him and said, “No.”  Jake said in a very disappointed and dejected voice, “Oh, I see.”  He received another light slap and Sara said, “That’s not what I mean.”  Jake perked up and said, “So you do want to marry me.”  Sara was about to say no, but knew it was all a play on words.  She only said, “Jake.”  Jake said, “What are we going to do? I don’t want to be without you again.”  Sara answered, “I know what we are going to do right this minute, get some sleep.  We can address that issue another time.  As of right now, I have you in my arms and it’s not an issue.”  Jake kissed her on the top of the head and held her tightly against him.

 

***

 

    The next morning the four ate a quiet breakfast.  They rode from Malta with very few words being spoken by anyone.  When they rejoined Ralnor and the others, the silence continued.  By the time they made camp for the evening, Ralnor had had enough.  He said, “You four have not lost a thing.  You are dwelling in the future and are going to miss out on the best part of your lives, which is now!”  Jake looked at him and said, “How do you know what we are thinking all the time.”  Rotan said, “He is old.  Very old.” Ralnor just gave him a sideways glance.  Rotan said, “Well you are.”  Ralnor turned and smiled at Jake.  He said, “This is very true.  I have been here a very long time.  But as for you four, just enjoy today, you are very young and have your whole lives ahead of you.”  This gave the teens something to consider.

 

     They settled down for the evening with no one talking.  There were a few words here and there, but nothing of a full conversation.  Rotan said he would cover the all watches this evening; this was his assigned ward of responsibility.  No one argued with him and soon were fast asleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 45

 

     A couple of leagues into the next day’s ride, George said, “Hey Jake.  Why don’t you tell everyone the story of big bad Jake and the wolves?”   Jake starting stammering, “I’m not sure what you’re talking about, George.”  He then mouthed to him, “Stop.”  Sara and Tammy were snickering and George was laughing.  Jake wasn’t mad; he just didn’t want to look bad in front of the others, mainly Sara.

 

     Ralnor began a tale, “We were tracking this guy one time.  He fell asleep during his evening watch and a wolf snuck up on him.  Bloodfang, the wolf leader, told him he would not harm him if he and his friends helped them clear out some goblins from their home.”  Jake looked at Ralnor and said, “You knew Bloodfang was near me and you let him manipulate me like that?”  Ralnor continued, “Well I think there is a bit more to it than you know.”

 

    Ralnor glanced at Rotan and nodded.  Rotan said, “Bloodfang and I go way back.  He approached me earlier the day he snuck up on you, asking for our help.  Ralnor told him there was a better group for the job than us and sent him to see you.”  Ralnor said, “I wanted to see how you interacted with creatures and test your problem-solving abilities.”  Sara asked, “So we were never in any real danger by them?”  Rotan said, “No.  The wolves have long ago stopped attacking people.  When Bloodfang and his pack have a problem too big to deal with, he seeks me out.”  Jake said, “Oh, so that is why you took the watches last night…the wolves are nearby?”  Rotan grinned, “They are in the area, but not near.  They roam in the evening and will watch our camp while we sleep.”  Sara said, “That’s cool.  I like it a lot better when they’re around.  They see and hear everything from a good distance away and are quick to warn about dangers in the area.”  Rotan nodded, letting Sara know she was correct in her assumption.

 

***

 

     The wizard’s tower of Tumed Osto was the first of the town that could be seen on the horizon, but it took several hours to arrive after they had first spotted the spires.  As they approached, George thought aloud, “I wonder how Franz, Maria and their kids are doing?”  Tammy looked at him and said, “Where did that come from?”  Jake and Sara could see that George was uncomfortable with the question, so they didn’t push it.  Jake said, “It will be nice to see them and Mr. Ralph again too.”

 

     They rode into Tumed Osto with their heads held high.  When Jake turned to say something to Ralnor, all the wardens were gone.  Sara did a double take and said, “When did they leave?”  George asked, “Who?”  Then he and Tammy noticed the wardens were gone also.  George said, “That is so cool.  I need them to teach me that trick.”  Tammy remarked, “Why?  So you can get out of work when you get home?”  George smiled and nodded his head.  Jake said, “That would be good to know for family reunions when your aunt wants to pinch your cheek and say how adorable you are.”  Sara laughed and said, “But you are adorable, little boy.”  She tried to reach over and pinch his cheek but the horses were too far apart.

 

     They lined up single-file and headed through the gate.  When they arrived at the second gate, the guard must have remembered them from months ago.  He stepped aside and let them pass.  They rode up to Ralph’s home and dismounted.  The clatter of the horses drew a few neighbors’ attention, but not many.

 

     Ralph unexpectedly came running from the house and exclaimed, “Well! I’m glad to see you’re okay!”  Jake said, “It’s nice to see you too, Mr. Ralph.”  Ralph looked up at him and said, “I was referring to the horses.  I’m glad you brought them back in one piece.  I really thought you would have eaten a couple by now.”  Jake and George laughed at his comment, but Sara and Tammy looked disgusted at the thought of eating a horse.  George inquired, “How are Franz and his family doing?”  Ralph smiled, “They’re doing fine.  Franz is a hard worker and very smart.  Thank you for sending him my way.”  George asked, “Where are they living at?”  Ralph said, “In the lower section of the city for now, but as smart as he is, he will have a place up here before too long.”  George asked, “Can you have someone take me to see him?  I have something for him.”

 

     Ralph instructed one of the servants to show George where to go, and Tammy accompanied him.  Tammy was more curious about what was going on than wanting to do any additional traveling.  As long as Tammy had known him, this was a rather strange way for him to act.  It took several minutes on horseback for them to arrive at Franz’s house.  This area of the city was not as fine as the upper section, but the house was located in a fairly decent area.

 

     As they rode toward the house, the kids ran in to warn their mother.  Maria was looking out the door smiling at George and Tammy.  Maria started calling for Franz, who walked to the door and looked out to see what all the commotion was about.  When he saw George and Tammy, he ran out of the house and greeted them by hugging them both at once.  “Welcome home, my friends,” he cried.  George said, “Thanks for welcoming us to your home, Franz.”  “This will always be considered your home as well,” said Franz.  “If it wasn’t for you four, we might not have anything at all.”  Franz got a very concerned look on his face and asked, “Are the others fine?”  George smiled and replied, “Yes, they stayed with Ralph and his wife.  Franz said, “I got worried when I only saw the two of you.”  George explained a few of the trails they had gone through on the journey.

 

     George said, “I have thought about you and your family since we met many moons ago.  George walked over to his horse and removed his backpack from it.  Tammy’s eyes went wide.  Franz noticed and said, “Is everything okay?  George smiled and said, “Everything is great.  Can we go inside for a minute, please?”  Franz led them into a small but comfortable living area.  George lowered his head a bit and stared at the floor.  He said, “When I was a lot younger, my dad lost his job.  We moved in with one member of our family and after a while moved on to the next. We must have moved about 10 or 12 times that year.  To me it looked like nobody wanted us.  My dad later told me why we kept moving was because of him looking for work, not that the family didn’t want us.”

 

      George looked up and continued, “I want you to have this.”  He handed the backpack over to Franz.  Franz didn’t expect it to be as heavy as it was and dropped it to the floor.  The impact shook the room.  Franz slowly opened it and looked inside. He saw it was packed with valuable jewels, gold coins, and other rare treasures.  Tears began running down his face as he said, “There is no way I could accept this.”

 

     Tammy also had tears streaking her cheeks, moved closer to Georges’ side, and hugged him.  George said to Franz, “I could see the thankfulness in your eyes with the little bit of food we gave you.  I could tell you were an honest man by the way you tried to refuse the food and money.”  Franz said, “That is one thing, but this is more than most people in the city combined are worth. As Franz said that, Maria was getting her first look inside the backpack.  She almost fainted, but luckily for her, George was there to stop her from falling to the floor.  George said, “I know there’s a lot there.  But I also know that you are the right people to take it and help others.”  Franz just kept shaking his head from side to side.  George looked at him and said, “If I come back here, I may need a place to live and someone to get me on my feet.”  Franz sat with tears rolling down his face.

 

     George got up, took Tammy by the hand and walked out of the house.  It didn’t take Franz long to run after him and put him and Tammy in a bear hug.  Franz said, “I don’t know how to thank you for such a generous gift.”  George said, “May I suggest you buy a big house in the upper compound, so when we come back this way we don’t have to stay at an inn.”  Franz was nodding his head and saying that would be one of the first things he did.  Maria had joined the hugging and crying too.  George could see the concerned look on the faces of the children, so he said, “I need one more favor from you.  I need you to explain to the children what has happened and why.  Don’t let them grow up thinking something was wrong when it wasn’t.”  Franz said, “I promise I will.”

 

     George mounted his horse and said, “We have traveled a long way and need to get back to the other before they miss us too much.”  With that he and Tammy turned and rode off.  “I never understood why you were overloading your backpack when we were in the treasure room.  If I would have known, I would’ve helped you carry it,” said Tammy.  George grinned and said, “It was no big deal, but thanks anyways.”   Nothing else was said during the ride back to Ralphs.

 

     When they arrived, George went up to his room by himself.  Jake gave him a funny look as he walked by without saying anything.  Jake looked at Tammy and asked, “Is everything okay?”  Tammy, who still had tears in her eyes nodded, “Yes.”  She finally found her voice and said, “George filled that backpack at the Dwarven Caverns for Franz.  He gave them the backpack full of gold.”  Jake’s mouth dropped open and he was left speechless.  Sara who was standing next to him didn’t say a word.  Tammy just turned and went up to George’s room.

 

     Jake and Sara followed a short time later.  When they arrived, George and Tammy were both cheerful and happy.  Jake asked, “Can we come in?”  George said, “Anytime, my friend.”  Jake and Sara entered and sat on the edge of the bed. “Tammy told us what you did and I want to tell you I’m sorry for thinking that you were being greedy and wanting to keep that for yourself,” Jake stated.  George said, “No problem.  I did disobey on the amount of stuff we were allowed to take, and then kept it a secret what my intentions were, so it is partly my fault too.”  Jake said, “I think what you did is great and I admire you for it.”  George replied, “I just wanted to help someone in need because I remember when my family was in need and how hard it was for us.”  He stayed silent a few minutes, then said, “I only kept two items from the room for myself.”  Jake looked at him and felt bad for what he had been thinking about George.

 

     The biggest shock came next.  George pulled a diamond ring from his pocket.  It wasn’t a huge, gaudy ring, but a simple cut diamond on a plain setting.  George said, “This is one of the two items I took from the treasure room, but the problem I have is it doesn’t fit my finger.”  Tammy was about to explode with excitement and anticipation.  Jake said, “So what are you thinking about doing with it, trading it in for one that fits?”  Sara smacked him and gave him a dirty look.  George smiled and said, “No, I have thought about this for a long time now.  I have become very close and fallen in love with someone I want to spend the rest of my life with.”  Jake couldn’t resist: “That will never fit your horse.”  He received a double whack and two nasty looks from the girls.

 

     George turned and looked at Tammy, “Tammy, you and I were made for each other.  I have loved spending the past several months with you always being by my side.  I want to spend the rest of my life with you.  I know we are still young, but I want to give you this ring as a promise of my love and that one day we will discuss being married.  Tammy, will you be my fiancée?”  Tammy almost knocked him down when she landed on him.  All she could say was, “Yes!”  “Yes!”  “Yes!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 46

 

    When Sara and Jake left they went to Jake’s room.  Sara was smiling and Jake looked like he was sad.  Sara asked, “What’s wrong?  That was such a cool proposal…aren’t you happy for them?”  Jake said, “Yes, I am.”  He left it at that.  Sara waited for him to say something else, but he remained silent.  She flopped down on the bed and continued to wait for Jake to say something.  He sat next to her and Sara leaned her head on his shoulder.

 

     She said, “I know what’s wrong with you.  You wanted to propose to me first.”  Jake pulled away and asked, “How did you know?”  Sara was stunned, she meant it more as a joke than the truth when she said it.  Jake caught the expression on her face and turned away from her.  Sara said, “No, it’s not like that at all.”  Jake said, “I could see the disappointment on your face when I asked how you knew.”  Sara said, “It wasn’t disappointment, it was more, why don’t you just ask me.”  Jake turned back and faced her.  He said, “Because what he said to Tammy was what I wanted to say to you.  I had a long talk with Ralnor about this a while back.  I just didn’t know what to say to you, when to say it or how to say it.”  Sara hugged him.  She said, “Jake, I love you.  I don’t need a ring to say I’m your girl, because I am.  That is, unless you don’t want me.”  He said, “You know I do, and I love you too, Sara.”

 

***

 

     The next morning when they were at breakfast, Ralph’s wife noticed the ring on Tammy’s finger.  She said, “What a lovely ring.”  Tammy replied, “George proposed to me last night and I said, ‘yes.’”  Ralph about choked on his meal.  His wife gave him the strangest look.  Ralph said, “Excuse me for that; it caught me by surprise.  If I may, please excuse me.”  Without anyone’s further comment.  He got up and left the room.  The teens figured he was going to clean up or some such thing.  Ralph instead went into his library and started looking for a book.  He had been looking for about an hour when he heard his wife yell, “Come say goodbye to the kids, Ralph!  They are getting ready to leave.”  Ralph left the library, unable to find the correct book. He walked out to say his good-byes.

 

     Jake said, “Once again, thank you for your hospitality.”  Ralph replied, “Anytime.  I look forward to your next visit.”  Jake said, “I’m not sure if we will be back in this area again, but if we are, we will stop to see you.”

 

***

 

    With that they turned and rode out of Tumed Osto toward Alalda Ostar.  Sara said, “Remember when we got here, it took us a full day to walk this.”  Jake said, “Yeah.  And every sound was a monster coming after us.”  George laughed and said, “I thought I was the only one that felt that way.”  Sara added, “I think we all felt that way.”  Tammy nodded her head in agreement.  Jake remarked, “That seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?”

 

    It only took them about four hours to be on the fringe of the village.  As they looked down the road, it appeared the whole village had come out to welcome them back.  Jake remarked, “It almost feels like the first time when we arrived, with everyone staring at us.”  Sara replied, “It does feel a bit awkward.”  Norhorn could be seen standing at the elder’s hut with several others.

 

    As they rode up, Jake had taken Yatuku from where it was secured on the horse and held it in his hand.  George said, “I can’t hear any music playing for our arrival, can you?”  Jake gave him a side glance with a bit of a smile. When they passed a group of people, the group fell in behind the teens and followed.  By the time they arrived at the hut, most of the village was there or following them.

 

     Jake hopped off his horse and went to hand Yatuku to Norhorn.  Norhorn shook his head ‘no’ and pointed inside the hut.  Jake walked in.  The furs that had been on the floor were pulled back and there, in the center of the room, was a hole.  Jake walked to the center and glanced up at Norhorn.  He nodded ‘yes’ to Jake.  Jake then placed Yatuku in the hole.  All four of the teens looked a bit disappointed when nothing happened.  The four of them kept waiting for a boom or the ground to shake, but nothing happened.  Jake said, “That was pretty anticlimactic, if you ask me.”  Norhorn turned and walked to the door and said, “Yatuku with her stone have been seated.”  The crowd let out a big cheer and the noise was deafening.  Norhorn stated, “It may not seem to you that anything happened, but a lot happened when the stick and stone were seated.  The plants will produce more, harvests will feed more people, the water will purify, and damaged areas will heal at a faster rate.”

 

     Jake smiled and was about to say something when the ground started rumbling and Yatuku gave off a blinding gold flash.  Jake asked, “What just happened?”  Norhorn was shocked and replied, “I do not know.  Nothing is written about Yatuku being seated.”  As suddenly as the ground-shaking had started, it stopped.  The crowd outside had gone quiet.  Norhorn addressed everyone, “Do not be afraid.  It is Yatuku being awakened.”  The whole group walked out of the hut and headed to the dining area.

 

     Ralnor walked up and said, “I have some good news for you.  We have found the entrance to your world.’  Time basically stopped. The four froze in their tracks.  Ralnor had expected to hear cheering and shouts of how happy they were, but instead he heard absolutely nothing.  He repeated, “Did you hear me?  They have found the entrance to your world!”  Jake replied, “Yes, we heard you.”  Ralnor left the unsaid alone.  Sara pointed out, “This is going to be weird going back home.  Here we are able to make decisions we deem necessary, but back home we will have to ask our parents for permission to do anything.”  Ralnor wasn’t about to say another word.  He could see and hear the conflict they were all struggling with in their hearts.  Tammy said, “I think the strangest part will be the four of us not being together all the time.”  Tammy was looking more at George than anyone else.

 

     Jake tried to cheer everyone up by saying, “Hot pizza and a cold soda sounds nice.”  George remarked, “Fontun’s pot roast with cold spring water does too.”  Jake said, “I think you have me there, that one is hard to beat.”  Sara smiled and said, “Running hot water, cell phones and internet.”  Tammy countered, “A running creek, nature’s sounds and the various warden’s calls.”  Sara said, “I’m convinced, I’m staying!”  The other three just looked at her like she had lost her mind.  Jake said. “I wish it were that simple.”  Sara smiled, “I know, but that’s what I want to do.  I know I have to go back and see my parents at least once more.”  George said, “True.”  Tammy questioned, “When do we want to go home?”  George mumbled, “Never, really, but we might as well get it over as soon as possible.”

 

     Jake turned to Ralnor, “Where is the entrance located?”  Ralnor replied, “About two leagues west of here.”  Sara gasped, “Wow.  That’s close.”  Jake said to Ralnor, “Do you mind if we take a few minutes and talk about this?”  Ralnor answered, “No, why would I?”  Jake commented, “It is just a figure of speech.”  Jake walked off toward a quiet little spot and sat down.  The other three followed.

 

     Once everyone was seated, George stated, “This really sucks.  Do we go or do we stay?”  Jake snapped, “Get real, we have to go!”  Tammy said, “We can come back anytime we want to.”  Jake interrupted, “It’s not that simple.”  Sara didn’t understand his reasoning and asked, “Why not?”  He replied, “Once we leave, we know the location of how to get back in.  But once we come back in, we will have to find the entrance to return home again.  This time they were able to find it shortly after they started searching for it.  But remember, they said it could take years.”  Sara remembered, “True, I forgot about that.”  Jake flopped back and Sara leaned on him as George and Tammy were huddled together.  Jake said, “It’s not going to make it any easier to wait and go back later.  I say we just leave now.”  Sara grunted.  Tammy looked at George.  George said, “I don’t know, maybe you’re right and we should just go now.”  Jake sat up, kissed Sara on her forehead and said, “Let’s go.”

 

     They walked into the hut where their clothes had been laid out and gathered their belongings.  Jake looked at Norhorn and asked, “Can we keep the traveling clothes?”  Norhorn shook his head no and said, “You would have to explain where you got those items from.  I suggest that you take nothing back from this world except the medallions you wear around your necks and the ring the wizard gave each of you.”  Tammy involuntarily covered the ring on her other hand.  Norhorn added, “And maybe a few small items that may not be noticed.”

 

     They changed back into their own clothes and without another word being said, they went over and got on their horses.  Ralnor was a bit stunned by their actions, but followed suit.  He was ready to lead them to the entrance.  They said their farewells to Norhorn and a few others, then rode off.

 

     The trip seemed more like a funeral procession than a joyous home coming.  No one was talking, not even Ralnor.  Two hours passed like it was just a few seconds in time.  When they arrived at the entrance, Ralnor just pointed to the opening.  Jake commented, “It’s funny how fast the time went by when we didn’t want it to, and how slow it was when we were wanting it to go by fast.”  Ralnor remarked, “Time is a funny thing.”

 

They got off their horses and handed the reins to Ralnor.  Ralnor said, “It has been a pleasure to serve each of you.”  Jake asked, “Will we see you again?”  Ralnor replied, “I don’t know, but if the opportunity arises, I would be delighted to see all of you again.”

 

The four turned and walked into the tunnel entrance.

 

 

CHAPTER 47

 

    The climb back up the stairs was very similar to the first time they entered the mountain.  The only difference was the way the inside looked…it was a different color rock and didn’t have any traps.  The long, slow climb took just under two days to make.  When they arrived at the top, they stopped before going through the exit.

 

     When they walked out, the sun was shining and it appeared to be late in the day.  Once on the outside of the cave entrance, the first thing everyone did was pull their cell phones out and check them.  Tammy said, “I have a signal.”  Sara said, “I have one bar.”  Jake and George said they didn’t have any signal.  Tammy said, “It is four o’clock in the afternoon.”  Sara’s phone updated, but the signal was weak; Jake and George’s still had no signal.  Sara said, “Let me get this map app update so I can find out where we are.”  It didn’t take long for the update to load.  Sara said, “It looks like we are just about a mile further west than our original spot where we entered.”  Jake said, “I’ll bet there’s a big mountain in the middle of our way.”  George sighed, “Isn’t that the way it always is?”

 

     It took them a few minutes to find the safest way to get down from the cave entrance.  Once they found it, it took another hour to reach the bottom.  George shocked everyone when he said, “I sure do miss my horse.”  That stopped everyone dead in their tracks.  Tammy asked, “Did I hear what I think I just heard?”  Jake remarked, “That’s kind of funny, because I thought I heard George say he missed his horse.”  Sara said, “George, are you feeling alright?  You know it is hot here, maybe the heat is making you delusional.”  George said, “Okay, get it out of your systems.  Yes, I do like riding on a horse.”  For the next few minutes they cut up about how when they first started their journey, George had complained about being sore from riding his horse and suggested they should walk to allow the horses to rest.

 

     About an hour into their travel, Sara started checking her phone.  “Great,” she said “no signal.”  Tammy pouted, “I don’t have one either.”  Sara looked over at Jake and George to see what their phone status was.  Jake said, “We didn’t have a signal when we were up high.  What make you think we are going to have one here in the valley?”  Sara frowned, “Just check anyways, please.”  George pulled out his phone, “Nothing here.”  Jake did the same and exclaimed, “I don’t believe it!  I don’t have a signal!”  Sara smacked him on the arm and said, “Stranger things have happened.”

 

     George remarked, “You mean like going into a world full of elves, goblins, other creatures and magic?”  That cause them all to laugh.  Tammy said, “At least there are fewer things around here that want to kill us or eat us.”  George agreed, “That is true.  At least we can be thankful for something.  By the way, how much further do we have to go, navigator?”  Sara replied, “We only have to get back to the place where we left the four-wheelers.”  Jake laughed, “Good thing you told him that, because he would have never figured that out.”  Grinning, George said, “Yes, I would have.  Or I think I would have.”

 

     The mood was very lighthearted and carefree.  Travel here was a lot easier than it had been in the other land.  Jake inquired, “We should be getting close, shouldn’t we?”  George said, “If we’d had horses, we would have been there by now.”  Tammy looked at him and said, “I know what you’re getting for your birthday.”  Jake announced, “A cow!”  Sara said, “Only you would think that.”  Jake said, “You can ride a cow too.”  Tammy just shook her head.  They entered into a clearing and could see their four-wheelers.

 

     Jake was about to say something when he stopped and ducked down.  The other three followed suit.  Sara asked, “What’s wrong?”  Jake pointed in the direction of where the original entrance to the cave had been.  Jake whispered, “Look.”  Everyone was looking at the back of four people entering the cave.  “I wonder if they’re looking for us.” George said.  After getting a better look he continued, “I have a shirt just like that.”  With her mouth agape, Tammy asked, “Is that us?”  Jake said, “It sure is.”  After watching for a couple of minutes, George asked, “How is that possible?  If the portal moves when someone enters it and we have come through another one, then why is that one still open?  Jake just looked at him for a minute before he said, “Now how are we supposed to know that?”  “I know you don’t know.  I was just making an observation, not asking for an answer.” said George.

 

     Jake said, “Wait here for a minute and let me see if our gear has already been taken for the trip.”  Jake snuck over to the four-wheelers and back.  “Yes.  We got it,” he said.  Sara snickered and replied, “That sounds funny…  “Yes, we got it.”  I know we have it – look here.”  Mockingly, she held up her backpack and showed him.  Jake said, “You know what I mean.  They took it… we took it… oh never mind, just forget it.”  Tammy wasn’t about to let it go and said, “If they took it, how do we have it?”  Sara said, “Yea, Jake.  You’re not making much sense, if you ask me.”  Jake looked at George and said, “I don’t want your two cents worth.”  George replied, “I’m not going to give you my two cents, because those people stole it.  I need to file a police report is what I need to do.”  Sara started laughing.  She said, “Can you imagine the poor cop trying to take a police report on that?”  Jake said, “He wouldn’t believe it even if all four of us told him.  He’d want to lock us all up in the funny farm.”  George said, “Jake would look cool in a bright white jacket with his hands tied behind him.”

 

     Tammy said, “So, if this is just the first day of our campout, are we going to camp out or go home?”  George and Jake said, “Camp out!” at the same time.  Sara raised an eyebrow at them and said, “I hope you two have honorable intentions.”  Jake finished the statement with, “Or I’ll have to tell my daddy on you.”  Sara stuck her tongue out at Jake.  Everyone was in agreement to stay for a few days at minimum.  They waited for 15 minutes before they went to the four-wheelers and got on them.  Once they were seated Sara asked, “Where are we going?”  Jake said, “Let’s just find a nice spot near a creek and set up camp.  We can decide from there what we’re going to do.”  Tammy suggested, “There was a nice little spot a couple of miles back, if I remember correctly.”

 

     They started up the four-wheelers and headed back the way they had come.  They rode for about a half hour until they found a spot that looked good.  They stopped and unloaded their gear.  Jake said, “For safety’s sake we should probably stay like we have been.”  Tammy and Sara were giggling saying, “Yes, for safety’s sake.”  Jake went red in the face again.  George leaned over and whispered to Jake, “That was a bit awkward.  Glad I didn’t say it” and started laughing.  Jake looked at him and shook his head.  Sara said, “It would be nice to have a bath.”  Jake pointed out, “We have a creek.”  Sara asked, “Are you suggesting we bath, together?”  Jake started stammering with, “I mean, we could in our swimsuits.”  George said, “Man, I like your style.  I’m surprised you didn’t suggest skinny-dipping.”  Tammy slapped George.  George said, “It’s not my idea, its Jake’s.”  Tammy said, “Jake didn’t say that.  If he did his head would have popped from too much blood going to it.”  Jake stood there not saying a thing.  Sara and Tammy were holding their stomachs from laughing so hard.  George whispered to Tammy, “I personally thought Jake had a good idea.”  Tammy smacked him again and said, “It’s not happening, good idea or bad idea, so get it out of your mind.”

 

    They set the tents up and started taking out various items to make dinner.  George had dug a small fire pit and placed a few small sticks in it.  He glanced over his shoulder and concentrated on the wood and used a fire spell.  Within seconds it was aflame.  George smiled to himself.  Jake noticed what George had done, but didn’t say anything.  Jake thought for a minute and couldn’t sense anyone else in the area.  After a few minutes, Jake said, “Nice fire, George.  How did you get it started so fast?”  Tammy looked at him and said, “Can we still use it?”  George nodded and smile at her.

 

     Jake stated, “If we can still use our magic then we must be very careful not to draw any attention.  We don’t need to be labeled freaks or witches.”  Sara stood and waved her fingers in the air and cackled.  Tammy laughed, but Jake just shook his head.  George remarked, “You two are acting like us now.  Leave the acting like children to the professionals.”  Jake smiled and said, “I do not act like a child.”  Jake stomped his feet as if he were throwing a temper tantrum.  Sara said, “I see a tree someone is going to be looking at if he doesn’t stop.”  Jake laughed, “No, not the nose to the tree.”

 

     Tammy asked, “What are we going to do until dark?”  George snickered and was struck by Tammy again.  Sara suggested, “We can go swimming if everyone would like.”  They all agreed.  After everyone had changed, they headed down to the creek.  The area they chose was calm and only about 5 feet deep.  George took a rope and rigged up a swing from a branch.  For the next couple of hours, they laughed and played around.  George finally asked, “What are we going to do about dinner.”  Jake replied, “It’s too late to hunt or fish.  What kind of supplies do we still have?”  Sara said, “We still have most of what we packed from home.”  After they dried off some, they walked back to the camp and started rummaging through the packs.

 

     George pulled out a can of chili and some crackers.  Tammy said, “Not if you are going to stay anywhere in the area will you eat that.”  Sara laughed.  Jake pulled out a couple of cans of beef stew and a bag of rice.  “I’m sure it’s not going to be as good as Fontun’s, but it should fill us,” said Jake.   Sara said, “That sounds good to me.”  Tammy and George nodded in agreement.  Jake removed two pots and a cooking rack from the four-wheeler.  He rigged them up and started heating the stew and water for the rice.  Dinner was ready about thirty minutes later.  The four sat down and ate.  Sara said, “You will not be replacing Fontun anytime in the near future with cooking like that.  Looking offended, Jake asked, “What’s wrong with my cooking?” George started laughing and said, “I think it’s just fine.”  The other three started laughing at him.  Tammy said, “Fontun isn’t here to cast a dragon spell on the plate.”  George continued laughing, “I don’t care.  I’ve learned my lesson about making fun of someone’s cooking.”  Jake said, “I think it’s just fine.  Tomorrow someone else can cook.”  Jake looked over at Tammy and Sara.  After eating dinner, they decided to call it an early night.

 

***

 

     The sun had just risen and Sara woke Tammy up.  Tammy crawled out of the tent and asked, “What’s wrong?”  Sara whispered, “Come on, let’s go catch some fish to eat later.  We can surprise the mighty sleeping warriors.”  They left the guys to continue sleeping and slipped off to go fishing.  The two had been fishing when they were younger, but that had been a long time ago.  They grabbed two of the poles that the guys brought and headed to the creek.  Once they were down there, Tammy asked, “What do we put on the hook?”  Sara answered, “Worms.  Do you have any?”  Tammy said, “Yep, let me dig them out of my magical pocket.  No, I don’t have any and I have no clue where to get any.  How are we going to fish with no bait?”  Sara giggled, “We can find something to use, I’m sure of it.”  Sara went back to the campsite and grabbed a plastic sandwich bag.  Looking at the bag, Tammy asked, “Do you expect the fish to jump right in?”  Sara rolled her eyes and said, “No.  It’s for collecting bait.

 

     For the next half-hour they flipped over rotten logs and collected various insects.  Once they had enough, they headed back down to the creek.  The show started when the two of them tried to attach the insects to the hooks.  Once the hook was baited, they would cast the line out and the bait would go flying off.  After several failed attempts, they were able to get the insects to stay on the hook.  The first nibble was a sight to see.  Sara felt something hit the bait and yanked it so hard the hook flew out of the water.  If there had been a fish on it, she would have ripped its lips off.  Tammy screeched with laughter at Sara.  Sara looked at Tammy and said, “I almost had it.  I pulled hard to keep it from getting tangled in your line.  Tammy was still laughing and couldn’t say a thing.

 

     Tammy’s bobber started jiggling and she patiently waited for a pull on the line.  When the pull came, she started reeling in what she thought was a monster fish.  When she got it out of the water, it was less than the size of her hand.  Sara started laughing at it.  Tammy threw her nose in the air and said, “It’s a lot bigger than the one you caught.  Oh, right – you can’t catch one.”  Sara took the challenge.  Tammy put more bait on her hook and cast it back out.  Just a few minutes later she had another bite.  This time, the fish was a keeper.  Tammy announced, “Two to nothing.”  She no more than said that, when Sara reeled one in.  Sara stuck her tongue out at Tammy and the two laughed.

 

     The girls didn’t see Jake and George off in the distance watching the action and laughing at them.  Sara moved a few feet down the creek to cast.  When she threw her line out, she lost her footing and all anyone could hear was a screeching, than a big splash.  She popped up sputtering.  After dropping her pole, Tammy rushed over to help Sara out of the creek.  When she noticed Sara was okay, Tammy started laughing so hard she had to sit down.  From a short distance away the two guys were doubled over with laughter.  Sara and Tammy turned and looked at the two of them.  Both girls stopped laughing when they saw the guys.  Jake and George had been worried to start with, until they saw she was okay.  Once they knew she was okay, they walked over and tried to help her out of the water.  Sara refused their assistance and made her way out by herself, growling, “It’s not funny.”  Tammy started laughing again, “Yes, it is.”  Sara tried her best to put on a pouty face.  As hard as she tried, she couldn’t because she kept laughing about it.

 

     Once Sara was out of the water, she said, “We are trying to catch you guy’s lunch, so I recommend you be more thankful.”  Jake said, “I am thankful, dinner and a show, what more can I ask for.”  Sara with her hand on her hips looked at Jake, “Do you think you can do better?”  George announced, “I think the gauntlet has been dropped.”  Jake headed back to the four-wheeler and retrieved the other two fishing poles.  When he returned, George said, “It looks like the challenge has been accepted.”  Tammy said, “Looser has to clean and cook.”  Jake smiled big, “Accepted.”  George asked, “How long do we want the challenge to last.”  Sara said, “Three hours sounds good.”

 

  Jake and George walked a little ways downstream to find a better spot.  Once the two were out of sight, Sara and Tammy went back to the campsite and kicked back.  Sara said, “This is so wrong.”  Tammy replied, “Yea, but they want to be the providers, so let them provide.”

 

     After two hours passed, Sara and Tammy returned to the place they had been fishing. They no more than cast their lines into the water and both had bites.  Reeling in their line, they each had a large fish.  Tammy said, “I don’t think this was the plan, was it?”  Sara laughed, “Might as well keep them, they look good enough to eat.”  The next hour passed and the guys returned with five nice size fish on a stringer.  George held them up and said, “See them and weep.”  Tammy said, “Wow, look at those fish!  How did you do it?”  Sara pulled their stinger from the water and added, “Yes, how did you catch such small fish?  You’ll have to teach us that one.”  Sara walked over to Jake and handed him the stringer with seven fish.  Three huge, three just a bit larger than the ones Jake and George had caught and one about the same size.

 

     George asked, “Where did you go to buy them?  I know you didn’t catch them.”  He walked over to the fish and started inspecting them.  He said, “I know there is a price tag on one of them, somewhere.”  Jake laughed and said, “Nice job you two.”  As they walked back up to the campsite Sara informed them of what they had done.  Neither, Jake nor George were happy about it.  They had fished for three hours and didn’t catch as much and the girls had fishing for only forty-five minutes.  Jake cleaned the fish and George cooked them.  The lunch was good, but not great.  After they finished eating, they lounged around for a while, then went swimming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 48

 

     The week passed with them just hanging out and swimming most of the time.  The day came when they packed up all their gear and headed home.  The ride home was dreadful as no one was looking forward to leaving each other.  The ride to Jake’s house passed very quickly and before they knew it they were sitting in his driveway.

 

     Jake asked Sara, “Do you want me to ride with you and help put your gear away?”  Sara replied, “Thanks, but no.  After you get your stuff put up, you’re welcomed to come over if you’d like.”  Jake said, “That sounds good.  I’ll sent you a text when I’m done.”  The other three rode off, as Jake just stood there and watched them leave.

 

     His parents came out as the three were leaving.  Jim asked, “So, how did it go?”  Jake replied, “If I didn’t know better, I would say it felt like we were gone for months.”  Jake had a grin on his face and chuckled to himself.  Donna asked, “Did you have fun?”  Jake replied, “It was almost a storybook type adventure.”  His mother gave him a funny look, but didn’t inquire any further.  Jim helped him unloaded all his gear.

 

     When the two of them were alone, Jake said, “I think I’ve fallen in love with Sara.”  Jim glanced up, “I think that happened before you ever went camping.  You guys didn’t do anything that you’re going to regret in nine months, did you?”  Jake blushed, “No!  She isn’t that type of a girl and I made a promise to you and God that I would wait until I got married.”  Jim ruffled his hair, “You will never regret that decision.”  Jake said, “Speaking of Sara, I’m going to ride over there for a while, if it’s okay with you.”  Jim, being the smart man he was said, “Let your mother know.”  Jake smiled and said, “So, you’re taking the easy way out and letting mom be the bad person.”  Jim smiled, “Son, I learned a long time ago, that if your mother isn’t happy, no one else will be.”  Donna exclaimed, “I heard that! And no, I don’t have a problem with you going over there.”  The two exchanged looks and grinned about his mother hearing the conversation.

 

     Jake sent Sara a text saying he was ready to come over, if it was okay.  Jake watched his phone for what felt like days, about thirty seconds, before a reply came back that it was fine.  Jake got the keys for the car and drove off.  It only took about five minutes for him to get to her house.  As he drove up, he could see Sara and her father standing in the driveway.  Jake parked on the street and greeted her and her father, Bill.  Bill said, “Once again, it’s nice to see you Jake.  How was the camping trip?”  Jake freaked.  Even though nothing had happened, he was hoping her father would believe that too.  Bill said, “So did anything interesting happen?”  Jake’s mind was racing with what to say.

 

     Jake smile and said, “The most interesting thing was Sara trying to show off her fishing skills and fell into the creek.”  Jake began laughing about it and tried to cover up his discomfort.  Bill had a slight smile on his face, other than that, Jake couldn’t tell what he was thinking.  Sara turned a light shade of red from what Jake had said.  Bill noticed it and started laughing, “That must have been a sight to see.”  He hugged her and said, “What happened?  You are always the sure-footed one.”  Sara said, “Jake must have pushed me when I wasn’t looking.”  Jake had a horrified look on his face and Bill busted out laughing.  Bill said, “As much as he likes you, I don’t think he would ever do anything like that to you.”  Both Jake and Sara went bright red.  Bill played on that.  He looked at Jake and said, “I remember being your age and what we did or thought about doing.  Just remember, this is my little girl and you will always respect her.”

 

     Jake knew what was coming next and he interrupted him.  Jake said, “I do respect her.  I respect her so much we got purity rings for each other.  We decided that we will wait till we get married before we ever did anything.”  Jake held up his ring the wizard had given him and Sara followed along and raised hers.  Bill was stunned.  He was planning on digging to see what, if anything, had happened on the camping trip.  Bill quickly composed himself and said, “Well, that’s a good thing and I thank you for having good morals.  Your parents have raised a fine young man.”  With that he walked back into the house and left the two of them standing on the driveway.

 

     Sara looked at Jake with a big frown and said, “I’m going to tell my daddy on you for lying.”  She busted out laughing and said, “Good cover with the rings.”  Jake smiled, “It may be for you, but when I look at this ring on my hand, I look at it as the promise I gave to my parents and God.”  Sara said, “From this day on, I will promise to my parents, you and God for my purity.”  Jake leaned over and gave her a peck on the lips.  Sara again turned red and quickly turned to see if anyone saw the kiss.  Jake asked, “Are you embarrassed about me kissing you?”  Sara replied, “Never!  It was unexpected and I’ve never been kissed with my parents so close by.”  Jake got a quizzical look on his face.  Sara continued, “To be honest, you’re the only one I have ever kissed.”  Jake smile and said, “If we’re being honest, you’re the only girl I’ve ever kissed.”  Sara smiled and hugged him, then the two walked inside.

 

     Sara yelled to her father that they were heading to her room to listen to some music.  Bill yelled back to her, “You can listen to music just fine in the den.”  Sara started to object, but knew the house rules, no boys in the bedrooms and no closed doors with mixed company.  She just replied, “Okay, dad.”  Jake whispered, “If he only knew how many rooms and places we slept together, he’d freak.  As a matter of fact, so would my mother, but that’s another story.”  Sara poked him in the ribs and whispered, “Be quite.”

 

     The rest of the summer went about the same way.  If Jake wasn’t at Sara’s house, she was at his.  It was the same was with George and Tammy.  The two groups met all the time to start with, but as the summer went on, they met less frequently.  They stayed in touch by phone, but didn’t hang out much.  The parents, of all the kids, were comfortable with their child’s pick of boyfriend or girlfriend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

     With the end of summer comes the beginning of the school year.  As seniors, Jake, Sara, Tammy, and George were allowed to pick classes on a first come first serve bases.  The four of them scheduled as many classes as possible with each other.  Jake and Sara had five classes together, George and Tammy had four.  The four of them together shared two classes.  As luck would have it, they all had the same lunch period, giving them time to socialize.

 

***

 

     As fall arrived. The weather had turned cool rather quick and hunting season was just around the corner.  Sara’s parents wondered what had gotten into her when she asked them to buy her a compound bow to hunt.  Bill said to Sara, “Do you even know how to use a bow?  It’s not something you can just pick up and shoot.  It takes years of practice to be accurate.”  Sara said, “I can shoot one. Ra…, (stopping short of saying Ralnor) Jake taught me how to shoot with a bow.”  Sara’s mother, Julie frowned, I don’t think a lady should be running around in the woods killing animals.”  Bill said, “We can stop and look at one if you really want.”  Sara smiled, “I would like to as long as mom doesn’t have a problem with it.”  Julie shrugged, “I don’t mind.  I was just stating my opinion on women hunting.”

 

   They left the sports shop three hundred dollars lighter, and Sara had a beautiful new bow with some very expensive arrows.  Sara’s first thought was, ‘I can’t wait to show Jake,’ but knew that would have to wait.  Bill looked at Sara in the rearview mirror, “We need to stop and pick up some hay bales for target practice.  We don’t want to risk ruining any of the nice new arrows.”  Everyone smiled at his comment.

 

     When they arrived home, Bill had an excited gleam in his eyes as he asked, “Would you like me to show you how to properly shoot that?” He nodded at the bow in Sara’s hand.  Sara was about to say she could do it by herself when her mother whispered, “Let him or he will pout about it forever.”  Sara winked at her mother and said, “Sure dad.”

 

Bill walked over to the bales of hay and placed a target in the center, then moved to stand near Sara and Julie.  He took one of the arrows and notched it, drew back, then released.  The arrow struck the ground at the base of the bales.  Sara and Julie started clapping.  Bill stuck his tongue out and stated, “It slipped.”  He frowned, then shot a second arrow that flew over the top of the hay.  Sara and Julie couldn’t contain their laughter.  Bill handed the bow to Sara and said, “Okay smarty pants, let me see you do better.”

 

     Sara checked the bow over, notched an arrow, sighted in, and then released.  The arrow struck dead center of the target.  She drew another and placed it right next to the first.  Surprise registered on both of her parent’s faces.  Bill said, “Look at you.  You learn fast.  My job here is done.”  He turned and walked off shaking his head.  Her mom said, “That’s nice shooting, but I think you embarrassed your father.”  Sara smiled at the compliment, “I didn’t mean to.”  As Julie left to join her husband, Jake was just arriving.

 

     Julie smiled at him and said, “Robin Hood is out back with her new toy.  Don’t let her show you up to much.”  Confused Jake continued toward Sara and noticed the new bow.  “I would ask what that was all about, but I’m not sure I want to know,” Jake said as he kissed Sara on the cheek.  The two of them spent the remainder of the day shooting.

 

***

 

     Fall had given way to winter and the weather had turned cold and nasty.  Jake had settled down for the evening and was laying on his bed talking on the phone with Sara.  They said their good nights and Jake turned out the light and went right to sleep.  In his dream, Jake was holding a shield and arrows were hitting it, with a tap, tap, and tap.  The shield was extremely heavy and his arm was getting tired.  Again he heard a tapping noise and realized he was in his bed dreaming and his arm was numb from where he had been laying on it.

 

     It was ten minutes past midnight and Jake was now wide awake.  Again he heard a tapping and tried to get out of bed, but his left arm was still numb and he was having trouble.  He realized that it was someone tapping at his window, not an animal.  Jake was now trying to figure out who would be tapping on his window.  The curtains were closed, so he had to go to the window to see who it was.  Jake cautiously pulled the curtains back and there before him was Ralnor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please enjoy a preview of the next book

 

 

Return to a

World Beyond

 

 

Yatuku, Book 2

 

 

 

R. F. Pace

 

CHAPTER 1

 

     Fall had given way to winter and the weather had turned cold and nasty.  Jake had settled down for the evening and was laying on his bed talking on the phone with Sara.  They said their good nights and Jake turned out the light and went right to sleep.  In his dream, Jake was holding a shield and arrows were hitting it, with a tap, tap, and tap.  The shield was extremely heavy and his arm was getting tired.  Again he heard a tapping noise and realized he was in his bed dreaming and his arm was numb from where he had been laying on it.

 

     It was ten minutes past midnight and Jake was now wide awake.  Again he heard a tapping and tried to get out of bed, but his left arm was still numb and he was having trouble.  He realized that it was someone tapping at his window, not an animal.  Jake was now trying to figure out who would be tapping on his window.  The curtains were closed, so he had to go to the window to see who it was.  Jake cautiously pulled the curtains back and there before him was Ralnor.

 

    Jake opened the window and told Ralnor to come in.  Ralnor, an elven warden, is from the village of Alalda Ostar.  He was just over five feet and wore clothing of earthy green and brown, with a cloak of the same colors, covering most of his face and body.  He had a weathered dark skin tone and long, dark hair.  His most striking feature was his eyes that were a bright golden color. Ralnor said, “I do not have the time to stay.  I’m needed back home as fast as I can get there.  I’m here to ask you and the others to come back with me.”  Jake said, “It’s well after midnight.  I can’t just go over and knock on their door and say pack up, Ralnor needs us.”  “You’re needed as soon as you can gather Sara, Tammy, and George and return.  I will wait for you at the entrance to the cave you returned by.  Oh, I almost forgot.  Take these.”  Ralnor handed him a bag, turned and disappeared into the night.

 

     Jake opened the bag, inside were the traveling clothes he and the others had worn on their last quest.  The clothes were not actually traveling clothes, but elven armor made from reinforced leather.  Jake smiled at the sight of them and had flashbacks of the first time he wore them.  Jake was only 17 and stood just over 6 feet with a solid build.  He kept his brown hair short and had eyes that were an emerald green.  It amazed him that the clothes fit so well.  Jake changed into them in less than a minute, then slipped down stairs.  He headed to the garage and grabbed his backpack, two water jugs and a couple of small items.  He slipped into the kitchen and raided the cabinets and refrigerator for items he thought they might need for next couple of days.

 

     Jake went out the backdoor to the shed.  He got on the four-wheeler and when he went to start it, he realized it would wake his parents up.  He got off, and pushed it until it was going down a hill.  He hopped on it and coasted toward the bottom of the hill.  Once it was far enough from the house, he started it up.  Jake took it slow riding down the trails toward Sara’s house.  Once he got close to her house, he cut it off and walked the rest of the way.

 

     Sara’s room was upstairs, which posed a problem for him.  There was no easy access getting to her window.  Jake checked around the back for a ladder, but was unable to find one.  Jake took a few pebbles and started tossing them at the window.  The second one hit a piece of aluminum and made a loud click.  It bounced off and struck the gutter, making a second loud noise.  A light came on, he ran over to the bushes and hid.  The front porch light came on and shortly after the door opened.  Sara’s father was standing on the porch with a shotgun, looking around.  Jake thought that his breathing was going to give him away.  His heart was beating so hard, that was all he could hear.  The front porch light went off and the door closed.  Jake glanced up at the window and Sara was peeking out.  Jake moved out of the bushes and into her view.

 

     Sara was shocked not only to see Jake standing there, but to see him in the traveling clothes.  Sara heard footsteps outside her room, so she slipped back into bed and pretended to be asleep.  Her father opened her door and checked in on her, then closed it.  She heard his footsteps heading back to his room and his door close.  Sara went back to the window and signaled to Jake to give her a minute.

 

     Several minutes had passed when Sara came from around the back of the house.  Jake had been watching the other way and felt like his heart skipped a beat when he noticed movement in the other direction.  He smiled when he realized it was Sara.  She always took his breath away with her bright green eyes and long sandy brown hair.  Jake said, “You scared me so bad, I saw my life flash before my eyes.”  Sara wanted to laugh but didn’t.  Sara walked up and gave Jake a quick hug before asking, “What’s going on?”  Jake explained what happened with Ralnor.  Sara said, “Let’s get out of here before my father wakes up again.”  Jake was all for that.  He didn’t want to get caught sneaking out, much less with his girlfriend whose father answers the door with a shotgun.

 

     As they got further from Sara’s house, she said, “Why didn’t you just text me to wake me up?”  Jake said, “I don’t know.  I guess I didn’t really think too much about how to wake you up, I just came over to get you.”  Sara said, “Text George and I’ll text Tammy.”  They both sent a text message and waited for a response.  Tammy responded first with, “What’s wrong?”  Sara replied with, “Ralnor needs us fast.”  The reply was, “Why?”  Sara replied, “Not sure, waiting for you at the base of the trail.”   Jake had to send three additional text messages before George replied.

 

     Jake just sent, “Need you to meet us at the base of the trail.  Ralnor needs us.  Check with Tammy to see if she can get her four-wheeler without waking her parents.  If not, she will need a ride.”  George replied, “No problem.”  Sara said, “I guess now we wait.” Jake said, “Yea, that is all we can do right now.”

 

     It was close to an hour before the lights of a four-wheeler came into view.  When George stopped in front of them, Sara said, “Well it’s about time.”  George smiled and said, “It took me a few minutes to get the four-wheeler up the hill and far enough from the house to be able start it without waking anyone up.  When I did get it started, I forgot my backpack at the shed, so I had to run back and get it.”

 

     Jake explained what had happened and gave each of them their traveling clothes.  Sara said, “Where are we going to change at out here?”  Tammy said, “And besides that, it’s too cold to undress outside.”  Jake just shrugged and said, “You can change later in a more suitable place I guess.”  George said, “Once we get into the woods we can find an isolated area to change.”  Jake got on his four-wheeler and Sara climbed on behind him.  Tammy did the same with George.

 

***

 

     They rode for just over two hours before arriving at the base of the mountain where the cave entrance was located.  George said, “I’m going over here a little way to change before we head up the mountain.”  George was about the same height with a slightly lighter build than Jake.  His dark blond hair was slightly long, but his eyes were also a brilliant green color.  Coming back into view he said, “There are some thick bushes about 20 feet over there, you and Sara can change behind there.  We promise not to peek, right Jake?”  When George winked at Jake, he was smacked by both Tammy and Sara as they marched past him.  Tammy was the smallest, standing five and a half feet, with long dark hair, but very feisty when needed.  She and George had been together for a while and were a perfect fit for each other.  Changing quickly, the girls returned and noticed that Ralnor was nowhere to be seen.

 

     Jake called out for him several times, but got no response.  Jake suggested, “Maybe he’s in the cave waiting for us.”  They started climbing the mountain.  It took them over an hour to finally reach the cave entrance.  Once they arrived, Jake checked inside, no Ralnor.  They waited for a half hour before they decided they would go on without him.  George asked, “Where is he?”  “I hate to go without him, but we may just have to,” said Jake.  “Let’s give him a few more minutes before we leave,” Sara said.  Tammy added, “I’ll have to agree with Sara, it would be nice to know what is going on.”  So they decided to give him more time.

 

     They settled down and waited.  They had an answer fifteen minutes later, Ralnor came through the cave entrance.  Jake said, “Glad to see you could make it.”  “It is a long hike from your village to here.  I saw you pass me a while back.  It would have been nice to have a horse to travel, but I didn’t have that luxury,” Ralnor said.  Jake replied, “I just thought you would have been here when we got here, I didn’t think about you having to walk back.”

 

***

 

     Ralnor used the downward journey to provide a full, detailed briefing.  Ralnor said, “Since you left, 24 moon cycles ago, a lot has happened.   “Two years?  We have only been back for about four months, and you’re telling us two years have gone by for you?” exclaimed Sara.  With Ralnor looking a little confused, Jake reminded him that a moon cycle was about a month and 12 moon cycles were about a year.  Ralnor nodded, then continued, “North of the mountains are gone.  Mendor has mounted many forces together to take all those lands.  We have been able to stop him from crossing over the mountain, but I fear we are not going to be able to hold them too much longer.”

 

     Jake asked, “Who is Mendor?”  Ralnor said, “He a very power wizard that has figured out a way to control many different kinds of creatures.  He comes from a city well to the north call Kindron.  It’s a place where dark magic has been practiced since I can remember.”  Tammy said, “Wow, that’s a long time!”  Ralnor gave a half smile.

 

     Jake asked, “Why have you come for us?”  Ralnor said, “To help us stop him.”   Jake questioned again, “Why us?  There are some powerful wizards in your world, can’t one of them do it?”  Ralnor answered, “It is possible one might be able to, but you hold more power than any of them.  The counsel has instructed me to find you and have you come back to listen to what they have to say.  The last thing they informed me of is all four of you had to do this of your own free will.”  Sara looked at Jake and asked, “Are you having reservations about doing this?”  “I just hate that our world gets turned upside down like this, and I don’t know very much magic.  That worries me,” Jake commented.  Ralnor said, “I can understand your concerns, but in the past we have never come to your world to get help from others.  With you being the first one in many moons that is able to wield Yatuku, the council decided it would be best for you to join us.”

 

     Confused, Sara said, “Isn’t Yatuku for earth magic? I thought it was for balance of the earth, not to be wielded in battle.”  “That was my understanding of how it worked,” added Jake.  Ralnor said, “That is one of the many ways it has been used.  It can and has been wielded in many great battles over time.  Something no one has mentioned was Yatuku also has a counter to it, call Turulka.”  George asked, “Are we heading out on a quest to find Turulka now?”  “No.  Turulka is being wielded by Mendor.  Which makes the problem even worst for us,” stated Ralnor.  “That sounds bad, if not downright dangerous,” Sara said, “What else do we need to know about?”  Ralnor replied, “The Elvin Council will give you a full briefing when we arrive back at Alalda Ostar.

 

 


The Four as One

Jake is a high school student who just moved to a new community in the mountains. He meets three other teens that have the same interest as he does, hiking, camping and the love of the great outdoors. Join these teens as they leave for a camping trip that turns into the adventure of a lifetime. Explore a world where story book creatures come to life for Jake and his friends during their exciting quest. One minute you’re hanging on to your seat in anticipation of what’s to come and in the next you’re, laughing at the funny antics of these teens who are enjoying life and each other's company.

  • Author: Robert Pace
  • Published: 2016-02-24 04:40:16
  • Words: 91231
The Four as One The Four as One